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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

School Principal attends a Strategic Leadership Course at Harvard University

by Christine May

The theme for Education Week 2022 is Creating Futures - Education Changes Lives and for one Eurobodalla school principal, it is a very timely theme .

Ms Paula Hambly, Principal of Batemans Bay High School, has always aspired to lead and

constantly seeks to improve her own knowledge and skills to do that well. She gained her Masters in Educational Leadership early in her career well before all teachers were required to do so. She takes every opportunity for ongoing professional learning.


As a deputy principal, Paula worked with a Principal who won a scholarship to study at Harvard Graduate School of Education and saw the enormous benefit to her school when

that principal put new ideas to work. So, when Paula became a principal she too applied

for a scholarship. There were no expectations of winning as the scholarships were highly competitive and open to all principals across Australia. However, after a written application and rigorous interview process, she was told she was one of three principals selected to attend Harvard University’s Strategic Leadership course. That was 2019 and after waiting out USA and Australian COVID -19 restrictions, Paula took the earliest opportunity to take up her scholarship, which was the July school holidays this year.

The course was inspiring. On the first day the principals were introduced to 15 highly

qualified and esteemed facilitators who lead stimulating discussion groups at the end of

each full day of lectures. These facilitators were very generous with their time and giving of

their knowledge and Paula found she could easily connect with them. They all had

different experiences and broke down any barriers between principals. Paula and others

spent long periods into the evenings with them discussing matters that were highly

relevant to their schools.

From the very beginning it was all about leading strategically. The subjects and topics

were focussed on how the information could relate to the leaders’ own school contexts and

how it could be implemented.

The underlying message of the course was all about relationships. How can this information impact on children? How can relationships that we have with our children, with our teachers and with our community impact on our students to get them where they need to be, to set them up for success in the future?

That was the message. It was in the lectures on equity in education, in the family engagement aspect of the course, in the relationship building component. It brought home

to Paula the enormous responsibility principals, other school leaders and teachers carry in

their goals to change lives of children every day they are at school.

The facilitators supported the principals to reflect on their own school context, the actions

taken in the classroom and the interactions they have with the families and the community.

They were asked to think about the decisions made across the whole school, that is, the

decisions the principal makes in the leadership and management of the school, the

decisions that teachers in leadership roles make in supporting their staff and the decisions

in the classroom as to how they are going to engage.

The important goal of also engaging families and community was constantly highlighted

during the course. The principals were challenged to think about how to build effective

relationships with families including the power of simple interactions. They were pushed to

be brave in design thinking, which is all about problem solving and putting the needs of

students above all else. It was about thinking outside the square, looking at things

differently, designing powerful learning and knowing how to identify the point of need of

students and their families in the school context.

For Paula the timing of the course couldn’t have been better. She quickly realised that all

that she was learning fitted perfectly with what was happening at Batemans Bay High

School. The school is in a period of change. It has been well advertised that the school is

looking at its systems and processes in a very planned and structured way. Paula is

managing change and she believes the ideas she has brought back will reinforce the work

already commenced. A good example is the major redesign this year of the Transition Program Year 6 into 7, Year 8 into 9 and Year 10 into 11. It has resulted in much stronger relationships with students and families.

There are many changes underway and Paula sees working with her teams to share

ideas, information and co design programs as paramount. She recognises that she has

great people leading great teams in the school. She has new ideas but she doesn’t need

to take over and micromanage change. Her teachers are fantastic at what they are doing

and they are achieving great results based on mutual trust and respect. She is proud of the work that her teams are doing within the school. What goes with that is listening to the voices of students, parents and community and pinpointing their needs. This she believes will move everyone beyond mere involvement in the school to real engagement where positive relationships encourage learning and parents and community become partners in that process.

It is especially vital that Batemans Bay High School, a regional comprehensive public high

school educating young people from all backgrounds creates a culture of support, respect

and expectations to succeed for teachers, students, family and the community. Paula is

leading the way. She is passionate about leading learning and believes this privileged

study experience further inflamed her passion for further education and working within

Batemans Bay High School to build the best school it can be. Her vision is a school where

students love learning and are set up to become successful in whatever career and life

pathway they choose. Batemans Bay High school is a good example of the 2022 Education Week theme, ‘Creating futures- education changes lives.

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