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Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with

Nick Johnstone

helps you in your leadership.

Nick Johnstone

Nick Johnstone

Name: Nick Johnstone

Title: Principal

Organisation: Bishop Druitt College

Nick has worked in education for over 30 years across three states and in 2 sectors, and spent considerable time working in regional schools across Australia. His first 15 years focused on science education with a passion for sport and recreational education. In this capacity Nick won the 2008 Peter Doherty Award for being an Outstanding Teacher of Science in Queensland. In more recent years, Nick has been Head of Middle School at St Luke’s Anglican School in Queensland, Principal at Geraldton Grammar School in Western Australia, and since 2018 has been the Principal at Bishop Druitt College on the beautiful Coffs Coast of Northern New South Wales.

Nick enjoys building school cultures that are innovative, welcoming and inclusive. He finds that school engagement, academic outcomes, and community wellbeing are inextricably linked. He believes that students and staff build capacity through a growth mindset trying new experiences, sharing successes, learning from failures and doing so with a generous spirit.

In 2022, Nick was awarded the Most Influential Educator Award at the Australian Educators Awards. Nick volunteers on a variety of local, state and national boards and committees including: The Coalition of Regional Independent Schools Australia, the AISNSW Regional Principal Advisory Committee, the Vocational Education and Training Advisory Committee for Independent Schools NSW, the Southern Cross University School of Education Advisory Board and is the President of the BDC Barracudas Sporting Club.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a school principal with 1250 students there are a number of times each year when we need to support families going through life’s tragedies such as terminal cancer, suicide or other such devastating events. The emotional resilience required to provide the support to the family while also ensuring that your staff are also supported can be challenging. Your team is also dependent on you bouncing back from these events quickly.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

This is my 31st year as a teacher and my 15th in school leadership either as an assistant principal or principal. I knew very early in my teaching career that I wanted to have an positive influence with both my classes and also within the wider school communities and so I sort as many opportunities as possible for career advancement including formal study, seeking input into state and national bodies and through both internal and external promotional opportunities.

I was appointed as a Head of Department (science) in only my 2nd year of teaching and this afforded me opportunities to mix with and be unofficially mentored by some fantastic educators. I certainly cherry-picked behaviours and strategies from many different leaders along this journey. I discovered quickly that I worked best as a relational leader, one that can build effective teams and guide them to productive target outcomes and special projects. I was awarded both state and national awards for my contribution to science education over this period, something I’m extremely proud of.

Subsequently, I was encouraged by colleagues to apply for an assistant principal position in 2007 after building the most successful science department in the district from scratch. I took the role as an Assistant Principal- Head of Middle School and K-12 Curriculum and relished this opportunity. Once again I was active in building the school vision but from the school’s leadership team. I was responsible to the Principal but the Heads of Department reported to me as did the middle school pastoral team. In 2014, after completing further study, I decided it was time to look for my own school. Now 9 years later I have been the head of two school communities in two different states.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Like most leaders I get up early usually around 5.00am and in warmer months I will go for a morning walk and then do some emails before driving into work but in the cooler months I will get up and switch these two around. I live on the east coast so the sunrise walk on the beach is a great way to start the day. Once at work (7.30am) I endeavour to break my day into three parts: class visits, formal meetings with direct reporters, and administrative paperwork both operational and strategic.

I calendarize time each week to be visible in staff spaces as well as student spaces. I usually leave the office by 5.00pm and spent a little bit of time outside before cooking dinner. Two nights per week I have work commitments (college council meetings or a function) and one these evenings I will be at work until 8.30pm. I unwind at home by listening to music or watching a little Netflix with my wife as we debrief our day. We are usually off to bed by 9.30pm. One of mine goals this year is to get in to the pool and start swimming some laps. Fitness as you get older is important and we both would like to focus more attention on this.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

You need to take responsibility for your own physical and mental wellbeing. My role can be quite demanding and a result you often put yourself last. I’ve recently taken 4 weeks vacation in the US and in Canada and as part this break I’ve set some personal goals to support my own growth and care.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Richard Gerver’s "Creating Tomorrow's Schools Today" would have had the most profound impact on me. This book was published in 2015 which was my first year as a school principal and so the messages about finding your own path and taking opportunities outside the conventional was illuminating for me at a time I was ready to listen.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Build your personal learning network - find some leaders both online and in person to follow. Find a few mentors, they can be formal or informal mentors.

I’ve had 4 mentors over my leadership journey. Chat with them once a term. The second part of this is to have one or two critical friends that are in a similar role to you so you can bounce ideas off. I find this incredibly valuable.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

The organisation had to be restructured due falling enrolments after an economic downturn in the local economy. A series of redundancies was required to keep the college afloat. This whole process eroded trust in the leadership of the college. I was employed as the incoming "turnaround principal" to rebuild cultural trust, rebuild student numbers and create a new shared vision for the college.

That was 6 years ago now but long term staff still thank me for rebuilding the college into the vibrant, innovative and inclusive community it is today. All organisations suffered due to COVID-19 lockdowns but my colleagues planned early, adapted quickly and were ready to go online with an incredible education and pastoral offering that provided online classes and devices, as well as home deliveries to over 1200 students. We did this with an innovative and dedicated approach that was renowned in our region.

Enrolments grew during this period without needing to reduce fees or reduce services. The team were extremely proud of their efforts and of our collective and collaborative response to this difficult time. As a result of this challenge our cultural trust and spirit has continued to grow.

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