Saturday 20th April 2019

September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

This is the third story telling some aspects of what it was like for me as a K-6 School Principal in a medium-sized New South Wales public school from 1999 until the beginning of 2003.

The first story is here and the second here for those who want to understand “how I got to the day I never went back as principal in September 2002.”

What was different in the beginning of the 2002 school year?

It was my fourth year as principal. Naturally much changes within the education system and in schools themselves. Families may move on due to work changes, sometimes those families are not replaced by new ones so a school population can begin heading downwards.

School staff (teacher and executive staff) may need to take leave for reasons of: family needs, maternity and long service leave as well as sick leave.

The other change heralding 2002 was the need to upgrades of maintenance (big cost jobs) to the school as it was one that was first occupied in the 1940s. Back in 2002 it was up to the principal to make the contacts with contracted companies to get in suppliers who could quote for major works. Then the principal, with enough funds in the school account, could give a project a green light. I was trained to teach but there I was, like all principals still, being a site manager and a financial manager as well as HR manager. Sigh.

Systemic Changes.

More and more, I noted as did my principal colleagues that schools were being expected (rightly too) to ensure that Codes of Conduct for staff were not only understood and agreed upon by them but if behavioural issues arose, then the principal would be the first person to begin making an action plan when the code was violated.

There always had been the mandatory notification to the Department back then called Family and Community Services where if a child was deemed by a mandatory reporter (all school staff are) to be ‘at risk’ then a first notification was to be made by telephone. This saw me, often waiting for a person to answer, locked into a phone call because of issues which may look trivial on the outside but may be clues to more. One such event could be repeatedly coming to school with no food. Other times it could be the child letting her/his teacher know that a parent may be unwell or even violent and it was never our role to investigate but we did need to reassure the child, then make the reports. Over the years I have sat in with a child in my role as a support person (if the child requested that from me) and it is heart-aching to be witness.

Our system, the N.S.W. Department of Education, was updating its role in terms of staff compliance and behaviour. This was nothing new and in fact teachers have had annual reviews in a conversation form for decades. Since I left teaching, this has become a joint venture between the schools and the overseeing body of school governance. Returning to my principal days. IF there was a reported incident told to me by a student, parent or staff member where a staff member’s behaviour (spoken, actions or in written form) was not within the Code of Conduct (signed off annually as part of mandatory training) then the principal had to act upon it. I dealt with the Officers from the Conduct Unit first who listened to what had been reported to me and then I was given advice that it could be managed at school level (guess by whom?) or it could be escalated, with the staff member’s knowledge to a higher authority. I had to do this on one occasion and the fallout for me came later. The temporary staff member who brought along a permanent staff member as a support person as the complaint was told to her from my account given to me was aghast at the inference. In fact, there was nothing I had done wrong at all….but remember way back “your role will be to bring this school into the next century” comment by MY boss…this matter was a prime example of how staff thought they could still behave but it was not compliant with the Code of Conduct.

And, Everyone Who Was An Executive Member of the School Went on Leave.

Not at all related to the above in two instances: one was to have a baby and the other because of longevity of service took her rightful allocation of leave…both for the remainder of 2002. But wait, there was one more. Yes, this person ‘broke me’ in so many subtle then obvious ways. And whilst I cannot say much, the continued leave based on medical certificates over and over did cause alarm for the parents of that class as it did me because the year had started well but then, as it was expected of me that this Assistant Principal would perform other executive duties (as do all teaching executive) this person refused and did not return after many months. Oh, yes, one day there was a return, after hours to access my office and computer telling the only person on site, the cleaner, that “I” had given him permission. Following that, he was disciplined and placed in a different school.

How Did That Affect Me?

In some ways it was a relief but in many more, as we geared up for the mid year reports, parent-teacher interviews and then Education  Week along with concerts and fund raisers, it was the beginning of my end. Sadly I did not see it for sometime. I kept on working even harder. Yes. I was doing the roles of the appointed executive who were on leave. I know that I did have three teachers put their hands up to do the relieving roles but without the experience and knowledge beyond their classroom teaching, I was giving more and more of myself to duties that were not mine. I was even writing reports for a class teacher with little experience. I will say now that I know I was over-doing things but I could see no way out. I was under pressure to perform well for the school’s sake and also to answer to my ‘bosses.’ My lovely boss actually retired at the end of Term One (sadly) and he was replaced by someone I knew well but was nothing like the people-person my old boss was.

