Emerging Leaders Forum
Session 3: Video and live Case Studies from Newly Appointed Leaders Around the World
Live: Huibert Duijzer (The Netherlands)
Video testimonials: Babak Ghiri (Canada)
Prisca MacDonald, Matthew McCormick, Tom Clarkson
Prisca MacDonald, the principal at Tawa Intermediate, shares her experience of stepping into her leadership role. She felt somewhat prepared due to advice from friends and colleagues who were already principals. However, she found the role to be isolating at times, especially when making critical decisions that affect staff and students. She acknowledges the impossibility of “doing all things” and expresses a desire for more support in change management and prioritization strategies. MacDonald also emphasizes the challenge of balancing system demands with the actual needs of students and staff. She values her prior experience in the broader educational system, suggesting that such a perspective should be available to all aspiring principals. She calls for a focus on what truly matters for learners in the midst of administrative demands.
Babak Ghiri, a vice principal at Lisburn Collegiate Institute, shares his experiences and insights into his role. One of the most enjoyable aspects for him is the opportunity to build a wide range of relationships with students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders. These relationships not only offer unique opportunities but also bring out the best in him, allowing him to provide effective support. Another aspect he finds rewarding is the decision-making capacity that his role affords, particularly appreciating the latitude and discretion he has in this area.
However, the job comes with its own set of challenges. Baba mentions the overwhelming workload, especially during peak times involving administrative tasks like standardized testing and scheduling. Additionally, he notes that there’s no definitive guide or “playbook” for being an effective vice principal, which means learning largely through trial and error.
In terms of support, Baba highlights the mentorship program where new vice principals are paired with experienced ones and attend thematic workshops. He also values the professional network of colleagues, principals, and vice principals, whom he can consult for advice when faced with complex challenges. Baba hopes that his experiences and insights will be useful to others and is grateful for the opportunity to share them.
Tom Clarkson is the principal of Morningside School, a year one to six school in Northland, New Zealand. One of his main achievements has been improving the school’s physical environment to make it more engaging and educational. He has overseen the creation of murals, collaborated with community artists, and integrated edible gardens into the curriculum. The school also has a “gardeners table programme” and has introduced chickens and dogs, which have had a calming effect on students, especially those from traumatic backgrounds. Simple initiatives like showcasing student activities through photography have also been implemented to boost student morale and instill a sense of pride and belonging.
Huibert Duijzer is the department head at a high school in the Netherlands, where he is responsible for 375 students and 28 staff members. Transitioning from a teaching role in economics and business economics, Huibert initially faced challenges due to the absence of specialized training for his new leadership position and the need to quickly adapt to an already operational school.
A key focus for Huibert has been understanding the existing school culture. He emphasizes the importance of building trust and rapport with staff before implementing any changes. Huibert is working to change the current culture, where teachers act as isolated “kings of their classroom,” to a more collaborative and professional environment that encourages feedback and peer observation.
In his leadership journey, Huibert initially felt insecure and under pressure to be perfect. However, as he built relationships and gained experience, he began to feel more at ease in his role, leading in a manner that aligns with his own style.
He has benefited from both formal and informal mentoring and is grateful for the support and trust he has received from the school’s management and his colleagues. After a year in this role, Huibert feels he is on the right track and is more confident in his abilities.
Therese Ford represents an organization focused on the professional development of emerging leaders and first-time Māori principals in New Zealand (Aotearoa). The principal emphasizes the importance of viewing educational issues through an Indigenous Māori lens. They appreciate the discussions on “invisible labor” and “psychological safety,” as these topics resonate with the challenges faced by Māori leaders, particularly the issue of racism within colonial educational structures. The organization creates a safe learning environment for Māori leaders, allowing them to feel free from judgment and supported in their roles. The principal is enthusiastic about the ongoing conversations and looks forward to future interactions.