Category Archives: Principalship

The WHY of our Leadership Structure

Over the past 3 years the leadership structure at RSS has gone through a recognisable change. This has essentially meant a move from a hierarchical model to a networked model.

e.g. From this……to this.

The purpose of this doc is to outline the reasons why and to clarify what it means for our school.

Firstly, let’s clarify the former hierarchical model. This approach supported the existing information flow up and down the school and was closely aligned to how the school was structured. The school was clearly divided into 2 teams and each team was co-lead by 2 leaders. These co-leaders were part of the leadership team alongside the principal and other key staff. Information flowed down from the leadership team via the team leaders and then flowed back up on a reverse route. The teams came together fortnightly to discuss, unpack and feedback and this was complemented by whole staff meetings every other week. If a teacher required clarification or had a question, they usually went to their team leader first.

There was nothing really wrong with this model at all but as a different style of leadership emerged, combined with a restructuring of the school, I felt that this approach could be improved and at the same time be more closely aligned to our school vision of empowering agency, innovation and leadership. Over time this has seen the Team Leader role be deemphasised and naturally morph into a leader of everyone.

Before we get to the low down on the networked model, let’s first recognise that at times we need to revert back to a hierarchical structure. Not everything can be handed over to staff to self manage and make decisions and connect with those they need to. For example, the recent COVID-19 pandemic and returning to school under Level 2 and 3 conditions required a clear plan for everyone to follow and one that wasn’t up for negotiation.

However, the aim is to stay predominantly in the preferred networked end of the continuum, but acknowledge it doesn’t suit all situations (and for that matter doesn’t suit all staff).

So why a networked approach?

  • Collaborative: A networked approach is based on the ability to utilise both the individual and collective intelligence of every staff member at RSS. This is underpinned by collaboration where we work together to productively grow and improve our school.
  • Valuing everyone: The approach is also underpinned by valuing every staff member and recognising that everyone can contribute positively to our school community.
  • Strengths based: A networked model is built around utilising everyone’s strengths. You go directly to the person who can best help you solve that problem or answer that question. Experts can reach out or offer their knowledge and support to best suit other’s needs.
  • Timely: Support, information, coaching etc is there when you need it. There is no need to wait for next week’s meeting or the availability of certain staff members. 
  • Responsive: Leaders stay in tune with staff to listen and gauge feelings. This enables them to respond to known or emerging issues and to know when to pause and recognise to celebrate great practice. Any meetings are determined by the needs of the staff rather than the needs of the leadership team.
  • Learning alongside: Like our approach to coaching, the network model places all staff on an equal footing where everyone learns alongside each other, rather than a master/apprentice relationship.
  • Flexible: Networks can form as needs arise and fall away when the purpose has been reached. ‘Membership’ is not fixed. Connections are made with those who can best support one another for a shared purpose.
  • Alignment to: 
    • School vision: A networked approach is closely aligned to our school vision of empowering agency, innovation and leadership.
      • Agency: a high professional trust environment where teachers are given the space and autonomy to make decisions with each other about what is best for learning.
      • Innovation: Research is clear that environments that provide high trust and allow staff to make decisions for themselves result in increased innovation and creativity. 
      • Leadership: This is leadership in a post heroic environment where leadership is about growing other people, creating high-trust environments, encouraging critical conversations.
    • Ngā uaratanga: Our values outline our school’s expectations for learning, behaviour and wellbeing. There is a strong alignment between our values and a networked approach e.g.
      • Kotahitanga: We all have a role to play in our learning community.
      • Motuhaketanga: I know when and how to seek help.
      • Ngākau Tapatahi: I can learn with others and get our learning done.
      • Haututanga: I know when to lead and when to follow.
    • School structure: We have moved away from larger teams of teachers to smaller autonomous groups. A network structure supports this through decentralising the chain of command and allows smaller groups of teachers to make decisions relevant to their learners and class or school initiative.
    • The leadership team now: The way we work harnesses the benefits of a networked approach. We consciously model this approach across all aspects of our leadership work.
  • Current thinking/best practice in leadership: There are plenty of great readings to be had in how organisations are decentralising leadership and control. Here is just a snapshot – I will leave it over to you to read and reflect.

