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.

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!!

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!).

The Evolving Classroom

Instruction, Leadership, Schools, Teacher

Through Our Students’ Eyes

If we as teachers begin to view the world from behind our learners’ eyes we will be able to build future learning environments. Looking at how our students interact outside the classroom provides an opportunity for us to learn about how we can improve the in  class environments. The environments outside the classroom are student centred. Their ‘play’ environment allows quick flexibility for collaboration, working in small groups.

When Students Learn

The conception that learning takes place only at school, behind four walls and between school hours is misguided. Students use social areas (libraries, cafes, parks, sports fields, loungerooms, etc) to gather and collaborate. What is it that engages students in their learning environment? The comfortable furniture in the social areas lures students to informal meetings to share and discuss and the opportunity to work socially to converse on issues. It is not simply an adult domain to meet at a coffee shop to share personal experiences and insight into their views on ‘things’.  Environments like these are places of action, full of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a terrific 5 minute video clip by David Thornburg offers further insight into the evolving classroom that highlights the changing classroom.

We know that basic technology allows students to create and build content for learning. Given the open, comfortable and flexible learning environment it is then the role of the class teacher to facilitating learning, stimulating conversations and addressing specific learning needs.

Four Key Facets of the School Leader

Leadership, Schools

There are plenty of articles both in the scholarly literature and in the commentary magazines that state that effective leadership is the foundation for improving school performance. While there are key leadership styles (eg transformation, servant, autocratic, laissez-faire, bureaucratic,  collaborative, charismatic, situational, democratic) I like to focus on the behavioural aspect.

There is no doubt that the effective leader must contextualise their approach to the school. In one context the leader needs  a leadership style to  enable staff, yet in another setting they might need to be transformational and motivate people.

Regardless of your particular leadership style, for me there are four key aspects  that any leader must posses. These leadership traits are uniquely intertwined into the core essence of the effective leader. In short they are:

  1. The Art of Decision Making: It is a given that school leaders need to be able to make decisions. But to make an effective decision is not always as straight forward as it seems. The leader needs to have a clear process to gather relevant information and then, after careful analysis, decide on the best way forward.
  2. The Art of Being Results Focused: Some leaders coast into a position and then go about managing a steady ship. These leaders are often called the “care taker leader” or the “close to retirement leader”.  However, the effective leader continually focuses on achieving results. They target strategies to achieve their objectives and regularly monitor their effectiveness. Analyzing and reflecting on school data helps to keep an effective leader on task.
  3. The Art of Pursuing Alternative Viewpoints: Have you witnessed the leader who asks for your viewpoint repeatedly only to dismiss and take their own advice? This shallow form of collaboration limits the richness of the knowledge and expertise of others.
  4. The Art of Caring: The effective leader is genuinely interested in the lives of their staff. They know their staff and build a sense of trust through actively looking for ways to enhance their well being.

Notwithstanding the many roles and functions the school leader undertakes, if you excel in these four key facets you will enjoy a successful leadership career.

Beyond Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

A recent professional conversation with a small group of staff members on what makes an outstanding school led to the realisation that next year will see the 10th anniversary of the Ken Robinson’s TED talk on changing educational paradigms. Given the focus on a technological revolution coupled with Mark Treadwell’s explanation of the paradigm shift in education we are experiencing right now in his text Whatever!: School Version 2.0 and other leading educationalists purporting the need to transform education systems the question seems to be lost in translation…. Has learning been transformed?

With the prolific attention to school improvement through standardised testing measures and the subsequent outcry of its impact on learning, it might be an opportune time to see if learning has been transformed outside a few pockets here and there. The growing “personalising learning” commentary might have traction in professional development sessions but is it being embedded in the mainstream educational systems? Maybe a revisit to the infamous TED talk might garner a re-invigoration of schooling. Are we still in a factory model? Is it still a one size fits all approach?

Maybe its a matter of talking the talk but not walking the walk!

Creating the Outstanding School: Everyone’s Dream

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

As a principal focused on improving student learning I was heartened by the recent presentations at the Dubai International Education Conference recently held at Al Ghurair University, Dubai. With the key message that the teacher is the centre of improving student attainment, the various keynote and concurrent presentations offered insight into the effective impact of the role of the “Teacher as researcher.”

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The teacher as researcher can be distinguished from their colleagues as they attempt to better understand their TEACHing practice and how it impacts upon their students. In researching the relationship between teaching and learning the teacher researcher actively contributes to the conversation of what makes a difference to student learning. This is an evidenced based process and involves reflective inquiry, working in collaboration with other teachers, their students, parents and the community.

Interpreting real time data, analysing the data and them making informed decisions based upon this information is pivotal to improving the school outcomes. The challenge is ensuring that all schools improve. However, as shared by Professor David Lynch (Southern Cross University):

“It is interesting to note that the latest figures released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (Dubai’s education authority) show that the number of private schools in Dubai will reach 250 by the year 2020 or 16 per year. There are currently 169 private schools in Dubai as of last year, but this number will increase by almost 50% in the next six years to accommodate the projected 50% increase in student population from the current 243,000 level to 366,000 by 2020 or by 24,000 per year. One of the big challenges for the UAE is to prepare or engage enough teachers to meet this demand profile.”

With the rapid increase in the number of schools in Dubai to meet the increasing demand and the KHDA prescribed inspection process identifying what makes an “outstanding school” on what constitutes an outstanding school will continue to create much debate. To help foster the dialogue perhaps our latest publication “Creating the Outstanding School” will help.

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Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher

International Schooling, Leadership, Schools

One of the unique benefits of working in an international school is the opportunity to engage with a mix of cultures. One of the challenges is the drawing together of a diverse staffing demographics. Raising student achievement is the goal of each individual teacher.

While there is diversity within the student population it is also true within the teaching population. Given the research ( declaring the constant turn over of staff within international organisations of between 20-25 percent each year, the need for continuous induction of staff reveals a number of challenges for the principal and leadership team of the school. How do you sustain learning and not “waste” time inducting and re-inducting staff?

As explained in an article titled “Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher” (which can be found online at the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change) the challenge for leaders in the international sector is to continue to meet the learning needs of educators. A targeted professional learning program is required. More precisely, a collaborative professional learning program. One that is focused on improving teacher practice more than learning how to implement a “program” of instruction.

This is where the coaching and mentoring aspect of the leader’s role comes into play.