The Role of the Educational Leader?

Leadership, Professional Learning

Recently I finished re-reading one of my favourite reference books by Fullan and Hargreaves, “Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School”. It has, as its central message, putting teachers and teaching at the forefront of school improvement. Through the path of breaking down the barriers of classroom isolation and engaging in a collaborative culture of learning, raising teacher status will improve student achievement.

Professional Capital CoverWithout doubt we need to set the bar higher in our schools and I believe this starts with the teacher. Even a poor teacher will inevitably produce some improvement in students’ learning over a year. What role does the educational leader of your school play? Are they visible? Do they complain of bureaucratic endeavours hiding behind their desk (is the door open?) or are they in the trenches along side their colleagues. There are many views on the role of the educational leader in the contemporary learning environment but the high performing schools have the teacher at the heart of providing an effective learning platform.

Fullan and Hargreaves discusses the need for colleagues to work more collegially and to bring leaders to account for their actions. They  urged teachers to become a true pro. Not just a good teacher. This is where you need a strong educational leader to nurture the talents and guide the professional learning.

Educational leaders need to be focusing on the things that our best teachers do which make a difference to student learning. Its simply not best practice in expecting teachers to improve by handing resources to them. Professional learning is an active intention not a passive one and needs active engagement by all members of the school. Improvement, and more importantly, sustained improvement comes from teachers thinking differently about teaching and learning. It is having professional conversations about their practice, learning from each other and then  implementing the teaching strategies that work.

Re-reading “Professional Capital” reinforces my view that the unfortunate reality is that many schools still promote leaders based solely on performance in roles vastly different from the one they’re being promoted into. Unfortunately,  with less aspiring leaders about, too often managers are thrown into executive leadership duties without the skills and guidance required to excel.

Selecting New Staff? Look for Leaders.

Leadership, Recruitment, Staffing

The international school sector is an exciting playground for not only honing leadership skills but acquiring new ones. It is at this time of year when the focus begins to look at recruitment; both retaining and employing new staff. Classroom teachers, middle management leaders and even principals are at the mercy of interview panels.

But what do you look for when appointing? For me, regardless of the position we need to fill, I look for leadership qualities. Someone who will make a difference. I’m not looking for puppets who do move when strings are pulled. I need decision makers, innovators, creative thinkers and risk takers. I want someone who wants to make a difference and have the evidence to show they can.

I was once called a “Maverick” by an employer and I took that as a compliment even though I knew it was meant as a slur on my leadership. The connotation was that my visioning, decision making or leadership was being a principal that was independent, unorthodox or not in keeping with what other principals were doing. Therefore I was out of line. The message given clear; I was suppose to follow, not lead.

I was heartened when I stumbled across the thoughts of Kim Williams, the Australian Media Executive and Composer, in his autobiography. His views on leadership and the role of leaders moving their organisations struck a chord with me .

 Kim Campbell - Leadership

What resonates is his interpretation of and the confusion surrounding “busy” people. Too often leaders are busy doing “things” (managing) rather than building the path towards improvement (leadership). This is particularly important at the classroom level. You don’t want doers following, you want leaders acting, diagnosing, planning and intervening in the teaching/learning.

If you want improvement to be a key outcome then the need to appoint a leader rather than a manager, at any level of the organisation, is pivotal to your school’s success.