What needs to be in place for a networked approach to work? Here’s my thinking…

  • Communication: This is vital in any organisational structure and no less important within a networked approach – but not just from the leaders to everyone else. Effective communication between everyone is vital and as such everyone must take the responsibility for its success.
  • Openness: Everyone needs to trust each other, be open to giving and receiving feedback and open to learning from anyone else.
  • Value: Everyone’s ideas and voice are highly valued, and opportunities need to be provided for sharing this knowledge as well as voicing opinions and concerns. Giving time to each other, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, and listening is super important.
  • Knowing: You need to know who it is best to connect with so knowing each other, and the strengths and weaknesses that people have. Being in tune with who needs support and who best can support them is also a key aspect.
  • Recognition: That hierarchical approach to leadership is not the current vision. We have a desire to lead alongside, not from above. That is the bus we are on.

What does it mean for the staff at our school?

  1. Recognise that the school vision drives everything we do. It is not just for our learners and learning.
  2. The most significant is understanding the changing role of a leader:
A shift fromto
Low trustHigh trust

Two things – I think it is really that simple. If you understand what drives the school and the leaders role in that process, you know how to function effectively within that system.

Further food for thought…

A reflective prompt for you;

  • Is there a parallel between how you teach and what type of leadership structure you prefer? or
  • Is there a parallel between how you lead and what learning in your school classrooms look like?
Do you prefer this leadership structure?
So is this what learning looks like in your class?
Is this what learning looks like in classroom in your school?
Or is this what learning looks like in your class? Or classes across your school?
And as such, do you align to a networked leadership approach?

Which approach to classroom practice and leadership more closely aligns to your school vision?

So what does it mean for staff at our school?

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 1

One of my goals for next year is to promote teacher agency through the implementation of a personalised approach to professional learning and development. This is an area that I have increasingly felt strongly about as I have read and reflected and had my thinking prompted by some key people.

When the goal was set we outlined the following expected outcomes.

  1. PLD is personalised & involves teacher choice and voice
  2. Teachers have more ownership over their own learning
  3. Teachers ability to coach & facilitate conversations with each other is enhanced
  4. Teacher collaboration is enhanced
  5. The opportunities for teacher creativity and innovation are increased
  6. Teachers articulate that their professionalism has been valued & that high trust exists
  7. Outcomes from inquiry contexts will inform the focus for 2019

And while these have been set relatively recently, I am already wanting to add in another to acknowledge the relationship between classroom learning and professional learning. Something like:

  • PLD mirrors our beliefs about learning and teaching in our school.

This one is perhaps more of an underpinning philosophy, where the beliefs that drive what learning looks like for our student learners should be the same beliefs that drive learning for our adult learners.

Right let’s move on… the purpose of this post is to outline all of the influences that currently guide my thinking.

  1. The school’s vision
  2. Learner agency
  3. Personalised learning
  4. Conditions for innovation & creativity
  5. Personalised pathways
  6. Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
  7. Play based

The School Vision

Our school vision is;

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

This is the starting point for all that we do; reviewing, decision making, strategic direction, resourcing, budgeting, appointing staff… and as such must be a driver for and be reflected in our approach to professional learning. Thus empowered teachers, the conditions for innovation and the opportunities for for staff to lead their own learning must be present in any approach to professional learning.

Learner Agency

Our school was privileged to recently lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project  which focused on developing learner agency. One of the outcomes was the development of a learner agency self-assessment tool, derived from a matrix, which outlined the skills and dispositions of agency.

