Opening up thinking about education today for tomorrow - Imagining possibilities and solutions

Friday, October 02, 2009

Tipping Points

I have not long returned from the Australian Council for Educational Leaders conference that was held in Darwin.
This is an annual conference for the peak professional association for educational leaders in Australia.
This years conference was outstanding and very stimulating with highlights being several of the keynotes and lead papers.
Key themes of the conference:

Challenging Environments, Extraordinary Leadership
Practices, Leading Change
Imagining the Impossible, Creating Tomorrow
the Future, Challenging the Past

Many of the sessions were concerned with distributed leadership, instructional leadership and continuous school improvement

My own learnings and insights from the conference

  • There is a tendency to hold onto old models when new models are required
  • Traditional school improvement can be short-lived – often there is nothing of substance underneath
  • Schools are becoming desensitised to external accountability to drive improvement
  • Good leaders create conditions for teaching and learning
  • The paradox: What gets you there won’t keep you there!
  • Leading for high performance requires constant disequilibrium and looking forward
  • Ineffectual schools have dysfunctional cultures
  • Leadership, rather than leaders, makes a difference
  • Learning is at the core
  • Leaders need a vision and need to develop a narrative
  • The goal is improvement – innovation is at the service of improvement
  • You cannot do educational improvement by riding the backs of teachers
  • Successful school improvement is rarely achieved without external support and impetus
  • Within school variance in pedagogical quality is 4 times greater than between school variance.

Possible tipping points

  • Leaders having high quality conversations about learning
  • Build capacity of leaders to have the difficult conversations with teachers about learning
  • Leaders being skilled in having conversations about expectations and support
  • Conversations need to be collaborative and respectful and based on evidence
  • Relentless pursuit of what will help students learn more, achieve more, be better
  • Couple optimism (what can be achieved) with realism (what is possible)

At a system level there is a need for

  • the lateral transference of what works
  • a strategy of sustainable improvement for large numbers of people
  • a simple narrative line linked to a vision to explain the complex

and a need to

  • draw upon and maximise expertise rather than positions/roles
  • distribute accountability and responsibility
  • ensure flexibility of roles within teams.

The “HOW” of school improvement as a continuous process
Alma Harris

Pro-Director (Leadership), Institute of Education,London; and Chair in Educational Leadership, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, England, UK

5Ds of continuous improvement

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Development – the right development strategies
  3. Data-informed
  4. Drive – focused to improve
  5. Distribute leadership

3 stages of improvement
Stage 1
: Stopping the decline and creating conditions
Stage 2: Ensuring survival
Stage 3: Achieving sustainability and aspiring for much more

How to get there

  • Evidence-based
  • Connected programs, not localised projects
  • High local accountability – build internal capabilities
  • Abandon what gets in the way

What brings about educational improvement?
Ben Levin

Professor and Canada Research Chair at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

The right changes
Change teaching and learning practices in all schools
- best evidence
- student engagement
Reach out to parents and community
Build sector capacity and commitment
Improve leadership skills
Approach curriculum and assessment as servant, rather than masters

Where to focus
Think ‘systems’ more than schools
All schools need to improve
Pay specific attention to
- low performing schools
- “coasting” schools
Priority groups
Aboriginal, ESL, special education, disability

Focus on system and whole school changes – avoid projects
Create infrastructure
- relevant to the size of the challenge
- support people as well as resources
Be relentless about reminders, events and supporters
Build research, evaluation and data

Improving practices
Use what we know makes a difference (pick the low hanging fruit)
Build on good practices towards universal use
Start with easier steps
Take ownership
Work collectively in teams
Ground practices in school settings
Use data effectively

Importance of systems and processes
Regular events to review data and progress
Processes to ensure every student is considered
Prevention rather than remediation

Primary and Secondary
Different strategies are required
Primary – focus on teaching and learning
Secondary – focus on knowing students and tracking progress

Build sector support
Build strong political leadership
Align with local leaders
Respect all partners
Appeal to educators’ ideals
Build staff support
Stay focused and aligned
Develop public confidence and support

Public confidence
Public must believe that schools deliver
Requires sustained effort
Day to day work matters more than PR
There must be simple, clear messages backed by action

Role of assessment
Public is entitled to information system performance that goes beyond public test scores
Educators need information on student outcomes that is timely and relevant, and need to know what to do next

Communication and support
Endless communication to sector
- enlist support from leaders and teachers
- constant positive reinforcement
- respectful but with expectations
Regular public communication
- successes and challenges
Labour peace is a key element

Leadership capabilities that have a positive influence on learning
Viviane Robinson

Professor in the Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
1. Integrate pedagogical knowledge

Learning Goals

Pedagogical Shift

Leadership required for shift

2. Analyse and solve complex problems
a. Goals determined
b. Discern constraints
c. Modify and integrate constraints in ways that enable solutions to be found

Loosen constraints to give room to move
Need for systematic identification and use of high quality solutions

3. Build relational trust
Relational trust is about interdependence
High relational trust leads to positive attitudes to innovation and risk

Uniqueness of the School context
Uniqueness of schools can lead to solving problems on your own
Need to test whether the school is more similar than unique

Further questions and answers
What contributes to a continuous improvement culture?
Flatter structures
Expertise at point of need
Work in teams
New ways of working

How do leaders influence teaching and learning?
Shape the work around learning
Shape goals focused on improving learning
Spend more time looking at teaching and learning

How are competing demands balanced and how is alignment created?
Focus on the things that need to be done to improve learning
Create alignment around Principles of Learning?

How much pressure and how much support?
Requires a skills set of strong influence
Pressure equates with High Expectations
What are the things that will move things forward with the least effort?

How can Instructional Leadership be strengthened?
Establish priorities/goals focused on learning at system level yet allow enough flexibility for schools to address
Develop a sustained improvement agenda
Slow down change to speed up improvement


Mark Walker said...

Lots of great points you make here. I have heard Viviane before and can really relate to her leadership messages particularly around relational trust. I heave just finished reading Sergiovanni's book Strengthening the Heartbeat and he makes the same points and building relational trust be acknowledging the good points and contributions of all teachers for even the less skilled teachers have good points.
Mark Walker

{sue-in-sydney} said...

well summarised, Andrew!!



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