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  • Writer's pictureDr Pete Stebbins PhD

HPS Leadership Shares: A Team Approach to Quality Teaching & Learning with Katrina Jones

In the HPS Leadership Shares series we interview education leaders nominated by their colleagues and peers as exemplars of excellence in building high performance schools. 

The only thing constant in life is change and this is truer than ever in schools. To manage change effectively school leaders need to first establish systems and processes which support quality teaching and learning and high performance teams – and then use these systems to drive improvement and innovation.  Katrina Jones is an exemplar of effective leadership when it comes to quality teaching and learning and High Performance Teams. With a quiet determination and deep empathy, Katrina believes in the potential of all students and staff and has the courage, humility and determination to patiently persist with the change journey that is a necessary part of transforming a good school into a great school. 

Katrina recently presented the inaugural lecture for The Australian Learning Lectures (ALL), a joint project with the State Library Victoria and The Koshland Innovation Fund.  Combined with the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, the ALL case studies showcase how a big idea is translated into practice with a leader exemplifying vision, passion and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

In this edition of the HPS Leadership Share series Katrina opens up about the challenges and complexities of building high performance schools – the leadership lessons she’s learned about building award winning high performance teaching teams and ‘right sizing’ your leadership approach to match the needs of the staff - and the warning signs of when to speed up and when to slow down, when to push and when to pull.  

The Butterfly Effect...

A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops. Henry Adams

Q: Do you believe teachers are having a larger impact in society beyond the classroom?

A: I think teachers have always had a huge impact on individual students, however the need is greater now, with discord in society and an uncertain future ahead for our students to ensure the impact is broader, wider and more strategic.  Teachers and schools are having to equip our students with a range of skills and strategies to ensure they can be part of shaping the future not just reacting to the inevitable changes.  

The challenge for us as teachers is moving beyond the transmission of knowledge to also ensure our students know how to learn, how to work collaboratively together, find creative solutions and communicate beyond our immediate world, across cultures, using a range of tools.

At Taranganba State School we have been implementing a number of student focused collaboration, communication and problem solving activities.  Our reading program teaches students to actively work together to construct meaning from the text.  Students pose questions about the text and collectively find answers whilst reading. The group then articulates the strategies they use to comprehend the text - deepening their meta awareness of learning. 

In Mathematics, our students are sharing ways to solve problems or maybe unsuccessful ways.  Research has shown that students learn more from how their peers solve problems than being shown by the teacher.  In these maths talks, the teacher’s role is more on encouraging a range of ideas and mathematical reasoning and then focussing on what is effective and efficient.  

With Digital Technologies all of our work is on collaboratively finding solutions, trialling ideas, going back to the drawing board and working through challenges together.  The Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership and Australian Learning Lectures has recognised our work around reading but more importantly on using data to drive innovation through collaborative practices.   

What keeps you up a night?

Of all the hard jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher. Maggie Gallagher

Q: When it comes to quality teaching and learning, what are the big issues school leaders face in the current state of play and what are the emerging challenges on the horizon?

A: Currently we need to ensure our students are literate and numerate to engage in and contribute to society, so that all students regardless of their socio-economic status, disability or where they live in Australia have the opportunity to complete Year 12 and therefore increase their likelihood of a productive, healthy and happy life. 

The challenge I see in Australia is a disengagement in learning and devaluing of learning from some sectors of our community.  In some cases this appears to be a push back against the highly pressurised pursuit of academic success and the use of data to rank, highlight inefficiencies and cast judgement.  One of the ways we can overcome this as schools is to use data to enable success and interconnect that with a joy of learning and how we as a school promote collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and the development of character as our core focus. 

I think that Gaming Theory is the missing link for making data a more powerful driver of improvement. Human beings are naturally curious and achievement orientated – something all video game designers know. When it comes to gaming, ensuring all performance data is freely available to the player is essential so they can speed up their learning and performance (and minimise mistakes, loss of credits (AKA Game Over) and get to higher levels and collect rewards and bonuses). 

