Monday 21st September 2020

6/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Thirteen. 1999-2000.11/2020.

6/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Thirteen. 1999-2000.11/2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. It’s been a while since my last one. This one, I admit, is not a brand new one. In fact I wrote back in 2018 over 4 weeks about the challenges and more of being a principal from 1998 – 2003. This post has much of the first two years in it, and the next one, which I will post for Life This Week 8/51 will conclude that part of my professional education leadership life. 

1998.

I really enjoyed being a K-6 School Principal. I had waited till my late 40s to decide to ‘take the plunge’ and actively seek a principal’s role in a K-6 school in Sydney’s west. Having been a relieving Principal in a school where I had been a Deputy Principal I knew that I did not want to apply for that role as I had been at that school for almost 10 years. This was a much longer period than I usually stayed in one school and family reasons were part of this but I knew that to lead that school was fraught with trying to placate factions and being in conflict ethically with the old-fashioned and out-moded forms of discipline.

My Primary School. Attended 1960-61 is where I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

In the lead up to the end of the 1990s I was asked to relieve as a Principal is a larger school within the Western Sydney environment I knew well. This school already had a leadership team including Deputy Principals but it was the wish of the out-going (Long Service Leave first!) Principal that someone from out of the school be appointed. That was me.

What a baptism of fire this was!

Whilst I knew the general area, I was not knowledgable at all about the make-up of the student population – which was well into the 600s. I was to lead that school for Terms 3 and 4 when a principal would be appointed. There were special needs classes, there were children of high needs (intellectual and behavioural) in mainstream classes. Fortunately, it came with a non-teaching Deputy, who helped bring me up to speed with every new challenge including:

  • chasing a boy who was ready to jump the low fence and run onto the road. He stopped. In the playground.
  • finding another boy climbing to the roof of a building to escape the problem he had being in class.
  • having a mother of a girl scream at me over the desk “what are YOU going to DO ABOUT this, YOU”RE the PRINCIPAL”

“I really do not want to be a Principal” I said after a very hectic Term 3 leading into Term 4…but then again..

” the old death bed regret” popped into my mind.

“Did I want to think I should have given the principalship a go but I did not?”

Answer: NO.and this…

As the last Term of 1998 progressed, unless I did decide to start applying for Principal’s roles, I had this ultimatum delivered.

As a Deputy Principal who had needed to leave her original school (the 10 year one) because the school student population  was slowing and there was no longer a DP position, I had to accept any position as a DP and guess where I was appointed: to the school where I was currently Relieving Principal. 

Oh. No, I thought that was untenable and also once I knew who the new boss would be in the following year my hand was forced – in a way. So it was out with the application templates and late nights writing and honing these to match K-6 School Principals roles that I might fit.

It All Takes Time.

Back then, applications for Principal  were sent into the District Office for the Superintendent to look over with his/her panel of selectors. These were a parent from the school which was seeking a new principal, a staff member from that school, a principal of similar status as the role on offer and the Superintendent. If the application met with the panel’s approval, professional referees (nominated on the application) were called, and then if the panel thought they wanted to know more, then the applicant was invited to a formal interview.

I went through this process over some weeks for a total of four times and got to interview but not the role. I was also still leading a school! I did get positive and helpful feedback particularly by one District Superintendent By the second last week of Term 4 I thought I was not going to get a Principal’s job but that was not true and within 2 days of school ending for Term 4, I was offered and I accepted the role of K-6 Principal in my own right.

Appointed As Principal.

The District Superintendent rang me to offer the position and of course I accepted it. Being so close to the end of the year, I could not visit the school until close to the end of the January holidays.

The words that rang in my ear, and were written to me by the District Superintendent echoed…and not nearly as much as in future years.

“Denyse, you have to bring this school into the next century and I know you are the one to do it. It won’t be easy and it will have challenges but you are the right fit for this”.

