When I was a baby teacher a syndicate leader was the person that organised you, checked on you, turned out the unit plan you all followed and stuck up for and fought for their team at management meetings. Anything to get the better resources or better timetable slots or the best non contact times or whatever was big currency in the school of the moment. When I became a team leader in my sixth year of teaching that is exactly what I was told my job was. But that was nearly 20 years ago and thankfully many schools do not have the same thinking any more.
This is not what we want or need from our senior or middle leaders in education and schools today.
Firstly we want leaders of learning not organisational or administrating managers. We do not need our leaders to organise resources and we definitely do not want our leaders to do the planning for their teams and hand it over to them
As Cheryl Doig stated in a ULearn presentation I attended a few years ago: “Doing the thinking for other people is not just a waste of our own time it also gets in the way of other people working out the right answers.”
At TKAS, even though we are a relatively small school we are lucky to have an excellent full-time Office Manager/Leadership PA who takes full responsibility for finance, administration, property and generic personnel tasks.
As a Principal while I maintain an overall responsibility for oversight of these important tasks, I do not complete any of them on a day to day o even week to week basis. I have worked alongside our highly skilled office manager and given her the skills, experience and confidence to do these tasks. This allows me to lead learning and focus on that full time.
This year while we are teaching within learning communities loosely based on ages we are also intending to be flexible with this. For example our Year 2-5 students will be learning in one community for their inquiry and skills based learning and our Year 6-13 students in another community. However for the passion experiences part of our programme (to be explained in a future blogpost) the Year 6-7 learners will work alongside the Year 2-5 learners to begin with. We see this becoming more and more flexible and individualised as the year goes on. We also want to see our immersion and mainstream learners mix things up together as well, as we believe both groups of learners will benefit from this.
To make this work we need to plan together. Accordingly we have not nominated any leaders to be leading our learning communities and we will plan all together as a teaching team of 16 once a week. Teacher aides, and other support staff are always invited to attend our planning sessions too.
There is a lot of writing and discussion these days about distributed leadership and flattened leadership structures.
But as with curriculum reforms often this results in “tweaking” with current structures rather than completely throwing out the current system and starting again. So this year we have thrown out our previous leadership structures and are trying something new.
Our leaders are going to lead cross school teams based on the things we have identified as integral to our learning programme being implemented as rigorously as possible. Teams such as Futures Focus, Inquiry learning, Passion Experiences, Restorative Practice and Whanau Engagement have been formed and contain members from across the school. These are the teams our team leaders will lead, and other teachers and support staff will be part of. This means there will be a constant cross pollination throughout the school for everyone. Everyone will be responsible for the learning and achievement of all learners, there will not be an overall responsibility placed on one person.
We have a coordination team of six leaders who have been learning community leaders in the past who will meet for a day once every three weeks. (We are only timetabling three weeks ahead at a time- again the focus of an upcoming blogpost.) This team will monitor the personalisation of our programmes and look at things like achievement results across the school. The entire team will look at SEA and 6 year net results as well as NCEA results. We will operate as a team without specific responsibilities for areas of the school. We will all be responsible for knowing about the learning of all learners.
We then have another set of identified teachers who are supporting leaders and are being grown into their leadership roles. Upcoming leaders are identified by their attitudes and skills relative to the philosophies of the school- not their years of service. This has always been a strongly stated philosophy of appointment in our four years of being a school. We have had in the past and again do have this year some teachers at or near the beginning of their teaching careers who are being given opportunities to develop as leaders because they understand, subscribe to and support everything we aim for as a school, and something valuable to offer the leadership of our school.
We are aiming for sustainability of practice. We are a small isolated school and we don't want to be caught out when we have staff leave as they inevitably will. We are working to build internal secession so the philosophy and vision of the school is held to with integrity regardless of individual staff members. We don't want to fall into silos of syndicates or departments that become competitive with each other for resources or successes.
Stoll and Fink (1996) identified the key elements of an effective culture which positively influence school improvement.
Shared goals – we know where we are going
Responsibility for success – we must succeed
Collegiality – we are working on this together
Continuous improvement – we can get better
Lifelong learning – learning is for everyone
Risk taking – we learn by trying something new
Support – there’s always someone there to help
Mutual respect – everyone has something to offer
Openness – we can discuss our differences
Celebration and humour – we feel good about ourselves
These are the things we hope to see this year partly hrough implementing a truly distributed flattened leadership structure where as an entire team we all take responsibility for the success of all learners.
It is both exciting and scary because no-one can rely on what they have done before as a leader, or what their leaders before them have done.
We are forging our own pathway, but together as a team.