School leadership: Professional learning at Harvard

A New South Wales public school principal will join 180 educators from across the globe to participate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Art of Leadership – Improving Schools course this month. In today's article he shares what he hopes to learn from the experience and how it will benefit his school community.

Principal of Banksia Road Primary School in south western Sydney, Hamish Woudsma applied for the Principal Scholars programs in February and was delighted to be named one of four Australian school leaders to take part in the once in a lifetime professional learning experience. He was awarded the scholarship from The Public Education Foundation, Teachers Mutual Bank and the Harvard Club of Australia.

The six-day course in Boston promises to expand the participants' management skills, explore new ways to accelerate teacher and student learning, and deepen the individual's sense of efficacy as a school leader.

‘I will join 180 principals from around the world in lectures and tutorials,' Woudsma explains. ‘The focus is around becoming an effective leader of Instructional Change. The learning is based on a case study model where the participants collaborate and build on shared knowledge.'

The program is aimed at early career school leaders seeking to improve their leadership skills and develop a more focused approach to managing instructional improvement.

Woudsma has been principal of his school for the last five years and has worked for the NSW Department of Education for 21 years. His school has an enrolment of 543 students, 95 per cent of whom come from a language background other than English.

Woudsma says that whilst his school community value educational success, they also value a broad and inclusive curriculum where students can connect through extra curricula opportunities.

‘One of the school's greatest achievements is the academic progress over the four years through the Early Action for Success Phase 1 (2014-16) and now Phase 2 (2017-present),' he says.

‘Whilst there is a significant reduction in the percentage of students achieving in the bottom NAPLAN bands, the real achievement refers to the significant increase in the percentage of students achieving proficient (top two skill bands) in Year 3 for reading. There are similar trends in other areas, in fact, the percentage at proficient in Year 3 writing has increased from 28 per cent in 2015 to 49 per cent in 2016 and 59 per cent in 2017 – and has now surpassed the state average.'

While at Harvard, Woudsma says he's looking forward to collaborating with others and building his networks, but he's also hoping to address a problem of practice that he could use in his school setting.

‘My problem of practice I am hoping to address is replicating our successful Infants (K-2) Instructional Leadership model into the primary (3-6),' Woudsma says. ‘I am looking forward to hearing about other successful models of Instructional Change. I am going to reflect on my leadership style and challenge the status quo.'

When reflecting on how this professional learning experience will improve the way things are done at Banksia Road Primary School, Woudsma says he'll be sharing a lot of what he's learning with others.

‘My learning will influence Banksia Road's current model of Instructional Leadership and the way I lead my school,' he says. ‘From there, I am looking forward to sharing our Instructional Leadership model and learnings from Harvard on a broader scale, for the betterment of public education.'

Stay tuned: We'll be catching up with Hamish Woudsma following his trip to hear more about his experience and whether he achieved the goals he set out to.

Think about the last professional learning session you attended. Did you share any of the things you learned with others in your professional network? How did this enhance your own experience?

Hamish Woudsma is attending this professional learning experience with clear goals in mind. Before you attend a professional learning session, do you think about what you’re hoping to get out of it? Do you document these goals in any formal way?