Leading with Purpose: Transforming Education for Success

One of my initial tasks in my new role was working with school principals and campus heads. Reflecting on these recent leadership workshops with senior school leaders, it becomes evident that one of the paramount factors for driving meaningful school improvement initiatives lies in anchoring them firmly within the school’s vision, mission, and values. The workshops reiterated the significance of this alignment, shedding light on the powerful role that these guiding principles play in steering schools toward their desired outcomes.

The vision, mission, and values of a school constitute its moral and intellectual compass, guiding its actions, decisions, and pursuits. By channeling school improvement initiatives through this compass, principals ensure that every effort remains congruent with not only the overarching purpose of their school but also group wide. This alignment not only fosters a sense of purpose among staff members but also cultivates a collective ownership of the school’s journey towards progress.

When devising action plans for school improvement, it’s crucial to weave them intricately into the fabric of the school’s vision and mission. This integration creates a sense of continuity between the present and the envisioned future, offering a sense of direction that transcends daily challenges. With these strategic plans acting as a roadmap, school leaders can allocate resources, time, and energy effectively, amplifying the impact of their efforts.

Furthermore, the incorporation of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) derived from the vision and mission helps quantify progress and success. These measurable benchmarks offer tangible evidence of the school’s advancement and serve as motivational milestones for both staff and students. Aligning KPIs with the core values ensures that progress is not only quantifiable but also in harmony with the school’s ethos.

In the digital age, data and assessment have become pivotal tools for informed decision-making. Schools are now equipped with an abundance of information that can guide improvement strategies. During the workshops, the significance of analysing this data within the context of the school’s vision was highlighted. This approach allows leaders to identify trends, strengths, and areas for growth that directly contribute to the realisation of the school’s aspirations.

Nevertheless, the essence of any educational institution resides in its students. Effective leadership necessitates a profound student-focused approach. The workshops emphasised that the alignment of school improvement initiatives with the vision, mission, and values should be complemented by a relentless commitment to student well-being and growth. Principals were advised to listen actively to students, engage with their perspectives, and tailor improvement strategies to address their needs. A student-centric approach ensures that the improvements resonate deeply within the student body and foster a positive and inclusive learning environment.

The workshops aimed to help school principals embrace a holistic view of leadership that encompasses strategic alignment with the school’s vision, mission, and values. The alignment ensures that every endeavour resonates with the school’s overarching purpose, propelling it forward with a unified sense of direction. The integration of action plans, KPIs, data analysis, and assessment within this framework further enhances the efficacy of improvement efforts. However, the heart of these initiatives remains a genuine and unwavering focus on the students. By continually seeking ways to enhance the student experience, school leaders ensure that every step taken is a step toward the realisation of the school’s broader educational goals.

As these leaders embark on the new school year, armed with insights from the workshops, they are poised to lead with purpose, transform with vision, and inspire with values – ultimately creating educational environments that flourish and empower both students and educators alike. It’s the Aoba way!

Our students need a quality teaching and learning agenda!

One of the most vexing problems confronting educators is to find more effective methods to meet the diverse needs of children who fall behind in school.

One of the most vexing problems confronting educators is to find more effective methods to meet the diverse needs of children who fall behind in school. The Programme for International Student Assessment has found that 1 in 5 15-year-olds in Australia are failing to reach the global benchmark level in reading literacy, mathematical literacy, and scientific literacy.

We understand that low-performing 15-year-olds are at risk of completely dropping out of school, and that poor readers in school are unlikely to significantly improve by the time they become young adults. Low levels of literacy and numeracy have been linked to restricted access to well-paid and enjoyable work, as well as poorer health outcomes and lower levels of social and political engagement, according to a variety of research. While elevating standards is a worthwhile aim in and of itself, it is also critical in ensuring that our education system may meet the objectives of the Mparntwe Education Declaration – including “allowing all young Australians to have equal opportunity” .

There are several ways to change education and training so that it better meets people’s needs. Teachers require job-embedded PD that allows them to practice new skills in the classroom, receive actionable feedback about their practice, and continue to improve. Job-embedded PD is transformative for teachers because it takes place in the context of a real work situation. There is much to gain from supporting teacher professional learning.

