Thursday, 15 June 2023
South Australian Primary Principals Association Conference
I am delighted to be with you this morning at the 2023 South Australian Primary Principals Association Conference.
As the theme of the conference attests, you are “everyday influencers”. You influence the staff. You influence the students. You influence the community.
While it is undoubtedly rewarding to nurture young minds and set firm foundation for their futures, I know - if only vicariously - how challenging classrooms can be, because my husband Rod is a former secondary school teacher.
Being a school leader is hard work and time consuming. You wear many hats: supervisor, evaluator, holder of policies and procedures, conflict arbiter, public relations exponent, as well as being custodians of workplace and classroom culture.
Success on these levels takes commitment and resilience, particularly at a time when I know many schools are having to cope with managing staff shortages.
I know too that heavy workloads encroach on family and leisure time, and that schools as a microcosm of a wider society see educators and school leaders at the forefront of dealing with student behaviours and bearing the stress of ever higher expectations.
As leaders, you have to know intimately the demographics of the wider school community and respond to how family pressures are having an impact on student learning.
When I look back, I can reflect that my school days were against the backdrop of less complicated times.
While there clearly has been no little water under the bridge since I was a student at Linden Park Primary School, I can recall, with gratitude, how the school set a firm foundation for me, and my classmates, to be curious, creative, and good citizens.
As Governor, one of my aims is to encourage young people to know more about South Australia, our history, and the advances that made this a progressive State; about the values of fairness, democracy and social innovation that shaped us.
Instilling pride in our community and in ourselves as engaged citizens has no limit on age nor any starting point.
To that end, I encourage educators and students to get involved in the Governor’s Civic Awards, to inspire students to feel empowered to take action as young citizens.
A good example of something simple that can have positive impact was an entry last year from Prospect Primary School, which focused on changing the name of the Stranger’s Gallery in the House of Assembly to the People’s Gallery.
After writing to the local MP, Parliament voted on the matter and the name has been changed. Just one word can change perceptions. After all, people should not be considered strangers when viewing the workings of our democracy.
You are all leading in tough times, and those tough times create a pressing need for effective leadership.
Leadership which ensures that a vibrant culture, value system and a sense of purpose are nurtured alongside an awareness of the need for good structures and good governance.
Leadership so that our young people are not only provided with core competencies, but that their abilities to interact with others in a social context are supported and developed.
Only two or three weeks after being sworn in as Governor in October 2021, it struck me that every day was a good day.
Now, I have to be honest and say to you that not every day was a good day in my previous role as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, much as I loved what I was doing.
And I’ll make a leap of faith here and surmise that not every day may necessarily be a good day for primary school principals, although though you, too, may love what you are doing.
And without getting into a debate about it, let’s just agree that being a departmental secretary is probably as tough as being a primary school principal, at least some of the time.
So, what to do about it? As leaders?
Getting together is a good start, just as you are doing today.
There is nothing quite like sharing professional challenges – and discussing how they might be able to be overcome, both in structured ways through the formal conference program and in informal discussion. That helps build influence too.
We did something similar as secretaries, even though there were only 17 of us.
Having a strong professional association with a clear sense of purpose and which enjoys the confidence and active support of its members is also important. As is strategic planning and evaluation of performance. Finding the time to do both is hard, but not doing it is not an option if you are to thrive, rather than survive.
The Secretaries Board was our equivalent.
And then there is your own school, or department, which won’t be exactly the same as anyone else’s and where your leadership matters most.
It’s your community. You know it well, but there are a lot of demands on your time. Endless demands. How to get ahead of them? How to listen?
I mean really listen. The kind of deep listening where people – educators, students, parents - tell you things you might initially think you’d rather not know, but which ultimately provide you with actionable insights and help set you on a better course. But to get there you have to take time, hear people out, sometimes even bite your tongue and withhold judgement.
That kind of listening in pre-COVID and COVID times helped me a lot. It didn’t come easily, but practice helped.
So, too, did setting clear expectations around respectful conduct at all levels and encouraging generous inclusive leadership by the leadership team.
Of course, we all have days, even good days, when we feel we have given as much as we can.
And that’s where we have to monitor our own resilience as leaders – and remind ourselves, whether in the middle of term, or the middle of a parliamentary sitting week, of that sometimes elusive, but always-worth-striving-for work-life balance, wherever we choose to strike it.
There was many a time I needed to do that.
We are at our most influential, after all, when we are on top of things, when we are doing well what we are charged with doing, and when our stakeholders recognise that and are supportive.
Let me end with a thank you as your Governor.
Your experience and commitment to leadership in education is deeply appreciated and valued and I congratulate the South Australian Primary Principals Association on running this annual conference and on its role in advocacy and support.
I have much pleasure in declaring the conference open.