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leading school alignment

September 21, 2013

Organic org

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The College where I currently work achieved Independent Public School status in 2012 through “Proudly Educating children from Kindergarten to Year 12”. Operating as a District High School since 1952 until a recent name change, the College is located in Perth’s semi-rural outskirts. With a $25 million re-build nearing completion, and a re-structured leadership team drawing on AITSL national standards for principals along with coaching strategies and capacity building to leverage whole school improvement towards its vision – purposefully work towards achieving the full potential we are capable of achieving – our culture is shifting.

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The school’s motto “Strive and Achieve” is embedded in values underpinned by the school wide behaviour policy, and encapsulated in the acronym REACH: Respect, Effort, Active Learning, Courtesy and Honour. Students’ successes and achievements are celebrated in House colours and badges, as well as the traditional monthly Leschenaultia newsletter; furthermore a newly designed interactive website created while consultation on the new school name was underway this year serves as a harbinger of evolutionary progress in marketing and use of social media.

One priority in our Strategic Plan 2013-16 presenting an important opportunity to evaluate alignment that leads towards improved student outcomes is success for all students.

Organisation of vision

Strive and Achieve” coupled with the vision purposefully work towards achieving the full potential we are capable of achieving send a message to the community that effort yields results. The former draws on a Protestant work ethic representing traditions, while the latter enshrines a self-actualising moral purpose upholding “academic success” and a culture of “personal excellence”, yet a small proportion of our cohort in secondary school languish beneath NAPLAN benchmarks and attendance rates for those in Years 10-12 are below state averages.

In short, the prevailing culture errs towards apathy as opposed to being inspired to take responsibility for learning, and the school vision may currently be seen as an attempt “to impose a false consensus suppressing rather than enabling personal visions to flourish” (Fullan, 1993, p. 30).

If a well led school is inscribed in the continual praxis of leaders who set and influence direction while building shared vision (Senge, 2006), it is by repeatedly communicating this driving vision that

Leaders improve their conceptualization through the interactive feedback that comes from application and corresponding reflection and continuous refinement (Fullan, 2005, p. 67).

New structures will be ineffective without generative interconnections; addressing this incongruity lies at the heart of achieving success for all students within our school’s transformative evolution.

adjust, adapt

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Planning and monitoring processes

Review processes this year focused on:

  • drafting a Strategic Plan for 2013-2016
  • Learning Area Operational Plans, and
  • departmental Literacy Operational Plans
  • monitoring tools
  • evaluation of Assessment and Data Schedules

to align management processes with classroom practice.

Performance in K-6 has achieved visible success in association with the National Partnerships planning as evident in system-wide test results as well as improvements in primary staff’s data literacy fluency, and Progressive Achievement Testing throughout the college (Years 3-10) effectively identifies key areas of strengths and weakness in students’ performance which has been useful in determining baselines, setting targets and devising differentiation strategies.

Change cycle

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Availability of SAER data is rich and readily-accessible with protocols in place for disseminating information via key Learning Support Associates, thus minimising any possibility of data loss as students’ transition from primary to secondary contexts. This is a significant area of strength in the College’s K-12 context, and it is often enshrined informally in the phrase “Team B_” representing a source of considerable school pride.

As previously mentioned, a coaching context is emergent which focuses on pedagogy and instructional skills to promote high quality teaching and leadership that meets the needs of individual students.

What does it mean

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Instructional rounds have also been initiated to promote supportive monitoring practice. Individual Education Plans and Learning Area Adjustment Plans are devised each semester in consultation with support staff, so structures are in place to ensure focus on improving student achievement.

Inconsistencies emerge, however, from undertaking moderation which reveals variation in staff confidence to effectively diagnose, meet diverse student needs, and thereby improve all students’ achievement, especially where staff selection has been outside an area of subject expertise. This is a matter for ongoing attention, support and refinement.

Conclusion

Overall, improvement strategies focus on “the hard work of reculturing [as] the sine qua non of progress” (Fullan, 2001, p. 44) in order to change current norms, perceptions, and ways of teaching and learning. Harmonising attunement is the gold-medal ideal.

Recommendations:

  1. Set direction through a revitalised school vision and generate influence by communicating that vision (Darling-Hammond, 2007; Leithwood et al, 2004);
  2. Re-distribute leadership to foster professional learning opportunities and redefine our school as an inclusive learning organisation for all staff and students, thereby aligning processes with vision (Crowther, 2010);
  3. Attend to the organisation’s health as both well managed – resources, policies & frames  and well led – people in context (Hopkins & Jackson, 2003);
  4. Maintain awareness of distinct tensions and reciprocal process (Hargreaves, 2010);
  5. Build strong collaborative structures to direct focus on improving all students’ learning opportunities, especially those who are currently below NAPLAN benchmarks.

Adapt

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Aligning our school’s culture and structure within its vision will, with time and focused effort described above, yield an adaptive learning organisation for all. Sustainability depends on leaders’ willingness to harness mediating influences such as hope and selflessness in working collaboratively (Crowther, 2010). By celebrating turnaround in the attitudes and beliefs of staff, students and parents, aligning vision with strategies ensures continual improvement based on past traditions.

Selected references

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2011). National professional standard for principals. Retrieved July 31, 2013 from http://www.aitsl.edu.au/verve/_resources/NationalProfessionalStandardForPrincipals_July25.pdf

Crowther, F. (2010). Parallel leadership: The key to successful school capacity-building. Leading and Managing, 16(1), 16 – 39.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2007). A bridge to school reform. New York City: The Wallace Foundation’s National Conference October 22-24. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/key-research/Documents/Bridge-to-School-Reform.pdf

Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. London: The Falmer Press.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & sustainability: System thinkers in action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hargreaves, D.H. (2010). Creating a self-improving school system. Nottingham: National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/2093/1/download%3Fid%3D133672%26filename%3Dcreating-a-self-improving-school-system.pdf

Hopkins, D., & Jackson, D. (2003). Building the capacity for leading and learning. In A. Harris, C. Day, D. Hopkins, M. Hadfield, A. Hargreaves & C. Chapman (Eds.). Effective leadership for school improvement (pp. 84-104). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning: Learning from leadership project. New York: The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved July 31, 2013 from http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/key-research/Documents/How-Leadership-Influences-Student-Learning.pdf

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning Organisation (revised edition). London: Random House.

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