Channel 7 Sunrise Fail on School Principals

Assignment Feedback for Mark Beretta, Anne Fulwood, Ros Reines, and Kerry Chikarovski
(guests on Beretts’ Angels segment on Channel 7 “Sunrise” 8 January 2016)

Mr Beretta, Ms Fulwood, Ms Reines and Ms Chikarovski,
I offer the following feedback on your group assignment to present an opinion piece discussing the release of research showing how stress, burnout and abuse are deterring deputy principals from applying for the top jobs.

Ability to orient, engage and persuade your audience: Fail

At first, I thought you were attempting irony but soon and sadly realised you were playing it straight.

Making fun of people who are in difficulty of any sort is not only pathetic but reflects poorly upon your progress this term. All you have submitted has been “seat of your pants” commentary. This is a serious topic you tried to make it into a joke by reversing the findings of the research which I can safely assume you have not read.

If this is your idea of good, funny or remotely intelligent television commentary or analysis you are mistaken.

Ros, you said:
“All jobs have stress. You know. O.K. they might work 70 hours a week while they are in the job, but you know what? They get great holidays. I think, just get back in your box and just deal with it.”

I wonder how much attention you have paid to the considerable emphasis that government and mental health advocates have placed on the importance of mental well-being? If you want to be credible then you have to demonstrate a level of being informed that goes beyond: “I think”.

Ann, you said:
“If you get to the top and you want to take the top job then with it comes a whole lot of responsibilities. So you’re right. In the corporate world, politics, whatever it is, if you want to step up to take the top job, well deal with it.”

Ann, you missed the point of the report which I assume you did not read either and that it is because the conditions of being a Principal have become so bad that it has become difficult to get people to take on the job! Were you paying attention when I gave you the assignment or did you just say the first thing that came into your head? Deputy Principals are not applying because they know what it is like! I think you might find time spent in remedial comprehension advantageous if you are to pursue this line of work.

In a short time span you managed to: totally misinterpret the findings of the research; offend every Deputy Principal and Principal (and would-be’s) in the country; and completely ignore this nation’s profound current concern with mental health and violence.

Background knowledge and understanding: Fail

I am well aware of the amount of copying that goes on under the guise of informed commentary and analysis. It’s clear you have “borrowed” the work of a journalist whom you neglected to credit with recently published work by Dr Loretta Piazza and Dr Mark Thompson. If you are going to copy other student’s work then you ought to take the time to read the original (preferably) or related work. It is important to be different in the game you want to be in and there is nothing wrong with drawing different ideas from the research. To do that you actually HAVE TO READ IT and not pull out the first inane idea that comes into your head.

If you want to be taken seriously then you could do well to look at the work of students who work at The Age and the ABC. Unlike you, they did some background work and reported the tragic story of the co-author, Dr Mark Thompson who took his own life, reportedly as a result of workplace stress in his role as a school principal.

At the very least, as the Piazza and Thompson report is not yet freely available, and as I suggested in my assignment notes, you could draw upon other related, relevant research. Ten seconds on Google would have given you the 2015 research report by Philip Riley at ACU:

Riley’s research which has been conducted annually since 2011 into the health and well-being of Australian School Principals provides ample, detailed evidence about the current state of affairs. One of the follow-up tasks for this assignment given your appalling performance is to read this report and submit broadcast a segment actually informed by this and the Piazza and Thompson paper when it becomes available.

In future, when asked to comment on something about which you know nothing then I suggest you simply admit to not knowing. All good teachers and principals do this.

You can find more background and research in the serious tweets on Twitter than you demonstrated.

Selection, relevance and elaboration of ideas for a persuasive argument: Fail

I am lost for words. To imagine that what you offered in the segment amounted to anything that was remotely informed, coherent or sensible you’d need vast quantities of mind altering substances. Fail is too kind a grade!


Should you wish to achieve a pass grade for this assignment then you need to do two things:

  1. Submit a revised segment as per my advice above.
  2. Do a small research study into the occupational health and well-being of TV morning show commentators and compare it to that of Principals.

Both pieces of work are due on my desk in a week.                                                                                          

I’ve used the format of a school assignment to respond to your brief commentary to underline what to me and the many professionals with whom I work would regard as insensitive, lazy and crass work that you passed off as journalism/entertainment on the morning of the 8th of January this year.

What follows draws upon my twenty-one years as a school principal. I am currently an Assistant Regional Director and one of my responsibilities is the well-being and professional support of 31 Principals in my region.

I note that this morning I spent 4 hours of my ‘holidays’ reading the ACU research. That was before your segment caught my attention. That’s that sort of stuff educators do in their holidays because we are too damn busy to fit it in during teaching terms.

Let me draw attention to some of the findings from Riley’s research (ACU).
The only positive finding from five years of the ACU research, is that school leaders are reducing their working hours during holiday periods from more than 55% of us working up to 25 hours per week to now only 39% working while on holidays. Apparently this is an indicator of a more appropriate balance between work and life. How many hours of work do you do on holiday?

