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How secondary schools can cultivate great leaders


How secondary schools can cultivate great leaders

by Darren Cox

Similar to any organisation, the cultivation of an exceptional leadership team is essential to a school’s success. An impressive leadership ensemble enhances engagement, enriches the student experience, and contributes to the mitigation of staff turnover. However, the process of identifying and nurturing adept leaders can often present a challenge.

Studies have shown that internal leadership hires are 25% more successful than external leadership hires, pointing to a truth that is often overlooked: great leaders aren’t ‘found’ – they’re nurtured. By proactively fostering a leadership ethos that discerns, nurtures and harnesses leadership potential, schools can be surrounded by staff who are passionate and steadfast professionals ready to assume leadership roles when the opportunity arises.

Develop a Leadership Culture

In order for staff to develop their leadership potential, it’s necessary to create a culture that encourages development and draws out the best in people. This means actively ensuring that staff feel a sense of autonomy and ownership over their work and their ability to lead the school towards success.

In practice, this can manifest in a variety of ways: giving staff the freedom to use their expertise and skill to teach in a way that they enjoy, developing skill sets through workshops and development programs, or even simply establishing an open-door policy where staff feel they can provide constructive ideas to senior leaders and take initiative to better the school environment

Empowered by a culture fostering trust and autonomy, staff feel inevitably more confident to embrace leadership. For example, in scenarios where students are waiting in the hallway and a teacher is absent, a leadership infused culture equips staff with the self assurance and autonomy to assess the situation and devise optimal solutions. Without these skills, staff may succumb to the misconception that someone else will attend to the matter, which only serves as a disadvantage to teachers and students.

Avenues for Growth and Improvement

The potential for leadership exists within most individuals, and the desire to implement positive change within students and the broader school community permeates most educators. However, their potential is unlikely to be met unless a concerted effort is made to ascertain strengths, passions and aspirations, thereby providing them with a constructive path towards growth.

To foster the evolution of staff into leaders, a culture must exist where staff can experience the right amount of ‘stretch’ needed for them to get out of their comfort zone and develop their skills. This doesn’t mean throwing them in the deep end where they may flounder and become discouraged at the thought of future opportunities. Instead, take the time to consider what skills, challenges, and environments would be best for their growth and create space for these to be explored appropriately.

Another crucial element in this process is ensuring that you remain open-minded to truly provide development opportunities to your staff. Too often we can get caught up in making knee-jerk assessments about a person’s capabilities which only works to limit their potential.  What this comes down to is having the skill and confidence to have hard conversations with your staff so you can give them the opportunity to grow.

For example, if a staff member is overheard talking to a colleague in a manner that is not respectful or appropriate, this is a great opportunity to develop their communication skills. Talking to them about the issue, providing genuinely constructive feedback, and offering assistance to build their skills through mentoring or workshops are all great ways to ensure they continue to grow.

The truth is, we often shy away from these conversations due to fear of discomfort or disagreement. This is something we often see in our Crucial Dimensions workshop for mastering dialogue, but the truth is that having the skill to navigate awkward conversations or disagreements is an essential part of not only being a great leader but nurturing great leaders too. Without providing staff with the space to develop, disqualifying people from leadership opportunities will ultimately be a disservice to your school’s wider success.

Facilitating Mentorship Opportunities

Implementing a coaching and mentoring program for staff who show great interest or promise as leaders can be invaluable to their success. Whether it’s a deputy principal, year-level coordinator, administrator, or department leader, pairing staff up to be coached and mentored will provide invaluable opportunities for support, guidance, and growth.

Mentorship offers a wide range of benefits to those who are looking to improve their skills, such as increasing self-confidence, encouraging self-reflection, and providing support when needed. Most importantly, however, it facilitates important learning moments that can only be attained when a mentor is committed to their mentee’s success. For example, setting goals together and taking time to reflect on how they can be achieved or any roadblocks that may be getting in the way. This opportunity to receive honest, constructive feedback will ensure your staff are held accountable while also feeling appropriately challenged and nurtured to do their best.

Elevating the proficiency of teachers in leadership serves as a transformative catalyst for the entire school community. Rather than struggling to find great leaders externally, this approach orchestrates a culture of truly capable, engaged, and committed professionals who radiate confidence in their capacity to lead.

About Darren Cox

Darren Cox is a certified Crucial Conversations Trainer for Crucial Dimensions and is also Foundation Principal at Marsden Park Anglican College. He is a dynamic educational leader with a passion for transforming schools through reformed teaching and learning practices, student-led initiatives and community engagement.

Prior to his current role, Darren held a number of senior positions in education, including that of principal and deputy principal. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from UNSW, and is passionate about leading the development of positive school culture.

About Crucial Dimensions

Crucial Dimensions is the exclusive ANZ licensee for the award-winning Crucial Learnings training programs that have been designed to help people and organisations have those all-important crucial conversations.The business provides practical solutions to organisations seeking to improve their performance, productivity, teamwork, relationships, efficiency, safety, and more.

They have worked with many leading educational institutions including the South Australian Education Department, The Western Australian Education Department, the Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools, NSW Catholic Schools, and the Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELi) using their Crucial Dimensions programs to give educators the tools they need to speak up and have the difficult conversations required to help facilitate a culture of openness and wellbeing. The programs have also been used to train education leaders on how to assess their internal cultures to identify areas where their employees are avoiding having crucial conversations.

Over three million people benefitted from Crucial Dimension’s award-winning training programs that have been translated into 20 languages and delivered through partners in 27 countries. The programs which  include Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Getting Things Done, and Influencer Training, are founded on the belief that people are an organisation’s most valuable asset and investing in their development can yield significant results.

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