Every now and again, I believe it's important for school leaders to focus and guide their practice by considering and voicing their philosophy of leadership, which may change over time. As I reflect today on my learning over the past three years as an elementary school principal and think of the leaders that I respect and the leader that I aspire to be, a number of themes come to mind. I believe it is the role of an educational leader to help all students and educators within their sphere of influence to reach their full potential. Secondly, a skilled leader fosters trusting relationships with those around them, leading through their actions and aligning those actions with their beliefs. Lastly, I believe that an effective leader facilitates change in the organization that is based on a shared sense of purpose.
Within my work over the past three years, I have been using and refining the use of the "Concerns Based Adoption Model" (CBAM) to develop a targeted plan for staff learning that considers the role of differentiated professional development for staff in relation to school improvement planning. This model, which explores the measurement, description and explanation of the change process experienced by teachers when implementing new practices, has been studied for over 40 years in a number of different educational contexts and countries. The Stages Of Concern framework within this model is a developmental progression of seven stages (See Figure 1) that describe the feelings and motivations a teacher might have about a change in practice as it is implemented. One of the tenants of this framework is that, as teacher needs are addressed through this process, capacity can be built and teachers can progress through a continuum in relation to their efficacy around the innovation or practice in question. Furthermore, through this model, teachers with similar concerns can be identified and grouped together so that instructional leaders can address the specific clusters of concern within their building. This model honours the voice of staff, empowering them to articulate and subsequently address their concerns in order to advance their practice. This brings us to my second theme, that of building relationships.
Awareness- Aware that an innovation is being introduced but not really interested or concerned with it
Informational- Interested in some information about the change
Personal - Wants to know the personal impact of the change
Management - Concerned about how the change will be managed in practice
Consequence- Interested in the impact on the students or the school
Collaboration- Interested in working with colleagues to make change effective
Refocusing- Begins with refining the innovation to improve student learning results
A skilled leader fosters trusting relationships with those around them, leading by example and poising themselves as a co-learner. Although all of the pillars of the Ontario Leadership Framework (2010) are necessary components of school leadership, the ”building relationships and developing people” aspect most resonates with me personally in terms of my own leadership philosophy. Without the foundation of trusting relationships, I would argue that it is difficult to complete the work of the remaining pillars of the framework.
As a leader, I value the power of collaborative learning and continuously participate in a variety of professional learning opportunities, both as a co-learner and as a facilitator. The act of reflecting on and sharing failures as “teachable moments” is also an important aspect of this concept. As such, the staff, students and members of the school community not only see me as the principal, but also as an authentic human being, learning alongside them. I strive to lead by example in this area by sharing my ongoing learning publicly and making connections with others through the use of technologies such as blogging and the use of social media. Although the use of social media has the benefit of connecting us on a larger scale, nothing can replace the value of actual relationships. I do this through day to day interactions with staff as well as planned activities that explicitly address failure as a part of learning (an example is a book study based on Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”).
Another important aspect of developing relationships is ensuring that as a leader, you act with integrity and that your behaviour is consistently aligned with your beliefs. "As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent. We need to create a culture where trust is the norm. This must be modeled at the highest level of the organization if we are to expect teachers to create the same culture in their classrooms." (Couros, 2015, p. 69) In order to develop trust, it is important for leaders to be seen as "authentic, ethical and consistent" (Shields, 2013, p. 17). As a leader, I strive to ensure that my philosophy is evident each day through my words, actions and my interactions with those around me.
Over the past three years while working with the CBAM model, I have shared at a number of professional learning forums, encouraging school leaders consider how they might respond to teacher voice in a way that is differentiated by readiness or “areas of concern”. Sometimes school leaders think of teacher concerns as staff being negative or resistant to a concept or idea. The framework under which this model operates shifts this perspective by honouring individual concerns as a valid part of the change process. Within this framework, teacher's voiced concerns become “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning” for the instructional leader and informs the way in which they, in turn, support teachers and plan professional development. Honouring this voice and viewing these concerns as justified also helped to build relationships. It is my goal as an instructional leader, to talk openly about and address the concerns of stakeholders, not just silence the voices that seem to challenge the change we are attempting to implement.
It is also my belief that honouring the individual journeys and lived experiences of all stakeholders is a key component of leadership. This brings us to my final theme, that of creating and enacting a shared vision. I believe that an effective leader facilitates change in the organization that is based on both a shared sense of purpose and transparent practices. Based on this premise, it is important to note that compliance alone is not an indicator of effective leadership. The role of a leader is not only to communicate a shared vision, but to co-create this vision through shared dialogue and sharing of diverse views and experience. Ideas, experiences and opinions that challenge our thinking are valuable when seeking new learning and attempting to effect meaningful change. It is also important to acknowledge and interrupt the reality of confirmation bias "which permeates our thinking at a subconscious level all of the time, thus supporting the status quo within our organizations". (Katz, Dack, 2013, p. 58). Permanent change in thinking and behaviour requires conceptual change. "Conceptual change happens when people make their current beliefs explicit, subject them to scrutiny from themselves and others, consider how new information either fits in or challenges their existing beliefs, and then makes permanent changes to what they know and do." (Katz, Dack, 2013, p. 7)
Our driving purpose as educational leaders, should always be fueled by the question, “what is best for students?”. This sense of moral purpose must be voiced in order to develop a shared understanding and consistency in practice. As such, leaders must be open and transparent about the reasons driving change. "It begins with an awareness-of the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of our society and of our school system. It requires critical reflection of for whom the system is working and for whom it is failing, of who is advantaged, privileged, and always included and who is excluded. Once problem areas of inequity are identified, transformative leadership calls for critical analysis on beliefs, values, practices, and policies that need to be changed in order to promote equality. Finally, transformative leadership calls for action- action to redress wrongs and to ensure that every child who enters into an educational institution has an equal opportunity to participate fully, to be treated with respect, and to develop his or her capabilities" (Shields, 2013, p.11).
The ways that leaders respond to voice to create a shared vision can either move the school community forward with depth and focus, or can cause teams to go a mile wide and an inch deep. Through the “Stages of Concern" process outlined in the CBAM model, everyone is empowered to work on the same topic and school improvement goal. However, although working toward a single goal,this model, honours and differentiates based on the individual lived experience of participants.
In summary, it is my belief that an effective educational leader supports all of the stakeholders within their sphere of influence to reach their full potential. They achieve this through the relationships they build, aligning their beliefs with their actions and through the development of a clear and shared sense of purpose. Over the past three years, I have been investigating and refining the use of the CBAM Model, which I believe aligns with all of these practices. If you are an educational leader, I encourage you to consider how you might use this model as part of your own school improvement planning.
Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.
Katz, S., Dack, L.A. (2013). Intentional interruption: Breaking down learning barriers to transform
professional practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin