The smooth and successful operation of a school is a complex business that requires insightful and decisive leadership.
Behind every classroom, school camping expedition, sports event, graduation, and new school building lies an extensive network of people and procedures that work together to ensure operations run smoothly.
The day-to-day functioning of a school and its ongoing survival and growth involves much more than meets the eye, particularly in schools where hundreds of staff members each make an important contribution and impact the education of thousands of students.
Coordinating, supporting, and enabling each of those people to do their job well, and steering a school’s future in the right direction in a rapidly evolving educational environment, requires thoughtful and experienced leadership skills.
At Haileybury, one of Australia’s top-ranked independent schools, two high-performing women are leading the charge on many key leadership decisions.
Rebecca Arceri is Haileybury’s first Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning), oversees the teaching and learning programs from Years 5 to 12. Their responsibilities extend across Haileybury’s four Melbourne campuses, Haileybury Rendall School in Darwin, and the online school, Haileybury Pangea.
Below, Arceri and Sever share seven insights on what they believe are the vital skills and actions for those leading a high-achieving school in 2023.
• Listen and then lead
“Being able to listen is an essential part of leadership,” says Rebecca. “It allows you to get the lay of the land so you can understand the best way to navigate any changes that might be needed. Listening also helps you engage with people and build a relationship, and that’s important if you later want to make changes and ask people to step out of their comfort zone. Many day-to-day challenges are easier to overcome if there is a shared sense of purpose and strong relationships,” she says.
• Harvest ideas
Rebecca created a project steering committee to discuss and act on ideas for improvement – the ideas can be submitted by anyone within Haileybury. She says it’s important for schools to create avenues where people can share ideas that can be analyzed and acted on if they have merit.
“It’s important for people to feel part of the puzzle that makes Haileybury what it is. We often hear about our achievements academically, and I want my staff to be proud of what they do that contributes to that achievement. They may not be in the classroom teaching, but that teaching couldn’t happen without everything they do,” adds Rebecca.
• Create a consistent experience
“We have a one school model that ensures consistency of experience for students as they move through the school,” says Anna. “So, a student at our Keysborough campus must have the same experience as a student at Brighton or a student at our online campus, Haileybury Pangea. The Heads of Department are the same across all campuses, there is collaborative planning of resources for students, and everyone hears the same message and follows the same curriculum. It’s a system-wide approach.”
• Leverage technology
Haileybury Pangea is just one example of how school leaders can harness technology to increase educational opportunities and accessibility. Anna cites Clayton Christensen's 'disruptive innovation' theory as a valuable lesson for school leaders. Christensen was an American educator and business consultant who warned large and established organizations of the danger of becoming too good at what they do best. He championed the value in creating a new disruptive product or service that may start at the bottom but then improve and rise, eventually displacing established and complacent competitors and forcing them to also improve. "Haileybury Pangea is the new entrant and, over time, Haileybury and Haileybury Pangea will force each other to be better and to increase in quality. Choices breed better outcomes for all students," says Anna.
• Zone in and slow down
A self-confessed 'doer' who likes to dive in, be hands-on and help make change happen, Rebecca says it's important for school leaders to 'learn not to do'. "When I began at Haileybury I could see so much opportunity, there was so much that could be done and I learned that it's important to zone in, slow down and pick what you think will work," she says. "If you jump in, you can't explain the 'why' and being able to do that is important in anything you do."
• Keep learning and growing yourself
"When I was younger one of my first managers told me they always recruited people who aspired to do their job, because those people keep pushing you and you continue to grow," says Rebecca. "In the business of education and school leadership, being willing to constantly learn yourself and always widening the aperture of education and looking beyond ensures growth and innovation."
• Make the one per cents matter
"Look outside your own school and cherry-pick innovations that you believe have potential. Then contextualize them for your particular organization or situation," says Anna. Firmly believing that strong leaders never think they have accomplished all that can be done, Anna says striving for marginal gains – the 'one per cents' – matters. "Processes can always be better and there is no time to be lazy. There are always areas where you can be better – search for those," she says.