Category: Leadership
Are you driven to be the best?

I want to be the very best school leader I can be. Why, because for me being a principal (or a teacher for that matter) is more than a job, it’s a vocation. I don’t go to work to produce something, to sell something, or to manage something. I go to work to make a difference. And that difference is measured in people’s lives.

What I do as a principal, the decisions I make, the school culture I create, the way I lead will make a difference in countless people’s lives. It can make a difference to the earning capacity of a young person; it can make a difference to a person’s sense of self-worth, to their wellbeing, the lives of their families, the lives of their future children and the lives of the communities in which they live. The sense of responsibility is huge; that is why I want to be the best principal I can be.

While I have been a school leader for 17 years I don’t think for a minute that I am the best. I can’t allow myself to think I am great because the moment I do I’ll lose the desire to be better. To be better I know that I have to be reflective, honest with myself, willing to be vulnerable and admit that I could have done something better. I often compare myself with other leaders, listen to what they do, learn from their wisdom and experience. However, one thing I really need as a leader is feedback. Without feedback I cannot truly understand the real impact I am having and how I can improve.

To promote growth feedback is vital. But to be of real value a recipient really needs to want it, be willing to listen to it and ultimately, have the desire to be the very best they can be for the responsibly they carry as an educator is enormous.

The same can be said about teaching. I don’t understand why all teachers aren’t driven by the enormous responsibility they have to very best they can be. Our children, and their children deserve outstanding teaching and outstanding schools.

Do you value and welcome feedback? What motivates you as an educator? Is teaching and school leadership more than just a job? If you are a leader, where do you get your feedback from?

When it all boils down, good leadership is about two things: vision and trust

There is a wealth of literature and research on leadership. Many academics and psychologists have committed years to studying and understanding the practice. There have been countless leadership models or styles proposed (e.g. transformational, transactional, collaborative, consultative, servant, etc.), and lists of qualities or attributes of good leadership identified (e.g. honesty, humility, self-control, respect, empathy, inspiring, credible, moral courage, etc.). However, when it all boils down, good leadership is about just two things: vision and trust.

Many people (and leadership models for that matter) confuse leadership with management. A manager is responsible for directing and controlling the work and staff of an organization. Managers typically have their eyes on the bottom line, ensuring that things are functioning efficiently. Leadership on the other hand deals with the ‘top line’; what are the things that I want to accomplish—in other words—vision. Covey (1989) provides a good analogy:

Imagine a group of people cutting a path through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out. The managers are behind them, sharpening the machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up work schedules. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘this way’.

Don’t be confused, management is not leadership. The key difference is vision. A true leader has a vision, and that vision is compelling enough to entice people to follow. A good leader is someone that others choose to follow because they have been convinced that the vision is worth the effort. A compelling vision energizes people by providing them with an exciting picture of the future rather than providing them with rewards and punishments (Bartram & Casimir, 2007). It unites leaders and followers to pursue higher-level goals which are common to both (Sergiovanni, 2005), raising one another to higher-levels of motivation and morality (Burns, 1985).

Vision (vïzh’ən) n: an imagined idea or goal toward which one aspires

Visioning requires you to rise up out of the minutia to scan the horizon, to dream and to imagine what could be, to take a risk and trail blaze. Not everyone can vision; a true leader can. They are not held back by fear; they believe in themselves and what can be. They invest in the vision and keep pursuing it until it is achieved. Not until then is the job done.

However, vision is not enough. No one is a leader without someone to follow; and no one will follow a leader, particularly into the unknown, if they don’t trust him/her. Trust is the critical ingredient that goes hand in glove with vision. Without it leaders cannot expect people to work together to achieve the vision: and ultimately, without trust, the leader will lose credibility and fail (Sergiovanni, 2005; Reina & Reina, 2006).

