ACT schools are currently undergoing a great deal of change as they continue to implement Every Chance to Learn and ensure that they are covering the Essential Learning Achievements through their school curriculum. The introduction of the Quality Teaching Model in the ACT has lead to a further period of transition as schools determine how this will inform school practices. Our schools go through cycles of change as we modify practices in line with the requirements of school and system. Effective leadership is required in order to meet the challenge of change.
The ACT Department of Education has recognised the need to enhance the capability of our aspiring leaders in these changing times. In response they have designed a new School Leadership Framework and are supporting aspiring leaders through the Targeted Scholarship Program and through their own Leading to Leadership Program.
In preparing this report I considered my own experiences alongside contemporary research and the new capabilities outlined in the School Leadership Framework.
Unity of Head and Heart
Today's educational leader needs to develop essential characteristics of both the head and the heart. With the head, the leader takes responsibility for deepening knowledge, creating vision, strategising, organizing people and resources and reflecting upon growth and learning. With the heart, the leader takes responsibility for connecting, communicating, inspiring and supporting others. These traits are necessary for guiding the school community in building and sustaining an enriching learning environment.
Traits of the Head
In The Fifth Discipline (1994), Peter Senge outlines three key elements for improving the growth of learning organisations:
- Aspiration – which involves Personal Mastery (the commitment to lifelong learning and improvement through reflection and adaptation) and Shared Vision (the development and communication of a shared vision for the future and a plan for aspiring to it).
- Reflective Conversation – which involves Mental Models (reflecting thoroughly on and questioning our deeply rooted images and ideas about the world) and Team Learning (dialogue that brings out an intellect unachievable by separate individuals).
- Understanding Complexity – which involves Systems Thinking (the ability to understand the way systems work and use advantageously).
Today's leader needs to be knowledgeable in current research, principles of education and system priorities. Such knowledge informs the design of a school vision and a strategy for school development. It is vital to keep abreast of contemporary discussion around educational issues in order to maintain relevance to the changing needs of students and society as a whole. A wise educational leader will determine which trends are of most significance and pour appropriate time and people power into these endeavours. Without knowledge and understanding, the educational leader lacks appropriate direction and accountability.
Educational leaders need to engage in regular reflection both on their own practices as a leader and also the effectiveness of the school community in meeting the needs of the students. This is done through the regular School Review process, Principal Appraisal, Professional Pathways and other in-school reflection processes. National testing provides one means of examining the strengths of a school's educational program and with appropriate reflection, leaders can use this information as a guide for change.
Traits of the Heart
In recent years there has been a greater emphasis placed on the social-emotional capacity required for leadership. In their research, Goleman (1998) and his colleagues found that while IQ is a factor in determining what vocation a person obtains, EQ (emotional intelligence) plays a significant role in determining whether that person becomes a leader within that vocation. Goleman extrapolates that emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills – are essential traits particularly in the highest ranks of leadership.
Generally speaking, these are traits of the heart. They require a greater capacity for understanding self, a passion for the work and an ability to work effectively with and respond to the needs of others.
Leadership from the heart begins with a genuine care and concern for the individuals in the community. In creating a learning community, people need to be able to come together and experience learning and growth in a supportive environment. It is the responsibility of school leaders to connect with people in the school community and also develop partnerships beyond the school walls. They will see the skills brought to the community through its many members and will encourage and support people to use and develop these.
Leaders who demonstrate a passion for their work inspire others, and with the right nourishment and guidance the community will work in solidarity towards the school vision. A wise leader will consider the positions and concerns of others within the school community and guide them through the transition period when change is required.
As demonstrated here, there are many traits that are essential for effective educational leadership. Contemporary ideas have expanded to include not only traits of the head, but also traits of the heart. A unity of these elements is required for the development and growth of an enriching learning organisation. The ACT Department of Education and Training has included these elements in their new School Leadership Framework. With any hope, this will lead to the development of a new form of leader with the necessary skills to guide schools through learning and change in the future.
List of References
ACT Department of Education and Training, School Leadership Framework
Goleman, D (1998) What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, 1998.
Senge, P (1994) The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday, New York