Almost at the end of his fifth year at the helm of Leeming Primary School, the educator recalls with amusement the celebrations his students put on in his honour.
“My fondest memory has got to be my 50th birthday when some of the students dressed up as me with sunnies and their ties – that was a very pleasing day,” Emby tells EducationHQ.
The playful gesture, as it turns out, was a fitting role-reversal for Emby, who is just as comfortable tinkering alongside students in the school sandpit or perfecting his cubby-making skills, as he is dealing with the more official duties of running his Western Australian school.
Emby is certainly not what one would call an elusive leader.
Having earnt the title of the “Cubby King”, the educator makes a point of being a present and friendly face to every child and parent that passes through.
Whether it’s before school, at recess, or after the final bell has sounded, you’ll spy Emby out chatting with those in his charge.
The principal says forging positive relationships and building a deep level of trust with students is the cornerstone to his success.
“Then when you are in a situation where you can ask students honestly why they did something if things have gone badly, and they have a relationship with you as well and tend to talk more honestly with you, then you both work together to work out how you can make the situation better, rather than just dishing our punishments,” he reflects.
Bolstered by his “fantastic” staff, Emby is now spearheading a school-wide shift towards a “positive behaviour support structure,” and is intent on overhauling every aspect of the school’s approach to learning and discipline.
“…it’s about ‘what can we do to help this student move onwards’ and also about positively teaching them the strategies for behaviour.
“So every Monday morning my deputy principal stands up in front of the school and models and teaches them a behaviour for the week, a focus.
“And we reinforce that, so we are really finding that really builds a positive attitude amongst the students and pride in their school,” Emby shares.
Allowing children to escape both the confines of the classroom and the rigours of modern life is also something the educator has worked hard to engrain in the curriculum.
A blossoming Nature Play initiative has seen the creation of a ‘loose parts play’ area, an obstacle-clad ‘log area’ and of course the infamous cubby-making area, all of which tempt Emby’s students to find meaning and entertainment in the natural world.
“…we do it to provide them with an opportunity to use their imagination and it’s something that students used to do a lot more of,” Emby says.
“Their life is very structured and … some of the students really do have great creativity and great skills that you really don’t get to see within a normal classroom structure.”
When it comes to articulating what sits at the core of his leadership strategy, Emby says it all boils down to effective communication.
“For me I view my successful school leadership in terms of the school has a life of its own and keeps going.
“If I have to take some time off or am sick, (it’s) that the school doesn’t stop, because there is enough common belief and common understandings and common engagement amongst the staff and the community that the programs aren’t white elephants, they have emphasis and inertia to keep going.
“I think if you can do that then you are spreading the world well and communicating well and people understand what is important.”
And while the “Cubby King” tag has been a rather endearing accolade, Emby has a different idea about the type of leader he hopes to be remembered as.
“I think if you can be known to be someone who is fair and who treats people sort of equitably, that’s something I work hard at, and if I could be known for that I’d be happy…” he says.