Why building new leaders is critical.

My core belief about leadership is that my main role as a leader is to develop new leaders. When I say leaders I’m talking about every person in the organisation. Teachers are leaders of learning, admin staff are leaders of non-teaching staff and executive school leaders have a broader role of leadership within the school and beyond.

Reflecting on 2015 at my school I have the satisfaction of seeing the development of leadership in many ways. I have official leadership positions at my school which provide different input acrosss a number of roles. The start of 2016 will see a brand new team which is very exciting. To paint a brief picture of the scenario here is a break down of my leadership team.
– 2 x School Leader C – Professional Practice (classroom teaching focus)
– 2 x School Leader C – Executive Teacher (instructional coaches)
– 1 x School Leader B – Deputy Principal
– 1 x School Leader A – Principal (me)

Developing new leaders is important for many reasons, not the least being to ensure the sustainability of school improvement approaches beyond the tenure of any one school leader. Succession planning is a critical factor in ensuring that strategies which are working don’t walk out the door with the Principal.

One of the most satisfying success stories for me personally in 2015 was to see my Deputy Principal appointed as a substantive Principal. Many of my colleagues commented that I have “lost my Deputy” but to me it was a great feeling to have played a part in developing a colleague’s leaderhip and help them to achieve their goal of being a Principal. It was also satisfying to see both of my substantive Executive Teachers develop their careers in new settings. One of them won a Deputy Principal role in Victoria whilst the other was appointed as a founding school leader in Canberra’s newest public school which is opening this year. I view being a part of their leadership development has not seen me ‘losing’ them but in fact developing them to have a broader impact beyond the boundaries of my own school.

When staff move on and gain promotion in other schools it could be a major concern in some places. I believe that it is quite the contrary at our school for one simple reason. That being, we have been developing the next layer of school leaders for the past few years. My leadership stance includes a strong commitment to empowering others to lead, provide them with the reources and support they need then get out of their way and watch the fly. We’ve provided leadership opportunities in both official acting roles as well as leadership roles which don’t come with a title. All of these opportunities have provided staff with the time required to develop their capacity as leaders in authentic environments. So when three of my executive staff left we were able to capably replace each one of them with amazing people. In fact two of my classroom teachers have won the executive teacher roles and one of my professional practice executive will be stepping up to deputy for term one. Far from being a disaster it is really an invigorating new team that inspires me to start the year with tremendous hope and zest.

Being part of developing new leaders is not only an honour and a privilege but is also an obligation which every school leader needs to take seriously. The ACT School Principal age profile will see an alarming number of Principals retiring in the next 5-10 years. We need to ensure that the next group of dynamic leaders are poised to take the reigns and guide our amazing schools into the future.

Reflection is a major contributor to forward thinking for me as a leader. As I reflect upon my impact as a Principal I will always consider my ability to develop leadership in others as a major strength which I am very proud of.

What I’ve learnt about leadership.

Coming up to my twelfth year as a school leader and almost five as a principal I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what I’ve learnt about leadership.
I have developed my own leadership approach via a mix of professional reading, mentoring and experience via people watching. I must admit it’s the latter which has probably been the most powerful and helpful. Watching and learning from others has had a major impact on my approach to leadership in so many ways. I have equally learnt what not to do as well as attempted to replicate leadership actions I have observed others successfully implement.

To summarise some of my reflections I have developed the following list of critical factors that promote successful school leadership.

1- Care about your people.
Providing and promoting a positive work environment is a major influencer on school culture which supports positive school development. A healthy workplace is a happy and productive workplace.

2- DO NOT micromanage staff.
Professional trust is a foundation for organisational success. Staff that feel valued, empowered, trusted and appreciated perform better. Provide the conditions for people to lead, support them to succeed, get out of their way and watch them thrive.

3-Leadership is about developing more leaders.
Leading from the front as well as the side is an effective way to promote leadership skills within others. Leveraging the expertise of staff and allowing authentic opportunities for others to lead is a recipe for success.

4-Be an active learner.
I’m always surprised when I see whole school professional learning workshops in action and the Principal is not there. Being present as a learner is very important. Taking learning seriously along side teachers means that you can be an active particpant in driving improved classroom practice. The notion of just “do as I say” just doesn’t cut it.