And of course, Life Goes On, in the family! We were looking forward to the birth of Grandchild #2 in the May of 1999 and by this appointment, I remember telling my daughter “I don’t think I will be able to have part-weeks off to care for him/her”. My daughter understood, and already had an amazing family day care arrangement. I admit my “Grandma” hat was firmly back on my head – with the blessing of my boss, the one who had appointed me and my staff when she, new GD was literally on the way, I was able to have the week off school to help out and BE Grandma. That time meant a great deal.

With my GD some years later!

1999 First Year as a Principal.

The first months.

Hot, No Plan, Making Plans, Learning About the School.

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 now, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get up-skilled 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 staff. 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.

In re-reading this I recall much of it. It has stayed as a very strong memory, being principal of R.P.S. I did have some amazing opportunities and one was being a community member for the local (new then) gaol in the area and contributing to ideas and supporting the warden in his role. I was the district principal  representative for Stewart House, the N.S.W. Public Schools charity supporting needy children to have a break from home by the sea. I do know I missed a lot of ‘family time’ because of the nature of the role and my school was about 40 minutes from home but I was (still am) a passionate educator!

Stewart House: South Curl Curl.

Next time: 2001 and 2002. The Way My Career as a N.S.W. School Principal Ended.

I know there is a lot that’s been said (and I hope read) but it’s such a pivotal part of my life (then) and even now. I needed to share it as I have.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Link Up #175

 

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Comments

  1. Ive read a bit about you being a principal over the years but this was the first time I realised you were the rep for Stewart house! Nice work. It is those big steps in life that make it so rewarding when you look back on it.

    • Thanks Lydia. I know the first times I did write about this I was not feeling as shame-free as I do now. There is a lot to be said for time…

      Over the years from being a student who went to High School in the same area as Stewart House, I have always been a supporter. I had money taken out of my pay as an educator for decades. Their only funding is from donations. The Dept of Ed provides staff and more but essentially the cost is around $1000 per student for the 12 day stay.

      I have attended a few annual meetings there and was a proud DP (from Shalvey) to get $1000 donation awards and for Richmond too.

      It is my #1 charity (well, after Beyond Five now I guess) and the more we let those in the NSW Public Education system know if its importance the better.

      Denyse.

  2. Hi Denyse

    It is great you are writing your story. One of the universities has introduced a Biography offer for residents at my MIL’s Aged Care Home. They will record the resident’s stories and put them together into a book. I think it is a great idea and I know my MIL has a very interesting story, having emigrated from Italy just after WWII. Have a great week and thanks for the #lifethisweek link up. x

    • That is so good to read about Sue.

      The stories must be shared or we will never get a better understanding of what went before.

      My Dad has written quite a bit about his life and that gave me the start of the 90th Birthday story on powerpoint we made for him 6 years ago.

      I am so glad about your MIL. Like my grandmother (even though she was from UK) I think they were incredibly courageous to start life in another land.

      Denyse.

  3. You most definitely were, and still are in my mind, a passionate educator Denyse! What an interesting look into your time as a Principal and all it entailed. Thanks for sharing your life stories with us

    • Thanks Debbie. i “know” you know. My next story will be the one about “how I didn’t finish” as I would have liked and you get that too.

      The story after that will be, like you too I think, how NSW Teachers Fed was the group that helped me secure my super early.

      Oh what a fight we needed to have. Not what I needed then at all.

      Yes, I am fortunate to have retained my passion which is why I support all educators. I do think though that the stories need to be shared. Just as well I have a blog!!

      Denyse.

  4. Being a principal sounds like such a stressful role especially when you are needing to drive change.

    • Yes it is, Ingrid.I knew it would be and was happy to bring the changes to the fore but the culture of the school and its traditional staff (mostly locals) was what ended up with me having the health breakdown.

      Denyse.

