Over the past 4 weeks as part of the Bastow UP (Unlocking Potential) Principal Preparation Course, I have had the absolute pleasure in ‘shadowing’ a local primary school principal.
Before I go on I will take this opportunity to thank that principal, their amazing staff, and the wider school community for allowing me into their community and making me feel so welcome. The staff especially went out of their way to engage with me and make feel part of the ‘crew’ which made my time in the school so much more enjoyable. All 330-ish students were also exceptionally friendly, courteous and welcoming and this also played a large part in making my time there very rewarding.
The experience as whole was an exceptional one to say the least. Prior to beginning I was not sure what to expect from a ‘shadowing’ point of view and I am fine with saying that I did feel anxious prior to arriving on the first day.
In relation to the aims of this experience from my courses point of view, the internship component was all about gaining experience ‘in the field’, improving leadership knowledge and to learn from an expert practitioner. Those boxes were well and truly ticked.
Now rather than give an indepth insight into what it was I actually did day in day out for the better part of 20 days, I have shared below my ‘BIG 4’ takeaways below. I have more… however I am feeling this post will be long enough with just the four!
These are items which I noted to be invaluable in what it takes towards becoming an expert Principal practitioner, very much like the one I was able to spend time with and learn from.
So here we go…
Invest in your Staff.
In a lot of, if not all of, the educational leadership professional learning that I have been actively engaged in this year, a heavy focus has been placed upon the need and importance of building the capacity of your staff, and in particular, your middle leaders.
These discussions have also been heavily based on what effective and high quality professional learning actually looks like. We know that it is the teacher that makes the biggest difference in relation to student learning outcomes and when we look at the effect size that Teacher Professional Learning has on student learning, based on John Hattie’s Visible Learning synthesis, we see an effect size of 0.63 which is quite high. So it’s obvious that time, money and resourcing for effective PL is not a wasted exercise.
This was clearly evident at my host school.
The focus that was placed on quality and purposeful professional learning amongst teachers and leadership was very high. The resulting evidence of this, via what I witnessed in my short time, was a cohort of highly qualified cohesive teachers all with a shared vision towards improving student learing.
Conversations are Powerful Things.
I can not count the amount of purposeful and rich conversations that I had been directly engaged in and been privy to listening in on. Professional Learning Conversations drive a lot of the action that takes place within an educational setting and as Earl and Timperly (2008) state,
“School leaders are faced with the daunting task of anticipating the future and making conscious adaptations to their practices, in order to keep up and be responsive to an ever-changing environment. To succeed in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, it is vital that schools grow, develop, adapt and take charge of change so that they can control their own futures.“
The above can only occur in a setting if that setting is willing and open to having the discussions needed to be had. I believe that powerful conversations also take place, and more so seamlessly and fluidly, when staff in a setting have relational trust and cohesiveness. That ability to be open and speak freely about professional practice and the changes that perhaps need to be made and or should be made are essential to an organization’s ability to change, improve and sustain practice.
One great example of this that I have recently picked up on is the notion of single-loop and double-loop learning. Some of which I feel that a vast majority of not only schools, but other organisations should think about. The graphic below highlights this very well.
The above in short comes down to expecting different results yet each time doing the same thing to achieve them. That is single loop learning. In double loop learning, a revisit of the what and the why you are doing something often results in a different strategy being undertaken and hence, obtaining a different, and more so vastly improved result.
That was a little off track… but hopefully you can see my point. That professional learning conversations encourage others and self to think differently about improvement. It also forces paradigms to be questioned, discussed, and changed.
Building Your PLN is Vital.
Networking and building a PLN (professional learning network) within education is a highly undervalued thing. If it was not there would be a greater emphasis placed on encouraging teachers and leaders to be involved in this space. The development of my PLN has been vital in me becoming the educator and leader that I am today.
To have a core group of like minded, highly professional, and just downright amazing people to lean on and talk ‘shop’ with has made a world of difference in my career. I had witnessed quite a bit of this over the past few weeks and did not have the knowledge regarding just collegiate school leaders were, and are.
Having attended the Geelong Principal’s Study Tour last Thursday and Friday (that’ll be the next post!) was a real eye opener as again, the collegiality that shone through was amazing. The conversations that ranged from formal, informal, assistive, advice driven, advice sharing, professional and most of all supportive was great and to be part of that was amazing.
Within my Bastow Course there has been discussion around the ‘need’ to have a support base. A strong PLN that meet regularly and support one another is crucial to each other’s success and wellbeing. Again, to have seen this in action with highly professional school leaders who were also just as easy going, friendly and welcoming was terrific.
It has been noted the highest performing schools in the UK, the schools that have a culture of high performance, are the ones who also collaborate, share and engage the most with others. There needs to be a relentless emphasis on the highest quality of professional learning and discussion as possible, with collegiate collaboration the focus that underpins that. Something that i’ll definitely be wanting to push and encourage moving forward in my career.
Wanted: A Shared Commitment to a Shared Vision.
There are a lot of schools and organisations that that have a vision and or a mission statement. There are ALSO a lot of schools and organisations that that have a vision and or a mission statement that is simply tokenistic and not made a focus or priority for that setting.
For a school in particular to be one which that breeds high performance, meaning high quality teaching and learning, a shared vision that is agreed upon and consistently referred back to as the key driving force, provides that directional compass for that setting and the people within.
A shared vision and a shared commitment to that vision I believe is the starting point towards the building and adoption of a culture that fosters trust and builds capacity towards continuous school improvement.
Schools as we know can have a hell of a lot on the go at any one given point in time. If all of this work is not aligned, is seen to be additional work that is simply included on top of current initiatives and workloads, it will be shunned more often than not by those within the organisation. A powerful vision underpins this work. It ties back the work being done in the school setting and helps keep the focus on what has been deemed to be the ‘work’. A vision will/should drive the processes and systems for that continuous school wide improvement. If the vision once developed has not been clearly communicated and passionately articulated then the likelihood of that vision driving a school’s work as the starting point will most likely fail. So my learning here has been, “Have a vision that is shared, and drive others to commit to that vision.”
And there we have it. 4 leadership lessons learnt, or reaffirmed and witnessed in action first hand, that i’ll hold close to me and use a basis for my own future development and progression as a school leader. 🙂