What Leadership Means in Education

As part of their unit of leadership, some students invited me to give my views on this topic. Undoubtedly, there were a lot more eminent and more qualified people to speak. Nonetheless, in the midst of our accreditation self-study, these students got me reflecting again on the nature of educational leadership.

As an educational leader, we are often asked to reflect on our core values or educational philosophy which, as one might expect, mostly focuses on supporting every student to reach their full potential. When asked “How do you do this?”, many reply that they provide a well-rounded, holistic curriculum; one that supports students in the exploration of the creative and performing arts, the sciences, sports and academics so they may realize their talents and achieve success. They may go on to describe their excellent co-curricular programme and student support system.

Then, when asked what is celebrated in the school and published materials, often these leaders talk about celebrating all student successes and the demonstration of the school’s core values. However, when questioned further about what this “success” looks like in their schools, leaders may talk about student who have won debating competitions, sporting events, accolades in the arts, who have achieved places at Ivy League, Oxbridge and other prestigious institutions, and have an impressive collection of top grades in their examinations.

There is no doubt about the nature of such success, and that behind these successes sits a huge amount of hard work, dedication and determination. These achievements deserve our congratulations, and more. However, when asked to pause and reflect on the verbal and non-verbal messages these celebrations send to our student body and community, a glimmer of doubt can set in.

Are we telling our community that success only equals top grades, roles, awards and achievements?
Does every student have the capability to reach these dizzy heights, or are they left constantly gazing upwards?
And what about those who work hard and, given their capabilities, achieve great things – only for these great things not to be reflected in our version of success?

Students today live in a high-pressure world and schools are highly pressurized environments. We want all our students to do well; we encourage high expectations; we expect a lot from our young people and they know it. They are told on a regular basis the importance of achieving excellent grades, how they must take every opportunity open to them, how they must work hard, show grit and determination.

And with semester 1 report cards upon us, no one is arguing that we should lower our expectations: high expectations are crucial for the continual development of our students and school. Nonetheless, at the FIS we also focus on developing and celebrating the character strengths, individuality, talents and skills of every individual, the progress they make and their learning journeys. This is at the core of our values and is underpinned by our holistic approach to teaching and learning. Along with strong teaching, such a focus creates, as Nicola Lambros terms a “robust self-efficacy” in every student leading to increased resilience, persistence, motivation and aspirations. By adopting this approach, we can be sure that every student will achieve the grades they are capable of without ever having to mention them!

Liam Browne
Head of School

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