‘Typical’ is hard to pin down in a school principal’s day

St Paul's Catholic College Greystanes
Paul Finneran is principal of St Paul’s Catholic College in Greystanes.


What is a typical work day for you?

I am generally at work by 6.30am, giving me the opportunity to work without interruptions that invariably happen throughout the day. “Typical” isn’t necessarily the way I would describe any day. Given the complexity of human nature and the narratives that come with the people with whom you work and interact, you can never predict what will happen.


What sparked your interest in your job?

I have been in education for nearly 30 years and this is my first year in the role of principal. My interest in leadership is predicated upon my want to impact on and influence others in the most positive way. I also have a great interest in building the capacity of others and giving them the opportunity to shine.


What do you like most about the job?

I love building relationships with others, within and beyond the school community. In particular, the students, staff and parents with whom I interact presents myriad opportunities to help nurture the educational, professional, social and emotional growth of others whose paths I cross.


What was the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?

Many years ago, I had to play Santa Claus at a school Christmas event, in one of my earlier teaching positions. It was an extremely hot summer’s day and wearing the outfit was not a comfortable experience at all.


St Paul's Catholic College Greystanes


What challenges have you faced during the pandemic?

Having worked in Melbourne in 2020, when we were in remote learning for a large part of the year, helped prepare me for the challenges we faced in 2021. Adjusting to the demand of online learning meant an adaptable and flexible approach so that our students were not in front of their screens for inordinate periods of time. Managing wellbeing of students, staff and their families was a priority for us, and we were very mindful of being clear, consistent and constant with our communications. The pandemic created a great deal of stress and anxiety for many members of our community, and the college was proactive in supporting them.


How transferable are your skills?

I have always been in education, and to me, it is a vocation. Being relational is foundational to being an effective leader. I cannot do my job without the support of so many other people and it is so important to remember that they need to be valued. Coming from a family of seven children, I was blessed to have parents who were not only beautiful people, but were also outstanding models of leadership. It was their example that reminded me to always be mindful of developing relationships founded on sincerity, compassion and humour.


What advice do you have for people wanting to get into teaching?

Teaching is a great career, and it provides you with a wonderful opportunity to share in the stories of so many people and to contribute a chapter to those stories. Be prepared to listen, not to reply but to understand. Most importantly, be willing to laugh with others — humour does much to put others at ease and often leaves a smile in their heart.


What skills do people need for teaching?

A preparedness to always learn is so important. Patience and humility also help because there will be days when you wonder whether anything will go right; working with young people brings an unpredictability which often you cannot control. Most of all, be yourself and be willing to give of yourself; a generous spirit goes a long way.