Schools have a culture of their own. I can now walk into a school and get a feeling of how things are. In my school, as Winter took hold I know that my mood was also one of worry and concern. That was for the school and its staffing into the next year. When school populations decrease in the NSW public system, the principal will be asked to nominate a teacher to leave. In the majority of cases, teachers are very comfortable in their current school and rarely does anyone volunteer. So then it becomes a matter of ‘asking’ and ‘hoping’. The staff were getting the idea that with the school’s drop in population, which occurred when the Special Needs unit was disbanded and there was a reduction of families moving to the area, that “I” had something to do with the reduction. I was told this by telephone on the night (4th September 2002) I heard staff were arranging a delegation to my office the next day. They were going to tell me it was my manner with parents that was the cause. This may have had one essence of truth after I was threatened by a violent father who I had to get removed from the grounds, but generally I had a suppotive P&C and was a principal who was active and even did playground duty. But people like someone to blame. Of course, and that was me.

The Night I Was Told.

Before I go on, I was feeling emotions of overwhelm from the role. I remember with clarity coming back from yet another principals’ meeting where they was MORE that we needed to take responsibility for. I wondered how I could possibly manage more. In the meantime, I became probably hyper vigilant after another meeting about my responsibilities for Work Health and Safety. The school was OLD in many parts and I knew that there was much that did not comply, so I contacted my properties’ manager (the centralised one, not a personal one!) and for a fee, he came out and condemned or ok-ed parts I was concerned about. One such area was deemed so risky I had to tape it off before demolition and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the teachers who had been there forever. I could not take a trick. I stood for what was right because that is who I am. I knew I needed to have a timeout but it happened to be an official one to attend a meeting for a day and then a personal one to accompany my husband to a vital medical appointment.

Schools: I love them. But I Could Not Return To Mine.

Two days away from school…..then I was rung the night before I was to return. Wednesday 4th September. By one of my relieving Executive who I always thought was both compassionate and brave to tell me that some staff were getting a delegation ready along with a Teachers Federation Organiser to meet with me to discuss their issues. Initially I listened with interest and then with surprise/shock at what was apparently my fault: declining numbers, meaning one of them would be asked to transfer. Once I had talked (and been upset a bit) with her, I had successive phone calls from the remaining two relieving executive and it was then I said “I will be speaking to…(my boss) in the morning and will not be returning to school until I have”. They implored me not to but I had the sense not to act upon a threat like this.

I broke. I broke down. I was ill. I couldn’t contact my boss: left a message that I would be going to my GP in the morning.

That would be the start of pretty horrible days but also some days of relief and release. Yet, nothing ever has helped me get over the fact that I loved being a principal but one day I never went back.

There was so much shame in me for that and it has almost all faded now some 16 years later.

It’s been hard to learn THIS….

Next and last story will be about, sadly, how poorly my then employer treated me, but how my own return to wellness was all because of my inner capacity aided by a loving husband, a supportive family and friends network along with..some years later, an inclusive blogging community.

Thank you for your kind words having read these stories. I have not told them in as much detail for many years but I am glad I could have the chance again.

It really helps to write our stories! That is why I blog!


Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.




My Morning By A Principal. 366/285.

My Morning By A Principal. 366/285.

I was a school principal in NSW public schools for part of the 1990s and early 2000s. The role of principal has changed as far as added technologies, 24/7 communications, pressures from more entities along with direct and indirect accountability.  Essentially though, the day-to-day has not changed significantly. This account  is based on a typical morning of mine from my role then. I add, it was fun to write it and be a leader in NSW schools was a privilege not given to many, but I admit to being glad to have retirement status now. I hope you enjoy the read. Denyse.


7.30 a.m. Drive to School.

Do not think about school. Much. I tell myself. I listen to news & to traffic reports. Then comes the phone call from Executive Staff who cannot find a casual teacher for Class 5K. Think ‘oh no’ not 5K teacher away again. Oh. Tell Executive Staff member to keep on calling central casual booking office till they find someone.

8.00 a.m. Arrive at School.

Park car in space for ‘Principal’ after waiting for the service truck to pull out of there after delivering ice creams to the canteen. Get Out Of Car. Come on, you can do it! Mobile rings. “I found a teacher for 5K but it will be 10 a.m till he can get here”. See you in a minute.

8.10 a.m. Walk up Stairs to Main Building Where Office is.

Notice that bins have not been emptied. Again. Make note in admin book for cleaning supervisor to see. I place lunch in fridge and hope to see it again at lunchtime (that would be a record!!). Greet the early birds in the staffroom with warm smile as they chat about day ahead and ask “have you put your footy tips in for this week?” I will!

8.15 a.m. Unlock Office Door. The room looks exactly as it did at end of day yesterday at 6.00 p.m.

Start computer, after putting my bag down (finally!), and wait for the emails (that did not get checked at home this morning) to flood in. They do. Office Admin Staff pop in with snail mail and warm greetings. It is nice to start the day that way! Oh no. There’s more to the greeting. “A parent” from the “class we all know well” needs to see you stat.

8.20 a.m. Parent Meeting. Matters Discussed: attitude of teacher to ‘his child’ and ‘homework’.

Listen and make notes as well as reassure the parent that I will be following up with issues discussed with the teacher and will be back to him by the end of the day. Parent leaves reluctantly as he does like a good whinge chat but the bell for playground duty has sounded.


