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An introduction to leadership for governors

Introduction

This course is an introduction to educational leadership and management. It is based on the understanding that researching practice and analysing real situations can lead to change and improvement. The course considers some key issues and concepts in educational leadership and, among others, considers the question of what might constitute good practice in educational leadership and how the capacity to lead might be understood and developed. The importance of planning and evaluating professional learning development as part of this process is analysed and informed using a theoretical model that can be utilised in any school.

This course offers you the opportunity to consider some key issues that can occur within schools. You are asked within several activities to reflect upon different scenarios and write some personal observations in a blog that you will be able to copy and paste into your own computer. Completing the blog is an essential part of this course to demonstrate your active participation – but because situations vary from school to school, answers will vary, and your thoughts remain personal to you.

Some of the activities may require you to choose from a number of possible answers, but the underlining theme of this course is that you take time and answer reflectively and honestly, drawing upon your own personal knowledge and learning.

By taking this course it is hoped that you will develop greater confidence in your role as a governor and be able to take a more informed role within your school.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • better understand the role that leadership plays in school development and the improvement of pupil outcomes

  • discuss and analyse some of the factors that can influence and contribute to successful leadership

  • reflect on the leadership approaches taken in educational organisations known to you

  • appreciate the importance of using evidence to support judgements

  • appreciate the importance of planning and evaluating professional learning development.

1 What is educational leadership?

Leadership is a complex matter: a plethora of publications have been written on the subject. From the outset it should be stated that there is no one right way of leading, and that there are no quick fixes or easy recipes for resolving educational leadership challenges.

This course introduces some of the academic tools and ideas that will support you to develop a critical perspective about approaches to leadership in your own context. We have all experienced the leadership of others in our professional and personal lives, and we will all have a view about which leadership actions, behaviours and strategies might be required in a given situation.

However, there can be confusion about what terms such as ‘leadership’, ‘leading’, ‘administration’ or ‘management’ can mean across organisations. Over time, the names of roles have evolved to reflect the amount of leadership expected. Schools use terms such as:

  • ‘middle managers’
  • ‘subject leaders’
  • ‘leaders of learning’
  • ‘senior management teams’
  • ‘senior leadership teams’.

What is generally accepted is that:

  • leadership is exercised by many professionals
  • leadership tasks can be performed by many members of an organisation with and without positional authority.

Many roles are a combination of ‘leading’ and ‘managing’, and the emphasis will vary from person to person and from organisation to organisation. Leading has been described as working with people to change behaviours, attitudes and values, whilst managers are more likely to maintain the performance of people and systems. However, from an academic perspective, educational leadership and management remain as contested concepts!

Activity 1: Leadership and management

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Consider the ‘leadership and management’ structures in an organisation that you are familiar with. Who appears to have leadership responsibility as part of their role and what evidence do you have to support this judgement?

Can you think of and list some examples of change within your school that are a direct or indirect result of leadership practice? Again, what evidence can you draw upon to support your views?

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

2 The context of leadership in Wales

In reality, few organisations have completely distinct structures, and different leadership approaches may be practised in different parts of the same organisation. Power may appear to exist in a demarcated, hierarchical structure, and this may reflect forms of perceived expert knowledge. However, those who are not in designated leadership roles may nevertheless exert influence on others through the power of persuasion and interpersonal relationships – this may include proposing refinements or alternatives to leadership plans. When you reflect upon leadership, it’s therefore important to consider not only the institutional features of an organisation but also the relationships between the people.

Estyn inspects Welsh schools and provides feedback on leadership and management as part of the current reporting framework. Although Estyn’s reports provide a summary and grading of the school’s leadership and management, the length of the inspection cycle will often mean that this ‘information’ is several years old.

The pace of change in schools is relentless. The latest Estyn report may be an important reference point, but there may be other external evaluative reports available to schools from a local authority (LA) or regional consortia. These other reports can provide more recent feedback on performance that reflects upon, discusses and analyses specific aspects of leadership.

Activity 2: External evaluation reports

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Consider the following points:

  1. What external evaluation reports are available to you as a school governor, and how familiar are you with these?
  2. How recent are these documents and what do they tell you about external perceptions of your school’s leadership processes?
  3. Do you feel that they are an accurate reflection of the school’s current leadership, or do you think that there are significant differences? What evidence supports your judgements?

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

3 Leadership and school improvement

Estyn’s extensive report Leadership and Primary School Improvement (2016) includes an important acknowledgment that all schools have room to improve, and that leadership is the most significant factor in influencing the pace, quality and sustainability of the school’s improvement.

The report states that schools at different developmental stages often need different styles of leadership, and that leaders – at all stages of a school’s developmental journey – play a crucial role in developing the professional skills of their staff and supporting them.

