Missing in Action: Are Aussie Universities Lagging in Leadership?

Australian universities that tout the transformative benefits of their leadership courses may be greatly overstating the case. 

The Australian Government is funding a pilot Future Leaders Program, to encourage high achieving teachers in regional and rural primary and secondary schools aspire towards leadership roles. However, apart from La Trobe University in Melbourne, on a national basis, universities have shown little enthusiasm for participating in this program. 

A critical aspect for developing leadership, in a large education system, is to have a research-based leadership strategy. In the case of Western Australia, the Department of Education has rightly asked primary and secondary school principals to implement a school leadership strategy. However, the role played by universities in planning a leadership strategy, for the largest employer in the state, has been non-existent.

I believe that, with the national focus on identifying leaders in primary and secondary schools, universities have to be innovative and do more than offer courses online where students engage in a blend of theory and practice.

We need the visible presence of dynamic university academics, working with directors-general, and system leaders, in shaping a vision for leadership in schools that is systemic, research-based and feasible.

I suggest that university administrators support their best academics to work directly with primary and secondary staff in guiding schools, and boards, in identifying and fast-tracking leaders’ development.   

Primary and secondary schools are continually supported by academics providing workshops on literacy and numeracy. Why not do something similar, by helping aspirant leaders develop their skills and plan developmental opportunities, in the presence of their local school leaders? Surely this is more practical and, possibly, transformative.

University academics are lagging when it comes to working with principals’ or associate principals’ networks and using them as a tool for aspirant leaders to showcase their talents. Jenkins, in Learning First supports this idea. If the university educator joins the primary or secondary school network, or is used as a consultant, a university can build its presence among a network of schools.

University heads, nationally, have overlooked the importance of building, and developing, not just the leader in primary or secondary schools but their leadership team. It can be done by having an academic as chair, or member of the school or college board, able to provide ongoing leadership guidance, workshops or other formal and informal means of professional learning to the team.

Universities can play an important role in the effective recruitment of leaders by ensuring that processes target applicants from under-represented groups. They can design, and implement, recruitment activities that require behaviours where candidates demonstrate personal qualities that have an impact on leadership roles. 

Universities can also play a leading role in preparing potential leaders, with a range of preparation experiences or programs that deepen pedagogical expertise, strengthen interpersonal skills or develop management and leadership skills. 

They are ideally equipped, or should be, to evaluate all leaders’ preparation exercises using formal and explicit processes that assess readiness for the specific leadership role.

Some experiences, recommended by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2014, in Leading for Impact are mentoring, working with network colleagues, seminars, leadership programs and growth based performance management or professional development.

Universities that engage in these activities, directly, with primary and secondary schools are highly likely to improve their brand image and attract enrolments in their courses.

To lead or not to lead, should never be a question we have to ask in the 21st century.

Lionel Cranenburgh

Lionel Cranenburgh is the CEO of a Career Development Company Lionel Cranenburgh and Associates. He is the Winner of the WA Positive Behaviours in Schools Award, recipient of the Silver Medal for distinguished service from the Department of Education WA and award-winning journalist with publications in international and national magazines in Education.

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

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