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7 Questions with Jeff Allen
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7 Questions with Jeff Allen
Name: Jeff Allen
Current Title: Principal
Current Organisation: Nambucca Valley Christian Community School
Bio - Mr Jeff Allen was appointed Principal at Nambucca Valley Christian Community School in January 2013 (the foundational Principal for the new High School).. He had previously served as a Primary Teacher at Carinya Christian School in Tamworth and Secondary Teacher at Gunnedah High School January 2004-2008..
Prior to working at Gunnedah High, Jeff was employed by The Hon John Anderson MP as Chief of Staff Electorate 1999-2001 and Assistant Regional Policy Advisor 2001-2003.
In 1998-1999 Jeff was the Residential Services Manager for Challenge Disabilities Services. He was also the youngest ever Shire Councillor elected to the Guyra Shire Council and served the community as a Councillor from 1995-1999.
Jeff was a Vice Chancellor's Scholar for The University of New England in 2020 after completing the Masters of Applied Leadership Positive Education. Other University study has seen Jeff complete a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) - Politics; and a Gradtuate Diploman of Education.
Jeff is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Education at The University of New England.
The NVCCS School Chaplain, Mr Dave Hall, states Jeff is ''a strategic and inclusive leader. Very easy to relate to and accepting of alternate perspectives."
Jeff has been married for 30 years and has three adult children 27, 24 and 21 with two grandchildren aged 5 and 3.
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
The School has experienced an immense and rapid rate of change. This has been by its very nature dynamic and with such a large influx of students the culture and mission of the school has needed to be strategically, professionally and intentionally developed.
Between 2013-2018 six years of High School were added to NVCCS under a rigorous compliance regime administered by the School’s Leadership to meet the requirements of New South Wales and Education Standards Authority (NESA) and the various acronyms, which preceded it e.g. BOSTES and BOS.
• In August 2020, student enrolments had grown to a Census of 270 students, which was representative of a 585% increase from the enrolment figures just eight years earlier in 2012.
• Between 2013-2021 by staff numbers grew by over 700% to serve and support the growing needs of the School.
• Between 2014-2020, 6 major capital building projects were constructed with a ‘7th’ scheduled for commencement in 2021.
There have been many physical challenges and limitations in varying degrees. These initially included the unreliability of the internet and connectivity problems, a shortage of resources in some faculties, construction noise, the site being constantly changed and developed around staff and students, the absence of systems or playing systems “catch-up” and the loss of time for staff as they worked in the midst of this phenomenon.The physical operation of the School is a critical component of whether staff have the necessary tools to achieve the overarching purpose, identity, performance and mission.
The challenge for the Christian School’s leadership has been to retain the school’s story. McTighe and Wiggins (2007, 25) state ‘without a commitment to mission, we really do not have a school; we just have a home for freelance tutors of subjects.’ In fact this commitment to mission must set the wider context formy intentions as the Principal as it is foundational to the school’s reason for being e.g. its purpose, identity, performance and mission. It has been important to understand the convictions, distinctives and non-negotiable beliefs of the school and remain faithful to them in the presence of incredible change.
The school’s story has guided our professional recruitment and assisted us to progressively develop a mainly new workforce and bring people together in unity for a common purpose. This has required respect, humility and articulating what is the story and overarching narrative of the school. The challenge has existed to focus on academic development and meeting the school community’s expectations in the present as well as building a school for the future. This has meant establishing structures to ensure quality in the educational process and the delivery of the NSW Curriculum.
2. How do you structure your workdays from waking up to going to sleep?
The beginning of each of my workdays starts with a short time of prayer or focus on God's word. I then keep in touch with current affairs by watching a small part of the commercial TV news programs. I also have breakfast and catch up with family members. At school, we as staff, start the day reading God's word together and spending time in prayer for our school community. During the day, I like to catch up with staff, make phone calls in the mornings, and walk into different parts of the school greeting students in the mid-section of the day. I often respond to emails or correspondence in the afternoon, meet with parents or walk with prospective families around the school. In the late afternoon, I like to spend some time chilling out, walking or relaxing before we have dinner as a family.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Being a custodian. It is a privilege to be a custodian in my role as a Principal and to accept the responsibility of serving the school in line with its vision and mission. I was recently reminded by another Principal, at a Conference I attended, that none of us involved in educating children or leading other educators is ever more important than the school community, which was around before we arrived and will continue after we leave.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The Conviction to Lead - Albert Mohler.
