Helen Aguiar monkey bar cropped.jpg

I am sometimes asked to talk about my leadership style. I used to like this question because I had an easy, practised answer. The kind you could wring out of a worn textbook.

Well, I would say. I guess I'm a bit of everything. I'm a little bit "transactional". I like to ensure our school is a safe and orderly place for learning and that everybody knows where they stand. But I am also a bit "transformational". I try to use my natural enthusiasm to inspire students and teachers to reach their potential. That said, I'm also an "instructional leader". I have always been interested in the methods that increase student learning and high performance. That's a significant focus of my leadership.

Thinking back on those answers, they make leadership sound like a recipe or something you can grab off the supermarket shelf when you’re in a hurry. But in the aftermath of the pandemic, I don't think these answers cut it anymore. That’s not all I am trying to do as a Principal. There’s something more fundamental that’s missing.

A better, and hopefully, more honest answer, is that I am trying to use the best aspects of myself, and my journey as a human, to encourage as many students, teachers and parents to be the best versions of themselves.

The reason I am doing that is because I know, from experience, that a little quiet self-confidence is the greatest gift you can give or receive from anyone. And with more self-confidence, each person can bring their best self, and their best gifts, to their community, making it a little better, one conversation and one relationship at a time.

So how do you articulate this as a leadership style? 

The late Warren Bennis got pretty close when he wrote:

"The point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself and to use yourself completely - all your gifts, skills and energies to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”

I haven't found a 360 tool that says congratulations, this year you became more yourself. But every now and then, I get some feedback that reassures me this is the right approach. It could be a phone call or an email from a parent or a student. Each is unique but the core messages are the same. It goes something like this:

Hi Mrs Aguiar, I wanted to let you know I have found something that lights my fire. I am doing really well. I’m in a community that shares this passion. Just wanted to say, thanks heaps for believing in me at school and giving me a chance. It made a difference. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help other students.

You cannot quantify these things in a rubric. But they are beyond meaningful. For me, the gift of education is self-authoring; it is about giving someone the tools to reflect on their own life and skilfully design their own path to freedom, fulfilment and contribution. To enable that for others, I believe, is the essence of good leadership. I hope that is my leadership style. 

Most parents I meet want their child to graduate with dignity, bravery, options and purpose. It's not an easy task. There are so many competing forces in each student’s life. One voice our students struggle with at the moment is the sense that they are an exam statistic – as if the totality of their assessment tasks can be stitched together to reveal some sort of hidden self-portrait. We need to help them with that.

As our Senior students begin to prepare for exams, it’s easy to slip down the slide of overwhelm. So I’m offering our students a few antidotes. Students are working hard for a purpose. Reminding them of that can help allay their fears. I am encouraging our students to reframe the challenge of exams as an opportunity to develop new skills, to be brave not perfect, to show up as we are rather than hide.

Of course, we are preparing our students to give their best effort. But we also want students to see exams, not as an end state, but as a bridge to other opportunities, something that will help them become more of their potential.

I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts with our students as they encounter hard but worthwhile challenges throughout the term.