The evidence base for this report is taken from primary school inspections across Wales between 2010 and 2015. It also includes a four-stage model for primary improvement that offers generic elements of improvement that are transferable to secondary education.

Leadership and Primary School Improvement identifies common characteristics of improvement at all stages:

These are where leaders:

  • clearly define the vision and strategic direction of the school; this vision evolves as the school improves
  • establish professional values and behaviours among staff to support continuous improvement and effective teamwork
  • establish and maintain a culture where improving standards and wellbeing for all pupils is the main priority
  • make improving teaching the key process that contributes to improving standards
  • deliver a curriculum that fully meets the needs of all pupils
  • sustain a consistent focus on improving pupils’ literacy (in English and Welsh), ICT skills, and numeracy (including higher-order thinking and reasoning skills)
  • make sure that staff’s continuous professional development improves the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils
  • ensure that all staff (especially those in management roles) are accountable for their areas of work
  • ensure that self-evaluation outcomes derive from first-hand evidence, and are linked closely to school improvement priorities
  • provide governors with clear, understandable and honest analyses of how well the school is performing, and encourage them to challenge underperformance.

You should now use these leadership characteristics as you attempt Activity 3.

Activity 3: Estyn’s leadership characteristics

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Look carefully at each of Estyn’s commonly occurring leadership characteristics.

  1. Now go to both of the polls on the course website to identify what you think is the most and least commonly occurring characteristics in your school.

    After voting, you’ll be able to see what other learners picked. Visit the forum to discuss your choices.

  2. Now consider whether any of the characteristics could be usefully addressed and improved within your organisation? If so, what leadership actions would need to take place to enable this to happen in an optimum manner?

    Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

(If you want to read more of Leadership and Primary School Improvement, it’s available on Estyn’s website.)

You are invited to consider how these characteristics work against a real-life example. Take a look at the Parkland Primary School case study, go to your blog on the course website and create a two-column table, similar to the one below and try and find an example of each characteristic from the Parkland example. The instructions on how to do this are included below the example table.

Activity 4: Estyn’s leadership characteristics and the Parkland case study

Timing: Allow approximately 60 minutes

Go to Activity 4’s blog on the course website and create a two column table, similar to the one below:

Characteristic Example from study
Clearly define the vision and strategic direction of the school; this vision evolves as the school improves
Establish professional values and behaviours among staff to support continuous improvement and effective teamwork
Establish and maintain a culture where improving standards and wellbeing for all pupils is the main priority
Make improving teaching the key process that contributes to improving standards
Deliver a curriculum that fully meets the needs of all pupils
Sustain a consistent focus on improving pupils’ literacy (in English and Welsh), ICT skills, and numeracy (including higher-order thinking and reasoning skills)
Make sure that staff’s continuous professional development improves the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils
Ensure that all staff (especially those in management roles) are accountable for their areas of work
Ensure that self-evaluation outcomes derive from first-hand evidence, and are linked closely to school improvement priorities
Provide governors with clear, understandable and honest analyses of how well the school is performing, and encourage them to challenge underperformance

To create a table, after you click on ‘New blog post’, first click on the top-left button on the message box: .

Then click on the ‘Table’ button: . At the prompt, create a table with eleven rows and two columns. (You don’t need to add a caption.)

(If you want to read more of Leadership and Primary School Improvement, it’s available on Estyn’s website.)

Having objectively considered the Parkland Primary School case study, you are advised to now conduct a similar reflective activity for your own school. You could create another table within your blog to complete this. This should be an interesting comparative exercise.

4 Types of leadership

Leadership and Primary School Improvement includes evidence taken from a number of primary schools. It is always important to objectively consider evidence when reflecting on effective leadership. There are a number of detailed case studies included within the report, and these reflect different levels of success that can, in turn, be related to aspects of leadership.

From an academic perspective, there are distinct ways of thinking about leadership that include:

  • positional
  • distributional
  • transactional
  • transformational.

This is generally a contentious field: the vast amount of available literature has competing and contradictory references to multiple leadership types, theories, styles and models. This is because leadership incorporates a considerable range of actions and activities, all of which are underpinned by distinct values and beliefs.

Everyone working in an educational context could be involved in some form of leadership activity – however small – that involves influence in the knowledge, views, behaviours or practices of others. Theories continue to emerge about leadership and agreement on a preferred style remains elusive! One contested example of this is termed ‘shared leaderhip’ (or ‘distributed leadership’), which recognises that good ideas can come from and be developed by anyone within an organisation. This can be viewed as positive, because it can help to build capacity and allows for the development of intellectual and professional capital; however, there is a need to consider and plan for how sharing and developing ideas can take place.

