By Mike Reading
There is a unique set of circumstances that have positioned the author to be able to observe a large number of school environments through a very different mindset than most consultants.
He always approaches a school as:
- a teacher who is in the classroom day to day
- a consultant who has an expert opinion and understanding of particular aspects of teaching
- a leader involved in several organisations overseeing the direction of that organisation, the systems and day-to-day operations, as well as directly leading hundreds of volunteers each week
This teacher/consultant/leader mix has enabled him to look at schools holistically and observe a consistent pattern emerge across all types of schools. Below is a summary of the five most common areas in which schools are wasting money (in no particular order) and what principals can do to stop the waste.
- The principal is not aware of their leadership role and the difference that makes
A leadership coach by the name of John Maxwell said about the importance of leadership, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” He went on to explain that leadership is the reason why a school, organisation or business is the way it is (for good or bad).
Principals have a huge amount of responsibility. They oversee multi-million dollar budgets, large staffs and large student populations, not to mention all the policies and procedures that governments require schools to be compliant with. This tends to force principals into the role of a manager, not a leader.
The problem is that if a principal is trying to manage everything, the school will not grow in numbers or excellence. When he (or she) approaches educational leadership with a management mindset, he will listen to the wrong people, spend money on the wrong initiatives and just copy what other schools are doing.
A leader, on the other hand, will see past the day to day; and will chart a course and navigate the ship to its destination. Leaders need to have a clear vision and a flexible strategy to achieve this.
While it sounds judgemental and it is easy for people to give advice when they are not involved in what is going on, the reality is that principals are often effectively managing the school, but delegating the leadership (vision, strategy development) to others.
The following graph demonstrates the power of leadership effectiveness:
What to do:
- invest in some leadership coaching that comes from outside the educational sector
- evaluate whether decisions are being made through a managerial or leadership mindset
- network with other leaders and ask what they would do in particular situations
- find some other principals who are leading their schools and ask them to be a mentor
- read everything possible on leadership
- Hiring the wrong type of person to oversee technology in the school
Most schools are employing one of two types of IT people. The first type is a teacher who agrees to take on the technology coordination role, usually due to changes in staffing numbers. The problem with this kind of IT person is that, while he understands what it is like to try to use technology in the classroom, in many cases he has a very limited knowledge of how technology works and what the limitations of the software are. He often makes decisions in a vacuum. This tends to cause the decision-making process to be quite short term and driven by the latest fad.
The second type of technology coordinator is one who has a fair to high understanding of technology, but no understanding of what it is like to try to teach 30 students with an already packed program. The teachers do not have the time to learn how the software works, let alone take the time to teach the students.
In high schools in particular, if the IT coordinator is a teacher, he generally only teaches IT to students who have chosen the subject and are there because they want to be there, not because they have to be there (sound familiar?).
The problem with this type of IT person is that they assume that because something is easy to use or obvious to him, it should be easy or obvious to others. This results in teachers becoming increasingly frustrated and they are less likely to engage with technology and consequently become resistant to any new technological initiative.
What to do:
- Have a technology plan that is not based on the skills or passion of one person. If principals spend the time to assess the needs of the teachers and then match the technology to those needs, a much greater percentage of teachers will work with technology. The plan will help eliminate spending on programs and technology that does not help teachers reach their goals.
- Do appropriate research – rather than just reading about what is popular, find out what is effective. Ask questions such as:
- what is the take up rate of classroom teachers?
- are teachers still using this technology six months down the track?
- do the students engage with the technology at a superficial or deep level?
- how stable is the technology and how many updates have been released in the last six months?
The key here is to be as consistent as possible. Roll out any changes in a sustainable and considered way to ensure that all of the school’s teachers are on the journey. Take the time to include them in the process and demonstrate that they will not be left behind. It is slow going at first, but momentum will build soon enough.
- Thinking in programs not steps
Educators are taught to think in terms of programs. They have teaching programs, school-wide programs, discipline programs, reading programs and the list goes on! The problem with this approach is that teachers develop in steps, not programs.
At a school-wide level, they are driven to think in terms of programs because the programs are linked to funding. The problem is that this funding is often given in short cycles and so the programs need to be constantly updated and changed so as to keep attracting the funding on offer.
Case in point: there has been a considerable amount of money thrown around under the national partnerships scheme in Australia. Unfortunately, there appears to have been very few schools with original ideas on how to best use the money to bring long-term benefits to the schools. What seemed to be happening was that most schools were copying each other’s ideas, yet failing to ask the vital questions that would have led them to discover that a large number of the programs funded made little if any discernible change in the school that lasted past the funding period.
What to do:
- Rather than seeing a school development plan as a number of boxes to be ticked and programs to be funded, see the future through the lens of students taking their next step. This will require leadership as discussed in point one.
- Having a one-shot approach to professional development
When teaching students, good practice would have teachers link a lesson to the previous lesson, then introduce the new concept and then allow time for the student to apply this new knowledge. However, when it comes to staff development days and professional learning for teachers, training is often provided in short bursts (one day at the most) and then that learning is never revisited. If students were taught that way, teachers would be put under a performance review, yet if principals do this to their teachers, they are not questioned.
What to do:
- For teachers to master a particular aspect of teaching, they will need multiple touch points over a prolonged amount of time.
- Find a way to provide staff with consistent, actionable training that they can implement into their teaching practice.
Programs such as the Unlimited Training and Support Community have gone a long way to improving how teachers access professional development.
- Addressing the immediate issues (not the important ones)
Everyone is guilty of this one! Principals have many people and tasks calling for their attention. The challenge is to filter out the noisy, urgent matters to allow focus on the task or person that can make the biggest difference.
What to do:
- Every leader should read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This great book lays out an excellent argument and action plan on this topic.
- Principals should clear their schedule and take the time to reflect on the four points above in order to determine what needs to be worked on, how change will happen and what the next step is (and please don’t go looking for a program!).
Latest posts by Mike Reading (see all)
- 5 Ways Any School Can Waste Money (And What to Do About It) - August 31, 2016
- Not All Devices Are Created Equal - April 9, 2015
- The Three Fundamentals Of A BYOD Plan - February 18, 2015