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Connecting school improvement with principal professional development

Feature 4 minute read

Matthew Johnson enrolled in CPP to achieve principal certification in 2018. Here he shares his highlights of the journey so far. 

After more than 30 years in education, you might think Matthew Johnson would find being a school principal relatively straightforward, but his role involves a degree of complexity few of his peers would experience. As the leader of Glenvale Special School in NSW, he must deliver high quality education to students with moderate to severe intellectual and physical needs, from pre-school to 18 years, and spread over three campuses. 

I’d encourage any principal who wants to go through certification to do it. Do it, get validated, be proud of what you do and really celebrate the achievement of being a fantastic principal.
Matthew Johnson CPP, Principal, Glenvale Special School, and National President, ASEPA 
A focus on the individual

Matthew has been working in the special school setting for more than 20 years. At Glenvale, the focus is on the learning needs of each individual student. While it’s a philosophy that wouldn’t be out of place in other schools, Matthew explains that it’s essential at Glenvale. 

‘We have a clear emphasis on developing individual learning plans and programs based on SMART goals and assessment,’ Matthew says. ‘For these students, there’s no curriculum that accommodates their range of needs, and assessment tools are not fine-grained enough.’ 

Assessment of student learning and achievement is one of the biggest challenges in the special education environment, Matthew says. Students are often not able to sit the high-stakes standardised tests used in other schools and settings, so assessments in the special education setting are formative and rely on ongoing evidence of learning. Accordingly, Glenvale’s teachers are accustomed to constantly adjusting their approach based on learning outcomes.  

‘It’s the challenge of working in a complex environment,’ Matthew says, ‘And it’s what motivated me and ultimately encouraged me to pursue principal certification through CPP. 

Rigor, impact and recognition  

Matthew worked in high schools, central schools and primary schools in rural and metropolitan areas before joining Glenvale and taking up the role of National President of the Australian Special Education Principals Association (ASEPA). It was his work with ASEPA that motivated Matthew to embark on principal certification with Certified Practising Principal (CPP). 

‘I was looking for a program that was national in scope, since I am representing all of our Australian special education leaders,’ he says. I was drawn to CPP because of its recognition across system boundaries, as well as for its rigor and impact.’ 

The initial face-to-face meetings and induction were a clear highlight of CPP.  

‘To mix with principals from different systems, jurisdictions and school types was a great opportunity to see how evidence of practice and school and leadership improvement is as varied as our principal roles and school contexts,’ Matthew says. 

Big picture leadership in school improvement 

Matthew believes that the format of CPP has been instrumental in supporting him to meet the real challenges of leading a special school. 

‘You can choose CPP portfolio initiatives that form part of your school improvement plans,’ he says. ‘That way you reflect critically on your own practice while implementing those plans and strategies and analysing your impact. 

‘CPP and the certification process is about your leadership of those big picture plans and the how and why of your leadership.’  

Find out more

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