Leadership Essentials

International Schooling, Leadership, Vision

When you place “leadership” into an internet search engine you very quickly come up with millions of hits. There are as many theories as there are experts. For me there are a few essentials that the school leader must put into practice in order to move their school forward.

  • Uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
  • Building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
  • Attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement your strategy;
  • Relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
  • Creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
  • “Leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices.

Only the implementation of each may differ from leader to leader. Each leader will exercise each essential in their own was as they sum up their school’s circumstances.





Preparing to Implement Change in School

Leadership, Professional Learning, School Culture, Teacher

Effective schools are ever changing as school leaders grind towards improving their schools. Recently I was asked how I have been successful in driving change in the schools I have led. While there is no “one size fits all” approach I believe there are a few key ingredients the school leader must have in order to successfully navigate the educational change process and make a positive difference to their school.

  1. Building Alignment: The saying, “have all your ducks in a row” is the first step for the school leader wishing to engage in a change management strategy. You need to be well organised and well prepared to implement your school improvement initiative. Having alignment across the school is important. Teacher understanding (and agreement) for the change will lead to commitment to the process. Ensuring you have the resources at hand, agreed indicators for success outlined and an achievable timeframe in place will aid your efforts in bringing success to your project. Having the right mindset/attitude across the school is your goal as you bring the school together. Ultimately, your organisational alignment is the glue for achieving better performance.
  2. Think before you Speak: Part of the preparation for change is taking time to think about how to implement your initiative. Gathering your data, interpreting the evidence, and making an informed decision about future steps is an initial step in determining where you are in the context of learning. As the school leader you need to sort out the inefficiencies and decide on how you want to proceed forward before embarking on sharing with the masses. 
  3. Preempting the Barriers: If you know your staff well then you probably know who the resisters to your new school improvement initiative will be. Preempt the initial rejection by focusing on what questions the resisters will raise. This way you can have your answers ready. Looking at it from someone else’s point of view will help clarify how you will respond. Watch out for the ‘late career’ teachers who have been there for a while and seen initiatives/programs come and go. How are you going to address their resistant attitudes?
  4. Manage Yourself: Continually managing change in a school setting can be a difficult task and has repercussions for the school leader. We have all seen and heard stories of how leaders have suffered from stress and burnout. Looking after your physical self to help look after your emotional self is crucial to sustaining a successful leadership role. Understanding how you respond to the negative stuff in school will help you prepare for the rigours of engaging in educational change.
  5. Building Culture:  Probably the most important preparation piece for any leader is the need to build your school’s culture. In order for your new change initiative to work you need to have the culture to support it. Your success is going to be held back by the staff implementing the plan if the school culture does not support it. As Peter Drucker so famously stated…”Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.

In summary,  in order to prepare for change, the effective school leader begins by aligning the school culture, the staff and the action plan. This will ensure success in implementing the change initiative within your school.

Teacher Retainment

Instruction, Leadership, Professional Learning

Schools in the Northern Hemisphere have recently begun a new academic year. Schools are welcoming students and families; administration teams are well prepared; curriculum programs are ready; resources are in order and social media is awash with exciting “snaps” of students’ first days.

Underlying the excitement of the start of the new year is the growing desperation as schools rally around to fulfil teaching vacancies.

With the increased scrutiny on school performance, teacher accountability is under the microscope. With teachers leaving the profession at alarming rates, measures to build teacher efficacy are needed.

While there are many reasons why teachers leave the profession, a better question could be “what keeps teachers in schools?” – research tells us there are two key factors:

  1. The quality of their colleagues, and
  2. The quality of the leadership within the school.

Leadership theories abound however, ultimately, I believe that being a leader is a social activity, guiding a team of people to achieve their best and in doing so deliver the vision of the school.

Linda Darling-Hammond published a book in 2003 titled ‘Keeping Good Teachers’. The key ingredients of the book suggests that reducing teacher attrition has to do a lot with how school principals lead their schools and how they deal with teachers based on their personal characteristics.

Leadership is all about building relationships. What’s your plan today?