  5. A school principal has a lot of responsibilities and passionate educators, like you, made a big difference for the school and its students. Thanks, Denyse, for sharing your story. #lifethisweek

    • Thank you Natalie. I have always hoped that my continued enthusiasm for and interest in school education is recognised. The disappointment (& shame) I felt at how my health prevented me from returning to the principal’s role has all but left me now. I know I “did” make a difference in the schools where I was an educator and that matters more.

      Denyse.

  6. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes of being a principal and all the responsibility that goes with it. I admire anyone who puts their hand up for this role.

    Look forward to reading more next week. Xx

    • Thank you Sandra. Yes there is SO much more that unless you work within the school system there is much not known. Thanks for your kind words. My next chapter will be in 2 weeks. Next week is about Self-Care stories so I’d best do one of those!!

      Denyse.

  7. I always enjoy reading about your life Denyse. You are yourself a Woman of Courage

  8. I can’t even fathom the idea of getting interviews four times for four different principalships and not getting the first three. Job interviews are the bane of my existence, and I know that it takes a lot of mental preparation to get yourself there and sit for the interview. I don’t know how you persevered through so many of them!

    • Thanks Kat. I actually benefitted from the lessons learned – because I sought feedback – from the first lot of interviews & 3 of them were with the same District Superintendent but the panel members differed for each one.

      Each gave me greater experience too as they tend to follow a formula of sorts. Back then anyway. What I learned and what helped me immensely at the successful interview was to have a folder, opened with some of my notes jotted down. These notes were made by me at home (questions can be guessed in around 5 of them as they are generic) and added to at the pre-interview time of 10 mins with the questions.

      I also used my glasses! I was no longer vain about using them and realised I could glance to see my notes better and still do the eye contact, smile to the group. They were readers back then but I managed. The panels were always 5 people.

      It has not changed much and I have led panels too but, even though this school ended up being not so great for my health over time, I was pleased to get the principal’s role there than at the others.

      Your green card news is the best!!

      Denyse.

      • I use my glasses to hide behind (I know it sounds stupid, but I I love them because I think of them as a kind of armour in situations like job interviews). I’ve interviewed in front of a panel of three or four people before, but never five at once. Talk about intimidating!

        And thank you, I am super stoked about the Green Card 🙂

  9. I was going to say that I can remember you writing about time periods in your career before. I love that your work shaped your life and who you are so much.

    I never had a ‘profession’ as such so don’t have that connection to my past or past lives. So many of the things I did were just ‘jobs’ or stages or my life.

    • Yes, Deb, I put my hand up that I have published about the story before but needed to keep to the Chapter systems I adopted for the Telling My Story, I “had” to include these years.

      I have made some changes and I know, within myself, some of the changes within me have given me strength. I also do not feel ashamed this happened to me. That took some time to leave me!

      I would have though you had a professional career though, so maybe you are doing yourself a disservice. You working life has always intrigued me because I know bits of it but not all. Maybe one day, you too will share it. It is something I would LOVE to read!!

      Denyse.

  10. I know that I’ve said it before, but I love that you’re taking the time to write this down. Mostly I love how you identify as a “teacher”… There aren’t enough passionate educators in our system.

    • Thanks Joanne. I really do appreciate those words.

      Love the support about the passion for education too. I am indeed one of those “cheerleaders.”

      Denyse.

  11. Denyse, thank you for sharing more of your memories of your career as an educator and principal. Your passion makes you a wonderful voice to communicate to laypeople like myself about the evolving role and challenges of educating young Australians.

    SSG xxx

    • Thank you so much SSG.

      It really is at the heart of who I am: being an educator and educating. However, I am always buoyed by the support of my fellow bloggers and readers.

      In the education systems there is a lot of ‘secrecy’ or ‘holding information’ tightly as I imagine there is in the medical field. Especially working in the public systems as I did. Duty of Care, professional codes of conduct and all forms of accountability can silence those who are having trouble.

      With the information I have now, and the older I am, I would have liked to think I could have shared my problems with my superiors but in fact I did not. Even when I did end up having to leave the role (next chapter) my boss then had no idea how to care for someone who had been ruled unfit to return to the principal’s role.

