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NESLI Leaders in Action: Merrick Brewer​

Merrick Brewer has been a teacher for over twenty years. Since completing the Leading Teachers Colloquium he has focused on driving performance within his team, and with great results.

For over twenty years I have been a teacher. I am passionate about extending thinking, especially encouraging and leading students to uncover what it is they are passionate about. To me, that is the most important job a teacher has.

As teachers, I think we all want our students to discover their flow, which is a concept penned by Hungarian psychologist, Mihali Csíkszentmihályi. It is when they find the motivation and strength of focus to really learn something.

I am currently the Head of Learning and Teaching in a school servicing the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. This is a relatively new position which requires me to deal with driving innovation and change across my team. I have relished the challenges that this role has brought and have been constantly learning how to ensure positive outcomes in performance management and curriculum development.

As a leader of a team, and now a whole school, I have to ensure that each team member is performing in a manner that is enabling us to achieve our mission. I must also ensure that I am driving the team's performance.

One of the key elements of the Leading Teachers Colloquium that resonated with me was this notion of driving performance.

Prior to the Colloquium, performance based discussions were really difficult for me. As a relational person, I often found it uncomfortable conducting performance-related conversations aimed at bringing about positive growth. I often complained to my coach that I was misunderstood, as my directives were often interpreted as suggestions. I am much more confident in my approach to these conversations now. 

Within the area of driving performance, we also tackled the idea of SBI (situation, behaviour, impact) which I have since used relentlessly with pleasing success. This tool serves to take the emotions from situations that need addressing. It then diverts the focus to behaviour and next the impact that this behaviour can have on me as a leader, or the team. Once respondents have been awakened to the impact of their actions, whether perceived or real, there is room to move forward by seeking to outline some form of response or action.

It is easy to overlook issues of underperformance. Often, we rationalise that the impact may not be that serious or that others may forget it after a few days. Now that I have a broader range of tools in my leadership-toolkit, I have an increased confidence to bring these areas to light and to walk away with a sense of positive resolve. Not only has the respondent had the opportunity to share their perception, but they also have a better understanding of the impact of their behaviour on the team.

As a result of the Colloquium, I have been reminded of the need to be more observant of the undercurrents that serve to undermine the team and distract us from achieving our mission. As these issues are illuminated, I can choose to address these in a way that leads to more positive outcomes. If a team member is struggling to meet expectations, I now make sure that I have a conversation that is based on the SBI model and we leave with a simple course of action.

When we consider the pressures that are being placed on school leaders to grow positive teams and to lead innovation and change, there is often the assumption that we can instantly fix things as needed. However, after completing the program, I feel I have so much more insight to draw upon when a situation arises. I have constantly referred to the NESLI handbook in search of strategies and prompts to assist in those times when I have needed some further guidance.

I feel very privileged to have undertaken the Colloquium as I was sponsored by my school. As a life-long learner, I soak up any opportunity to grow.

Merrick Brewer is a teacher at St Andrews Christian College in Melbourne. He completed NESLI's Leading Teachers Colloquium.

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