At a school with high mobility of staff and students, building a whole-school culture of consensus, collaboration and commitment is crucial.
During her three years as principal at Batchelor Area School in the Northern Territory – a P-12 school around 100 kilometres south of Darwin – Robyn Thorpe strived to achieve just this.
‘Providing the conditions for collaboration is essential for teachers to feel like they do belong, that they are supported, to make the changes that are required in their practice,' Thorpe tells Teacher.
‘How do you move away from that tokenistic, “we're cooperating”, “we're working cooperatively” to working truly in a collaborative way with a clear focus on teaching and learning and listening to our students?'
Thorpe says that undertaking the process to become a Certified Practising Principal (CPP) helped her to not only develop a toolkit of leadership practices, but to also remain focused about each step she was making towards this school improvement goal.
To achieve the CPP award, principals are required to undertake an evidence collection process to demonstrate how they're meeting the Australian Professional Standard for Principals through their practice. It's a lengthy process of usually at least 18 months and sees principals documenting school improvement initiatives they're leading.
‘This gave me a pathway to become a bit more strategic about identifying what is going to work in this context,' Thorpe shares. ‘What is required right now to build that consensus and commitment? Are we on the right pathway? Do we need to be doing something different?'
Moving beyond tokenism
Thorpe had recognised that staff were participating in professional learning, and being up-skilled in pedagogical practice, but some weren't embracing it.
‘And it was that tokenism of, you know, we've done the professional learning and that was really good, but we actually don't put it into practice. And so, I had to move that to, well, “how does that look in practice?”' she explains.
That process began with classroom observations in order to get plenty of feedback from teachers and students. However, Thorpe soon realised that she needed a different approach in order to get the buy-in she was after, which is why she turned to a continuous school improvement model to help her get there.
Thorpe implemented Victoria Bernhardt's model of data analysis for continuous school improvement. This suited the school's needs of finding a model that was about supporting each other, sharing of good practice, and would assist in establishing consistency across the school. With Bernhardt's model being one that's inclusive of everyone in the school community, Thorpe had everybody involved in deep data analysis – including the canteen manager, the gardener and the school council parents.
‘We dedicated staff meetings, we dedicated whole-school professional learning days, to going through this process of really digging deep into what is going on for our learners. What's working? What's not working?'
Valuing professional collaboration
Thorpe says she undertook the process to become a certified practising principal in order to be part of a professional learning activity which allowed her to embed her leadership skills.
In her current principal role at Dripstone Middle School, also in the Northern Territory, Thorpe says she is now utilising her deeper understanding of the importance of collaborating with other principals, which the certification process opened her up to.
‘Principal certification isn't just about the attainment or recognition – which is great in itself – but it's also helped me to become a lot more strategic and value that importance of collaborating professionally. Not just for myself as a leader, but also for my teaching teams.'
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Robyn Thorpe says ‘providing the conditions for collaboration is essential for teachers to feel like they do belong, that they are supported, to make the changes that are required in their practice.’
As a school leader, would you say you are providing staff with opportunities to effectively collaborate? Would your teaching staff share this same opinion?
To find out more about becoming a Certified Practising Principal, visit the website.