Research has identified 10 key practices that good leaders consistently use to generate trust and compel followers towards a vision (Browning, 2014). They:

  1. admit mistakes;
  2. offer trust to staff members;
  3. actively listen;
  4. provide affirmation;
  5. make informed and consultative decisions;
  6. be visible around the organization;
  7. remain calm and level-headed;
  8. mentor and coach staff;
  9. care for staff members;
  10. keep confidences.

When a leader turns their attention to trust they begin to reflect on their own behaviour and how it impacts their relationship with the people who choose to follow them. When you examine the practices all the qualities of good leadership espoused in the plethora of literature, models and styles, is encompassed by the notion of trust. For example, humility, transparency, honesty, confidence, respect, courage, empathy, and above all, a genuine focus and commitment to the people who have chosen to go for the vision, rather than the selfish ambition of a bad leader. Good leadership boils down to just two things: vision and trust.

 

Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bartram, T., & Casimir, G. (2007). The relationship between leadership and follower in-role performance and satisfaction with the leader: The mediation effects of empowerment and trust in the leader. Leadership and Organization Development, 28(1), 4-19.

Browning, P. (2014). Why trust the head? International Journal of Leadership in Education. 16 January 2014.

Covey, S. (1989). Seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Reina, D., & Reina, M. (2006). Trust and betrayal in the workplace  (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Compelling leadership takes great courage

This blog was written in response to a question that I was asked about a previous blog on performance management.

I have to make a really hard decision. Already I can feel my anxiety levels rising. My mind is racing, going over a multitude of possible outcomes. I find some of the most difficult decisions to be the ones where there is the most personal risk. I already know that when I break the news to this person they are going to be incredibly hurt. They’ll become angry; go through a range of emotions and may never be able to forgive me. The relationship we currently have may never recover. At risk for me is that person’s respect and perception of me. At risk is the trust others in the organisation have in me as a leader. Will the hard decisions I have to make grow or diminish trust?

I know that others around this person won’t understand why this decision had to be made. They will side with the ‘victim’ of the decision, offer genuine care and support to them and I’ll get the icy stares. “How could he possibly do that to you; and we thought he was such a caring person; he calls himself a Christian?” will be some of the comments said about me, sometimes within earshot. I know that I will never be able to fully explain why the decision had to be made and defend my actions.

As for any compelling leader tough decisions have to be made, often with the long-term view in mind and not the short game. For a school leader these sorts of decisions could be around the expulsion of a student, the termination of a staff member, or a restructure and program of redundancies.

There is a common adage that says you can afford to make a tough decision every now and again once you have banked enough credits in your ‘trust’ account. This line of thought suggests that you can make a withdrawal and then save up enough trust to make another hard call. I wonder if this is true. If it were we might never make the tough call for fear that we don’t have enough in the trust account. How do you know what’s in your account now?

Learning from four highly trusted transformational leaders it was obvious that trust isn’t associated with being nice, or allowing people to have what they want, or making people happy. Highly trusted leaders make hard decisions all the time, if they didn’t they wouldn’t be transforming the organisation in which they work into an even better place.

When it comes to a really difficult call that is going to significantly impact a person, and an ever increasing circle of people around them (the ripple effect), highly trust leaders call on four of the 10 key practices proven to generate trust:

  1. Consultative decision making: While it isn’t appropriate to consult widely when making a hard decision that requires significant confidentiality, trusted leaders still consult. In cases where a person is going to be significantly affected they may well be consulting with their Board, or an external organisation to help them make the best decision. Often there is never a ‘right’ decision; right, like truth, depends on your own perspective. It is important to gain the perspective of others, particularly when you have an emotional attachment to the situation.
  2. Listen: Trusted leaders listen carefully to what is happening around them. They listen careful to hear how people are feeling, predict how people might feel, and respond in a caring way. This can be incredibly difficult because sometimes you just feel like defending yourself and responding in anger in an attempt to tell ‘your side of the story’. Sadly you can’t do this. You have to forgo yourself.
  3. Care: Even though you sometimes have to make a person redundant, expel a student, or terminate a person’s employment you can do it with genuine care for that person. They may feel that you don’t care at all when they are angry with you, but how you respond to that anger, and how you put in place support mechanisms and respect the person will go a long way in terms of trust. Even though you have to make a hard call others will learn that you will still care for them and treat them fairly and with respect.
  4. Confidentiality: It is so tempting to justify why you have to make a call, but to really care for the person most affected you can’t. Even though people will be angry with you, be thinking all sorts of nasty things about you just remember that you aren’t the victim.

Compelling leadership takes great courage. It calls on you to put aside your own emotion, to put aside yourself and behave in ways that engender genuine trust in your leadership. To be trusted doesn’t mean you avoid the hard decisions, quite the contrary, trust is about why you make those decisions, how you make them, and how you care for the people impacted.

Having said all this there is still a risk. I know it isn’t going to be any easier for me. We’re all still human after all. Will I get it right? Probably not. Will it be the best decision? Only time will tell.

Global Education Summit in Washington DC

I was gobsmacked when in June of this year I received a personal invitation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust to attend a Summit on 3 and 4 November 2014 to discuss and share effective teacher development strategies. 100 attendees from the US, England, Finland, The Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia descended on the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC, where the Beetles have played and Kings, Queens and world leaders have stayed. I was one of four delegates selected to represent Australia. The event was covered by the UK-based, Times Education Supplement.

The purpose of the two days was to share best practices in teacher development, with the hope of identifying the most effective strategies that could then be replicated in schools across the globe, but particularly in schools that serve the socially disadvantaged (a key focus of the Sutton Trust). Delegates had been selected because of their reputations and innovative strategies already implemented in their schools or jurisdictions (when I received my invitation I had to check three times that it wasn’t a hoax!).

IMG_1807

The four Australia delegates

In the preparation leading up to the Summit all delegates were asked to share one of their strategies on an online forum. Half of these were selected to be unpacked further at the Summit.

What an amazing two days it was; what a humbling and privileged opportunity to be in a room of remarkable educators from across the globe. The facilitation was spot on. From the moment the first day commenced to the very end we were worked hard, with the program ensuring that we met and made the maximum number of productive connections possible. We work shopped people’s strategies and built upon ideas in a number of ‘blue sky’ brainstorming sessions.

I met John Tomsett, a Head from the UK. He is using an IT system called IRIS to observe teaching and learning in his school. An unobtrusive camera is set up in a classroom, enabling John to remotely control the device, watch and record the learning. He can then unpack the lesson with the teacher, identify each teachable moment and provide feedback that promotes growth. High levels of trust in his school, created in part by John’s willingness to record and share his own teaching (which he says is pretty ‘crap’), means that teachers have become thirsty for the opportunity to improve.

Barbara Cavanagh from Albany Senior High School in Auckland, New Zealand, has implemented ‘Impact Learning‘, a pedagogy not too dissimilar to project-based learning. Every Wednesday students work on their own self-directed project for the entire day. Students begin by designing their project and then ‘pitch’ it to the teachers for approval. The only stipulation for a project is that it must be of industry standard. Time for this initiative was created by reducing the students’ load from six subjects to five.

Barbara shared some of the work the students have produced. One 16-year-old boy designed a method to help local businesses improve their productivity. Another young man, passionate about fish, discovered that plants watered with fish tank water grow faster and bigger. He has since been offered full scholarships to four universities in NZ and is off to speak at an international conference in Japan (he’s only 17 mind you!). A young girl created a series of five picture books to help children cope with living with mental illness. These short stories were truly amazing, bringing a tear to your eye when you realised what was actually going on in the story: “Emily has five sisters, and they don’t get on,” begins one book. It is not until later in the book that you realise that Emily has schizophrenia. The young lady is now selling her books worldwide; a fellow student has developed a business plan for her. And the final year results? For the six years the program has been running they have been better than any of the other local schools.

