Reflections of a first-time principalApril 2016
Education Review asks Ruawai Primary School principal CURTIS GAYLOR about taking the step to the position of principal and what he’s learned along the way.
Q: Education Review: Describe your journey to becoming a school principal.
A: Curtis Gaylor: I was a secondary-trained teacher but was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to teach at Dargaville Intermediate straight out of study. I spent six years there, where I was able to learn from two great principals.
I started off with HOD roles in PE, health and EOTC and then was given the role of HOD of ICT and e-learning. I left there to take on the role of head of sport at the local high school. Not long after starting there, the principal position at Ruawai Primary School was advertised, which I applied for and was awarded.
Q: Did you aspire to a school leadership role from the outset of your teaching career or when you were training to be a teacher?
A: I always enjoyed the level of responsibility that came with leadership in different sporting codes. So as soon as I started teaching, I knew I wanted to become a principal.
Q: Who or what was instrumental in supporting you to become a principal? Do you have any mentors?
A: My first two principals, Margaret Morrison and Brendon Lucich, were hugely instrumental in supporting my journey to where I am now. The biggest thing they both gave me was their trust.
They provided me with lots of leadership opportunities that enabled me to develop relational, financial and logistical skills. They also gave me the freedom to explore what best practice looks like in a variety of curriculum areas, but especially in e-learning and ICT.
I also have a great mentor through the First Time Principals programme, Adrian Smith, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Q: Were you encouraged by colleagues or did you feel in competition with them when thinking about applying for a principal’s role? Did you feel free to voice your ambitions?
A: I have some great friends within the education sector who have been hugely supportive. I have never felt any sense of competition.
Q: Have you taken any courses or qualifications or other professional development that has helped you be a better principal?
A: Yes. National Aspiring Principals was fantastic. The discussions and networking opportunities were invaluable.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about your first year as a principal?
A: Absolutely everything. I have such a committed team of teachers, support staff and parents, which makes my job so rewarding. I love being able to get to know and interact with the whole school community and not just my own class.
Q: What do you find most frustrating or challenging?
A: My biggest frustration at the moment is not being able to effectively resource and fund initiatives that I know will make a huge difference for my kids. I would also love to be able to provide my teachers with more release time for planning, assessing, reporting and professional development. I don’t really let it frustrate me though, as I know my BOT and I will identify possible solutions.
Q: What have you learned?
A: You don’t have to know everything and to surround yourself with the right people.
Q: Do you have a good network and support with other principals?
A: Most definitely. I have a great group of principals in the Northern Wairoa area. We meet once every term to discuss ‘What’s on top’ for our kids and ourselves. I am often on the phone to a number of them.
Q: Do you miss being in the classroom?
A: Sometimes. But I am really lucky to have the opportunity to spend time in every classroom, play sport with the kids at lunchtime and go on all the camps, sports days and other extracurricular activities. So really, I get the best of both worlds.
Q: What advice would you give others aspiring to gain a principal position?
A: Apply to enrol in the First Time Principals programme. Through this you will be able to really explore and reflect on what your real moral purpose is as an educator. You will have a really good idea by the end of the course if you do actually want to be a principal.
Listen to the principals that have loads of experience. Experience counts for a lot!
Take on every opportunity of responsibility offered to you and be prepared to take constructive feedback, make mistakes and to understand that not everyone has the same beliefs, pedagogy and ideas as you, and that is totally fine.
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