5-Stay humble.
Don’t allow positional power to go to your head. Find opportunities to praise the work and effort of others and don’t take credit for their work. You can achieve nothing alone.

6-Pick the right team.
That doesn’t mean pick those who will just agree with you or do as you say. In fact having staff who challenge your thinking, operate differently and have personality traits that aren’t the same as yours can provide for a rich staffing mix that avoids artificial harmony.

I take the responsibilty of being a school leader very seriously. It is always a privilege to lead a school in partnership with it’s community. Never miss the opportunity to be the best leader you can be.

Being the Principal of a school is by far and away the best job in the world. Doing it well requires an open mind, ability to adapt and learning new and better ways of operating. Above all be yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why teacher and school leader wellbeing is critical.

Health and wellbeing is something which is too often neglected by educators amidst our desire and commitment to do the best job we possibly can. I see too many colleagues burning themselves out with excessive work hours, unreasonable self-expectations, ridiculous external demands and a culture of just doing more and more and more without ever letting anything go. As a leader I think the wellbeing of the staff at our school is something which I need to support in a positive way.

Some of the concepts which I think relate to this topic include:
•health and wellbeing is everyone’s business in the workplace
•health and wellbeing are critical issues for leader and staff performance
•health and wellbeing in the workplace is often about taking simple important actions early
•the workplace is a key place for many people to gain help
•health and wellbeing works best when build on the existing strengths of individuals and workplaces.

We recently embarked on a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of every staff member in a number of ways. We became the first primary school in the ACT to sign up for the ‘Healthier Work Initiative’ which is a government program that works with both public and private sector employees on becoming more active in the area of health and wellbeing.

A major part of the Healthier Work initiative involved developing and implementing a plan of action. The plan consisted of the following things for our school:
– Family Friendly Week once a term with no after school meetings. Staff are encouraged to leave by 4pm each day this week.
– Fruit supplied weekly by the school for the staffroom to provide a healthy snack option
– Foam rollers provided for staff to use for low-impact exercise
– Weekly after school fitness sessions provided by an external provider and funded as part of the school professional learning budget
– A commitment by all staff to providing healthy options for all staff morning teas/lunches etc
– Agreed work hours to avoid excessive workload
– Engage a massage therapist from the Canberra Institute of technology (TAFE) for staff massage
– Purchase a smoothie machine for staff use
– Broker a deal with Active Leisure Centre gym for discount staff memberships
– Subscribe to the Happy Schools weekly newsletter

These actions have contributed significantly to staff moral, positive mindsets about looking after ourselves and created a culture that promotes wellbeing as a significant part of our school community.

In addition to this targeted project we have put together a workload committee which meets regularly to discuss issues of workload effecting staff. We then work together to address the issues on a case by case basis. We also engage in a once per term audit of operational activities which involves looking at what do we need to STOP, START and CONTINUE doing as a staff. We can’t continue to just add stuff to our daily workload, so if we’re going to take on something new then what are we going to stop doing to make room for it?

Ongoing reflections have led us to decluttering our days and minimising disruptions to class teaching time. This in itself has helped lower teacher stress which can be heightened by not feeling they have enough time to achieve the things they want to with their class. We have reduced our student reports to a one-page snapshot of learning which has significantly impacted on teacher stress during ‘reporting season’. This was a terrific action which galvanised staff morale.

I believe that working in schools is a rewarding job and being a Principal is an absolute privilege. I think that all staff need to be at their best when the ‘game’ is on between 9-3 when the students are there. In order to achieve this goal we need to look after ourselves, manage workload, work smarter not harder and get decent rest when we are away from school. I encourage our staff to avoid coming into school during the holiday break. I ask them to consider using the time to recharge their batteries so that they return to school energised, refreshed and well-rested.

In saying all this I need to say that I have been leading from the front when it comes to my own personal health and wellbeing. There’s no use me saying one thing and then being the first one to school and last one to leave every day. I have two young children to consider and don’t ever want to be good at my job at the expense of being a father. I’m not the one who spends excessive hours at school stressing over compliance or feeling like I’m always too busy to talk to people or listen to what they have to say. I drop my two kids at school once a week as a routine way to stay connected with them and their schooling, I regularly leave work at a reasonable hour and fit in a quick gym session on the way home. I limit my work week to an absolute maximum of 50 hours and regularly do significantly less than that.