Learning From a Walking Guide

Leadership, Personal Growth, Professional Learning

The summer holidays have been a time to relax and rejuvenate. One of the things my wife and I like to do is to travel to new places. Besides taking a break from our daily routines we get the opportunity to see and learn new things. 

I wasn’t much of a historian when I was younger however, when we visit a new country and settle in, we like to do walking tours, particularly when staying in the old part of a city. Walking tours give opportunity to learn the history, to understand how ‘things’ have come about. From architecture to cuisine influences to the infusion of cultural practices, the tour guides offer connected stories as we meander through the streets. 

It is curious to see the walking tour guides in action. The stitching of history and stories leading to current practice resonates with my view of leading schools. School leaders need to be able to tell the schools story, particularly when walking parents around the school or inducting new staff into the school family.

Here are five things I’ve learned from these tour guides this summer that resonate with school leadership:

  1. Know your history. Guides build their walking tour on the history of the place. At the start of the walk, usually after a brief “where are you from” session, the guide introduces what the tour will entail and begins with providing the participants with a brief history. This strategy outline the foundations, the vision and offers insight into how the country/city came to be. 
  2. Understand the external influences and their impact on the institution.  Throughout the tour, the guide explains why things are the way they are! How the architecture was influenced by conquerors; or the infiltration of culinary delights from neighbouring countries; or even improvements in city defence mechanisms .
  3. Forward planning. The guides are very intentional about their tour routes. They are well planned and each stop builds upon the previous and the ensuing story leads on to the next stop.
  4. Building Relationships: Tour guides rely on tips after the tour for their income. Although the tours last between 2-3 hours, the guides try to connect with each participant as they walk from stop to stop. Building a personal relationship was a key strategy to not only learn more about them but also to determine if they were enjoying the tour. The view is that happy tourists are more likely to tip at the end. If the participant was not happy they would try and change their presentation to help gain the admiration of the participant. 
  5. Reiterating learning throughout the tour. As the guide moved from place to place there was explanation (and connection) of where each place slotted into the big picture. They do this by using phrases like:
    1. Do you remember when we stopped at….
    2. When we were discussing the invasion of…..
    3. See how these roads connect the …….

A tour guide that exudes enthusiasm and is able to tell a great story, transports the participants and helps them visualise the actuality of the story.

I wonder how schools would evolve if principals were more like walking tour guides….

Effective Leaders Measure their Performance

Measuring Your Own Leadership Performance

Leadership, Personal Growth, Professional Learning

Recently I had a conversation about teacher performance and the role of leaders in supporting teacher growth. Everyone has an intuitive feel for how they are going but it is important to go deeper than just a feeling. Even school leaders need a process to evaluate their own current performance. You need to begin examining your impact.

How to do this? If you really want to improve as a leader, decision-maker, administrator, manager or simply a co-worker, then collecting some data on your performance in your role is essential. Unfortunately many school leaders see the annual performance review as an intrusion or a chore.

It need not be. A quick meander through some of these standard measurement techniques will offer some insight into the status of your performance. (However, the reflective leader looks further afield than the standard appraisal process). Here are four (quick) key measures to look for to help you begin your self reflection:

  1. Questionnaires & Self Assessments: There are the usual commercialised 360 questionnaires that can be sent to your staff to answer. These can provide neat graphics and tables outlining your strengths and weaknesses but rarely gives the necessary insight into next steps for improvement. Taking time to speak to staff and genuinely seeking advice on your impact can be more enlightening than an anonymous survey.
  2. Intuitive Reflection: Effective leaders know when “things” are working and are able to respond in a timely manner when they are not. “Gut feelings” are often based on reality and help the leader make the necessary adjustments to keep them on the right path to achieving their goals.
  3. Examine your community: If your performance is of a high standard then your organisation is humming along. If there is continually improvement in your bottom line (academically speaking) then you are making a difference. This means you are managing (leading) your middle leaders and teacher leaders. Your staff are engaged and focused on the school vision. There is good harmony and peace in your world!
  4. What’s Happening outside Your School?: Schools are about improvement and leadership is the vehicle for fostering the strategies and keeping alignment to school vision. Looking at what other schools are doing can offer insight into how you are performing as a leader in the school. Questions around innovation, attainment levels, programs and courses of study should be raised to see how your school compares. Effective leaders forward plan!