Ros, bagging educators for the holidays they receive demonstrates a lack of understanding of the work of teachers and Principals. If you want to comment on their work/life balance try walking a kilometre or two in their shoes. You should take your own advice: get back in your box so you can do some homework.

Let’s now turn to the comparison of school leadership positions to the rest of the population. The ACU research highlights:

  • Despite having many predictive attributes for high scores on health and wellbeing and quality of life measures, collectively principals and deputy/assistant principal score below the general population average.
  • Principals experience high levels of emotional demands and emotional labour when compared to the general population. This correlates with higher levels of burnout being 1.6 times higher than the general population, stress is 1.7 times and sleeping troubles is 2.2 times higher.
  • Principals and deputy/assistant principals experience far higher prevalence of offensive behaviour at work each year than the general population. These rates have been increasing each year.
  • Adult to adult bullying is 4.3 times higher than the general population, threats of violence is 5.3 times higher and actual violence is 8 times the rate of the general population.

And you wonder why Deputy Principals are reluctant to take this work on?

Ann, show me a professional group of leaders in the corporate or political sphere who have similar work conditions, expectations and pressures. Have you ever had to instigate a lock down in your workplace because of the threats of someone who is mentally unstable or under the influence of a substance (often a parent) or left your office to avoid being physically assaulted? Schools are not like other workplaces. They have large numbers of young people in them for whom you have an absolute duty of care. In primary schools the students are under twelve years of age. As a Principal, you might have around 650 students. That was a big job before all of the additional demands that have been placed on Principals.

Kerry, to her credit, acknowledged that what is now required of a principal goes far beyond leading and managing a group of teachers and students.

I don’t know what world Ann and Ros live in but it is well removed from the world that principals live in, day in day out.

At this time in Australia there is profound concern about the prevalence of violence and mental illness. The research Riley reports is not something that any fair-minded Australian would expect to “go with the job”. The report makes a number of recommendations, one that points to the role of community (p. 21). I quote:

Recommendation 4. What the community can do
2. Stop the offensive behaviour. This is beyond debate. It simply must stop. The real issue is how to achieve this outcome. The steadily increasing levels of offensive behaviour across the country in schools of all types should give us pause. But this is not just occurring in schools, with increases noted in all frontline professions and domestic violence rates that we should be nationally ashamed about. Australia needs to have an adult conversation about the root causes of this and set about addressing them at every level of society.

On the morning of the 8th of January, you had an opportunity to have an intelligent conversation about the significant issues facing schools, i.e. finding appropriate people to take on leadership roles in schools. You ignored and inverted the research findings. The Principals with whom I work and who you chose to make fun of, are performing extremely well. They go above and beyond. You could take a leaf from their book the next time you have an opportunity to pontificate on the work of other professionals. This time, you failed.


  • I agree with, Channel 7 needs to back up its support of Beyond Blue with informed comment. Making fun of deputies, who work hard to interface between school administrators, teachers and parents, is uncalled for and not warranted.

    • Steve, you are spot on. There’s a tragic irony in the support for Beyond Blue, the discussion had about this research and the fact that one of the authors (a school principal) took his own life.

  • I really like what you have said Trudy. And while I realise both the research and the Sunrise mob didn’t go there, it would be interesting to compare salaries as well. I think this should be done on a responsibility basis, as in how much responsibility do you have for the vulnerable in our society? If salaries were calculated this way School Principals would be millionaires and TV presenters would be on the basic wage because they deliberately play on those who are vulnerable. Just imagine a world where salaried educators, healthcare, and social workers are paid what they are actually worth to society, instead of constantly blamed, ridiculed, and labelled bleeding hearts by those who think they have the right to devalue them because we are not in the same pay grade. Just a thought.

    • Lynn, I like the way you think. I am imagining the world you describe and wish there was a little more balance in remuneration. On a similar tangent child care workers are similarly underpaid for the significant role they play in a child’s life and their contribution in our communities. Thanks for taking the time to tap out such a thoughtful comment.

  • Whoa! Sassy response! What a slapback to these shallow and ignorant ‘commentators’. Trudy Graham, you rock! With you all the way. And ‘Sunrise’ needs a new dawn.

  • Thank you for your response to Sunrise on Facebook. I also didn’t see the program but will go and find the link before I comment too much on it. Something they should have done (their homework) before they commented. I have been a teacher for about 25 years now and, besides their lack of homework, it seems they also failed on the two most important things that we try to teach/model for the students. Respect and integrity. Thanks for your work. David

    • David, thanks for taking the time to add your comments. It is appreciated. If you wanted to view the Sunrise segment, there is a link at the top of the post. I agree with your sentiments regarding respect and integrity.

  • Thank you Trudy for voicing what many of us were thinking. I shook my head in utter disbelief whilst watching the segment. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with my colleague teachers as we endured teacher bashing from the media and now stand shoulder to shoulder with colleague principals as we weather this. It takes all of our strength to meet the daily challenges of our roles and whilst I don’t want sympathy, I would like informed discussion around how to make positive change.

