Continuing to Shift: Learning Leaders

In his book, The Principal (2014), Fullan challenges us to stop trying to distinguish between the managerial and instructional leadership actions of the principal.  For me, this is a critical step, as, in my search to define what instructional leadership looks like and sounds like in a school (and at the system level), I was spending time trying to understand the intersection of these two important functions of educational leaders. An important shift in my learning occurred a few years ago when I watched a video from the Ontario Principals’ Council; the speakers helped me to understand that instructional decisions needed to be made with a managerial lens, while management decisions needed to be made with an instructional lens.

Robinson (Student-Centered Leadership, 2011) helped me gain further clarity as she posits that if principals (and I would argue system leaders as well) “are to achieve the expected (student achievement) results, they need access to up-to-date knowledge about teaching and learning and skill in using that knowledge to shape educationally sound administrative practices” (pg 149).  Not only do strong leaders have good knowledge of instructional content, but they also possess a solid understanding of how people learn and apply these principles to their operational decisions. The term “leader” is beginning to conjure a new image for me; one that has the learning that they engage in as they “lead teacher learning and development” (Robinson, 2011) at the foundation of the integration between management and leadership.  Is this is what it means to be a strong school/system leader in 2015?

When we consider Robinson’s (Student Centered Leadership, 2011) top five Leadership Dimensions and the three Leadership Capabilities that support them, the possibilities of the integration of leadership and management are made clearer for us.

CaptureRobinson photo

Image from Robinson, 2011, pg 16

(and don’t forget the Effect Size of each Leadership Dimension)

  • Establishing Goals and Expectations (effect size of 0.42)
  • Resourcing Strategically (effect size of 0.31)
  • Ensuring Quality Teaching (effect size of 0.42)
  • Leading Teacher Learning and Development (effect size of 0.84)
  • Ensuring an orderly and safe environment (effect size of 0.27)

Today, there is evidence that our leadership team has developed (with the help of Robinson and Fullan) an improved understanding of instructional leadership and what it means to be a lead learner.  As a system, we have co-created a set of criteria that guides our thinking and actions as leaders; criteria that aligns management functions with what might be considered to be leadership functions. In this criteria I can see how leaders are learning to put Robinson’s Leadership Capabilities into practice as we exercise the Five Leadership Dimensions. We are beginning to align actions and behaviours to this criteria and to use it to set professional goals. We are seeing ourselves as lead learners who “orchestrate” (Fullan, pg 61) and participate in learning alongside educators and who then apply that learning when making decisions in the best interests of students and learning.  This opportunity occurs daily as we “apply relevant knowledge, solve complex problems and build relational trust” (Robinson, 2011).

Further to this, Our Conditions for Learning can be fostered when we begin to see management as opportunities for learning: Responsive Instruction (what does that staff need to learn about in terms of safety?);  Relationships (grounded in trust and mutual respect); Collaboration (although final decisions are made by the leader, there is an opportunity for staff input along the way); and Risk Taking (where sometimes the leader tries out a new schedule – such as when a number of schools moved to the Balanced Day). For this to occur however, the school leader also needs to be supported in developing a deep understanding of the managerial aspects of this role, as Fullan reminds us that “…for the professional agenda to flourish, the principal must ensure that good management prevails in the school” (Fullan, pg 56).

This analysis has truly helped us to see the integration of our leadership and management role.  In our context, we have many leaders in their first five years of the principalship, and this work is critical.  We have moved a long way in creating a culture where “the learning is the work” and where we understand that we “learn by engaging in learning” (Katz, Summer Institute, 2015). While there is much to celebrate, in our context, we do need to think about shining the “learning spotlight” for a short time on “Ensuring an orderly and safe environment” – as we develop (or review) our “content knowledge” in the area of SAFETY.  I appreciate both Robinson and Fullan for their explicitness in this as they both indicate the need to ensure the “orderliness and safety of the school’s physical and social environment” (when was the last time that your Fire Safety Plans were updated?), that staff are protected from distractors so that they can focus on the instructional work, and that conflict is managed with the aim of proactivity and reduction.  A school that sees the integration of leadership and management is a school where the core priorities of learning are maintained always.

Until Next Week…what opportunities for staff and student learning present themselves through your implementation of the school Emergency Procedures? Especially next week as it is Fire Prevention Week!

One response

  1. Thanks Nicki for your illustration of how the two pieces are interconnected and cannot be separated from each other. A key piece to this is the modelling that we all do. Just as we expect teachers to establish a climate in their rooms that fosters healthy, safe learning, we too must create this via safety plans, bully prevention plans etc in order to foster a school climate that is conducive to learning. I always tell students at the school that my number one job is to ensure safety. Safety is the large lens that we always use when making any school decisions about learning. We have heard many times that learning cannot take place unless a student feels safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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