Leadership in Focus podcast series

Great schools need great leaders. School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in NSW public schools with a great education and the best start in life.

They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities.

The School Leadership Institute’s Leadership in Focus podcast series shines a spotlight on school leaders and explores the key issues and challenges they face.

Join School Leadership Institute Director, Joanne Jarvis, as she speaks with experts about leading with purpose and impact.

Episode 1 - Relational Trust

In this episode, SLI Principal Karen Maraga and senior lecturer and researcher in the School of Education at the University of Wollongong Dr Kylie Lipscombe, join SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis to discuss relational trust, what it is and why it matters.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities. Here at the School Leadership Institute, our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders, by providing world-class, evidence-informed, leadership development programs and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact. I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our first episode of the leadership conversations podcast series. I'm Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. And today, we'll be discussing relational trust, what it is and why it matters for school leaders. With me today is Dr Kylie Lipscombe from the University of Wollongong and Karen Maraga, a Principal with the School Leadership Institute. It's a real privilege to have you both join me today, Kylie and Karen, as we discuss this really important topic.

Kylie Lipscombe

Thanks, Joanne. It's a real privilege to be here.

Karen Maraga

Thanks, Joanne. Really looking forward to having a conversation with you and Kylie.

Joanne Jarvis

So let's start by talking about what relational trust is. Kylie, you're very familiar with the research on relational trust. So can you talk to us a little bit about how relational trust is defined in the research?

Kylie Lipscombe

Um, I've been studying schools and leadership collaboration and partnerships for over 10 years now, and I think more and more often I'm seeing a greater recognition of the importance of relational trust in schools. While, years ago, research simply sort of gave courtesy or a nod to the importance of relational trust, we're now starting to see greater recognition and specificity, I guess, of its complexity and how important it is to not just know what it is and why it's important, but also how it can be built and sustained. There are numerous studies on relational trust, and while these studies include nuances in definition, it's most commonly defined around the interpersonal and social exchanges of people that sort of incur responsibilities or obligations from one another that are both personally and professionally beneficial. So, in other words, you know, relational trust really involves respecting, caring for and believing in the honesty and competency of our colleagues and our leaders.

Joanne Jarvis

That's a really powerful definition of relational trust Kylie. You mentioned the greater recognition of the importance of relational trust in schools. So, let's explore what the research says about its impact.

Kylie Lipscombe

Yeah, there are numerous studies on the benefits of relational trust in schools. Um, some prominent studies have found, um, really important direct relationships between trust and student learning outcomes. So, for example, and probably the most prominent study is by Bryk and Schneider in 2002, which was a longitudinal study of 400 Chicago elementary schools. And in this study they concluded that schools characterised by relational trust are actually three times more likely to improve their outcomes than others. Um, in a more local study in New South Wales of six primary schools conducted by Stephen Camiss and colleagues, he found that relational trust was a critical condition for cultivating a culture of care and collaboration. When leading change and innovation in schools. And this, I guess, was really similar to Bryk and Schneider's work, where they found that teachers are more likely to commit to innovation and change when there's high relational trust and that's coupled with a strong moral imperative to improve student learning. So I think, Joanne, you know what's important in these two examples, you know, which are two of you know, numerous studies on relational trust in schools is that relational trust, um, can and does improve student learning outcomes. Um, it improves the culture of care and collaboration in schools, and it does increase teacher commitment and motivation for change.

Joanne Jarvis

So what you're saying is that schools really do benefit from having a high culture of relational trust. So I'm wondering, then, what is it that these leaders who create these conditions so well are doing that enable relational trust to flourish in their settings?

Kylie Lipscombe

Well, if we look at Bryk and Schneider's research, they found four important dispositions of relational trust. So the first one is around social respect, which is when individuals listen to each other carefully and take each other's point of view into account through interactions. The second is personal regard, or the care with which people interact with each other. And this could mean, for example, going the extra mile. You know when a teacher stays after school to work with a student or a parent, which they so readily do on a daily basis. The third is roll competency. Do individuals have the knowledge and skill and capabilities to deliver on their promises? And the fourth is around personal integrity, the degree to which an individual keeps his or her word and is guided by a clear set of moral and ethical principles.

Joanne Jarvis

Thanks, Kylie. It seems to me that relational trust really is the glue that holds teams and organisations together and ultimately supports school and student improvement. And it's associated with the culture. So I'm going to bring you in here, Karen, and ask if you could talk to us a little bit about what this means for school leaders.

Karen Maraga

Thanks Joanne. What we do know is that schools are intricate and complex systems. They're founded on people and relationships. Helen Timperley talks to us about trust not being an all or nothing concept, but one that is dynamic, and it's highly sensitive to ongoing interactions and responses. High trust at one time does not mean that trust still exists at another, and as some leaders have experienced, it's easy to lose, and it can be difficult to regain. So this means as a leader, you can't take for granted that relational trust is always present. Rather, you need to be deliberate about creating and maintaining the conditions that enable it to be sustained.

Joanne Jarvis

That's so true, Karen and I'm thinking, that as leaders, it's about the structures, processes and procedures that we put in place to enable greater transparency around things like decision making, strong collaborative practices, a respectful feedback culture, and it's also about being intentional with the ways we connect with staff. It's that sense that relationships are building moments rather than meetings, I think.

Karen Maraga

Yeah, you mentioned collaboration and feedback, both so important for improving teacher practices and student outcomes. Viviane Robinson talks about building the trust while doing the hard work. So, for leaders, we know that we need to engage with the learning alongside our staff. We need to model the types of behaviours that Kylie's mentioned earlier.

Joanne Jarvis

So if you had to nominate the top three behaviours that you used as a principal to build and maintain relational trust in your school, what would you say?

Karen Maraga

I think one of the core elements for me was to be able to be a really good listener and ask good questions to seek the points of view of others to really intentionally be curious and in asking those questions, really seek to understand, not to jump to conclusions and make assumptions too quickly. Secondly, having a solutions based focus, one that enabled me to explore with others different ideas and perspectives to bring teams together, seek feedback and develop our own shared way of moving forward and tackling complex problems, and looking at school improvement. And the third was about me being open, honest and frequent in communication because we know as leaders, while it's important to develop and maintain relational trust with our staff and students, we also need to develop and maintain it with our broader community. We know that maintaining trust is ongoing. It includes both that presence and transparency. We need to have a genuine care and interest in the school and its community, and we do demonstrate this as leaders through our actions. We need to be approachable. We need to make time. We able need to be able to show that we're really attentively listening to the concerns and value the feedback and input of those who are part of our broader school community. In doing all of these things, we promote a shared vision and a positive attitude in our schools.

Kylie Lipscombe

Joanne, do you mind if I just add one more strategy also to Karen's list? I'm really drawn to work associated with developing and using team norms when working in teams. So these norms are developed together by the team, they're agreed on by the team. But also importantly, there's a peer accountability to withhold these team norms. Team norms might include being on time to meetings or not accessing emails during meetings. And these examples, I think, really demonstrate attention to working well together by prioritising the behaviours and actions required for effective team meetings, which we know is a key characteristic of leading highly effective teams.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, Karen and Kylie, your points have really resonated with me because they identify the how of leadership, which we know is so vital to support growth in teacher leader and student learning. What would be your advice about the behaviours that would really damage your ability to create a culture of strong relational trust?

Karen Maraga

Mmm, decisions not made in the best interest of students. Breaking of confidentiality, not leading with integrity, not following through with what you say, really impacts on your own credibility.

Joanne Jarvis

Exactly. It's never walking past a standard that you're not prepared to accept, is a really important tenant of leadership, don't you think? Kylie? What are some of the evidence informed ways that leaders can create a culture of relational trust in their schools, in your view?

Kylie Lipscombe

I think the first thing to tackle in response to that question, Joanne, is really a common misconception in leadership that trust needs to be developed first, and this is simply not true. It can't be firstly developed before the real work is done. Instead, it really needs to be built by the actions of leading well. So, considering relational trust as an ecology in a school is a really useful lens for leaders to consider, I think. You know, how they can positively and successfully establish, maintain and sustain a culture, a relational trust within between their learning communities. So there's a really nice study completed in Canada based on principalship and relational trust. And in this study, the researchers identified that relational trust needs to permeate through the school, through very deliberate and strategic and ongoing attention. And they discuss the importance of establishing and sustaining trust through things like consistent integrity of actions, by breaking down a us versus them mentality between teachers and leaders, by dealing directly with past betrayals and by leading with a genuine care and strong ethical leadership when faced with complexity and difficulties. And I guess, you know, of course, like anything that we want embedded in a culture, leaders really need to sustain relational trust. When relational trust is permeated into the ecology of a school, people will truly listen. Um, and they'll hear one another. They'll engage in risks and innovation. You know, there'll be lots of laughter and joy and a genuine sense of care and passion. Morale will be really high, and leaders and teachers will have the knowledge, the processes and the courage to tackle the hard work and the complex work of teaching and learning. And ultimately, when a school has a strong ecology of relational trust, all the work in schools is leading to better learning for all students.

Joanne Jarvis

You certainly described a place where I would love to work and learn. Such important advice that you've just offered us. In drawing this conversation to a close, it seems to me that there are structures and protocols that can be put in place to enable school leaders to create the conditions that we've described today. So, Kylie, what are some recommendations you could share for our listeners to explore this topic further?

Kylie Lipscombe

Yeah, I guess, um, there's a really nice framework developed by some Aussie researchers actually, Christine Edwards-Groves and colleagues, and their research is specific to middle leadership and relational trust. And from their research, they've actually developed five dimensions of practice, which include interpersonal, interactional, intersubjective, intellectual and pragmatic. And I know that sounds quite complex, but it actually is a really nice framework and quite a practical framework for any leader, but in particular, middle leaders to really think about their leading practices and plan for how they can establish and sustain and maintain relational trust in their schools. I also gravitate towards dialogue and communicative spaces, as I think it's sort of not only the actions but the language used that can build relational trust. So, for example, when making decisions, leaders can ask, 'is it OK?' Um, and that really shows a genuine interest in other people's contributions. Leaders can clearly state what they'll do and what they won't do, and that really shows transparency in their actions. Leaders can tell people that they'll give them time to think before they are asked to make a decision, and that shows people that they appreciate their feelings when they can be asking, you know, what they can do to help and support others. And that really shows, um, you know, that we're in this together.

Joanne Jarvis

When I reflect on the key points that I've heard today from the multiple insights that you have both shared with us, two that really stand out for me are the fact that developing trust needs to be deliberate and planned in order for it to be successfully embedded in the culture of the school, and it's complex, and it's complex because it's situated between people, relationships, interactions and actions that take time to build, but they can be so quickly broken. I really want to thank both of you for sharing your wisdom, your insights and your expertise with me today and our broader audience. And for our listeners please visit the School Leadership Institute website. You just have to Google it and it will appear and follow us on Twitter at NSWSLI. And thank you for listening.

Kylie Lipscombe

Thanks, Joanne.

Karen Maraga

Thanks, Joanne.

Episode 2 - Emotional Intelligence - P1

Episode 2 of the Leadership in Focus series is a two-part episode exploring emotional intelligence. In Part 1, SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis is joined by SLI Principal Karen Maraga and the Chief Executive Officer of Genos Internal, Dr Ben Palmer, to break down what emotional intelligence is and why it matters for school leaders.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities. Here at the School Leadership Institute, our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders by providing world class, evidence informed, leadership development program and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact. I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our second episode of the Leadership in Focus podcast series. I'm Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. In this two-part episode, we'll be discussing emotional intelligence.

Part 1 will examine what emotional intelligence is and why it matters for school leaders. In Part 2, we'll explore some strategies to support school leaders in understanding and using emotional intelligence.

With me today is Dr Ben Palmer from Genos International and Karen Maraga, a principal with the School Leadership Institute. It's a real privilege to have you both join me today, Ben and Karen, as we discuss this important topic.

Ben Palmer

Hi. It's great to be with you. It's a privilege to be here with you too, Joanne and Karen. Thanks for having me.

Karen Maraga

Thank you, Joanne. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to discuss today with you and with Ben.

Joanne Jarvis

So let's just start by talking about what emotional intelligence is. Ben, you're very familiar with the research on emotional intelligence. How is it defined in the research?

