Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership


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Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership policy for dynamic times

Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership policy for dynamic times
Simon Breakspear Amelia Peterson Asmaa Alfadala Muhammad Salman B. M. Khair

RR.7.2017

RR.7.2017
Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership policy for dynamic times
Simon Breakspear Amelia Peterson Asmaa Alfadala Muhammad Salman B. M. Khair

Contents

Foreword

v

Preface

vi

Executive Summary

vii

Introduction

1

1. Agile Leadership for Learning

2

2. Coherent System-wide Reform

5

3. Designing Your Approach

6

Chapter 1 — The Leadership Imperative: The big opportunity for achieving a step-change in learning 9

1.1. How Leadership Matters for Student Learning Outcomes:

The empirical evidence of its impact.

9

1.1.1 Leadership for learning matters

9

1.1.2. Leadership for learning enables teacher learning and development 10

1.1.3. Leadership for learning enables effective local change

12

1.1.4. Leadership is the driver for improvement when schools

have more autonomy

13

1.2. International Studies on Leadership Capabilities

13

1.2.1. There is a need for more leaders across many jurisdictions

13

1.2.2. Current leaders have room to develop as leaders of learning

14

1.3. International Studies on Current Approaches to Leadership Development

17

1.3.1. Evidence on developing leadership capabilities

17

1.3.2. A survey of acitivity on leadership development strategies

18

1.4. Summary & Key Questions

18

Designing a System for Leadership Development

21

Overview of Chapters 2, 3, & 4

21

Chapter 2 — Who are the Leaders in the System?

25

2.1. Activating Leadership at All Levels

25

2.1.1. Who can view themselves as a leader?

26

2.1.2. Distributed leadership

27

2.1.3. The benefits of activating teacher and middle leadership

28

2.2. Compelling Leadership Pathways

30

2.2.1. Multi-level and branched pathways

30

2.2.2. Strengthening formal and informal teacher leadership

32

2.2.3. Focusing middle-leadership on teaching learning and development 34

2.3. Attracting & Selecting School Principals

35

2.3.1. Selection through qualifications

35

2.3.2 Competitive selection into qualifying programs

36

2.3.3. Talent pools for senior roles

37

2.3.4. Surfacing high potential candidates

38

2.4. Summary & Key Questions

39

Reflection & discussion questions for designing

the Who of leadership policy

39

Chapter 3 — What Should Leaders Know, Be Able to Do & Be?

41

3.1. Articulating Leadership Capabilities

42

3.1.1 Leadership Standards

42

3.1.2. Harnessing the profession to craft standards

44

3.1.3. Attending to personal, social and emotional dimensions

45

3.2. The Core of Leadership for Learning: leading teacher learning

48

3.2.1. The research supporting effective teacher learning

48

3.2.2. Effectively leading teacher learning

48

3.2.3. Developing collaborative professionalism

50

3.3. The Core of Agile Leadership: Leading complex change processes

51

3.3.1. Leading disciplined collective inquiry: seeing, acting, reflecting

52

3.3.2. Enabling adult behavior change

55

3.3.3. Applying design thinking to accelerate change

56

3.4. System-specific Leadership Capabilities

58

3.4.1. Aligning outcomes with the design of national systems

58

3.4.2. Supporting school networks and collaborations

60

3.4.3. Leading in challenging contexts

61

3.4.4. Managing resources

62

3.5. Summary & Key Questions

63

Key questions for designing the ‘What’ of leadership policy

63

Chapter 4 — How Should Leadership Development Be Designed?