    • Collette, you have got it in one. Informed discussion with the general public about the increase in threatened and actual verbal and physical violence educators are weathering would also be helpful. The research shows it is one of the major contributing factors. That would be step towards positive change. It’s a shame the commentators didn’t maximise the amazing opportunity they had.

  • When you answer a question by referring to a general population eg “wearing thongs to work is not a problem – many businesses allow it or everyone does it”. Is called a fallacy. This kind of fallacy has a name as well as it is so commonly used to avoid answering a particular issue with a particular answer. It is called the “ad populatum fallacy”. By generalising the issue, you avoid having to answer the specific. It is often used by avoiders, when confronted with the issue of teacher workload. You can almost yawn and wait for the fallacy to come. How many times have I heard it “all jobs are having to take work home”. Or “everyone knows that teacing is not a 9-5 job”………… I always answer this with: You have just given me a fallacy to avoid dealing with the issue, fallacies give no solutions so the problem I have bought it is still the same. I present he issue again…….
    Just saying……..

    • Ruth, thanks for taking the time to add to the conversation. I really appreciate your input on fallacies. I’ll be listening for more of these as I go about my work over the next year.

  • After 30 years of teaching I reached a point IN april where I looked into the eyes of yet another very disturbed child as I listened to her mother tell about the difficulties she was having with the child’s issues and went…. someone else needs to be the hero. if an adult male or women assaulted me or abused me you would call it work place bullying and there is a clear process for dealing with it. When children do it we say it is someone else’s fault and that is is acceptable for them to do it.
    After 30 years of working in the field of special education and schools with no support for me as a person and the impact of continual exposure to violence I was supposed to fix and no weekly debriefing and professional supervision. No union out there fighting for better conditions for teachers of children with difficult behaviour and a media that is inciting disrespect and verbal abuse toward teachers and schools….. I stepped away. If media personalities want to be heroes perhaps they should teach a class for a week. becoming a principal is a privileged earned after years of good practice and caring. Perhaps the condemners should simply have the integrity to work in the job before they become criticisers of the job.
    But then I am simply a teacher. Not even someone anyone really cares to talk about like a principal.
    Parent your children well. Take time and thought to care about what you say to them about other people and life and their role in being respectful caring people….. values are already entrenched before a child comes to school.
    Support with respect all people who are trying to do a good work for your children! I don’t go around critiquing journalists on the television…….if we want a better and more caring society the voice of it might should simply choose that as their motivation and act accordingly.

    • Sandy, thank you for sharing your story. It is most courageous of you. Unfortunately, it is stories like yours that are played out in schools everywhere. It is also the reason why I started this blog. Educators should be loving their work believing they are making a positive difference in the lives of others and simultaneously enjoying quality of life. Not being verbally and physically abused, paid poorly, lacking sleep, skipping meals, and feeling stressed and burned out. It is also why I was angered by the opinions shared on the Sunrise show, motivating me to write the above piece.
      I must say though, never consider yourself ‘simply a teacher’. After 30 years of service you have directly impacted a generation. That’s an amazing legacy. Hold your head high and be proud of your career and service to humanity.

  • Trudy,

    I just came across your very insightful, humorous retort to the Sunrise segment on Facebook. The quality of your response seems to be in stark contrast to the quality of the journalistic reporting.

    Thanks for responding for those who are out their caring for the education of our children on a daily basis.

    All the best for your role in supporting the leaders in your district.


    • Rodney, Thank you for the supportive and positive feedback. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and tap out a response to my post. Thank you for the good wishes, I hope 2016 is a rewarding year for you also.

  • I did not see the segment at all but from the article you just wrote, I knew straight away that these people who are on and in our media feeds etc do represent some of our community who do not know what really goes on in the day of an educator deputy or otherwise. Maybe they should ‘walk in our shoes’- make that part of the next assignment they need to hand in.

    Well done and well written.
    thank you for your support.

    • Thank you for taking the time to leave a thoughtful comment and positive feedback, Kate. I really appreciate the moral support. There is a link at the top of my post to the show segment, should you wish to view it.

  • Very well said Trudy! I saw this segment and could not believe their comments. Would love to see their response to this.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and write the comment, Natalie. I really appreciate it. To be honest, I’m not expecting a response from the Sunrise program, but the response from fellow educators like yourself has been overwhelming. Have a brilliant 2016.

  • I am very impressed by this cohesive and intelligent retort to a piece of lousy and lazy journalism. Well done and thank you.

  • An insightful, coherent article which deserves a mature & respectful response from the TV ‘entertainers’ immediately.

    • Thank you Stacey, for sharing the segment on facebook. Your post caught my attention after I had spent 4 hours of my ‘holidays’ looking into the ACU research regarding principal wellbeing. Something needed to be said, as the commentary grossly misrepresents the recent research. I hope 2016 is a great year for you.

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