Published on April 29, 2022

Through my interview process, and since arriving at HVGS, I have been pondering these questions – what is our desirable future? Who do we want to be as a school in 10 years’ time? Who do our students need us to be and how do we know this? How do we get to this desired future, and how do we bring the community with us?

 

“Leadership means responsibly choosing courses of action towards a desirable future.”
(Komives and Wagner 2)

Lets talk about change

Change is an inevitable part of life and often we feel consumed by it; we experience change as something beyond our control (it happens to us or doesn’t happen to us when we want it to) rather than as something that we can intentionally create. As adults, how often do we exclaim that days, weeks and month are flying by, seemingly without our consent? By contrast, how often do we feel trapped by our own circumstances and unable to effect change when it is needed? It is a conundrum we all face: on the one hand time flies and reminds us we are not in control, and at other times change feels insurmountable and beyond our reach.

When we step outside this cycle of thinking – a cycle of disempowerment – we start to imagine those places in our lives that we can control and set goals for ourselves. Learning is largely about just this: helping students feel a sense of efficacy so they can drive change towards their desired futures.

This week I have had two unique opportunities to engage students in a dialogue about their learning and experiences at HVGS. The first was on Tuesday during our professional learning day. The focus for our day was “inclusion through inter-cultural learning” and as staff we worked with Eeqbal Hassim, an educational consultant who specialises in education in intercultural and international contexts. Sometimes diversity and culture are visible, but more often they are invisible to us. Using the iceberg model of culture, what we see on the surface hides the values, beliefs, assumptions and life experiences that sit below the surface and inform our actions and words.

To move towards our desired future as a school, we need to understand our collective and individual “why”. To be able to do this, we need give space to student voice and experience, and most particularly elevate the voices of students (and adults) who feel more marginalised in our community and therefore less connected to our collective why. On Tuesday, I invited students to join a small group of staff in a second workshop with Eeqbal where we explored the lived experience of inclusion for students at the school (what sits below the surface in the iceberg model). This is the beginning of a process that will help us build understanding together and work towards a desired future that is inclusive of all. It also enables us to be more deliberate and informed when choosing the actions that will get us there.

 
Student Leadership 

The second opportunity I had this week was to begin a leadership course with aspiring leaders in Year 11. The course is different to a conventional leadership course in that it explicitly focuses on values-based leadership. It is a social change model of leadership and driven by these premises:

        Leadership is socially responsible; it affects change on behalf of others.

        Leadership is collaborative.

        Leadership is a process, not a position.

        Leadership is inclusive and accessible to all people.

        Leadership is values-based.

        Community involvement and service is a powerful vehicle for leadership.

(cited in Komives & Wagner 10)

The social change model of leadership focuses on how we get to a desired state, which includes how we define the “what” of our desired state as a school and wider community. We know that change is inevitable – it is a reality – and we know that we need to take charge of change processes to ensure we don’t arrive at a place by default, but intentionally. Building the capacity of students, as well as the adults within the community, to achieve sustainable social change builds efficacy and enables deliberate change efforts that are planned and thoughtful.

As I said to the aspiring Year 11 leaders this week, I very much believe in their capacity to effect positive social change within their circles of influence. However, we are not born as leaders, but learn to lead by connecting with our own selves and what we value (as well as the areas in which we need to grow); by taking the time to understand and grow group values; and then by using these collective values to drive change. We want students to understand that effective leadership is a purposeful process that is value-based, in contrast to traditional ideas of management which imply a focus on managing the current state or maintaining the status quo.

 

Values are important

Values based leadership also encourages to minimise the negative impact on others and our environment. In this sense it builds efficacy, understanding as well as a culture of responsibility.

In my work with students this week I have had the privilege of listening to their stories of inclusion and building their capacity to be values-based leaders. In engaging students in this way, I hope they will feel empowered to work with us to direct change through deliberate and thoughtful attention to themselves and others.

My last point circles back to the ideas cited above: leadership is collaborative, it is a process, and it is inclusive. Engaging and including the community more broadly – students, staff and parents – in the development of our next strategic plan will embody a collaborative and process-driven approach to leadership. Ultimately this will lead to a definition of our desired state and a roadmap for how to get there.

 

Works cited:
Komives, Susan, and Wendy Wagner. Leadership for a Better World: Understanding the Social Change Model of Leadership. National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs. 2017.

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca is the Principal of Hunter Valley Grammar School. She has a Masters of Education, International Education from Monash University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Queensland University of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts, History and English from the University of Tasmania.