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3 Leadership Shifts to Spark School Improvement

In this installment of our continuing series highlighting strategies brought forward by leading authors, read about how a shift in mindset by leadership, coupled with greater ownership and accountability by teachers, can have a dramatic positive effect on school outcomes. In some cases, it takes leadership relinquishing control and trusting in educators’ skills, expertise, and self-motivation to see lasting improvements.

Read below as educator-authors share observations on flexibility in leadership and how it impacts educators, students, and school culture overall:

1. School improvement through mutual accountability and motivation

Tom Sherrington, co-author of Teaching WalkThrus with Oliver Caviglioli

“Some think that unless the principal is directing, it’s weak. But it doesn’t have to be. You can hold people to account. You can say, ‘Okay, so what do you think you need to do to improve? Tell me what you think.’ Then they respond, ‘I think I need to do these two things.’ And you say, ‘Great! Go do them.’

[Later you say,] ‘Have you done the two things you said you were going to do? You chose, but you can’t say, ‘Well, I said I would do it,’ and you didn’t do it. That’s not okay.

You can have a level of intensity around these things so that you’re not just hoping things improve. You make them improve. But the teacher is always the one driving and incentivizing them to drive their improvement. If there’s a renewed determination to bring that culture into schools, that will be good. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen.”

Listen to the full interview with Tom Sherrington: Every Picture Tells a Story: Instructional Coaching Artfully Defined

2. Leading with a focus on teacher wellbeing

Kat Howard, author of Stop Talking About Wellbeing: A Pragmatic Approach to Teacher Workload

“I run a leadership course, and I always open with, ‘How would your staff describe your school?’ I ask for really honest answers because I think that’s key. It’s using that good indication as to what you need to do. You need to listen to your people more than anything. 

I hope that we learn something from this [COVID] period. I’m concerned about the wellbeing of educators in that regard. Should we be looking at parallels like health care providers and frontline workers who are experiencing a very similar sort of pace?

As a senior leader, I have to choose and select deliberately and thoughtfully what I’m filling my teachers’ week with because there is a finite amount of time. We cannot simply operate at top speed, working 50, 60, or 70 hours a week. Unfortunately, [sometimes] we don’t know where the boundaries are, and we don’t know when to stop.

I ask myself, ‘Does it increase workload? Does it impact children’s progress?’ If the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes,’ then I’m not doing the right thing. If I’m looking to add something to a teacher’s workload, I need to take something away. It’s not a case of our teachers not being able to cope. It’s not a case of ‘I can cope, or I can’t cope.’ there are so many hours in a week to build a teacher’s time.”

Listen to the full interview with Kat Howard: Taking a Pragmatic Approach to Teacher Workload

3. Leaning into a mindset of collaboration and flexibility

Emma Turner, author of Be More Toddler: A Leadership Education From Our Little Learners

“We did a co-headship, and after doing it for a while, we thought, ‘We can do this. We can do this differently. We don’t have to have one leader, one school, one model. We can be together and be different.

I think the power came a lot from the partnership and doing leadership differently. It was the fact that you have two people coming at one problem with combined skills, expertise, and a complementary dynamic.

It gave huge confidence as a leader to actually say [to yourself], ‘You can do this differently. You can change it. You don’t have to be ever-present, constantly devoted to the role. You can have a job and a body of work to do. You can split it. You can flex it. You can do it differently. You can bring what you can and develop what you’ve got together, do things differently.’ Always ask the question, ‘Why not? Why don’t we do it like this?'”

Listen to the full interview with Emma Turner: Eye-Opening Leadership Lessons From Our Youngest Learners

Find books written by these authors and many more leading educators and experts by visiting us.johncattbookshop.com

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