Ultimately the first real step in measuring your own performance is your internal desire to improve. Unless you want to improve you will keep doing what you are doing…. and in turn, will be an absent leader to your community…

What teachers are really doing over the summer break.

Leadership, Schools, Teacher, Teaching

With the summer break in front of us, many teachers are busily enjoying their holidays relaxing, rejuvenating and even reflecting. Teachers are curious creatures and although they holidaying and spending time with family and friends, they are also thinking about improving their teaching and preparing for the new academic year.

Here are five things teachers are secretly undertaking during their break that you may not know they are actually doing:

  1. Silently Celebrating: The fruits of a teacher’s labour is harvested many years later but they know when they have made a difference. Each child is unique and teachers strive to meet their individual needs. They thrive on each child’s little “aha” moment!
  2. Setting New Goals: Teachers are reflective by nature. Whether consciously or unconsciously teachers use these months to make new commitments to their teaching. They look back over their year, reflecting and thinking about what they will do better in the new year.
  3. Sharing Stories: Schools are social institutions and with countless interactions between people throughout the school day, there is bound to be a few unique and interesting anecdotes being shared. Whether it be something a student or teacher said or did, there is always a funny story or two to tell.
  4. Searching for New Ideas: Teachers know that engaging lessons are key to capturing student interest and attention. They are always on the lookout for things to help stimulate student thinking. Whether it be a new poster, trolling though Pinterest (and other social media sites) to find new resources or even reading an educational text, teachers are good at spotting opportunities to help student learn.
  5. Spending Time Self Caring: After the frantic nature of classroom life, teachers need time to slow down, take time to rejuvenate and detox their “teacher” mind. They spend time with family and friends, travel on holidays and take time out to enjoy the finer things of life.

And when the summer draws to an end, the rush to plan for the first day becomes more earnest. The setting up of the classroom, creating welcoming notes, writing the lesson plans and the like, become the order of business. In essence they are looking forward to the new year.

Although many of you may have been teaching for a few years, preparing for your classroom like it was your first time is always a positive way forward. Here is a useful article to get you started

Happy Summer!!

ISA Award Winner

Investigating Teacher Learning…

Instruction, Leadership, Staffing, Teacher, Teaching

I’ve been an educator for over 30 years, the last 25 in leading schools in both Australia and internationally.

While there has been a global shift in education, particularly in the personalised learning arena as schools attempt to deal with greater scrutiny from governments, school systems and parents alike; having a future focused mindset is helping schools grapple with this increased accountability as they work to address the needs of their 21st century learners.

In recent years, instruction has shifted from the one size fits all to a more differentiated approach to meet the learning needs of the student, and we know that our highly effective teachers are very reflective on their practice. They want to make a positive impact. They want to know what is working and what is not; and they want to know why. It is this notion that has shaped my leadership approach over the years as I help to build capacity within teachers to address the diversity of student needs within their classrooms.

This has seen, over the years, support for teachers to become more action research oriented in their teaching; encouraging them to investigate their teaching and using data or evidence from (and of) their teaching to inform their next steps in the learning journey.  

As a consequence of my experiences, I have published in this field of teachers as researchers, authoring and co-authoring books as well as a number of journal articles showcasing my experiences in building teacher capacity and leading educational change.

This brings to me to my latest venture. I am investigating the impact of teacher action research in improving student outcomes. The consequence of this research and the implications for schools is the focus of my next book.

There are two parts to the book: The first provides a context for the investigation through a review of the literature on the need to reform education, looking at what works in teaching and learning and unpacking the ‘whole of school strategies” in effecting school improvement.

The second part of the book outlines the evaluation and discusses the impact on teachers and student before offering some enablers for teaching improvement. It reflects on the role of the teacher as researcher as not only a means for teacher improvement but also a vehicle for fostering whole of school improvement. It discusses the New Curriculum Considerations and the New requirements of Teachers in today’s context.  The Role of Leadership in Teaching Improvement is examined and as I outline the Teacher as Researcher concept. I also offer insight into what is effective teaching in today’s educational context?

