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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NESLI LEADERS IN ACTION: MERILYN BURTON

Merilyn Burton talks about her career journey and how NESLI helped her on her path to becoming a principal through the Advanced Leadership Program.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I have been extremely fortunate to have been afforded leadership opportunities early in my teaching career. I worked in western NSW for 4 years, and spent most of that time in relieving roles, receiving invaluable leadership opportunities and professional development. 

I was successful in obtaining a permanent assistant principal role after about 8 years of teaching, with the opportunity to relieve as principal for 6 terms about 10 years ago. The school I work at has significant funding due to socio-economic disadvantage, which enabled me to work in both a teacher mentor and deputy principal role, utilising and building my leadership capabilities.

What were you looking for when you chose to do the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP) with NESLI?

I was at a real crossroads in my leadership journey at the end of 2015. I was unsure of which direction I wanted my career to take and felt like I needed a change. I had applied for a few positions with no success, and was starting to question my leadership abilities and career choices. My principal at the time encouraged me to apply for the ALP and I decided to take a chance and applied. 

Just being accepted into the program gave me a real confidence boost and reenergised my leadership and career ambitions.

What are the most important things you learnt doing the ALP?

I learnt a lot about myself, what I valued and the kind of leader I was, as well as the leader I strived to be. Authentic leadership was something I strongly identified with and I thoroughly enjoyed the webinars, giving me an opportunity to talk with a bunch of great women facing similar issues.

I learnt how to silence my inner critic, which I soon realised was something I had always struggled with. I had a great coach, who had travelled a similar career path, and I got a lot out of our coaching sessions via Skype.  Another thing I discovered was that I had lost my ‘sweet spot’. So I examined some of the things within my role that I wasn’t enjoying anymore and channelled my abilities, interests and strengths into other areas. I found this was really helpful, as it gave me greater purpose and fulfilment within my role again. It was something quite simple to do, yet without knowing about it I wouldn’t have changed anything.

How has the ALP helped you in your journey to becoming a principal?

At the end of last year I was successful in gaining the principal position at my existing school. As I had been an assistant principal here for 11 years, I recognised that moving into the  role of principal was going to have some challenges, such as my relationships with staff and how I was going to step up to a new level of leadership. 

As part of my interview process, I had to present what my first staff meeting would look like. Instantly, I knew that the authentic leadership principles was the perfect place to start! I used the analogy ‘from the dance floor to the balcony’ to explain how I was going to achieve this and the feedback I received when I was offered the job was that this blew everyone away and they were extremely impressed.

What is your biggest challenge as a principal? 

Time and paperwork! While I am fortunate enough to have gained a position at my existing school, it has been a very overwhelming year so far. A few new challenges have been thrown my way, including a whole new finance system and the development of a new three year plan. Building the capacity of my executive team is a big focus for me, which will set the scene for the continued growth and success of the school. 

Merilyn Burton is Principal of Pelaw Main Public School in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Merilyn completed the Advanced Leadership Program.