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Working together to prepare future school leaders
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Working together to prepare future school leaders

Feature 6 minute read

A school leadership program review calls for a more systemic approach, reimagining school leadership development to encourage leaders to work more collaboratively to meet complex challenges.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) review contributed to the rationale for the Menzies School Leadership Fellowship Program (MSLFP) which found that school leaders required more support to lead in the complexity of the school system.

Principals face a range of challenges, including: an increasingly diverse student body; preparing students for future employment and lifelong learning in a rapidly changing world; multiple compliance and workload demands; growing concerns over student wellbeing; and, increased public scrutiny of student performance. More recently, many principals led their school through an unexpected transition to online learning, within a matter of days.

Stronger collective efficacy, where teachers and leaders – both within schools and across the broader education system – work more collaboratively to provide more insightful and effective leadership through complex situations would benefit students.

Menzies School Leadership Fellowship

The Menzies School Leadership Fellowship aims to improve outcomes for Australian students with a specific focus on the central question: How might we build a pipeline of school leaders equipped to lead collective efficacy in the complex school environment? It is a unique, multisector collaboration between the Menzies Foundation, ACER, Angela Mina Consulting, and Clear Horizon, with support from the Collier Charitable Fund. The incubator co-design and test solutions to persistent and complex challenges to this question and build relationships and connections across the system to inform these solutions and to accelerate their impact.

The core focus of the MSLFP Incubator is to build evidenced based innovations in developing the school leaders to foster collective efficacy, inspiring leaders to believe their work with colleagues can make a difference to the learning lives of students. As part of the two-year MSLFP, leadership Fellows are encouraged to trial strategies and interventions within their own school context. The first cohort of school leaders have been testing their ability to lead in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. The Fellows have engaged in workshops, coaching, networking and with research tools to help them improve leadership practice with a focus on strong teambuilding and advocacy within and beyond their schools.

The Menzies Foundation Incubator supports individuals who have the potential to create and implement leadership initiatives which will impact the students in their schools, and whose examples can be leveraged across the system. The aim is not to scale up the Fellowship program itself, but to test a series of innovations, some of which may have value to spread and scale beyond the Fellowship; as well as generate learning that may be useful to educators, policymakers and changemakers, and to support the bridging of new research, theory and practice.

Collective efficacy is key

We know from research that effective school leaders can drive improvements in teaching and learning, but they cannot do it alone. Collective efficacy is a key element of school improvement – studies show it has a powerful influence on student achievement. Although school leaders can take action to nurture and improve collective efficacy among their teachers, it is not a simple task. The ACER review suggests that while many school leadership programs exist, they are not equipping participants with the skills they need, and few of them target the leaders of tomorrow.

The aim is to shift awareness from ‘ego-system’ to ‘eco-system’ by impacting a leader’s ability to nurture deeper evaluative thinking about collective efficacy. Fellows’ instructional leadership capability, leading to enhanced teacher collective efficacy and student outcomes, is developed by:

  • having greater self-awareness
  • learning by listening
  • being able to build capacity in others, and
  • learning by co-designing, implementing and evaluating strategies collectively.

Importantly, delivering customised, needs-based projects in their own schools through the innovative incubator model provides Fellows with a strong support network and learning ‘sandpit’ in which to practise their skills.

Evaluating collective efficacy

Informed by research, the Menzies Collective Efficacy Progress Mapping Tool has been developed for use by leaders and their teaching teams to assess, track and improve collective efficacy in their school.

Assessment is across four areas (school, leaders, teachers and students) and through four phases of maturity – from recognising the possibility for change through to achieving positive learning outcomes through a high sense of collective efficacy.

Using the tool, school leaders and teaching teams can map the progress already made at a whole-school level, what they are working on now, and the next steps. The mapping tool will continue to be developed and refined through the Menzies Incubator, and resources aligned to each of the four phases will be made available to support diagnosis, interventions, implementation and evaluation.

The ACER report, A case for reimagining school leadership development to enhance collective efficacy by Kerry Elliott and Hilary Hollingsworth provided background for the first impact report of the Menzies School Leadership Incubator, released by the Menzies Foundation in June.

Applications for the next round of the Menzies School Leader Fellowship Program in Victorian schools open in 2021. ■

Further information

Read or listen to an interview with MSLFP Fellow and school principal, Karen Snibson, and leadership coach Angela Mina in Teacher magazine.

Elliott, K., & Hollingsworth, H. (2020). A case for reimagining school leadership development to enhance collective efficacy. Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Menzies Foundation (2020). Menzies School Leadership Incubator: Impact and Evaluation Report 2019.

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