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How Are You Building a Strong System?

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It’s now more important than ever that we develop a systems view. With the increasing demands on our schools, the move towards more local based decision making and the increased expectations of stakeholders we must ensure that we are all working towards maintaining and enhancing a strong sustainable education system.  I remember in my first few years of teaching focussing on making my class the best it can be, then as AP making my stage the best it can be, as a first time principal ensuring my school could be the best it could be. As I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve developed a systems view and whilst I firmly believe that making the individual moving parts of each and every school the best they can be it should not be at the detriment of the system. A strong collegial approach raises the achievement of all levels of a system.

Now in my second principalship I’ve been strongly advocating for the development of a systems view at a local level. Whilst most schools strongly encourage collaboration and sharing of high impact practice across classes, grades and stages there is now an increasing focus on broadening cross school collaboration. This process of cross pollination between schools and networks is forming the basis of some strong educational alliances.

The most successful systems have a clear strategy to guide their decision making. They also have the ability to change, adapt and refocus if their strategy meets unexpected obstacles. This provides an opportunity to see how adaptable the system is, whether it is bound by a rigid set of regulations or has the flexibility to meet the changing demands of the communities it serves. Our system has evolved, removing geographical footprints and encouraging cross network collaboration, enabling the systems view to take hold. Some would argue that this has been through necessity rather than design, regardless of the impetus for change the platform has been laid and the environment created for a strong transition.

Our system has now positioned Principals at the top of the hierarchical structure to promote a systems leadership approach. This view is reinforced by our new model of funding which is giving school leaders greater flexibility to spread their sphere of influence across networks. This expansion across networks is supporting our systems view by not locking us into previously existing silos. This has created a strong interwoven fabric that is expanding at a rapid rate across networks, encouraging school leaders to adopt a systemic view across all levels of their school. We are sharing expertise, resources and initiatives like never before leading to strong communities of practices relentlessly pursuing excellence for their students. This is enhancing high expectations and quality practice by enabling a cross pollination effect. The opportunity to work across multiple sites sharing practice and feeding into a network builds strong communities of practice which has the potential to maximise impact beyond previously constrained geographical boundaries. It allows the collection of early adaptors who can in turn create an almost moral purpose to drive service at a wider system level rather than individual pockets of expertise.

Systems leadership does not have to come for the Principal, on the contrary systems leadership comes from within, at any layer, at any level. This is the mindset that we need to cultivate, it needs to be modelled and supported by Principals so that it becomes the behavioural norm. At a school level we need to provide opportunities to build capacity and feed back into the system. As Principals we are in a powerful position to ensure that our schools adopt a big picture view and help to sustain a strong, innovative system.

As systems leaders we need to understand the different levels of our organisation and how they link. It is important that we look beyond our location and see how it fits into the bigger picture. It can be difficult at times to understand decisions made outside the school context. Sometimes our own local needs are front and centre clouding our ability to see a bigger picture. It is the ability however to see the bigger picture that enables the individual to accept allocation of resources both physical and financial. Whilst I will always advocate for more resourcing for our schools, there are times when there is a finite amount. Understanding this, whilst not accepting it, shows a maturity towards the system.  This type of thinking focuses us on the concept of service to collectively build a strong and sustainable system. Systems leaders look to enhance the entire organisation within the current constraints, whilst always advocating for more.

Systems leaders provide a highly interrelated style of leadership, varying their style depending on the context. It can be delicate work managing this type of leadership, balancing local based resources whilst attempting to see how your context can assist in growing and supporting the skill base of others. The end result of systems leadership though is the development of strong and collaborative networks at every level. As systems leaders we continue to grow always evolving as the demands and needs of our communities change. We are relentless in the pursuit of building a strong and sustainable system. We ensure that we build the skills and capacity locally whilst keeping an eye on how we can feed into the system. It is our collectively responsibility to develop the next generation of people to fill our current roles, in this way we are preparing potential candidates to feed back into the system at every level.

I would encourage school leaders to invest in systems leadership at every level of their school. We are at a point in educational history where we are creating the systems that we want to be part of. We have a duty to our students and the communities we serve to take an active role in that development. The current education platform is encouraging us to be aspirational, to be visionary in our approach. I see systems thinking as the ability to tackle that challenge by bringing large numbers of colleagues to the collective table to shape our future. The strength of systems thinking is the multiple viewpoints it generates and the ability to use collective hindsight to reflect, refine and refocus. This year I strongly encourage you to examine your commitment to systems thinking. How are you helping to shape and create our Public Education system?

1 Comment

  1. Lyndsey Ray says:

    Very inspiring read, Scott! Definitely something to keep as a focus as we endeavour to shape to future of Public Education.


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