Ben Palmer

It's defined in the research a number of different ways. I think the most accessible and practical is as a set of skills that define how will we perceive, understand, express and respond to emotions, both those within ourselves and in others. Now, these skills are very important in school leadership, when you think about the context that school leaders are working in. If we just step back and think about that for a moment. I think school leaders are doing what I call a lot of emotional pivoting on a day-to-day basis. One minute, you could be promoting Student of the Week. The next, you could be helping a student through a personal crisis. Today, you might be helping parents think about how they're going to navigate flooded borders to get to the school, to pick up their children. You could be helping your staff cope with increased stress and uncertainty due to COVID. Suffice to say that leading schools involves what's called high levels of emotional labour and requires high levels of emotional regulation. And that's why the skills of emotional intelligence, as I've just defined them here, really relate to things like our wellbeing, our interactions, whether that be with staff, students or parents or other school stakeholders and carers, and how well we navigate those emotional pivots that I was talking about.

Joanne Jarvis

So you have alluded to the importance of these skills for leaders. Could we explore what the research says about the impact of strong emotional intelligence in schools?

Ben Palmer

Emotions really sit at the heart of how well we think and how well we behave. And we know that students perform well when they're in an environment that facilitates good thinking. And what I mean by that is pleasant feelings, by way of example, help students think more broadly, help students adapt more of a growth mindset. Pleasant feelings broaden and build the way we think and the way we engage. So students, for example, that are experiencing pleasant feelings, tend to ask more questions, listen more deeply and think more broadly about topics that are giving to them. Pleasant emotions facilitate learning generally and help students reach potential. So pleasant feelings come from effective school culture, where staff feel valued, cared for, consulted, informed, understood. And when parents feel properly communicated to, well engaged around the learning of their child. I should use the words parents and carers there. So strong emotional intelligence skills in school leaders and teachers generally help us pick up on the way students are feeling, help students navigate their own emotional world and help us demonstrate and role model emotions that we know are needed for good learning. It's not to say that negative emotions are bad. All emotions are good. Sometimes we learn the most from the most difficult life experiences we have, and that is true. Some anxiety can be good. Too much anxiety is generally bad, though, for learning. So all emotions are important, but generally, on balance, you want to have a school where students and staff are experiencing pleasant emotions and are responding effectively to unpleasant emotions.

That's why these skills of perceiving and understanding emotions, that self awareness and awareness of others, the skill of managing your own emotions and the skill of positively influencing the emotions of others, these are critical emotional intelligence skills. They ultimately lead to better wellbeing in staff and students and they ultimately lead to better learning because students are thinking more broadly and engaging more deeply around curriculum.

Joanne Jarvis

So would it be true to say that leaders who lead with high levels of emotional intelligence are able to respond to complexity more effectively?

Ben Palmer

Yes, because people who have high levels of emotional intelligence recognise that emotions are very context specific. So they require great perspective taking. So rather than, say, reacting to complexity, you're getting on the balcony and thinking about how to respond to complexity. I like this notion of reacting or responding, and I think what the skills of emotional intelligence do is catch ourself when we're on autopilot and be more intentional rather than reactionary to what's going on.

Joanne Jarvis

I'm wondering, Ben, if we could explore the notion of wellbeing and how emotional intelligence impacts not only on one's wellbeing but also on the wellbeing of others.

Ben Palmer

There's a very strong relationship between your level of emotional intelligence and wellbeing, and that is and occurs for a couple of reasons. I mean, at the heart of wellbeing is the way you feel. Self awareness helps you kind of gauge properly, if you like, things like your level of stress, your level of frustration and how it might be impacting you. Self management is the skill of emotional intelligence that really helps you effectively respond to emotions. And when we respond to emotions effectively, we generally achieve better outcomes. When we're reactionary with our emotions, we often do things that we later regret. We've all sent that email out of anger that we've wanted to get back later, once we've become more level headed about it. We've all had, in some metaphorical way, our toilet paper moment down at Woolworths. Um, even being very emotionally intelligent doesn't mean you don't have moments like that. But you minimise moments like that, and as a consequence, you generally are responding and adapting better to your environment. But the other reason why emotional intelligence relates so much to your wellbeing, is because it relates to the quality of your relationships. And the better our relationships, the better our wellbeing. Being lonely, by way of example, is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of its detrimental impact on your health. So think about these skills of emotional intelligence. If you're not self aware, you're not really cognisant of the way you're impacting on others. If you don't perceive and understand the emotions of others, it's very hard to be empathetic. If you don't respond well to other people's emotions, if you don't relate well to other people's emotions, it's hard to be effectively vulnerable and so on.

These things sit at the heart of the quality of your relationships and therefore your wellbeing. So really direct relationship between how self aware you are, how empathetic you are, how well you express emotions, how well you manage emotions and your wellbeing.

Joanne Jarvis

What you're saying makes so much sense and I'm just wondering, how do school leaders be more emotionally intelligent?

Ben Palmer

Well, there is a large number of things, and I hope we can go through a few of them today, but one of them really is context. The great starting place for being more emotionally intelligent is context. I think people who have high levels of EI really get very curious about the way people are feeling and they're not reacting. They are evaluating context and then taking a broader set of perspectives, if you like, into account before they respond to emotion. So context is key. How do you get context? Really through, I think, the mindsets of curiosity, of exploring what's underneath and around the emotion that you're seeing in front of you or that you have yourself.

Joanne Jarvis

Karen, I'm going to bring you in here. As a principal, how would you go about reading and responding to context?

Karen Maraga

I think it's really important to take the time to listen and seek to understand what the issues, the frustrations, the concerns or the challenges could be. But the parents, the teacher, the student that we're engaging with. To me, Joanne, as Ben said, it's around mindsets, and it links very nicely to the School Leadership Institute Leadership Mindsets, in particular, the mindset of curiosity. By this we mean as leaders, we remain intentionally curious. That we're really seeking to understand by asking questions and suspending judgement.

In this way, we're really able to clarify the issue, concern or problem before we move on to our response. As busy people, sometimes it can appear efficient to manage situations quickly, but that can also lead to us making assumptions about the issue. We think that we know the answer, and then we jump to conclusions. As a leader, the most important thing when we are dealing with highly emotive responses, is to make sure that each person feels that they have had an opportunity to be heard and understood. Once we get to that point, we can then look at working together to achieve a solution or an outcome.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, I agree, and I think it's useful to tap into our deep reservoir of empathy and remember that when we find ourselves managing complex emotional situations with parents, teachers or students that we need to recognise that we are often speaking with people who may be feeling highly anxious or even fearful about their situation, that what might show itself as unreasonable behaviour might be a person who is really struggling with their situation and just simply needs to be heard. And I think in these situations, the expressions of genuine empathy, seeking to understand by remaining in a place of deep inquiry, such as our curious leadership mindset suggests, and being non-judgmental is really critical.

Karen Maraga

Yes, if you're able to manage your own emotions, you're able to think clearly before you act and therefore you are more flexible about considering different approaches to addressing a problem. You're able to create an environment where you've been seen as fair and someone who interacts with integrity and therefore someone who can be trusted.

Joanne Jarvis

Yep. So, Ben, how do you be contextually aware of emotions in a school context?

Ben Palmer

Well, as you were saying, I think you've got to have that mindset of curiosity and not be reacting to emotions, but to be reading them well and that involves, as you're saying, suspending judgement and really seeking to understand what's going on. I think Stephen Covey brings what we're talking to life through a story that he tells in his book 'The 7 habits of highly effective people'. I don't know it verbatim, but it goes along like this that there are 3 young children who are misbehaving on a fairly full train carriage. And it's clear who the father is to everybody who's getting annoyed and frustrated with the behaviour of these children on a train. And as the journey goes on, the sort of behaviour gets worse. And finally one of the passengers gets frustrated to the point where they go up to the father and say, 'why aren't you doing anything to manage the behaviour of these children?', in a kind of gruff voice to which the father then responds, 'I'm so sorry. I can't, I've just lost their mother'. And, of course, everybody on the train who was sitting there almost equally as frustrated as this person who decided to take action, sort of takes a deep breath and instantly sees the situation in a very different context and their feelings of frustration move to empathy and wanting to help. And of course, you know, you start seeing the behaviour of the children and the lack of behaviour and the father in a completely different way, and I think that parable is a great way of bringing that to life. Whenever we see an emotion, we don't always see the big context, or whenever we see behaviour, that's not quite right, we don't always see the big context behind it. And that parable for me really brings the to life the importance of curiosity, but also Joanne, the importance of empathy for leaders.

Joanne Jarvis

Mmm. It's a really powerful and moving example. And I think this might be a good segue to exploring more deeply the importance of empathy for leaders.

Ben Palmer

Yeah, absolutely so. Empathy is not feeling for someone. I like to think of that as sympathy. Empathy is feeling with someone. I think when we're demonstrating sympathy, which often disconnects us rather than connects us, we're saying things like, 'it'll be fine. Don't worry about it. Oh, don't overreact to that. Or gee, that's a bad situation. I feel for you'. That's really sympathy. Empathy is more, 'what's going on? Tell me how you're feeling?', and acknowledging those feelings and feeling with someone. The good thing about empathy is that just about all of us have the natural biology for empathy. We all have the mirror neurons and the wherewithal to be empathetic. And for anybody who'd like to see that in action, go into YouTube and type in, 'Amnesty International: 4 minutes of eyes contact'. There's many other examples of it, but Amnesty International has got a great little video in YouTube, where they bring people together who don't know each other simply to sit opposite each other and be with each other. And of course, when you do that, when you sit opposite a stranger and you look at each other, you do just naturally start to feel with each other. It's a context that ignites people's biology for empathy. We can ignite that same biology if we just take 6 deep breaths before we meet with someone. That 6 deep breaths, where you exhale for twice as long as you inhale. That engages your parasympathetic nervous system. It slows you down, and it helps you feel with someone. And that's really what empathy is all about. Empathy is a complex notion in the literature. There's a number of different things with it that are worth knowing. One is the empathy gap phenomenon.

This is a phenomenon where we often find it hardest to empathise properly for people who are experiencing hardships that we have experienced and got through ourselves. For example, a student who's bullied at school, who are they more, or better off, to go and see for empathy, a teacher who had been bullied themselves, or a teacher who had never been bullied? The answer, in large data, is the teacher who has never been bullied because they are less likely to fall into the empathy gap phenomenon. That is, they're more likely to feel with the person, rather than feel sympathy for the person, 'oh, yes, that's a terrible situation. Sorry about that'. They're more likely to simply acknowledge and hear, rather than the person who's been bullied themselves, who's much more likely if they're not paying attention, to jump into problem solving mode and indeed giving advice. And that can get in the way of empathy. So you can avoid the empathy gap phenomenon by remaining curious and by acknowledging and just being listening and asking questions.

Episode 2 - Emotional Intelligence - P2

Episode 2 of the Leadership in Focus series is a two-part episode exploring emotional intelligence. In Part 2, SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis, SLI Principal Karen Maraga and the Chief Executive Officer of Genos Internal, Dr Ben Palmer, discuss strategies to support school leaders in understanding and using emotional intelligence.

Joanne Jarvis

Welcome back for Part 2 of our series on Emotional Intelligence.

Ben, I've heard you talk often about the EAR Model as a systematic way of being empathetic. Could you share that in a summary form with us now?

Ben Palmer

Yeah, thank you. I love the sort of acronyms or mnemonics like this that help us remember. So E in the EAR Model stands for Empathise. That's where we are, suspending judgment - think about that Stephen Covey parable - when we are demonstrating curiosity, we're asking questions, we're exploring context, we're acknowledging what we see. Once you've felt like you have empathised enough, one of the important things to do towards the end of that phase, if you like, of a conversation around EAR is to say to the person, what outcome would you like to see here in a perfect world or in a not so perfect world, what are some likely outcomes here that you'd like to see happen? That becomes a nice anchor point for the next part of the EAR Model, Alternatives, we say - would it be beneficial to come up with Plan A and B or even Plan A, B and C, a number of different ways or alternatives if you like, of responding to this situation? And there you really just ask the right questions, give the right advice on coming up with a couple of different options, couple of different alternatives, on how to respond. And then R in the EAR Model stands for the Response and here we want to really try and make that very tangible. So what actions are you going to take? When are you going to take them? What can I do? What support do you need etcetera? So Empathise, come up with some Alternatives and help the person really come up with them with a proper structured, actionable Response. The EAR Model for being, if you like, empathetic. So EAR can be a really great model for demonstrating empathy, but EAR and things like it often sound great in theory and can be difficult in practice, particularly in school environments where leaders are really busy.

Karen, I'd love to throw back to you here, Joanne if that's all right if I could do so, because like you've heard me talk about the EAR Model a lot, I've heard Karen talk about how busy leaders generally build good relationships in schools. Karen talk to us about some of those sort of rituals and routines that you've seen, busy school leaders engage in to build positive relationships.

