Principal for a day

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20 July 2021

Being principal of a school is a hard job, but a Year 7 student recently found out that there is more to it than meets the eye when it comes to leading a school community.

St Columba’s College, Essendon, invited applications from junior students to take part in this special program which aims to develop the leadership skills of students, to give insight into leadership roles and to empower students to be future leaders. Year 7 student Tiana Ciavarella reflects on her day as a principal and shares her insights on the qualities of leadership.

The first thing I did was attend a prayer session in the chapel. It was good to take some time out to reflect and think about positive contributions I could make in the future. After the prayer, Ms Grima and I joined Ms Almeida (Communications Coordinator) and Mrs Zanic (Registrar) in the boardroom for a marketing meeting.

Later, we headed to the school archives. As I walked in, there was a mannequin wearing one of the school’s past uniforms staring right at me. I thought it was a student from 100 years ago who’d been locked up like Harry Potter! As I examined the room, I detected many trophies, plaques, photos and school records on display. There was even a stamping machine from the olden days. It was really cool to see old pictures of the school buildings, and to see what has been demolished and what is still standing.

We then joined Jasmine (Year 7) for morning tea in Ms Grima’s office. Jasmine’s application was really great, so Ms McDonald (Deputy Principal) and Ms Grima wanted to give her an opportunity to speak with Ms Grima about her ideas too. As we shared morning tea, we talked about online learning and our Principal for a Day applications.

It was then time for Ms Grima and Ms McDonald’s cyclical meeting. We talked about the plans being made for 125 years of St Columba’s College in 2022. We spoke about the opening Mass which is going to be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as presentations to organise, information about Columba’s coaches, the student planner, upcoming and recent surveys, and scheduling meetings. I was astonished to hear that even experienced leaders need feedback from others. This can be done through reviews of teachers. It is not required, but Ms Grima says that it is good to be done so the staff and others being reviewed know what they are doing well and what they could improve on.

After that, I met Deb: Ms Grima’s PA. She has a really important job because she keeps Ms Grima’s day organised. We chatted about COVID restrictions, policies, catering arrangements and also girls who used to attend the college who are role models. Then I attended a policy review meeting with Ms Grima, Ms McDonald and Deb. When I got a glance at the grid of policies, I was shocked once again. There were so many.

After checking that the policy review dates were sorted, it was lunch time. I got to have lunch with the student executive team who are really nice Year 12s. The girls were able to ask any questions they liked. After lunch, Ms Grima and I had a talk about my proposed initiative which is a soundproof recording booth that would have special equipment for all students in Years 7–12. This would be beneficial because recording at home is tricky and I’m sure the language teachers would prefer high-quality sound when hearing their students pronounce those vowels. Hopefully we can implement this after discussion with the school board about budgets and other important things.

The last thing on my agenda was a learning walk around the school. Ms Grima and I walked around and looked at what was happening in some classes. I also went to the Pathways Centre for the first time. After returning back to Ms Grima’s office and taking some final photos, I was exhausted. It had been a long but exciting day and I loved every second of it. The day was full of surprises and I learnt so much.

A positive surprise from my day was having lunch with the Year 12s because I look up to them, and it’s remarkable to think that one day I’ll be like them in Year 12 and will be well on my way to achieving great things.

Three things I learnt about leadership:

  1. It takes a whole group to lead a school, not just one person. There are so many things that happen behind the scenes that nobody knows about.
  2. Student voice, surveys and reviews are important. Principals and others leaders aren’t perfect, and they have regular reviews to get feedback and help them to set goals for their ongoing learning.
  3. Sometimes a principal or leader’s schedule can get busy and they have to be very organised and on the ball.

I want to thank Ms Grima for not only allowing me the opportunity to be principal for a day, but also for all of the hard work and effort she puts in to make our school a happy and safe environment.