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Planning and tracking change through professional development

ACER news 3 minute read

Even after 28 years as a principal, Jim O’Sullivan of Sacred Heart Primary School in Victoria’s Diamond Creek believes in continuous professional growth. 

It’s why he is well on his way to becoming a Certified Practising Principal (CPP).

‘It’s important to stay at the cutting edge, to constantly revisit teaching and learning skills,’ Jim says. ‘And to stay aware of contemporary skills and methodologies.’

‘CPP is about the work I do here in the community and how to improve my school by my role in it. It’s very practical, hands-on and means a tangible improvement in my school’s operations.’

Jim O’Sullivan, Principal of Sacred Heart Primary School, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne

Why professional certification?

With two Masters degrees under his belt, Jim believes the value of professional certification lies in its direct benefit to the school community.

‘I’ve got all the letters after my name,’ he says, ‘but CPP is exceptionally worthwhile because you gain the skills and knowledge to make an impact on your community as its leader – to improve the community for students, parents and staff.’

The practical nature of CPP, with its emphasis on monitoring of current practice, means that its impact is felt immediately. Principals are asked to choose ‘portfolio initiatives’ that represent areas of their ongoing work, and to provide evidence for their activity around these initiatives. This real-time reflection on practice and the collection of supporting data helps principals identify what’s working while fine-tuning the areas that need it.

‘CPP puts you in the position of being responsible for planning a change, tracking a change, sustaining the change and then reporting it,’ Jim says. ‘It’s the equivalent of a professionally recognised university-level project.

‘Importantly, it’s one that doesn’t just stay on paper because it’s borne out in your activities in your school.’

Effecting real change

Jim’s portfolio initiatives centre upon enhancing parent communication through social media and, as part of a teacher professional development program, the introduction of video self-reflection.

‘I’ve taken learnings from CPP and applied them directly to growth in the parent and staff community,’ he says. ‘CPP has helped me focus on being specific and structured in my approach and the impact on the community is great because it’s a targeted thing.’

The network effect

The certification process is helping Jim build a sense of collegiality with many principals across different spheres of education.

‘We’re working in different contexts but we’re all trying to do the same job,’ Jim says. ‘By achieving certification, we’ve done the theory, put together a piece of research and gone through the rigor of having it assessed and validated by peers.

‘We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And we’re doing it! It’s theory in action as a principal.’

Find out more

Read more about Certified Practising Principal at or contact

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