Opinion: Leading the transformation of Australia’s school system

Opinion: Leading the transformation of Australia’s school system
Australian schools are immersed in transforming teaching and learning to help equip their students for an uncertain future.

The key issue for the Australian Government in determining how to spend its “Gonski dollars” is therefore to devise ways to support and scale up what is already underway.

That is, the transformation of Australia’s school system requires strategic leadership, not restrictive regulation.

The suite of actions school leaders draw on to lead change offers a range of possible actions for the Government to consider, including:

1.   Build a compelling platform for change
Reversing Australia’s slide in international test rankings is not a goal that will inspire classroom teachers or principals to work even longer hours. What is required is a targeted strategic focus such as reducing academic underachievement.

What international tests and NAPLAN results do show is that in Australia there are greater differences in student achievement within schools than between schools. No school is complacent about the spread of students’ academic outcomes and all have a vested interest in narrowing that achievement gap.

A national goal that is experienced locally and which can be analysed and acted upon locally is much more likely to achieve measurable gains faster.

2.   Identify and develop champions for change
Leaders will often seek to identify if a model of the practices or behaviours they wish to embed in their school already exists in a form that can be adopted or adapted. They will then look for staff members with the curiosity, interest or skills to “champion” introduction of the model.

Governments typically identify existing models of desired practice through award programs or will support the creation of “lighthouse” schools through participation in funded projects.

3.   Amplify and accelerate change
Promotion of good practice is the precursor of amplifying and accelerating its adoption.

The Government has already taken significant steps to promote and amplify good practice through the work of AITSL and ACARA. Illustrations of practice, work samples, interactive tools and other resources support implementation of the Australian Curriculum and the professional development of teachers and school leaders.

As suggested in AHISA’s submission to the Review to Achieve Excellence in Australian Schools, one way to amplify and accelerate use of these resources is to develop an associated system of micro-credentialing to align with teachers’ professional development requirements.

4.   Identify and build on strengths
Successful transformations often begin with amplifying what’s right rather than changing what’s wrong.

A “strengths-based” approach to leading change in Australia’s schooling system could therefore begin by recognising and drawing on the immense pool of professional knowledge, expertise and intellectual capital in schools. The Government should also recognise that most schools in Australia are already operating strategically within a continuous cycle of strategic development and that an appropriate policy response would be to seek ways to support, build or accelerate such practice.

Dr Mark Merry is National Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia and Principal of Yarra Valley Grammar in Victoria.

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