Mohler makes the simple point - no one stays forever. Leaders serve for some period of time, long or short, but the term of leadership always expires. The book impacted me by outlining that a leader unconcerned about leaving a legacy is one who will leave the job undone.
Since my arrival in January 2013, I have sought to take the school's deep beliefs, perpetuate convictions and develop those convictions in others. This has seen the staff community and I work together in the service of those beliefs, motivated to common action in the mission of sharing those convictions and living them out in our school and wider community. There is a huge difference between appointing those who are willing to sign on to those convictions and those who are eager to do so. Every hiring decision is a legacy decision. I cannot be satisfied to see the school's beliefs diminished, marginalised or compromised.
Faithfulness to God and living as a Community of Grace are the hallmarks that I hope will be the enduring legacy of NVCCS, when the time of my leadership expires.
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
Character – we look for humility and servant heartedness
Commitment – we find Christian teacherswho can speak genuinely of their faith in Him without having to answer many questions. We are attracted to good worth ethics and teachers who can get the job done
Chemistry – we seek teachers with positive attitudes to students, peers, parents and carers
Competency – we invite teachers to join us who have the skills or attributes to do well
Capacity – we are honest about the work of a modern teacher and what that entails in our context
Sergiovanni’s values are present in my personal style of leadership e.g. reciprocal trust and mutual obligation, which is important in keeping great Christian teachers. However, I also realise the importance of defining expectations.
At NVCCS, we seek employees who can be flexible in their mindset and will demonstrate grace and kindness in their relationships.
We believe, every teacher needs to be heard even though all of us knownot everyone will get their own way all the time. The School operates on a premise that everyone matters and really respects communication and community.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I am convicted that a Christianschool leader needs to understand that staff wellbeing precedes and is a necessary requisite for student wellbeing. Both are critical to the learning and teaching environment being able to flourish. Staff well-being is most important to achieve this end.
Smart (2020) asks the question ‘Am I a Well-Being’ and then reflects on the saying: ‘Teaching is the profession that creates all others. Smart (2020) states that schools need to be supporting staff in maintaining their wellbeing so that teachers do not burn out or leave their jobs.
This means providing development opportunities, listening to their views and setting high but attainable standards. I think an excellent way to achieve that is by a comrade style of leadership, whichdoes not see the school as God or more important than family or church. It is therefore to lead by example with a high standard of leadership, be fair in dealings with staff and families and set a balance between working faithfully and not having the job as an idol.
Every now and again, we ask staff to leave earlier than they need to and occasionally have the Executive seek to do an unexpected playground duty for them. Occasionally we also like buying staff groups coffee, tea or a hot chocolate to build community. Staff enjoy coming to work because they have friendly colleagues, love making a difference in children’s lives, have a positive work environment and are well supported. Teachers want to make a difference. The key driver behind their (teacher’s) decision to enter the profession is to make a difference in the lives of their students (McCrindle, 2019). However, the time spent on administration and documentation seems to be close to outweighing the time spent teaching in the classroom. Teamwork, care and a culture of collaboration are integral for teachers to have a positive experience and bless our students.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian School leader so far?
During the 2019 Bushfires, which ravaged the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, our school reached out with 70 non-perishable meals for a range of families in our school community. Frozen meat was stored in the freezers and food preparation and appropriate handling practises were all followed in accordance with our church’s Jericho Road guidelines.
The people we supported included:
Families of essential services.
Families who were culturally isolated.
Families who were suffering financial employment and deprivation.
Families in enforced isolation.
Families caring for grandparents.
Families with their spouse away.
Families with members suffering at-risk medical conditions.
Single parents with no extended family close by.
Single parents with no church family.
The ministry was greatly appreciated by our school families and an example of what Paul describes in his letter to the Romans as Love in Action.
It was a privilege to have grown enough as a school community to serve in this way.