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‘Better than Harvard’ – a CPP reflects on principal certification

‘Better than Harvard’ – a CPP reflects on principal certification

ACER news 4 minute read

Busy leaders often struggle to make time for their own professional development, but this principal says a significant period of change was exactly the right moment to undertake professional certification. 

When Mandy Reynolds-Smith, then the newly appointed principal of Tasmania’s Montrose Bay High School, told her husband she intended to sign up for Certified Practising Principal (CPP), he jokingly said ‘You must have rocks for brains’. This wasn’t the encouragement she was seeking. Not only was Mandy getting to grips with a new role, she was dealing with a whole new high school: Montrose Bay High was the result of a merger between two existing schools, Rosanna High and Claremont High.

‘How fortunate Australian principals are to have the certification process. It is best practice. And for principals undertaking professional learning, it really is a significant accreditation. It’s definitely worthy of the rigor and effort you have to put in.’

It was a tumultuous period and perhaps a challenging time to undertake a piece of serious professional development but, Mandy says, in retrospect it was perfect timing.

‘CPP taught me that I needed to work deeply across the domain to bring all stakeholders together to build a shared culture and vision for the new school,’ Mandy says.  ‘I was seduced into undertaking the certification process – and I’m glad I was. CPP is better than Harvard!’

Time to reflect

As an experienced principal, Mandy knew she was strong across a range of areas identified in the Principal Standard. However, certification gave her a great opportunity to ‘unpack’ her work and measure it against the standard, and to identify parts of her practice with room to grow into.

‘The best thing about CPP is the chance to put your practice under a microscope,’ Mandy says, ‘And to look at your strengths, recognise your achievements and really deeply understand the Principal Standard.

‘CPP helps you move forward in your lifelong learning and practice.’

Leading by example

Mandy viewed the undertaking as a key piece of professional learning, and as a demonstration of her commitment to keep improving her leadership skills – but it was a collaborative process and not achieved alone. As Mandy worked to build a shared culture and vision for Montrose Bay High School, she did so with the support of her senior leadership team.   

‘CPP shone a light on how we, as a leadership team, were going through the different change processes in our school, and how we collected the data and interpreted the data,’ Mandy says. ‘It made us take a more rigorous approach to how we understood what the data said, and how we acted on them.’

‘You have to have some courage to put your practice as a leader under the spotlight, and to unpack the processes and procedures in your school,’ Mandy says. But the risk was worth the pay-off.

Lessons learned

Mandy says one of biggest takeaways from the certification process, which relies heavily on the supply of evidence of practice, was to retain everything.

‘CPP is an incredibly rigorous process, and it challenged my thinking on a number of levels but particularly around information collection,’ she says. ‘When you’re going through any significant change agenda, keep it all – survey results, base line data, meeting notes, minutes and more – and keep it in one place.’

Mandy is now Tasmanian Statewide Principal Project Officer for Student Engagement, where she works with a project team building capacity in flexible provision in schools across Tasmania. She continues her commitment to continuous professional learning, having recently studied at Harvard University thanks to a Hardie Fellowship.

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