Nelson File

Leadership Series: Nelson File

The first in a series of lead­er­ship dis­cus­sions with lead­ers from across the state

Draw­ing from years of expe­ri­ence and wis­dom, the series will demys­ti­fy lead­er­ship and pro­vide valu­able insight to edu­ca­tors start­ing their lead­er­ship jour­ney. To begin the series we were for­tu­nate to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with Nel­son File, Prin­ci­pal of The Friends’ School.
Nelson with Two Students at Friends School
Nelson with a Student at Friends School
Nelson File

Hel­lo Nelson,

In your time as a school prin­ci­pal, are there some piv­otal moments that have stood out for you? What might they be and why?

There have been a few piv­otal moments that have stood out for me. My family’s move from The Amer­i­can Inter­na­tion­al School of Mus­cat (Oman) to Hobart, Tas­ma­nia near­ly 10 years ago was one of them. I had nev­er been to Aus­tralia before, pri­or to the inter­view for the posi­tion, just as I had nev­er been to Oman before inter­view­ing for that posi­tion near­ly 20 years ago. Mov­ing Schools and coun­tries is always a risk as you are nev­er quite cer­tain what you will real­ly encounter on a day-to-day basis. I can unequiv­o­cal­ly say that both moves were invig­o­rat­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing and pro­fes­sion­al­ly enrich­ing experiences.

Since being at The Friends’ School, the two biggest per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al chal­lenges were respond­ing to an his­tor­i­cal sex­u­al abuse alle­ga­tion from decades ago, and the chal­lenges that the Covid pan­dem­ic brought. In learn­ing about the sex­u­al abuse alle­ga­tion, I was so incred­i­bly sad­dened to imag­ine the ter­ri­ble pain and suf­fer­ing the for­mer stu­dent had lived with for a very long time. How could the School (and me as its rep­re­sen­ta­tive) best assist that per­son? I was for­tu­nate that the Pre­sid­ing Mem­ber of the Board of Gov­er­nors sup­port­ed me through that chal­leng­ing time. The pan­dem­ic pre­sent­ed its own chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly in the begin­ning when we were all strug­gling to under­stand what the best way for­ward was. The polit­i­cal lead­ers pre­sent­ed pol­i­cy by press con­fer­ence’ expect­ing near­ly instan­ta­neous imple­men­ta­tion of these decrees. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, at first, the ques­tion of whether to have schools remain open, or shift to dis­tance learn­ing, was politi­cised in Tas­ma­nia with polit­i­cal lead­ers offer­ing advice that dif­fered from the pub­lic health advice. Anoth­er addi­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ty was that each state’s pub­lic health advice dif­fered, lead­ing to our com­mu­ni­ty to ques­tion why Tas­ma­nia, at least ini­tial­ly, had dif­fer­ent direc­tives to oth­er states. 

What have been some of your key learn­ings about school lead­er­ship over the years?

We all know that there is no mag­ic wand (like Dumbledore’s Elder wand, although I do have a copy of one in my office!) that can instant­ly make changes come into effect. Change is incre­men­tal, day by day, sup­port­ing staff to grow and learn so they in turn can assist stu­dents to grow and learn. From time to time there are piv­otal moments when a shift’ or imple­men­ta­tion of a plan hap­pens that seem very large, but in ret­ro­spect, staff look back and won­der how the school rou­tines worked pri­or to the change.

What advice would you offer to aspir­ing lead­ers as they con­sid­er embark­ing upon a school lead­er­ship role?

Who you are as a per­son is not tied up in a posi­tion title, nor are the con­tri­bu­tions that you can make tied to where ever you may be. Be will­ing to take pro­fes­sion­al risks in order to grow as a per­son and an edu­ca­tor. Most impor­tant­ly, make cer­tain that the cul­ture you are work­ing in res­onates with your own val­ues so that you can come to work each day putting what you deeply believe in into practice.

Can you share with us how you think edu­ca­tion has changed in your time as a school leader?

Dur­ing my more than 40 years in Inde­pen­dent School edu­ca­tion across five dif­fer­ent nations, it seems that edu­ca­tion has become more legal­is­tic’. Per­haps some of the growth in legal frame­works is required, but I hate to think that what we do to assist young peo­ple to grow into thriv­ing, con­tribut­ing adults in soci­ety will be some­how less­ened’ because of increas­ing legal oversight.

What do you think will be the key chal­lenges for schools in the years ahead?

The posi­tion of a leader in an inde­pen­dent school has always been com­plex. But those we looked to as we were grow­ing in our career appeared to do it more seam­less­ly than I do! I think we need to be increas­ing­ly aware of the social and emo­tion­al needs of our stu­dents, fam­i­lies and staff. This seems to be a key chal­lenge ahead of us all.

Are there any fur­ther words of advice that you would like to share?

Teach­ing and edu­cat­ing stu­dents is hard work. We poten­tial­ly could come into con­tact with hun­dreds of peo­ple (staff, stu­dents, par­ents, alum­ni, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers) each day. We work with them, build rela­tion­ships, lis­ten, cajole, and nav­i­gate our way for­ward to assist the stu­dents to grow in a pos­i­tive set­ting. One is nev­er quite cer­tain what sit­u­a­tions will present each day because we are deal­ing with peo­ple. As lead­ers, I think we need to have a focused flexibility.

Tend­ing to the cul­ture of the school that you want to see is the most impor­tant task a leader should do each and every day. If one gets the cul­ture of the school right, then oth­er aspects of the role are more eas­i­ly tackled.

At The Friends’ School, I have some degree of con­fi­dence that all staff are focused on help­ing our young peo­ple devel­op into pos­i­tive, con­tribut­ing mem­bers of soci­ety that think clear­ly, act with integri­ty, have care and con­cern for oth­ers and the envi­ron­ment, are com­mit­ted to assist­ing oth­ers and will be aware of glob­al issues and con­cerns. The goal of the School remains focused on what are we doing to assist our stu­dents evolve into adults who will make the world a bet­ter place for all of us to live.

I think it is also impor­tant to keep front of mind the fol­low­ing questions:

1. Why does the school exist?

2. How do we expect every­one to behave? (And how do we react, with­in the school’s val­ues and frame­work, when poor behav­iour is presented?)

3. What is it we do day to day, and are we doing it?

4. What is impor­tant today, and in 5, 10, 15, years into the future?

5. Who must do what?, and

6. What does suc­cess look and feel like?

Can’t find what you're looking for?

General Enquiry

For all general enquiries please contact our admin team directly

Contact Us

Something More Specific

For more specific queries please contact one of our team members

Our Team

© Independent Schools Tasmania 2022.

Privacy | Disclaimer | Website by S. Group