Leadership still retains positional status and leaders choose to conduct themselves in different ways and in different circumstances. Transactional and transformational leadership are two well established models referred to in academic literature:

  • In transactional leadership, there is influence on behaviour with ‘rewards’ or ‘disciplines’, depending on the level of performance from followers. This approach to leadership has two main factors: contingent reward balanced by management by expectation. Contingent reward requires subordinates to reach prescribed levels of performance; management by expectation allows for intervention if standards are not met. This is a variation on the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to leadership. Some people might feel uncomfortable to imagine a transactional approach to managing professional teachers, many of whom feel a deep sense of commitment to working with pupils.
  • Transformational leadership might intuitively feel a more a more appropriate model. In many ways, it is very similar to democratic leadership: both involve a deep respect for the dignity of individuals and their cultural traditions – a proactive facilitation, open inquiry and active critique. The transformational leader inspires and motivates followers, demonstrating the importance of (and fostering a desire to) improve and achieve. They are often optimistic and excited about achieving goals, and are able to generate a shared belief and a strategic vision. They mentor followers and attend to individual needs.

If the transactional leader appears to lead with the head, the transformational leader leads with the heart. Where transactional leadership can be described as efficient, transformational leadership would be called effective. But there is a need for caution: both of these leadership approaches are artificial constructs. In reality, all leadership models are stereotypes, and much of what passes for leadership within schools is usually an amalgam of styles. It is likely that leadership will also often be a compromise, with external factors seeming to influence both timelines and accountability.

Creating a culture within a school that enables change to be successfully planned for and implemented is a challenge for leaders. Each school and scenario will have its own set of factors and variables that need to be carefully considered.

Activity 5: Using creative leadership

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

Please now read the article ‘Creative leadership: a challenge of our times’ by Louise Stoll and Julie Temperley (2009).

It draws on findings from research into the need for leaders to be creative in order to develop a flexible workforce that can adapt to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

As you read the article, you will probably read comments that you find yourself agreeing with and others that you do not. The comments in the article have an authenticity that should help you to reflect on your own school and staff perceptions.

You are encouraged to keep a record of any factors from the article that you feel could be replicated or amended to enable your school to develop a more confident and creative approach to your own set of circumstances and priorities.

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

Activity 6: Using creative leadership – test your knowledge (part 1)

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Having read ‘Creative leadership: a challenge of our times’, now try the following questions.

Which of the following conditions from the article would help create a new safeguarding procedure?

a. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


b. 

Stimulate a sense of urgency – if necessary, generate a ‘crisis’


c. 

Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences


d. 

Self-consciously relinquish control


The correct answer is b.

Which of the following conditions from the article would help to develop links with parents and the community?

a. 

Set high expectations about the degree of creativity


b. 

Use failure as a learning opportunity


c. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


d. 

Provide time and space and facilitate the practicalities


The correct answer is d.

Which of the following conditions from the article would help to develop digital competency skills amongst staff?

a. 

Use failure as a learning opportunity


b. 

Keep referring back to core values


c. 

Stimulate a sense of urgency – if necessary, generate a ‘crisis’


d. 

Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences


The correct answer is d.

Which of the following conditions from the article would help to develop a whole school approach to external policy change with respect to the curriculum?

a. 

Promote individual and collaborative creative thinking and design


b. 

Set high expectations about the degree of creativity


c. 

Use failure as a learning opportunity


d. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


The correct answer is a.

Activity 7: Using creative leadership – test your knowledge (part 2)

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

You should now consider how these conditions work when considering a real-life example.

Carefully read and analyse the Deighton Primary School case study and answer the following questions, which are related to actual examples from the case study. For each question you will need to choose two conditions that would help to facilitate each school development.

Which of the following conditions from the article sought to address raising standards of reading for pupils eligible for free school meals?

a. 

Keep referring back to core values


b. 

Set high expectations about the degree of creativity


c. 

Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences


d. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


e. 

Provide time and space and facilitate the practicalities


The correct answers are c and e.

Which of the following conditions from the article have provided staff the autonomy and trust to lead on areas of responsibility?

a. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


b. 

Stimulate a sense of urgency – if necessary, generate a ‘crisis’


c. 

Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences


d. 

Self-consciously relinquish control


e. 

Provide time and space and facilitate the practicalities


The correct answers are d and e.

Which of the following conditions from the article initially helped to develop the role of governors?

a. 

Set high expectations about the degree of creativity


b. 

Use failure as a learning opportunity


c. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


d. 

Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences


e. 

Keep referring back to core values


The correct answers are b and d.

Which of the following conditions from the article has involved parents and the community in the development of the school?

a. 

Provide time and space and facilitate the practicalities


b. 

Model creativity and risk-taking


c. 

Stimulate a sense of urgency – if necessary, generate a ‘crisis’


d. 

Keep referring back to core values


e. 

Promote individual and collaborative creative thinking and design


The correct answers are a and e.