I want to promote wellbeing as a critical aspect of my role. I actually want staff to look at me and see a Principal who enjoys the job and doesn’t’ look worn out all the time. I want them to think that it would be a good job to have. I have another 20-25 years in this profession and I refuse to burn myself out in an attempt to perform a heroic amounts of hours. My productivity drastically reduces after about 5pm each day so I’d be wasting my time staying at work much past then in any case.

Teacher and leader wellbeing is important so let’s not brush it aside because we haven’t got time for it.

What should we be doing in schools and why aren’t we doing it?

This question is really about right and wrong drivers for school improvement. I think about and discuss this very issue quite regularly with colleagues because it frustrates me intensely.

What are the wrong drivers?
1- High stakes standardised testing
2- Performance pay for teachers
3- Treating education like a market-based economy
4- Creating competition between schools
5- Focusing on curriculum content as the main thing
6- Making maths and English basic skills the only thing valued
7- Low-impact autonomy (only finance and HR)

What are the right drivers?
1- Building the collective capacity of educators
2- Acknowledging and developing strong school leadership
3- Embedded professional learning for teachers
4- Focus on High impact instructional strategies
5- Autonomy over high impact decisions (pedagogy, school plan)
6- Valuing & implementing formative assessment principles
7- Genuinely involving the profession in important decisions

I think that too often we see non-educators telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing in schools. The main problem with this is that they tend to focus on the superficial aspects of schools such as test results. In order to shift the conversation I think it’s important for us as educators to take control of the agenda and tell the real story about what does and doesn’t work in schools. If we want to provide students with the skills they need to live productive lives such as collaboration, communication, problem solving, creativity and solutions focused thinking we can’t accept the notion that test results are the best way to measure a school’s success or failure. Whilst nobody would deny the importance of basic literacy and numeracy skills they simply aren’t enough to enable students to survive and compete in the modern workplace.

We know what the wrong drivers are but often feel compelled to buy into them under the myth that ‘accountability’ for students results will make schools better. In fact I would argue that attempting to hold schools accountable via test regimes will result in the opposite effect. It leads to a significant narrowing of the curriculum and the idea of “valuing what is tested rather than testing what is valued”. The introduction of NAPLAN and the resulting obsessive focus on narrative and exposition as the only things taught in preparation for the writing test is a clear example of the negative impact of the wrong drivers. Until we take up the challenge and defuse the ‘high stakes’ component of NAPLAN by removing the school comparison these types of practices will continue to hamper teaching pedagogy to the detriment of student learning.

I urge my colleagues to work towards focusing on the things that make a difference to student learning, stop focusing on the tests and look more carefully at the positive impact on student learning that well-crafted teaching approaches can provide.

Learning is the work.

I am constantly amazed by the amount of commercial professional learning available to educators these days. My email inbox enjoys a constant flow of invitations, flyers and advertisements for ‘MUST SEE’ international speakers. It has become a huge industry which makes millions of dollars each year from educators thirsty for more knowledge. My problem with this type of professional learning is that I don’t believe it often has a significant impact on student learning. I can’t recall attending a conference which has led to major changes in my leadership actions. They are very nice and often quite entertaining but rarely offer more than superficial thought provocation.
Learning is the work. What do I mean by this? In short I position the notion of professional learning as being an ongoing process that is usually best done in the context of the school environment. It is not about sending people to ‘one off’ workshops or training courses and expecting it will be brought back and ‘implemented’ across the school. High-impact professional learning is about staff working collectively to interrogate data, gather evidence of learning, going deep into the research about pedagogy, implementing what has been discovered, sharing new learning with colleagues and providing authentic opportunities for reflection, coaching and development of teaching practice. In essence it is the work. Call it a Professional Learning Community, Action Learning Teams, study groups or whatever else you like the critical thing is that it builds the collective capacity of teachers and results in improved learning outcomes for children. It doesn’t have a start and end date but rather presents as a continuous part of our weekly work in schools.
Learning is the work.

What is being a Principal really about?

