So, what kind of leadership practice best promotes positive development and progress?
We need leadership that is based on clear values and principles. Leaders need to be clear on what their personal values are and understand how these are reflected in their actions as leaders. They need to be principled, and their principles should help shape their actions and, more importantly, their decision making. Having their own values and principles clear should allow them to articulate a personal vision and how they might help facilitate the development of common values, principles and visions within their schools. They need to recognise how these need to be reflected in everyone's daily actions and behaviours to be seen to be meaningful.
I would suggest that you need knowledgeable leaders. For Headteachers and their leadership teams this would mean they are experienced and well developed teachers, who thoroughly understand learning. Seems a no-brainer to me, but perhaps this isn't always the case. If teaching and learning is our core business, then a deep understanding of what this constitutes, and how it can be developed, would seem a prerequisite for school leaders. There must be an understanding that these practices can be constantly improved and honed in order to improve outcomes for all learners. School leaders must see this as a key part of their professional responsibility, to keep promoting and developing teaching and learning.
They need crucially to recognise the importance of relationships in achieving their vision and aims for the schools they lead. We are most certainly in a 'people' business, and people and their interactions are complicated. We need leaders who understand this, who recognise all the factors that can impact on the people they are leading, and on themselves. They should recognise that time invested in understanding their staff and their interactions is time well spent. By seeing the people behind the job titles they are better equipped to get the best out of each of them consistently and over time. They need to be emotionally aware and informed. Every Headteacher I have ever spoken to tells of how much time they have to spend dealing with issues around the people they lead, but this is crucial if we are to understand how we can support them to develop and improve the experiences and outcomes for their pupils.
Leaders need to spend time developing a culture and ethos within their schools that will allow all to develop their profesional practice and identity. They will recognise that this cannot be imposed or forced on people from outside, that is by headteachers or others, but that it needs to come from within individuals themselves. For this to happen there needs to be a culture and ethos that supports and challenges all to do their best. This needs to be open and built of professional and personal trust. One where it is okay to make mistakes, admit what you don't know and where everyone is encouraged and expected to innovate. It is one where the school and it's community understands exactly where they are on their development journey and know what they need to do to improve. They are clear about their direction of travel and how they will know if they have been successful. They are committed to deep and meaningful change and know how they are going to achieve this. Leaders abhor tick-box approaches to school development. They 'gate-keep' for their staff and protect them from the demands and agendas of those outside the immediate school. They manage the pace of change and connect all elements to core aims. They appreciate that change is complex and messy and is best achieved through collaboration and co-operation. They should recognise that it is teachers who actually deliver in terms of development and their role is to support this process. However, we do not want leadership that is swamped and mired in day to day management tasks, we want them to be forward looking and
thinking. They need to engage with the wider education community, they need to read and they need to help shape local and national agendas.
It is really useful if leaders have good memories as well. Not to remember all the plethora of information they are bombarded with, but to remember what it is like to be a teacher having to understand and implement change, whilst delivering for their pupils every day. It would be great if they could remember what it was like to be a pupil as well. If they have children, can they member what it was like to be a parent of a pupil going through school? Being able to do so should really help school leaders see the big picture and not get bogged down in their own little bubbles. Leaders need to remain focused on core business and what they are trying to achieve for all their learners.
Danger lies when leaders get caught up the power of their role and forget the responsibilities. The responsibilities to all, pupils, parents, colleagues, community and employers. In my experience, the best way to meet your responsibilities is by adopting the practices described above.