Key leadership qualities

The educational leadership model (ELM) identifies four qualities that underpin a leader’s ability to improve teaching and learning outcomes in their school:

  • manaakitanga – leading with moral purpose;
  • pono – having self-belief;
  • ako – being a learner;
  • āwhinatanga – guiding and supporting.

Manaakitanga: Leading with moral purpose

Manaakitanga embodies the leader’s moral commitment to improving educational and social outcomes for all students. It is the quality of leading with integrity and ensuring that decision making is ethical and consistent. It contributes to building a school culture of trust, respect, and openness.

Middle and senior leaders draw on manaakitanga in their dealings with colleagues, students, and the wider community in both professional and social matters. They are sensitive to the differing cultures and worldviews of those they work with, and they look for ways to make a difference by identifying what is right and best for both students and the school.

Manaakitanga commits leaders collectively as well as individually to being responsible for effective school-wide practices (Bezzina 2007). It involves middle and senior leaders as advocates (he kaiarataki) in working to realise the potential of all students, including all Māori students, Pasifika students, and students with special education needs. This is also emphasised in Tū Rangatira: Māori Medium Educational Leadership (2010).

When current practices need to change, manaakitanga means that middle and senior leaders may need to engage in difficult professional conversations with colleagues comfortable with the status quo and reluctant to change (Robinson, Hohepa, and Lloyd, 2009; Cardno, 2007b; Hattie and Timperley, 2007).

Pono: Having self-belief

Pono embodies the conviction, confidence, and self-esteem that come from self-belief.

It enables leaders to be clear about their values and goals. Leaders with pono have high levels of self-awareness – they confront their own assumptions, learn from their mistakes, and seek a healthy work–life balance. They persevere in the face of challenges and have the emotional and spiritual resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Their self-belief, energy, and commitment provide inspiration for others.

Pono is especially important for new middle and senior leaders – they need it in order to become convincing leaders. It is also very important for senior leaders who are responsible for dispute and crisis management, mediating between groups, and responding to unpredictable events.

Ako: Being a learner

Ako encompasses both teaching and learning – it is a reciprocal relationship in which students and teachers learn from each other (Pere, 1983).

Leadership is a complex set of skills, and effective leaders accept that there is always more to learn. While they bring knowledge and expertise to their roles, they are also constantly gathering information and wanting to improve.

They seek feedback on their leadership from colleagues, students, and the students’ families, and they research how others have handled problems or improved their teaching practices. Middle and senior leaders may seek further educational opportunities, and also invite external experts to work with them as mentors.

Where ako is practised, a school culture is characterised by teachers, leaders, and students “sharing knowledge and expertise with each other to produce better mutual outcomes” (Ka Hikitia, 2008, page 20). By being open to learning, middle and senior leaders increase the collective knowledge available to the school.

Related page

The leader as learner

Louise Anaru is a first-time principal at Flaxmere College. Her experience as deputy principal at Taipa Area School inspired her to step up into her new leadership role.

Āwhinatanga: Guiding and supporting

Āwhinatanga is guidance and support for colleagues and students that is respectful and caring. It involves developing a high level of awareness of the needs and perspectives of staff and students and then taking action to care for others based on this awareness.

Middle and senior leaders who embrace āwhinatanga recognise and respond to the strengths and needs of those they lead, ensuring they feel appreciated and supported. This enables teachers to focus on improving the learning outcomes of their students.

For teachers who have been encouraged to take on leadership roles, āwhinatanga in the form of mentoring from middle and senior leaders is important for development and success.

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