I spend a considerable amount of time reading about, thinking about and discussing leadership. I strive on a daily basis to improve my leadership skills for the benefit of staff and students at my school.
So what is being a school Principal really about?
The answer is both simple and complex.
It’s complex because there are many aspects to the role including both internal and external pressures. I see many of my colleagues running themselves into the ground because they are trying to do too much, please too many people and in my opinion focusing on the wrong things. They spend too much time on the management side of the role and not enough on the leadership. They micro-manage staff and take on too many tasks that can be more effectively completed by others.
I see my job as being simple in that my overarching role is to get the best out of the people in my organisation for the benefit of students. My major goalis to empower others, leverage the expertise of my staff and develop leadership potential. Of course I have to engage in the management space but I try to commit the majority of my time to leading others. I think that I need to spend more of my time on things which will have a positive impact on student learning and less on things such as email, administration and other non-leadership tasks. I am the opposite of a micro-manager. I provide opportunities, resources and time for staff to lead in areas of passion and skill. This has led to the significant development of leadership skills at my school. Every teacher is a leader of learrning in their classroom.
I believe being a school Principal is a privilege. I love being able to make a difference and work with a community to provide aspirational futures for children. I also believe that to do that effectively I have to be the best leader I can possibly be.
I want to be a Principal that enjoys the role and not one who complains that it’s too hard because if you focus on the right things it’s not.

The first day back at school. 10 things that stuck in my memory.

As the sun sets on the first day back for students (only kindergarten students started today)at my school I’d like to share my reflections with you. Here are 10 things that are embedded in my mind.
10- The sense of anticipation on each child’s face as they proudly enter their kindergarten class for the first time. WOW!!
9- The look of anxiety on a mother’s face as she waits outside the classroom to pick her daughter up at the end of the day.
8- The enthusiasm that exudes from my kindergarten teacher that infects each and every student in her class.
7- The innocence demonstrated by a young girl who tells me ” I made a new friend today”
6- My heart melted as I had the privilege of reading a picture book to a group of open minds who soaked up every word.
5- The clarity of achievement in the voice of a boy who proudly announced that he helped two other kids do their shoelaces up….all by himself.
4- “Do We get to come to school tomorrow?” I get asked as one of the new kindergarten kids walks past me at the end of the day.
3- The natter of parents at the front of the school after dropping their kids off and discussing how concerned they are “I hope she’ll be ok”
2- “We had so much fun” said a young boy as he high fives me after the bell.
1- The pride exuded from the Principal (me) at being able to lead a school that’s making such a difference for the children in it’s care.

What if we personalised learning for every student?

What if we personalise learning for every student?
In 3 – 5 years what will it look like in your school? We will know we are successful when…
1. Learning intentions/goals set for each term by:
• Learner as a collaborator
• Setting clear goals to ensure standards are maintained • Parents are able to articulate why flexibility is working and used.
• Students meeting personal goals.
2. Learning location and source could vary.
• Learning outside the classroom
• Evening classes for parents to support understanding of flexible learning • High levels of student engagement.
• Partnering with other educational providers.
• Learning infrastructure changes
• Learning remains continuous throughout their life • Movement throughout space/different settings.
4. Every student would have an ILP or be able to say what they are doing and why it is relevant to them. • Self motivated students.
• Retention rate and attendance improve.
• Engagement and time on task increased.
Additional Ideas We will know we are successful when…
• Change in concept of ‘time in learning’. Will all students remain in age set class groups? Flexibility in start change.
• Greater partnerships.
• Sufficient places available in alternate settings to meet student needs.
• Funding is available to support individual learning.
• Modes of assessment would need to change to support the individual.
• Change Commonwealth expectations in reporting.

Preferred Future: Personalised Learning
What are the key actions we need to start in 2015 at:
System Level School
• Consider providing schools/teachers with professional learning to develop their understanding of students personalised learning plans.
• Investigate funding and structures to enable flexible, personalised learning.
• Strengthen strong technologies as the enabler.
• Commitment to personalised learning plans and flexible curriculum delivery.
• Embed sound teaching practices/pedagogy.

Principal Certification. A Brave New World

Raising the status of our profession is often discussed, debated and argued for among educational leaders across the country. But what can we really do to put these words into action?

