Learning to lead and leading as inquiry

Aa many of you will know I have a thing for teaching as inquiry, in particular I have a thing for teaching as inquiry as a means of developing future-focused adaptive expertise. In 2013 I was lucky enough to facilitate a number of Core Breakfasts on this topic - it was during this time that I found myself talking (and the audience...although I do talk to myself quite often) more and more about the concepts of leadership as inquiry and even governance as inquiry as a means of developing system wide adaptive expertise. Since that time I have tried to make this a central part of my personal leadership reflection cycle.

Last year was my first year as Deputy Principal (of an actual open and operational school) and was my first opportunity to lead my team, the Professional Learning Team. We got together and came up with a strategic plan for 2014 and it looked great. It was based on the school vision and values and it was focused on the meeting the needs of the students. They did an awesome at professionally supporting our staff and we all did the best we could to deliver the goods, even if some elements were squeezed simply as a result of the sheer fact that we were all (at times) fighting to simply keep our head above water in what was a massive first year as an operating school.

My team were (and are) fabulous, we delivered a great programme. However I did think aspects of my leadership was found wanting. Don't get me wrong, I am not seeking reassurance and trying to elicit compliments. I know I am a good leader, in fact I feel like I have proven my ability to lead in a positive, persuasive and passionate way in a range of contexts and communities, however I also believe I can always improve and am patently aware of my weaknesses. My main area of weakness as a leader is probably my same weakness as a teacher (and more than likely a quality many of us share....even if we may not want to 'fess up) - under pressure I default to leading how I like to be led, just like when I'm a bit tired, I default to teaching how I like to be taught.

I have a really clear understanding of how I like to be led:

  • Give me a really clear vision and destination you want me to get to. 
  • Make sure we have a shared understanding of what success looks like. 
  • Once you've done that, please get out of the way and give me a whole lot of autonomy. 
  • Let me get on with it. 
  • Give me feedback on progress, be honest as to how I am going. 
  • Have really high expectations. 
  • Don't micro-manage me....in fact don't manage me at all. 

This strategy of leading the way I like might just be an awesome strategy....if I was leading a team made up of Claires (terrifying thought), but not necessarily the best way to lead an awesome but diverse and incredibly busy kick arse educators. Which leads me to my leadership inquiry for 2015 - How might I lead in a way that meets the diverse needs of each team member (modelled on servant-leadership) whilst maintaining a focus on student-centred leadership as a team.

I also might need to ask - How might I phrase a less convoluted How might I question... ;).

So where to next?

Once I have actually honed the topic of inquiry, my next step is to gather data from the team. I mean if I going to stop just leading in a way that suits me I need to understand what it is they actually need from me.

In terms of the big picture planning we have already co-constructed a strategic plan for Professional Learning in 2015. Like last year it is based around our vision, values, principles and the explicit needs of our learners. One thing I am going to try this year is a more one-to-one approach with the team meeting once a term to go over the strategy and plans for the term, but replacing fortnightly team meetings with fortnightly one-to-ones with each team member to help them develop more personalised strategic plans to support them in developing a sense of autonomy and ownership of their role - how this rolls out over the year will be dependent on the team member with support, guidance more tailored to their needs and meeting the way THEY like to be led.

Will this make a difference?

Only time will tell. One way I am going to try and capture this journey/inquiry is by using it as the basis for Leadership Inquiry as part of completing NAPP. Below is the Leadership Inquiry cycle as they frame it. Personally I'd argue for a simplified approach similar to the Teaching as Inquiry cycle...but the again maybe thats me and my default again - wanting to default my leadership inquiry to how I like doing my teaching inquiry.

I shall do my best to suck it up and toe the line like a good NAPP student...


Leadership Inquiry Cycle/Questions

(1)  Common understanding

  • What is the area of focus?
  • What do you know about this focus area?
  • Explore what is known- what is addressed well- what needs greater focus?
  • Clarify expectations for developing this focus

(2) Gathering data

  • What is going well and how can we build on this?
  • What do students, staff parents say?
  • What data do we collect? Analyse and interpret

(3)  Focus for improvement

  • Have you got a broad question?

(4) Refining

  • What could make a big difference?
  • Ho will changes be sustained?
  • Narrow the question 

(5) Question

  • What is your new strategic, relevant, inquiry question?

(6) Demonstrating difference

  • Do you need more information? How will you collect it?

(7) Action

  • What strategies will you implement?

(8) Reflect, Celebrate

  • What future direction will you take?


  1. Great post Amos. I would love to work with a team of yous. :)


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