2011 Lesson #2 – Leadership is IMPORTANT

I find leadership a fascinating topic. If something typifies our 21st century world for me, it is the lack of leadership where and when it is needed. This is evident in micro and macro contexts – in countries, communities and schools. The issue is possibly that the media focuses way too much on political leadership and political leaders seem way too concerned with media image and re-election processes, than creating good forward thinking policy. And too often communities operate through reaction, rather than inspired leadership. Or there is a failure to act or lead. What are we modelling to our kids?

Can you name the four or five leaders whom you most admire? What makes them stand out? How do they lead? If they are known to you personally, do you trust them? Why do you trust them? Do you discuss such questions with your leadership team? If I answer that question, the list would definitely include world changers like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and probably Mikael Gorbachev. It would also include some kids. In November this year I visited the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, after the VSS Conference. I really liked the ‘Power of Children’ exhibition. It told the story of three children who faced seemingly impossible trials, but finished as heroes of the 20th century. The stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White exemplify how every individual has the capacity to lead and can make an incredible difference (http://www.childrensmuseum.org/themuseum/powerofchildren/html/index.html). But I also really liked the fact that it didn’t stop there. There was encouragement for children visiting the exhibition to make a difference themselves – and so was equally inspired by the efforts of the teenagers receiving awards for their projects, especially the 2011 Award winners for instigating the Little Wish Foundation, Ken-Ya Help Us, Educate Jamaica and VETSupport projects. Positive proactive leadership in action. As adults we can learn from that – so often we pull back from taking the leading step and enthusing change.

Working out what new paradigm leadership models might look like
I have struggled for the last few years to find leadership frameworks that are non-hierarchical and dynamic. As a school leader, I have learnt that my leadership style is extremely important – but that leadership itself must change to suit the context. I am probably most comfortable in servant leadership mode. In fact I love nothing better than to shift furniture around the school and in so doing, get among the community at every level. But there are times when I need to be visible – in active out-the-front leadership. Especially in times of community crisis or stress, a community needs active visible and compassionate leadership. But I can also be visible every day by talking to the children as we walk past each other, or take the chance to chat casually with the teacher who I know has imagined me to be far more significant than I am. And the very best way to start the day is to greet children and parents as they walk or drive into the school, or spend the first couple of hours informally visiting the different learning spaces across the campus or spend half an hour with the team looking after the grounds and buildings.
Above all, I know that my leadership will be stronger if I constantly think about leadership and challenge my own thinking, concepts and practice daily. A few years ago I drew leadership models that were a series of blocks; inevitably though, I was positioned at the top – definitely old paradigm thinking. I was never comfortable with that because it suggested the operation of the school depended on me. The ‘flying geese’ metaphor was helpful in my thinking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4w7FWIMNW4&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImbalBnzW24&feature=endscreen&NR=1), emphasizing the role of teams very clearly. I have also liked the notion of high performance leadership and unfaltering teamwork as exemplified in the Red Arrows flying teams (http://vimeo.com/28502034). The idea of years of individual training and experience coming together for high performance purposes appeals.

But this year, I have been captivated by the practice of flocking starlings as a collaborative leadership metaphor. The murmuration of starlings can provide multiple worthwhile analogies to fluid, dynamic teamwork (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLLz5Cdrjo8). It would be a worthwhile activity to simply watch the video with colleagues or students and then allow a free discussion as to what we can learn from this. Another great leadership development strategy is to share journeys visiting other schools known for fresh ideas, or to observe innovative institutions and inspiring spaces – and then to collectively debrief and imagine new futures. What a fantastic way to sharpen collective vision and grow others!

Key role
Experience has taught me that my key organisational function as Principal, apart from speaking vision, is to empower others and distribute leadership in real terms. Nothing should ultimately hinge on me. Empowerment should then be modelled in every context. I also need to view every challenging person as someone with untapped potential – whether they be student, staff or parent.

I know that I need to recurrently place myself in learning journeys with my team – where I can bounce off their thoughts and let them enhance the vision in new and unexpected ways. And let them make mistakes – that’s how I learnt.
“What is the leadership model of NBCS/SCIL?”
Having been frequently asked about the leadership model of Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) this year, I took the challenge of seeking to better capture the effective leadership framework of NBCS and the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL). The answer came to me once I worked out a metaphor that kept me as a member of the team and placed the vision and values of the organisation at the centre of focus – rather than any person. We are united by these values and the vision, so of course it should be at the heart of the dynamics. Surrounding that core I have positioned three key elements of our organizational DNA – innovation, leadership and resourcing (of people, ideas, spaces, tools). The image of a ball bearing with cogs is particularly apt: each ball fulfilling a key role in keeping the movement of the bearing fluid and the combined structure creating the energy to initiate movement – and subsequent engagement. A great metaphor.


    leadership framework viewed as a ball bearing

Leadership is important
Leadership is vital – and if as school leaders we do not constantly focus on growing leadership, sharing leadership, demonstrating active leadership and at the same time empowering others, our schools will not move with the dynamism necessary to transform schooling into multimodal learning communities that will be the key to solving 21st century challenges. And we should not be backward in taking the clear lead from time to time – in order to unite our communities around a common forward thinking vision – one that knows that it is possible to engage every learner and together, we might just finally see all the children in the world gain access to education. Now there is a worthy goal!

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