What I’ve Learnt About Leadership

A number of weeks ago now I presented at a local Women in Educational Leadership meeting. I was asked to present on what leadership means to me. I’ve been meaning to share my presentation. Here it is. I guess I just wanted to let readers know that I’m alive. Just swamped with work at this point of the term and have had to neglect the blog somewhat. Hoping to get back to it soon. Thanks for sticking with me.

Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Karla and I am the Drama Teacher at SCHS. I am here this afternoon, along with my other esteemed female colleagues to share with you my leadership journey.

I’d like to speak simply and honestly with you today. I originally had written this convoluted, metaphoric, aspirational and let’s be honest, wanky speech about pyjamas weirdly enough. I even considered wearing a pair but the more I attempted to turn this metaphor into something meaningful the more it strayed from what I felt the speech was supposed to be about and I guess, what I’m about.

My leadership journey has been one of discovery. I have made the realisation in the last year that I am a leader. I have potential to do great things as a leader. That being a leader is a huge responsibility. I’ve learnt that leaders are strong, resilient, passionate with strong convictions, determined, unfazed. They are humble, self-critical, perfectionists. They often stand alone. They take risks. They fail. They aren’t always recognised. They are brave.

Teachers are all those things. Teachers are leaders. You are a leader. You stand in front of a class every day, with those big, innocent (and maybe not so innocent) eyes staring back at you, waiting for you to tell them what to do. You are the only person in the room so who else is going to take the lead? You lead unknowingly because you would have never considered defining yourself as a leader.

In the past year I’ve dared to believe that I am a leader not just a teacher and now I am here saying it to you aloud. This is a big step in my leadership journey. Just believing that has changed my approach to teaching enormously.

Leadership to me, right now, is about self-belief because my biggest battle has always been with myself. I struggle with my confidence.

I came to SCHS in 2007 fresh out of university. It’s my first school and I’ve now been there for six years.  I remember I was naïve, inexperienced but enthusiastic. I saw potential for Drama to grow. I attempted to expand its profile in the school with public performances, excursions to the Sydney Theatre Company and The Belvoir. I gave it the love and attention that I felt it deserved.

Those initial years of establishing yourself as a teacher are really hard. Your confidence and self-esteem take a battering, your personal integrity is challenged, and your beliefs are changed. I thought I had to know it all and do it all on my own. I felt isolated and unsupported yet I wouldn’t ask for help because I didn’t have the confidence to ask. I felt like I thought people would think I was stupid. There was however, to my amazement in retrospect, a never ceasing ability to get up in the morning and go to work because deep down inside the passion and desire I had (have) for bringing drama into the lives of my students was (is) so important to me. Looking back, there was something there inside me it just needed the right outlet to blossom. Standing proud within your own integrity, following your passion, relentlessly and with resilience is a fundamental quality in a leader. I couldn’t articulate it then but I can articulate it now and I know you all do this every day.

I believe “There is always time to be what you might be.” I owe a significant amount of my understanding of leadership to my Principal. He is a huge advocate for Professional Learning and each year we hold a Leadership Conference in Week 6 of Term 2. We stay at a hotel somewhere, get satchels with notes and get the usual conference spread of coffee, tea, lunch and those fabulous mini mentos in a bowl. He believes in making us think of ourselves as professionals. That we are more than just 9-3 with a highly challenging and deeply intellectual profession. It is through his leadership that I have dared to believe that I am a leader and that I have a greater responsibility to lead my students and other staff in all that I do but even more so as an advocate for Drama. He’s helped me to articulate my potential and place greater value on the influence that my colleagues can have on my teaching.

It’s this understanding of myself as a person, as a leader and this belief that I have something to offer that has pushed me to make greater connections. To move beyond my classroom and share my knowledge to support others. “Man is not an island” and as such I have moved to make connections with other drama teachers worldwide through blogging and with other teachers through professional learning networks such as Twitter. Thus how I met many of the ladies up on stage with me this afternoon and graciously accepted the opportunity to speak to you today. The amount of support and encouragement received from these women and others has given me greater courage to exceed my own expectations and be more than I am because we can always “Dare to be more.” Why I lived in isolation for so long is beyond me.

It often feels like I’m dragging myself through mud. I work in a theatrically illiterate, low-socio economic community. The Arts is not valued. All the more reason to make it valued. For many of my students Drama in high school may be the only opportunity they get to experience the Arts in their lives and that is my driving ambition with which to become a better leader, a better teacher.

For me, leadership is about passion, potential and progress. None of which would exist without self-belief. Every day you lead your students to learn the wonders of your subject. Nobody else, in any other profession has that privilege and it is a privilege. Teach honestly and with passion. Don’t just teach. Lead.

Tell me about your leadership journey? What does it mean to you?


Perfect My Practice: Quality vs. Quantity

How many of us feel like some days we are just “teaching to the test”?

Everybody does feel like this at some point. I know I have.

I’ve felt guilty because it goes against everything I believe a teacher should be. Education is more than just passing a test right? I know you would all agree.

At TLP last week we were discussing what factors influence a student’s ability to achieve at school. We looked at some research from John Hattie, University of Auckland. Hattie determined that 50% of a student’s ability to achieve is dependent upon their own genetic make-up. If they’re bright they’re naturally going to learn more than someone who is less so.

