Four educational leadership qualities underpin principals’ ability to lead their schools: manaakitanga (leading with moral purpose), pono (having self belief), ako (being a learner), and awhinatanga (guiding and supporting). These qualities are at the heart of effective leadership in Aotearoa.

Manaakitanga: Leading with moral purpose

Effective principals have a central belief system that is focussed on student learning and well-being. They set clear goals, and pursue them to ensure success for all. They focus on closing the gaps between the highest and lowest-achieving students in order to raise learning standards and outcomes for all. They create schools that welcome and include all members of the community.

Principals who were consulted in preparing this paper talked about their moral commitment to helping students achieve academic and personal fulfilment and make a contribution to the life of the school, the community, and beyond. They emphasised the importance of relationships built on trust, respect, and openness. In schools where there is trust and a strong sense of purpose, areas of conflict can be identified, worked on, and resolved. To do this effectively principals need to learn how to deal with ethical dilemmas, and how to progress complex issues when they arise.

Having a sense of moral purpose and a commitment to improved learning and social outcomes is not just about supporting and guiding students, it also involves a commitment to the professional growth and support of other school leaders and teachers. Effective school principals are committed to creating and encouraging trusting relationships built on mutual dialogue and respect.

Pono: Having self-belief

Effective principals have a strong sense of self-belief, which helps them to lead with integrity and conviction. They are committed to improvement and are willing to try out new ideas. Their self-belief enables them to remain motivated even in difficult conditions. Their motivation is based on the conviction that they can and will make a difference for their students’ learning. They use their networks and partnerships for support when working through complex or difficult situations (Goleman et al, 2002).

Principals with strong self-belief lead with a sense of purpose. They are self-aware; they understand their emotions and are clear about their goals. From this flows their self-managing capacity and the focussed drive that all leaders need to achieve their goals. Leaders with such self confidence embody an upbeat and optimistic enthusiasm that is infectious. Their courage, conviction, and enthusiasm brings out the best in others.

Self-belief is strongly associated with resilience. Resilience is a capacity for bouncing back when faced with adversity or stress. Resilience is based upon a positive self-view and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities to make realistic plans, to show skill in communication and problem-solving, and to demonstrate the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

While the job of being a principal can be highly engaging and satisfying, it is also demanding. Competing priorities mean that principals often leave to one side their own personal and professional needs as they negotiate the tensions involved in being both educational leader and manager. Principals need to be aware of their own energy levels and set priorities that will ensure they have a healthy work-life balance. This is very important for their well-being.

Ako: Being a learner

Ako is about building collaborative learning and teaching relationships within the school. It suggests a reciprocal approach to leading learning. When principals demonstrate ako, all members of the school community participate in identifying significant issues and solving problems. Students, teachers, leaders, and the community together can contribute to the collective knowledge base of the school.

Principals are expected to have a depth of professional knowledge. They are expected to make good decisions and exercise sound judgement. Their work contributes to growing the knowledge and expertise of the profession. Keeping up-to-date with the evidence for professional leadership in schools is a fundamental expectation of principals. To support them in this, principals need opportunities to reflect and learn. They need access to quality information about all aspects of school leadership.

Principals who take their own learning seriously and keep their own passion for learning alive act as important role models for their schools. There is a crucial link between a principal’s own development of critical thinking, their engagement with professional learning, and their ability to be an educational leader. Becoming a principal involves stepping up and using professional knowledge and experience to improve the teaching and learning of all students.

Effective principals have in place their own professional learning programme to help inform their thinking and practice, and to keep them up-to-date with issues and developments in education generally. This learning is sometimes done alone, with a respected colleague, with a local principals’ group, through participation in principal development initiatives, or as study for further qualifications.

Awhinatanga: Guiding and supporting

Awhinatanga refers to the level of interpersonal care from school leadership that is evident in staff relationships. Awhinatanga is based on empathy from the top, and involves the principal’s ability to sense the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others. Principals show the way they value others by recognising and responding to what staff do and how they feel. Empathetic caring for the whole person in terms of both personal and work situations builds mutual understandings and cements productive relationships. By recognising the individual natures and circumstances of staff members, principals strengthen trust and connectedness across the staff as a whole.

The principal also has a key role in guiding and supporting others to step up as leaders. This is achieved by recognising and developing the leadership potential of teachers in different areas and levels of the school. Creating opportunities for leadership skills to be developed by teachers, students, and other members of the school community helps strengthen a school-wide commitment to achieving the agreed outcomes. This is important not only for building positive relationships, but for growing and sustaining the school’s leadership capacity.

Support for teaching and learning is also generated by allocating material and human resources in ways that are aligned to the agreed goals and expectations of the school. Principals who plan for and provide strategic resourcing have an effect on the quality of student outcomes.

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