ARE YOU A ‘LEARNING LEADER’?
A few years ago the National College published a set of resources on learning-centred leadership. The following qualities were identified as characteristics of these leaders. They:
• lead by example
• monitor: pupils’ achievements and progress; classroom practices and quality of teaching
• use data to analyse and evaluate performance
• generate discussion about teaching and learning
• take steps to sustain school improvement
• create school structures, systems and processes to support learning
Why are these characteristics so important? Because, as PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (2007) independent study on school leadership for the Department for Education had underlined, school leadership is second only to the quality of classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning. However, PwC’s study presented worrying evidence that many head teachers recognise that they are struggling to create sufficient time to engage effectively in the various strategic issues that they are required to deal with.
A central issue must be how best to create the structures, systems and processes to support learning. This requires management as well as leadership skills, a fact supported by evidence from the McKinsey Report (2010), How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. McKinsey’s research showed that, of six interventions common to all performance stages across the entire improvement journey, the first was building the instructional skills of teachers and the management skills of principals.
In another important research project over a seven year period, Tony Bryk and his associates have been studying different strategies for the improvement of elementary schools in Chicago, (see Bryk et al, 2010, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago). They conclude that leadership is the key driver for change, with principals as the catalytic agents for systemic improvement as they sustain the school’s focus on four essential supports:
• encouraging new relationships with parents and the community
• enhancing teachers’ professional capacity
• creating a pupil-centred learning environment
• providing guidance and support for the development of learning and teaching
To undertake these essential tasks, head teachers and principals must be able to:
• create a shared language about learning and teaching across the school, including knowledge of ‘deeper learning’
• understand the nature of complexity and how to deal with it – most issues holding schools back from further improvement are complex, influenced by a wide range of factors, e.g. sharing and embedding best practice in teaching and learning; making key transitions easier for pupils; they require longer term, transformational change
• develop leadership at all levels, including teacher and pupil leadership
• find quality time for their own learning