ARTICLE WRITTEN AND POSTED OCTOBER 2018
Over the last year, I have been travelling to different states and territories and working with a number of fabulous education leaders. I’ve been fascinated to watch these leaders at work and seeing some interesting patterns. These leaders are leading positive change in their school and getting great outcomes for their students and communities - and undertaking the work in a committed partnership with the staff and students.
I’ve noticed that accompanying these leaders is a strong, driving passion for students and people in general. In fact, I reckon they genuinely love their people! You might baulk at the love word - but when I ask these leaders about their work and their school, love is absolutely a word that gets used. If we want to stay away from that word, let’s say these leaders are brilliant at maintaining strong connectedness with others, even through the tricky times. The trust they build with those they lead is critical to success.
I’ve coined a term for this, and it’s FEROCIOUS WARMTH. With these leaders, their commitment to the cause of education and students pour out of their skin and every word they utter. With that, a massive dose of empathy and compassion is evident for all their people on the journey of change and transformation.
FEROCIOUS - there is a fierce congruence in these leaders. They are fully committed (heart), focussed on their clear purpose of providing amazing, high-quality education for their students (head) and courageous in making hard decisions along the way (gut). They are strong advocates for their students, staff and their community. Most importantly, they challenge assumptions on how we 'do' education, whether it be shifting the structures, innovating practice or lifting out of complacency or mediocrity. They are fierce in their belief that education, as it is traditionally provided, needs to continue to evolve. In many circumstances, these leaders are leading system revolution rather than evolution.
WARMTH - these leaders work with compassion as a base for ALL relationships, regardless of who it is. From the student in the playground, the teacher in the classroom or the parent in the corridor, people feel connected to these leaders and that they have their back - in good times and in challenging circumstances. They genuinely LOVE people. I never hear these people speaking anything other than constructive and positive comments about their staff, students and parents. Even those causing them stress and taking a lot of energy are looked at with empathy and a real belief in the growth and positive intent of that person.
A shining example of this type of leader is Claudine Moncur-White, Principal of Rasmussen State School in Townsville. Visitors to Rasmussen see classrooms (both inside and outside) full of students fully engaged in learning and seeing themselves as learners. The learning going on is deep and rich and the pedagogy focussed and responsive. The culture is warm and connected. The staff work with purpose and passion. People know one other and genuinely care about bringing out the best in themselves and each other. Over a number of years, the impact on student learning, attendance and love of school has been huge. Rassy State School (as it’s affectionately called) has seen a decrease of 347% in major school behaviour incidents since 2014, an 8.7% increase in indigenous attendance (the school has an indigenous population of 62%) and a 365% increase in Prep - 2 achieving regional reading benchmarks. Enrolments have risen from 403 in 2017 to 501 in 2018. There has been a 23% increase in students achieving C and above, from 48% to 80%. As well, staff morale has increased from 51% to 87%.
Claudine and her leadership team seem to have the balance between driving clear vision and strategy and build trusting and connectedness within the whole community to reach that vision. They balance ACHIEVING PURPOSE with LOVE of PEOPLE. Walking through the school with Claudine is a great experience of witnessing love of people and purpose aligned. Claudine connects to the children and staff as she walks around and you can feel the collective energy. The pride that Claudine has when she speaks of her students, staff and community is heartwarming. The smiles and joy in the students as they engage in learning is such a joy bubble. In the photo below, you'll see Claudine in their new staffroom - specially designed to create connection and enjoyment when staff come together to relax. Their professional learning room is constantly evolving, showing the focus on the students and their growth - both academically, socially and emotionally. It also reflects where they draw their inspirations from in the way they work with students (Rita Pierson being one example. If you haven't seen her brilliant Ted Talk, it can be found here). Rasmussen is truly a place with a Buzz! To see some of what Rassy has been up to, check out their website and the video from their Showcase Leadership Team Award.
The synergy between achieving purpose and love of people creates magic. There are so many passionate educators around Australia doing this work every day. Leaders who can manage both and create an environment that people want to belong to. Who has influenced your leadership journey in this way? Do you have the balance of both?
Oh - and if you’re looking for Claudine in the morning, you’ll find her between 8 am and 9 am at the Rasmussen State School front gate, welcoming each and every student and their family/ carers as they come into school. October 2018
Vale Claudine - the lessons of your leadership will continue to be told. Donations to Pancreatic Cancer Research (garvan.org.au)
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