8.30 a.m. Playground Duty. Morning. Once A Week.

Ideally the principal would LOVE to be out and about meeting and greeting families as the children arrive at school but school-business of all kinds can take precedence inside. One morning on playground duty is one way of sharing the teachers’ duties more fairly and getting to experience ‘first-hand’ what is happening on that day, with the kids and the school. So this is why I did playground duty!

9.00 a.m. Morning Outside Assembly. Led by The Principal.

In this school of over 400 students it is the one time each child and teacher is together in the one space to start the day. Families do hang around a little to hear announcements which are kept brief but are encouraged to leave so the school day starts with less distraction and more concentration on the day ahead. As the children leave in lines, with the class teacher, I observe them and note that one of the support staff has taken 5K until the relief teacher gets here. Then….just as I am about to leave the area I am found. By my office manager. That’s her job!!

9.05 a.m – 11.00 a.m. First Of My Day’s Business Via The Messages, Phone Calls, People Waiting to See Me and MORE!

  • respond to requests from my office manager for signature on documents and checking first that all is there as needed
  • speak to waiting people who are there for reasons such as monitoring the back to base security alarms, wanting to tell me about a new product for student reporting, a sales rep from a school photography company and many more who often ‘turn up’. I choose to meet outside my office with some of these people as it can be more time efficient and I also may refuse to see someone unless there is a valid reason. Schools can be seen as ‘cash cows’ by some less reputable firms and I have full responsibility for financial management
  • new families waiting to meet me and to enrol their children. With or without an appointment, these people take priority and once my office manager has verified their eligibility via residence, age of child and more, then I invite them in and off we go on the process. This can take from 15 minutes to an hour.
  • phone calls and emails from families, my superiors, other schools, the staff and so on are managed as they come in (or can be left until later) and are done in between face to face meetings.
  • moving around the school to visit classrooms is a priority but cannot always occur when more urgent business comes up. However, there is a plan to see at least one class per day and to interact with the children as much as possible.
  • when out and about around the school I observe the physical resources of the school making note of any potential repairs required or areas which may need closer maintenance and discuss this with the two days a week grounds person. Of course, if he is not in, I note it in the communication book and we chat once he is back. Anything urgent, I place safety barriers/tape around the area and ensure the staff and children know about it and report it to the company responsible for maintenance of our school.
  • I may have time to visit the ‘loo when I am out of the office and this is important!!
  • I may receive a visit from class reps who want to show me their ‘lovely work’ and this is always a reason to stop, and invite the children in.
  • As I am the only non-teaching executive in the school, I try hard not to interrupt the teaching day of my fellow executive staff and wait for them to be on face to face release for our meetings. Each Monday we get together over lunch for an executive meeting cover all the issues relevant to the school and wider education community.
  • I may be called, via the internal phone system to a classroom where a child is having some behavioural issues and it may escalate. The policies I introduced via our school management will help here, but in the end it may be ‘just me’ and perhaps a member of the support staff to help calm a situation. Each situation must be dealt with fairly and with no or minimal risk to the students and ourselves. I have had to, in the past, ensure a rescue of students from areas out of bounds including up on a roof and escaping outside the grounds. Fortunately each of these was resolved safely but they did require a LOT of follow up and in some cases, a new program, class or even school for the student. That is an extreme outcome.


Note Paper with yellow pencil

11.00 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. Morning Break For Students and Staff.

We chose to add 10 minutes to this break and take 10 minutes from the longer lunch break once schools were able to make internal timetable changes themselves. This one gives us 10 minutes eating, then 20 minutes at play and gives all teachers at least a 10 minute break for self-care. I have learned to grab my cuppa a few minutes before the bell, sit with my office staff to recover  chat about the morning and prepare for the rest of the day/week. I like this time to talk with teachers or just listen! Sometimes its their only time to connect with more of the staff and with me. A lot gets covered and there are noticeboards with info as well as pigeonholes for them to check the latest…and of course, emails. 


11.30 a.m. – Midday. Children Assemble Outside Their Rooms and Return to Class.

I spend some time outside while this is happening as it is another way of connecting with the students and I am scanning the areas to ensure that it is safe, all the children are back where they should be and that teachers have arrived to take their classes. On time. It is always my hope anyway!! 

Rather than go straight back to the office, this is time for another walk around these large grounds where I can ascertain that the repairs which were supposed to have been completed to the fence after the last storm have been done. I see that there are classes which stayed outside to complete their fitness after recess and it’s good to know the all-weather sport court is used! It cost a fortune!

Next time I will post about My Afternoon By A Principal.

So, how did you find reading this?

Are you surprised by anything in this?

Does it seem like a role you might enjoy?

Let me know in the comments!


education 150

Joining with Kylie Purtell and friends over here for I Blog On Tuesdays.