“Go forth and be bold and be fearless”

I am very privileged to be in my first year as Principal at Wirreanda Secondary School. I am very committed to the improvement journey we have embarked on and the opportunities we can provide our students.  

As we finish the end of Week 6 of Term 1 and take a breath over a long weekend, it’s also an opportunity to review the first 6 weeks and consider where to from here. My first month was marked by communicating with staff, leadership and students with my vision and aspirations as what we can achieve as a team. I have also spent considerable time in classroom, learning and yard areas and am very committed to this as a regular part of my ongoing schedule.

With my leadership team this included exploring concepts around:

A focus on continuous improvement

Intentional Leadership “ If your presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference” Hattie

What they expect from me as their Principal and how they model these expectations in their own leadership.

Quality Teaching and Learning and the impact we have on this as leaders

Wirreanda Secondary School culture and how we impact on this as leaders “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept” David Morrison

Developing, and maintaining High Expectations “High Expectations are the key to everything” Sam Walton

I have included the link to the Google Presentation I initially created in Week 0 and continue to build on this when I work with the Executive Team.

One of the key activities I explored early on with leadership, whole staff, support staff and Governing Council was to ask “What do you expect from me as a leader and the Principal of Wirreanda Secondary School?”. This information was rich and interesting and included a range of different points of view. I plan to revisit this activity mid year when I gather feedback about my performance as Principal of Wirreanda Secondary School.

One of the key points that I focused on is that we are all on this journey together and it’s about building and challenging the capacity of all staff and leaders, including my own, to be exceptional at what we do. I initially termed this as “being accountable” but after some recent conversations with my critical colleague I now call this “shared responsibility”.

I’m confident in the first 6 weeks we have been able to set a clear framework to take our initial steps in doing this. I’m very lucky to have people on my team that are committed and passionate about this journey. The challenge from now is how we build on the start to the year and take new steps from the start of Week 7. How has your start to the year been and how can you build on this?betheleader

“Go forth and be bold and be fearless”

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What do people value most in their Leaders/Principal?

images-1What an end to a crazy but exciting year in 2015! As we finished the school year I was fortunate to spend considerable time transitioning into my new role as Principal of Wirreanda Secondary School from 2016, with great support from mentors and fellow leaders who have had a substantial impact on me in recent years working towards my ambition to be a Principal.

As a classroom teacher I was always very interested in whole school leadership, not because I didn’t want to be in the classroom, but because I was interested about how some leaders undertook their daily work and I was intrigued about how I could eventually have a substantial impact beyond my own classroom and learning area. I have had some fantastic classes and still remain connected with these students today. Moving into my first official Principal role, and all that comes with it, will mean I won’t be teaching from this point onwards.

But in 2016 I move on to a bigger class that I will call my own- the staff, students and community of Wirreanda Secondary School. What an amazing opportunity and I am absolutely dedicated to, and passionate about, being “present” in classrooms and learning communities.

I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what I have learnt about leadership through experiences from mentors, watching a range of leaders, reading and connecting online as to how I take my next steps in the best possible way (I will share some more of this in my next blog post). I have committed myself, and have shared with my team, about the need to focus on what really matters. What really matters is the young people we are responsible for driving their own learning and our continuous improvement journey at Wirreanda Secondary School daily. I am very lucky to be surrounded by leaders that remind me daily of this.

We often read about the impact on Principals, people not wanting to become Principals and how tough our job is. I don’t dispute that we have a tough and challenging job. But what we do have is the greatest job where we work with an amazing range of staff, students and families. I see this next step in my career as an absolute privilege and am excited about the impact I can have as a Principal and what we can achieve together. I look forward to sharing my challenges and successes with you all as a beginning Principal in 2016.

What do people value most in their Leaders/Principal?

Posted in Australian Professional Standards for Principals, Developing self and others, Educational Leadership, Leading improvement, innovation and change, Leading teaching and learning | Tagged , ,

Is developing people our most valuable resource as leaders?

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I was having a conversation recently based around leadership and the various facets of our demanding role as leaders and how much of this should be dedicated if any to developing and line managing other leaders/staff. When I started to think about this more questions than answers started to appear.

As leaders do we forget that people are our most valuable resource? Is it through investing in and developing people that we achieve the successful outcomes that we are driven towards everyday?

The busyness of a day or a term can often prevent leaders from intentionally developing the people or leaders they line manage? What distracts you from investing in and developing your people?

