2020 in review

It’s funny to think about the start of 2020 now, isn’t it?After one of the hottest summers on record, Australian teachers went back to the classroom with lesson plans, camps booked in and a few excursions and incursions to look forward to. After the black summer we had endured, we welcomed our students, parents and the wider school community back through the gates for another year of learning, growing, laughing and developing as a whole, relieved that the worst seemed to be over.Here at NESLI, we were excitedly planning events, developing new programs for school leaders across the globe, and looking forward to continuing to support school leaders at all stages of their career, as they in turn supported the school community.However, by March, students (and teachers) were being sent home across the country, and the around the globe. Some only for a couple of weeks, some for a month, and for students and teachers in Victoria, for almost half the year. Lesson plans designed for face-to-face lessons went out the window, excursions and incursions got put on hold and camps were cancelled in a year I think we can all be truly grateful is a ‘once in a lifetime’ event.Teachers were working in unprecedented circumstances and having to adapt so quickly from face-to-face to online instruction, a pivot that was nothing short of heroic on their part. There was more pressure on teachers’ time, energy and resources than ever before. Something we noticed at NESLI while facilitating leadership development programs during this time was the importance of ensuring that teachers had peer-to-peer and wellbeing support. While this could be found in their own school environment, having contact and support from people outside of their school community was often also beneficial. Despite the extra support we were able to provide, our surveys confirmed what we had observed; teacher wellbeing declined during this time.However, one bright light in this time was the calls from many different groups in society to finally recognise, appreciate and celebrate the role of teachers, school staff and school leaders. It was long overdue, but finally, it seems that the crucial role that teachers play is finally being recognised.Post lockdown, things began to get back to something resembling normal for some states and territories, much quicker than others. We noticed a marked sense of relief from teachers, school leaders and school staff at NESLI, as one by one, people got back to school. For Victoria, the reprieve was brief, before they went into a hard second lockdown. While teacher wellbeing is gradually increasing to pre-pandemic levels, there is still a long way to go. The leaders we have the privilege of developing and supporting have done a magnificent job of supporting their school community, and we are proud to support them in turn.As always, we looked for opportunities to support teachers, school leaders, school staff and school communities across the globe. A bright light for NESLI this year is the opportunity to partner with the Association of International Schools Africa, who are giving 80 of their member schools the opportunity to undertake the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit with NESLI. Locally, we have continued to work with many long time partners to support their staff internally.Looking forward to 2021, we are crossing our fingers that everyone was right when they labelled COVID-19 a ‘once in a lifetime’ event. We are hoping that people will continue to remember the incredible work and sacrifice that school communities made to ensure that kids were able to continue learning, growing and developing during a pandemic. We look forward to having the opportunity to support more teachers and school leaders to improve their wellbeing and develop their leadership skills. And we trust that we will get to see you all, in person, at some point during the course of the year.A very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all.

New AISA partnership sees NESLI Staff Wellbeing Toolkit rolled out in Africa

The National Excellence in Schools Leadership Institute (NESLI) is proud to share that the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is being made available to 80 schools in Africa, as part of a new partnership with the Association of International Schools Africa (AISA).Teachers and staff from participating independent schools in Africa will benefit from completing the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit over the next two years. AISA will be facilitating group sessions for teachers and school staff undertaking the program, as an add-on component to the online learning experience. It is anticipated that over 300 teachers will benefit from this program.Chanel Worsteling, AISA’s Child Protection and Wellbeing Programme Manager, said of the partnership; “The Staff Wellbeing Toolkit provided us with an evidenced- based wellbeing programme that we could offer our schools immediately. COVID-19 caused tremendous disruption and stress to all our member schools, placing a great deal of strain on our school leaders and educators. Being able to offer a flexible programme that could meet the diverse needs of our schools at an affordable price was an advantage of this programme over others that we assessed.”Antony Maxwell, Director of Learning and Development at NESLI, said of the partnership; “We are delighted to be partnering with AISA and are proud to be able to assist their member schools to increase the health and wellbeing of their staff.“Teachers and members of staff in a school community do amazing work, particularly given the immense challenges they face in the classroom. Surveys in Australia and more broadly across the globe consistently show drop in teacher and staff wellbeing in schools. NESLI’s Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is designed to give teachers the extra support and skills they need.”The Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is designed to enable teachers and staff to bolster their health and wellbeing by building their resilience, wellness practice and social capital. The toolkit was developed with educational leaders and experts, in recognition of the fact that globally, teacher health and wellbeing is declining dramatically. The Toolkit has been delivered to teachers across Australia and New Zealand, Finland and the US.You can find out more about the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit here.

I don’t have time to talk about the environment in my class!

Then don’t plan separate activities, simply make sustainability a common thread in your lessons, says Anick Chouinard, Program Convenor (and green warrior) at Griffith College in Queensland.

You know your values, but what about the people you work with?

