Leadership is all about learning – the learning of our children and young people, of course, but also the professional learning of our staff and not least, ourselves. The National Academy of Educational Leadership (NAEL) puts learning at the centre of all things leadership. If we don’t continue to learn as leaders, and continue to lead the learning of others, we will eventually lose our reason for becoming leaders in the first place. To lead is to learn and to learn is to lead.
There is so much to be excited and hopeful about education in Wales. We are in the middle of the most remarkable set of educational reforms for a generation. We have the highest set of expectations for the Welsh language in many generations. Consequently, the vision for a new curriculum for our learners is an exceptionally bold one and the tension between that vision for tomorrow and the reality of today needs to be seen as a positive tension and as a positive energy. Without that tension between vision and reality there would be no need for change, and leaders at all levels must hold on to that vision in order to create a new reality in our schools.
Leaders need systems they can rely on. We should not have to expend valuable energy on reinventing those systems each time a different challenge confronts us. Every school community should understand what is expected of all the members of that community, whoever they are. In turn, that gives stability and reassurance as well as fairness and ensures we all have a common understanding of what is expected from us as professionals and what we can expect in return.
But the vision of the future is so much more than one of systems. By using those systems and practices as a springboard we can do so much more. Our new professional standards, made in Wales, for Wales, demand the centrality of pedagogy, supported by professional learning, collaboration and the need to innovate. Innovation keeps us alive as professionals, it keeps us fresh. Innovation enables us to try something new with a view to evaluating and assessing its impact on learners. Innovation is not something we should run from but something we should embrace. We need our children to innovate, to see us innovate, to see that taking calculated risks is good , so long as we learn, and they need to see that whole process modelled and lived in our schools. Learning from good practice is a wonderful thing but learning from mistakes, learning from trying something that doesn’t work as we would expect is, in my view, even more powerful.
None of this can be done without leadership. As our new professional standards say – leadership helps pedagogy to grow. We all know that the only alternative to growth is stagnation and a stagnating pedagogy will not deliver the learning our children need and deserve. We must deliver on our vision for a new accountability system that encourages innovation and prevents that stagnation. We must continue to focus on the needs of all our learners equally and not on those few who may be useful for threshold crossing. As leaders we do need to act as champions for the disadvantaged and disaffected – ours is not a vision for some, it is a vision for all.
The NAEL is in its infancy and needs to make a difference to earn its place. It needs to be a learning organisation and it must be innovative in its approach. The NAEL has endorsed its first leadership development programme – the New and Acting Headteacher Programme designed and delivered by the four regional consortia in partnership with the 22 local authorities and two of universities. I congratulate their partnership and look forward to meeting all of you who are about to embark on this programme in early November and trust that your experiences will support you in becoming the Headteacher you want to be.
We are all leaders, be that in a formal leadership role or not. The NAEL wants to hear from you if you have any ideas about leadership development of any kind in Wales – the more innovative, the better. Leadership is all about learning and learning makes us better leaders.
(Huw Foster Evans – Chief Executive of NAEL)