Principal's future is still in our schools
EVEN in retirement, Brian Ralph keeps his education skills sharp as he strives to facilitate connections between fellow retired high school principals.
Mr Ralph, 69, is a key member of the team behind the Principal Futures website, which shares information with current and former principals about preparing for retirement and various post-retirement options including employment and volunteering.
The germination of the idea to provide a platform for retired principals to stay connected started during Mr Ralph's 14-year tenure on the executive of the NSW Secondary Principals Council (SPC).
He had written into its constitution the idea of a retired principals group to provide support and advice both to the council and to currently serving principals.
But nothing more happened until he retired in 2009 after 38 years of work, when he pulled out his long list of retired high school principals' contacts he had acquired.
In 2010 he started off with a group of about 130 across NSW, inviting the retired principals to participate in quarterly lunch meetings.
"It was obvious that people wanted to stay in contact and feel that they were still valued," Mr Ralph said.
"For those that had been through tough times, often it's only other principals who've had similar experiences that can understand the stress that's involved.
"Our lunches fulfilled a really useful function."
Mr Ralph also shared email with his group about professional news and even job opportunities.
In 2015 he was invited to join forces with innovator Cassy Norris, the principal of Ryde Secondary College, who had already set up the Principal Futures Reference Group which was looking at how public school principals could continue to be engaged post-retirement.
A subsequent survey of existing and retired principals revealed 70 per cent of the latter were continuing to work or volunteer using their professional skills up to 10 years after officially retiring.
"I chaired the reference group for two years," Mr Ralph said.
"We discussed many ideas and collaboratively developed an outline of those topics we wanted to cover in the website."
He took on the enormous task of creating the Principal Futures website to cover topics across retirement, for keeping in touch socially, post-retirement options, further study options, tours and travel, memories from the past and employment opportunities.
From there he corralled a group of volunteers to bring the website to life.
The SPC funded the start-up and continues to help out with the website management, which now connects about 370 current and retired principals.
"Brian demonstrated extensive expertise and experience in writing materials of this nature," Ms Norris added.
"He then wrote all the instructions for the writing team and we all got to work on writing sections of the site."
Jobs available for retirees include executive officer roles, leading project teams, providing professional learning to staff, coaching and mentoring existing school staff.
"These people bring extensive knowledge, skills and experience to any work they do," Mr Ralph said.
"It works both ways. People really appreciate their expertise, while on the other hand, the retired principals continue to stay active and engaged in life."
Mr Ralph has put more than 1000 hours into getting the website up and running, and recognises that it is essential to identify a successor to take his place at some stage.
While Ms Norris fields enquiries from those wanting to recruit a retired principal, Mr Ralph continues to manage the website and organise the retired principal meetings, which now include professional learning sessions.
He remains an invaluable resource in keeping retired principals informed and engaged in secondary school education in NSW.