Leadership essentials: Why fortune favours the bold

Leadership essentials: Why fortune favours the bold

As Australian schools continue to navigate the dizzying changes in education policy, technology and demographics, it can be said that principals who exercise bold evidence-based leadership are best positioned to drive positive change in their teaching and learning communities.

Indeed, the Australian Council for Educational Research has highlighted that principals who are willing to take risks and challenge the status quo are more likely to drive improvement in their schools.

On 25 February, a new non-profit organisation, the Science of Teaching and Learning Australia (STLA), will be launched in Sydney to promote research-aligned teaching practices for all educators across Australia.

The STLA will host conferences and professional learning events nationwide, promoting excellence in the profession through an awards ceremony each year that is based on the science of learning.

At the organisation’s upcoming conference, themed ‘What does it take to lead change in High Impact Instruction?’ several keynote speakers will share their insights on this important question.

One of them is Dr Ray Boyd, 2022 foundation principal for Dayton Primary School.

The topic of Dr Boyd’s keynote for the Sydney leg of STLA focuses on leadership, the need for clarity, direction, and affirmative action from principals.

“In doing this I attempt to draw 34 years of observations while working within public education,16 of which were investing in leading significant change in a school that has ultimately influenced the wider system within Western Australia, and to a lesser extent at a national level,” Dr Boyd told The Educator.

“In exploring these three elements, by way of my entitled keynote ‘Leading against the Wind’, I ask the audience the question: “At what point does your ideology crumble?”.

Using the analogy of a hand grenade, Dr Boyd challenges the notion of discovery learning and explicit instruction.

“I will be articulating the importance of the right approach at the right time when it comes to concept attainment and the need to establish mastery and understanding of common understandings within a school’s teaching and learning community,” he said.

“The understandings that underpin this discussion point are drawn from the works of Hirsch and Rosenshine.”

‘Excellence in schools is not an accident’

Over the course of his 45-minute keynote, Dr Boyd will briefly pull apart the concept of alignment; implementation/de-implementation; Air Force One; the culture ecosystem; and the rule of two.

“When we lead in schools, a great deal of our decisions are based on past experiences. Leadership, it could be argued, is a dynamic and complex concept. That said, strong leaders, leaders who make a difference are not ‘jellyfish’’,” he said.

“They understand that it is not about making the popular decision right but more about making the right decision popular and this requires a spine.”

Dr Boyd said that within a school context, this means that being knowledgeable about research that improves student achievement and then not acting on it is the same as not having the knowledge in the first place.

“Excellence in schools is not an accident. When you scratch below the surface you will find a school that has solid structures, consistent practices in every classroom, processes in place that hold individuals accountable, and more importantly supports that enable teaching staff to be the best at what they do,” he said. 

“As school leaders, as a member of a leadership team, our job is to provide children with learning environments and learning tasks that provide conduits for them to be successful both now and in later life.”

Dr Boyd said creating a school community that is highly effective and successful in what it does pertaining to student success, not just academically but socially, emotionally and creatively “is not rocket science, nor is it serendipitous.”

“Rather it is simply bloody hard work that actually requires leaders to lead, and in some cases that may mean having the courage to lead against the wind.”