Our Perspectives - Dr Linda Bendikson

The UACEL Perspectives are opinion pieces that highlight current and topical educational leadership matters. Linda Bendikson writes candidly about her views and offers a fresh perspective on today’s educational leadership challenges.  Occasionally, other faculty / team members contribute to this Newsletter is published four times a year.

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Leading Professional Learning in a Time of Change

Like all educational institutions, UACEL is constantly evolving to ensure relevance and competence in a rapidly changing education environment. This proactive approach has been recognised recently with the awarding of a new school leadership development contract in Australia which will see UACEL, in collaboration with an Australian partner, delivering the 'Evolve: New Principals' programme to first-time principals. We are delighted to be leading this project and to have the opportunity to support the professional learning of new school leaders across Victoria.

In addition, our very successful partnership with BI Norwegian Business School (the second largest business school in Europe) continues to deliver Open-to-learning™ Leadership courses across Norway. This partnership is about to become even stronger with expansion across all of Scandinavia set to begin in the near future. We look forward to a positive partnership with BI in the years ahead.

We have also begun to support schools through the use of MoE PLD funding. This is proving to be a very useful resource for schools and CoLs, enabling us to share our in-depth leadership insights with their leadership teams. At one of these leadership development sessions, Richard Newton, one of our facilitators and a former principal of St Clair School in Dunedin, shared his approach to in-school professional learning. Those present found his insights into the provision of effective PLD both innovative and practical. Consequently, I asked him to share them with you today.

- Linda Bendikson

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In a world characterised by change, it is easy to underestimate both the rate of change and the impact change will have on our lives. Typically, we think of the technological changes we are experiencing as linear and predictable, however it is clear that much of the change we are witnessing is actually exponential in nature, accelerating us towards a future characterised by both new opportunities and new challenges.

We need only look at the impact of automation on driving to get a glimpse of the world our children may be inheriting. By 2025, in the United States alone, driverless technology is projected to take the jobs of over 3.5 million truck drivers . While autonomous driving technologies will have some benefits ($100 billion could be saved annually on fuel savings and wages), there will be a real cost to those whose livelihood is based on truck driving or truck driver support. The enormity of this change alone is brought into greater focus when you recognise that truck driving is the most common occupation in 29 American states. This is just a simple example of the impact that the combination of technology and artificial intelligence is set to have on jobs.

So, what does this mean for school leaders as they consider the future of their youngest pupils, given that today’s five year olds will not begin entering the workforce until 2030? What are the skills, attitudes and values that these children will need? What competencies will enable them to thrive in a world we simply cannot imagine? Can you remember the way we lived before the internet, before Facebook, before the smartphone? These innovations have transformed the way we live but represent only the start of an ever accelerating period of change. How should school leaders lead when the only certainty about the nature of the future is that it is uncertain?

While not having all of the answers to this issue, it is clear that one of the best ways for school leaders to lead and support their teachers in a time of rapid change is to ensure that all staff have regular and structured opportunities for high quality professional learning and development (PLD). Unfortunately, quality is all too often sacrificed in favour of quantity as leaders try to achieve too much, over too short a time period. Inevitably, this results in shallow, partial learning and, not surprisingly, in nominal changes in teacher practice or student outcomes. Counterintuitively, one of the simplest solutions to this problem is to deliberately slow down to achieve more, by rethinking PLD approaches and timeframes.

Slowing down to achieve more recognises that time is a critical resource in the life of an educator, and that adding meetings to an already busy week is an unhelpful approach. A useful alternative to adding more meetings, is to rethink the way existing meeting time is utilised. In most schools professional learning involves regular meetings (often weekly) which attempt to build new learning sequentially, meeting-after-meeting. The slow down to achieve more approach makes use of this existing pattern of learning but deliberately restructures the learning opportunities offered so that teacher learning is supported by a series of opportunities to unpack key ideas over an extended period of time - first in a large group (the full teaching team), then in a group of colleagues working within the same age range or discipline (syndicate or department) and finally with a mix of vertically grouped colleagues with a focus on ‘my practice in my class’. The diagram below illustrates this alternative approach, contrasting it with the traditional model (on the top line of the diagram) used in most schools.

In my previous work as a principal, I have seen the benefits of this approach in action. Teachers’ involved reported that the additional time provided for team and PLG based discussion helps them make sense of new learning in their own context, and supports the adoption of new concepts in their everyday practice. In addition, middle leaders reported greater freedom to reflect on their role in the learning process, and increased opportunities to feedback on the quality of the PLD programme. The strategy proved to be a simple and yet practical way of focussing teachers on complex pedagogical change while also acknowledging that deep change is a collaborative and time-intensive undertaking.

- Richard Newton

In support of effective leadership actions like that detailed above, the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership (UACEL) provides in-depth professional learning for school leaders across New Zealand. Options available include courses as well as bespoke PLD solutions designed to meet the needs of leaders within their own context. Funding models include both school and centrally funded options.

For more information, or to register your interest in one of our leadership development options, contact a member of our bespoke PLD design team by ringing (09) 6238899; extension 48879, by email or by visiting our website.

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