If we could reconstruct how we use data in schools to incorporate some of these elements for students and teachers imagine how much more exciting data would become! More over – if presented as real-time feedback with opportunity for further practice – how much faster the improvement would be achieved.

At Taranganba State School our journey over the past few years has seen a change in the way we view data.  Data is a starting point of our inquiry cycle and our emphasis is on growth and improvement.  Our recent work with learning walls in our classrooms highlights that students want to know where they are at, what they need to know next on their learning journey and then what they need to do to get there.  Actively constructing their learning together with their peers and the teacher has been a powerful insight into how knowing your data is crucial for everyone’s learning journey. 

Your Brief History of Time....

The only source of knowledge is experience. Albert Einstein

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of your life journey in becoming an education leader?

A:  I came to leadership later in my career.  I was very focussed on being a great classroom teacher, providing rich and engaging experiences for my students and working with others to share best practice and unpack ways to assist all students to achieve. I loved my work with students and particularly with parents, partnering with them on their child’s journey.  

I was encouraged to enter leadership from my principal at the time.  I still remember the conversation where he shared his belief in me - specifically that I could have a greater positive impact for the school in a leadership position where I could spread the passion I have for my work further than just my classroom - to inspire and influence others across the school community. 

From the beginning of my leadership journey, I sought advice from others, actively searched for the best people to coach me as a leader, gained feedback from anyone and everyone, became an avid reader of educational leadership books, signed up for mentor programs and watched, analysed and conversed with others.  I also focused much of my attention in developing my leadership based on feedback from peers within my school leadership team – discussing, leading at times, learning from others – always committed to the team coming out in front and that all are valued and learning from the experience. 

Leadership Life Lessons....

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. John F Kennedy

Q: What were some of your key early career leadership learnings and experiences?

A:  Sometimes adversity is the greatest lesson.  When there is a crisis, it challenges you to reflect on your decisions and really challenge your core beliefs and from this you can build that ladder to move out of the pit.  It is also about actions.  If you have always acted with integrity, been transparent with your motives and beliefs, people will support you and follow you and the culture of respect, the ethos of valuing others will always come through in the end.  

An example of this for me was when someone challenged my integrity as a leader.  I had to really dig deep to reflect on my actions.  I confided in trusted colleagues who reassured me that I had been transparent with my intentions, communicated widely and been fair and considered in all interactions. I then had to exercise great patience and care in providing feedback to the person who challenged me whilst respecting their right to an alternative point of view. The emotional strain these difficult circumstances place on leaders should not be under-estimated.

The other big learning is about patience, coupled with perseverance – seeing it through, being determined to the point of ‘dogged’ with your vision but also allowing ‘take up’ time for your staff, knowing when to pull or to push, and remembering that what is valuable does take time to change, that in education there is no quick fix or a program that will work, it does take time, effort and people working together as a team to bring the vision to fruition.  For example, one of our major challenges was changing our way of working from a transmission of knowledge to teaching students how to learn. This change took several years as staff had to really challenge their core beliefs about effective teaching and the way they had taught for many years even decades. There were periods of anger, grieving even, but by acknowledging these emotions and continuing to communicate the big picture, people then began to incorporate new ways of teaching. This combined with celebrating the small successes and acknowledging the journey travelled thus far ultimately allowed us to achieve the vision we had set for ourselves for quality teaching and learning. 

On Being an Effective Principal….

I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession. John Wooden

Q: What are some of your key leadership learnings as principal in building a High Performance School?

A: Timing and Observation.  Knowing your people – knowing what stage of the journey they are at, respecting the diversity of the group and timing when to present the next stage in the journey and that it may take longer than initially thought.  An example of this for me was our journey with Dr Pete Stebbins and implementing High Performance Teams (HPT).  

I knew there were some HPT systems and processes that, whilst immediately effective in our leadership team, needed space and time before implementing with staff who were still taking time to grasp and embed previous work/stages. I needed to respect the space that people need to learn new ways of working. For example when we implemented the HPT meeting structure with our leadership team we took some additional time to get all the elements embedded before we moved onto our year level meetings to introduce Moderators, Chairs, Hot Issues & Deep Dives. 

