How principals can develop future leaders

How principals can develop future leaders

For principals, imbuing leadership skills in aspiring school heads can pay off in a big way – not only in terms of grooming a capable successor but also developing the capacity and attitude of his or her own team.

Indeed, the kind of culture that a leader instils within their school can indeed have a tremendous impact on staff happiness, work satisfaction and retention, and academics worldwide have dedicated years of research as to what makes an optimal workplace environment for staff, as well as for leaders.

In Australia’s independent schools, one prominent education leader says there are some interesting opportunities for principals to shape future leaders.

Beth Blackwood is the CEO of Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) – a professional association of 430 heads of independent schools that collectively account for over 11% of total school enrolments nationally and 20% of Year 12 enrolments.

According to Blackwood, the non-systemic nature of the independent school sector has given rise to a “distinctive model” for the development of future school leaders.

“First, the organisational structure of most independent schools lends itself to multiple leadership opportunities and pathways,” Blackwood told The Educator.

“Roles that might be centralised within systems, such as curriculum development, are expressly staffed within individual independent schools. Larger independent schools may also have a wider range of middle management positions, as well as senior leadership roles, that provide a breadth of experience for aspiring principals.”

Blackwood said Australia’s independent schools will also create leadership positions to reflect their strategic priorities, adding it is not uncommon these days to see senior position titles such as Director of Learning and Teaching, Director of Innovation, Director of Learning Analytics, Director of Research or Director of Student Wellbeing.

Options for developing leadership pathways

Blackwood said independent school heads also have the option of developing staff by seconding them to manage a particular project, which could be anything from founding a new campus to embedding a new learning management system.

“Leadership development will also typically include time release for post-graduate study or even a scholarship to assist in meeting the costs of a masters or doctoral degree,” she said.

“So, within their own school, Heads have several options to develop leadership pathways. But just as important in the independent sector is the capacity of Heads to act collectively to multiply development opportunities for aspiring leaders.”

Blackwood said that providing a vehicle for that collective action is one of the important roles AHISA undertakes as a professional association of Heads of independent schools.

“For example, our members are able to nominate staff members for a special Aspirant category of membership of AHISA,” she said.

“We hold forums and masterclasses for Aspirant members and also support them with specially developed reading materials on school leadership.”

Blackwood said AHISA’s biennial Leading, Learning & Caring conference is specifically aimed at supporting the development of senior staff in our members’ schools.

“We also host a shadowing program for aspiring Heads, which entails the aspirant observing an experienced Head for two days,” she said.

“I think it is important to consider the first years of principalship as a powerful opportunity for Heads to contribute to the development of new Heads. Each year we host a New Members Conference at which experienced Heads share their wisdom and experience with Heads in their first year of appointment.”

Another important service AHISA offers as an association of school heads, says Blackwood, is mentoring when an aspirant is appointed to their first headship.

“Support in the early years of school principalship can be critical. No one understands the challenges faced by the Head of an independent school as well as another head,” Blackwood explained.

Blackwood said AHISA has current and recently retired members who are willing to take on a mentoring or advisory role.

“Getting support right at the point when an unexpected challenge emerges can help new leaders rapidly develop their expertise as well as much-needed confidence,” she said.