If we are looking for transformation in education, our Leaders must be enthusiastic and effective Learners, says Steve Munby
Steve Munby, CFBT Education Trusts’ Chief Executive, in his speech last month to the Inspiring Leadership Conference, evoked the example of one of the greatest US Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, to help articulate his main theme- learning centred leadership.
Lincoln was presented to us as a learner, portraying humility, curiosity, and a desire to understand the people and the world around him.
The message is that if we are serious about delivering the sustained transformation of our education system then at its heart must be high quality – learning centred leadership and leaders.
Lincoln deliberately surrounded himself with not just clever people, with very different perspectives, but his own political rivals . He was eager to listen and learn something new from them, every day. He knew, of course, that they would challenge him and be awkward, but the product of this dialectic could then inform his leadership and personal development. That benefited him .But it also proved indispensable to his troubled country. We can learn from his approach to leadership.
Steve said “I believe the success of our education system depends – more than ever – on our ability as leaders to be learners ourselves and to know how to enable those with whom we work to be powerful learners too. Learning sits at the very foundation of a self-improving education system. It is by learning from one another – as teachers and leaders – that we will generate the professional confidence and empowerment to chart the destiny of our education system.”
So what is learning centred Leadership?
According to Steve Learning-centred leaders:
have a compulsive interest in making sure that all the children and young people in their care become powerful learners.
establish a community whereby all staff develop and improve their professional expertise
are effective and enthusiastic learners themselves and they model these behaviours.
They have an insatiable well of curiosity and constantly analyse how they can improve their own performance.
help to lead the system and support future learning. They are committed to the sustained success of children in all schools and to the development of the education profession more generally. They aim to leave things in much better shape than they found them and they expect the same from those who come after them.
The message here is that you not only have to lead but you have to be able to absorb knowledge about learning and apply it continuously for the benefit of children. In a telling passage Steve said “I think school leaders have a responsibility to be deeply knowledgeable about what works in terms of classroom practice – it is the core business of the school”… “it is beholden on you as head teacher or principal to know enough about the emerging evidence of what works to ask challenging questions, to signpost colleagues to recent evidence and to remove barriers to learning if they occur”. This is a Paen in support of professionally rooted, evidence based teaching practice and leadership. As a school leader, in Steve’s view, you must have the ability to ensure that your teaching staff always provide “the relentless focus on high quality teaching and learning for every child”
This may seem a self-evident proposition. But, step one pace back, and think of some school leaders, you will probably know, who are so weighed down with the daily mundane pressures of running their schools, and what is sometimes called “the tyranny of stuff” to be sufficiently attentive to the core business of their school – learning, and what is happening day in, day out, in their classrooms . The quality of teaching and doing what works in the classroom should not be based on intuition. It should be based on sound evidence and evaluation of what works , and what is needed to embed sustained learning. So Steves message was that it is up the Learning Centred Leaders to deliver on this and to make sure it happens. In every school. We owe this to our children