Educational LeadershipEducational Leadership encompasses the informed actions that influence the continuous improvement of learning and teaching – with a primary focus on the relationship between ‘actions’ and ‘learning and teaching’. Therefore leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” (Adams).
Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others (Maxwell). Great leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way to others. It has been described by Carol Cardno as the ability to “work with and through other people to achieve the organisations goals”.
As Jan Robertson has highlighted in her book titled Coaching Leadership, NZ needs Educational Leaders who are able to build capacity and commitment; build strong relationships and partnerships; focus on learning; understand the change process; and see the importance of finding new approaches to ‘doing’ and ‘being’. When you hold this perspective of Leadership it is clear to see that “Leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders” (Peters). The focus moves from growing yourself to growing the ability of others who are self-motivated to influence the quality of learning and teaching.
The only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different. Many theorists have outlined the perceived skills and qualities students will need to be equipped with in order to meet the challenges in this ever-changing world. We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. Therefore the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn (Drucker).
There are a variety of theories relating to student motivation and how students process information. Behaviourist, Cognitivist, Constructivist, Motivational and Humanist, Design Theories and Models, Descriptive and Meta Theories, Identity Theories and Media and Technology theories all attempt to address how people learn. Fundamentally they assert that achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s knowledge, skills aspirations and expectations. They also enable educators to appreciate the individual identities of our students and provide a rich resource of new possibilities and approaches: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn” (Estrada). I believe the depth in which we know our students, the way in which we involve them in their learning and the framework of high expectations we hold as teachers are pivotal to student achievement.
Reflective practice: Taking time to learn. “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” (William). We owe it to the students we work with to continually improve. Every day in our profession we are exposed to new and different ideas and perspectives. Self-review enables us to critically examine these with a growth mind-set and a view of new possibilities. For teachers to be effective as learners we need to work constantly to learn from what we do and what our students do. This keeps us humble and ensures we don’t forget the purpose of what we do.
Reflective practice is as much about identifying what we did right, as it is about looking for ways to improve. Discovering that despite the challenges, we actually did a good job helps to give us encouragement as well as underlining effective practice. Learning from our successes and our struggles leads to fulfilment and improvement, and encourages us to seek new knowledge, experience and insights.
“Nowhere does the quality of the school system exceed the quality of its teachers” (Schleicher). This places the success of any school on the leadership team who select and develop teachers, recognising and encouraging good teaching, and therefore improving teacher performance and student outcomes. When teachers feel valued we empower them to teach, encourage, instruct, praise, influence, guide and inspire. “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning” (Meehan).
A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning. It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are in the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young children get (Hargreaves & Fultan). Therefore it is the value we place on our teachers that I believe has the most significant positive influence on student outcomes. Teaching is complex and ever-changing; teachers need to feel supported and encouraged to enhance the learning opportunities they provide through transformative and innovative practices. Often this includes areas of considered risk taking. “Never discourage anyone, who continually makes progress” (Plato).
Valuing support staff
Support staff are an integral part of our schools, comprising of approximately 25% of the school workforce. In my current school they comprise of approximately 60%. Support Staff can support teachers in understanding their students, save them valuable time in creating differentiated materials, and even deliver provisions and small group work to foster real, high-impact learning.
It is unfortunate that support staff in many schools are undervalued or deployed in areas which lie outside of their strengths with limited training and input. I have been pleased to see the NZEI Support Staff Day initiative rolled out over the last couple of years. The simple expression of appreciation - your willingness to put it into words, is often all that is necessary (Cousins).
Support staff have a potentially transformative impact on student achievement when they are prepared and trained, and have support and guidance about practice. They make a huge contribution to schools who identify effective ways of utilising them. Support staff that are valued, trained and supported, help to ensure the most vulnerable children in our education system will be enabled to reach their full potential. “Treat employees like they make a difference and they will” (Goodnight).
My approach to managing change
Change is a process not an event. Change management requires thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, and above all, consultation with, and involvement of, the people affected by the changes. “Designing change should happen before not after, launch” (Vargo). The best change comes as a result of individuals realising they need to change. Check that the people affected by the change agree with, or at least understand, the need for change, and have a chance to decide how the change will be managed, and to be involved in the planning and implementation of the change. If we believe that teachers are the right people in the role, we need to help them realise this on their own and not because they feel forced. “True change is internal” (Shareski). As Educational Leaders it is our responsibility to encourage our teachers to see and value the vision, values, strategy and goals of the school, and to influence their actions to achieve the desired results. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others” (African Proverb). Change needs to be understood and managed in a way that people can cope effectively with it.
Strong resistance to change is often rooted in deeply conditioned or historically reinforced feelings. Patience and tolerance are required to help people in these situations to see things differently. Be mindful of people’s strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone welcomes change. Take the time to understand the people you are working with, and how and why they feel like they do, before you take action. “You don’t build a top school you build top teachers, and then the top teachers build the school” (Unknown).