There are thousands of principals in New South Wales who inspire their
students and teachers to achieve their best. Choosing a School speaks to Lynne Searl, Principal Gosford High School about her drive for success.
As principal of Gosford High, Lynne Searle has achieved many things in her career. She has a Masters in Educational Policy (International) from Melbourne University, a Bachelor of Education from Charles Sturt University, a Certificate of Gifted Education from the University of NSW, and a background in teaching both primary and secondary schools. Lynne’s focus for Gosford High School is to create a learning environment where every child is known and feels they belong; that is challenging, engaging and whole child focused; where student voice and leadership are encouraged and nurtured; where there is the breadth of opportunity for every student’s strengths and gifts to flourish and be recognised; and where academic excellence is ubiquitous.
What drew you to a career in education?
There was no one thing that drew me to education, but I never seriously considered anything else. I think a combination of excellent teachers at Castleford Grammar School, my public selective school in the UK, the encouragement of my parents to have a professional career with the very true, if dated, maxim “it’s a great career for a girl, especially if you have a family”, and a lack of any career education that could have suggested something else. It was more fortuitous than considered.
What made you want to become a teacher and principal?
Education is how people gain opportunities in life and have the resources to make choices. Seeing how learning excites and engages young people makes it the most rewarding career. I loved being in the classroom and involved in extracurricular programs. The teacher-student relationship is a very privileged one — based on trust and mutual respect. I became a head teacher inadvertently, being invited to go to another school and run a faculty that was in crisis. I was subsequently appointed to that position. I then realised that with leadership came the opportunity to have an impact beyond your own classroom. I developed a passion for, and commitment to, engaging students as participants in their learning, and the professional development of teachers as critical to student success.
What plans do you have for the school?
Gosford High School is a wonderful school where we live our values of opportunity, excellence, spirit, diversity and integrity. Our programs create learning environments where every child is known and feels they belong; where learning is intellectually challenging but fun; and laughter is heard throughout the school.
We are committed to continuous improvement and ensure our thinking and actions reflect close analysis of qualitative and quantitative data and current educational research. For example, our Home Groups (a vertical wellbeing and learning program) allow students to engage in structured reflective practices about their learning to build self-efficacy and independent learning skills. Reflective practice is also embedded in teacher professional learning through structured programs of peer observations (Quality Teaching Rounds) and student feedback (Students as Learning Partners). Videos which highlight these initiatives can be accessed at http://www.classmoviestv.com/decnsw
If you didn’t become a principal, what other plans did you have for your career?
I trained as a potter and loved hand-building large pots. I am a lapsed artist and had an exhibition of drawing and painting in the ‘70s. When my children were young and I lived in the Riverina, I had a fashion label with a friend and we designed, made clothes and had fashion parades at invitation-only events. I love to cook. I’m a misplaced gardener, having created large farm gardens to smaller domestic ones. Silver jewellery making, printing, photography are all lapsed interests because of the demands of the principalship. However, through the experience of producing and directing musicals and drama for five years at a school level, I discovered there could be a marriage of teaching and creative thinking in the theatre and may have chosen that as a path — if only I’d known.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
When the shiny, fresh-faced students come to us in Year 7 and then they leave in Year 12 as young adults, confident, articulate and standing tall ready for the world that eagerly awaits them — that is marvellous. Also immeasurably rewarding is the student who has struggled with school for myriad reasons and then succeeds, and also the students who don’t achieve in the school system but flourish in the world beyond and know you cared about them as much as the top student. That makes your heart sing. Students are the most rewarding part of the job, every day.
What everyday challenges do you face in your job?
There are multiple and fluctuating challenges in the all-encompassing role of principal. The changing demands with devolved responsibilities and the ever-increasing accountabilities are challenges. Leading an organisation of more than 1000 students and 100 staff, all of whom we regard as individuals, is demanding but rewarding. The reality of peoples’ lives — family demands, health issues, personal crises and celebrations — compete with the organisational demands and learning focus of our work. The joy lies in never being able to plan a day with certainty, as schools are dynamic places — more an organism than an organisation.
What is the aim at Gosford High School?
An inspired and ethical community of learners and leaders whose actions benefit society and the world beyond.
What is the most important piece of advice you would offer to your students?
Make reflective practice an integral part of your life. Live life with a growth mindset — you haven’t achieved everything YET!