Emerging Leaders Forum

Session 2: Australian Research: ‘I wish they had told me that when I started out’ – Insights from new leaders (Wendy Cave)

  • Objective: To explore how applying a service-oriented approach to educational leadership can help Primary School Principals manage the complexities of modern educational settings.

Authors and Affiliation

  • Authors: Wendy Cave, Mel Edwards, Sophie Bissell, and Justin Barrie
  • Affiliation: Conducted for the Australian Government Primary Principal Association (AGPPA) through the Principals Australia Research Foundation.


  • The presentation introduces the concept of applying a “service lens” to educational leadership. It aims to provide insights that can help principals manage the multifaceted challenges they face.

Key Concepts

  1. Education and Service Design Collaboration:
    • The document posits that the most innovative solutions come from the intersection of different fields—in this case, education and service design.
  2. Core Business of Principals:
    • The principal’s role is multi-dimensional, involving teaching, administration, and service delivery.
    • While teaching is the core business, it doesn’t consume all of a principal’s time. They are also responsible for delivering educational services.

Research Findings: “What Principals Wish They Had Known”

1. The Multifaceted Role of Instructional Leadership

  • Overview: The research underscores that the role of a principal is not limited to instructional leadership. In fact, instructional leadership is just one of three pivotal areas that a principal has to manage and lead on a daily basis.
  • Deep Dive: The principal’s role extends far beyond the classroom and curriculum. While instructional leadership is crucial for academic excellence, the principal also has to manage administrative tasks, staff coordination, and community engagement. The research likens the principal to a CEO but highlights that the role is even more multifaceted. The principal is not just an administrator but a leader who has to wear multiple hats, including that of a CEO, an educator, and a community leader.

2. Navigating the Complexity of Educational Systems

  • Overview: The research brings attention to the inherent complexities of both the individual primary school and the broader Education System.
  • Deep Dive: A primary school is not an isolated entity; it’s a part of a larger, complex educational ecosystem. This ecosystem has its own set of demands, expectations, and challenges that a principal must navigate. The principal has to be agile, adaptable, and proactive in understanding and responding to these complexities. They must provide guidance and leadership that aligns with both the immediate needs of their school and the broader objectives of the educational system.

3. Understanding Organizational Management Styles

  • Overview: The research identifies that each principal tends to have one of four distinct ways of relating to organizational management.
  • Deep Dive: Knowing one’s own management style can significantly impact a principal’s effectiveness. The research suggests that there are specific organizational management tools that can help principals understand the core mission of their school, the stakeholders involved, and the strategies for delivering educational value. By understanding their own management style and employing these tools, principals can create a more organized, efficient, and impactful educational environment.

Additional Frameworks and Concepts:

  • Three Accountabilities: This appears to be a framework that outlines the different areas for which principals are accountable. It could encompass instructional leadership, organizational management, and community engagement.
  • Five Typologies: These are different ways of approaching organization management, leadership styles, or challenges that principals might face.
  • Complex Adaptive System: This term suggests that the educational system is dynamic and ever-changing. It requires principals to be not just managers but adaptive leaders who can navigate and influence this complexity.

Interview Demographics

  • Participants:
    • 26 individuals were interviewed.
    • They hail from various Australian states and territories, as well as New Zealand.
    • Participants come from different educational sectors, including Government, Catholic, and Independent schools.
    • The experience level of participants varies, and the gender distribution includes both males and females.

Conclusions and Models

  • The document concludes by discussing various models and frameworks:
    • “Three Accountabilities”: A framework for understanding the different areas principals are accountable for.
    • “Five Typologies”: Categories that help in understanding how principals approach organization management.
    • “Complex Adaptive System”: A model describing the dynamic and complex nature of educational systems.