"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Time out to reflect on school leadership

Today I've been at a middle managers' professional development day, focussing on building a supportive learning culture. 

The highlight today was definitely Bruce Murray, a consultant and retired principal, who spoke about his experience as a school leader and shared his educational philosophy. It's so refreshing to hear an education professional openly sharing that his educational philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith. It all begins with believing that every individual has value.

Teaching and learning has to be paramount in our management and leadership within the school.  Murray says schools which do this will advance and see improvements. This means that professional development of teachers has to be a priority.

Encouragement of teachers pays huge dividends and costs zero dollars. We all want to be loved, whether we are snotty-nosed third formers or gnarled old HODs.

As leaders we have to walk the talk - we have to show moral leadership. Moral authority can be lost or withdrawn. Maintain high standards of fairness and honesty, in small things as well as big. Allocate classes fairly. Make decisions openly.  Be circumspect about who you confide in, and be the best teacher you can be. Maintaining your moral authority comes at a cost to you, you have to curtail your freedoms. As an HOD you are not free to do what you want. You have to maintain trust from the community.

In summary, Bruce's advice:

- develop your own educational philosophy;
- teaching and learning are the key issues;
- leadership involves a strong moral dimension which you ignore at your peril.

To finish, Bruce talked about how our ancestors mostly emigrated to NZ because they were at the bottom of the economic heap back in Scotland or wherever (I'm summarising freely here). We have different lives from them because we have benefitted from state early childhood, primary, intermediate and secondary schools, and state universities. As teachers and educational managers, we are privileged to help our students break the cycle through education.

Great stuff! Thanks, Bruce - a truly inspirational session.

Other things for me to reflect on from the day:

- using a personal ePortfolio to store evidence for registration attestation - maybe we can model to our students how we are reflecting on our learning/practice
- delegate more: stop worrying that I should have to do everything myself and be prepared to ask for help to get jobs done. I worry that if I ask other staff to do things they are going to be thinking, "Why isn't she doing this? She's the HOD!" I guess this is the curse of a small department - there aren't so many people to delegate to!
- my leadership enquiry project has been in stasis and I really need to dust it off and get it back up and running, since I have to report on it at the beginning of September.

In one of the afternoon sessions I spent some time looking at the report: "What ERO knows about effective schools." You can find this on the NZ Education Review Office website here: http://www.ero.govt.nz/National-Reports/Evaluation-at-a-Glance-What-ERO-Knows-About-Effective-Schools   The report is a meta-analysis of characteristics of effective schools based on over 30 ERO reports on schools and school-related issues, published between 2007 and 2010.

"The five characteristics that crossed the boundaries of school type, location, decile rating and philosophy were:

– a focus on the learner 
– inclusive leadership 
– effective teaching 
– engaged communities 
– coherent policies and practice as part of continuous self review.

Of course these five characteristics do not exist in isolation from each other but play out in an interconnected web that is the complexity of everyday activity in a school setting."

An interconnected web, that's us... and now, back to school to finish my reports!