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Why educational leadership development can fail and what to about it​

It is undeniable that quality educational leadership is vital for a school’s future, and it is exciting to see more schools investing in staff development in this area. But what does a leadership program need in order to succeed? And why do so many fall short of the mark?

Aside from the obvious need for quality, research based content, there are two important elements needed for an educational leadership development program to be truly successful: it must be holistic and more than anything, it must be contextualised. Without careful consideration and application of these two elements, there is no point to it at all.  

A holistic model

School hierarchies have changed substantially since the administrative top-down styles of yesteryear. They no longer rely on principals and their respective assistants to manage changes like they used to. This means that many more people within a school need to have leadership qualities, including middle-band staff, heads of departments and so on. And we are not talking about your run-of-the-mill delegation responsibilities either.

A holistic approach to leadership development means understanding that no amount of comprehension of leadership theory can make you a leader.  Leadership is a process. Like anything, it takes time and significant focus to get right. Outside of understanding leadership concepts, it also requires emotional courage and self-reflection.

In essence, learning to lead holistically in a school is about three key areas:

  • Your work skills and your knowledge of the job
  • Your inter-personal skills and how you communicate with others
  • Your ability to understand yourself.

Self-knowledge is the single most important ingredient to developing yourself as an educational leader. It must be a key focus in leadership development, alongside sound pedagogy.

Context

Schools are complex beings. They each have their own social ecosystem that can take considerable time and preparation to understand. Although reforms to education policy and standardised testing methods are a reality for all of us, how these changes are discussed, navigated and implemented can change drastically from school to school, for so many different reasons. Therefore, it is important that any leadership development is made relevant to individual teachers and their own professional environment.  

A simple and effective way of keeping leadership development practical and relevant is having teacher-led discussions that contextualise learning. Participants framing leadership pedagogy around real, practical experiences is hugely beneficial.

By integrating leadership theory into your working life, you are also much more likely to make real behavioural change. Which is the most important thing.

A primary school classroom
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National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative, NESLI
Level 3, 607 Bourke Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia

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Email: info@NESLI.org
Web: NESLI.org

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