What happens if leaders aren’t good at developing or line managing people? Should leaders just “get on with it” and just do what they are good at even if this isn’t developing leaders? Do we just leave this to the leaders that are good at it?

How do we as leaders move ahead with purpose to get the best from our teams?

Can we actually lead change in our roles if we don’t invest in developing leaders or staff we line manage? Can you be a good leader if you don’t spend time developing your people/leaders?

The best leaders (line managers) develop people and develop other leaders.

They create clear expectations and celebrate achievement

They frequently provide feedback

They are able to articulate and develop a clear and shared vision

As leaders in a team we are all very different and with good reason. If a team was full of goal hungry forwards we may not have much team success on the field. We all have a role to play and we all have our own approach as leaders but an intentional approach towards investing in developing our leaders is needed by all. Developing leaders and staff that we line manage is such a positive and substantial investment in what we work to achieve everyday, whether it be small steps or large goals. It also doesn’t just happen accidentally and is one of the hardest skills to develop.

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Making your role your own

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The end of a school term is always a great time to reflect on our achievements across the year so far, some areas for improvement and our individual growth as leaders and educators.

This year has been a busy year at our site with numerous leaders taking leave across the past two terms and more to come. This has been an exceptional time of growth and challenge for myself and others. I stepped into a new role for an extended period of time whilst others joined our admin team.

It’s always an interesting experience to move into an acting role that somebody else does very well and whom is very well respected. For me, the most crucial advice I took into this new role was to “put my own spin on it”.

As I progressed over the last two terms I was exposed to so many more challenges as a whole school leader that I never considered would dominate my time. As a leader, my satisfaction gained from these situations was not about these problems going away or finding a quick fix, but about slowly moving through these challenges whilst at the same time building a strong team that was on the same page. Whilst at times slowly working through problems was a challenge, it also reminded me of why we do what we do each day and enjoy it. Leadership is never meant to be easy, otherwise everybody would do it! I am very fortunate to be surrounded by fellow leaders that push and challenge me to be a better leader and the benefit of the last few terms has been the ability to participate in conversations where we have been willing and comfortable to challenge each other and push our thinking even further. This has been a crucial part of some of the movement I have had as a leader in creating real change, even in very small steps.

My greatest challenge and excitement has been moving into a new leadership space and being driven to further develop some framework and long term plans around the development of our leadership team and what the nature of a team really is. Unexpectedly, I ended my time with more questions than answers, which has left me even hungrier to continue this work. Questions around intentionality as a leader, developing teams with Gen Y & X leaders, developing leaders with different passions/clarity of vision and the complexity of building a high performing team consisting of supportive people open to being challenged and pushed. I would hope that during my time I have managed to make the role my own and have managed to impact across a number of areas in some way.

What does the concept of TEAM mean to you?

Are you surrounded by people that challenge you and push you?

 

 

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What really matters?

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I have been very fortunate over the last week to spend time both with teachers and leaders from KanthalakWittaya School; a public school in the province of Sisaket Thailand not far from the Thailand-Cambodian border. I have been welcomed not only into their large school (4000 students) and staff but also into their families and their homes.

It has been an absolutely amazing experience both professionally and personally. As I sit and write, I wonder where to begin in sharing my experience from the last week.

The way of life in Thailand, and thus also in their schools, is so very different and refreshing. Yes they do run on ‘Thai’ time, but most often are running late simply from extending their lunch break to ensure they spend quality time with each other talking and celebrating what has occurred across their day. Eating and sharing meals is such a normal part of their day, not because they like to eat (yes they do enjoy their food and I was given numerous ‘interesting’ dishes to try) but because they use food as an opportunity to share and socialise with the people they value in their lives. I was whole heartedly welcomed into their daily lives and had the opportunity to sit and talk with so many passionate teachers eager to learn and share with me.

The staff and students I spent time with had such a strong sense of community within their school and were so driven to achieve the best they could on a daily basis. One of the most powerful conversations I had during the week was with some senior students (our Yr 12s in SA). They sat and asked me lots of questions about school in Australia and students their age but also spoke very articulately in broken English about their drive to be successful and get into University. The majority of students from this school come from very poor homes, but spoke very highly of their teachers and the impact they have on their learning. One of the male students talked about how he knows that his teachers care about him and how he loves that his teachers are always trying to learn new things to share with students.

