‘Sydney Catholic schools looking to appoint principals from other industries’ was the headline from an article by Alexandra Smith, Education Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald which was published online on 20 March 2016.
It sparked a huge amount of debate about whether a person without a teaching background could effectively run a school. But it does open up the question – what skills are really needed if you are interested in moving up the ladder? Generally when looking at postgraduate study most teaching professionals stick with the education discipline and enrol in a Masters in Education. But why keep improving the skills you already have? That’s like a tree always growing along the same branch. Shouldn’t you consider ‘branching’ out into other areas?
In any given school you find a percentage of teaching staff who have leadership aspirations. They are interested in moving up to become part of the schools executive team or attaining higher duties in positions relating to student progression and welfare. Principals and executive staff are essentially the managing directors of the organisation with a team of middle managers who in turn supervise staff.
Undertaking a Masters in the education discipline will be useful in improving your professional teaching skill and hence in mentoring staff in the teaching process but may not necessary help you in recruiting and selecting staff, managing staff performance, managing budgets, resolving conflicts (staff, students, parents), liaising with the community, developing a promotional plan for the school or preparing an annual operational plan.
You know how to teach
Let’s face it – if this is you - you already know how to teach and you are probably an excellent teacher – that is how you got into this more senior role. And, it’s not really your own teaching that you will have problems with. As you move up the ladder you will have less teaching responsibility and more management responsibility and will need enhanced skills in other areas to complement your educational expertise.
Maybe you should be considering studies in another discipline area. At the Assistant Principal and Principal level you need strong accounting and budgeting, leadership, operational management, strategic planning and HR skills. Completing an MBA is probably a good way of gaining those skills. If you are a year coordinator, an Aboriginal education worker, school counsellor, boarding supervisor or student welfare officer, you are going to be spending a lot of time mediating in and resolving disputes between staff, students, parents and other stakeholders. A Masters in Dispute Resolution/Conflict Resolution could provide you with valuable and practical knowledge and skills.
As you move up in an organisation, you are starting to need stronger leadership skills and you may be involved in a lot of public relations activities. A Master of Commerce would allow you to select both leadership and marketing/communication studies.
For non teaching staff such as bursars and office management improving skills in planning, accounting, budgeting and operational management is also useful. A Graduate Certificate in Business would provide the opportunity to cherry pick four subjects in areas where you wished to improve your skills.
Basically, there is an enormous range of postgraduate courses on offer at universities today and for most master programs in business disciplines you no longer need an undergraduate degree in business to gain entry. In fact, the majority of people studying postgraduate business programs come from other disciplines such as teaching, sciences, arts, nursing and engineering. So sit down and think about your current skill set, think about the key performance indicators for your current role, think about the skills you might need to move into a more senior role and then plan your next degree carefully.
Kath Attree is a Course Director within the Faculty of Business at Charles Sturt University. CSU offers a range of postgraduate business and educational leadership courses via online study. For more information see:http://tinyurl.com/zuqam2y