How strong is your professional leadership network?

By Grant Stedman on September 11, 2020 in Leadership

No-one prepared school principals for leading their school communities during the Covid-19 crisis and yet our Kiwi resourcefulness, resilience, and a willingness to do what it takes to get the job done really came to the fore.

One of the strategies school leaders employed was connecting with colleagues online to share practice and problem-solve collectively. While many principals are able to connect through their local principal association or Kāhui Ako, there are other opportunities to build a strong professional network.

Principal professional learning groups (PLG) – what are they and why should I join one?

Education is undergoing significant review and development. The demands on school leaders to navigate an increasingly complex environment, and the intensity of day-to-day principalship can leave little time for thinking about, and development of, your leadership.

Since early 2019, Evaluation Associates has been providing opportunities for principals to join professional learning groups. (PLG) These are funded through the Ministry of Education and facilitated by Leadership Advisors, all of whom are experienced ex-principals.

These PLG provide a collegial learning environment where principals, committed to facilitating each other’s learning in leadership development and wellbeing, can learn together in a safe and collaborative environment. The aim is to broaden participants’ thinking about leadership in an inclusive, high trust environment.

How do we ensure PLG are effectively meeting principal’s needs?

Principal PLG meet once or twice each term using reciprocal coaching methodology as the basis for professional learning. Coaching reciprocity (Ako) is achieved by focusing on those behaviours which promote learning, and principals are encouraged to monitor their effectiveness at each PLG session by reflecting on the following;

  1. Were our relationships mutually respectful, honest and growth orientated?

  2. Did we establish and maintain focus?

  3. Did everyone, including yourself, have sufficient opportunity to contribute?

  4. Did we engage with, and respectfully challenge, each other’s thinking?

  5. Were ideas and knowledge offered without imposing them, or assuming their relevance?

This provides an opportunity for the group to refine and develop to best meet everyone’s ongoing learning needs, whilst retaining sufficient structure for learning to occur.

Leadership Advisors play a key role in facilitating the establishment of group expectations that promote the commitment and trust essential for working effectively together. This is particularly important when discussing the hard issues and things that matter.

“When self-management norms are explicit and practiced over time, team effectiveness improves dramatically, as does the experience of team members themselves.” (Goleman et al, p. 182)

What happens in a PLG?

While there is a learning focus commonality within every PLG, the exact shape and nature will be determined by the participants. As learner agency is an important and valued characteristic, collaborative inquiry underpins the PLG, and may include:

  • discussions around areas of relevance

  • shared ‘problems of practice’

  • leadership inquiries or streams of work/areas of focus that principals are inquiring into

  • a mix of readings/articles/research/presentations

  • quotes or provocations.

Typically, PLG run for two and a half hours once or twice a term with some variation around frequency and location, determined by the group. Some groups choose to meet in their schools and move the location around whilst others prefer to have a regular off-site meeting place. Some PLG comprise schools of similar size/type whilst others contain a mix.

Teachers in boardroom

What are principals saying about their PLG?

“The rich conversation with high level of trust in the group, knowing you could share it and it will remain confidential – Fantastic support and great for Hauora.”

“Loved discussing the provocations and sharing our dilemmas – feel less alone.”

“The opportunity to hear what others are doing and share relevant leadership approaches. Joint perspectives on common problems also very useful.”

“Collegiality, being informed of new developments & good practise.”

“Opportunity to think about aspects of my role that I don’t always focus on I look forward to this.”

“I love being able to share my ‘What’s on top’ and to hear what my colleagues have to say.”

Our feedback from principals on the things they value and appreciate about their PLG reflects principal diversity and emphasises the importance of learning with and from each other within mutually respectful, high trust relationships.

The outcome of effective leadership learning should be the development of specific capabilities which lead to the improvement of learning and teaching through leadership. Principal PLG provide a bridge to examine and explore the connectivity between academic knowledge, practical experience and the context within which principal leadership is applied.

We believe theory should inform practice, and that practice should also inform theory – that is where you come in. What are you waiting for?

Want to join a principal PLG? Contact Grant today

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