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Leading for healthy, sustainable schools

The key to equitable and sustainable schools? Good leaders – at all levels

Dr Ben Arnold, Senior Lecturer of Education Leadership at Deakin University discusses how leadership could be a key part of the solution when looking to tackle the many challenges confronting the education sector.

Last week, the Australian Government announced almost $200 million in funding to support much-needed wellbeing initiatives in schools. Yet a growing mental health crisis is just one of many challenges confronting the education sector, says Dr Arnold. Globally, educators are also grappling with growing teacher shortages, rapid technological changes, and the ongoing fallout from COVID. Throw in a disconnect between policymakers and staff at the coal face – and the enormity of the challenge seems almost insurmountable continues Dr Arnold.

“Part of the solution lies in growing school leaders – at all levels”, he says. “Leadership is not just about the person at the top, it’s about everybody within the institution, leading their part of the work to create conditions that empower staff to do their job well – and for young people to succeed.”

So, how do good leaders, at all levels, create conditions for success?

There are several behaviours that define an effective leader:

  • A collaborative approach: They work with colleagues to build strong and trusting relationships with their community.
  • An ability to prioritise: They have a firm understanding of their school’s priorities – and they use those to set boundaries around what’s necessary and attainable for their community.
  • A receptive attitude to feedback: They listen to what students, teachers, education support and other members of the school community tell them.
  • An inquiring and reflective nature: They draw on expert research and ideas about what good leadership looks like in different contexts – and use that knowledge to inform their actions.
  • A critical understanding of evidence: They’re aware of the different types of evidence, how they’re produced, and how to use them.
  • Strong values: Their knowledge and skills are positioned in a strong ethical and intellectual framework – enabling them to navigate complex issues and dilemmas.

“Everybody has ideas about what change should look like,” explains Dr Arnold. “But what’s really important is being able to reflect on your ideas while thinking critically about research and theories of change in education. And then, you need to be able to apply all of that in your own work. Attaining the skills to do these things takes practice, guidance and education.”

Deakin’s Master of Education (Leadership and Learning) is a one-year postgraduate degree that supports qualified teachers and education professionals to take on leadership’s challenges – and rewards.

“We provide leaders and future leaders with a real, practical grounding in the issues that are facing education,” explains Dr Arnold. “We equip students with research-informed experience – in a few ways. For example, by exposing them to case studies from leaders in education. And we provide opportunities to apply that learning to support development of strategies that enable sustainable change in educational institutions.”

Deakin delivers the course online which can be tailored to your learning interests – and your school’s context – through a range of specialisation subjects. For example, in the Trauma-Responsive Education specialisation, you will explore how trauma affects school engagement and learning – and how you can adapt your teaching to better respond to your students’ unique needs.

And in Leading and Managing Innovation, Change and Improvement, you’ll explore current research and frameworks informing leadership. Then use that learning to prepare a leadership plan to support local innovation or change.

“Leadership is a continuum. And everyone is at different stages of developing leadership experience and practices. But no matter what stage of the leadership journey you’re at, the time to grow your leadership skills is now,” says Dr Arnold.

“The education system is at a point of change,” he explains. “There’s an acceptance across the board that more needs to be done to create a healthier, more sustainable and socially just school system. So if that appeals to you, and if you want to see positive change in education, then now’s the time to go into leadership – and make your mark.”

For further information on the Master of Education (Leadership and Learning) at Deakin University, visit www.deakin.edu.au/course/master-education-leadership-and-learning

(Government subsidies are available for 2023.)

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