A diverse range of programs and services currently exist to support students who are struggling at school. These include intensive literacy and numeracy programs, support for those with learning difficulties, and catch-up classes for migrants and refugees.

The Australian Government is also investing in a number of initiatives to improve teacher quality and school leadership. These investments will help raise student achievement by ensuring that our teachers are well prepared and supported, and that our schools are led by effective principals.

The National Education Reform Agenda will also help address the needs of struggling students, by providing additional resources to schools that have a high proportion of disadvantaged students. This will ensure that all students have access to a quality education, regardless of their background or circumstances. Noting that it’s more than just curriculum that needs reforming,

While there are many challenges facing schooling, there are also many opportunities to improve the system so that it better meets the needs of all students. It is up to us to seize those opportunities and ensure that all young Australians have access to a high-quality education.

Want to learn how to be a better teacher? Get to know your school principal.

School principals are often the unsung heroes of the education system. They never leave the classroom, and they are the teachers’ teacher. Principals have a unique perspective on teaching and learning, and they play a vital role in the success of their students. Through getting to know your school principal can help teachers improve their teaching skills to better serve their students.

There are a few things that teachers can do to support their principal in leading the school community. First, get to know your principal and learn about their vision for the school. What are their goals and objectives? What is their philosophy on education? What motivates them? Once you have a good understanding of your principal’s goals, you can help to support them in achieving these objectives.

Second, be a team player. Collaborate with your principal and other teachers to create a positive learning environment for all students. Work together to identify areas of improvement and brainstorm solutions. Be open to feedback and willing to try new things. Step outside the classroom and help your principal with tasks that need to be completed.

While principals play a critical role in school improvement, they cannot do it alone. In order to be successful, principals must work collaboratively with their teachers. By working together, they can create an environment that is conducive to learning and provide the support that teachers need to be successful. When everyone is working together towards a common goal, the students will benefit.

Third, take an active role in professional development. Principals are always looking for ways to improve the quality of education, and they need the support of their teachers to make this happen. Attend professional development workshops or online webinars, and most importantly, share your knowledge with other teachers.

Lastly, show your appreciation for your principal. Let them know that you appreciate their dedication to the school and its students. Send them a thank you note or write a positive review online. Small gestures can go a long way in showing your support for your principal.

School principals play an important role in the education system, and they need the support of their teachers to be successful. By getting to know your principal, being a team player, and taking an active role in professional development, you can help to support your principal in leading the way to a bright future for all students.

Leadership skills that will get you seen

There is more to becoming an effective leader than just getting a promotion. To be successful, aspiring leaders need to develop skills, gain experiences, and develop a leadership point of view.

As we move over the halfway mark of the school year (southern hemisphere) many educators will be scouring the position vacant pages of the newspapers, tidying up their profiles on recruitment portals or simply wondering what career positions might meet their skill sets.

It is at this time of year that potential leadership roles start to pop up. (eg. see the Armidale Diocese).

If you want to lead, you can’t only be good at the job you already do. Start brushing up on your leadership skills right now. If you want to move up the leadership ladder you need to focus on the role statements you aspire to fulfil and implement them now.

  • Be good at everything you do: Never hand in halfhearted work. Always over deliver.
  • Know your strengths, work on your limitations: We can all improve in some area of our work life. Once you identify your limitations develop an improvement plan.
  • Seek challenging experiences and learn from those experiences: Doing things for the first time is not easy, yet the more we do it, the better we become. If you aspire to be a principal seek opportunities to lead “principal” type activities.
  • Listen to your mentors and colleagues and incorporate their feedback into your learning and development process: Seek feedback often and find opportunities to apply your learning.
  • Develop/create your leadership philosophy, and use the lessons of your experiences to develop the ability to remain flexible, agile and responsive to the constantly changing demands of education: Being adaptable and resilient will put you in good stead to develop the necessary skills that potential employers will be looking for. The more you can walk the talk, the easier it will be to talk the walk at an interview.

The strength of your leadership qualities depends on your effort, which is why it’s important to begin developing them even before you’re in a leadership position.

Happy hunting.

A New Era of Learning (for Teachers Too..)

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would equip their students with the skills for the rest of their lives. However, today, teachers need to prepare students for more change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not been invented and to solve social problems that we just can’t imagine. The time of the industrial age of mass education, which was essential for rapidly industrializing nations, has now gone.