Dame Alison Peacock talked about her work on Learning Without Limits, passionate that we desist from labeling, or grading young people so we don’t limit their potential. Every child can, and has the right to learn, no matter their background, disability or school setting.

I have never met another person as passionate about her students than Stacey Quince from the Campbelltown Performing Arts School, who prefers to forego personal comforts and opportunities to ensure that every dollar her school receives from the government goes to her students.

Barbara Ala’alatoa from Sylvia Park Primary in New Zealand has developed a unique program to engage the parent community. The program is a preventative one, aimed at ensuring that every child is given the very best start to their education. “If we don’t get it right in the early years,” Amanda says, “then you’ll be paying for it for the rest of that child’s formal education.” Upon entry each child sits a diagnostic test. A parent liaison staff member then meets with the child’s parents to discuss the results. But they don’t ask the parents to come into the school; they go to the parents, in their homes or to their place of work. The initial meeting can take up to an hour. Parents have said, “I came away from the meeting with tools and ideas of how I can best help my child at home; I feel empowered.” The process happens again when the child is five and a half, six and seven years old.

A local university has been working with Barbara to track the impact, and it is staggering. But the most exciting part is that Barbara is now replicating the program in 10 other schools this year, and a further 44 next year. And if you’re skeptical of the cost, wait for it: Barbara says that for a school of 300 Year 0, 1 and 2 students you only need a 0.5FTE parent liaison (teacher) for it to work!

I listened to Professor Rob Coe speak and had morning tea with Sir Alasdair Macdonald. I met Megan, a young woman who has been given her first headship, a Charter School in LA funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. I Barnett Berry, CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality in the US. I heard from Geraldine Davies who has changed the conversations in her school by sponsoring groups of teachers to do a Masters of Leading Innovation and Change, delivered by St Mary’s University through the weekly PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). We brainstormed using the strategy, “Yes, and…”. We shared, we collaborated and we worked hard. My favourite quote from the two days was,

“teaching is rocket science.”

Of the 100 delegates 12 were asked to run a workshop on the strategy they shared online prior to the Summit. I was stunned to be asked by Sir Alasdair to run a workshop on my research into the practices that generate trust (but perhaps not surprised because almost every delegate recognised the important role that trust plays in any teacher development program).

At the conclusion of the Summit delegates were asked to name the best ‘takeaway’ strategy, tool, or idea they had come across over the two days. Each delegate wrote their favourite strategy on a piece of card and then voted for Summit’s best ‘takeaway’. And the strategy voted as the most profound shared by the 100 educational leaders from the 10 countries: the Trust and Transformational Leadership Rubric!

What an incredibly privileged and humbling experience; I couldn’t let myself sleep that night, still wondering if it had all been a hoax! Thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust.

When it all boils down, good leadership is about two things: vision and trust

Our-Vision[1]There is a wealth of literature and research on leadership. Many academics and psychologists have committed years to studying and understanding the practice. There have been countless leadership models or styles proposed (e.g. transformational, transactional, collaborative, consultative, servant, etc.), and lists of qualities or attributes of good leadership identified (e.g. honesty, humility, self-control, respect, empathy, inspiring, credible, moral courage, etc.). However, when it all boils down, good leadership is about just two things: vision and trust.

Many people (and leadership models for that matter) confuse leadership with management. A manager is responsible for directing and controlling the work and staff of an organization. Managers typically have their eyes on the bottom line, ensuring that things are functioning efficiently. Leadership on the other hand deals with the ‘top line’; what are the things that I want to accomplish—in other words—vision. Covey (1989) provides a good analogy:

Imagine a group of people cutting a path through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out. The managers are behind them, sharpening the machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up work schedules. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘this way’.

Don’t be confused, management is not leadership. The key difference is vision. A true leader has a vision, and that vision is compelling enough to entice people to follow. A good leader is someone that others choose to follow because they have been convinced that the vision is worth the effort. A compelling vision energizes people by providing them with an exciting picture of the future rather than providing them with rewards and punishments (Bartram & Casimir, 2007). It unites leaders and followers to pursue higher-level goals which are common to both (Sergiovanni, 2005), raising one another to higher-levels of motivation and morality (Burns, 1985).