65

4.1. From Leadership Programs to Development Platform

66

4.1.1. Developing adaptive experts

66

4.1.2. Principles for designing a development platform

67

4.2. Embedding Leadership Development: Organizing for sustained learning

69

4.2.1. Leadership learning and deliberate practice

69

4.2.2. Reflection and double loop learning

70

4.2.3. Developmental relationships

71

4.2.4 Peer reviews

72

4.2.5 The master-apprentice model

72

4.3. Making It Personal: Intensive experiences & identity work

73

4.3.1. New ideas, new identities

74

4.3.2. Experiential learning

75

4.3.3. Leader-generated case studies

77

4.4 Supporting Continuous Learning: Routines & Networks

79

4.4.1. Organizational routines

79

4.4.2. Local and global learning networks

80

4.4.3. Accelerating digital learning networks

80

Summary & Questions

82

Key questions for designing the How of leadership policy

82

Chapter 5 — Recommendations for Accelerating Action

85

Developing Agile Leaders for Learning

85

1. Partner with the profession

86

2. Create cohesion

87

3. Start small, evaluate and expand

88

4. Enable leadership through broader policy

89

Conclusion

90

Appendix A — Interviews

92

About the Authors

93

About Learn Labs

94

About WISE

95

Acknowledgments

96

References

97

Foreword
From the earliest communities, people have been preoccupied with discovering traits and skills of leadership. The quest has continued in many forms through the ages, led by great sages from Socrates to Confucius. If the debates on what makes a good leader seem to surge in times of crisis, uncertainty, and change, then our current world is well-primed for a fresh look at leadership fundamentals. Education has served historically as the preeminent crucible of leadership. Yet in our own time education systems have faced intense scrutiny and doubt around their effectiveness and relevance in preparing our young people for a world in flux and inspiring new leadership for emerging ‘knowledge societies’.
Educators have long struggled to meet changing student needs and to address issues of access, diversity and inequality. Today they must engage vaulting technology advances, and even re-envision and redesign learning environments themselves. Such turbulence calls for dynamic, flexible leaders capable of seizing the creative imagination of youth, as well as their teachers, to regain relevance for education systems. For this research report, Asmaa Alfadala, Director of Research at WISE, has led a fruitful collaboration with Simon Breakspear, Executive Director of Learn Labs. With colleagues, they have framed an approach to effective school leadership through team-building, agility, and a devotion to trying out new ideas. The report springs partly from an intensive workshop series called Empowering Leaders of Learning, an ongoing collaboration with Qatar Foundation’s Education Development Institute, Qatar’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, and Learn Labs. While the ELL program has already benefited a growing number of school leaders in both private and public schools here in Doha, the model is easily adaptable to diverse school systems globally.
The report counters the status quo of conventional management approaches in education leadership, and provides a framework to encourage leadership capabilities with deeper, direct impact on student learning outcomes. When school leaders empower their teachers and staff, they create a cohesive team ethos that can most effectively drive change and support lasting student engagement. Developing ‘agile leaders of learning’ enables improved understanding of complexity, and helps leaders — whether principals or teachers — to adapt to changing demands, and seek unique solutions in partnership with colleagues and peers.
WISE is a ‘thinking and doing’ community of collaboration dedicated to evidence-based action in education for empowerment and change. This WISE research report reflects our efforts to link policy and practice as a key objective. We are confident that the report, in concert with others, will help build effective, forward-looking school leadership everywhere.
Stavros N. Yiannouka CEO WISE
v

Preface
The OECD’s Beatriz Pont, a leader in the study of school leadership over the last decade, recently concluded “school leadership has not been a policy priority in itself”. Then along came Simon Breakspear and his colleagues, who laid out this comprehensive policy on school leadership. Good timing, and much needed!
The authors nail the essence of the matter when they write at the outset of this WISE Report, “The core capacity of leaders is to increase teacher capacity”. And they mean it comprehensively to include collective as well as individual capacity. They then spend the rest of the report on the ‘Who, What, and How of leadership’.
Breakspear and his co-authors rightly conceptualize leadership policy as part of a coherent system. As they put it: It’s a system thing. Think of it holistically across the system and the career. Make it work in your context. The report makes very clear at the beginning that current approaches to leadership are insufficient. The authors then spell out what it would take to ‘design a system’ that would continually generate more and better leaders over time.
Breakspear and colleagues hit all the right buttons from my experience. They make the case that credentials are not competencies; that leadership development must be embedded in day-to-day experiences; that formal leadership programs are only a small part of learning the ropes; and that the whole matter is one of purposeful experiential learning.
Each chapter around the Who, What and How contains a set of investigative questions that enables the reader to systematically assess her or his own situation. These questions and the format enable groups to analyze their own systems and to develop lines of action for definable improvement in their own settings.
With all the books on school leadership available, it is surprising how little systematic treatment the topic has received. What Breakspear, Peterson, Alfadala, and Khair have done is to provide a comprehensive yet succinct account of what has been missing in treatments of school leadership, and above all what will be required to address the matter. This report fills a policy vacuum, bringing together in one place what we know about the nature and development of school leadership and how it must become a force for developing and supporting the teaching profession. Most importantly, the authors have set the table for accelerated action on the critical matter of school improvement whose potential has been undercut by the failure to develop and leverage leading learners. This report is a call to new action on the policy front for school leadership.
Michael Fullan, O.C. Professor Emeritus
OISE, University of Toronto
vi

Executive Summary
School leadership policies are key to improving the quality of teaching and learning within a school, and they also impact student achievement and wellbeing outcomes. Despite a flurry of activity in the area of leadership development, there are few examples of coherent systemic approaches to leadership policy. We present existing empirical evidence on the impact of leadership on student outcomes, the need to better develop leadership for learning and the emerging global activity in leadership development to underline our claim that leadership policy is an area worthy of additional focus and investment. We then draw on existing research and cases to propose how a jurisdiction might develop a systemic strategy for developing leadership capability, focusing on the key questions of who to develop, what capabilities to develop, and how to design effective development.
This paper focuses on leadership policies designed to develop leadership for learning capabilities across an education system. Too often leadership policy has been limited to principal preparation. While the development of principals must be a core component of a leadership development strategy, we also examine the under-explored area of how to develop leadership capabilities across a broader range of educators — both those in formal leadership positions and teachers. We argue for a holistic, consistent and system-wide strategy designed to attract, retain, develop and enable leaders of learning. Furthermore, we believe that this strategy should not only create more leaders, but will also develop agile leaders of learning. To shape changing conditions into a positive impact on students, the ability to be agile — responsive, quick to spot emerging problems or opportunities, and able to work in short-iterative cycles of adaptation, learning, and improvement — will be critical.
In investigating the impact of leadership on student outcomes, we highlight that the type of leadership practices matters. Syntheses of empirical studies consistently find a link between quality leadership for learning practices — in particular developing teacher individual and collective expertise — and student learning outcomes. Crucial to this work, is for leaders to have an understanding of how to design and participate in teacher professional learning approaches that can have a positive impact on student outcomes. A second key task for leadership is to help their schools to make sense of a policy direction and to create a culture of trust and readiness for change. Lastly, we present how leadership is the driver for improvement in conditions of increased school autonomy. School autonomy as a policy is not equally effective across all contexts, and relies on investment in building leadership capabilities at the school level.
Research into the current state of educational leadership indicates that many systems are struggling with a shortage of school leaders, but also that current leaders have room to develop as more effective leaders of learning. Systems also vary greatly in the extent to which teachers and assistant-level administrators are expected to take on leadership for learning roles and activities. Therefore, there is considerable room for more systemic approaches to developing leadership capabilities across every level of schools.
vii

