NESLI Leaders in Action: Meriyln Burton

Merilyn Burton is Principal of Pelaw Main Public School in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Merilyn says that NESLI's ALP has taught her a lot about herself, what she values and the kind of leader she strives to be.

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NESLI Leaders in Action: merilyn burton

Merilyn Burton talks about her career journey and how NESLI helped her on her path to becoming a principal through the Advanced Leadership Program.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I have been extremely fortunate to have been afforded leadership opportunities early in my teaching career. I worked in western NSW for 4 years, and spent most of that time in relieving roles, receiving invaluable leadership opportunities and professional development. 

I was successful in obtaining a permanent assistant principal role after about 8 years of teaching, with the opportunity to relieve as principal for 6 terms about 10 years ago. The school I work at has significant funding due to socio-economic disadvantage, which enabled me to work in both a teacher mentor and deputy principal role, utilising and building my leadership capabilities.

What were you looking for when you chose to do the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP) with NESLI?

I was at a real crossroads in my leadership journey at the end of 2015. I was unsure of which direction I wanted my career to take and felt like I needed a change. I had applied for a few positions with no success, and was starting to question my leadership abilities and career choices. My principal at the time encouraged me to apply for the ALP and I decided to take a chance and applied. 

Just being accepted into the program gave me a real confidence boost and reenergised my leadership and career ambitions.

What are the most important things you learnt doing the ALP?

I learnt a lot about myself, what I valued and the kind of leader I was, as well as the leader I strived to be. Authentic leadership was something I strongly identified with and I thoroughly enjoyed the webinars, giving me an opportunity to talk with a bunch of great women facing similar issues.

I learnt how to silence my inner critic, which I soon realised was something I had always struggled with. I had a great coach, who had travelled a similar career path, and I got a lot out of our coaching sessions via Skype. 

Another thing I discovered was that I had lost my ‘sweet spot’. So I examined some of the things within my role that I wasn’t enjoying anymore and channelled my abilities, interests and strengths into other areas. I found this was really helpful, as it gave me greater purpose and fulfilment within my role again. It was something quite simple to do, yet without knowing about it I wouldn’t have changed anything.

How has the ALP helped you in your journey to becoming a principal?

At the end of last year I was successful in gaining the principal position at my existing school. As I had been an assistant principal here for 11 years, I recognised that moving into the  role of principal was going to have some challenges, such as my relationships with staff and how I was going to step up to a new level of leadership. 

As part of my interview process, I had to present what my first staff meeting would look like. Instantly, I knew that the authentic leadership principles was the perfect place to start! I used the analogy ‘from the dance floor to the balcony’ to explain how I was going to achieve this and the feedback I received when I was offered the job was that this blew everyone away and they were extremely impressed.

What is your biggest challenge as a principal? 

Time and paperwork! While I am fortunate enough to have gained a position at my existing school, it has been a very overwhelming year so far. A few new challenges have been thrown my way, including a whole new finance system and the development of a new three year plan. Building the capacity of my executive team is a big focus for me, which will set the scene for the continued growth and success of the school. 

Merilyn Burton is Principal of Pelaw Main Public School in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Merilyn completed the Advanced Leadership Program.

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