In conversation with Mark Scott

Hello and welcome to the next edition of
my video blog ‘It Goes Without Saying’. As you know, in the past I have introduced
these by saying I’m trying to critique certain cliches that come up in the
education debate on a regular basis. But on today’s vlog, I’m actually going to be
taking seriously, the statement that it goes without saying that leadership and
the role of the principal in schools is very important. And for this conversation,
I’m joined in conversation by Mark Scott – the Secretary of the Department of Education NSW. So, welcome Mark! David good to be with you. So Mark you have initiated a very special initiative in the Department around school leadership. Can you tell us what that is and why you’ve done it? Yeah we all want to live teaching and learning outcomes and in the Strategic Plan of the Department we’ve got a commitment that every student, every
teacher, every leader, every school will improve every year. And I suppose when I started at the Department I was thinking through where’s my point of access, and where’s the Department’s point of access, into those 50,000 government school classrooms that
are teaching every day. And really it’s through leadership. I think we know great
leaders can bring about great schools. Instructional leaders they’re out and
about, they’re in the classrooms, they are developing leadership teams.
They have ambition, they’re not just managing the school, they are transforming the school to bring about change. And looking at it you know, I think there’s hardly an industry or profession where leadership is more important than education. But if you look at the research Australia is chronically under-invested in developing
school leadership capability. You know I draw a parallel to the military,
where the military identifies leaders young, and systematically develops them
through their career. So what we wanted to do is to provide better support for our
school leaders today and more systematically develop them tomorrow.
Identify them earlier in their career and bring them through a leadership path. So how are you doing that? Well we’re doing a few things. We’re creating a School Leadership Institute, which will be a hub for professional development for current principals, but also aspiring principals. We’re going to put our first group of aspiring
principals through that program starting later on this year. But I think over time
you can expect you’ll put through aspiring principals, head teachers, deputies and so that by the time you become a principal you’ve actually had systematic
leadership training and development. That’s very much delivered by best
practitioners and very much rooted in your professional development. And are there particular areas that you’re focusing on? When you say you’re focusing on leadership development, when you say you’re focused on leadership development are there particular aspects of that? Is there you know around emotional intelligence or are there aspects of school management? Well, well in a way, part of the challenge of the job is it all of that. I think over time as this emerges, if you look at what they do in Singapore, there’ll be a different focus of the leadership development
given where you are in your career. You know those academics who have done the work on principal work intensification and the demands and work of principals, well what they said to me is their challenge about being a principal is not just how long you work, long days
but it’s the intensity of the work. Demanding students. Demanding staff. Complex family and social environments wrapped around. So you know, I think first
and foremost we want our great principals to be instructional leaders. So have you get out and about, in a school and work with the leadership team to provide focus on teaching and learning. And then how do you manage that complex environment with all those
demands on your time, so that you actually have time to set up a leadership team, so you manage that environment. But you can get that headspace for
yourself, that you aren’t just a victim of everything that’s happening, but that
you have time for deep thinking and deep engagement on the leadership of everything that matters. And I think part of the challenge is you can manage a school just by try to hold on and deal with the day, yes, you’ve gotta be able to do that, but you’ve got to be able to think about what are the changes and
where’s the deliveries that brings about the improvement in the school. And being a principal is often a very lonely job, do you see the Leadership Institute as an opportunity for networks
of principals sharing best practice, sharing the emotional load to some extent as well? Yeah absolutely, I mean I think we can see through a groups like the Secondary
Principals’ Council and the Primary Principals’ Association the power of peer support. I
think those organisations do a good job what I’ve seen with leadership programs
like this though, is often you you train and develop a cohort together they have
a certain you know camaraderie they get to know each other they work to go and
then you send them out and that network they’ve established gets continued
throughout their career and so yes I think we need to be able to provide that
emotional support. Not just down the line from the Department but the
lateral peer support as well. I must say that from the Department’s perspective,
an important thing we’ve done, is we’ve recast the role of our directors to make
them directors of educational leadership. Our directors now look after fewer schools. In the past they were looking after an average of 34 schools. Some were looking after more than 40 schools. Now that average is back to 20. We want them to have more
time to spend working with principals, and with leadership teams, providing support and that kind of personalised engagement that the
research shows us is a key to supporting principals and lifting performance. Okay, Mark our time is up, thank you very much for joining us today. I think you’ll agree
everyone, that it does in fact go without saying that school leadership and
support for principals is vitally important and Mark we wish you all the best for the success of the initiative. Thanks David. Thanks for joining us.

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