SCEL's Gillian Hamilton: School leadership - Having a positive influence
Before I took on the role of chief executive at the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, I felt that I had a good understanding of what a leader was and the qualities needed to become both an effective and inspirational leader.
Since then, though, I’ve reflected often that ‘leadership’ is a term that’s frequently used, sometimes over used, and occasionally misunderstood. I’ve challenged my own assumptions and I try to learn from them myself.
Being chief executive of an organisation dedicated to enhancing leadership skills means I have regular conversations about what leadership means: whether it is instinctive or can be learned, and whether everyone is a leader or whether leadership is, and should be, the preserve of an elite and powerful few.
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My own view is that while there is a necessary leadership structure in any organisation, we are all leaders in some way, and we must all aspire to be so, particularly in the education system.
And yes, while I agree there are inherent and instinctive leadership skills and qualities that are stronger in some people than others, I think it’s a mistake not to know we can all learn to be better at it, by reflecting on our strengths and recognising the areas we need to enhance.
SCEL’s work focuses on building teacher leadership at all levels for the benefit of our young people, our schools and, ultimately, our wider communities.
Our role is to ensure leaders right across our education system reflect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the people we work with and importantly the young people in our schools.
We’re here to help ensure we have brilliant, relatable and authentic role models right across the education system. And we’re here to help those role models be the best that they can be.
And while our work is not about ensuring all teachers will take on a formal ‘leadership’ position within their institution, it goes without saying we must support teachers to lead high quality learning and teaching, to ensure they are best equipped to positively influence and guide our young people and to help them best support and mentor those around them so we see improvements right across the system.
I believe there is a need for all teachers, and indeed all educational specialists, to be leaders.
For me, teacher leadership is having a confident commitment to doing what’s right for our young people, building an expert ability to deliver this and enabling a right to challenge and offer solutions when things are not good enough for this to happen.
Great leaders help themselves and others do the right things by setting a clear direction, building a vision, protecting what’s good and innovating when something new is needed. They clearly explain what good looks like and inspire others to get there.
They are strategic, innovative, problem solving, capable and empathetic. And while planning, processes and technical skills are important, in my experience, the very best leaders know that it’s not just about them and their view of the world.
They are powerful, but they understand and use their power responsibly, and importantly they share it with others. Great leaders know that if they want to deliver their vision, they must have everyone on board.
They recognise that because of their higher level of involvement and input to major decisions, they have a different perspective to those ‘on the ground’ and they realise that just because they ‘get it’ that’s not to say everyone else does too.
They know that they need to work hard to ensure people understand what they are doing and why, and they know that trust, respect and loyalty is hard earned and easily lost.
They are visible, they articulate and represent the values of the organisation, take ownership of the message and they show a value system that resonates with their people.
They talk and, crucially, they listen. They understand that sometimes the most important feedback is not easy to share and they work hard to understand the reality of their own organisation as others experience it. And at the same time, they ensure that other people know exactly what’s going on and why, so that they feel a sense of purpose, of progress and a sense of ownership too.
Here at SCEL, we’re working hard to support leadership development at all levels in the system through new regional networks, teacher leadership programmes, the Into Headship programme for aspiring head teachers and our fellowship programme for experienced head teachers.
We’re also currently carrying out an engagement process looking at teacher leadership, and you can find out more at www.scelengage.com. We’ll monitor access and equality across all of this, to make sure we are getting it right, and we’re keen that people across the system tell us what we can do better.
We believe everyone can be a leadership role model and we want to show by practice and example how rewarding that is, even when it’s challenging... and occasionally misunderstood.