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  • Writer's pictureDr Pete Stebbins PhD

High Performance Schools:10 of The Best School Leadership Shares - Local Wisdom, Global Significance

To celebrate the release of our School Leadership Shares Journal (a special thanks to QASSP and QASEL) I want to give you a sneak peak at the extraordinary insights and achievements of 10 Australian School Leaders.

These incredible leaders have made a big impact in their local school communities and are now sharing their journey and practical insights with the global education leadership community!

Australian Schools: Local Wisdom, Global Significance

“Wisdom calls out in the local streets,

she raises her voice when people gather ...”

Ancient Proverb

My journey documenting the incredible insights and journeys of Australian School Leaders to share with the world began not with a grand vision, nor an ambitious plan, but rather a steadfast and determined intention to let the quiet voices of reason and wisdom, so often drowned out by the loudest voices of policy and politics, gain a voice on the world stage of educational leadership. 

The tipping point for the Leadership Shares Project began when I was attending a regional school leadership forum and one of the Principal Supervisors asked: “Does anyone have any ideas on how to identify and overcome barriers in the school transformation process?” There was a moment of silence as we all looked at one another, somewhat stunned not by the question itself (which was perfectly reasonable given their roles were about enabling school leadership teams to implement best practice), but rather our inability to articulate a simple and effective answer. 

Eventually, one of the more experienced leaders raised her hand and offered to share a strategy she was using called “Skip Level Meetings.” As she described the simple process of how she engaged the various layers of school leadership and staff to identify areas of inconsistency and/or miscommunication (and, in doing so, opportunities for improvement), I nearly fell off my chair – it was so brilliant! So thorough, so simple, so easy to explain and introduce to others ... pure genius! To my astonishment, not everyone seemed to like the idea and after a short discussion, it was brushed aside with a follow-up question: “Are there any other ideas people could offer?”

On my drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how profoundly important the idea of Skip Level Meetings was to many other Principal Supervisors I had met across other regions who were often scratching their heads about how to support school leaders in identifying and overcoming barriers in their own school transformation journey. How could I get this information out to them? How could I share this idea in a way that enabled others to see its genius? How could I rightly elevate the status of the person who authored this fantastic idea in the first place? How could I make this local wisdom into a strategy of global significance?

As I grappled with these questions and argued to and fro with the author of this great idea about sharing her brilliance with others, the seeds of this book were sown. As you will see, Kay Kirkman is indeed an incredible leader, an exemplar of best practice and a fountain of wisdom in the niches of both building leadership capability across the layers of a school’s workforce and also driving continuous improvement in teaching and learning to enable every student to succeed.

You will read about not only Kay’s current toolkit for building high performance schools, but understand her relentless pursuit of excellence through her life experience, her mistakes, her proudest moments and the lives she has changed. Since publishing the original article, which gained wide readership among peer leaders in Australia and New Zealand, Skip Level Meetings are an increasingly common strategy used widely among Principal Supervisors supporting school transformation – local wisdom becoming globally significant! 

Kay’s school leadership journey was the first of many I was able to document and share with the world at large. Shining the spotlight on local wisdom, which had the potential to become globally significant in building high performance schools, which maximises every student’s ability to succeed in life and nourishes and supports the wellbeing and growth of the staff guiding our younger generation’s growth and development.

There are many amazing school leaders amongst us – everyday heroes committed to excellence for both their students and staff. Sam Donovan is another hero of mine – calm, patient and kind yet deeply passionate and unrelenting in her pursuit of supporting both the wellbeing and learning journey of her staff and students. Sam’s insights and practical ways to balance the healthy pressure of the learning pit with the positive psychology of flourishing is remarkable in its brilliance and simplicity – again, like Kay, local wisdom with global significance.

Then there is David Turner, a visionary leader grappling with the current and future forces of change impacting upon school leaders today. Developing systems and structures to fast-track both the support and strategy school leaders need to respond to a rapidly changing world. You will see how creatively borrowing ideas from the world of Chief Executive Officers has led to the creation of powerful support and accountability groups known as Principal Forums. 

New levels of support and accountability must extend beyond the under-supported school leaders and filter out across the school by changing the way we understand and utilise feedback.  Roselynne Anderson shares some great insights on her own leadership journey and how important feedback is in the process of school transformation. To be a High Performance School, feedback that provides both support and accountability must also be tied to a clear, explicit and consistent school culture, and Phil Carleton shares with us his core strategies in enabling success in this area.

Culture sits at the core of every High Performance School and is a vast and complex topic in its own right – a combination of marrying best practice with local context. Sharon Barker shows us the pitfalls and fast-tracks for building a high performance high school from start-up and how to manage the complexities of regional and remote communities. Katrina Jones shares the challenges of change management in transforming primary teaching teams into inquiry focused professional learning communities.

Kurt Goodwin shares his insights into simplifying the complexity of school leadership to maximise the focus on students without ignoring the necessary responsibilities of management and compliance. Judi Newman shares the journey of middle leadership development, an important yet overlooked problem that many larger schools struggle with. Anthony Lucey shares the journey of religious schools integrating faith and best practice and the power of mentors in supporting the growth and development of school leaders.

In each case, local wisdom is found through the story of their leadership journey made accessible through a simple interview format responding to questions that tap into different aspects of both their life story and their school leadership insights. I trust you will enjoy reading these 10 school leadership shares and find many pearls of wisdom, as well as a sense of belonging and community as these leaders share their journey with you!

Dr Pete Stebbins, PhD

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