Mangere Central School: building middle leaders’ capacity to lead learning

Issue: Volume 93, Number 10

Posted: 16 June 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctA

An innovative professional learning resource on the Educational Leaders website unpacks how building the skills of middle leaders at Mangere Central School has had a significant positive impact on the school’s drive to address student underachievement.

“Our journey started with a simple question. How do we target learning? Our core business is learning. So we challenged ourselves to sustain an unrelenting focus on all students, while at the same time targeting the needs of specific students to accelerate their achievement. To do this we needed to support teachers to inquire into their teaching. To do this we needed to build our leaders’ capability to lead learning.”

This powerful statement from Rebecca Kaukau, former assistant principal at Mangere Central School, opens an innovative school-initiated resource now available on the Educational Leaders website. With other school leadership teams in mind, eight of the school’s senior and middle leaders decided to create a pecha kucha presentation that explains the approach they have taken over the last three years to accelerate the learning of “target” students who sit just below the National Standards in reading, writing and maths. The pecha kucha consists of 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each and narrated by individual leaders at the school, including the school’s principal Maria Heron. Leaders talk about how coaching teachers to inquire into their own practices and make changes as a result has helped students to make accelerated gains.

The pecha kucha leads into seven concise sections that unpack the ideas presented in the slides. Reflective questions throughout and models of smart tools developed by staff at the school provide a rich resource that professional learning groups (PLGs) can use as a means to consider their own practices around raising student achievement.

The school has based its targeted approach on the model of a professional learning community developed by former Auckland University leadership adviser, Neil Mahoney. It advocates for a cycle of intense support for leaders, teachers and learners that begins with identifying target students across the school. These students move off the cycle as their achievement improves, and others join.

The model is now deeply embedded in the professional learning cycle of both leaders and teachers with a development objective, tied to the progress of target students, being part of all staff appraisals. Over the year senior leaders undertake training sessions and coaching of middle leaders. Middle leaders lead four PLG meetings with their teams each term where learning conversations are focused on the achievement of target students and nothing else. They follow a strict protocol of questioning that includes prompts around evidence, probing more deeply, and the validity of practices and strategies used with students. Between these meetings, with support from middle leaders, teachers observe and assist each other to plan interventions and work with the target students, providing feedback and feed forward. Senior leaders have their own PLGs to determine how to address the learning needs of middle leaders to work with teachers.

The model is set within a knowledge building and inquiry cycle with senior leaders inquiring into strategies to support middle leaders, middle leaders inquiring into practices around working with teachers, and teachers inquiring into their practices around the target students.

The school’s leaders say they have been highly influenced by the School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why Best Evidence Synthesis which they describe as their “Bible”.

Following this method rigorously saw 72 students make accelerated gains in writing in the first year, with 106 students making gains in the second year. Last year 264 students made accelerated gains. In writing 83 moved from below or well below the standard, to at or above it; in reading 90 moved, and in maths 91 moved. Senior leaders at the school say that the changes in practice at classroom level can be attributed to the growth of middle leaders. Principal Maria Heron describes middle leaders as a “powerful but often underused group” who are “the change agents” in every school.

Watch the pecha kucha and read the story of Mangere Central on Educational Leaders(external link)

Leading change and developing leadership in others are important middle leadership roles. To read more about middle leadership look at the Ministry of Education’s key leadership document for middle and senior leaders Leading from the Middle. Available from Down the Back of the Chair or online on the Educational Leaders website(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:16 am, 16 June 2014

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