Karen Maraga

Thanks Ben, I think referring back to Stephen Covey, Stephen Covey also talks about big rocks, but in this situation, I think it's the little things that matter. It's making time to be with your colleagues in the staff room. It's those incidental chats that getting to know people as people, not just members of staff. As a principal, I tried to build in a session each day where I would go to the staff room, be it for recess or part of lunch. This is a great way to get to form positive relationships with staff in a very different context.

Also, being in the playground every day talking to students know their name, be at the gate, greeting students and families as they arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. This also helps to build relationships. You're making connections, demonstrating in your actions that you're an open and approachable leader. It's the notion of building the emotional bank account. It's much easier to have those challenging conversations or a difficult one with a parent or a student if you've formed a positive relationship in these informal interactions.

It's also I found, a great opportunity to find out information about families, to get to know them, see how they're going. For some people, some parents, some of our carers, schools are not places where they feel they can speak to a school leader, but by creating opportunities to have informal conversations, we can build a shared understanding of what together we can do for their child.

Joanne Jarvis

I really enjoyed the 2 of you speaking about this topic in such an eloquent way and listening to the examples that you've also shared, Karen. To me, basically what we're saying is you build relationships and trust in moments and it's about being a person first, rather than a position and therefore being mindful of the self who can form and deform relationships as a leader.

Ben Palmer

One of the things that I've enjoyed so much about my interactions with the School Leadership Institute, is whenever we meet, whether it's one on one or in small groups, I find that there's just a nice 5 minutes for general chatter before we get into the work. And to me that's one of those little routines, it's like an emotional check in. It's not even called that, it doesn't have to be so explicit. It's implicit, but it's very much cultural and I find that personally very effective. So things like check ins, asking people what's going well, what's something weighing on your mind? The other thing that I think a little ritual and routine around emotional intelligence, it doesn't take much time, so you combine it, wind it into busy schedules, is to be consciously using frameworks. What are you finding is going well? What are you not sure of or feel is really challenging? I think using frameworks helps people actually be vulnerable and think more deeply. It's like, how are you? Fine. I've got an open door policy, but is anyone coming in? You've got to be more intentional and I think a little bit more considered in how you go about it. And to me, things like practicing the EAR Model, taking 6 deep breaths before you meet with someone, having frameworks like what are you enjoying at the moment, what's a bit challenging? I think that's rare that some of the real work, if you like, comes out. The more you do, some of that sort of definitional work for yourself and just come up with those 3 or 4 little things that just become your way of being, the more natural they become and soon you'll find yourself doing them on autopilot, rather than having to really think about doing them.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, I think leaders would come across as being much more authentic and genuine, when they, when they become a habit of mind or as you often say habit stacking, in the daily work of a leader. It's a phrase I love hearing you talk about. You've also talked a lot about the research in terms of how much time we should be spending on our emotional intelligence and developing that. Could you just elaborate a little more on that for us, Ben.

Ben Palmer

Yeah. So one of the things Genos does is EI-360 Assessments, where we look at how well school leaders are demonstrating emotional intelligence and we correlate those scores with overall leadership effectiveness. So we have a very accessible question in our survey, which is 'overall, how effective would you rate the leadership of this person'. And the correlation between how well you demonstrate EI and perceptions of overall leadership effectiveness is around 0.74. What that says to us is that our emotional intelligence accounts for about 50 per cent of the variants in effective leadership. So if you were to think about an apple pie that represented 100 per cent of what it takes to be an effective leader in schools, the research suggests that about 50 per cent of it is dependent on our emotional intelligence, because emotional intelligence is really at the heart of how well we relate to people, our wellbeing and therefore overall school culture and wellbeing. So I think what that says for me is, 50 per cent of the time, we should probably be working on 'the what', the real technical aspects of running an effective school and 50 per cent of the time, we should probably be really focused on the interpersonal aspects, how well we're demonstrating self awareness and empathy and executing on the EAR Model and things like that. I think when you really look at the research, it's a timely reminder that continuous improvement and finesse of our emotional intelligence is very likely to lead to better outcomes in terms of our own wellbeing, in terms of the wellbeing of our staff, in terms of the wellbeing and potential of our students.

Joanne Jarvis

You've touched on some of the behaviours that school leaders can focus on in developing their emotional intelligence, Ben. What are some of the recommendations you could share with our listeners, so they could explore this further?

Ben Palmer

Well, the internet is our friend and there's lots of great information on emotional intelligence. But I recommend, if you want to do a deep dive in this area, firstly, to really get to understand emotions. And I would really recommend Lisa Feldman Barrett's book 'How emotions are made'. She talks about emotions and context that we've talked about here a bit today. So that's a great book. The other thing I would really recommend listeners do is get to know their own personality, values and beliefs and try and focus on better understanding the personality, values and beliefs of those that they work with every day and as many stakeholders as they can, because those things really shape the way we feel about things. We all feel differently, just as we all think differently about situations that are occurring around us. So by getting to better understand your personality, values and beliefs, you can become more self aware of the things you create emotions around and you can become more aware of the way others feel about things.

And I personally found it very fascinating to get to know my personality and things like my ego and how they cause certain reactions and certain evaluations of events. And yeah, I think that's one way of becoming really more emotionally intelligent. I have to tell one quick little story. Um, one of my buttons, if you like is criticism, when I get criticised I tend to be a bit defensive. Now, where does criticism occur for me? Well in our house, it often occurs in the kitchen after work when a certain partner comes home and finds that the kids are a bit ratty and I haven't been managing them well. Have you been on your phone the whole time? What's been going on? So off goes my defensiveness button and I usually explain to Georgia, you know, if she had only been around here for the last hour, she'd completely understand why the kids were ratty and it's not because I've been on my phone and I go into quite a defensive mode. What I've kind of learned around curiosity and things like that. Where does that Button come from? And why is there that natural reaction to that to be defensive? When does it work? And when does it doesn't, you know, and 9 times out of 10, it doesn't work very well, defensiveness. That doesn't mean I always stop it, but it allows me to be a bit more intentional and say, 'oh this could be a good time to just shut up and listen'. And that's the sort of thing that can go on I think, from better understanding where your emotions come from, how you react to them, where other people's emotions come from and how they react.

It's that insight and that knowledge that allows you to make that emotional pivot and to be more emotionally agile.

Joanne Jarvis

I don't think you would be alone, I suspect in the example you've just provided to us and our listeners, Ben. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability around that too.

When I reflect on the key points that I've heard today and there's been many significant points that you've made, 3 that stand out to me would be: that demonstrating emotional intelligence is intentional and it's practiced; that understanding multiple perspectives is absolutely key; and that empathy is something we are all equipped for and do better at by being curious, by being open to asking questions, being asked questions of and deep listening and acknowledgement of the perspectives of others. I think those 3 particular points together, would enable us to grow in our emotional intelligence as leaders.

Does that represent some of the key points for you, Ben?

Ben Palmer

It really does. And I think that Karen's also really reminded us that we can define little rituals and routines around EI and build those into our busy work schedule. Whether it's the check ins in the staff meeting or walking the school ground at lunchtime, Karen, one of the things I've really learned from working with you is, defining those little rituals and routines is 50 per cent of getting there, I think.

Joanne Jarvis

What are your final thoughts, Karen.

Karen Maraga

I've really enjoyed the opportunity to really think deeply about emotional intelligence and the thing that I really take away from this is that sometimes we think that it's something that you born with, but it's it's something that can be developed, that you can put in place structures and processes and be very intentional in being more emotionally intelligent and that awareness that you can in fact work with that and work towards being, as a leader and then emotionally an aware leader, in terms of how you lead, as well as what you lead and that's something that's quite optimistic. I think as a leader, that's something that we can do and continue to do each and every day and that will not only enhance our own wellbeing, but it will create a culture within our school climate, that's a positive one for everybody to engage in.

Joanne Jarvis

Absolutely. And I think that's a good note to end what has been a fascinating conversation with both you, Ben, and Karen and I really want to thank you for joining me today and sharing your wisdom and insights with me and our listeners. And if our listeners are also interested in other resources from the School Leadership Institute, please go and visit our website. We're certainly expanding the resources available. And follow us on Twitter @NSWSLI. And thank you, Ben, thank you Karen.

Ben Palmer

Thank you, Joanne and Karen. It's been great to be with you both. Thank you for having me.

Karen Maraga

Thanks Ben. Thanks Joanne. It's been a pleasure.

Joanne Jarvis

Thank you for listening.

Episode 3 - Leadership through the lens of history

Catherine the Great might not seem to have much in common with Charlie Perkins, or John Curtin with Bob Hawke, but through their leadership, they made a significant difference in the context of their times. Episode 3 explores leadership through the lens of history.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities. Here at the School Leadership Institute, our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders by providing world-class, evidence-informed leadership development programs and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact. I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our third episode of the Leadership in Focus podcast series. I am Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Today we will be discussing leadership through the lens of history, drawing on examples that reveal the attributes of historical leaders who have made a lasting impact. We will examine some of the qualities of these different leaders and look at how they can be applied in the context of school leadership. With me today is Judy King. Judy served as a secondary principal of 2 schools for 19 years in New South Wales public schools. Judy lectures in history and politics at WEA in Sydney. It is the oldest adult education institute in the heart of the Sydney CBD. It's a real privilege to have you join me today, Judy, as we inject history into our podcast series, focusing on leadership

Judy King

Thanks very much, Jo, and it's a pleasure to be here.

Joanne Jarvis

Well, when we think about history, we often reflect not just on the big historical events, but on major historical figures, the leaders of their time who made a real difference. There are so many who spring to mind and of course, they're all unique. But there are also some common attributes that many historical leaders have shared. Attributes that help them influence and impact others. Catherine the Great might not seem to have much in common with Charlie Perkins, or John Curtin with Bob Hawke, but I think Judy, as we discuss their leadership attributes, we'll be able to pinpoint some commonalities and the ways they made a significant difference in the context of their times. So, let's start with identifying some of the key leadership attributes, which would define effective leadership through your historical examples. Judy, how about we start with moral purpose, because it's just so fundamental to who we are as leaders?

Judy King

How do we know that a leader is leading with moral purpose? Well, we know that they are behaving within an ethical framework and that they're perceived as ethical within their organisation. And, of course, in a school context that would be the students, the teachers and the wider community. We want to know that school leaders are behaving ethically because they're more likely to inspire others to follow them. Eleanor Roosevelt, when she was first lady in 1939, resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution because they refused to allow the black soprano Marian Anderson to sing in the Constitution Hall in Washington. Eleanor then went on to organise for Marian to sing at a huge, free outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial just a few weeks later. Abraham Lincoln also comes to mind with his January 1863 executive order to emancipate the slaves at the height of the American Civil War. And we know that he is widely regarded as one of the best presidents of the United States.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, they're great examples of leaders who have led with strong moral purpose. And I'm also mindful of an American writer and teacher, Margaret Wheatley, who wisely said 'In these troubled times, we don't need more command and control. We need better means to engage everyone's intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arrive'. We know that effective leaders established relational trust in order to build consensus and inspire others to follow them. They have a vision and a language to articulate that vision, and they bring people together. So can you think of a leader who demonstrated these attributes?

Judy King

Well, quite a few come to mind, especially Bob Hawke. When he entered parliament in 1983, he came with a well established reputation as a consensus leader. His exceptional communication skills and his commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict, inspired widespread support through his 9 years in office as prime minister. He brought opposing groups to reach a common understanding. He probably made it seem easy, but it does take considerable skill and it really is one of the defining features of many successful leaders. What was also interesting about Hawke, was his very strong sense of self belief. Often, but not always, tempered with humility. Bob Hawke's capacity for self belief is somewhat legendary, but at the same time he was also willing to accept responsibility and reflect on and learn from mistakes.

Joanne Jarvis

In fact, Judy, these are great examples of just some of the School Leadership Institute mindsets in practice. Hawke was clearly courageous and collaborative and he showed great efficacy through his self belief. And so do effective school leaders, who respond to the circumstances and challenges of their times. No one day is ever the same. Judy, what are your thoughts about this?

Judy King

Indeed, every single day at school has its own complexities. There are some famous examples from history, which are entrenched in a complex mix of unique circumstances and Winston Churchill is a good example. He was really an appropriate leader for the times. He became prime minister in May 1940 when Britain was resisting the Nazis, without any allies other than the British Empire. Another example might be Lyndon Johnson. In 1964 he was determined to pass the Civil Rights Act despite huge opposition from the southern Democrats, but he inspired them to support the legislation. And, Johnson said famously, 'Well, what in the hell is the presidency for if you cannot influence the nation for the greater good?' Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were major steps forward in dismantling the centuries old segregation laws in the USA. He's not often regarded as a great president, because of the Vietnam War, but he achieved what President Kennedy could not: civil rights legislation that changed America. In doing this, he demonstrated strong moral purpose, 101 years after Lincoln's emancipation executive order.

