Monday, March 2, 2015

Leadership, Moral Purpose and Courage

Sometimes, I must admit, I used to often feel like the Leunig dude in the boat above. It fitted the perception of leadership being a solitary action and one in which you had little control or ability to set a particular direction.

I've got a 24 hour adventure race coming up in a fortnight so I have spent many long hours out trekking in the wonderful Waitakeres with only my own thoughts for company. I have found this valuable time to ruminate on a wide range of issues.
I use this time to think about what I will share with my staff on my weekly 15 minutes of "Mondays With Maurie". I use these weekly sessions to try to tie together our vision with the current issues we are grappling with.

My session this morning was an attempt to pull together common threads between our current 'next big thing' i.e. How Might We Align NCEA Pathways With Our Vision?, the troubling findings from the ERO National Report on Student Wellbeing in Secondary Schools (which, unfortunately, will end up having little impact on many schools and their practices) and what Leading For The Future With a Moral Purpose (the topic of a spotlight address I am making this week at the NAPP day in Wellington) actually means.

On reflecting on leadership I have experienced in schools in the past I realised most leadership was about managing the status quo (hardly an inspirational imperative for leadership). Then things changed a little so leaders had to now "manage change" as if it was an inconvenience that was disrupting the status quo. Change can't be managed, especially rapid change. Managing something means dealing with it when it's here and now so it is quite reactive. I came to the conclusion that leading for the future requires us to lead change.

However, we are not talking about change for change's sake. The change we lead has to have a moral purpose. What that moral purpose is will be different for every school and every leader, but it will define our contribution to the education sector in which we lead. At HPSS we believe that the current model of secondary schooling is not fit for purpose. It is, therefore, morally imperative that we lead a change so that it is fit for purpose.

How is this linked to the ERO Report and our thinking in relation to NCEA? I have always been concerned about something which is labelled by ERO as assessment anxiety. I have sat in staffrooms and at network meetings when teachers complain that the kids were refusing to do some learning activities because they didn't have credits attached to them or grizzled about Year 12 students who had their 60 credits by October and had "stopped learning" and I have seen kids struggling with the demands of internal and external assessment over their last 3 years at school.

ERO noted that in all 60+ secondary schools it looked at for its report that, "the key factor was that students in all schools were experiencing an assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety" and "In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them were the students."

These findings are intolerable and school leaders will respond not only according to their moral purpose but also according to their level of courage to be guided by it. That's what we are grappling with at the moment. Do we have the courage to set a different course with our wonderful NCEA qualification, a course that allows our students to retain their love of learning and joy of discovery and that addresses the growing incidence of assessment anxiety and mental unwellbeing?

I hope and think that we do have the courage to set a new course and I'm looking forward to sharing our planning.

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