Keys to leadership “how to prosper in a merit based educational system”

( Insert Eye of the Tiger song) After three years of tireless determination, picking myself up after every set back, coupled with long hours writing CV’s I have finally achieved promotion to Head Teacher in the N.S.W. Department of Education (DoE) system. This happened on the second last day of last year and it has been an amazing first six months ( I will blog soon about my experiences). I have really missed blogging and I have wanted to write this post for a long time to share with you.

To achieve in a merit based educational system takes lots of time, effort, learning about how to write your CV and presenting yourself in an interview. This is the quintessential guide I have had in my head for a long time to share all of my experiences.  My hope is that this will help others to realise their aspiration to a promotional position.

Having come from the Hospitality industry where writing your CV writing requires a list of skills, attributes, positions and establishments you had worked at. Prospective employers during the interview process ask about your experiences and applicable criteria.

Merit based system requires you to write appropriate experiences written to general and specific criteria to show your suitability.  If you do not write these precisely and explicitly to the criteria you will not get an interview.  Through my journey many fellow educators from other systems who tried in the public system gave up and are now leaders in the private system.

So lets get started. The following is a guide to writing your CV in a way that really conveys who you are and shows your experiences accurately.

Understanding what merit selection criteria statements are

Though your system may work differently with merit selection you will still be able to glean information to help you write your CV. All executive positions have standard general criteria and specific criteria reflecting the school context drafted by the panel. Here is the link to our systems criteria statements and below is the general criteria that I will refer to.

General criteria

Initial Reflection on your leadership capacity

The general criteria statements communicate the key skills you need to exhibit at your chosen leadership level.  It is vitally important to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses with an experienced leader at or above the level you are shooting for. These reflection sessions helped me identify key experiences I needed to seek to build my leadership capacity.

Getting started with your CV

You can start to write your CV before the right position comes along. Each criteria requires between three to four stories of your practice which show how you meet the criteria statement.

There is no one way of doing this and everyone I spoke to had an opinion. This initially was particular confusing for me.  By writing my CV, reflecting on feedback and implementing changes I was finally able to refine to a formula that started to get me interviews.  A big thank you to Neil Worsley ex NBSC College Principal and Lynda Peters former Deputy Principal from Cromer Campus in helping me achieve this.  The following are some examples.

When writing your stories for general and specific criteria you need the following:

  1. A short statement which links to the criteria
  2. How this was achieved
  3. What was the impact


It is also very important to make sure you address every aspect of each criteria.

criteria statement.png

Once you have written your stories you need to start to refine the language and ensure that each story meets the criteria statement. This can take a couple of applications, however, do not give up it will happen for you.

Selecting your referees

In the DoE system the first referee is always your current principal. When choosing your other two referees make sure they know you well and can talk confidently about the amazing skills and attributes you possess.

Submitting your CV and preparing your referees

The submission process in the DoE is long and it is important you check that you receive a confirmation email. You will need to send your completed CV to all of your referees and brief them on what you want them to talk about when they are called by the panel.

Understanding the interview process

Congratulations on your first interview it is an amazing feeling when you finally move to the next level. The interview also comes with many rules you need to consider so you can be the best you can be on the day.  The interview questions will generally be asked from the specific criteria requested and key directions of the school.

In the DoE an executive interview is conducted with a panel. This consists of a panel compromising the following:

  • Principal
  • Teacher representative
  • Parent representative
  • Directors representative (usually a Head Teacher from another school)
Preparation for your interview

Some practice for the interview with a mock panel will be very helpful for you to understand the process and calm your mind on the day. I have to really thank my good friend and esteemed colleague Leigh Klein who organised a mock panel interview that really helped me with my interview technique. the big tip was he allowed me to listen to the mock panel dissect my responses after the interview.

It is very important to research your prospective school in the following ways.

  • School size, type and context
  • School strategic directions
  • School programs relating to the role you are applying for
  • Information on the principal and the rest of the panel

This can be achieved with the following documents that you can usually find on the school’s website:

  • School strategic plan
  • School report from the last two years
  • School newsletters and social media
  • Information on the school websites
Interview organisational document

With this information my recommendation is to place the specific criteria on a page and add the stories suitable for each criteria and how you would project into the role.

Interview day

Get a good sleep and have everything organised the day before so you sleep well.

Here are some of my tips for your interview day:

  • You will be given the interview questions 10 – 15 minutes before you meet the panel. Write your best stories and projections from the interview organisational document
  • When you meet the panel make sure you greet each member
  • You will be given the time for the interview and it is important to allocate equal minutes to each question

When answering questions here is the formula I used to answer questions effectively:

  • Who am I: philosophy
  • What did I do: explain
  • How did I do it: leadership
  • What impact: did it have
  • What would it look like: in their school

Remember you need to clearly articulate what you will bring to the role.

The chance to have a greater impact in a school is one that I hope you pursue.  The process really makes you reflect on your own practice. When you achieve promotion it is the best feeling in the world.

Please share your experiences and journey to leadership.


4 responses to “Keys to leadership “how to prosper in a merit based educational system”

  1. Perseverance really does pay off! Congratulations not only on reaching your goal, but the grit and determination to get there. Your post is very timely – I am trying to edge my way into the public system, and have failed abysmally to date due to the nuances in addressing specific criteria. I shall refer to your post for future applications. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sally- Ann
      The road was hard and long. Thank you for reading and your kind complements. Further to using this post maybe I can help you break into the public system.


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