It’s all about teamwork say primary principals

It was Australian Primary Principals' Day on 7 August. We asked two principals, who are also IEU members, about the joys and challenges of the role.

Kevin Mills, (top right) the Principal of St Margaret Mary’s Primary School in Merrylands, in Sydney’s West, has been a member of the IEU since 1980. He has held leadership positions in Catholic education for 35 years, from senior primary teacher to coordinator, assistant principal and 26 years as a principal. He became Principal of St Margaret Mary’s in 2014.

Ian Shaw, (middle right) is Principal of Kuyper Christian School in Kurrajong, on the lower slopes of the Blue Mountains (pictured bottom right). He has been in leadership positions for more than 20 years in several Christian schools, and commenced as Principal at Kuyper Christian School in 2016.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges as a primary school principal and what has been most helpful to you in this position?

Kevin Mills: A big challenge is building a shared commitment within the school community with an emphasis on staff and teachers as leaders. In coping with an everchanging world, we must look at different ways of working with our communities to strengthen their engagement with learning, including looking outside education for best practice in change management. I have a great group of supportive colleagues who share their thinking, wisdom and insights, and they are non-judgemental. The best thing is that we are all very different and this always stretches my decision-making.

Ian Shaw: Forming and nurturing the staff team is an important challenge – gathering the right people in the school to engage students and parents in the life and learning of the school. Another is the changing curriculum, compliance, registration and the COVID-19 landscape. Gaining insight and support from bodies such as Christian Education National (CEN), NSW CEN Hub, Association of Independent Schools and the IEU have been instrumental in making good judgements around policy and planning.

Has union membership helped you in your career?

Kevin Mills: When I was appointed as a teacher, my first principal was keen for me to become a member, he simply said: “They will look after you.” The union’s task of looking after my conditions and wages has always been one aspect of my career that I do not have to worry about.

Ian Shaw: For many years I resisted joining the union. I eventually felt convinced to join as I realised I was living on the contribution of other IEU members who, on behalf of us all, had fought for fairness in the wage negotiation process. The IEU has always been a helpful adviser in matters of negotiation between staff, employers and school boards.

What advice would you offer teachers seeking to become leaders in primary schools?

Kevin Mills: First, be a great teacher. Then be forward looking, back yourself, never stop learning and remember schools are all about relationships. Be prepared to share everything along the way!

Ian Shaw: My advice to prospective leaders is to demonstrate servant leadership to others with integrity. This example will afford you the respect you need to lead others. The way you treat others will be the yardstick. Literacy and numeracy skills are essential gifts for children, and working in a P-12 school I see the significance of primary teachers establishing foundational understanding. The wonder of learning in a young child is so encouraging.