Joanne Jarvis

As I reflect on these examples and the work of school leaders, it certainly takes a lot of courage to forge new directions and bring people with you and the curiosity to shape a better future. For me, courage is about being vulnerable whilst also maintaining high standards of myself and others. It's about not walking past the standard that I'm not prepared to accept. And curiosity is important because it's about listening to understand others in order to generate new ways of thinking. Judy, what is the place of curiosity and courage in history?

Judy King

I'm a great believer in courage being tempered by common sense. It's no good being courageous and being foolhardy. In 1942 the Labor Prime Minister of Australia, John Curtin, showed enormous courage in defying Winston Churchill. It was regarding the placement of Australian troops and war materials in the Pacific in World War 2. Curtin's momentous decision to protect Australia determined the future of our foreign policy from then on. Curtin had a very clear sense of direction. He responded decisively to urgent and dangerous circumstances and provided a strong rationale to the British government and to Australian citizens for his decisions. Just like school leaders, Curtin's a good example of courage, clear communication skills and the capacity to respond decisively in a crisis. Catherine the Great, the Empress of the Russian Empire in the 18th century, is famous for her insatiable intellectual and scientific curiosity. She actually invited the English doctor Thomas Dimsdale to the court of St Petersburg as early as 1764 to inoculate her and her son and heir, Paul, against smallpox. The Empress was a ruthless autocrat, but she embraced the scientific theories of the Enlightenment and she loathed superstition. By accepting the new scientific approach to managing smallpox, she hoped to inspire her court and her subjects and church leaders to do the same. She demonstrated courage, fine communication skills when refuting non-scientific counter arguments and she provided a sound rationale for her point of view and her strategies for dealing with the constant smallpox outbreaks across her vast empire.

Joanne Jarvis

So these are really fine examples of the timelessness of leadership in action. A powerful example of a 20th century leader who I think was entirely influential, was Eleanor Roosevelt. She once said, 'A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves'. As a principal, I saw this all the time with great teachers and leaders who got the best out of students while also bringing the best version of themselves to school every day. They lit the fire every day and rekindled it when that extra spark was needed. Can you comment on Eleanor's observation Judy?

Judy King

Well, Curtin changed Australia. Hawke changed Australia, but so did Charlie Perkins and the civil rights activists in our country in the 1960s. Perkins was a leader with a strong moral compass. He was one of only 2 Aboriginal students enrolled at Sydney University in 1965. His organisation of the Freedom Ride bus, in conjunction with the Reverend Ted Noffs at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, exposed the entrenched racism and discrimination in New South Wales country towns and regional areas. One of the white social justice activists on the bus with Perkins was Jim Spigelman. He later became the Chief Justice of New South Wales. I was actually completing my DipEd in 1965 at Sydney University and remember the day that the Freedom Ride bus departed the university. Perkins channelled his inner Gandhi through the 15-day bus journey and he responded to violent attacks and racist slurs with courage and determination. He demonstrated that conflict can be resolved peacefully. The Freedom Ride exposed significant housing and health issues, especially for Aboriginal children. It also exposed the exploitation of Aboriginal women and the entrenched segregation policies in New South Wales country towns. But in 1967, 90 per cent of Australians voted 'yes' in the referendum to have Aboriginal Australians counted in the Census. The Freedom Ride and its extensive media coverage highlighted the urgent need for social reform in our country. It took several more years for the racist attitudes and segregation practices and policies to be eradicated. But social reformers, after 1965 acknowledged they owed a great debt to Charlie Perkins and his commitment to social justice. He had inspired subsequent generations of both black and white social justice activists.

Joanne Jarvis

So the impact of Perkins' leadership happened over decades. And this reminds me that significant and lasting improvements often do not happen overnight. So are there some examples in history that illustrate this concept for you?

Judy King

Yes, there are Jo. The Australian suffragettes campaigned from the 1860s for women's suffrage, but they weren't granted the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament until Federation in 1901. But this was well ahead of the English suffragettes. They were also campaigning from the 1860s, but were not granted the vote until 1918 for women over 30 and in 1928 for women over 21. But the French feminists had to wait for the vote until 1944.

Joanne Jarvis

So Judy, leadership is a responsibility. And, as you've shown today, regardless of context or time and place, there are certain common attributes displayed by these leaders who have been especially influential. For me, they've demonstrated strong moral purpose and they've operated within an ethical framework. And, you've also captured beautifully the complexities of the School Leadership Institute Leadership Mindsets.

Judy King

Well leading public schools is a great privilege, but it's also a great responsibility. The school leaders are called on to be the very best version of themselves at all times. Making a difference and inspiring optimism for the future is what effective leaders have been doing for thousands of years.

Joanne Jarvis

So, thank you, Judy, for joining me today in this podcast series. We've been talking history together since 1985 and it's always been so fun and inspiring. After all, there are thousands of examples at our disposal. Today, we've only used just a few, but it nonetheless has been a wonderful experience to be able to share your wisdom and your expertise as we talk about leadership through the lens of history.

Judy King

Thanks so much Jo for the opportunity.

Joanne Jarvis

So visit the School Leadership website for further resources for school leaders, or Google the School Leadership Institute and follow us on Twitter @NSWSLI. Thanks for listening.

Episode 4 - Creating conditions for learning to thrive

As a school leader, you prioritise your people, your students, your staff and your community by genuinely showing them that you care about them each and every day. Episode 4 explores how leaders help create the conditions for learning to thrive in their schools.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities.

Here at the School Leadership Institute our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders by providing world-class, evidence-informed leadership development programs and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact.

I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our fourth episode of the Leadership Conversations podcast series. I'm Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute.

Today we'll be discussing how leaders create the conditions for learning to thrive in their schools. And with me today is Chris Brooker, a retired principal and a life member of the New South Wales Primary Principals Association and Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

Chris' expertise is highly valued, so it's not surprising that she still works closely with school leaders to strengthen their educational leadership practices. And also with me is Corinna Robertson, a principal with the School Leadership Institute, who is currently leading the work on middle leadership.

It's a real privilege to have you both join me today. Chris and Corinna, as we discuss this important topic.

Chris Brooker

It's an absolute pleasure Joanne and a privilege to be here.

Corinna Robertson

Hi, Chris. Hi, Joanne. Lovely to be here.

Joanne Jarvis

So let's open with a bit of a narrative around what it feels like to go into a school where you know there is a positive vibe the moment you walk through the gates. There's that sense of warmth, care, shared purpose, strong connections and even joy.

So, Chris, in your experience, where does this start?

Chris Brooker

Thanks, Joanne. Look, I believe that at the heart of developing positive relationships in a school is the fact that it actually starts with you, the educational leader. So as a leader, you need to genuinely care about the people in your organisation.

And of course, that means starting with the students themselves and the conversations that you have with them on a daily basis. So, look, this is a people business and this very much means that you need to prioritise your people, your students, your staff and your community, by genuinely showing them that you care about them each and every day.

It really means being highly visible, walking the talk and demonstrating your positive interactions with the people on that daily basis. You know, when you visit schools and you walk in the front gate, there is a certain vibe that you get as soon as you're greeted or ignored.

When you arrive at the front office, to the way you hear or see teachers and other staff engage in conversations with each other and importantly with the students who attend the school. Schools are meant to be learning organisations. And as such, it's absolutely vital that a positive culture of learning is established, nurtured, prioritised and developed for both students and the adult learners who work there.

Leaders can actually enable this to happen. They can set the tone, the expectations. They can influence others. They can encourage and further develop that culture so that that learning thrives within that organisation.

It doesn't take much to actually stop and say hello and to interact and genuinely mean it. Joanne I've always believed that people will value what they feel and see, on that daily basis, in the way you treat others, your fairness, your integrity, your honesty, your sincerity and your ability to actually follow through.

In other words, your moral purpose. It's not always about being a 'yes' person, but it is about being consistently fair with the vision and the values that are established as part of school-wide expectations and that dignity and respect in the workplace is truly promoted and valued.

Joanne Jarvis

Chris I really like the way you talked about moral purpose, vision and values just then. And so I'm wondering if we could explore a little more how leaders translate their interpersonal qualities to enable this positive culture to grow.

Chris Brooker

Yes. Joanne. Look, as a teacher and I reflect, and I learned such a long time ago now, but your interpersonal qualities help to actually build relationships first and foremost with your students. They are an important set of tools in your toolkit in this people business, and it's those personal and interpersonal qualities that help you to work with others.

So along the way, you learn from role models what works best, but you also learn from others what not to do in terms of working with people. You can never be complacent in your role as a leader because leadership is a very privileged position.

You know, it's a position of great influence. It's about being aware that you're serving others in a way that helps learners to thrive by prioritising and co-creating the ideal learning conditions for students. As I mentioned earlier, leaders need to be highly visible, walking and talking around the school as they make connections with others, in classrooms, checking in to see how teachers are going, celebrating successes and improvements with their staff, leading, as well as attending professional learning sessions, demonstrating the genuine care and concern they have for their students, their staff and their community.

It's always about being intentional and well-meaning in all that you say and do, and always being aware that you are building relational trust with all, as you lead and you work beside your team. In other words, you prioritise your people.

Joanne Jarvis

Yeah, it actually is a real privilege to be a leader, isn't it? And I think we've come to an understanding now that leadership isn't really positional. It's far more a relational role.

And I'm mindful of this quote by a person called Ken Blanchard. And he said, 'In the past, the leader was a boss. Today's leaders must be partners with their people. They no longer can lead solely based on positional power'. So I'm wondering, Chris and Corinna, what are your own reflections on this comment by Ken Blanchard?

Chris Brooker

Yes, Joanne, for me, I've never liked to be referred to as boss. I found that very uncomfortable. Because that reminds me of someone who just bosses you and tells you what to do. So I remember as a young teacher, I remember those days if the boss says jump, you jumped.

We now know through our own lived experiences that the best leaders, lead by example. They're kind, they're compassionate, they walk the talk and they develop a consensus of opinion by consulting, by collaborating, and by effectively communicating with their people or their team.

This leads to trust. A leader who is trustworthy always makes sure that their behaviour matches their purpose, they're consistent. These are the leaders who are respected as they inspire, enable and celebrate the achievements of their team.

Corinna Robertson

Chris I agree, but I think the notion, sadly, of leadership being hierarchical in schools still exists. We've all heard comments like 'you get paid the big bucks'. So importantly, we need to change that thinking and the way we do it is to build that trust.

Bryk and Schneider's work on the determinants of relational trust, and I'll call out listening and valuing the opinions of others, is one way to start breaking down those barriers. I think also being courageous and showing my vulnerability and my willingness to learn are things I've always practised.

But of course, this doesn't diminish the reality that there are times when principals do need to make the decisions, accepting that not everyone is going to agree. It's the process that enables it to occur.

Joanne Jarvis

Indeed, much of what we've been discussing so far really emphasises the importance of being intentional in the way that leaders create connections and strengthen teams and networks within their school. So, I'm wondering then how do leaders build a learning culture and also create the conditions to enable learning to flourish?

Let's start with you, Chris.

Chris Brooker

Okay. Well, the principal is the leading learner. That's number one. And as such, it's important that you value learning. And this starts with demonstrating that you are a learner yourself. I've always believed that leaders need to be readers and learners themselves, and as such, leaders need to have that educational expertise.

They need to have a passion for teaching and learning and be able to demonstrate and share their deep knowledge around current research, or at least demonstrate a curiosity that's related to the improvement of teaching and learning. Whether it's engaging in professional learning or research or listening and learning from and alongside your staff, the leader, needs to be enthusiastic.

Enthusiastic about the whole learning process to demonstrate that curiosity and excitement for learning, not just talk about it.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes. So how do they demonstrate the curiosity?

Chris Brooker

Well, together, leaders can engage in conversations and reflections with their staff to encourage them to be curious about what's happening for their learners and how do they know? We want to create teacher leaders who are not only curious about creating the best learning conditions for their students, but also teacher leaders who are skilled in leading purposeful and engaging professional dialogue with their staff.

I believe that learning alongside of your staff as you're doing the work, not only builds that trust, but it's being able to ask those relevant and probing questions that actually encourage deeper thinking and truth telling, which requires those trusting relationships and a culture that supports risk taking, debate, professional disagreements, respect, with always a clear focus on what's best for students.

Joanne Jarvis

And so by being curious, you mean also moving out of your comfort zone so that new learning can occur?

Chris Brooker

Absolutely. It means that you're open to learning from and with others. You know, you're actually vulnerable yourself. When organising team meetings, executive meetings, whole school meetings, that you prioritise the learning and you create the conditions that are conducive for professional reflection and dialogue.

