The path to school improvement begins from the top. In this post we examine the methods used by Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec Schools Board as he works with his school principals on teacher development.

Mike Dubeau regards the key element of his systemic leadership role as working with his Principals on school improvement. I had the opportunity to visit Mike and his team at the Western Quebec School Board at the end of November 2022. Mike was, as usual, heavily involved in both his system (defined by statute) and systemic leadership roles (self-determined and carried out mainly by influence).

He is now reaching the end of his annual tour of the board’s schools, during which he pre-empts his visits with an email to the school principal. This outlines the questions he will pose and topics they are going to discuss. We’ve published the contents of this email below.

1.What are you most proud of in your school/centre?

    • Why?
    •  How was this accomplished?
    • How does this impact the quality of teaching and learning?

 2. What is the biggest challenge for your school/centre moving forward?

 3. Personal career goals!

 4. Quality of teaching and learning (please make a copy or copies for me to take away)

    • What does your data tell you? – using the attached documents

 5. Review SMART Goal #1 – from August MAC (how are you making the espoused theory explicit so that there is an alignment with teachers’ theory of action?)

 6. Review SMART Goal #2 – from December MAC (what teacher(s) are you focused on to achieve an upward convergence of staff performance?)

7.  Anything else you would like to talk about?

For the principals to answer these questions, they would need to have an agreed assessment of their teacher’s competency and the direction they are headed.  Teacher and leader growth is the byword.  As Mike has often reminded me over the years, using an upwards convergence approach to school improvement results in performance that is rated good at a point in time; without improvement it will be rated poor in the future.

Embedded throughout these questions is the effective knowledge management approach to school improvement. The use of a theory of action to drive individual growth is central to this. The salient components of this are covered in the principal’s interview with the teacher. They are:

  • Being clear about what we are trying to achieve – the espoused theory.
  • Able to identify where we are now – the theory of action
  • Learning to improve with others – double loop learning.

To prevent an outcome requiring numerous points for action, Mike and his colleagues have  developed their own approach, which uses what we have called the identification of a key strategic illuminative issue.  By identifying one key strategic issue and solving it, they shed light on other issues.

The principals that we have spoken to have said how supportive they find the approach, and how it helps them understand how the school improvement approach used by the board works in their practice. As part of the interview, Mike ensures he has fulfilled the promises of support he made on his previous visit and agrees to new areas.

This is the culmination of many years of collaborative working throughout the board. It started with understanding the competencies of outstanding teaching – the espoused theory – as identified by some of the board’s practitioners. Initially, this was from their own work, however, the increasing availability of research and the publication of a set of competencies for both teaching and learning and leadership and management by the Ministry of Education has refined definitions and added greater credence.

The judgement of the level of teaching and learning and leadership and management – the theory in action – has been standardised by a process of open triangulation between the practitioner, the principal and the directorate. In addition, judgement has been given from outside of the board. This rigorous approach ensures a board-wide agreed set of standards.

Determining what action should be taken next has been facilitated by the development of a coaching culture throughout the board – double loop learning. The networks that have emerged between those learning and those supporting them, from support staff to principals, have allowed knowledge of effective practice to be transferred rapidly.

This is one of the last times that we will hear from Mike in his role as Director General as he has announced his retirement at the end of this school year.

Mike has made a major contribution not only in the Western Quebec School Board but to the wider education community in Quebec and beyond. He has been driven by a desire to ensure every pupil he has been responsible for has received the best education possible. This has involved him in both schools as a vice-principal and then principal of Pontiac High School and schools’ system transformation as Director General of the school board.

As we identified earlier in this article, Mike’s key objective has been to see his staff grow as effective practitioners and to do this collaboratively by sharing and creating new knowledge.

His time as Director General coincided with the outbreak of COVID and as a result having to deal with a considerable period of disruption in the Board’s schooling system. However, though this temporarily delayed his work, he quickly returned to his key agenda.

To all his roles he has brought compassion, dedication, creativity, thoughtfulness and goodwill. He has embraced new ideas and has been able to successfully mould them into the Board’s context. He has an outstanding record of successful innovation which he should be justly proud of.

In his wider role as Director General, he has shared his approach with his colleagues at other boards in both English and French sectors. This can now be seen in several ways including the development of a coaching culture and the adoption of a two year induction programme for new teachers.

Mike would say that his success is due to the excellent teams he has worked with throughout his career. We would say that from our experience this is true. However, his contribution as a team member has always been significant and when appointed or elected to lead he has done so with distinction.

It has been our privilege to be invited to observe his journey as an excellent role model from across the pond.

Take care and stay safe!


Professor Sir George Berwick, CBE