      Denyse.

  12. Thanks so much for hosting! I’m linking up with MY VALENTINE’S DAY MIRROR (LOOKING-GLASS PROMPT). I invite you to link up at my UNLIMITED MONTHLY LINK PARTY 9, open February 1 to 26.

  13. Denyse you have such clear recollections of these years – my memories of decades gone by are very fuzzy and are based more on little incidents here and there, rather than such a cohesive timeline – I guess that’s the teacher in you coming to the forefront!

    • Thanks Leanne, I do have very strong memories of events that affected me emotionally in particular. However, the years and what happened when need to have a distinct memory for me such as a child’s birth, wedding etc and a school and my work there. So teaching has years as its structure with timetables and places and I guess for me that helps.

      My husband remembers life via some of his cars!!

      We each have our memories and recently we can both recall incidents that the other cannot.

      Must be the right time to write all I can so I don’t lose it altogether.

      Denyse,

  14. My daughter is an educator. She teaches 1st grade in a school for underserved kids. She has a fantastic principal and it has made SUCH a difference. She has also taught in schools with a principal who showed poor leadership skills. I’m sure your teachers under your care were blessed to have you when you were there! Thank you for serving kids for so many years.

    • Thank you very much Lisa. I applaud your daughter! I am pleased she has leadership that supports and nurtures.

      Your kind words are definitely balm to the teacher soul in me!

      Denyse.

  15. …Tried to leave a comment under your “The Big C” post but couldn’t find a comment block…

    It’s beautiful to see a confident woman. But it’s also human to not be confident in every area of our life Thank you for your honesty here.

    • Ah Lisa, how kind of you to comment on that “ages ago” post. I decided to add it as I had inklings of those feelings and memories again and I decided that I needed to re-read and act again.

      I realised comments are open only for a year and this post was just over it.

      Thank you again for your kind words. They do help!!.

      Denyse.

  16. You really went through a “baptism of fire” in your first years as an administrator, didn’t you? I love the idea of telling your life story one post at a time. What a wonderful gift to give your children and grandchildren!

    • Thank you Laurie. I know as a teacher yourself you too would understand. In some ways, the situation back then just was not set for working itself out. The reasons, are in the next post (in 2 weeks) and if I left any of “this” part of my story out, then it would not actually be Telling MY Story truthfully.

      Denyse.

  17. You’re such a passionate educator, Denyse. I love that you’re writing and sharing your story – it sounds like you really had your work cut out for you when you became head of that school!

    • Thanks Sammie, I was “just as passionate” then too but I was defeated by quite a lot out of my control. The ‘sadder parts’ of the story come in 2 weeks.

      If I did not include this not so good part of my story then I would not be telling MY truth.

      Hope you are going well in UK.

      Denyse.

  18. It sounds so full on – must be worse these days with more expectation of 24/7 communication. I turned down a promotion once becuase I’d have to be on call always and that didn’t work for me.

    Also, I totally never made a DP chase me around the school. Nope. Neeeever happened.

    • You are so right.

      When 24/7 contact came in via emails etc I was teaching but no longer a principal. I was a part-time ESL teacher and that was enough. But I am getting ahead of myself.

      Part Two of this Principal’s story comes in 2 weeks.

      I did not actually chase the kid (I refused to do that) but my DP did and still the little 6 yo got out. Really a problem on a very busy road with a child with quite a few behavioural issues.

      As for your example..who might that have been?? mmm

      Denyse.

  19. Your stories are so inspiring!

  20. I’m very impressed at your ability to recall memories and events from so long ago! That in itself is commendable. I love that you are continuing to share your story and share so much about education

    • They say, the most impressionable ones (good or bad) get laid down pretty well. That’s my take and I have always been the ‘rememberer’. However, I notice not as good as I was!!

      Thanks Sanch.

      Denyse.