Life After the Principalship
Who knows where life will take you? I left my last school, Albion Park PS, for a role in Bridge Street ( as “Primary Leadership Initiatives” and to be the NSWPPA representative in HO), with every intention of returning to Albion Park after a year. However, that position ran for 3 years (2000-2003); and in the subsequent re-structure I took the Principal Support role with the new Illawarra & South East Region (ISER) in 2004. In that role I developed a Leadership Strategy for the region based upon practicing principals operating as “consultant principals” in a mentor/coach role for aspiring principals.
Although retirement was planned for (and happened) at the beginning of 2005, the Regional Director asked me to stay on as Project Manager to oversee the implementation of that Leadership Strategy. After 2 very enjoyable years (still working!) I thought I should move on and allow a “real principal” to have this role. However, I was already starting to realise that for me (and many others) there was a life “after the principalship” connected to education and learning that might be very interesting and stimulating within the wider educational world.
As I finished that ISER role (2006) I was approached to job-share the Manager of DET Exchange Programs which I did across 2007-2009. My interest in Baby Boomers (like me) not retiring in the traditional manner deepened and I was fascinated by my reading and chatting with others about refocusing after the principalship. This led me back into tertiary study and I enrolled at Macquarie University in a doctoral study about this new passion: “the aspirations, experiences and reflections of late-career and recently retired principals”. The new reading and learning fascinated me; provided opportunities to publish articles; and opportunities to travel to present at conferences in Paris, Toronto, Singapore, Boston and Switzerland. About this time the DET asked me to design and deliver a 2-day “Transition to retirement” program to principals across all regions (2009-2012).
Around the same time (2009) my wife (Suzanne Lazenby, who was still working as a primary principal) and I decided to start a small international professional learning program for school leaders called LEAP (Leading Educators Around the Planet). Little did we know that some 11 years later the program would prove to be extremely popular with principals (with over 500 participants) and would still be operating. Through this program I got to meet, work with and travel to school leaders in Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Finland, Singapore and America. What unexpected and totally unplanned international learning experiences. Canadian colleague, Dean Fink, asked me (along with Norman McCulla) to write a chapter in his book about Trust, which led to presentations in Australia, Finland and Switzerland. Meanwhile, at home Stephen Dinham from University of Melbourne invited me to work with him and John Hattie presenting their Masters of Instructional Leadership program in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Canberra across 2011-2017. None of this was on my “strategic plan” as I never had one!
I now believe that everyone finds their own balance and pathway; the one which best suits them. For me this post principalship educational journey has been supplemented by various social activities which Sue & I delight in undertaking with deep friends; with weekly tennis (now done with!); with occasional (and very poor golf) with long-term friends from Teachers College; with a passion for caravanning both in Australia and in USA each year (where we store a pick-up and trailer); with our children (4) and grandchildren (6 becoming 7 soon); with syndicated race horse interest with other colleagues; with the care, management and guardianship of the 5 acre retreat we live on; with a passion for red wine, cricket, rugby league and biographies.
I once heard both Hugh Mackay and Bernard Salt (two social demographers and commentators) refer to current “retirement” for baby Boomers as being “un-recognisable” to previous generations; and as being like a bicycle wheel: having many spokes. I guess for me and many of my colleagues that rings true. For me there’s a family spoke; a travel spoke; a social spoke; a sporting spoke; a learning spoke; and a hobbies spoke. All these spokes have combined to provide a wonderful phase of life…a very fortunate phase of life.
So where to next? I have a developing passion for enhancing reconciliation. Whilst this issue was important for me during my teaching days and the principalship, some of my experiences since retirement (especially exploring what has been achieved in BC, Canada) has led me to believe that as educators we can probably make a more significant impact in enhancing reconciliation between white Australia and the First Nations peoples, than politicians will ever achieve. So, next May I plan to launch a program called “Reconciliation Through Education” and encourage a majority of the 2,200 schools in NSW DoE to join together with a commitment to make a ‘real” difference.
For me, “retirement” and “life after the principalship” has been an unplanned and somewhat chaotic, but privileged, journey. Sure there have been some health challenges but for as long as possible I will not be inviting that “old man in the mirror” into my life.