Leaders building leaders

Issue: Volume 93, Number 6

Posted: 14 April 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctZ

An Auckland Kindergarten Association (AKA) initiative that supports head teachers in their role has helped to clarify for non-management teachers what’s required of an effective leader.

In 2010, AKA professional service managers (PSMs) Natalie MacKenzie, Christine Murray, and Kim Wyborn established an ongoing symposium for head teachers.

“We recognised the fabulous job head teachers were already doing, and we also acknowledge their unique leadership role – the weaving together of leader, manager, and teacher on a daily basis. We decided that a tailored programme would be beneficial – particularly for teachers new to the role,” says Christine.

The first symposium in 2011 focused on supporting teachers new to a formal leadership role.

“We saw it as ongoing induction into the role and also as a way to set clear organisational expectations,” reports Natalie.

“We invited some head teachers who had been in the role for some time but were keen to be involved. We soon realised the value of having experience in the group and the value of mentoring.”

Symposiums in 2012 and 2013 attempted to further leverage the advantages that a blend of experienced and novice head teachers bestowed on the whole group.

Tailoring the workshops

While the PSMs identified key areas of leadership, pulling ideas together into an ongoing programme became the challenge. Graham Hart, from Leadership by Design, has had a positive relationship with the Auckland Kindergarten Association for more than 16 years. By utilising Graham’s skill in clear thinking and his leadership expertise, a specific, purposeful, leadership programme has evolved.

Key content of the AKA leadership programme includes:

  • management versus leadership
  • neuroscience – making new wiring
  • vision – where do you see yourself as a leader?
  • personality types – how to work with different people
  • thinking, listening – the importance of mind sets
  • giving and receiving feedback
  • being a leader – what does this mean?
  • peer mentoring.

Leaders commit to the symposium programme for a year, with day-long seminars during each term break – four full days in total. Outside this formal component, participants practise the tools they have acquired, engaging in professional dialogue and reading and reflection. The group is limited to 20; an even number allows for each participant to have a ‘buddy’.

This system was useful to:

  • match experienced head teachers to those with less expertise; this means stories can be shared
  • make contact to discuss work scenarios for feedback
  • visit each other’s kindergartens – networking.

“The right combination of buddies was very empowering, and some combinations went on to form their own small group networks,” says Kim.

Different journeys

The symposium workshops are a positive space where good leadership practices are acknowledged and discussed. There is an emphasis on the role of the established leader in helping to build capability in others. Over the three years of the symposium, the messages have been the same, but the journey has been different for each ‘class’ as the programme is adapted to the learning needs of each group.

The symposium takes head teachers to their ‘learning edge’, enabling them to challenge their thinking, be brave in experimenting with new leadership tools, and practise having difficult or courageous conversations. It also built networking across the Kindergarten Association as head teachers attended from all over the region.

Unexpected outcomes

Natalie says that “while we could see that head teachers were encouraging and inspiring their team members, we could also see the need for a formal workshop to be put in place to extend this. We wanted to assure head teachers that they are leaders in their own role and also to provide the tools to equip interested teachers to take opportunities for formal leadership as they arise. Consequently, Kim and Christine have run day workshops for two groups of teachers in the last year and teachers have been taking up new roles as a direct result of this.

“Being involved in the symposium has stretched our own capabilities. Gathering and analysing data and leadership stories has been a part of this and has enabled us to share our findings at conferences.

“One of the most powerful outcomes is that head teachers have felt that they have been able to give themselves ‘permission’ to be leaders. They have the skills enabling them to set the tone of the environment, establish a collegial vision for the workplace, be sure of their own vision as a leader and tackle difficult scenarios in a professional way. They also report being more confident in not taking on other people’s problems, and avoiding drama! Teams are small (from three to six staff), and they have to be ‘the boss’, the influencer and also a team player. Finding ways to help them do this constructively is important to us, and we feel that the symposium has been enormously beneficial to individuals and the organisation.

“Ultimately, leaders modelling powerful, positive leadership to others is a ‘win win’ for the whole team and therefore for children.”

AKA leadershop programme

The AKA education team identified in 2010 that there was little training available specifically for developing leadership in early childhood education. It was felt at the time that new head teachers would simply grow into the role, but Kim and her team felt that some formal guidance was required.

“We really wanted the difference between leadership and management to be a common understanding so that both sides of the role would have time and emphasis placed on it, when required.

“Being a large association, we also wanted head teachers from across the organisation to have the opportunity to network and share professionally.”

Across the year, the programme covers:

  • The development of ‘visioning’ skills
  • How to coach and motivate others
  • Skills for those difficult conversations
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Skills for communicating with influence
  • Exploration of the difference between leadership and management
  • The importance of trust

Head teachers leave the programme with a kete of tools to use in their leadership role.

Teacher feedback:

“The leadership symposium has helped me to feel positive about the skills I already possessed as well as skills that I have developed along the way, shaping my thinking about what kind of leader I want to be and how my leadership style works for the teaching team that I work in.
– Fonda Rowe, head teacher, Waterview Kindergarten

“I am committed to a team working collaboratively and I continually reflect on ways to encourage this. I want the teachers I work with to be independent and capable. I encourage them to be leaders and to take on leadership roles. The symposium has also helped me to know how to deal with difficult situations, particularly if people are angry.”
– Bern O’Connor, head teacher, Kotiri Kindergarten

BY Kim Wyborn, Christine Murray, and Natalie MacKenzie
Auckland Kindergarten Association,

Posted: 9:38 PM, 14 April 2014

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