This past week, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating with our Director of Learning, Lorelie Lenaour, the “Leading Learning” module at the inaugural CASS/ASBOA Summer Conference. The focus of the conference was to bring all system leaders in the province of Alberta together under one roof and begin to support the implementation of the new Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard as well as offer other learning opportunities for our business and financial leaders.
The Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard reads as follows: “Quality superintendent leadership occurs when the superintendent’s ongoing analysis of the context, and the superintendent’s decisions about what leadership knowledge abilities to apply, result in quality school leadership, quality teaching and optimum learning for all students in the school authority.” Leading learning is one of seven competencies attached to the standard and requires that, “A superintendent establishes and sustains a learning culture in the school community that promotes ongoing critical reflection on practice, shared responsibility for student success and continuous improvement.” While this is the standard specific for superintendents, ALL system leaders must be working toward achievement of this competency.
The learning cultures within the entire system and individual schools are of critical importance. They must support quality leadership and teaching in order to achieve optimum learning for all students. Our division has a very strong focus on quality leadership because, quite honestly, the most powerful position in any system is the principal. Providing the right type of support and mentoring to your leaders will result in quality teaching and optimum learning. But what is the right support and mentoring?
I’ll always believed in transformational leadership, which focuses on relationships. Every education standard that you read and the vast majority of business excellence literature understands the importance of fostering effective relationships with your people. It is impossible to move from good to great and then sustain greatness without first cultivating a culture of trust. That trust is most effectively developed through face to face interactions and that means getting out of my office and into schools to connect. But even though I’ve committed to spending a half day in each of our schools twice during the school year, my attention to transformational leadership won’t impact quality teaching and optimum learning to the level necessary.
What is required is a shift from transformational to instructional leadership. This shift, which results in the greatest impact on student learning, is best explained in a short conversation with Viviane Robinson. http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB7wP8WJZeU You may also read more about her research in this short brief entitled, “The impact of leadership on student outcomes: Making sense of the evidence.”
My visits therefore, must be focused on assisting our school leaders to become stronger in their role of instructional leader. It makes no sense and is truly a waste of time, if teachers do not receive any relevant feedback on their practice when being observed (supervised) by a leader. The purpose of teacher observations must be on growth or affirmation of practice and not simply a check in the box of the supervision plan. It is an opportunity for leaders to engage their teachers to be reflective of their own practice. This is a skill, and in our division we have committed to the process of Cognitive Coaching to assist us. Reflective practice requires us to lead with questions and not simply provide advice.
Regardless of the position you hold in system or school administration, fostering a learning culture to enhance quality leadership and teaching in order to provide optimum learning for students is part of your job. It may not be an easy shift but given the research, it needs to be non-negotiable!