Schools in Thailand are still very traditional with wooden desks and chairs in rows. There were only some classrooms with air conditioners or fans at the most. Teachers still use chalk boards and in a school of 4000 there was one main computer hub with 10 computers. They are offered no professional development opportunities or time for this and were enthralled when we began to discuss professional development and the concept of PLC’s.

As teachers, leaders and students in Australia we are so very lucky to teach and learn within the schools and systems that we do. Yes the school that I spent time in has minimal technology, no bundles of Ipod Touches, no iPad trolleys, no projectors, no debating what devices to buy next etc. But what they did have is worth so much more than any of these wizz bang devices that we throw into our schools.

What they do have is amazing relationships with their students and with each other, an absolute drive to learn new things and share this with their students and a real and genuine sense of community and being. I went over to Thailand to share my skills and knowledge with teachers at KanthalakWittaya School- I leave with so much more than they have given me both professionally and personally. I spent time at the end of 2013 trying to figure out what would drive my work as a leader going into the 2014 school year. Our impact is not marked or remembered by new learning spaces or shiny devices but rather by the relationships we build and maintain and the opportunities we provide students and educators to excel and achieve within a genuine community.

Thank you to my friends at KanthalakWittaya School for reminding me about what really matters.

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Posted in Developing self and others, Engaging and working with the community, Leading teaching and learning | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Is it really innovation?

CC licensed by Celestine Chua Flickr

CC licensed by Celestine Chua Flickr

Improvement in our schools is not the same thing as Innovation. Truly successful and innovative schools have not simply just improved. As we launch into the development of an “Innovative Learning Hub” at our school I have thought often about the concept of innovation and what this actually means.

As we head towards a new school year in 2014 I wonder what the key word for the year will be in education. The term innovation has featured heavily over the last few and I know I’m probably one of many that has been guilty of defaulting to use the term “innovative” without truly thinking about how or what is actually innovative about what we have, are doing or want to do across the site I currently lead in, or as myself as a leader.

A number of sites and leaders talk about themselves as being “innovative” but are these sites or programs really innovative?

An improvement that simply catches up to what ‘other schools are doing’ that is reactive or simply playing catch up is not innovation even though some schools have done an amazing job at improving and doing this. I don’t want to lead within a program or school that simply does what other schools are doing. I want other schools to look at us and aim somewhere towards what we have done and what we are doing across the site.

If we are just improving things and this is not much different from the school down the road this doesn’t revolutionise anything. It’s just an improvement. Creating something that can be easily copied or easily attained by any other school or program is not innovation.

Within the programs I lead and the people I work with I want us to work towards creating and developing something that results in a unique outcome and sets a high bar for other schools, leaders, teachers and students to aspire to.

If you use the term innovation as a leader quite often, is it truly innovative?

Stay tuned for exciting updates on the “Innovative Learning Hub” @WirreandaHS (Wirreanda High School)!

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Innovation or Improvement?

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cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by hyoin min

I have been thinking lately about improvement in our schools and that if everybody was working daily to improve, how great the impact would be on our students and staff and how as a leader I can directly impact on this in my own site for 2014.

This was prompted by a conversation I had a while ago with a colleague about innovation and improvement after seeing Vivian Robinson present at ACEL 2013 and tweeting some questions and comments from this.  We were discussing whether everybody should be expected to be innovative. I initially responded with of course they should be, everybody should be thinking outside the square to provide unique and positive experiences and outcomes to our students. But this conversation challenged and changed my initial response to this.

Expecting people to be Innovative is not going to make them Innovative.

In a large staff with a wide range of skills, personalities, ages and experiences beyond teaching, is it reasonable to expect everybody to be innovative? What I did take from this conversation is that it’s not about expecting people to be innovative, it’s about improvement. What’s reasonable I think is that we all work towards improvement on a daily basis, perhaps then we can push towards leaders and teachers thinking outside the square.

How do we as leaders develop an environment in our schools where leaders and teachers driving their own improvement and development is just the norm?

Is improvement impossible if people are not willing or able to self reflect? How do we encourage a culture where we question ourselves, question others and push ourselves to be the best that we can be?

How do you as a leader model self reflection, positive questioning and a genuine drive for improvement?

Improvement is not innovation. Innovation is much more but improvement needs to occur for innovation to even be considered or pushed in our schools.  As leaders it’s imperative that we model what we expect and aspire to see across all leaders and teachers in our sites. Part of my reflection across the break will certainly consist of how I model this as a leader and directly impact on this for the 2014 school year.

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