Values are a very personal, important thing to a lot of us. Ensuring that we both know our values, and are true to them, is incredibly important- particularly for leaders who are aiming to be authentic.However, how do you know that your values are coming through in your actions and are demonstrable to the people you lead? It can be hard to step out of your own actions, thoughts and feelings and instead think about how others perceive you. One of the ways we tackle this in our leadership programs at WLA is to look at the front and the back of our T-Shirt.The premise of the model is that you take the front of your T shirt, and write your values down. They might be things like honestly, equality, trust, calmness, fairness- the list goes on. Then you think about your actions, and HOW you lead. What actions do you take, what response do you give, what is your tone of voice, your body language? And then you ask the question; what would the people I lead, see on the back of my T shirt?As you walk away from these interactions, if the people you lead had the opportunity to guess your values and put them on the back of your T Shirt, what would they write? Would they match the front of your T Shirt? Would some of them match? None of them?Of course, you can never really know. But it is a useful lens to view your past actions through, and also an impactful tool for planning actions, decisions and interactions that come up during the day. Activities like open ended ‘walk and talk’ sessions with people you work with can also help you to find out how your actions are perceived, if you create a space where you are comfortable to ask the question and your colleague or friend is comfortable to give a truthful answer.Being an authentic leader is so important. Authentic, consistent leaders create a culture of trust, honesty and openness, leading to increased team cohesion and better wellbeing for your team members. Taking the time to ensure that your actions match the front of your t-shirt gives you and your team confidence that you lead with integrity.

Books

Wellbeing tips for leaders

Wellbeing was already a big challenge for teachers before 2020. And when a pandemic hit, the entire profession for thrown into further disarray.Now, education has become a push and pull issue between economists, epidemiologists and politicians, as they try to find a compromise between safety, economic security getting kids back into the classroom as quickly as possible.The pressures on teachers have been magnified 1000x times and seeking help is more complicated than ever. The feedback we are getting from teachers and school leaders in our programs is that there is pressure from all sides. It’s exhausting, frankly. These wellbeing tips are designed to be a bridging solution for until things settle down.1. Establish a sleep routine. We know this seems basic, but in the midst of a pandemic, all sense of time and place seems to have more or less gone out the window. If you have slipped into some unhelpful sleeping patterns, or simply disposed of routine all together, try your hand at getting into a good one.According to sleep experts, adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Things like limiting screen time before bed, turning the lights down and reading something that isn’t backlit or work related is a good way to encourage your body to start producing melatonin.2. Speaking of tech, turn off your emails We all have that one parent who thinks they can email at all hours of the night and expects a response asap. Update your email signature with your work hours and once those have passed, turn off your work email notifications and screen parent calls. You aren’t getting paid to mediate homework issues at 8 pm at night, so don’t.3. During the day, reconnect with your purpose We all know that one of the rewards of being a leader is seeing great outcomes for your students. Not only academic outcomes but also seeing them enjoy their learning. Try to find an opportunity each day to do an activity that you know they will really enjoy- it will be good for you and them.4. Connect with your peers It can be hard to explain to someone who isn’t a teacher, the challenges that come with it. Find 20 minutes one night a week to jump on a zoom with a few peers from other schools. Share your best and worst of the week, toss around some ideas and have a general chat. Not only is this connection good for you socially, but it can be comforting to know that other people are having similar challenges to you. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to help and support other leaders as well.5. Build up your emotional resilienceBeing proactive about looking after your physical and mental health can increase your resilience in tough times. Free yoga classes and meditation programs are rife at the moment. If you are in Victoria, you can also access up to 20 sessions with a registered counsellor or psychologist under temporary changes to the mental health care plans.Putting aside time on the weekend to do something you really enjoy is a good way to make sure you have something to look forward to. Sometimes, it’s the little things that help. 

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The digital learning ecosystem that's transforming school leadership

NESLI's powerful digital learning ecosystem is transforming school leadership across Australia by connecting school leaders at disconnected and remote schools into virtual communities of learning.

K-12 teachers, principals, deputy principals and school administrators from some of the most regional and rural schools in the country are now actively collaborating, networking and learning with peers in a dedicated professional practice environment, without having to leave their own school environment.

NESLI's learning ecosystem is designed to improve school leadership practices and create a pipeline for the next generation of educational leaders.

Glenys Maguire, Assistant Principal of the Secondary School at Wudinna Area School is one of many regional participants who have benefited from the NESLI learning system. The school is located 600km north-west of Adelaide, but Ms Maguire was able to successfully participate and complete the Deputy Principals Leadership Colloquium, a twelve month program that focuses on the critical dimensions of effective school leadership.

“In remote South Australia, leaders of my level would get together twice a year at best, and isolation can be a real problem. NESLI’s digital tools meant that I had 24/7 online access to my peers. The staff were knowledgeable, provided excellent examples and engaged the different thoughts and perspectives of people in the program. I was able to implement the learnings into my daily work activities, and I got so much out of it that I suggested that our other Assistant Principal undertake the program, which she is now doing.”

According to Josh Valeri, Director of Professional Learning at NESLI, the key to success lies in a real understanding of the restraints that remote school professionals work within, and a willingness to help them overcome traditional barriers to access.

“Feelings of isolation and overwhelm are regularly reported problems for school teachers, administrators and principals, and these are intensified in regional and remote areas. In designing our learning ecosystem we used this as our starting point. We wanted to provide much more than just smart academic thinking.

“We decided to create a professional development tool that helped participants feel connected and supported, rather than stressed out and isolated, and the results have been phenomenal,” he said.

Along with synchronous webinar meetings, NESLI’s established online learning practice includes video, animation, quizzes, written/recorded submissions, real-time feedback, participant-generated discussion forums and peer coaching frameworks.

“What we’ve been able to achieve is really remarkable,” said Mr Valeri. “We’ve created a situation where the school leaders of today and tomorrow are able to improve their leadership skills and connect with other K-12 professionals to discuss things that are important to them.

“Aside from getting world-class professional leadership training, we see a lot of participants talking to each other on topics such as how can they become better instructional leaders, how they performance manage in a school, or how they can be a better strategic leader. In an era when many school principals and leaders are feeling stressed and alone, this is a win-win situation,” he added.

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