The next most significant influence on student’s achievement was, in fact, the teacher. A whopping 30%. Other variances, which I know would be extremely influential in some of the school’s we teach at, included home life, the actual school itself, principals and student peers.

At this point I felt all warm and fuzzy. I often forget, amidst the movement and energy of the classroom, the piles of marking, the meetings, the paperwork and the phone calls why I am doing all of this. Sometimes I think we forget how hugely important we are to children and their learning.

30% of a child’s learning is dependent on me.

In reading that, I felt important again. I feel like I have some reason or purpose for doing this job. I think through the fast paced nature of our lives these days it is something we can often forget. Plus we’re often so hell bent on being negative all the time we forget to give ourselves a little credit. I have had countless moments where I’ve felt like throwing in the towel and just thinking, why, why, why?! To have an oppportunity to stop and think about what qualities I have and the qualities I use each day to make a difference is really nice.

Here is my list of what I think makes a quality teacher:

1. Having a good relationship with students. Being approachable. Knowing who they are as people.

2. Supporting students learning. Rewarding students, strategising and modifying lessons for their specific needs. Setting goals.

3. Knowledge.

4. Enthusiasm, confidence, motivation, determination, vision.

5. An interest in lifelong learning. You don’t know everything. You can be better.

6. Sense of Humour.

7. Organised.

Some of the comments that were made by others were that sometimes your whole program can go out the window simply because someone says something or something happens in the classroom that changes the tangent and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. In one teacher’s classroom, a cricket came into the room and all her little primary schooler’s were fascinated by it. They started Googling it and looking at it on the interactive whiteboard and discussing it. What they were meant to do was writing but this small detour became just as valuable as preparing for the upcoming NAPLAN tests. They used it as the basis for their writing! It’s not how much you teach but what you teach and the way you teach it.

In saying this however, there are a range of teachers at any school at any one time. Teaching and schools do not belong in a vacuum. They are constantly evolving and changing in new and interesting ways. There is often a dynamic mix between new and experienced staff. A variety of ages, attitudes, ideas and expectations. As we enter a time where many teacher’s are retiring, the experience is being lost and that can be invaluable in an environment full of young inexperienced teachers.

We all learn from our mistakes. So, how can we prepare our teacher’s so that in the event of retirements we can ensure quality teaching and leadership will continue? How do we maintain quality teaching? Do we put in professional learning plans? Schedule reflective discussion sessions? Set up a mentor/mentee program between teachers within the school? How will that differ for the graduate teacher through to the professional accomplished?


Image Credits:

Student’s Blues, Perrimoon, Used Under Creative Commons.

Perfect My Practice: Does Our Job Title Need Revising?

As part of my accreditation requirements for the NSW Institute of Teachers I have to do 50 hours over five years of professional development in order to maintain my accreditation. These can include a range of school based staff development days and courses that I attend externally through a provider such as TTA.

I recently started a school based professional learning course through the NSW DET PLLD called the Team Leadership Program. It is being run by my school principal and a selection of principals and other facilitators from our schools local catchment area. We are all part of  a community we call STEPS.

I would thoroughly recommend the development of such an initiative as it provides for a greater network in which to communicate with other teachers about what the school is doing for its students and how each school can better cater for those students and feel assured that similar systems are in place at each of the schools in the community. You’re working together basically. The “two heads are better than one” approach. As a high school teacher some of the advantages have included visiting the schools to provide welfare programs such as peer support and anti-bullying strategies. Using those welfare days to compile information about incoming Year 7 students as well as developing other whole school and community based literacy and numeracy strategies. I found a great article from the National College of Leadership of School’s and Children’s Services about the advantages of this.

Whilst I can’t reproduce the pages and pages of reading material I will be receiving over the next few terms (yes, terms!) due to copyright reasons, I can write down the things that I have been reflecting on as part of this course that you might also like to think about in your teaching practice.

This week we began dissecting what a leader actually does.

Are classroom teachers actually leaders? Leaders in the sense that we often refer to them.

If so, how do we know?

How would you define teachers as leaders?

I always just thought of myself as a teacher and didn’t really look at my role in the classroom as one of leadership. I just teach. I just do. I didn’t really reflect on that as being anything other.

It made me think about what qualities you need to be a leader. We were guided by the School Leadership Capability Framework which is publicly available on the NSW DET website to do this. It made me consider what areas of my school working life/self (educational, interpersonal, organisational, strategic and personal) as well as my personal self (emotional intelligence, ways of thinking and diagnostic maps) demonstrate these qualities. I then thought about who I am then responsible to whilst demonstrating these.

We looked particularly at this idea of balancing our emotional intelligence and our ways of thinking to create better diagnostic maps. These maps, generated from experiences in the classroom and in our areas of responsibility elsewhere in the school, then help us to deal with situations that require us to demonstrate leadership. It’s the plans we lay out to better deal with situations that challenge us.

I decided to continue my own look into leadership and learning styles which may in turn help you to decide what yours might be.

How do you think teachers demonstrate leadership in the classroom every day?

Have you ever thought of yourself as a leader?

Knowing this, how do you think your attitude towards the classroom will be different now?

Image Credits:

Jimmy Wales Talks at WEF, Robert Scoble, Creative Commons- Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)