As we discussed how we could use this tool to capture data about our learners  to show progress of groups or individuals, and also review how we were providing the conditions for agency to flourish; (after all, this is critical, it is one of the key strands in our vision), I kept asking myself and then later my colleagues a question. Could this tool also be used for teachers to measure their own agency? If we change the RSS Kids in the middle to RSS Learners, would the characteristics of agency be the same for both students and adult learners?

Personalised Learning

I have found Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why a great read. Particularly useful has been the table on the inside cover that outlines the differences between Personalisation, Differentiation and Individualisation which looks a little like this:

As a principal I don’t have a class of learners but I do have a staff of learners. So rather than looking at this through a teacher’s lens, I am looking at it through the lens of a principal. That changes it up a bit and puts me in a position where I ask myself a range of reflective questions.

For example, with a desire to personalise learning for my staff, am I providing the conditions where:

  1. Teachers are driving their own learning?
  2. Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
  3. Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc

Conditions for Innovation & Creativity

Another book I am constantly going back to is George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. There is a whole lot of material in here that is influencing my thinking and personal learning. Let’s take this graphic for instance that outlines the 8 things to look for in today’s classrooms.

Once again I don my principal’s hat and ask myself a similar range of questions related to what I should be looking for in our school for my teachers;

  1. Do they have voice and choice?
  2. Are there opportunities for them to be innovative?
  3. Do I give value to and provide time for reflection? etc.

Also, recently George posted about the 4 Questions for Administrators to Promote a Culture of Innovation. The first question struck me as it is almost a carbon copy of my own underpinning philosophy recorded above.

Are your professional learning opportunities mirroring what you want to see in the classroom?

Often we ask teachers to do something different in the classroom, while we continue to do the same thing in professional learning. The best way for teaching practice to change in the classroom is for professional learning to look different as well. We create what we experience. If teachers are not excited about the learning opportunities that are offered, why would we expect them to create engaging and empowering environments for students?
Model what you seek.

Personalised Pathways

A recently new discovery of mine has been the work and thinking of Katie Martin who has a wealth of work been writing about a personalised professional learning approach. There is some great stuff on her blog that I encourage you to check out such as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

If you have taken note of everything else above then you can see how easily the points here dovetail with the other influences on my thinking re professional learning. Additionally when you do look at the full 10 characteristics there are many other ideas that align with my thinking including; inquiry based, collaborative, personalised and purposeful. Also I am really interested in investigating further the Create Your Own Adventure approach – that appears to have great potential and value.

Whole staff → Group→ 1-1

My thinking in this area has been influenced strongly by my own involvement in smaller more intimate professional learning groups supported by 1-1 coaching. I know that this has a much greater impact on my personal development than attending a large group professional learning opportunity. Based on this premise then my belief is that staff will also greatly benefit from small group professional learning supported by 1-1 coaching.

Play Based

I have previously reflected on my thoughts in this area as it also compliments my current thinking in personalising PLD. Again, looking at the approach from a principal’s perspective as I attempt to create an environment where the professional learning is personalised for teachers.

Adapted from the thinking of

So what now?

OK so that is a quick overview of what is influencing my thinking. I have a plan forming in my mind about what shape it might make which I will describe soon after I have talked it through with a couple of key people.

#empowering #Personalisation #11 #play #innovation #leadership

Thoughts on implications for variability in teacher effectiveness…

This post is an initial reaction to a recent read of Hattie’s What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise and some conversations at my principal PLG.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, would have been great to have this publication in my hands when I was completing the lit review for my final masters paper, never-the-less I have found it a thought provoking read that I am still fully understanding all of the implications and takeaways for my situation.

For me, the main purpose of the piece is to suggest a set of conditions i.e. collaborative expertise, to counter the known variability of teacher effectiveness within schools.