In other words, prioritise time to reflect, to share thoughts and ideas around specific and relevant learning topics or themes. Teachers absolutely need time to talk about their practice, their pedagogy, and not to have that time taken up by administration that could have easily been sent in an email or another summarised document.

Our leaders need to ask themselves 'what types of teams and learners do we want to develop across our school?' If we think of ourselves as a learner and we say to ourselves, 'how do I learn best?' And then think about that and go about creating those conditions and the culture for the way we build the capacity within our teams.

Corinna Robertson

I think that's really true and for me, I think it comes back to your moral purpose and what you value. I've always been an advocate for ongoing professional development, and that relates directly to developing educational expertise. Our role as educators is both a privilege and a responsibility.

We impact daily the lives of students in our care. I took the stance as a classroom practitioner where my impact on student learning outcomes was a direct one. And now, as a school leader, where I impact leaders who work directly with students, to always be the best that I can be.

Joanne Jarvis

So Corinna, give me an example of what you did.

Corinna Robertson

While leadership is highly relational and as a new principal coming into a school, I was really conscious of the need to build trust. But doing this in a way that was really respectful of whatever already existed in a school, and including the people. The executive had their own thoughts, their beliefs and values and this included fears.

Just like the diagram of the iceberg, I could see what was above the surface, but I had to, to be an effective leader, I needed to discover what was sitting below the surface. I had to build the trust while doing the work.

And what needed to happen initially with the executive was for me to develop a culture of collective efficacy where we could be vulnerable together and learn together. And only when this started to happen were we able to gain some traction.

Joanne Jarvis

I think understanding that as leaders we're often dealing with the management of others fears and anxieties is a really important concept too, because it's not always that people don't want to change or work with us, it's just that they're not quite sure what it is that's going to be asked of them or what they might have to lose in the process of, of that change process as well.

Corinna Robertson

Exactly. And as I said, it's often fear.

Joanne Jarvis

So once you gained that traction, what happened next?

Corinna Robertson

Well, one of the most courageous things I think I did in that one setting as a principal, was I recommended to the executive that we re-evaluate the whole organisational structure of the school to focus on middle leader practice. So we could really explicitly focus on developing teacher practice for improved student learning outcomes.

Bear in mind, I'd worked really hard to build relational trust with the executive team, and while doing the work we were engaging in research around middle leader practice. We were able to show our vulnerability and really learn together. I learned with the team, I didn't have all of the answers.

So it was important that as an executive, or a professional learning and culture I think we were, that we remained curious because at times confirmation bias crept in. Once we were able to break down the barriers, though, within that executive, leaders then felt confident to work with their own teams, understanding what they now needed to do in order to develop the collective efficacy around improved student learning outcomes within their own team structures.

Joanne Jarvis

So you must have got really good at asking great questions in order to remain curious and remove that confirmation bias as well.

Corinna Robertson

And lots of reflection. Lots and lots of reflection.

Chris Brooker

I agree Corinna. It's important that team leaders get to know their teams in a way they understand the learning styles of their team members. They need to be inclusive in their endeavours to ensure that all voices are heard as they do the work and develop those trusting relationships side-by-side with their people.

But it's also important to have time to get realistic expectations of your team leaders, to be able to build that capacity of their teams and expecting that they will build positive connections with all team members. Leaders need to prioritise reflections around the individuals and or teams learning, encouraging team leaders to share the leadership of meetings, discussions, and always seeking feedback from your teams about what's working well and how do they know. I think that's so important.

Joanne Jarvis

It sounds like you're also highlighting the fact that these teams work really well when they've got strong norms and protocols in place to, such as who's going to be leading the meeting at a particular point in time as well.

What does this look like across the school, Chris?

Chris Brooker

Look Joanne, having strong connections with your staff, both admin and teaching, means you need to get to know them. Saying hello, acknowledging them personally, having an interest in their professional lives, their purpose, progress and challenges along the way.

Have those conversations that really matter and if you are approachable and genuinely interested in their development, you'll find that that will translate in time to professional trust in the workplace. But as I said, it does take time to build trust.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, it sure does. When Corinna was speaking earlier about the wonderful example she used when she was a principal at her school, she referenced the importance of strong relational trust just as as you have done too Chris. And I'm wondering then how important is this in enabling the productive connections and teams to flourish?

Chris Brooker

Look, Joanne, it's absolutely important. So, so important, that as a leading learner, you have to lead by example. It's not about just telling people what to do. I know that I've mentioned this a few times, but you can never emphasise enough just how important it is to follow through on what you say and do.

Your expectations around learning, using evidence to influence decision making, engaging in conversations around learning and as you build those respectful relationships, both informal and formal. From an executive perspective, you must be seen as things skilful, knowledgeable, organised, but above all, someone that builds trust and respect, someone that your team can relate to.

It's important to use active listening skills to actually be present in the conversation and not always be distracted by the many other priorities you have on your agenda. I believe that it's important that those active, that active listening, and your excellent communication skills, support solving problems of practice, not micromanaging them, and be worried about dotting the I's and crossing the T's.

Building confidence in your team leaders, means using, distributing assured leadership practices whereby expectations are actually co-developed to ensure clarity of purpose and to enable team leaders to flourish as they collaboratively lead their teams and enabling them to develop team spirit with the membership of their teams.

So, you know, always having an intentional focus on improving student outcomes should always be at the heart of the matter because that's why we do what we do.

Joanne Jarvis

I just want to pick you up on that comment you made around distributive leadership, because I think that is a really interesting and a very important concept and certainly highlighted in the literature as well. How do you achieve this in a way that isn't just giving more work back to busy leaders?

Chris Brooker

Yes, and that's always the dilemma, because our leaders, you know, especially if they're teaching full time as well, they're extremely busy. But I think Joanne, intentionally placing leadership responsibility in the hands of the team members to solve those problems of practice, are based and should be based on their observations and using evidence, and that enables independence and interdependency in the team to thrive.

So when we come together as a team to reflect on our current practice, to facilitate respectful conversations, focused on improved practice, and then reflect upon what we've learned, what we're intending to focus on next, we acknowledge and we celebrate the learning process, enabling our teams to flourish.

You know, micromanagement doesn't do anything for building teams' capacity. So as we lead others, we must also remember that it's important to not get too far ahead of your team with where you think the team should be heading. In the words of an African proverb, which I often recall, is that if you want to fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together.

That means making sure your team are with you. Walking together is far more important than just reaching a destination and discovering that you've lost your team somewhere along the way.

Corinna Robertson

I agree, Chris, and I think creating opportunities with clear purpose is also important to mention, and I think by this I mean time and space. If we value the output, then as leaders we need to enable the input, for example, going to the trouble of collecting assessment data, are we actually using it or is this just something that we've always done?

Joanne Jarvis

And you've both really talked about the importance of having an inquiry stance to our practice as leaders as well, and helping teachers to see themselves as researchers of their own practice. So it's not something that's extra, it's something that they're doing as they're teaching and using assessment as feedback to themselves about what they're doing well and what they might need to change.

Corinna Robertson

It's also having them feeling empowered to ask those questions themselves.

Joanne Jarvis

Mm hmm. So, Chris, what's your best advice on how teachers and leaders can continue to develop their leadership skills?

Chris Brooker

Look, firstly, Joanne, it's not just one thing, obviously, but it's about recognising that every teacher is a leader and that really needs to be emphasised and celebrated. You know, when you love what you do and you're supposed to be the best teacher you can be, then you lead students confidently and purposefully.

Now you make decisions about the students each and every day. You make decisions about your teaching and learning, the resources to use, etcetera. However, you learn from those positive role models or mentors around you, the teachers and leaders who are expert others or knowledgeable others and you know, those teacher leaders you admire and respect who seem to make everything look so simple, especially when you're first starting out.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, absolutely.

Chris Brooker

So as someone aspiring to leadership beyond their own classroom, you need to be interested in the classroom next door or beyond. Be interested in learning and learning to improve as you refine your practice and share your practice with others.

I always have believed that having a mentor or multiple mentors at any stage of your career will most definitely help you to develop as a leader. Remembering, you need to be willing to learn, to reflect, to accept constructive feedback, to apply your new knowledge to your practice, and to evaluate as you continue to learn with a mentor.

A trusted and knowledgeable other, helping to guide you along the way.

Joanne Jarvis

And that's the thing, isn't it? The person that you respect is the person that you're more likely to learn from too. So Chris, what are then the attributes of an effective mentor?

Chris Brooker

You know, you have to be a people person. That's absolutely number one, someone who enjoys and who relates well to people. Someone who is approachable, non-judgmental and has the time and or who is willing to make the time to engage in the professional conversations with the mentee.

You know, one of the most important attributes for a mentor, is that ability to listen. I mean really listen to what's being said. At times, a silent partner who will listen without trying to fix the situation or add their own narrative as a distraction. You know, narratives are important, but it's knowing when to add an extra example to support the conversation. So it's all a matter of timing.

Mentors who add value to the mentees journey are also often humble. They know that the partnership is not about them, but it's a genuine, supportive role that is all about building confidence and capacity in their mentee.

They have great humility. They have patience, and they're very willing to share their knowledge, skill set, resources, when required. Another key attribute is courage. Being able to ask, clarifying and probing questions, open questions. By helping that mentee to reflect, to respond and find solutions whilst being encouraged and supported in this mentoring relationship.

So as a mentor, you need to be able to give honest feedback, constructive feedback, that helps the mentee to truly reflect on their practice, to take on their advice and ideas, to support their teaching and learning as they move forward.

It's also about making a choice and having the choice and having the confidence to do that. So it's the way you give that feedback Joanne that makes a difference and that's why the mentoring relationship needs to be built on trust.

It's a trusting relationship between the mentor and the mentee, but confidentiality is the key to building that trust.

Joanne Jarvis

So to be a mentor, it's a real privilege, isn't it?

Chris Brooker

Oh, absolutely. You know, it's a position of trust and influence and what you say, how you say it, your willingness to make the time to connect with the mentee, builds a relationship that can really make a difference to their overall career.

You know, we can all think back to that one person who took the time to understand, to listen, to give sound advice and who was always a role model for us, sometimes without them even knowing it. And without a doubt, we all need that one person at some point in our professional life who cared enough to make that difference for us.

Joanne Jarvis

On that note, I'm going to sum up as best I can what has been a rich conversation today that's really traversed the educational landscape in so many ways. It's been a rich tapestry of discussion. It's covered moral purpose, our commitment to action, relational trust, and deep educational expertise.

And I think those four things have come through really clearly in many ways. And together they combine to enable all of us as leaders to bring out the best in ourselves, to bring out the best in our staff, and therefore to enable the very best possible learning culture for students in which they can thrive.

I want to thank both of you today for your wisdom and your insights and your expertise have been inspiring to me.

Chris Brooker

Absolute pleasure.

Corinna Robertson

Absolutely a pleasure. Thanks, Joanne.

Joanne Jarvis

So visit the school leadership website for further resources for school leaders or Google the School Leadership Institute and follow us on Twitter @NSWSLI. Thanks for listening.

Episode 5 - Virtuous Educational Leadership - P1

Episode 5 of the Leadership in Focus series is a two-part episode exploring virtuous leadership. SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis is joined by Distinguished Professor Emeritus Viviane Robinson to discuss her new book, 'Virtuous Educational Leadership: Doing the Right Work the Right Way'.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities. Here at the School Leadership Institute, our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders by providing world-class, evidence-informed leadership development programs and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact. I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our fifth episode of the leadership conversations podcast series.

I'm Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute.

In this two-part episode, we will be discussing virtuous leadership, with Viviane Robinson.

And today happens to be a special day because it is the launch of her most recent book 'Virtuous Educational Leadership: Doing the Right Work the Right Way'.

Viviane Robinson

That's right, Joanne. It's an exciting day for me.

Joanne Jarvis

It sure is.

Viviane, you are a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Auckland and Visiting Professor at University College, London.

You have dedicated your career to improving educational leadership, policy and practice through a program of research and development, focused on the impact of educational leaders on the learning and wellbeing of their students.

Your academic research on how leaders build trust while attempting to improve teaching and learning has informed the profession and certainly the work of the School Leadership Institute.

It's a real privilege to have you join me, Viviane, as we discuss your new book and this important topic.

Viviane Robinson

Thank you, Joanne. It's a real pleasure to be here.

Joanne Jarvis

So let's start with why did you write a book on virtues?

Viviane Robinson

Well, that's a great question, because I had to answer that question myself as I was writing the book. And the virtues area is completely new for me and so it made it a more difficult and lengthy process because I wanted to include it.