I think implementing change effectively is also about ensuring that the conditions are right. Have I got the right systems in place? Do my staff have enough knowledge and understanding in this area so they feel confident and capable of doing the job needed? Do they all feel included and part of this journey?

With our school’s improvement journey on reading we spent considerable time on building our knowledge of the High Reliability Literacy Practices.  During this period, we realised staff needed considerable amounts of guided practices and this informed our feedback culture within the school – the mentoring, observations and feedback cycles, the collaborative planning – the building of trust in trying new ways and sharing our practice with each other. 

On Building High Performance Teaching Teams

Accomplishing the maximum impact on student learning depends on teams of teachers working together effectively. John Hattie

Q: What have been the critical success factors for you in building High Performance Teaching Teams?

A:  The critical success factor has been the change of culture and ethos within our school.  There is a strong sense of belief in our staff that as a team we have an immense impact on the future lives of our students and that the education we are offering at our regional school is on par with anywhere else in the state or the nation.  

When we made the State Finals for Showcase in Excellence in Early and Primary Years, the staff realised that the journey we were on was worthwhile – the acknowledgement on a state level showed our community and staff we were on the right track.  Being a regional school there are not many opportunities to share your work and get feedback on its validity and effectiveness. 

Another big success factor is collective trust – knowing we don’t need to have all the right answers by ourselves because as a team we will work through challenges together and custom fit our education to meet the needs of our students and community. We achieved this positive shift in our school culture by working on core school strategies and programs together as a team.  We would design, implement, gather data, have conversations, give feedback and then plan the next part.  At times it felt that we were building the plane as we flew it.  But everyone owned the work, no-one was an isolated expert – we collectively built our knowledge together. 

On Managing Change & Building A Feedback Culture

Change is the only constant in life. Heraclitus

Q: How have you successfully managed change in schools – what has worked and what hasn’t - when do you need to speed up change and when do you need to slow it down?

A:  Communication is a real key to successfully managing change.  At the start of the year, ensuring everyone has worked through the vision and strategic intent and knowing their specific roles and responsibilities on bringing that vision about.  Then the small group and individual conversations about what they need to help them fulfil their role. 

We do this during student free week as part of our annual High Performance Teams refresher activities where we complete updated team profile charts, establishing team meeting protocols, and share our work and wellbeing goals for the year so we as a team can support each other over the year ahead.  The Annual Implementation Plan is also distilled to a one page document with clear, concise communication of what everyone’s role is in achieving the plan. Time is given to teaching teams to plan how this will unfold over the term / semester with regular meetings to ensure every team member holds each other to account. 

Successful change has also been about recognising the ability and talent of others, working with them to support their leadership skills and then giving them the trust and space to work with others and do their job.  And when things are not progressing as you would hope, to use this as a collaborative problem solving exercise where all can have a voice in where they think the issues lie but also be part of the solution and modelling the respectful way to achieve that. Developing team feedback protocols has been a very important step in maximising both respect and improvement feedback among team members.

As a team we have also focussed on the student – where they are at and where they need to be and then what we, as teachers can do to facilitate the journey.  So the focus is always on improvement, the student and our own, the forward focus not on the deficit.  When we are working together as a teaching team moving forward, the feedback is always about value and future actions and respecting that we are all on a journey. 

Sliding doors – Into The Future....

I touch the future. I teach. Christa McAuliffe

Q: Fast-forward 20 years from now – what have the school leaders of today done to create a successful future for both their students and for the education system?

A:  I think the focus on literacy and numeracy is commendable and ensuring that all students have the building blocks for life. However, high level literacy and numeracy skills are rapidly becoming more of a basic survival skill in an increasingly digital world. To really succeed students will need more than just literacy and numeracy. Thus, it is our current work in teaching collaboration, creative and critical thinking, team work and communication, that will be our true legacy as we equip our students to enter into a new era in the world of work.  

Thank you Katrina Jones!

Dr Pete Stebbins PhD

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