I believe that schools wishing to foster teacher improvement and improve instructional practices across their school will gain immensely from this book as it provides a roadmap for school leaders serious about improving teacher quality and raising student outcomes in their school.

Feel free to contact me for any further information. Schools (and educators) should not operate as silos. I look forward to hearing from you and furthering school improvement.

Building School Culture: 4 Pillars to Success!

Leadership, School Culture

December last year I received an award from the International Schools Awards organisation. The award was for Best Innovation in Education. This innovation was squarely set on the shoulders of the Teacher as Researcher program and the building a culture of staff learning. This particular program has been instituted at my current school for the past three years. 

This is not just about the building of teacher capacity, but rather on how teachers not only improve their teaching practice but also how they collaborate with their colleagues in sharing their expertise.

Education is a social profession and when people get together, the opportunity to grow and learn is accentuated. 

The process of building school culture is organic and relies heavily on school leaders connecting four key pillars into their leadership priorities. I believe that many of the day to day tasks school  leaders undertake to improve their school can be categorised into four key pillars. 

These four pillars:

  • Commitment  & Loyalty
  • Transparency  & Efficiency
  • Trust
  • Team Work

A deeper explanation of improving schools through the focusing on school culture can be found in the following article:

Four Pillars to Building a Positive School Culture

As we embark on a new school year, building a positive school culture should be at the forefront for all school leaders and teachers too!).

Sharing Experiences and the Benefits of Attending Conferences

Leadership, Professional Learning

Over the next few months I am looking forward to presenting at a couple of important conferences. In particular the following two (If you are attending one of these please come and say hello):

The first conference is the International Conference on Teaching, Education & Learning in Prague in June. My address is focusing on “Developing a Process for Data Driven Change to Impact Student Achievement and Build Teacher Capacity“. Schools have been caught up in responding to the calls of external accountability. This has challenged school leaders to establish data gathering practices that ultimately lend themselves to creating school wide instructional systems to impact teaching and learning and offer a consistent instructional approach. This presentation outlines how our school established a data driven approach to improve teacher performance. This is being achieved by focusing on key elements from research literature as a catalyst for driving new innovation. In the presentation I share how a data driven focus (DDF) allows leaders to intentionally and systematically improve student learning. The presentation begins by unpacking the need to understand how leaders create the foundation to develop a DDF as a vehicle to facilitate information about student achievement within the school. The second part of the presentation presents the change process to implement DDF as guided by key elements. Being a data-focused school is a possibility for each and every school.

The second one is the 2019 IB Global Conference in Abu Dhabi in October. Here I am sharing insight into how our school is building staff aptitude and competence to positively impact student achievement levels. It is evident that we are teaching and learning in an age of scrutiny in school performances. With the growth in national and international attention to key benchmarking programs including PISA and TIMSS, the expectation (and dare I say competition) between governments, educational agencies and the wider public arena, to raise their performance scores, has had an inhibiting impact upon schools. A natural consequence of playing in this space is leading schools to becoming more focused on being evidenced based. This has seen an increasing focus on the collection of assessment data as well as other performance measures. The view is that such information  is analysed leading to more informed (instructional) data driven decision making processes. It is this scrutiny of data that has, as John Hattie has proclaimed, firmly placed teachers under the microscope. The focus on role of the teacher in leading school improvement has gained momentum. Teachers are themselves, being more reflective and collecting more data to help them make more informed decisions. The underlying premise is that at school, the teacher is the single most powerful influence on student achievement. However, the problem is nested in the lack of skills teachers have in this area of actively engaging in data use to drive instruction. Many teachers, particularly those that have completed their undergraduate studies a number of years ago, have not had much engagement or professional development in this arena. Which leads me to the crux of the presentation? How does an effective school use data driven decision making to enhance teacher performance; thus leading to improved student outcomes?