The reason why is because I wanted to talk about leadership character. I have, as you know, written a book on student centered leadership, which includes a bit about leadership capabilities, meaning, knowledge and skills. But there seemed to be something missing, which is examining the motivations, the dispositions, the desirable dispositions of leadership character. And in philosophical terms, desirable dispositions of character are called virtues.

And by getting into virtue theory, I was able to get a rich sense of what they were and how they developed and why they're important. I didn't realise that virtues, at least in Aristotle's notion of virtues, is a really rich concept.

It is. Aristotle wrote about virtues because he was interested in practice. And virtues are not to be studied in the abstract, but they inform action. So that's why I wrote a book about virtues. I had been increasingly aware that, especially in education, motives matter.

Joanne Jarvis

For sure.

So what do you mean by doing the right work the right way?

Viviane Robinson

Yes. Well, that's the subtitle of the book, Doing the Right Work the Right Way. And it meant I had to figure out what the right work was and then what doing it in the right way was. So maybe I'll start with the right work and how I arrived at that.

Joanne Jarvis

Sounds like a good plan.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah. Well, the right work for educational leaders, is the work of dedicated pursuit of the purposes of the institution of education. And when I say purposes, I have to refer to proper purposes, because many of your listeners will know that sociologists of education have spent a long time talking about the improper purposes of education, schooling, functioning, to sort and stream students in ways that reproduce existing class structures, etcetera.

So there's been a lot of work on the improper purposes of schooling, and those are not the ones that constitute the right work, the right workers pursuit, of the proper purposes. Well what are they?

Well, philosophers of education have been debating this for a long time, and there's no definitive answer, of course, it's a never ending debate. But, as I delved into some of that literature, there were 3 purposes of educational institutions.

And it made sense to me that there's not just one, there's multiple. And I think it will make sense to your listeners as well. The one that is probably most salient is preparation for life to enable students to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

And we pursue that through a curriculum, which is designed to help students both take their place in society and eventually transform it in various ways. So I call that the preparation purpose. But there are alongside that 2 other purposes.

One is socialisation. Enhancement, recognition and socialisation into various communities, whether they be cultural communities, ethnic communities or disciplinary communities. So you can prepare students in mathematics, for example, but you can in doing so, you're socialising them into a certain sort of community.

And mathematicians would increasingly want that socialisation to be induction into a community of mathematical thinkers, not mathematical get-the-right-answers. The community. If you see what I mean. And depending on the pedagogy you're using in terms of preparing students, you will be wittingly or unwittingly inducting them into very different disciplinary communities.

And the third one is the development of self-regulated autonomous learners and persons. So it's a development of personhood and that is increasingly recognised in modern curricula in terms of the notion of self-regulation, independent learners, critical thinkers. And so that one is also important.

So the right work is dedicated pursuit of the purposes of education.

Joanne Jarvis

So in terms of educational leadership.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

Which we know is absolutely vital.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

I'm wondering how distinctive the purposes are in terms of how leaders are effective in their role for education?

Viviane Robinson

Yeah, well, that's an important question, Joanne, because there is something of a debate about whether an educational leader is any different from any other sort of leader and we went through a period in the late '80s, early '90s, where, some policy makers thought that you didn't have to be a teacher in order to lead a school.

In other words, that leadership is leadership. And the notion of educational leadership, well, maybe it was good if you knew a bit about teaching and learning, but you didn't necessarily have to. And, in my book, I argue that educational leadership is distinctive.

And the reason it is distinctive is because those purposes, those 3 purposes I talked about, are distinctive. And the one that for me is most distinctive is the preparation purpose.

There is no, you know, religious institutions socialise, right. Community groups socialise. They may even in terms of wellbeing and development of autonomy, you know, you can imagine certain youth groups and institutions will have that purpose.

But preparation in terms of teaching the curriculum, that is what elected politicians and democracy say they want their citizens to be skilled and knowledgeable about, it seems to me that that is a very distinctive purpose of education.

And given the distinctiveness of that purpose, then it follows that the role of educational leader is distinctive and it is deeply embedded in the work and the science of teaching and learning.

And so knowledge of that science, particularly the recent science, where we know more about the role of memory, the way cognition works, how students develop cognitive schema that help them master a discipline, like your own of history. The particular forms of inquiry that characterise the community of historians, in order to do that well, you need to know a lot of stuff.

Not only about history, but the pedagogy and the forms, the structure of the discipline. And so leaders don't need to know that for every discipline, but they certainly need to know how to recognise when it's happening well or badly.

They need to know about the sort of pedagogy that fosters, what we call deep learning, which is the comprehension, the problem solving, the transferability from, you know, the skills you're learning at historical inquiry into other sorts of inquiry, critical thinking about what's happening in the world today and with our leaders today, that all requires quite a lot of knowledge.

And so, we've gone from the distinctiveness of the purpose is my argument, which creates distinctive work of leaders based on distinctive science of teaching and learning, that is the knowledge base of our profession.

Plus some management stuff, which can come from non educational sources, but it's got to be tailored to the educational context.

Joanne Jarvis

It's a very clear description of why schools require strong educational leaders.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

Because of their knowledge of pedagogy. But I would imagine it's also about being able to ask the right questions as well.

Viviane Robinson

Yes. Yeah. Well, and you don't know what questions to ask if you don't know very much about teaching and you haven't had a background. And you don't know, you might, you might learn how to ask the questions, but you don't know how to evaluate the answers.

I mean, I'll never forget when I was studying, parent governors of New Zealand schools. We have these parent elected governors at every school in New Zealand. And this was a very economically disadvantaged community.

And this parent asked the principal who had, and the board of parents had received a report from the principal, about the students' achievement. This is in a primary school. And he said, 'is that about where the kids should be in their achievement?' And he was told, 'yes'. And then I took those same data back to people who knew more about that curriculum area than I did and they said those children were 18 months behind where they should be in terms of age-related benchmarks.

He could ask the question, 'is that where they, the students, should be?' He couldn't evaluate the answer because he didn't have enough knowledge of curriculum progressions.

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

So, Viviane, you've talked to us about virtues.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

Are they the same as values or how are they different?

Viviane Robinson

They're very different. Values are qualities that are important. Philosophers argue about whether values are things that are believed to be important or think qualities that are really important. But anyway, they're qualities that are of importance.

Virtues are character traits. So virtues are evident in, in our behaviour. One is said to have a virtue of courage, for example, if over time you are observed to be reliably courageous in appropriate ways. You have the virtue of courage.

You can talk about courage and its importance all you like. But if you don't do it, you don't have the virtue of courage. So virtues, unlike values, are practical things. Things that are seen and done in practice.

Values, and I use in my book, I use the example of Enron. Enron, that financial company that went bust and took many of its clients and all its staff, thousands of them, with it, and began the financial crash in the United States. Enron had a set of values that went in front of all its documents and all its retreats and all its strategic planning processes, and they were about integrity, commitment, etcetera.

Well, integrity was about the last virtue that was displayed by that company. So, it's a really good example of the difference between. I mean, they, they, they espouse them as their values, and their vices were the opposite.

Joanne Jarvis

So they certainly didn't live by what they said they planned to live by.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah, yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

So let's explore now then, the 3 clusters of virtues that you describe in your book.

Viviane Robinson

The work of the educational leaders, their distinctive work, is the dedicated pursuit of those 3 purposes.

And how do we do that? How do we actually get more detail about what that work is? And the way we do that is through the science of learning and teaching. That tells us quite a lot these days about what sort of teaching is going to foster the deep learning that modern curricula wants students to acquire and master.

So that science tells us what teachers should be doing. And then, so, leaders need to know how to recognise that and how to create the conditions to enable teachers to do that.

And that then tells us the relevant virtues. So the relevant virtues are about solving the problems collaboratively that stop that happening. Okay.

How do we then take teachers who are not teaching in that way, who don't have the relevant knowledge, students for whom it's extremely difficult to teach in that way, how do we then, as leaders, create the conditions that enable that sort of teaching and learning?

And I argue in my book that, that is a process of figuring out how, in your particular context, taking everything into account that's operating in your context, how you pursue those purposes, against all sorts of obstacles and difficulties and I call that a process of complex problem solving. Collaborative, complex problem solving.

So what are the virtues that leaders need to do collaborative, complex problem solving? They need 3 sets of virtues.

One set is, I call leadership virtues, which are quite, I define quite narrowly as what are your motivations for being a leader? And that's where moral purpose becomes absolutely key. That you, you stay awake at night because there are students in your school that you know are well behind and you are dedicated to doing something about it.

And that's a virtuous leadership motive, moral purpose, as opposed to I want to be a principal because it's a status thing for me, because I want the money, because I'm dead scared that somebody else I don't like is going to be the principal.

I'm not saying you can't have any of those motives, but the major motive should be the concern and care and passion for doing your utmost for the students.

Joanne Jarvis

In the Institute, we have a set of Leadership Mindsets.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

And at the centre of our Leadership Mindsets is student focused, which says that I keep students at the heart of my decisions.

Viviane Robinson

Yes.

Joanne Jarvis

Which is basically what you're talking about there.

Viviane Robinson

Absolutely. I'm working in a very large high school at the moment. And like in many such schools, the members of the senior leadership team are heating up particular improvement projects.

And in New Zealand we are changing the standards for literacy in the national assessment of 15 year olds, because we have been qualifying students who actually don't have the literacy required to enter university or indeed other training opportunities.

And so the literacy standards are going to be beefed up to emphasise more comprehension, writing, things like that. In the trial testing that the school took part in, only about 40 per cent of students of that age level, in fact the year before, passed the new standard.

It's not in place yet, but it's being piloted. Only about 40 per cent. And this woman, whose come from, from perhaps the wealthiest independent school in the country to, for girls anyway, to this comprehensive school that serves a quite socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood.

She has led this project to do something about it. She is not satisfied that there is going to be over half the students failing this first level qualification. And so that's her moral purpose. She needs other, she needs other virtues as well as that leadership virtue, moral purpose, that's driving her leadership, but that one's absolutely key to the work that she's doing.

The other virtues that she needs, so that's the first cluster, is the leadership virtue. The second cluster is, she needs a whole lot of what I call problem solving virtues, to be able to solve the problem of how do we change both the quantity and quality of literacy teaching across the junior school curriculum in the high school, so that we do better as a school.

And those problem solving virtues involve the ability to make it the strategic focus and keep it, and not only make it the priority, but keep it the priority in the face of all the other things coming in. So those are the strategic, it's a cluster of, of strategic virtues, that sit under the problem solving.

The second skill she needs is analytic virtues, which is your causal thinking, your causal reasoning, your deep curiosity about why these, so many students are failing and inquiry into how they're being taught, what are the current opportunities to learn the required sorts of literacy being given to students in these classes in junior high school now.

So she gets a causal map and then from that she needs to be able to establish what are the requirements for a decent solution. And these requirements are very likely to be in tension with one another.

Well, we need it to not cost us a huge more amount of money. We need not to have too many teachers leaving because they're, they feel like they are having to completely change the way that they're teaching. We need to be highly supportive.

We need to involve the students and their parents. And we need to have a new pedagogy and a new timetable to give these students more opportunities. So there's massive tensions in that set of requirements, and that's where she needs, as well, what I call imaginative virtues.

So you've got the ability to unpick all these apparently conflicting things and find ways, principled ways, of putting them together to craft a solution. And I think complex problem solving is creative because there's always tension.

There's no point saying, well, we can't satisfy the teacher's desire to not have more work because they're already overloaded and improve the literacy because there's a tension there that has to be recognised, talked about and managed. And that's, 'how can we do this in a way where we get as far as possible, a satisfactory way of dealing with both and all the others?'

So when I'm working with this team, we are trying to manage sometimes up to a dozen of these requirements. And then we have the solution, strategies, which are then implemented and changed and we learn as we go.

So that's the second cluster of virtues, problem solving, which have these three categories underneath. Strategic. Analytic. Imaginative. And then the third cluster is all the interpersonal ones, which is your relational trust, you know, you need that, because this work is always collaborative.

There's very few problems that leaders sit in their office and chew their pen and figure out and do it all on their own. They need others with them. They need a team. So what are the interpersonal virtues that are needed to build trust while you're doing this risky work of solving this complex problem?

Episode 5 - Virtuous Educational Leadership - P2

Episode 5 of the Leadership in Focus series is a two-part episode exploring virtuous leadership. SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis is joined by Distinguished Professor Emeritus Viviane Robinson to discuss her new book, 'Virtuous Educational Leadership: Doing the Right Work the Right Way'.

Joanne Jarvis

Welcome back to our podcast on virtuous educational leadership with Viviane Robinson.