There are many causes of this variance within schools, but I would argue that the most important (and one that we have some influence to reduce) is the variability in the effectiveness of teachers. I don’t mean to suggest that all teachers are bad; I mean that there is a great deal of variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning. (Hattie, 2015, p. 1)

I really like the grounding concept discussed which clearly sets out that the effectiveness ‘measure’ of the teacher is progress made by students, not simply students meeting standards of achievement. This is a great reminder and reinforcer especially in the era of line-in-the-sand achievement milestones where learning progress is not always seen, or maybe overshadowed by a tick in the Below or Well Below column.

Other highlights, there are lots and I am not doing them justice here, but here’s a snapshot: importance of moderation, high expectations, the use of smart assessment tools, discussion about assessing more than just the basics but also the how-to aspects of learning, the role of the school leader in creating an evaluative climate, use of student voice to evaluate impact of teaching, that if students are not learning we need to change the way we teach and of course the underlying principle of using the expertise of effective teachers to lift teaching across the educational community.

Anyway, my train of thought went off on a tangent and began exploring what this meant for teacher appraisal, performance management, professional inquiry and professional learning and development, especially after this discussion:

Yes, the essence of many teachers’ sense of professionalism is their autonomy to teach as they wish. But they do not have a right to such autonomy if they are not systematically teaching in a manner where the majority of their students gain at least a year’s progress for a year’s input.

So this got me thinking, that with a variety in teacher effectiveness, that amongst other things, there must also be a variety in the way teachers are appraised and monitored, variety in what professional learning and development they receive, variety of expectations surrounding their professional inquiry, and a variety in the length of the “leash” of professional trust. These thoughts are not new to me, but reading this publications has brought them back to the top.

Of course in my mind this mirrors what we should see happening with our students, that learning is personalised to their needs, they know where their strengths and weaknesses, set goals and critically reflect on their progress, to have a growth mindset, the list goes on..

So what could this look like for me, relatively fresh into the current school I am leading?

Currently, for better or for worse, there is generally a one size fits all approach where teachers have them same expectations and checkpoints, and opportunities for PLD as each other. The is the same minimum expectation for collecting assessments – the key word is consistency. Some of the thinking behind this is that a lot of this has come about to establish some norms and expectations to a new way of thinking and new approaches to building teacher effectiveness. Teacher inquiry is still in its infancy, there is a new assessment regime, and a clear focus on our priority learners. In establishing these the strategy has been a consistent one.

The only real opportunity for teachers to have choice and direct their learning is within the approach to teacher inquiry where there is scope for them to determine the focus and plan the interventions. I guess this happens though within quite a tight structure. However the intent here is to take in a gradual release of responsibility approach i.e. pull in the reins before letting them go, over time, full stem ahead, but only if they demonstrate their participation and understanding (effectiveness?). We have also budgeted for teachers to have a PLO (personal learning opportunity), where they are released to engage in their own choice of PLD such as a school visit/observations, talking to experts, engaging in professional reading…

Some questions though arise the more I think, for example:

  1. How will teachers react when some receive more PLD than others, based on their effectiveness as a teacher? (think equity vs. equality debate)
  2. How so when some get ‘appraised’ more often than others?
  3. When some get the own PLD budget to utilise, while some are ‘required’ to attend certain PLD opportunities?
  4. Is my thinking being constrained by my mental image of what PLD looks like? By what appraisal looks like?

I would hope that a purely professional viewpoint would be taken by everyone as they acknowledge that everyone has different needs (and as mentioned above, just like the learners in their class).

Where to next is the closing ponder. It was suggested to me today that the future of PLD is in 1-1 coaching, personalised to each teacher. This conceptually fits with the direction my mind is going in. I am committed to exploring this further, finding schools who have a personalised approach but also ones that haven’t lost sight of the power of collaboration. Thus any future design would still need to incorporate opportunities to come together for dialogue and that collective problem solving and sharing of expertise, all within a personalised approach first and foremost. I find the thoughts quite exciting and the future direction full of possibilities. Who out there has already started the journey – I would love to connect with you…

#professionaldevelopment #personalised #professionallearning #performancemanagement #appraisal #professionalinquiry