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Building educational leadership skills with online learning pathways

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Deakin University’s Master of Education (Leadership and Learning) offers teachers and educators a new online pathway to leadership roles – in and out of the education sector. Dr Katrina MacDonald – Senior Lecturer at Deakin and Assistant Editor of the International Journal of Leadership in Education, explains.

Educational leadership is everywhere

For a teacher and educator ready to move into a leadership role, there are a breadth of available opportunities open to them presently.

The role of Principal or ‘Head of School’ may come to mind, but educational leaders aren’t only those at the top – or even working specifically in the education sector.

“When we talk about educational leadership, we’re not just talking about leaders in schools. Principal and assistant principal are what we’d call ‘positional’ leadership roles. But we are also referring to middle leadership, or teacher-leading roles. Like curriculum leaders,” says Dr MacDonald.

“That could be in a range of settings: early childhood, primary or vocational education like TAFE. “However, plenty of other sectors have educational roles available. For example, health organisations where someone needs to handle the education and professional development of staff,” she furthers.

“Educational leadership happens anywhere and everywhere.”

A clear vision is key for educational leaders

There are plenty of leadership opportunities available, but Australia’s education sector, like many others, is going through tremendous change right now.

Between the pandemic and the resulting teacher shortages, and a tidal wave of political, cultural and environmental turmoil, educational organisations are searching for new ways of operating.

This makes strong leadership more challenging – and particularly essential.

“We’re living in precarious times,” says Dr MacDonald. “The world looks increasingly volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous. This means that old ways of responding to problems won’t always work.”

For teachers and educators, this might make the path to a leadership role look hazy. However, according to Dr MacDonald, clarifying your understanding of the purposes of education is a crucial starting point.

“In educational leadership, clarity of vision is essential,” she says. “For would-be leaders, that begins by developing your moral and ethical stance on education: its purpose, its value, and how you can uphold those. The leadership part comes after that.”

Deakin’s new degree is a leadership training ground

Dr MacDonald played an instrumental role in building Deakin’s Master of Education (Leadership and Learning).

Kicking off in March this year, the course consists of eight units in total. It welcomes educators from all professional backgrounds, with all career aspirations – accounting for the many different directions that graduates can take.

“Whether in vocational organisations or schools, today’s educational leaders need more than administrative skills,” says Dr MacDonald.

“They must be able to respond to both local and global issues. That’s why we look at contemporary challenges and tensions in educational leadership across these broad settings by examining case studies and real-world scenarios,” she explains.

“They must be collaborative and communicative. Part of this comes from that clear vision and purpose I mentioned earlier. People must be able to understand a leader’s perspective if they’re going to trust an organisation,” she elaborates.

“They also need to be reflective and reflexive – always in the process of ‘becoming’. So, our course helps students develop their own leadership frameworks – which will evolve as they do.”

Develop your leadership identity – in theory and practice

Deakin’s Master of Education (Leadership and Learning) is entering its second semester, with enrolments reopening in 2024.

One current student, Ms Jen Buchanan, Director of Engagement with Future Anything, is already putting her newfound knowledge to use.

“I recently worked with a leadership team at a school in WA,” says Ms Buchanan. “We implemented a change management plan: the same one I developed for Assignment 2 in the unit ‘educational policy and leadership in challenging times.”

“We put all the change management principles I’d studied into practice: communication strategies, stakeholder engagement and change management processes. The course has been incredibly valuable,” she continues.

“I’ve gained a solid understanding of leadership principles and their application in educational contexts. And I plan to continue applying them in the future – especially to guide and support other aspiring educational leaders.”

As a lecturer, Dr MacDonald is also relishing the course.

“We have rich discussions in our seminars that draw on the students’ own career experiences,” she says. “With so many backgrounds in one room, we all get to benefit from new perspectives and learn from one another.”

“As a fellow educator, I have to say – it’s just a joy to learn from these students.”

Want to fast-track your way to a leadership role? Learn more about Deakin’s online Master of Education (Leadership and Learning).

For more insights, listen to Deakin’s on-demand education and teaching webinars.

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