Reflecting on leadership

Educational leaders talk about what leadership means to them.

These leaders were interviewed while they were in principals’ roles.

Linda Tame, while at Lincoln High School

Linda Tame

My practice is based on a set of beliefs.

I believe, that, for effective change to occur, you need to have a collective focus and collaborative, de-privatised practices that are based on shared norms and values.

I believe it is important to recognise the importance of the journey rather than the destination and to recognise that the learning journey is a process of evolution not revolution.

The teachers at Lincoln High School are on a rich learning journey to improve teaching and learning that requires a deep trust in each other. As change will not happen without the staff communicating effectively with each other and doing things together, I believe that it is important for me to facilitate that, to value people, and to help them to feel empowered and to feel that they belong here.

I have a real passion for the job and for teaching and learning. I am hands on and I think that has been an important aspect of my leadership. I also value positive criticism.

I prioritise reading, researching, meeting and talking with staff, and meeting with staff about our current school project. I choose to do this ahead of some of the administrative tasks that I used to do first.

I also work closely with colleagues from other schools. I believe it is important for all school leaders to get out amongst others and to talk with them about leadership practice, and to exchange professional ideas.

I am involved with a stimulating mentor group who meet regularly. We trust each other to talk about school leadership and all the other day-to-day things that frustrate us.

Like others, I have seen leaders that I wish to aspire to and have taken things from them.

Noema Williams, while at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe

Ko Whakataha te Maunga

Ko Waitangi te awa

Ko Ngāi Tawake ki te Tuawhenua te Hapū

Ko Ngā Puhi te Iwi

Noema Williams

I operate in an inclusive, collegial style of leadership with high expectations of myself and of others.

I believe that leaders should provide opportunities for leadership in others. My leadership style is one where everyone has the opportunity to try things out. I recognise leadership potential in others and that we have creative, innovative and skilled people around us who can take the responsibility.

In our environment, everyone is able to make mistakes, and to learn from them. We know that we will all learn from them too.

I am passionate about education, I am practical, and I am honest in my approach to people.

There is a wairua that prevails and sustains good leadership in our kura. You can't teach that unless you're doing it. You can feel it, but you can't see it. Wairua relates to all the learning that goes on at our school.

If teachers don't model wairua, if the principal doesn't model it, then everyone will do as they please. In our school, it is the foundation of our culture. It is very much imbedded in what we are as Māori people.

I think leadership is about many people, and comes from many places. It is about learning, and it's about the sharing of knowledge. When I share my knowledge with others, they can then take up the challenge – like a flock of birds in migration – each can take a lead.

My heroes are my old people. My heroes are those who are current models of good practice. They could be in business, they could be in a profession, and they could be in the arts. Our ideas are not only derived from professional readings and theories, and are not only based on our old people. They come from everyone around us including the children themselves.

Malcolm Dixon, while at Frimley School

Malcolm Dixon

Leadership for me means providing opportunities for my teachers to grow professionally, and for us to grow together as a team.

I believe that all principals need to delegate, as we can't hold it all on our own shoulders.

My strengths are in identifying new people who are going to fit into the school climate and who will enjoy teaching here. I try to achieve a balance of people that covers experience, age, and gender, and to provide a cooperative and supportive environment where everyone's ideas are listened to and valued.

We are constantly building on our vision, and reflective practices and planning is an important base for that. We are constantly asking the questions:

  • Are we doing it right?
  • What do we need to improve?
  • What are our criteria for success?
  • How do we recognise that?

Risk taking is important. I believe that you need to weigh the risks yourself and that you need to develop a recovery plan in case things go wrong.

You have to get to know the people who make decisions in the central bureaucracies. It is much easier if you can put a face to a person when you want some action or if you want to challenge some decision. I believe that networking can also help to influence change.

I try to find people in other places who are leading successful schools, and to share ideas with them. If you can identify an idea from one school you visit, and add it to your own ideas, then you can grow your own mountain.

I also believe that teachers and principals need interests outside of teaching. I've learnt a lot from my involvement in New Zealand Rugby Football Union. Through refereeing, I've been able to recognise a range of strategies for marketing and team building that I can apply in my leadership role.

Maureen Kerr, while at St Patrick’s School, Kaiapoi

Maureen Kerr

For me leadership is, firstly, about relationships.

I believe that, as a leader, you need to be able to relate to people, and to recognise that staff are at different stages of the learning journey.

You need to be able to influence people so that they are able to attain the commonly shared goals that you have established together.

I think a leader needs to be intuitive, and needs to be aware of what is happening around the school.

Responding to feedback is important and reflective practices are essential for effective leadership.

I also believe that we can make a difference by practising shared leadership throughout the school.

I listen and work closely with colleagues and I tend to model my work on what I see around me as effective leadership. I enjoy having the opportunity to discuss professional matters relating to education with colleagues and other principals.I have also been influenced by my professional readings.

I have been inspired by Professor Patrick Duignan’s quote, "Authentic leadership is the measure of a leaders' ability to influence self, others, and each other, to make extraordinary efforts to attain worthwhile and agreed goals and, in doing so, elevate the human condition through conduct that is ethical, moral, and compassionate" (Patrick Duignan, 1999). 

Mike Sutton, while at Nawton School

Mike Sutton

I see my role as encouraging and empowering people to be extended professionals – that is, teachers who are learning all the time.

I believe, that as a leader, you have to model learning, you have to be open to change, and you have to be enthusiastic about change. You also need to enjoy leadership.

I am very patient, and I respect the dignity and rights of others to be themselves as long as there is a sense that we are all trying to make an effort.

In a situation where you are trying to change the culture many people are moving out of their comfort zone into zones of uncertainty. People often feel hurt, as there is a certain amount of loss associated with change. I believe it is my role to support, encourage, and empower others in the change process.

Leadership is all about having the big picture and knowing where you are heading. It is not only about knowing where you are going today, it's about knowing where you are going to in the future.

I model my leadership approach on a lot of things and a range of people. For example, when I was first a principal in a two-teacher school, the principal in the adjoining school took me under his wing and used to say to me, do this and do that. Some of those things have lived with me.

I read a lot of educationalist's work and this has influenced what I do. For example, Peter Senge talks about leaders being the people who walk out in front, who are deeply committed to organisational change and to change within themselves. But most of all that that person can come from any level within the school, that they don't have to be the nominal leader at the top.

I think that one of the biggest challenges for principals is knowing if they are doing a good job. I believe, as a leader, we are relying on many different things. There is feedback from students, teachers, board members, parents, and visitors who come into the school. However, one of the most valuable systems of feedback that I get is my principal appraisal. It is a year-long process from the goal setting through to the visits and the feedback. I believe that principals need to challenge themselves by finding an appraiser who will expect them to grow and develop.

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