Building a developing school

This guest blogpost was written by Journey of a Primary Principal. Please check out her first guest blogpost on becoming a principal here.

When I joined my school, it was in its second year and was growing from 3 to 45 students. The founding principal did so much amazing work that first year, gaining the trust of all of these families. Her vision for an inclusive, caring environment with a progressive approach to education was so strong, and her enthusiasm was infectious.

Our school started with only Junior infants, and grew each year- we are up to 4th class this year.

That second year, we worked so hard to make our temporary accommodation as attractive as possible, and met so many prospective families to show them around our school. As there were 2 excellent established schools in our town, we had our work cut out for us.

As our principal went on maternity leave at the end of December, I acted up from Jan- June. We took on a substitute teacher and a secretary for 5 hours a week. It was the busiest time, as I tried to make sure that we maintained the high standards of teaching while trying to ensure that we filled our Junior infant classes for the following year. I didn’t do anything of note with paperwork or policies in that six months- it was firefighting, a real juggling act.

After my appointment as principal that June, I started to get my head around the dual role of teaching and principal. The balance was never right, but I accepted very early on that the to do list was never going anywhere, no matter how many hours I worked.

As a developing school, there are two jobs that needed to be sorted every single year- recruitment and accommodation.

Recruitment was my favourite part- it is very rewarding to build a team of teachers and SNAs who believed as passionately as I did about creating a school where kindness, active learning and creative teaching was central to all that we did. I enjoy the interview process, but saying no to excellent candidates is always difficult.

As we are still in temporary accommodation (new school on the way!) every summer has been a nightmare on the building front. New modular buildings, surfacing, changing gates, sorting furniture, wifi and interactive boards kept me so busy, and there were delays most summers, meaning last minute moves into classrooms often happening the evening before we opened. Great excuse for some last minute staff bonding though!

I can’t talk about leading developing schools without mentioning SET allocation. For any school that opened after 2013, SET allocations are miserable, and it makes life so much more difficult. (For context, we currently have 1 SET for every 132 children our school. Most schools work with 1 SET to every 50- 80 children.) The fighting for resources is so tiring and disheartening.

I had the unique opportunity to grow into leadership alongside my school- I made so many mistakes along the way, but I was never afraid to admit when I didn’t know what to do, and I was surrounded by an amazing school community and staff who all rolled with all of the challenges of teaching in a developing school.