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would equip their students with the skills for the rest of their lives. However, today, teachers need to prepare students for more change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not been invented and to solve social problems that we just can’t imagine. The time of the industrial age of mass education, which was essential for rapidly industrializing nations, has now gone. 

Today, schools need to be (and they certainly are, given the onset of the COVID-19 era) more future focused, drawing alignment from societal trends to guide global education reform. Many commentators are spruiking the view that there is a collation of necessary skills that our students will need for the future of their careers. However meeting this challenge will rely upon bold leadership from teachers, administrators, principals, parents, school boards, business/civic leaders, and even the students themselves. How they will do this will be through strategies such as employing systems thinking, education for sustainability, learner‐centered pedagogy, and building schools as learning communities. 

While the pressure on schools to improve student learning and classroom teaching has always been there, the rise of the COVID-19 era of schooling has accentuated the refocus on the role of the teacher and the skills needed to teach in a technology rich environment. The Information Age of technology moved us into an era of instant information necessitating changes in pedagogy to facilitate learning in this 21st century. The old saying, “we need to educate our students for their future, not our past” is more relevant now than ever before. Future employment opportunities necessitate graduates to have strong interpersonal communication skills, be able to collaborate and problem solve. They will require critical thinking skills, be able to show initiative and have strong self-management skills. 

And amidst this COVID-19 pandemic and as we work towards a post COVID-19 environment, this is the real challenge for education systems. With this in mind, teachers are working overtime to help students to: 

  1. Work in teams and collaborate;
  2. Think critically and engage in complex problems; 
  3. Develop presentation skills and build oral communication; 
  4. Write effectively to communicate and articulate ideas; 
  5. Use technology to learn; 
  6. Be global-minded and take on community service; and
  7. Be knowledgeable

Although these strategies have been key in restructuring teaching and learning, necessitated by the sudden shift to a remote learning environment, we need to be careful as schools slowly return to the face to face classroom. Teachers will need to continue to look at building these strategies into their curriculum projects, activities and assignments. They are designed to elicit the key skills future employers require including collaboration, critical thinking, written communication, oral communication, work ethic, and other critical skills while simultaneously meeting the required content standards.

In recent years it seems every country has revised their curriculum articulating the knowledge and skills that students need for the new global workforce. Unfortunately, with the close scrutiny that accompanies changes to current practice, the debate on quality and success inevitably follows. This debate leads to more confusion and disrupts the momentum. Educational agencies need to remove the barriers and impediments that school leaders argue inhibit creativity, innovation and even the autonomy to lead schools. (You don’t lose weight by constantly weighing yourself!)

There is no “silver bullet” or simple fix as all educational entities have their own nuances. However, suffice it to say, that every subject specialist believes their discipline is the most important and as a result, the curriculum expands but time to instruct doesn’t. We need to learn from the higher performing nations, like Singapore, and “teach less to learn more”. This is becoming increasingly the norm as schools revisit curriculum and what is essential to deliver during this COVID-19 remote learning period.

But it is not just the curriculum that needs addressing. As the experience of the transition to remote learning unfolds, we note that the role of the teacher is also changing as a major paradigm shift in learning moves from Teacher-Centred to Learner-Centred approaches. With teachers experiencing the delivery of learning both synchronously and asynchronously,  together with the availability of the growing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to K-12, teachers are not only supporting student engagement in their learning but introducing new pathways for students. These factors tend to suggest that the successful teachers are shifting from a traditional teaching methodology to one based on coaching, enabling and guiding student learning. 

Consequently, taking our experience of remote learning, the transition back to the classroom and a thrust into a new era of learning, calls for new teacher skills to embrace a new pedagogy for the classroom are getting louder. 

What Will the Post COVID-19 School Era Look Like?

The key question, post COVID-19, is what will the (eventual) return to school look like for our students? Will schools revert back to what they were previously doing? What have we learnt during this (continual) period of distance learning that can add value to the campus based schooling experience?

The use of technology to help facilitate the learning process is not a new phenomenon. Advocates like Will Richardson, Marc Prensky, George Couros and Bruce Dixon have been spruiking the benefits for many years; and with varying degrees of success, the technology uptake in schools has grown.

