The leadership BES and its impact on educational leaders

In this interview Dr Margie Hohepa, a co-writer of School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why Best Evidence Synthesis, reflects on the importance of this BES, the impact it has on schools and future educational leaders and what still needs to happen in order that all student outcomes are improved.

Why is the leadership BES important?

The leadership BES is about re-visioning school leadership and educational leadership in general for Aoteroa New Zealand. It involves a move towards a kind of leadership that focuses on teaching and learning, rather than on managing, overseeing, buildings and budgets – though those things are important as long as they positively affect the outcomes of teaching and learning.

The leadership BES has also been important in terms of contributing to discussions around indigeneity in Aotearoa New Zealand because it has brought out that one way of leading a school may not suit all schools. For example there is a clear difference between the Māori medium schools and the English medium schools. And even within those categories particular contexts will make a difference to the leadership practices.

Leadership dimensions have become really important as a result of the research drawn on by the BES writers. I like to think that this signals that leadership is not about a set number of things that any school leader does. It is more about knowledgeable leadership and the learning of students. So leadership of a school contextualises itself to the particular situation it is working in. In this sense the school leadership BES doesn’t become a checklist, nor do all the dimensions operate in the same way all the time. In fact some might disappear into the back of the school landscape at times. You know, one way of doing things is not the right way. There are lots of right or effective ways depending on the situation.

The BES document includes case studies and these are really useful but they too need to be read as just one way of doing something. They are one example in a particular context at a particular point in time. They are just indications giving people a sample of what leadership might look like. They are meant to encourage people to look at their own setting and how they might use the dimensions in their school.

What’s the relationship between the leadership BES, KLP and Tū Rangatira?

There is a useful relationship between the other two documents on leadership in New Zealand schools that came out around the same time (Kiwi Leadership for Principals (KLP) and Tū Rangatira).

I think KLP received a lot of cross-pollination in its development from the BES and in many ways provides the main messages about the changed focus of educational leadership. But the School Leadership BES is more complex and shows a greater range of school leadership situations and ways of dealing with them.

Tū Rangatira came out later and gives examples of how leadership is enacted in Māori medium as well as in kura and other Māori units within schools. It provided the space for leaders from Māori medium to actually talk about their own leadership. It was a real privilege for me to just sit amongst those Māori leaders and hear them talk about leading in their various settings. It is a mix of experience, and how would you say it … aspiration. This is what we do that makes a difference in our context and it contributes what we think we should be doing in the ideal context for leadership.

We do talk about this in the leadership BES as well. For example leadership responds to the needs of the community, which includes the family and the parents. It is not the school and them. So possibly it is a different way of thinking about educational leadership. It is more the fact that Māori have this community in our schools. It is already there, so we have to make it work. In Māori medium there are differences and different things to talk about. We need to get more and more clarity about these differences and how leadership works in these settings.

A really important thing in the leadership BES is that we discovered from the research that relationships are part of everything – all of what we do in leading schools are relational activities. For example, you need to have the relationship right in order to figure the sorts of resources you need, or to plan the kinds of building your school needs. This fits in with Tū Rangatira and it means that all the three documents are important and need to be taken together. One is not going to do it all. It is the dimensions of the leadership BES with relationships running through them that will make the big difference.

Will the leadership BES date?

I think things like the leadership BES don’t have a use by date! There are new cohorts of leaders, principals, teachers and students coming through our schools. And also the Ministry develops new foci as well. Educational leadership impacts on all of these. We still have to talk about Māori students and about all our schools serving them properly. So we still have to make lots of changes. We need to sit down and think: what is the significantly important thing that leadership needs to be focusing on in order to make the differences for all our kids that we want to make?

There are programmes such as Aspiring Principals and other groups of principals working on leadership programmes which use the leadership BES as a text and work through lots of it. I teach in some of these and it is amazing how beginning principals are taking the new thinking about school leadership on board.

What we have to remember is that a principal is not the only leader in the school. We do need to get a sense of leadership as an activity, not a one person band, not the ‘lone ranger’ activity! Leadership is about positions within the school, and it spans the school gates as well to leaders in the community.

Recently I have been involved with the development of the Ruia tools or resources. These emerge from the leadership BES and show us that thinking about leadership is developing all the time. It can be applied to different circumstances. The Ruia tools are “smart tools” which need to be developed fit for purpose. Some are related to appraisal, and in this case they need to be fit for the purpose of focusing on Māori as well as other student outcomes and achievement. They need to meet the needs and aspirations of our Māori students as well as others.

So this recent work makes links between the school leadership BES, the KLP, Tū Rangatira, and Ka Hikitia, as well as the He Kakano programme in secondary schools.

There are things coming out and developments all the time to improve the educational leadership in our schools.

 Image credit: University of Waikato

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this interview:

  • Margie Hohepa says that as a result of the leadership BES and related documents we have shifted our focus on leading schools in New Zealand towards improving teaching and learning. Does this describe what has happened in your school? Discuss the impact of recent New Zealand publications on leadership of your school.
  • How have you used the dimensions developed in the school leadership BES in your school, particularly in relation to Maori student achievement? Choose a case study from the BES that helps you to reflect on your use of a leadership dimension. What do you want to change as a result of that use of a dimension in terms of teaching and/or learning?
  • Leadership is about positions within the school and spans the school gates to involve leaders in the community, according to Margie Hohepa. Discuss the ways in which leadership is (or could be) shared within your school or community. How has that strengthened the leadership of the school?
  • Margie says that relationships are a key to leadership in schools. How have you developed and used your relationships in order to improve the functioning of your school. For example, in how you purchase resources, develop buildings, or use your budget.

Tags: Professional Learning and Development

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