Supporting principals to support school communities

Research undertaken by Associate Professor Phillip Riley and his team at Australian Catholic University confirms that the increasing complexity and workload demands of school leadership roles are impacting on the health and wellbeing of Australian school leaders.

The principals of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle indicated as far back as 2015 that the introduction of Principal Coaches may assist in supporting their wellbeing and ongoing development.


Many principals report burgeoning pressures upon them to manage their schools; to support staff, students and families, and in particular to focus on improving teaching and learning outcomes, at the level and standard they would like. In a world of accelerating change, schools are dealing with new technologies, increasing compliance and ongoing curriculum changes. Email and social media have also contributed to a blurring of lines between home and work time, resulting in increased demands on staff and principals.


What is the role of a Principal and Middle Leadership Coach?


To reduce pressure on schools and particularly principals, new paradigms are being considered whereby schools provide more flexible student-centred and enquiry-based learning opportunities.  The Catholic Schools Office has a continual focus on improving teaching, leading and learning within schools and is also committed to working to support the wellbeing of principals.


We explored the Principal Coach role within government schools which is largely focused on providing support for new principals and existing principals across all aspects of their role.

Following consultation with the University of Newcastle, the decision was made to pilot a coaching model that focuses on building the capacity of principals and middle leadership teams through building a coaching culture within schools. The pilot is based on the Cognitive Coaching model developed by Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston.


Feedback from principal working parties indicated an interest in strengthening the partnership between secondary schools and their feeder primary schools and in sharing best practice across and between these schools. The Leadership Team also identified the need to strengthen professional learning communities and the use of teaching and learning data across our system as part of this pilot. These aspects have been incorporated into the pilot program.


Luanna Fletcher and Sue Dietrich, both experienced principals, have recently been appointed to the role of Principal Coach (0.5 FTE). Roisin McVeigh, currently assistant principal at St Paul’s Catholic College, Booragul, has been seconded to the full-time role of Middle Leadership Coach and will commence at the beginning of Term 3.


Principals who lead high-quality learning organisations are engaged, connected, supported and learning/learner-focused. The coaching pilot will centre on building the leadership traits of principals, developing principal wellbeing and building their skills to develop coaching-centred organisations in their own schools to result in positive impact on staff and on student learning outcomes.


The University will work with the appointed coaches to support their work, their knowledge and their professional practice and will run a series of workshops for principals involved in the pilot during 2018. The Australian Professional Standards for Principals and Teachers will be used to provide a focus in this work.


Coaching is increasingly recognised as a foundation for school improvement.  The team from the School of Education at the University of Newcastle recognises five major benefits of a coaching foundation for this project. These include:


  • developing cognitive skills of educators, enabling them to reflect on, analyse, evaluate and improve their practice
  • supporting wellbeing of participants as the project empowers and acknowledges the intellect and talents of all involved
  • building on a foundation of trust which furthers confidence and belonging
  • promoting the development of a learning organisation
  • translating to individual classrooms, as teachers use the strategies with their students.


Coaches have commenced meeting with pilot schools. The role of the coaches will be to build trust with assigned schools and to work with principals and their teams to support them in trying new skills in the classroom, in reflecting upon their teaching and learning practice and in mutually increasing their capacity for self-improvement. The coaches will also support principals and their professional learning teams in collecting and examining data and in developing their ability to monitor their own and their students’ behaviours.


Luanna and Sue state, “As experienced principals, we both understand the challenges of leading instructional improvement. This project will operate from a growth mindset, supporting the members of the pilot group to build upon and celebrate their capacity to lead teaching and learning. Throughout the project, principals will engage in professional learning designed to enrich the continual refining of their craft.”


It is hoped that the program will be modified for 2019 based on feedback and extended to all schools within the Diocese.



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Brid Corrigan Image
Brid Corrigan

Brid Corrigan is the Strategic Programs Advisor at the Catholic Schools Office

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