In part 1, we started to explore the virtues of leadership.

In part 2, we’ll continue this discussion and explore what virtuous leadership looks like in practice for school leaders.

Viviane, I want to ask you about relational trust.

There is sometimes a misconception that in order to build collaboration, one must first build trust. However, you often highlight that trust is built whilst resolving problems together.

Viviane Robinson

Yes. And leaders build trust by helping teachers in a respectful way and an honest way, solving problems that everybody cares about. That's how you build trust.

For example, a leader's concerned about the word 'problem'. They're concerned sharing the data. So they're indirect about the need to change or improve and hoping to lead the teacher to it in a way that doesn't upset them.

And as I coach leaders in those conversations, it's amazing how often leaders increase mistrust unwittingly by their indirectness. By not saying, 'these are the data, I find them disappointing for these reasons. And so I see a duty to work with you to understand why this has happened'.

Conversations like that, which make it okay straight away. Put it on the table, non blaming. 'This is what I want to work with you on'.

And that's the moral purpose coming through in the honest conversation, that integrity in terms of the way the leader talks with the teacher.

Joanne Jarvis

So that's the third cluster of virtues, the interpersonal is really about trust.

Viviane Robinson

Yes. Yeah. Because without trust, teachers won't take risks. Teachers won't describe their vulnerabilities. There will be defensive behaviour on both parties. They will feel disrespected. It doesn't work.

Joanne Jarvis

Are there other elements along with trust in that third cluster that you want to highlight?

Viviane Robinson

Yes. There's the element of courage. And you've got that as one of your Mindsets in the Institute, Joanne. Courage is, is a very important virtue, interpersonal courage. Because improvement requires talking about why things, current routines, current practice, is not good enough.

It's not good enough in terms of the students, if we say we've got, we're motivated by moral purpose and we see results for some groups of students, like we've got. Like, nearly always, there are pockets like that, larger and smaller depending on the school.

If we can't have courage talking about it, everybody's tiptoeing, there's undiscussables. There develops a culture of we don't want to upset people. We will pussyfoot. In talking about courage, however, you have to be aware of the vice of rudeness.

You know, I mean, I talk in the book about what is needed is not raw courage, bull in the china shop stuff. And so how do we integrate? And this is this notion of integration, again, the virtue of respectfulness, with the virtue of courage and the virtue of open mindedness, which is a really important virtue in terms of learning about whether or not you, your beliefs are accurate, your beliefs about what's causing the problem, why it's a problem, etcetera.

So, as people become more skilled in having conversations that are honest and respectful and truth seeking rather than truth claiming, so that's the open mindedness one, they build trust far more quickly and they become more respected. So you get a virtuous circle happening.

Joanne Jarvis

Sure. And curious would be an absolute, vital element of those sorts of discussions wouldn't it, of a curious mindset?

Viviane Robinson

Yes. And the curious mindset I put into the analytic problem solving cluster because one needs to inquire into what is happening and why. And that feeds into the student, emphasis on student voice as well. Ask the students why they're not coming to school and don't ask them once.

Ask them and listen empathically with deep listening and non blaming and non instructing. Because until you find out why they're not showing up, especially if it's about this teacher I hate, you'll be putting solution strategies in place that are misaligned to the cause.

Joanne Jarvis

Sure. So, so what do you consider to be the right work the right way as it relates to virtuous educational leadership?

Viviane Robinson

Okay. Well, just to recap, the right work is following the science of learning and teaching in pursuit of the proper purposes.

Joanne Jarvis

Sure.

Viviane Robinson

Which is the competencies and outcomes that are specified in various degrees of detail in curricula. And putting in place all the routines and the structures and the professional learning and everything that teachers need to do, to do that.

The right way is doing it in a virtuous way, and there are no rules about virtues, I'm afraid. There's only deep understanding and wisdom about how to make decisions or take actions that are appropriate in context.

But the right way, if we take an example again, I mean, I used a complex example of that school where the literacy results in the junior high school were so disappointing. That example, is to bring together your virtues of, the problem solving virtues, inquire into the problem. Do that collaboratively.

When you've got agreement about that, move into what are, what I call, the solution requirements. What counts as a good set of solution strategies? When you've got agreement on, and there's usually multiple ones, and their intention. And then you start doing the imaginative work of how do you reconcile them?

So, there's doing work the right way, means bringing all the relevant virtues to bear in solving the problem. Let's take a simpler example, an abusive parent, who has completely abused you or one of your teachers. You have to do something.

Responding in a virtuous way means, as far as possible, respecting that parent, but having integrity in terms of explaining why the abuse is unacceptable or should not be repeated. But at the same time, empathising with the frustration and anger of that parent

And being knowledgeable. Let's say the parent's got really angry about a resource that the teacher has decided to use with, within the class. So you're knowledgeable in being able to explain to the parent why that resource was chosen and what its educational purpose is.

So you can see you're bringing together your respect for self as leader, for the teacher and the parent, all of them. Your integrity in saying why, that behaviour, you don't want it repeated. Your educational knowledge about that resource and what the educational consequences are of using it or not using it.

Collaborating as far as you can. Listening to the parents reaction. Being open minded rather than too judgmental about that parent, even if you don't, you don't agree with their religious beliefs or whatever it is. You still are curious about why. You're courageous.

So that's doing the work the right way. Bringing together the relevant virtues to take action, solve the problem, to act as a leader.

Joanne Jarvis

It's certainly a complex role.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

And really, when I listen to you talk about how they all come together, underpinning all of that is the moral purpose of why we do what we do as educational leaders too.

Viviane Robinson

Yes. I think that's what makes leadership challenging, is that you're never in pursuit of one thing.

Joanne Jarvis

No.

Viviane Robinson

You are bringing together multiple virtues and responding in a sufficiently excellent or even satisfactory way. And you can't make rules because that context of that abusive parent is a particular context that particular combinations of virtues are relevant to. And in a different school or even a different parent or different teacher, it'll be another.

But if you have deep understanding of the virtues, you've got more ability to be creative and to use them in principled ways and see how they can work together.

Joanne Jarvis

I've always enjoyed listening to you speak about the importance of leaders understanding teachers' theories of action.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

What's your best advice to principals who are seeking to manage teachers, who we can only assume, wish to do their best but may struggle to engage with improving their practice?

Viviane Robinson

Theories of action really are the sets of beliefs and motivations that explain why teachers do things certain ways, or in this case, don't do things the way the leader would wish them to do. So they explain what teachers do and don't do. So they're quite powerful theories of action.

And I have written extensively about it in my previous book, Reduce Change to Increase Improvement. That's probably one of the key ideas in the book and how you find out what a teacher's theory of action is.

In this book on virtuous educational leadership, I vest the inquiry into teachers theories of action as part of the analytic virtues. It's part of discovering the cause. So you want to improve a teacher's practice, it proves to be difficult, so you go into listening deeply and getting curious about why the teacher is not doing what you want them to do.

That means discovering their theory of action in a way that the teacher says to the leader, 'yep, you finally got it. You finally understood what I'm doing. Instead of judging me, you finally understood me'.

Doesn't mean that that theory of action is any good. Because we're, remember, we're student centered. We've got a moral purpose. We've understood and respected the teacher. We've listened to why they're teaching the way they are. But we've still got in mind that it's not delivering for her student, his or her, students.

So, the virtue involved there is an analytic virtue and an interpersonal virtue. The analytic is the causal inquiry into why that teacher's practice and the interpersonal virtue is listening, respecting and being curious. There's a bunch of virtues going on.

Joanne Jarvis

So your best advice then to principals is to find out teachers' theories of action.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah. That's that first step. Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

Suspend judgment.

Viviane Robinson

Well suspend judgment while you're doing it. Because otherwise it'll all be about the leader's theory of action and not the teacher's theory of action. There'll be a bunch of instructions about, or nice suggestions or nasty suggestions or whatever, depending on frustration levels to that teacher to do something different.

The first step is find out why the teacher is not doing what you want them to do. And in in doing that, you're discovering their, if you listen well, you're discovering their theory of action. And that gives you the clue as to how to help that teacher improve.

For example, they're not using rich text, they're continuing to use quiz sheets, and they're not using rich texts because they're terrified on the basis of previous experience that the kids will misbehave and they'll lose control of the class because the kids can't read well enough.

They can't understand these texts. So if you discover that, then you have some really good clues about how you need to help that teacher or somebody needs to help that teacher.

Joanne Jarvis

Great advice to principals. Thank you.

Viviane Robinson

Yeah.

Joanne Jarvis

I've really enjoyed listening to you speak about virtuous educational leadership. How do school leaders develop virtue? Can we learn how to be virtuous?

Viviane Robinson

Let me use an example of courage.

I mean, we know now that infants differ in their demonstration of courage. Some are much more timid than others. So there is obviously something genetic going on. So, so we might say then that a leader has, relative to other leaders, a timid personality.

And it's been manifest since they were a baby, since they were an infant. But the fact that that leader has a timid personality on the whole doesn't mean that they can't develop the skills of being more courageous with the right sort of support and help.

And indeed they do, because I run workshops where that's one of the things that we actually do, through saying, give us the context, give us a situation where it's difficult for you to be courageous, show us, through a rehearsal, what you say and don't say and why.

And sometimes when they do that, I say to them, 'well, yeah, I can see why it's difficult for you now, because you're recognising that you're being quite blunt and rude'.

So they've gone from being defensive are not saying very much at all and beating around the bush and then they try to be courageous and they are disrespectful, and they recognise that. And so that paralyses them.

But if they can learn, and it's not that hard to be more respectful, whilst having integrity, while still saying what they need to say and reframing the prejudgments and the rudeness, so that they don't have those thoughts in their head, then they can be courageous and respectful and get their message across and learn quite quickly how to be more courageous.

And over time, as you get more skilled, you get a virtuous circle going on, which is, 'gee, I thought it was going to be really hard to have this conversation and I've had this conversation and the world didn't fall around my ears. We actually made some progress together and the teacher doesn't hate me. And so, I'm more ready to have some more'. And you become more skilled.

So, your virtuousness increases with increased knowledge of what it is to be courageous and what is not and increase skill and that produces more motivation to have some more of these conversations.

Joanne Jarvis

Great advice. Now we're at the end, I think, of our podcast, although I could sit here and talk to you for hours. But when I reflect on the key points that I've heard today, I'm mindful of a beautiful quote in your book, which says, 'for educational leaders, integrity requires not only congruence between words and actions, but also that the words and actions can be educationally worthy. In other words, they serve the interests of students'.

Viviane Robinson

Yes, I think that's got them educationally worthy serving the interests of students. That's the moral purpose. And then integrity is one of the key interpersonal virtues that you need in order to be a virtuous leader.

Joanne Jarvis

Well, thank you, Viviane. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, your insights, your expertise, and your support of the School Leadership Institute. For our listeners, make sure that you visit the SLI website for further resources for school leaders. You can Google the School Leadership Institute and you can follow us on Twitter @NSWSLI and thank you for listening and thank you very much, Viviane.

Viviane Robinson

Thank you, Joanne, for the opportunity.

Episode 6 - Middle Leadership

Episode 6 of the Leadership in Focus series explores middle leadership. SLI Director and host Joanne Jarvis speaks with middle leadership expert Dr Kylie Lipscombe from the University of Wollongong and Corinna Robertson, a principal with the School Leadership Institute.

Introduction (Joanne Jarvis)

School leaders play a vital role in providing every student in New South Wales public schools with a great education and the best start in life. They have a positive impact in classrooms and on their staff. They guide teacher development and engage their communities. Here at the School Leadership Institute, our mission is to support all New South Wales public school leaders by providing world-class, evidence-informed leadership development programs and resources. Our School Leadership Institute conversation series will explore the key issues and challenges of school leadership. We'll talk to experts and share their tips and experiences on leading with purpose and impact. I'm Joanne Jarvis, the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Welcome to the Leadership in Focus series.

Joanne Jarvis

Hello and welcome to our sixth episode of the Leadership in Focus podcast series. I am Joanne Jarvis and I'm the Director of the New South Wales Department of Education's School Leadership Institute. Today, we will be discussing middle leadership and the significant role that middle leaders play in leading teaching and learning.

With me today is Dr Kylie Lipscombe, from the University of Wollongong, who has been researching middle leadership nationally and internationally, and Corinna Robertson, a principal with the School Leadership Institute, who is leading the work on middle leadership development.

It's a real privilege to have you join me today, Kylie and Corinna, as we discuss the important role that middle leaders play in public education.

Corinna Robertson

Thanks, Joanne.

Kylie Lipscombe

Thanks, Joanne. It's a real privilege to be here.

Joanne Jarvis

So, Kylie, let's start by exploring what we mean by middle leadership.