At the start of 2014 I attended an information session which was facilitated by the Principal’s Australia Institute (PAI) at the University of Canberra. I was encouraged to go by a colleague from the ACT Principal’s Association. He said “go along to this, it will be right up your alley”. I went along not knowing much at all about Principal Certification or even why it might be worthwhile pursuing. I came away inspired to progress this work and was fortunate enough to be asked to join the PAI Change Team. This team of Principal’s and educational colleagues from across the nation have been tasked to bring Principal Certification to life. It has meant some workshops/meetings in Melbourne and being away from my school but I really believed it was an exciting project and I wanted to be involved.

The PAI Change Team has met several times this year and we have progressed the Principal Certification model quite significantly. It is an amazing group to be involved with and I also consider it to be excellent professional learning for me personally as a school leader.
The purpose for Principal Certification has become very clear to me and takes the following form:
1- Moral purpose-knowing that Principals are integral to student success
2- Professional purpose-to elevate the status of the profession
3- Personal purpose- to have exemplary practice recognised

What is Certification going to look like?
Principal Certification is a rigorous process that Principals can participate in to demonstrate outstanding school leadership. It is about having trusted peers verify evidence of practice against a recognised standard. Principals will submit a portfolio of evidence which demonstrates exemplary leadership. It will be recognition of the Australian Principal Standards in action. It is an endorsement of an accomplished standard of Principal practice.

What is it not?
Principal certification is not connected to performance management. It is not run by the employer and is not designed to be a prerequisite for becoming a Principal. It is not a qualification or something that is managed external to the profession.

I have truly enjoyed being part of a national team to work on this very important next step in raising the profile of the Principalship in Australia. Watch this space for some exciting new developments and announcements regarding the launch of Principal Certification in the future.

Why traditional written reports should be challenged?

Well it’s reporting season once again in schools across Australia. The mandated twice a year written reports are being prepared for distribution in the middle of the year. It’s one of those things that has become entrenched as an expectation in our schools. It’s just the way we’ve done things for so long without much consideration as to whether it’s actually an effective model. Should we keep doing something just because that’s how we’ve always done it? I think not. I see written reports as playing a minor role in communicating with parents about their child’s progress at school.

At my school we have shifted the focus away from detailed, twice yearly, written reports and begun to focus on more authentic and ongoing opportunities to share learning progress with parents. We are mandated to provide written reports twice a year to parents and we still do this but it’s a brief (one page) report that provides a snapshot about a child’s learning progress. The main reason for this change from what was an extensive, complicated and long written report to our current format was that we believed it wasn’t meeting it’s purpose. The language used by teachers was often technical, pedagogical and difficult for parents to understand. Another issue was that teachers were spending hour after hour slogging away to produce a written report which parents not only couldn’t understand but was not providing them with a clear picture of their child’s learning progress. As a staff we decided that this simply had to change as after all parents are the intended audience and we felt the effort being exerted by teachers wasn’t having the desired impact. Teachers were burning the candle at both ends to write reports to the detriment of their health and ability to be effective in the classroom during work time. In addition the workload for executive in proof reading lengthy reports was a drain on their time.

So what should we do instead? This is something which needs to be considered in order to ensure parents are informed about their child’s learning. Our whole school approach to formative assessment meant that we had to consider how we would keep parents up to date with their child’s learning. We were monitoring student progress every day so why wait until the end of term 2 or 4 to let parents know how they’re going? We make it clear to parents that they don’t have to wait until they receive school reports to see if their children were making progress. Here is a list which describes just some of the things we do to inform parents about their kids learning:
– We connect with parents before and after school on a daily basis
– Learning Journeys are held to share student progress
– A focus on learning portfolios to demonstrate growth in student learning over time
– Phone calls to parents on a regular basis
– We use our Facebook page like a billboard of student achievements
– Our newsletter describes both our approach to student learning and progress being made
– Student led learning expos
– Twice a year brief written reports
– Our school app is used to communicate messages about school events to ensure parents don’t miss opportunities to see student learning in action
– Student led school assemblies focus on learning

Although the above list is not exhaustive it does present an opportunity to consider alternatives to simply relying on written reports.

Parents have embraced our approach and feedback about our modified written reports has been positive. We are working to develop a more intelligent and effective model for informing parents about their child’s learning progress in a timely and authentic way.

I welcome your comments and feedback about our approach.