Bank Australia is supporting secondary school principals through our partnership with the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals (VASSP). One of the ways we work with VASSP is supporting the Professional Learning Award – a $5000 scholarship that is awarded annually to a secondary school principal who has demonstrated a committment to further their career through undertaking professional development activities.
The 2015 recipient of the Performance Learning Award was Nathan Chisholm, the Principal of Buckley Park State College in Victoria’s Essendon. Bank Australia spoke to Nathan about the scholarship and the outcomes he’s achieved from this scholarship, and the unique challenges and rewards of being a school principal.
What is your current role and background?
I’m the Principal of Buckley Park College in Essendon. I’ve been in this role for 4 years and was appointed to Buckley Park College after 5 years as Principal of a school in Altona. I’m an English teacher and I’m still absolutely passionate about the classroom, as much as I am about the leadership complexities of my role as Principal. I always wanted to be a teacher, and from the time I started teaching, I knew that I was determined to work toward being a Principal too.
Tell us about Buckley Park College?
Buckley Park College is a very special place. Our students are truly wonderful young people who bring so many strengths, positivity and ambition to their learning with us. There’s such a spirit which fills our school and we work hard to nurture that and strengthen our culture all the time. I feel so proud when guests come to our school and comment on how good it feels to be with our students and staff.
Why did you apply for the Performance Learning Award in 2015?
I’ve been a member of VASSP since I was first appointed to an Assistant Principal position and I knew that the award existed at our conference. When I saw the entry, I thought, ‘why not?’ I had an idea of how I might use the money from the award if I was lucky enough to be successful. I actually ended up doing something quite different but the award kicked it off. I also saw the category was ‘school based innovation’ and I knew that the work my team and I were doing to reform our approach to reporting to parents was good work. It was fantastic for me to be able to acknowledge the teachers from our school in my speech, as without them, we couldn’t have made the progress we made.
What are the challenges you face in your role as a Principal that you felt this scholarship might be able to help address?
There are many challenges in the role of Principal – the complexity of the work, managing a large budget, recruitment and HR, the waves of politics, the needs of students, parents and the community, etc. It’s also vital that I maintain strength of knowledge and impact as an instructional leader; that is always being focused on improving learning and teaching practice in the classroom. The challenges are great and so are the joys of the work. This is a great job! I’m not looking to ‘address’ challenges per se, rather this is an opportunity to continue growing and learning as a leader.
What are you planning to do/have done so far with the funding?
I’ve begun a Masters of Business Leadership and have used the funding to pay for the first couple of subjects. I’m looking at Business Leadership as I’m interested in learning more about successful management and leadership principles in the corporate sector and then applying them to my work at school.
What are the biggest take-outs for you from the course so far?
Whether its schools or a bank, high level emotional intelligence is a fundamental quality of the most effective leaders.
Why do you think professional development is important in the educator sector and in particular, for Principals?
It’s vital that all professionals are focused on continuous improvement and as leaders of learning, it’s even more critical that as Principals we model what it is to love learning; to be a lifelong learner. Life as a Principal is a hectic pace and effective leaders make, and take, time to nourish their own professional growth. I’m determined to be a leader who changes with the world and one who is committed to my own learning, side-by-side with our students.
Do you have any advice for other principals looking to pursue professional development opportunities?
Have a go! As a profession we can sometimes to be hesitant to promote the great work that our teachers and kids are doing – we should do it more, and here’s an opportunity to do just that, coupled with a chance to focus on you, the leader.