"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other" – John F Kennedy
The creation of the National Academy for Educational Leadership presents a number of unique and timely challenges for Wales. Historically, Wales was left out of the National College, and has had no other national leadership body (outside of the unions) available to school and college leaders. When looking for leadership training opportunities within the public sector, we have had available only what was offered variously by the Welsh Government, Local Authorities and Regional Consortia. Each offered a certain amount of support for leaders, sometimes of varying quality, and all too often were subject to the vagaries of both political priorities and ever-decreasing budgets. Thus, courses that were of great value and widely supported gradually dwindled, until we were left with a pared-down NPQH and whatever each consortium felt they were able to offer. The result for some years now has been no national co-ordination of this provision, and no effective quality control.
The NAEL is being established to bring order and co-ordination to the situation and provide the much-needed quality control and consistency that will allow leaders to have confidence that what they spend their ever-decreasing funds on will provide value-for-money. But why do we need an Academy of Educational Leadership? Surely good leaders are the result of a form of natural selection? The truth is that good leaders are not born that way, and all need training and support along their journey in leadership.
Leadership is not a simple matter, and requires integrity, optimism, boundless enthusiasm, significant organisational capacity, the ability to think and act strategically, great communication and a host of other skills. Dr Sunnie Giles, who has pioneered new approaches to leadership development and has featured in The Harvard Business Review, grouped attributes into the following 5 features of an effective leader:
- Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety;
- Empowers others to self-organize;
- Fosters a sense of connection and belonging;
- Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organizational learning;
- Nurtures growth (in others and themselves).
"Leaders’ job number 1 is providing safety for others, and then creating connection. When feeling safe and connected, people can unleash their innate genius for radical innovation, permanent change and transformational learning." Dr Sunnie Giles.
A strong theme running through all of the above is the need for an effective and productive relationship between all within the system or organisation. Healthy and productive relationships require a number of things including:
- Shared responsibility;
"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on them, and let them know you trust them." - Booker T Washington
For all those in the education system to feel ‘safe’ enough to be innovative, creative and a leader (at whatever level they find themselves), genuine, uncompromising ‘trust’ is non-negotiable. If we simply direct people and tell them how to do their job we often end up with compliant workers. However, when someone is genuinely trusted to do their job, there is a far greater likelihood of them developing into a creative, thinking leader.
If this all looks pretty complicated, that’s probably because it is. Throwing someone who is unprepared, or not sufficiently prepared, into a major leadership role is a recipe for disaster. No matter how well-intentioned or well-liked a potential leader is, without proper training, they are unlikely to have the necessary experience or achieve the level of trust needed to do the job effectively.
For in leadership, and particularly in educational leadership, trust needs to be a verb rather than a noun. If all in the education system agree that our sole focus should be on what is likely to impact positively upon the children and young people, we must trust each professional to make good decisions that can be shown to adhere to that aim. That is not to say that every decision will prove to be right necessarily. However, unless evidence can be provided that innovation and change in education is undertaken in the best interest of the student, all who consider themselves professionals should challenge it. The action of trusting requires a degree of calculated risk – if those learner-focused principles about education leadership are mutually agreed at the outset, those empowered with the ability to lead should be able to be trusted to make and take decisions in the best interests of those being educated.
So what about the NAEL and how can it engender trust?
The NAEL has high aspirations which were shared with the Cabinet Secretary.
In her announcement about the NAEL, she clearly said, ‘...in focusing on the leadership of learning, supporting the four purposes of our new curriculum, the Academy has set out a vision to be:
- Inclusive and Collaborative – enabling equitable access to opportunities, owned by the sector and central to developing a culture led collaborative leadership;
- Inspiring and motivational – promoting great leadership development now and for the future, linking coherently to the national reform agenda;
- Capacity building – enabling leadership to thrive, empowering leaders and ensuring our future supply of leaders; and
- Having quality and impact – making clear the role of leadership and the difference this makes for our system underpinned with research and a strong evidence base.
If we are to have a profession that is trusted to do its job effectively, in turn we need leaders who have the trust of their colleagues and communities to deliver the highest quality of education. This is where the NAEL comes in, as the gatekeepers and quality assurers of effective and appropriate training for education leaders. Our leaders need support to develop themselves, not just as educationalists but also personally and professionally. The ability to maintain the mental health and wellbeing of all, including themselves, is crucial. When undertaking any process of change and development, leaders need to be able to maintain confidence in the core purposes and aims, recognise when to seek support and advice and how to be resilient when challenges present themselves, as they undoubtedly will.
With investment in the profession as a whole, recognition that people are the most valuable resource, the shared clarity of purpose and, above all, trust in the profession to lead effective improvement for all children and young people in Wales, the NAEL could prove to be a significant and effective lever for positive change in Wales’ educational landscape.
"The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them." – Ernest Hemingway
A former Primary Headteacher in the Vale of Glamorgan, Rob was appointed as Director for the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales (NAHT Cymru) in September 2015.
During 24 years in education, 15 in senior leadership roles, he has taught across the primary age range in four primary schools within three different Local Authorities.
He previously represented colleagues on the Central South Consortium Stakeholder group; within Local Authority Headteacher Steering groups, as a member of a Diocesan Board for Education; in chairing Cluster Groups and as a convenor for an improvement group of 13 schools.
He has also mentored newly appointed head teachers.
Rob lives in Cardiff, is married to Caroline (also a teacher) and they have two children.
Following nineteen years as a music teacher and middle leader, in 1999 Tim moved into school leadership as a Deputy Headteacher in South Wales. In 2001 he started fourteen years as a Headteacher in two schools, firstly in Cardiff, and then in Newport. Following early retirement in January 2015, he undertook consultative work for ASCL PD, and in October of that year was appointed as Director of ASCL Cymru. His role as Director of ASCL Cymru involves development of policy, both in consultation with Welsh Government officials and also on behalf of the association and its members.
Outside of formal duties, Tim is an active musician and composer, and is Director of Music at St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny.