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Whenever I speak with people aspiring to be a School Principal, I advise them that I have it is simply the best job in the world but you can have some of the worst days imaginable along the way.

I have five roles to fulfil as Principal of an independent school in Australia. Some of them are obvious and others not so visible to others.

As Principal, I am the CEO of a SME (small to medium enterprise) with the compliance, HR, strategy and general responsibilities that go with leading a public company, albeit a ‘not for profit’.

Secondly, I am also the educational leader of the school and need to provide guidance, support and direction on matters educational to staff, parents, students and other stakeholders.

These two are usually not a surprise to anyone and are the most obvious roles played as a Principal in an independent school. They are both critical. Leadership is our core business, education, is the most important but that cannot be done well if the organisation does not run well with good morale.

Thirdly, there is a role as the ‘mayor’ of the ‘virtual village’ that exists around a school. This ‘village’ raises children and is comprised of the children and young people, their parents and teachers, general staff, the extended families of the students and friends of the school. The Principal is the local ‘politician’ looking for win/win situations wherever possible, settling disputes and telling the ‘village’ its own story about why it exists and how it fulfils its role as a community. At a time when the school is often the only, or last remaining positive, local neighbourhood institution, this community leadership role is important but often unrecognised.

Fourthly, I am the guardian or steward of the history, culture and values of the school. If I cannot articulate and, more importantly, act out the school values, modelling how we should enact the school culture and values, who will? If I cannot give this task my personal best, how can I ask others to do so with any credibility?

Lastly, I am sometimes called upon as a ‘elder’, who is asked to assist at times of individual or family emotional crisis such as a marriage break up or death of student or former student. This is different to the role of a counsellor or psychologist. I very carefully do not venture into this professional space. What I can provide is some practical advice of who should get involved to provide professional support and assistance and how the situation might or should unfold.

In conclusion, my actual position description does not have all of these listed. If it did, I am not sure I would have ever been courageous enough to take on the mantle of Principal and certainly would never have considered myself capable of fulfilling it satisfactorily.

It is amazing what you can achieve as you grow into a role.

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