Systemic approaches are required to focus the surge of new activity in the area of leadership development into impact. Some jurisdictions have instigated strategies that include creating national or system-wide standards for leadership development, or working on building a “pipeline” of emerging leaders through identification and training programs. But many questions remain about the focus, content, location and efficacy of actual leadership development. It is unclear to what extent development activities are designed in ways that actually impact the daily practice of leaders, and connect to student outcomes.
The first key question in creating a strategy is to ask who should be the target for leadership development? Schools cannot deliver a full range of education outcomes for diverse learners under the direction of a single individual, no matter how capable. The concepts of middle and teacher leadership can help to designate additional individuals who can develop the capabilities to shape and improve teaching and learning. But this “distributed” approach to leadership is about more than roles. The goal of distributing leadership should be to ensure that individuals direct and guide others as and when appropriate in order to pass on, or maximize, the impact of their particular knowledge and expertise.
One aspect of a leadership development strategy must be concerned with how to sustain the motivation of educators to take on higher-levels of responsibilities in a system, while increasing their capabilities. A necessary step for leadership policy is to create clear and compelling career pathways in leadership. These may be multi-levelled pathways, which lead to the school principal position through a linear set of roles, or branching pathways which lead to different positions of influence, for example specializing in pedagogy, curriculum professional learning or management.
Some leadership roles require formal selection processes, and these can create an opportunity to identify and promote candidates with particular capabilities. Involvement of accomplished existing leaders, competency-based interviews (when questions are carefully designed and tested), and creating talent pools are potential ingredients of a well-functioning selection process that is cost effective. Extended selection processes can also be an opportunity to actively encourage applicants who might otherwise be overlooked.
A second key question in any strategy design process is what key capabilities need to develop? To coordinate leadership development across a jurisdiction, government leaders, in deep partnership with the profession, need to make explicit what leaders need to be able to know, do and be in order to have an impact on teaching and learning. Some elements of any framework will be jurisdiction, or place-specific, but common themes in research indicate that two capabilities are vital for agile leadership for learning across contexts.
The first is the ability to develop teacher capabilities. For this, a leader of teacher learning needs to have knowledge of the teaching and learning evidence base; knowledge of particularities of adult learning; inquiry skills; and social and communication skills. Key tools and routines can support leaders to sustain ongoing professional learning and develop collective efficacy in their teams.
viii

The second core capability is that of managing complex change. Leaders today face demands to deliver new sets of learning outcomes and new practices and learning designs. Therefore, the ability to lead disciplined collaborative inquiry is becoming a key ability in order to steer the collection of, and response to, evidence of impact throughout a change process. To push the boundaries of current practice, leaders may benefit from becoming skilled in processes and mindsets of design thinking, to focus on rethinking the physical and social design of schools in line with new research on learning. Once a jurisdiction constructs its set of desired capabilities for leaders of learning, it needs to translate that what into a well-designed how. To develop these core capabilities in a way that actually impacts on leaders’ professional practice, leadership development needs to be: embedded (happening within the context of work); personal (owned and driven by the leader while impacting on mindsets and identity); and continuous (so there is no end to leadership growth). Leadership development needs to be designed into a system of offerings, routines and networks that leaders can identify and embed into their work, and a range of policies that incentivize ongoing development by giving recognition and opportunities to expert leaders. In seeking to enact their who, what and how, the key message for government is not to aim to provide all inputs from the centre, but to act as a platform. Government bodies cannot hope to provide the quality, range and scale of capacity-building activities that are needed to shift leadership for learning across a jurisdiction. Instead, governments must act to help other actors to co-ordinate their activities; help leaders and aspiring leaders to connect with opportunities; and align the system in ways that enable and motivate effective leadership at all levels. In embarking on a new strategy, there are four vital principles to bear in mind:
° Deeply engage with the profession in order to ensure ownership ° Realize the agency of other system actors, and create cohesion ° Start small, evaluate, and expand ° Enable leadership by putting in place the enabling policy conditions In bringing these principles to bear, we hope system leaders can model the spirit of focused, impactful experimentation and improvement which are the hallmark of agile leaders of learning.
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Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership