A Conversation With

Judy Fountain

Principal, Redbank Plains State School, Queensland, Australia

After 32 years in education, first as a teacher and then as a principal, I was beginning to burnout and needed a change. Teaching is more than a job for me – it’s my passion! I became a teacher to make a difference in young lives, but as I progressed in my career as a principal, it seemed I was only needed for meetings to address the demands of our stakeholders. My focus was no longer on educating children. The burnout I felt, after so many years, truly hurt me.

My deputy principal, Katrina Harris, was in a similar position. Having been a teacher since 2003, Ms. Harris became Deputy Principal soon after I arrived at Redbank Plains. She was promoted because of her leadership qualities and true passion for the community. Similar to me though, she was growing increasingly disenchanted with the daily overflow of administrative work and reduced classroom time. Between constant interruptions, a reactive approach to work, and no time in classrooms, we needed a solution – fast.

In May 2014, Ms. Harris and I attended The Breakthrough Coach Foundations Course led by Malachi Pancoast. While most other professional development had added to our daily agendas, TBC’s methodology focused on clearing the agenda to make time for what was truly important, and allowed the needs of work and life to be more balanced.

Within the first 10 minutes of the presentation, Ms. Harris and I knew this program was going to change our worlds! We instantly understood what was required of us to transform our work days, and that we needed to alter our perspectives about the nature of our jobs in order to achieve our school-wide goals.

When we returned from the two days, we immediately implemented three key Breakthrough Coach practices:

  • We changed the physical layout of the front office
  • We started scheduling times for meetings with staff and visitors
  • We applied technology in smarter ways

Changing the front office configuration was imperative in order to maximize workflow, whilst providing privacy and focus for team members without an office. We converted a former deputy principal office to shared office space, relocated a deputy principal to a smaller office, moved desks, and cleaned out offices. It took a week to configure correctly but once we finalised the floor plan, we began to experience small wins: (1) Front office staff became more efficient because they could work without interruptions; (2) Less front office clutter made our filing system more effective and reliable; (3) Staff started to recognize the value of scheduling time to meet with us. They realized that if they organized and approached us with their own meeting agendas, all of their issues and questions would be addressed at a set time. This was far more productive for everyone, rather than dealing with multiple disruptions throughout the day.

Unfortunately, many parents did not want to schedule time to meet with us because they demanded immediate answers, or they simply wanted to speak with me and nobody else. Other parents were open to scheduling formal meeting times, but they refused to relay any information about their issues prior to meeting. These meetings proved unproductive and required multiple appointments to resolve. Once we began scheduling parent meetings with enough “on-background” information, word quickly spread about our ability to efficiently handle parent needs and concerns.

To support parents in resolving smaller issues, and to demonstrate the competency of our entire team, we followed TBC’s suggestions around re-educating our parent community – specifically about who in the organization to contact for what, and why. An important aspect of this re-education included making sure parents understood that their child’s teacher was their first “port of call” for most enquires.

It’s been six months since we began implementing TBC’s Management Methodology™ and our success is evident throughout the entire school. We have built a team that works cohesively through scheduled meetings and a focused work environment. Both Ms. Harris and I visit classrooms for 4 hours every week. We completed our strategic plans one month ahead of schedule. Most importantly, we are in control of our workdays and careers – we no longer feel burnt out! We work sensible hours with less pressure, and accomplish more each day in less time.