Developing Leadership Skills as a Reflective Teacher

An Action Research Project by Kate Rolfe (Humanities and Year 11 Support Coordinator)

Objective

This year, I used my Learning Focus Meeting time to attend sessions on developing leadership. The sessions focused on the purpose of leadership and management with a particularly useful session on analysing power, authority and influence within a school’s staff. The sessions allowed me to consider my role as a middle leader within our school community and the influence I have, particularly within my role as Second in Humanities and Year 11 Support Coordinator. As such, I have decided to focus upon the importance of evaluating practice of those in leadership roles.

Background

When researching about “What makes a good leader?” many websites and articles offer lists of the qualities a good leader possesses. However, they rarely focus on the context in which the leader is working. This made it difficult to apply the qualities to future leadership and could often only be used retrospectively. However, the work of Fullan, especially his 2001 “Framework for Leadership”, really stood out to me and has been summarised below.

Fullan’s framework (2001) outlines that there are five core components of leadership:

  1. Moral Purpose- acting with the intention of making a positive difference
  2. Understanding Change- related to the six stages of implementing change
  3. Relationship Building- emotional intelligence is important to ensure this occurs
  4. Knowledge- ensuring a culture of professional learning to add to the knowledge base
  5. Coherence Making- Ensuring that there is coherence across the organisation, usually accomplished by achieving the previous four stages.

Each of these core components are underpinned by the personal characteristics of energy, enthusiasm and hope.

In order to develop this framework of leadership into my own practice, I decided to refresh my memory on the aspects of being a reflective practitioner which were always so prominent during my PGCE and NQT years but have now become so second nature in my teaching practice that they are rarely conscious thoughts.

The notion of reflective practice is largely attributed to the work of Dewey (1933) and Schon (1983) with the latter being a key element when completing my PGCE course. Reflection in action refers to the quick thinking that takes place within the classroom in order to identify misconceptions and ensure pupils are making progress in the short term. However, reflection on action occurs outside of the classroom and is where situations are considered more deeply. As such, both of these actions will be occurring in relation to my leadership roles as well as that of a classroom teacher.

Context

Last year I was appointed to the role of Year 11 Support Coordinator which included the organisation of two exam stress counsellors along with developing a mentoring programme using money assigned to our 15 Year 11 Future Quest students (a project seeking to raise the aspiration of pupils with a view to encouraging them to consider higher education as a future path). Whilst fulfilling this role, I decided to use the framework identified by Fullan (2001) to reflect upon and evaluate my leadership role.

Actions

The area in which I played the greatest leadership role was developing the mentoring scheme for Year 11 pupils. As such, each stage of Fullan’s model was considered and reflected upon.

1. Moral Purpose- acting with the intention of making a positive difference

The intended positive difference which is the premise for Future Quest funding is that pupils move on to positive next steps and have raised academic achievement. Whilst the moral purpose for my leadership in this instance is predetermined, it is one which I whole heartedly support. My only source of conflict morally with my role is that the funding is only available for the selected 15 students which results in an inner struggle as to the fairness of the support received across the cohort.

2. Understanding Change- related to the six stages of implementing change

(a) The goal is not to innovate the most; but rather to innovate selectively with coherence

(b) It is not enough to have the best ideas, you must work through a process where others assess and come to find collective meaning and commitment to new ways

(c) Appreciate early difficulties of trying something new- the implementation dip

(d) Redefine resistance as a potential positive force.

(e) Re-culturing is the name of the game.

(f) Never a checklist, always complexity.

The basic requirement of the mentoring scheme is that each pupil receives 6 hours of 1:1 mentoring. As such, in line with point (a), this became the focus. I decided to provide a structure for the 6 sessions whilst also giving the mentors autonomy to change the structure based on the needs of their mentee. This helped to achieve point (b) where each of the 15 mentors contributed their own ideas to the process which have allowed me to reflect and refine the structure for next year. As expected from point (c), there were some obstacles to launching the mentoring, especially in terms of attendance, As stated by Fullan (2002), early difficulties can take around 6 months to overcome. The initial restrictions on timing meant that this obstacle could not be effectively tackled for this first cohort but has providing learning for future. The final elements of implementing change were addressed by keeping staff informed, taking opinions on board and asking staff to sign up for mentoring. This meant that staff were invested in the scheme and contributed greatly to implementing the change.

3. Relationship Building- emotional intelligence is important

When attending the mentoring training session, one of the proposed options was to utilise staff who are under allocation for mentoring. This was deemed counter-productive when considering relationship building especially between staff and pupils where it is important that both parties feel valued and respected. As such, a dialogue was created where students had a say as to who mentored them. However, moving forward into next year when more options are available, I plan to give staff more of a say too.

4. Knowledge- ensuring a culture of professional learning to add to their knowledge base

In order to develop a knowledge base around mentoring I decided to run a training session for staff to disseminate the information I had gained at the CPD meeting. Alongside this, I also provided other resources from other mentoring providers for staff to utilise.

5. Coherence Making- Ensuring that there is coherence across the organisation, usually accomplished by achieving the previous four stages

In this first year, I believe that all mentors who completed the cycle have a coherent understanding of the mentoring scheme and its aims and outcomes. However, for some who had pupils who were less engaged with the programme, this coherence was challenging to achieve. As such, next year the scheme will begin earlier, have a structure based on both aspects of the Future Quest aims and promote parental engagement.

Conclusions

When evaluating the mentoring programme last year, it was clear that there were many successful elements, most notably on the students, where 100% of them strongly agreed that they found mentoring useful, believed it would improve their achievement at school and would recommend it to others. The structure outlined by Fullan gave me a clear context to work within and evaluate my leadership of the role. Based on the evaluation of the scheme overall, a number of next steps have been identified.

Next Steps

  • Begin as soon as possible into the new academic year
  • Include pathways and futures mentoring sessions
  • Continue to match students with teachers based on subjects as this was highlighted as a strength.
  • Increase parental engagement
  • Introduce Future Quest only revision sessions in small groups

References

The Change Leader – Michael Fullan (2001)   [https://michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/13396052090.pdf]

The Reflective Practitioner – Donald Schon (1983)

How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process – John Dewey (1933)

Featured image: ‘leadership’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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