Friday, 8 May 2009

Toughen up

I have been working on a framework for educational leaders and it has really reinforced for me the importance of self leadership. If we don't build our internal understandings of self it is extraordinarily difficult to understand others. The development of self awareness and self management can be grown in a number of ways. One of the most important ways is through receiving feedback. I'm not talking about a one off approach, but a regular way of listening to what others have to say and changing based on this feedback (or at least contemplating the feedback and choosing not to change!) Feedback should feed forward to next steps in learning otherwise why bother getting feedback. Never have the skills of dialogue and listening been so important.

In talking to a group of school leaders recently the scenario was posed of a teacher who was underperforming. They moved the students forward in terms of test results but they did so through fear. The school leader had given feedback to the teacher on several occasions but nothing had changed. Some students thrived, others survived. My question in these circumstances is always "So would you be happy if your child or grandchild was in that class?" I'm not talking about it necessarily being a first choice, but that you would be satisfied, at the very least. When leaders think about this question they often have an 'aha' moment and in many cases they come back with the answer 'No.' If no is the answer then leaders must be proactive in dealing with the issue, not skirt around the concern. This is about the future of a group of students year after year. If it ain't good enough for your child or grandchild it ain't good enough - full stop.

Yes, this can create industrial issues and it does get tricky. It is the leader's job to confront inadequate performance; to follow the rules, but to move things forward - consistently, rigorously and relentlessy. This may involve further development of the teacher in more explicit ways, and it may result in the teacher ultimately leaving the school. Working through such issues is really hard work and some school leaders do not feel they have the skills to confront them. In some cases, through not dealing with the issues when they first arose, and not investing in the development of high quality professional learning - they have exacerbated the problem.

Leaders must be proactive. They must first look to their own behaviour and explore what needs to be changed. What have I been doing (or not doing) that has led to this problem? What do I need to do to build my skills? Personal courage is needed as a school leader. Self aware leaders will understand that empathic and ethical behaviour is crucial at such times and they will act accordingly. A self aware school leader knows that they personally impact on students through their own behaviour and the way they model to the adults in the organisation. An unrelenting focus on doing the best for all students and developing a school community that lives and breathes this too - that's the challenge. So if the question is "Would you be happy to have your child or grandchild in that class?" and the answer is "No" take action.