However, with the forced lockdown of schools around the globe, the growth in the use of online web conferencing mediums (ie zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams and even Skype) has suddenly thrust reluctant teachers into a new world of instruction. Talk about “Disruptive Innovation”.

The key question, post COVID-19, is what will the (eventual) return to school look like for our students? Will schools revert back to what they were previously doing? What have we learnt during this (continual) period of distance learning that can add value to the campus based schooling experience?

I would suggest that the forward thinking schools will adjust their approach to “doing” school!

Observing a static student schedule will change. I suspect that the use of timetables to direct students to move from one subject to the next based upon specified lesson minutes will change. Distance learning has taught us about the importance of time management. Building more independent learners, allowing students appropriate time to complete tasks and even allowing student choice in what they want to learn will become the norm.

The use of spaces will change. If we have learnt anything, the use of asynchronous learning platforms (eg Google Classroom) together with synchronous learning platforms (eg Google Meets) has provided efficient ways of reaching students. The traditional classroom space will need to be remodelled to allow the blending of online and face to face instruction.

How we assess students will change. The realisation that the recent evolution of the competitive standardised testing programs that have come to define success has arrived. Countries are abandoning these high stakes tests (eg NAPLAN – Australia, IGSEs – England, SATs – USA) and are putting the assessing of students back in the hands of the person best placed to make judgements on student learning… The Teacher.

School timing will change. The requirement to attend school will become more flexible. Given the “new” blended nature of learning, students will be able to be more discerning about their choice to attend school all day, every day. Lessons will be more tailored, learning more personalised. Teachers may provide an “office hours” approach, offer tutorial based instruction based on student need.

Curriculum will change. The shift to reducing content and creatively arranging lesson delivery to accommodate the shift to distance learning will see a rethink on what needs to be taught. Curriculum will morph into a more competency based approach. Much like the work of Mark Treadwell and Global Curriculum project.

Whatever the thinking is, when schools do reopen, it is an opportunity for us to provide a better education than the one we left.

School Improvement in the UAE: A Practical Implementation of the School Effectiveness Literature

This latest book by Dr Jake Madden continues his school improvement research by providing teachers and school and education system leaders with an insight into what school improvement requires and importantly how to implement such a program in a school in the UAE.

The title of this post may be a little long yet its impact is extraordinary.

We know that establishing the conditions for continuous school improvement depends on the school’s leadership. Schools, regardless of their philosophy, curriculum, or teaching ideologies, are all working to improve student learning. At the heart of school improvement is effective teaching, which is enhanced through the intervention of targeted and “intentional” strategic endeavours. This is where the work of the leaders comes to the fore.

Our school, Al Yasat Private School in Abu Dhabi, has implemented an approach to teaching improvement which comprises an orchestrated interplay between:

  1. a strategic teaching improvement intent (the goal);
  2. an approach to leadership and;
  3. the use of data to inform decision making.

This was undertaken through the adoption and establishment of the teacher as researcher premise (TAR).  In simple terms TAR is an approach to teacher professional learning that uses action-based research to enable the teacher to investigate and improve what they and their students do in classrooms and the greater school environment. This approach was recorded in two key publications: Teachers TEACHing Teachers and School Reform: Case Studies in Teaching Improvement.

The Learning Model used to guide the strategic intent of the teacher learning process was developed in 2016/2017 in a considered manner and implemented. During the early part of the 2019/2020 academic year we investigated the impacts of such an approach to teaching improvement through an evaluation project. The results have have been collated and, with contributions from Dr Denis Peters, Dr Asif Padela, Mr Thomas O’Meara, Mrs Reem Rekieh and Dr Paul Triegaardt, will be published in a book to be released late April/early May 2020.

The publisher has just released the book cover.

School leaders looking at re-organising their schools as a means to drive school improvement will read this book through the lens of not only their school’s journey but also their own leadership formation. This book highlights the impact leaders can have on leading school improvement and ultimately raise student outcomes. While it is not expected that schools will adopt the Al Yasat School Improvement Model, but rather, understand the processes and the thinking that leaders need to undertake in order to make meaningful educational gains.

Preparing to Implement Change in School

Effective schools are ever changing as they strive towards their school improvement goals. When undertaking school improvement initiatives there are simple tasks the school leader can do in readiness for implementing change.

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

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.

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

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

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….