Roles must adapt as we emerge out of lockdown (part 1 in a series)

Leaders will find they need to make adjustments to their methods as the educational landscape changes.

As the trend of the lifting lockdown continues throughout our global collaborative learning community, the role our school leaders play will in many cases shift from predominantly system leadership, in which the power of the system is used to direct actions, to systemic leadership, in which leadership is achieved through influence, from directing to challenging, supporting, and collaborating. They will, however, be required for some time to continue in their system role to ensure that students and staff conform to the regulations designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the many schools built with narrow corridors and restricted ventilation.

We can consider these two roles as the ends of a sequence, with a mix of direction and challenge, support, collaboration and influence in the middle. In order to explain this in the slide below, we have identified different roles on the sequence:


A: Directive roles at all times

B: Supporting roles all times

A/B: a combination of both


A: Directive roles at all times –  Some leaders and teachers never relinquish control to those they manage. They adhere to an established way of doing things – the ‘my way or the highway’ approach . This can be effective in a situation where staff and students are not meeting statutory levels of performance but we have heard of few examples where it has been employed effectively to produce outstanding performance.

B: Supporting roles at all times – Others see their role as totally supportive and use direction only as a last resort. The adage for leaders here is that ‘they are professionals and thus they know what they are doing’, . As we have been so recently reminded, ensuring that staff and students are safe is a requirement which must be imposed, thus a purely supporting role is not an option.  However, beyond this, where leaders adopt this approach, they too often find themselves dealing with the outcome of staff not undertaking their roles effectively.  With poor teacher performance being replicated continuously rather than the member of staff being taught how to prevent the situation occurring again.

A/B: Directive and supporting roles. In the English system and increasingly elsewhere, the choice between direction or challenge and support is often determined by the maxim that the amount of direction a school leader gives to a member of staff is directly proportional to their ability to do their job or from a teacher to a pupil on their ability to manage their learning.  This proportionate approach to intervention can be seen in a range of approaches, including how OFSTED responds to schools.

In practice, these roles are heavily influenced by the accountability frameworks and practices operating in each educational system and these have changed considerably over time. For someone working in the English system for the past twenty years, it would be difficult for them to realise that before the introduction of accountability in the 1990s,, there were no teaching standards, classroom observations, publication of examination results or OFSTED reports.

Performance between schools in England is judged on attainment and achievement. The method of judging achievement is subject to regular modification; however, key criteria tend to relate to prior attainment, pupil progress and socio-economic background. Teacher performance for those responsible for students taking public examination results is more rigorous than others. Here, judgement of performance is made against students with similar prior attainment, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background.

In Canada these accountability measures emerged at a slower pace and there is still no equivalent of OFSTED. However, school results are published and there are twelve teacher competencies. Classroom lessons are observed in given circumstances. The Fraser Institute has for the past twenty years published a form of value-added measure of Quebec secondary schools, using rankings which take into account socio-economic factors.

Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of Successful Schools Sweden, reports that in the Swedish school system, examination results are published for schools from the national tests (not in all subjects) and grades in year 6 and year 9, but this does not include the progression.  There are no teaching standards published by the government.  School leaders and other staff can observe lessons. However, evidence shows that this is not generally part of school routines. Thus, headteachers and teachers know little about the quality of teaching and what it leads to. There has been a national inspection service in place since 2008.  The inspection framework focuses on fulfilment of national objectives, student achievement levels, safety, orderly classrooms, equal access to education for all students and legal rights of the individual. The report is made public.

In all of these education systems on a day-to-day basis, the use of directing and support varies from one situation to another.  Personal preference, contextual issues which include those described above, and culture all play their part.

In our approach to school improvement described through our theory of action, we have adopted the proportionate approach.  This means that whether a leader or teacher adopts a directive or supportive role depends upon performance relative to what the school’s objectives, the espoused theory. We adopt this because:

  • The performance of students and teachers varies considerably more within in schools than between schools
  • There is not as yet a teaching holy grail.

In addition, supportive roles are often adopted to encourage the highest performance because it relies on creativity to find new solutions to problems.

As the approach we have adopted to improving school performance requires the effective management of knowledge, we require those in our community who have demonstrated  the appropriate knowledge to share it with their peers and undertake research, thus creating new knowledge through connections beyond the school.

None of this can be achieved through what Argyris refers to as single-loop learning – staff and pupils striving to achieve the standards set on their own. There has to be the opportunity for double-loop learning – working with others to learn how to improve performance.

The result of this collaborative learning will, over time, reduce the disparity in performance between leaders, teachers and pupils whilst increasing the performance at the top, thus creating upwards convergence.

In our next post we will describe the framework we have created to determine the degree of direction and support a leader or teacher should be receiving in a given situation and how much time a leader / teacher / pupil should spend learning or teaching. The framework we use to determine this for our staff is known as the OLEVI Professional Progression.

Take care and stay safe




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