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Principal appointment – getting the right fit

What is that indefinable quality that boards seek when appointing a new principal – the “right fit”?

It is something quite extraordinary and quite different for each board of trustees.  That is why the development of a “person specification” is so important.  It takes a little time and it needs as much input as can be obtained from staff, parents and even students – regardless of the size of the school.

I have been engaged in six principal appointments this past year; and more than a dozen over the last three years.  The effort that boards put into defining the sort of person they want as the principal for their school is well rewarded both in the shortlisting process and in the subsequent interviews.

The benefits of online media these days make it much easier to conduct a survey among the key stakeholders in your school.  The simpler the question(s) the better.  A list of bullet points for people to select only gives you an impression of their greater preferences – and you probably won’t be surprised at the result.

A single subjective question such as “what sort of person would you like to having running our school” releases an enormous range of responses.  They sometimes reflect what people don’t like about the school (or the current incumbent) however the written words tell such a greater story than a bunch of ticked boxes.

At one school (a secondary school with 2000 students) we asked just this one question.  We had several hundred responses – all considered and thoughtful responses.  It really showed how the students thought about their school and the sort of person they wanted to be able to interact with – inevitably they wanted someone visible and able to talk to them and who took an interest in who they were and what their goals were.

In another case, using the incredible reach of social media the board of an intermediate school had such a rich source of comment from parents and staff that it made the task of compiling the person specification so much easier.

Of course once the board starts receiving applications they are placed in the difficult position of having to see if the applicant might meet their needs from reading the covering letter and the application pack.  Applicants who focus on the person specification in the application pack have a better chance of crossing this hurdle.

The visit to the shortlisted applicant’s school and the interview reveal so much more.  We have all heard the story that the interviewer makes their decision on fit within the first minute or two of the interview.  This is the crucial time when you meet the candidate, you listen to their opening lines, you get an idea of the sort of person they are – then can you begin to see whether or not they will “fit” your school and your community.

It really is hard to define, however the right one somehow stands out and you feel rewarded for all the work you put into the process.

About Alan Curtis

Educationalist, education consultant, school groupie


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