Learning leadership for principalship

April 2016


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JAN ROBERTSON says we need school leaders who are ready to step up to address the challenges in New Zealand education: that of isolated competitive schools, of inequity in student learning outcomes and inequity in the quality of teaching.

Jan RobertsonWhen we begin our careers as teacher leaders our responsibility and accountability usually extends to the class or classes we teach and their whānau. Usually that is enough for us as we negotiate the challenges and excitement of our new teaching career. Our learning curve can feel almost vertical at times in our enthusiasm and diligence (aka long hours at night) to meet the needs of the students in our care.

But as we develop in confidence and capability we begin to see that our responsibility extends much further than the students that our teaching influences. We begin to recognise that we are part of the bigger picture of all of the graduates who finally leave our school. We realise the importance of current research underpinning our pedagogy. We begin to have a much wider understanding of the aims of education.

This pathway that we move along, albeit at different speeds during our careers, has been described by theorists as a movement from the “restricted professional” to the “extended professional”.

Whatever it is called, there is no doubt that as our self-efficacy continues to develop – our belief that we can make a positive difference to students’ lives – we usually seek a greater sphere of influence, and begin to seek responsibilities (or they find us!) for department and schoolwide educational leadership for the quality of teaching and student learning outcomes.

These might be middle leadership positions such as head of department or syndicate, or a literacy leader, or a pastoral care position. Our responsibility and accountability for the quality of teaching and learning in the school will now extend beyond the walls of our own classroom. Our schoolwide management responsibilities may also increase and may take the form of timetabling or sports’ organisation or responsibility for particular programmes or pathways.

These responsibilities may precede appointment to or be part of senior positions in the school, such as deputy or associate principal or principal. But just securing one of these positions doesn’t necessarily mean you are a leader. Sadly, some people who hold these positions of senior responsibility show little evidence of educational leadership in their day-to-day work.

But how do we develop the leadership that will be needed for such influence and direction that will be necessary to lead transformative change in teaching and learning? And how do we develop school leaders who are “super-extended professionals” (my word!) – that is, system leaders – the leaders who will look beyond their own school gates to collaborate with other leaders regionally and nationally to more fully meet the needs of the students in their care?

The National Aspiring Principals programme has been developing school leaders who want to step up to address the challenges in New Zealand education in their careers: the challenge of isolated competitive schools; the challenge of inequity in student learning outcomes; the challenge of inequity in the quality of teaching. There are certain qualities and capabilities that we have looked for on application, and that we work to develop further and deepen through a coaching paradigm.

Tino rangatiratanga: New Zealand schools need leaders who know the power and importance of the Treaty of Waitangi in education and will lead to develop future citizens who will value our dual cultural heritage and the diversity of our multicultural society through culturally responsive practice. These leaders understand that it is their own knowledge of New Zealand history and valuing of tikanga Māori, te reo and te ao Māori that will lead to Māori achieving success as Māori.

Leaders who are developing their leadership identity will want to apply for principalship in the future and will demonstrate the resilience, courage and efficacy to lead transformative change in teachers’ practice, starting with their own.

Leaders who lead with a strong moral purpose for justice will address the injustices and inequity in New Zealand education, within and between
our schools.

Awhinatanga: Leaders who know how to support and collaborate with other leaders will create the new knowledge that is needed to meet the current challenges in education and work to make every New Zealand school a great school.

Leaders who are digitally literate and know the power and capability of technology to complement their everyday pedagogies, learning and practice through their own connected learning experiences, will ensure their schools model these practices.

Ako: Leaders who have the disposition to learn through deep reflection on their leadership practice, deep learning conversations and reciprocal learning relationships through the coaching partnership will continue to deepen their leadership practice throughout their careers.

Connected leaders who have built their online resource kete and learning communities for supporting the multi-faceted role of the school principal through the management of for example, finances, legal issues, resource management, will know where to find the information and support they need to be effective in their schools.

So look for opportunities to further develop this leadership capacity in your region. The investment you make in your own leadership and in that of your colleagues is really the most important role
of leadership – to support others to develop in ways that helps them to become all they can be
in their leadership – to develop leaders around
you who can be even more than you have been able to be.

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