Home' Independence : Independence Vol 33 No 1 May 2008 Contents 62 Independence Volume 33 No. 1
Ilene Thiel, Principal,
Murray Bridge, SA
Unity College is a coeducational school of
915 students from Kindergarten to Year 12.
Moving from Deputy into the role of Prin-
cipal has both advantages and disadvan-
tages. The fact that you know and are
known by the community means you don't
have to do a lot of the transitional work
in relationship building that is required
when a Principal is appointed from outside.
You also have a good understanding of how
the school operates and what its values
and ethos are.
On the downside, because everyone knows
you already, there's not the same sense of
mystery and excitement generated by a
new person coming into the school, which
can be a useful platform for change.
I thought it was important, even though I
had been in the school for a period of time,
to go through one whole year as Principal
without implementing major change.
I wanted to make clear to the community
that I would not be making major changes
until I'd had the chance to view the school
from the perspective of the Principal. I also
wanted time to get used to the new role
before looking at major innovations.
I also decided to spend a disproportionate
amount of my time in the junior and mid-
dle school settings, because my background
was Head of Senior School. I needed to
divest myself of the role of being an advo-
cate for the senior school, and the percep-
tion of me as such, and learn to look at
the bigger picture.
Talking to other Principals provided very
important support. I had already establi-
shed relationships at a Deputy level, plus
there are opportunities to meet as a group
with other Principals in the Lutheran sys-
tem. The chance to network at AHISA
meetings is also helpful.
There are tremendous support mechanisms
in place for me within the Lutheran sys-
tem. There are orientation courses for new
Principals involving a series of one-day
workshops at the Lutheran Schools Asso-
ciation at which members of staff there
who are responsible for finances of Luth-
eran schools in SA, Indigenous education,
professional development and so on pro-
vide introductory sessions.
Over the course of the next two terms
each of those people then came to visit
me in my own setting, going into more
depth about various aspects of the role of
Principal and answering questions that
had cropped up since the workshops.
As I'm in a regional area, this was very
important and much appreciated.
One advantage of moving from Deputy
to Principal is that if you have had a good
relationship with the former Principal
then that person is a wonderful resource.
The previous Principal is a mentor to me
without in any way trying to continue
to impose their regime. This is extremely
helpful. I am also supported by another
Principal with whom I feel comfortable
asking questions. Should I need it, the
Lutheran system will set up a formal
Principal, Fintona Girls
School, Melbourne, Vic
Fintona is a girls' school of 620 students
from Kindergarten to Year 12.
One might think the best trajectory for
arriving at the role of Principal of a girls'
school would entail a history of experience
in girls' schools of a particular kind. My
journey has been quite different. I had
never taught in an all girls' school; in fact
I'd mostly taught in all boys' schools.
In retrospect I think the breadth of expe-
rience I've had in other kinds of schools
has been of benefit in my role here. I've
had the opportunity to hone skills and
achieve a flexibility and ability to adapt
that a more narrow experience doesn't
always allow. Most importantly I had
learnt to watch and listen, which are great
skills to have when you come into a school
I came to Fintona with no previous know-
ledge of the school and, importantly, no
preconceptions. Schools are a bit like stu-
dents; sometimes everyone benefits if there
is the opportunity to start again with a
clean slate. So I did not feel disadvantaged
by a lack of background in the school.
I saw it as an opportunity.
I did not want a grand ceremonial intro-
duction to the school. I just slipped in
quietly, and that worked well. It suited
this community. Similarly, I didn't seek
to make changes in the first nine months,
but then I moved quickly. People have an
expectation of change from a new person
and it was important to take advantage
of that, just as much as it was important
to first spend time watching and listening.
At the same time, I think it's possible to
introduce change at any time if it's consi-
dered change and there has been proper
It's not necessarily change itself that is prob-
lematic, it's how you do it. You need the
trust of the staff and whole school com-
munity so that they have confidence that
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