Leadership Journeys @_theteacher

Leadership Journeys Part 1


This is a guest piece, from @_theteachr.


I think leadership training is lacking. I think preparing teachers for leadership is often not done well enough. And so, a crucial change needed when teachers move from the classroom to school leadership is too often missing. And I think it can go all the way up to headship. The change I’m talking about is this. 

It’s a shift from small to big-picture thinking. It’s about shifting your mind to looking at the whole and not details. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But it’s crucial. Some leaders do it naturally and some can learn how to do it if given support to do so. Of course, this is not the only skill you have to develop, but it is an important one and it supports so many of the other skills you need.

I learnt this when taking over the role of head of department in a school in Singapore many years ago. I would argue that I may never have learned to do it if I had stayed in the UK. The school was an international one that took aspects of its curriculum from various places around the world. The school ran from year 1 to year 13. At Secondary or High School level, you could achieve IGCSEs, A levels, an American High School diploma, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. The grades you could get were A to D for the American High School Diploma, A to G for IGCSE, A to E for A levels and 1 to 7 for the IB Diploma. And lots of the students doing the different courses were in the same classes. At the time, I was fresh out of London. National curriculum levels in all their beauty had recently been introduced. And I was young, enthusiastic and full of beans. I knew the English National Curriculum well and swore by it (strangely enough, I did more swearing at it when I was in the UK – being abroad makes you more patriotic). Problem was, there were other teachers from other parts of the world in the school who were equally evangelical about their systems.

So I embarked on a mission to ‘improve’ the department and the school by devising a system based on my ‘excellent’ knowledge and experience of curriculum and spent a few weeks discussing, arguing, debating, selling and marketing my ideas. I talked in detail about levels and level criteria and moderation of work and level boundaries to anyone who would listen. And the people I spoke to, spoke equally enthusiastically about rubrics and teacher judgment and whatever system they used. And inevitably, the person (and therefore the idea) that came out ahead was the one with the loudest voice or who was most relentless in selling their idea at curriculum meetings. I felt I had to go into meetings with the answers to everything. I had to learn the curriculums of other countries, which, I will admit now, including trying to find fault with the systems. I remember people referring to the British National Curriculum (usually just before slating it) and me smugly correcting them saying, ‘Actually it’s the National Curriculum for England and Wales’. It got to that petty level.

One day, while lamenting over of the problems with mushing together aspects of different curriculums for the sake of appeasement of personalities, I had a thought. Actually, it was more like a mini-epiphany. Why was I trying to ram this square peg curriculum in my head to a round hole of the school’s context? It was an international school where students went off to different places around the world for higher or further education. So how do we serve these kids well? How do my ideas help them? There was a fundamental shift in my thinking. Suddenly it wasn’t about me flexing my (narrow) curriculum knowledge muscles so that I could be right. I was no longer about proving to everyone I could lead change.

So I started again. And I started from the top. What was the purpose of the school? What are the ambitions and dreams of the kids? What about the parents, who were pretty much all expats, soon to be heading off to their home or other countries? Where were we headed as a school? As soon as I realised that this was an international school, that had a place in the global context, (not a school in Hayes, London that was churning out kids for apprenticeships, vocational studies or UK university degrees) that’s when everything changed. I no longer needed to be able to argue the finer points of assessment, or advantages of curriculum levels for the sake of it. All I had to do was establish and execute a vision for the department, in the school, where I worked based on the thoughts above.


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