Although the research indicates that attending “one off” conferences does not have significant impact upon sustainable learning I’d like to offer the following benefits:

  • Opportunity to meet like minded educationalists: When you attend a conference you often build meaningful (and at times long lasting) relationships. Everyone attending has something shared experiences. After all, schools have many things in common with each other.
  • Stay Up To Date with Latest Thinkers: Listening to speakers share their knowledge and experience helps to keep you abreast of key educational trends and directions. Taking notes will help to revisit the multitude of content offered and will allow you to reflect more critically after the conference is over. Besides, sometimes its great to meet the authors of the material you are reading..
  • Making Connections: Getting inspiration from people that will help you in your own workplace is one of the positive benefits of attending conferences. Listening and learning about what others are doing and then considering how their learnings can assist you in the work you do is invaluable. Maybe you can grab their business cards and send them a note afterwards, just in case you didn’t get an opportunity to ask a question.
  • Share Ideas and Solutions: Making meaning out of material shared at conferences is one of the key points of attending. While at the conference, with the advent of social media, tweeting, live blogging, posting to Instagram and any other social networks that you associate with, is useful in sharing your new knowledge and experiences. After the conference you could share your learning by creating videos of the presentations you thought were particularly valuable, provide a quick overview of some key points at your next staff meeting, share information about any interesting contacts you met. Education is a collaborative enterprise and you can contribute to the learning of others via some of these easy activities.

Attending conferences, whether for professional or personal development, should be a worthwhile experience. Don’t forget to experience the extra curricular activities that often go hand in hand with conferences. Your time shouldn’t be all work and no play!

8 Truths to Improving and Managing Priorities

Leadership, Staffing

“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.” – Peter Drucker

The life of a leader is full of surprises and the balancing of competing workloads and tasks is often one of the key causes of leader stress. Furthermore, managing multiple priorities can result in important tasks being either pushed aside or attended to, too late.

Remember, you can’t do everything at once and there will be occasions where multiple priorities are on your plate. Here are a few of my “truths” that help keep me on task.

  1. Understand Your Limits: Knowing your limits is essential to self-growth.  However, Recognising your limitations is only the first step. It is what you do next that matters.
  2. Focus on What You Can Do: The leader is responsible for the overall operation of the school. As we are all “time poor” it is critical to tackle those tasks that you can  do well. Coming to terms with what you are capable of handling allows you to focus on what you can do, and allow others to do their tasks.
  3. Look for Support: There are two benefits from seeking support to help manage your priorities.
    1. Sharing the Load: If there is a task someone else can do for you, then delegate. Your role is to get things done but that doesn’t mean you should do everything. A great book by Todd Whitaker titled “Shifting the Monkey” makes the great point that you shouldn’t be doing anything that other people should be doing themselves.
    2. Getting Good Advice: Connecting with your peers helps to keep you on track. While some may call it networking, reaching out to your peers helps to gain access to information and help hone each other’s skill in leading complex organisations. Shared communication is a real asset.
  4. Always Be Positive: My old football coach always proclaimed “Don’t let them know you’re hurting”! No matter how things are unfolding around you, everyone needs the leader to under control. The saying that the organisation reflects the leader underpins this sentiment.
  5. Be Organised: Whether you use a checkbox list, online task builder or “post it” notes, an effective leader is well organised. The need to keep track of tasks is pivotal in completing them. When deciding on what priorities to add to your schedule ask (& then answer) two key questions: ‘What will happen if I do this?’ and ‘What will happen if  I don’t?’. Your answers will allow you to determine priority of the tasks.
  6. Prioritise Tasks: Schedule time for tasks. Determine what needs immediate attention and what can wait till later. Some say you should “Eat the Frog First” and get them out of the way. Whatever works for you to keep on schedule with leading your school, keep doing it.
  7. Keep the Promise: In the busyness of the school day when everybody wants something from you, it is easy to say “I’ll get to that shortly”. When you do, your integrity is on the line. If you make a promise to a teacher to provide feedback, ensure you keep the promise.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself: Things will fail. Be cheerful!

Finding balance and strategies to help make your day run smoother is in itself a difficult task. Some success can be achieved because of your role as leader and other successes can be achieved by influencing others and there will be some things you cannot change in your school however–despite your best efforts. And at the end of those types of days be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is the start of a new day and you can begin afresh!