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 synthesis, the impact it has on schools and future educational leaders, and what still needs to happen to improve all student outcomes.

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, Kiwi Leadership for Principals 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?

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.

Reflective questions

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

  • 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.

 Image credit: University of Waikato

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