Reimagining education? The nine characteristics effective leaders need.

As our education industry emerges from the impact of the pandemic and struggles to deal with the fallout of staffing shortages and teacher burnout, school agencies look to their principals and school leaders to help reinvigorate an education system that is in need of greater public support.

After attending the National ACEL 2022 Conference I reflect on what I feel the necessary characteristics needed by the future school leaders to improve the quality of education as we emerge on the other side of the pandemic.

An effective school principal sets the vision and tone for their school while also being an instructional leader. They create a positive culture where teachers can thrive and students can learn. Additionally, they manage resources effectively and efficiently to support instruction and student success.

If you are looking to appoint a new leader to help drive this next era of education look for the following characteristics:

Big Picture Thinking

Leading schools is a way of looking at things that can help leaders make changes for the better. This kind of thinking looks at the whole system and how everything is connected. Leaders who use this way of thinking can see patterns and learn from them. They can also try new things to see if they work. This type of leadership is called adaptive leadership, because it means leaders are always learning and changing what they do based on what’s happening in the system.

Being open-minded

Principals of change in general are clever, daring, and forward-thinking. As a result, system leaders must embrace learning, ambiguity, uncertainty, and experimentation. Those who helm system change projects have the audacity to challenge the norm for the sake of making programs and services more effective and true to their goals – disregarding original ideas when unforeseen paths and possibilities emerge.

Focused on the Individual

School leaders use a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective in their work. This implies that systems leaders must be skilled at generating uncomfortable and stressful turmoil around inequality to get people to act. They have a strong passion for and commitment to social justice, continuously bringing issues that exist in the systems they want to change to the forefront.

Building Relationships

People who want to make changes and develop relationships need to be patient. They need to be able to develop trust, and they also need to have the time to see results. Caring about other people’s problems is important for establishing trust and rapport.

Effective Communicators

Principals are good at listening to other people’s points of view, even if they don’t agree with them. They also know how to tell stories that help people understand each other. This is important because it helps create trust between different groups of people so they can work together.

Results Orientated

One way to make sure that all the different parts of a project work together is to organize collaborative activities around clear objectives. This will help break down any organizational barriers between different groups working on the project. Leaders should agree on what success looks like and how it will be measured at the beginning, with help from partners and stakeholders.

Co-Constructing Change

In order for school change to work, everyone needs to work together. This means that all stakeholders affected by the change process need to share ideas. This includes the people who are directly impacted by the plan. There are many ways principals can help make this happen, like having clear governance structures, using data analytics and feedback, fostering group decision-making, and making sure everyone is committed to working together.

Empowering groups of people, instead of individuals

Some people think that transformational leadership is very important. But it can’t always fix long-term systemic issues. Effective school leaders understand that in order for things to change, different people in different positions need to take action. When power and authority are shared, it makes it easier for things to get done. Leaders need to be willing to share power and stop thinking about themselves as individuals who only look out for themselves.

Nurturing Opportunities

As a principal, your job is to help everyone not only see the benefits of participating in school changes but also how it will positively impact their work. School change takes time and continuous updates to keep everyone invested–in this way, the collective effort remains sustainable over time.

In Summary

Leaders of educational change must be able to embrace learning, ambiguity, uncertainty, and experimentation in order to make programs more effective. They need to have a strong passion for social justice and be good at building relationships in order to get people to work together. In addition, they should be focused on the individual and results orientated. Finally, they need to co-construct change by empowering groups of people instead of individuals. This will help ensure that everyone is committed to making the changes necessary for a successful school system.

Author: Dr Jake Madden

Jake Madden (Dip Teach; B.Ed; Grad Dip: Leadership; M. Ed: Leadership; EdD; FACEL; MACE) Dr. Jake Madden is currently the Principal, St Edward’s Primary School, Tamworth. He has enjoyed a successful teaching and principal leadership career over the last thirty years building teacher capacity through the development of learning in the contemporary world, the promotion of flexible learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st century learner and curriculum for global mindedness. Jake is a leader in the notion of teacher-as-researcher and is widely published in this area, authoring and co-authoring books and a number of journal articles showcasing his experiences and research into leading educational change.

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