5 Leading professional learning development (PLD)

One of the key roles for leaders is to support the professional learning of others. As well as being one of the common characteristics of improvement in Estyn’s Leadership and Primary School Improvement report, effective professional learning has a number of potentially positive outcomes for both the individual and organisation. This includes the possibility of enhanced outcomes for learners, which is a priority for any school.

It is important that professional learning development (PLD) activity is consistent with organisational goals. It can be defined and occur in a number of ways, including:

  • continuous professional development
  • in-service training
  • mentoring
  • professional learning communities
  • coaching.

It is important to understand that each of these approaches can be utilised; but it’s equally important to consider the quality of the experience and how to evaluate the impact of the activity.

Evaluation should be considered when planning the activity, to ensure that financial resources invested in PLD are cost-effective and strategic. Historically, many forms of professional courses had an instant form of evaluation, often in the form of a tick sheet accompanied with a few comments. This was generally quite superficial and referred to by some academics as a ‘happy sheet’. It would provide only impressionistic and anecdotal information, with no consideration of impact over time being factored in.

There are now more in-depth approaches to evaluating professional learning: these include Thomas R. Guskey’s model, which sees the impact of PLD being achieved at five potential levels:

  • participants’ reactions
  • participants’ learning
  • organisational support and change
  • participants’ use of new knowledge and skills
  • pupil learning outcomes.

According to Guskey, the main goal of professional development is to improve outcomes for pupils. He suggests that the sensible approach is to start where you want to be and work through the levels, always keeping in mind the potential outcome on the pupil. So when evaluating PLD, ‘pupil learning outcomes’ is the first and most important consideration, and ‘participants’ reactions’ – the so-called ‘happy sheet’ – is the least.

In other words: the professional development is driven by the needs of the pupils.

Activity 8: ‘Does it make a difference?’

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

Please read Guskey’s article, ‘Does it make a difference?’, which explains this approach in more detail.

Reflect on PLD that you have personally experienced or are aware of. What form of evaluation took place, and could incorporating Guskey’s five-stage approach have improved the quality of the experience? If so, in what way?

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

6 Review of your learning

The final activity is an opportunity for you to revisit your learning and reflect on some of the main themes from this course on leadership. You might need to revisit some of your earlier reading in order to consolidate some of the leadership concepts that have been introduced.

Activity 9: Time to reflect

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

Estyn’s report Leadership and Primary School Improvement (2016) outlined ten common characteristics that were demonstrated by leaders. Consider each of these in turn, and from your understanding of transactional and transformational leadership, note down whether one of these stereotypical leadership styles has greater potential to address each characteristic, or whether you think elements of both styles are required. You should also return to Stoll and Temperley’s article ‘Creative leadership: a challenge of our times’ (2009) and note down which of the ‘emerging conditions for promoting and nurturing the creativity of colleagues’ could add to the likelihood of success.

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website.

There are no ‘correct’ answers to this activity. The main aim is to help you to develop your appreciation that leadership is complex and continuously open to interpretation. Schools evolve, as do individuals within them; therefore, leadership needs to evolve as well. Just as Leadership and Primary School Improvement included four different categories to show schools’ differing positions – starting the journey, making progress, building momentum and sustaining high standards – there will also be differences when analysing and reflecting upon each of the different characteristics in every school.

A successful leader or leadership team needs, in Stoll and Temperley’s (2009) words, to ‘explore and develop their capacity to create the conditions, culture and structures in which learning-focused innovation and creativity best thrive.’ This includes relevant PLD and an improvement plan with success criteria that can be evaluated with objective evidence. Being a school governor was never going to be easy, but hopefully you now feel more confident to take a more informed and active role within your school’s developmental journey.

References

Estyn (2016) Leadership and Primary School Improvement, September, Cardiff: Estyn. Available at: https://www.estyn.gov.wales/ sites/ www.estyn.gov.wales/ files/ documents/ Leadership%20and%20primary%20improvement%20-%20new%20links_0.pdf (accessed 18 September 2019).
Guskey, T. (2002) ‘Does it make a difference?’, Educational Leadership, vol. 59, no. 6, pp. 45–7. Available at: https://uknowledge.uky.edu/ edp_facpub/ 7/ (accessed 18 September 2019).
Stoll, L. and Temperley, J. (2009) ‘Creative leadership: a challenge of our times’, School Leadership & Management, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 65–78. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/ reader/ 111046579 (accessed 18 September 2019).

Acknowledgements

This free course was written by Dave Tyler.

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated (see terms and conditions), this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this free course:

Images

Cover image: DGLimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Resources

Section 3: Parkland Primary School case study, Estyn (2016) Leadership and Primary School Improvement, https://www.estyn.gov.wales/, reproduced under the terms of the OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ doc/ open-government-licence); Section 4: Deighton Primary School case study, Estyn (2016) Leadership and Primary School Improvement, https://www.estyn.gov.wales/, reproduced under the terms of the OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ doc/ open-government-licence).

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.