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Tales from Harvard – Part 1

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I am sitting at Sydney International Airport waiting to board a plane to Boston Massachusetts to attend a course at The Harvard Graduate School of Education. The course Leadership an Evolving  Vision, is designed to allow participants to expand their leadership practices and challenge their current beliefs surrounding their educational vision.  In the hallowed lecture theatres of Harvard participants have quarantined time to examine, refine, refocus and revitalise their current educational strategies. It has me thinking, in 48 hours I will be sitting with 200 principals from 20 countries, will I be able to articulate my educational vision? What is my vision? Do I convey this vision to my staff consistently or do my actions counteract my words? I am sure by the time I leave Harvard I’ll be able to answer these questions with a little more clarity. But for the sake of reflective practice, I thought I’d give it a go now.

As a Principal a vision means having a clear idea of what your school is, could be or should be.  I believe that it is a single focus goal that drives your school, the main reason that you do what you do. It permeates everything that happens at your school. The trap we fall into when thinking about our visions is that we feel that it needs to be some profound elaborately worded statement. I firmly believe that if you can’t explain the vision in a few simple sentences then chances are it won’t be easily understood by all members of the school community. The more complex it is, the more susceptible it is to variation and interpretation. Once you have had some time to cement the vision into the fabric of the school, staff members, students and parents should be able to articulate in their own way what the school is about.

A vision is nothing without the backing of your actions. Under the current educational reforms in the NSW Public Education system each school has the authority to construct their own vision in consultation with their community that best meets their contextual needs. Each school’s vision is not necessarily system bound, but is backed by a strong system. The increase in principal authority to make contextual decisions is enabling school communities to ensure that they are able to support their vision with their allocated resources. This provides schools with a strong platform from which to launch their educational journeys.

As a leader I am aware that I need to communicate and articulate the vision regularly it cannot be developed and implemented successfully if it is communicated sporadically. In this period of new school planning this is something that I believe many Principals are coming to terms with. As we work through our new school plans many are finding that the overall vision whilst compelling may be too broad. As the leader of a school you need to be focussed on the core business of teaching and learning. Sometimes in the busy schedule of a school we need to be reminded of this.  As a leader you need to have a deep understanding of the vision. You need to understand how to guide and manage the school for successful implementation ensuring that the distractions on the peripheral don’t derail your efforts. Having a strong understanding of your vision provides you with a structure to hang your decision making from. When faced with challenges and tough decisions being able to run it against your vision helps to clarify your decision making process. Does my decision align with what we want our school to be?

I believe that you must be persistent and relentless in pursuing the vision as without these attributes  the power of tradition can take over and grind any transformation to a halt. You may be required to challenge the culture or current practices, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have value, but unless they are tested how do you know they are effective. Even with a transformative vision it is still important to honour the past and respect and value the skills of those that came before you. Recognising and acknowledging that people add value to their work, building a sense of achievement ensuring that each member of staff knows that they have an important role to play in achieving the vision helps build momentum.

I am hoping that my learnings at Harvard will enable me to confirm that I am on the right path or at least on the right side of the road. The pre readings thus far are asking me to identify and challenge my leadership style and determine if I am able to lead effectively. Have I been able to develop a clear vision?  Do I know what it is that I am trying to accomplish? Can I articulate my vision effectively enough to gain support? Am I able to motivate my staff and provide enough guidance to keep the transformation moving forward?  Do I actively support my vision in words and actions? If I say one thing but my actions, body language and even the tone of my delivery say another then people will never get on board. It’s an interesting reflective exercise and I can see that I will grow from the experience. It’s my own internal 360 degrees survey. I’d encourage you to try it.

The opportunity to study at Harvard will give me time to reflect on whether my vision is just words on a strategic plan or if it embodies each and every interaction I have in my school. I hope that my leadership provides a supportive collegial environment that focuses on professional growth, a deep understanding of curriculum differentiation and a strong knowledge of each and every student. I want to be able to guide my staff in a direction that has them feeling fulfilled and empowered. Am I effective at turning this vision into action, I guess I’ll be able to answer that question a little better on my return.

What I do know, is that when the vision becomes the way we do business then my work is done. Until then it steady as we go, celebrate the success and continuously revise the strategy to achieve excellence for our students.


  1. Killa says:

    Best of luck Scott. I’m so very proud of you. You have come such a long way and you will continue to grow into, something far beyond a school principal.
    You belong somewhere in our system where your leadership skills will reach and benefit far more than one school. What a brilliant career you still have ahead of you. I’m going to enjoy it and be inspired by it.
    I wish you safe travels and strong challenges on your trip.
    Take care.


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