Vision (vïzh’ən) n: an imagined idea or goal toward which one aspires

Visioning requires you to rise up out of the minutia to scan the horizon, to dream and to imagine what could be, to take a risk and trail blaze. Not everyone can vision; a true leader can. They are not held back by fear; they believe in themselves and what can be. They invest in the vision and keep pursuing it until it is achieved. Not until then is the job done.

However, vision is not enough. No one is a leader without someone to follow; and no one will follow a leader, particularly into the unknown, if they don’t trust him/her. Trust is the critical ingredient that goes hand in glove with vision. Without it leaders cannot expect people to work together to achieve the vision: and ultimately, without trust, the leader will lose credibility and fail (Sergiovanni, 2005; Reina & Reina, 2006).

Research has identified 10 key practices that good leaders consistently use to generate trust and compel followers towards a vision (Browning, 2014). They:

  1. admit mistakes;
  2. offer trust to staff members;
  3. actively listen;
  4. provide affirmation;
  5. make informed and consultative decisions;
  6. be visible around the organization;
  7. remain calm and level-headed;
  8. mentor and coach staff;
  9. care for staff members;
  10. keep confidences.

When a leader turns their attention to trust they begin to reflect on their own behaviour and how it impacts their relationship with the people who choose to follow them. When you examine the practices all the qualities of good leadership espoused in the plethora of literature, models and styles, is encompassed by the notion of trust. For example, humility, transparency, honesty, confidence, respect, courage, empathy, and above all, a genuine focus and commitment to the people who have chosen to go for the vision, rather than the selfish ambition of a bad leader. Good leadership boils down to just two things: vision and trust.

 

Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bartram, T., & Casimir, G. (2007). The relationship between leadership and follower in-role performance and satisfaction with the leader: The mediation effects of empowerment and trust in the leader. Leadership and Organization Development, 28(1), 4-19.

Browning, P. (2014). Why trust the head? International Journal of Leadership in Education. 16 January 2014.

Covey, S. (1989). Seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Reina, D., & Reina, M. (2006). Trust and betrayal in the workplace  (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Trust improves outcomes—but how do you get it?

trustTrust is the fundamental resource for successful leadership. No one wants to follow a person, particularly to the unknown, if they don’t trust them. And yet, trust is a word that is absent when we describe some the leaders in our modern society. So many leaders fail because they forget to attend to the very basics of leadership: building and maintaining relational trust.

 

“we notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted”

The topic of trust is both intriguing and elusive. The idea of trust is hard to define but we certainly know when it is missing. Many a person has said that ‘we notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted’. Betrayal and distrust are particularly insidious behaviours because the mission and objectives of the organization are so easily undermined (Geist & Hoy, 2004). Sadly, when trust is low, most people perceive danger and go into a self-protective mode; ‘they personalise everything and assess risks in dealing with everyone, tending to cast themselves as the intended recipients of other people’s harmful actions’ (Reina & Reina, 2006, p. 25).

Our own understanding of the notion of trust will depend on the lens of our life experience, the way that we view the world because of our past experiences (Caldwell & Hayes, 2007; Rousseau, 1995). This means that it is virtually impossible to have a universal definition of trust because it is a socially constructed phenomenon.

Educational researchers have identified the importance and value of trust within schools and school leadership: trust is a critical ingredient of the social context of schools because it improves cooperation (Putnam, 1993; Tschannen-Moran, 2001); it enriches openness and health in a school culture (Hoffman, 1994; Hoy, et al., 1992); it is essential to leadership (Sergiovanni, 1992 & 2005); and perhaps most importantly, it facilitates student achievement (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Hoy, 2002; Goddard, et al., 2001). Trust has consequences for a range of activities in the school including the way that teachers cooperate and work together, but trust is particularly important when the leader aims to take the staff somewhere unknown, to bring about change (Sergiovanni, 2005).

How to develop a culture of trust? My recent PhD study aimed to identify practices that leaders could use to develop and enrich a culture of trust in their school. As a result of four case studies of highly trusted transformational school leaders 10 key practices that engender trust between a leader and his/her staff were identified. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, these four schools had very impressive academic track records. The practices were not dependent on personality; they can be learned by anyone wanting to improve the culture of his/her school:

  1. Admit mistakes;
  2. Offer trust to staff members;
  3. Actively listen;
  4. Provide affirmation;
  5. Make informed and consultative decisions;
  6. Be visible around the organization;
  7. Remain calm and level-headed;
  8. Mentor and coach staff;
  9. Care for staff members;
  10. Keep confidences.

These practices are relevant to anyone in a leadership position. They are also not dependent on context: even CEOs of the corporate world would do well to attend to them. Over the coming weeks each practice will be defined, giving interested leaders an insight in behaviours that have a direct impact on the performance of students and their organisations.

For a list of the references cited please email p.browning@stpauls.qld.edu.au

How do you create the conditions for innovation in a school?

Classroom - Early 20th CenturySchools are notoriously conservative. They were conceived in the industrial age. Since their birth little has changed. David Price suggested that if time travel were possible, a person traveling from 1900 to 2013 would be overwhelmed by the changes they saw, but would feel completely at home in a school. Innovation is a necessity for schools if they are to truly educate students through engaging and enriching learning experiences.

Classroom - Early 21st CenturyInnovation doesn’t just happen on a broad scale in schools. It does in little pockets, but often the innovation isn’t lasting. The bold individual who tries something new either gives up, or moves on. For broad scale innovation to occur in schools you need three key ingredients: a culture of trust; leadership that challenges the status quo and rewards ideas; and, collaboration.

Schools are quite paradoxical really. They are places for learning; but mostly just for the students. We proclaim that we want to develop ‘life-long learners’ but as teachers, we tend to stop learning once we graduate and fall into the habit of doing the same thing each year. Change only occurs when a mandate comes from above; for example, dictating a change in curriculum. Fear tends to keep teachers on the same treadmill year in and year out, driven by parental and community expectations and political measures of ‘good schooling’: Year 12 results, NAPLAN results, PISA results, etc. ‘Back to the basics’ is the mantra that is trundled out by politicians and those who know little about what true education is actually about when standardised results appear to be falling.

We often fail to realise that what is more important is the creation of engaging learning opportunities so our students aren’t bored year in and year out. This implies that something has to change, and with it there is risk; a risk of failure, a risk of ridicule, and even a risk of job security. Teachers will not take the risks necessary to innovate unless there are high levels of trust in the organisation. Teachers need to know that ideas are valued, are worth the risk, and that if they fail, they will be treated as a learning opportunity and not an opportunity for retribution. To create the platform for innovation school leaders need to foster a culture of trust.

Trust though, is not enough. There has to be an unsalable thirst for creativity, imagination and innovation. This has to come from the leader, whose role is to create a shared vision and to encourage staff to question: “Why do we do this? Is it really important? Are my students fully engaged in their learning? Would I be happy for my child to be in this class?” Questions invite people to dream, imagine and ultimately, generate ideas.

The best ideas, and therefore the best innovations, are ones that are dreamt up together and worked on collaboratively by a team of teachers. When there are high levels of trust and a spirit of collaboration, good ideas have a habit of growing legs. Good ideas become big ideas, ending up as innovation that sticks. Even better innovation occurs when students are invited into the collaborative space, with teachers and students solving problems together.

Trust is further enhanced when innovations are celebrated, which in turn, encourages even more innovation. It is also important to celebrate innovation that didn’t work as this too fosters trust, develops resilience and encourages persistence. Before long a school will find itself on a rollercoaster of truly engaging learning.