Leadership development within schools
A school is a place for learning, a not-for-profit entity working to provide an education to students led by a Principal.
However, this initial simplistic perception doesn’t capture the whole picture. A school provides a service; education, to a customer; students, and secondary customers; parents and schools build their own distinct communities. The complex environment in which these unique communities operate is ever-changing, involving issues such as increased scrutiny and accountability on learning outcomes, new technologies and a global pandemic. A school is like a business and must adapt and change to meet these complexities.
A Principal like the CEO or MD of any business needs a team behind them to adapt to change and ultimately achieve results. Research has proven successful schools are led by effective leaders who create and sustain high performing cultures by supporting teachers and administrative employees to build their capability and ability. (Elliot & Hollingsworth (2020).
In a school environment the leadership focus is generally on the Principal, however leadership capability should extend further than just the top roles. In any business there needs to be continued development for the identified leadership team as well as an embedded process to identify leaders and commence the development path of future leaders to ensure sustainability.
Holistic leadership development program
A leadership development program must involve more than the traditional one-off training courses on leadership. Learning and development opportunities come in many forms: formal/informal, online/in person, individual/group, internal/external; there is a diverse range of options and tools to utilise and best practice dictates schools that access beyond the education sector will see broader concepts capitalised upon. However, it is crucial that the learning and development is targeted and aligned with the school’s vision and goals to be effective. A holistic leadership development program needs to deliver on the following key questions to ensure effective outcomes are achieved:
- 1. What does ‘exceptional’ leadership look like for our School?
As for the business sector, school communities are diverse, what is valued at one school may not be valued at another. To identify what is exceptional leadership, input from various sectors of the school community including board members and senior leadership should be collated to develop a comprehensive list of leadership competencies valued in the school for now and the future. A gap analysis will then need to be conducted.
- 2. What skills are needed now and in the future?
A leadership development journey cannot commence until there is understanding of each individual’s current capabilities and an assessment of both the individual development requirements. This involves personal self-awareness and self-reflection on capabilities but also importantly feedback from others. A 360 degree survey is a useful tool that can provide a holistic view of the employee (Reviewee) through a process of gathering feedback from managers, subordinates, colleagues and potentially external stakeholders such as students/ parents.
- 3. How do we strengthen behaviours as well as build knowledge and capability?
Once the school’s requirements are recognised and individual development needs identified the leadership development program can be created to target knowledge gaps and cultivate desired leadership behaviours. A program may involve a variety of development options;
- On the job training
- External knowledge experts
- Higher duties
- 4. How do we embed changed leadership behaviours?
Most educators will recognise teaching a new skill without practical application will have minimal chance of success. A holistic leadership development program needs to provide participants with real opportunities to employ their new knowledge, skills and/or capabilities through specific project work, shadowing other employees or being mentored.
- 5. What does success look like?
An integral part of any program must be assessment. Have the program goals been achieved? Are different behaviours being exhibited? There is no perfect one way to assess, a combination of tools is the best approach. The ideal starting point is to have a performance conversation with each individual involving a simple review of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and performance or specific project results to assess and guide performance going forward.
Over a period of time a repeat of the 360 degree survey is a beneficial tool to utilise for quantitative progress results.
In summary the benefits of a leadership development program
A holistic leadership development program within a school may not have an immediate direct impact on the academic success of a child but the indirect benefits will clearly evolve, York-Barr & Duke 2004 identified numerous benefits including;
- Improving teacher engagement and commitment
- Creating a learning environment for all employees (administrative and educational), transfer of knowledge, skill and learning.
- Improving retention and attraction of staff through leadership opportunities
- Demonstrating positive leadership modelling for students.
The leader of a large business has the opportunity to inspire a team of employees, the leader in a school has the opportunity to inspire our next generation of leaders.
WCA People & Culture Solutions has extensive experience in the WA Education sector and broader public and private business arenas.
For a free consultation contact WCA on 08 9383 3293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
 Elliot & Hollingsworth (2020) A case for reimaging school leadership development to enhance coeffective efficiency. Camberwell Australia: Australian Council for Education.
 York-Barr & Duke (2004) What Do We Know About Teacher Leadership? Findings From Two Decades of Scholarship. Review of Educational Research