One of the greatest challenges, I believe, facing school leaders today is the doom and gloom in education. There is so much material out there about what is wrong with schools and what we are not doing.
We are often faced with so many problems, all of which are appear urgent, in a society where we are expected to make immediate improvements to performance as soon as an area for improvement is highlighted.
Essentially, what is being presented to the education, is oftentimes, is a deficit model – all the things we are not doing well. The stress that is caused by presenting such a deficit model is huge. It is, therefore, easy to understand why the education profession struggles to both attract and retain leaders at different levels in the school, not just Head of Schools and Principals. Furthermore, it helps explain why many teachers are frequently stressed and disillusioned, despite saying they love what they do.
Trying to decide where to start with improvement when faced with a deficit model can be overwhelming to leaders and teachers alike. Being able to prioritise and stick those things that are urgent and a priority is crucial. Furthermore, having a scatter-shot approach to improvement, especially when it comes to professional learning, does not allow for sustained improvement, a degree of mastery and the formation of new habits.
What is needed to support schools and their leaders is a roadmap for improvement that lays out the steps for change to successfully occur. For example, following a school evaluation visit, or school inspection, school’s and their leaders should not be given just a set of targets, benchmarks, matters to be addressed, or recommendations. What is needed is an and an improvement plan developed by school leaders in conjunction with the visiting teams who are evaluating them, based on a detailed understanding of the context that each school and its available resources,
Leaving school leaders and teachers to focus on school improvement without support and guidance, is like asking a child to swim for the first time, with no-one there to help them, and we know what the outcome is likely to be. We often know what needs to be done but getting there is a different matter when we are being asked to improve so many things and maintain what we are already doing well.
School leaders also need to be acutely aware of this, when requiring improvements of teachers when seeking to make change in schools.
So, to those telling us to change education – researchers, keynote speakers and politicians. Stop telling us what is wrong and work with us on how to improve things without school leaders drowning before they can swim. To school leaders, including myself, be mindful of what we are requiring and requesting of the teachers we lead. A vehicle, a roadmap and enough fuel in the tank are all essential for any improvement journey to start.