Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Principal, The Leader, The Teacher


I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers, leaders, principals and their specific roles in the context of growing accountability and the pressure to extend their impact beyond the growth of their students to the success of an entire education system. Today we are asking way too much of all those in the career of educating students. How can society expect individual teachers to effectively perform in already highly demanding positions? It is a complex system of curriculum, pastoral, technological, socio-cultural, economic and political demands. All these demands of the present in order to meet the possible requirements of the future. Then to be questioned why the education of our students isn’t ranked as ‘best-performing’ in the world. I have concerns about ranking countries, schools and students as each context is unique. It is vital to identify, acknowledge and accept the importance of 'context'. Schools are ever-changing and continuously challenging, with mastery of all demands of the present in order to meet the possible requirements of the future, being an illusion.

The Principal 
I personally do not know many educators who aspire to be Principals. I wonder if it is because in the Australia of 2018 they need to masters of so many areas. Knowledgeable and experience in various areas, such as-
  • curriculum
  • instruction
  • assessment
  • data
  • student wellbeing
  • teacher wellbeing
  • legal obligations
  • policies & procedures
  • technology
  • community relations and consultation
  • effective and ethical governance structures


These are represented professionally and to great depth in the Professional Standards for Principals. The expectations and the qualities of a principal in a rural school would need to be aligned with the needs of that school. I question how contextualised experiences can prepare a leader in one school to become a principal in another. I’m not saying it isn’t possible but providing better support for those who want to become a principal appears to be lacking. This should become a priority when reviewing our education system. In the ideal situation, all aspiring leaders would be given opportunities to explore these ‘generic’ leadership skills whilst also developing a mindset that allows them to lead in a significantly different cultural context. Or should people only ever aspire to teach in similar schools throughout their career?

The Leader
I have blogged about 'Looking for Leadership', and in my role as professional learning coach, many people have asked for advice. After several years of classroom practise (or perhaps sooner), educators often ask should they-
  1. Complete a Master in Educational Leadership
  2. Become accredited as a Highly Accomplished Teacher or LEAD Teacher
  3. Move schools in the hope that someone may leave or that a leadership position may open up
  4. Apply to non-school based education organisations

New roles are being created each year in schools and in my opinion, these roles are being created because teachers need more support. They can't be experts in all areas. A Master in Education postgraduate degree will cost approximately $26 000. With the aim of increasing knowledge, most teachers take 3-4 years to complete their Masters. The cost and the time could create additional stress for full-time classroom teachers. There are some key aspects of modern school leadership that these credentials address (e.g. organisational psychology and relevant legal frameworks/expectations) but, as with all credentials, simply completing the course does not a leader make.

Regarding Highly Accomplished Teacher accreditation, I have learnt from others that the average educator takes between 2-5 years to complete and the success rate is around 50%. Apparently, there are currently there are about 470 HAT & Lead teachers in Australia. The remuneration for becoming accredited varies between sectors. In my opinion, many of the descriptors for HAT & Lead require you to have a leadership opportunity to collect evidence. By creating specific projects, I know of one school that provides opportunities for their staff to do this. I wonder if every school is in a position to accomplish this? Some may hope that becoming accredited at this level will open more leadership opportunities. Although, my understanding of the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher accreditation is to keep high quality teachers in the classroom. 
For these HATs and Leads to be fully utilised in a school context (and to maintain their accreditation) they’d need a role that allows them to affect the practice of other educators either at their school (HAT) or beyond their school (Lead) in a wide variety of areas. Will this mean a splitting of pedagogical and administrative roles between HATs/Leads (pedagogical) and Heads of Department (administrative) within the same Stage or subject area? What is the most effective approach for educators to develop as leaders? 

The Teacher
In my role, I support teachers completing accreditation and at times, I question if the process is taking valuable time away from their teaching for the sake of a administrative process. As accreditation is linked to a band/salary increase, teachers and their supervisors experience an increased workload and additional pressure. With higher expectations, many schools are electing to have an accreditation supervisory role. In the NESA system, the accreditation levels are Proficient and Highly Accomplished/Lead but in the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), there is an Experienced Teacher level that sits in-between. All 37 Experienced Teacher standards need to be demonstrated with documented evidence, annotations, reports, references and mandatory observations. I have blogged about my 'Global Accreditation' processes of ‘jumping through hoops’ in different countries and sectors. Ideally, accreditation should reflect the authentic teaching and the learning moments that happen in the classroom. The process should be centred on teacher growth. Does the outcome of the process for the individual, their supervisor, the school and the system justify the time and effort the process requires? How can we support teacher growth most effectively? 

I recently read an article about how teachers suffer from 'unsustainable' administrative demands. I’m not surprised, as I have asked various teachers why left the classroom. Some left education entirely, while some left the classroom for leadership roles. According to many, the constant demands were never ending. If we want teachers to stay in education and the classroom, we need to provide more support (eg. coaching and mentoring) and remove ineffective processes or design more effective processes that support teacher improvement. 


I have read and commented on Gonski 2.0 Report, which made some recommendations. I personally focused on Chapter 3: Creating, supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators, as it pertains more to my role. My three key takeaways from this chapter were -

1. Be innovative in ways to find more time for teachers to develop their capacity and work more collaboratively.
2. An online progress report is be developed and formative assessment needs to be valued and implemented more within the classroom.
3. Embedding professional collaboration in everyday teaching practice-peer observation, feedback, coaching, mentoring, team-teaching, and joint research projects.

With the Gonski Report and NSW reviewing the curriculum, a complete overhaul of Australia’s education system appears highly likely. For this to be successful, it is vital to include the voices of all those in the education system. Principals, leaders and teachers need to be heard as they are at the forefront. Often, they are not consulted in depth or included in many of the educational decisions made. We need to work together as one with a collective purpose. 

Always asking questions..


@stringer_andrea


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