Monday 24th September 2018

Archives for Thursday 13th September 2018

September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

When I began this series last week and ended with...to be continued, I know that was a disappointment to some readers and also could have been seen as a way to have you come back to read more. In some ways it was but in reality it is because, as I wrote, I realised the length of the September Story about being a principal needed more space.

I also did not realise until this week, that the day for publication of September Story #2 is R U OK Day. In the past, I have blogged about R U OK day using the R U OK guidelines and always hoping that if any reader needed help, they could find it by asking or calling below. In keeping with being honest, I will admit I could not tell my employer or fellow professionals I was NOT OK. I shared that with my husband and my G.P.

So, keeping that in mind, here is some background I wrote some time ago to get me started…again!

 

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

My story, as a K-6 teacher, English as a Second Language teacher assistant principal, deputy principal, relieving principal, principal, begins…here.

As I trawl back in my memory bank to unlock the story of mine. It’s no-one else, yet it was about more than me.

The day I never returned to my school as its principal.

Etched into my mind, my psyche and my whole body.

Thursday 5.9.2002.

But that is not where the story starts.

In one way it starts here:

The evening of Wednesday 4.9.2002 was when I knew. I knew that my emotional health was broken to the point of never being able to return to:

  • the school I had led for almost 4 years
  • the position of principal I had been appointed to from January 1999

Why?

That is where I need to take a breath…and let out the sigh and say ‘it is not an easy story to tell….and an even harder one for me to relate…but I will.’

First Year as a Principal.

I was busy learning about the school and the fact that the person I replaced had actually died the previous term without anyone at the school having access to school keys, passwords and the like made it more difficult. The school was a medium sized (around 450 kids from K-6) one with added Unit for Students with Special Learning Needs and an Autism Satellite class. Within the stream of classes there were two “OC” groups: Year 5 of 30 students and Year 6. These students gained their place at the school via competitive examinations the year before.

The school culture was, as my boss told me, one I would need to lead into the 21st century and I knew that but I also knew to hasten slowly on some changes whilst making some practical ones quickly. The previous principal, sadly departed, had been there for quite some time, shared very little in terms of financial goals for the school but, as a local which I was not, whatever he had done was acceptable. One big ticket item that happened under his leadership was a sports area which catered for a number of court-based sports.

One of my first spends was blinds. In a school with a second storey and in a very hot/cold place in outer Sydney, some respite from the sun and to make activities such as work via a whiteboard or screen effective this was vital. Once done it gave the school, from the inside and out, a better appearance for the community.

The school was fully staffed with each role filled: 2 Assistant Principals (teaching) 2 Executive Teachers (teaching). There was a group of speciality teachers: for Gifted and Talented students, Special Needs – Intellectual, English as a Second Language, Computer and Technology, Special Learning in Mainstream. I had been familiar with leading each of those roles in my previous schools with three  ‘new’ to me

  • having the O.C. classes
  • overseeing the use of the school’s facilities with an outside the NSW Dept of Ed jurisdiction
  • supervising a Special Needs Unit of 3 staff within the school

I like to think, looking back from 2018, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get upskilled quickly to enable me, the educational leader of the school, to best meet the needs of those students, also considering the skills of their teachers and to see that the parents of the students knew the children’s needs were paramount.

That of course, was also integral to my oversight and management of the remainder of the school in the mainstream classes.

There were computers for my work and communication via emails did not arrive for a few years. It was a telephone, fax and mail school and being on the outskirts of Sydney the communication and responses were not as frequent as the suburbs of Sydney.

The year went well with ME being the major learner of course. I was the ONLY new staff member but I also had to ensure that MY leadership goals were part of the new school’s as well. There was a lot of policy discussion which was mostly related to why there were none where I was used to having these done. Like I have said before, I was there to make change but I also needed to handle matters carefully.

This year I turned 50 and on the staff was another person my age and I recall a joint celebration with two cakes. We did socialise somewhat during the school term with a restaurant meal or something similar with ataff. We had regular morning teas and I promoted collegiality and support for all staff.

My executive staff were good but two of them sought promotion – one to a country school, the other to a city school and of course I was pleased for them professionally when their  work was rewarded with what they sought. I recall an incident which was a critical one as it demonstrated a lack of foresight, organisation and care from one of the senior staff. This related to a student being announced at the final year assembly as Vice-Captain, when in fact, she was to be a prefect, and another student was the Vice-Captain. In an embarrassing time for the student, her family and the senior staff I had to interrupt the announcement with the correct person’s name. From that time, I was aware of more loopholes within the school’s management. Policies for example. In a first for this executive staff, there needed to be a written policy on the how, what and why of student leadership nominations, voting and results. From my side, it looked quite poorly scrutinised and certainly that family of the student who was incorrectly announced as vice-captain continued to let me know of their upset long after that incident. No apology in the world was good enough.

Onward into 2000 & beyond.

There were some staff changes into this year of the Sydney Olympics and I had to call panels of parent representative, school representative and one other teacher to enable me to interview, by merit selection, 2 people to replace those who had been promoted. More on this in the third post next week.

The education communities in and near Sydney loved the fact that this was the year of the Sydney Olympics and we even had an extra week off school in September 2000 for all of the available transport (buses mostly) to be geared to getting people to and from Olympic venues. A person who had carried a torch in part of the area near the school brought it to us and we all got to hold it. We had special days and the vibe was good. We even made our Staff Photo that year based on Sports and the Olympics.

I had some lovely people working at the school in administration and I know my mantra (from my boss) of keeping on heading into this famous 21st century was embraced but it remained a load on me as the school leader both administratively and educationally. There were courses in finance and human resources to attend and of course ones to train us further in Child Protection.

This became even more important as time went on, and I recall sitting at yet another training course thinking “I am responsible for all of this yet I have no control over it”. It was quite a  watershed moment for me.

I loved the role even so. I felt I brought action and innovation to the school and lifted its place in educational areas. I may not have been a local in a very conservative area but I did my best to keep open and good relationships with the local community, my Parent groups and the community of schools nearby.

At home, I know I really never switched off. The laptop came home with me. Newsletters written by me on the weekend. There was no email or other communications like that until 2002 so everything was done and then printed off for the families each fortnight. I improved more of the external appearance with signage and keeping areas safer by removal of damaged play equipment. I had a General Assistant 3 days a week and because of the size of the school grounds, he spent most of his time on a mower.

I had to organise school repairs and more via private contractors and be savvy enough to know how to ask for quotes and then to see how the school might benefit and when to get those happening in a child-free time. I would be phoned at home in school holidays about staffing and maintenance and there was/is not a time-off for school principals.

Next Time: Story 3.

What happened in the lead up to my emotional health breakdown.

I have written only some of what it is like to be a school principal. Despite the fact, as above “one day, I never went back” I loved the role. However, now in this age of social media and 24/7 connections, I do not believe I could perform the role without cost to my mental health.

Therefore I honour R U OK Day and this message below is for those who might be part of a conversation and not sure what to do.

I wish I had known that I could have admitted to a colleague or my boss how hard things got for me in mid 2002 but I could not. Not until I broke down at home on 4.9.2002.

Denyse.

 

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

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