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‘An opportunity for growth’ through principal certification

Feature 7 minute read

Principal Jacqui O’Donnell is a strong proponent of ongoing learning and self-improvement. 

The Rockingham Beach Primary School principal has always made it a priority in her professional life; in fact, three years ago she won a scholarship for the Leadership: an evolving vision’ program at Harvard University. Upon her return, she felt inspired and full of fresh ideas about leadership and culture, change and strategy.

However, she also felt that principals did not have access to the same performance and growth reviews as teachers.

For principals, there are not a lot of opportunities for someone to come in and say, “You’re doing really great here” or “You could be doing this”, Ms O’Donnell said.We have school reviews where they look and see where the gaps are in the school and ask what are you putting into place, but that’s once every 3 or 4 years and even then it’s not detailed to say you’re meeting the Principal Standard, or your leadership is having a real impact on teacher growth or student outcomes.

An opportunity for growth

When Ms O’Donnell heard about the Certified Practising Principal (CPP) program, she knew it was the solution she had been searching for – an independent, professional certification created for principals by principals.

To achieve certification, applicants must demonstrate with clear, compelling and convincing evidence how their leadership meets the Australian Professional Standard for Principals (Principal Standard). 

The process involves an induction, connecting portfolio initiatives to improvement plans, generating data and analysing the impact, and reflecting on your own practice as a principal.

Ms O’Donnell’s two initiatives, both in the area of mathematics pedagogy, were:  

  1. To improve student outcomes 
  2. To improve teachers’ practice by building a professional learning community 

For each initiative, Ms O’Donnell created an action plan then put together a report (required to be 4000-6000 words) outlining findings and using supporting evidence.

The key for me in doing the process was not to do something additional, but rather to identify what the challenges were in my school and to focus on initiatives I would have been doing anyway, Ms Donnell said.Going through the CPP process meant that I was a lot more rigorous about collecting the data and documenting everything. 

As principals, we tend to lead these initiatives, but we don’t always document them very well and so much of it happens in our head. This process made me write it down, and as such, you can better reflect on your practice.

The CPP accreditation took Ms O’Donnell 18 months.

I loved the process because I’m really passionate and I love action research, she said.I love learning and reading and CPP really encouraged me to learn more about Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Ms O’Donnell said PLCs make all the difference

It has really changed our school culture, how we work and collaborate within the school, and I wouldn’t have done that without being part of CPP,’ she said. It also helped me understand the significant impact a leader has on school improvement.

A cause for community celebration

In December 2019, Ms O’Donnell received confirmation that her hard work had paid off and she had been certified.

It was great validation and I admit I did a little bit of a happy dance,’ she said.As a principal, you’re a bit isolated and you may think you do an OK job leading change in your school and supporting staff, but this was affirmation.

Ms O’Donnell said it was also cause for celebration in her school community.

When ACER announced it, one of my staff reposted it [on social media] and it was a huge buzz,’ she said. The school community were very excited when I went to Harvard too; in the demographics of the school I’m in, that’s a big deal.’ 

It’s great for the community to have that pride, to be able to say our principal has been to Harvard and our principal is the first CPP in WA,’ she said. ‘That means something. 

Ms O’Donnell said CPP had also helped her create a better working relationship with her teachers.

CPP puts you in the arena, she said. You can be visible and drop into classrooms, but the whole process of CPP places you alongside your teachers, leading the improvement change.

It really does improve your leadership, being part of the process – that expectation that you are right alongside them, a learner with them, celebrating the successes you have, looking at the obstacles or the challenges and working out how to tweak things.

An added bonus of the CPP program for Ms O’Donnell was connecting with other principals.

You realise that as principals, we all face similar challenges, she said. That opportunity for collegiality and collaborative discussion around leadership is a real bonus.

Want to know more about CPP certification?

Are you a principal looking to take your leadership to the next level? Why not apply to become a Certified Practising Principal? This independent, professional certification will help you improve your professional practice, hone your leaderships skills and become a thought leader in the education sector.

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