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7 Questions with Mel Brandsma

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Mel Brandsma

Name: Mel Brandsma

Current title: Principal

Current organisation: King's Christian School

Educator for 33 years, the last 10 have been as a principal. 3 years of vice-principalship before the 10. I obtained my masters degree several years ago as well. I taught high school mainly in Math and P.E. Been an active coach in the school systems for all 33 years.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?

Being in "charge" of many areas is at times overwhelming. Delegating responsibilities is key but still being accountable is tiresome. School discipline is also stressful. Finding the balance between what is best for each child, each family, each teacher can be tricky to navigate.

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

Morning is reminding yourself what the key activities of the day are. There is a "must do" portion, and a "might do" section. Expect the unexpected and deal with what happens, and don't dwell too much on what may happen or could happen. At the end of the day, I usually walk home and reflect on the day's events. Once I enter my home, I try to turn off the school role and concentrate on my family. This is not always done, but it is the intention. Recently I decided to have my school email not show up highlighted which has allowed me to not worry when my inbox is highlighted.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Don't do this job alone. Delegate, equip, and trust others to share this work with you. Give them the support they need but don't try to take everything on yourself. In my last few years, I am constantly trying to prepare tomorrow's leaders. As John Maxwell asserts, "You should alway be trying to replace yourself"
Be humble, be visible, be a little vulnerable and stay positive

4. 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?

Servant empowered leadership by Don Page is excellent. For a lighter read, one that isn't faith based, "What Great Principals do Differently" is also excellent. The first book Servant leadership acts as a foundation to how I approach leadership. The second book is practical ways to balance the work.

5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?

I look for relational leaders who are confident in themselves and not needy for others approval. We are in a relational business so they must be flexible enough to work with all kinds of employees and students. Look for leaders who are connectors, who can balance getting work done with also being relational and seeing those needs as well.
How to keep them? Give them the support they need so burnout doesn't occur. Also don't make this job seem so hard. Too often potential leaders see the cost of the job on the leader's faces and lives and therefore say it's not worth it.

6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

Be a listener, but don't promise to fix all their problems. Listen and empower them. Support them always but don't forget to correct them as well when necessary. This must be done in private, not in front of parents or other students. For students, you must show you care about them regardless of what type of student they are.

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

As I left my former school after 26 years, a former student reminded me of the powerful influence I had in his life. He then said it wasn't just him that my influence had made a difference in. As leaders, we need to know we are making a difference in people's lives, not just their grades. This is servant leadership, just blessing others and in turn we will probably be blessed as well.