Kylie Lipscombe

Well, middle leaders and middle leading practices are complementary, but really not the same thing. Middle leaders in New South Wales public schools are typically defined as a role, such as an assistant principal and head teacher. Middle leading, on the other hand, is not a specific leadership role, but instead about the space from which they lead in the middle between principal and teachers.

Middle leading practices focus on relational trust, collaboration and efficacy in order to lead positively and impact teaching and student learning.

Joanne Jarvis

The School Leadership Institute commissioned a report into middle leadership in New South Wales public schools, which is the largest research study into middle leadership in the world. I was surprised to discover that we have approximately 10,000 middle leaders in our system, and the foreword to the report, which was written by Professor Andy Hargreaves, glowingly described middle leaders as 'the heart, the soul, the backbone and the guts of leadership'. So, they constitute a really vital role in our schools.

Corinna Robertson

That's right, Joanne, they certainly do. And that research report has since informed all of our work on middle leadership, including the design and delivery of the Middle Leadership Development Program, induction, role description and resources.

The research report provided clear recommendations that are guiding the work of the Institute and given that middle leadership as a role and a practice encompasses the largest leadership space in New South Wales public schools and middle leadership is so significant to teaching and learning outcomes, the School Leadership Institute, I think, has a moral imperative to invest in the development of middle leaders.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, absolutely. Kylie, what does the research tell us about what middle leaders do in schools that makes their work so significant?

Kylie Lipscombe

We know that middle leaders do lots and I led the New South Wales formal middle leadership research study with team members from the University of Wollongong, Sharon Tindall-Ford, John De Nobile from Macquarie University and Christine Grice from the University of Sydney.

And we determined that the 2600-plus middle leaders who participated in the study predominantly practice their leadership across 7 responsibilities: student centred, which is about leading and managing student wellbeing and academic growth; developing staff, which is really around developing the knowledge, skills and capabilities of other educators; organising people, which is things like the organisation of timetables; curriculum centred, which is around leading the planning and implementation of curriculum; supervising staff, which is all around that performance of staff; leading learning and change, which is around leading innovation; and administration, which is around developing and maintaining physical and financial resources and processes.

What was really pleasing, Joanne and Corinna, about the responsibilities that middle leaders enact, is that the most frequent was student centred, supervising staff and curriculum centred, which really indicates that middle leaders are focusing their leadership on the important area of teaching and learning.

Joanne Jarvis

So, they're certainly an incredibly busy group of leaders in our schools, aren't they?

Kylie Lipscombe

They certainly are, Joanne.

Joanne Jarvis

Corinna, how did this research inform the development of the Middle Leadership Role Description?

Corinna Robertson

Well, the report actually recommended the need for the development of a role description to provide clarity for our middle leaders. It also highlighted that a role description for middle leaders would have the capacity to support greater consistency and understanding of middle leaders work and really therefore value the important role that middle leaders hold within the department.

As well as the middle leader report, in developing the role description, we also drew on other available local and international research on middle leadership, as well as the Australian Professional Standard for Teachers at Lead. And together, this provided the lens to frame the role description around teaching and learning and developing self and others.

Joanne Jarvis

Leading teaching and learning is a vital part of the role of middle leaders. Not only do they influence their teams, but they're also classroom teachers. So, Kylie, what do we know about middle leaders impacting student learning?

Kylie Lipscombe

Like any research, Joanne, in leadership, it's really difficult to find a relationship between leadership practices and direct student learning outcomes. This is a result of the many variables that actually impact student learning. However, in our research in New South Wales public schools, we did ask middle leaders to determine their impact on student learning.

And in this survey, 75 per cent of middle leaders perceived they had a high to very high impact on student learning. They also reported that they understood their impact on student learning, firstly through feedback from colleagues, students and parents, and secondly from internal school data and external assessment data.

We also know from an analysis of other research, internationally and nationally into school middle leadership, that middle leaders typically directly impact areas such as teacher capacity and development, school reform and improvement initiatives, curriculum development and teacher motivation and efficacy.

And I'm really excited about this, there's also now some new research coming out that's actually reporting on the direct and positive impact between middle leadership and student learning, which is very exciting.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, we're really looking forward to being able to read that and use it to inform the work of the Institute as well. So, I'm, I'm equally excited. Corinna, how do you think middle leaders most directly impact teaching and learning in your own experience?

Corinna Robertson

Look, I think knowing their closest sphere of influence is important. For many middle leaders, this is collaborative teams of teachers. And for example, at a stage level, faculty level, or even within a key learning area. In this sphere of influence, middle leaders need to strategically and deliberately ensure that the work of collaborative teams is both focused on and positively impacting teaching and learning.

So, this would include things like setting goals with teacher teams based on student achievement, engaging teacher teams in sustained opportunities to improve their teaching practice, as well as monitoring the relationship between teaching practices and student learning.

Joanne Jarvis

So, Kylie, there seems to me that there are certain conditions that are required for middle leaders to have this positive impact in schools. What would you suggest they are?

Kylie Lipscombe

Look, there's many conditions, but I'd probably suggest the top 3 would be the principal, opportunities for middle leaders to engage in leadership development and feedback, and the role description. So let me unpack each of those.

Regarding the principal, middle leaders need to be working closely with their principal, in order to really strategically plan for and practice shared leadership that's really focused on the school priorities.

And this includes, I guess, middle leaders working closely with executive and preferably being on the school executive so they can contribute to things like the school direction, they can advocate and share what is happening in classrooms and really align the work of teacher teams and classrooms to school agendas.

The second condition is around their own development, and often middle leaders do not have formal opportunities in leadership professional development, and as such, they may be great teachers without opportunities to learn about how to be great leaders.

It is therefore really essential that middle leaders have access to things like networks of other middle leaders, feedback in the form of coaching and mentoring, and also leadership programs where they can develop their leadership practices.

And last but not least is that role description. Our research indicated that role descriptions are almost obsolete for middle leaders, both nationally and internationally. So it was really pleasing, Joanne and Corinna, to see that this is not the case in New South Wales public schools anymore.

A role description provides middle leaders with a legitimate and transparent set of responsibilities. And this is a great start, but the power of the role description is actually in the implementation.

A role description should really provide middle leaders and their principals, opportunities to have conversations about what to prioritise in their leadership so they can make the greatest difference to student learning.

And those responsibilities should then be resourced accordingly so that middle leaders can effectively lead improvement in their school. Principals and middle leaders can work together around the role description to set action plans and goals, for example, that not only lead to positive impact, but also provide middle leaders with training and development opportunities to enact their role effectively.

Joanne Jarvis

Corinna, Kylie really highlights the importance of strong and strategic relationships and interactions between principals and middle leaders. And I know that I valued the relationship that I had with my principal when I was a head teacher for those 10 years. And it informed how I then went on to lead as a principal to empower the head teachers on my staff.

You've also been a principal and a middle leader and have worked with many leaders. So, can you share an example of what these 3 conditions that Kylie has discussed look like in practice?

Corinna Robertson

Sure. I was also a middle leader on an executive team for about 10 years and through many different principals in that time. And the one that I just wanted to, I guess, talk about here is where the principal created the conditions for collaboration.

So, each member of that team was able to put forward their ideas and opinions in an environment where there were high levels of trust. And this also allowed for feedback to occur. There was a shared understanding and responsibility for improvement.

And what I enjoyed about working as a member of this executive team was that I felt my contribution mattered and I was learning with and also from my colleagues.

Joanne Jarvis

Yes, absolutely. That strong collaborative culture that you've just described is, is something to which we would all aspire across all of our schools, wouldn't we?

So, Kylie, what are some of the constraints or challenges that middle leaders face and what advice would you suggest for them to overcome these constraints?

Kylie Lipscombe

I'd probably say the most common constraint reported in our research is increased administration requirements and workload, followed by a lack of time outside of the classroom to lead teaching and learning, increased focus on student behavioural issues and difficulties with dealing with conflict and performance of staff.

And obviously, some of these issues are outside the realms of schools themselves and are struggles that are not only unique to middle leaders, but also all leaders. But there are some strategies that both middle leaders and school principals can actually enact to help reduce these challenges.

The role description that you were talking about before should help middle leaders prioritise their role, or at the very least provide a space for middle leaders and their principal to discuss areas such as the time taken with administration and responding to student behavioural issues.

And such conversations may help provide additional resources to these areas or tighten up processes so they are more efficient, or principals may indeed even reallocate some of those responsibilities to someone else.

Regarding middle leaders dealing with some of those really complex areas of leadership, including managing conflict and performance, this is particularly difficult for many middle leaders for 2 reasons.

One is that most are still classroom teachers and are therefore working alongside the teaching colleagues on a daily basis. So that they are colleagues as well as leaders.

Joanne Jarvis

Yeah, absolutely. It's such a relational job, isn't it? Having improvement in performance-based conversations is difficult for any leader, but it's one that requires a lot of courage and curiosity and I think support to practice and develop the skills and knowledge required to be able to have those kinds of conversations.

Kylie Lipscombe

Yes, you're right, Joanne. Which leads me to the next challenge, which is that many middle ladies don't have formal leadership development in these complex leadership practices and are therefore leading on the job how to manage conflict and performance. And dealing with these complex areas, I believe really starts with self.

Middle leaders need to have a high level of self-awareness of their own emotions and behaviours and values and then know how these impact on others, which is known as social awareness.

Corinna Robertson

And they also need to be continually building high levels of relational trust with their colleagues and providing high levels of psychological safety Kylie.

Kylie Lipscombe

Yeah, what is really interesting about relational trust and psychological safety, is there's a misconception that trust has to be built before the work can commence, and that psychological safety is about providing a space that is relaxed and safe for learning.

And both of these beliefs are actually untrue. Relational trust is built by doing the work well, respectfully, with impact and with competence. It doesn't happen by investing in building trust first, but instead by how you do the work with others.

And psychological safety is actually the opposite of relaxed. It is really about how you, as a middle leader, engage staff in highly cognitive work that is seen as a norm of practice. You know, the way we do things around here. It's non-threatening personally but expected professionally.

So high levels of relational trust and psychological safety make it a lot easier for middle leaders to deal with conflict and performance.

Corinna Robertson

So, Kylie, it seems to me that part of psychological safety for middle leaders is their ability to effectively facilitate learning conversations in teams.

Kylie Lipscombe

Yes, that's right, Corinna. And it sort of goes back to the idea that middle leaders most directly influence teacher teams. So middle leaders do have to have opportunities to develop their facilitation skills when leading teams and develop also their individual learning conversation skills when having one-to-one formal conversations with staff.

I'd say also middle leaders need to ensure that they have the capabilities and access to use data as part of their facilitation and conversation, so they can sit directions and monitor effectiveness of teaching and learning.

Joanne Jarvis

This conversation has certainly highlighted both the significance and the complexities of middle leadership. There's no doubt in my mind that middle leaders are key to school improvement, and we must continue to invest in their development.

As we begin now to wrap up this conversation, what is your best advice to middle leaders and principals as they continue to work together for school improvement, Kylie?

Kylie Lipscombe

One of the areas I'm really passionate about is supporting middle leaders and principals to understand the significance of the positionality of middle leaders.

Middle leaders work across 2 subcultures, teaching in the classroom, whilst leading others, and they need to be supported to leverage this position in the middle instead of feeling like they're stuck or undervalued, and instead that they are key influencers or key brokers in school improvement, where they influence both what happens in the classroom as well as what happens at the executive level of a school.

So, I really encourage middle leaders and principals to really harness this positionality.

If middle leaders work too closely with senior leaders, they can lose the connection to the classroom and their credibility as being able to work shoulder to shoulder with teachers as colleagues.

And some researchers have even referred to this as middle leaders as spies, that if they only work with teaching colleagues, they can lose sight of the organisational and strategic leadership that is so important to ensuring improvements in teaching and learning, are aligned to the school vision and priority and resources.

So, for me, being smack bang in the middle, merging 2 subcultures into one through shared goals that are working towards the school priorities, is a really important and significant position for middle leaders to be in.

Joanne Jarvis

That's great advice, Kylie, as always. Thank you, Kylie and Corinna, for sharing your wisdom and experience today. It's been a fascinating discussion on the importance of middle leaders and middle leadership in New South Wales public schools.

Kylie Lipscombe

Thanks, Joanne and Corinna. It's wonderful to talk about little leadership. I could probably talk about it all day.

Corinna Robertson

And I could listen to you all day. So, thank you both as well.

Joanne Jarvis

And for our listeners, visit the School Leadership Institute website for further resources for school leaders, Google the School Leadership Institute and follow us on Twitter @NSWSLI. Thank you for listening.

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