It is indisputable that the quality of leadership in schools is inextricably bound with the quality of outcomes for learners, determining the motivation of teachers and the quality of teaching in the classroom. All too often however, the notion of school leadership is considered to be the domain of those at the ‘top’ of whatever hierarchical structure exists.
There is consistently strong evidence that when leadership is ‘distributed’, leadership is much stronger enabling schools to drive school improvement and transformation much more effectively. This model is now well embedded in a large number of successful schools in the UK; they have challenged historical organisational structures, flattened them and blurred the boundaries between leaders and followers.
What is critical for models of distributed leadership to be successful is a common set of values, a clarity of vision, a willingness to have dialogue and learn alongside each other, developing skill sets and trust. These aren’t plucked off a shelf – often they take time and crafted opportunity.
Missing links generate negative outcomes.
At Darton this is why developing leaders at all levels is critical to our success: Curriculum Team Leaders, Progress Leaders, Pastoral staff, Teachers as leaders, the Senior team and, of course, myself.
‘The more leaders focus their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes’ Viviane Robinson Student Centered Leadership.
This is, in my view, the next critical ingredient. Leadership activity must be focused on developing great teaching and learning, ensuring that there is consistently good practice in every classroom across school. This can be a challenge; there is so much ‘stuff’ that deflects and distracts, but the impact of an unrelenting focus on teacher development is indisputable.
My great friend and colleague, Ronnie Woods, has taught me SO much over the years; delivering Middle Leadership programmes with him was always a joy and at their core was the notion of developing Instructional Leadership. This includes developing all leaders skill in:
Observation for learning – school leaders skilful in observing learning and providing colleagues with insight that has the potential to improve practice;
Skilful dialogue – engaging in conversations which build a mutual understanding of why things are the way they are and what the levers for change might be;
Mutual accountability – opportunities to develop these skills across the school so that staff can learn from observing and from being observed and in doing so take collective responsibility for improving outcomes for learners.
This has always formed the premise of my leadership, developing a shared language that underpins our conversations and ensuring that members of the team, at all levels, recognise their responsibility for improving outcomes for our learners.
Developing a learning centred culture is key – with all staff being model learners, opening their classrooms and workplaces up for professional study generating an unrelenting curiosity of how to improve, being confident to take risks and open to innovation and change.
None of it is easy, but all of it is worthwhile.