Common SLT professional development mistakes and how to avoid them

‘What are some of the common mistakes international school senior leadership teams make regarding their professional development?’ Here’s what four international school group senior leaders think, and what they do to avoid them:

James Dalziel is Head of School at GEMS World Academy, Switzerland
“The key error that we make within senior leadership team professional development is an attribution error, that what we are going to learn will have a direct impact in the way that we intend. We consistently reiterate that we lead through influence and that by definition in a complex environment, as all schools are, we cannot know the relationship between the input and outcome until after the fact and in hindsight. 

David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework provides an excellent definition for complex environments and, by extension, how we bring about change in such environments over time. To think that we can precisely coordinate the architecture of our organisation’s culture is either assigned of ignorance or arrogance. In complex organisation no plan ever survives the journey. We need to exercise the capacity of flexibility and agility in order to respond to inputs that are not working or not working to the extent for in the way that we expected. 

One mistake that I see school leadership teams make with their professional development is that they do not ask the simple question if they believe that this learning is having the impact it intended to have. If it does not, we need to stop.”

Andy Puttock is Education Director at Nord Anglia
“The most common mistake we see is where professional development programmes, particularly for school leaders, only focus on leadership in teaching and learning, rather than the full range of qualities and skills necessary to lead in the complex field of international education. Another typical issue is the 'sheep dip' approach, where professional development is not closely tied to the school and leadership review process and therefore cannot address those needs. A third challenge individual schools often encounter, is that the identification and development of leadership talent is overly reliant on the ability of individual line managers or Head Teachers to manage that process.

We have sought to avoid these issues by the development of our Core 7 leadership framework, our global approach to talent management, and our quality assurance process which ensures appropriate benchmarking and a consistency of approach across our global family of schools. The idea of autonomy within an appropriate framework, bespoke to Nord Anglia Education, rather than 'off the shelf' approach, is central to the success of our professional development for all colleagues.” 

Rosamund Marshall is CEO at Taaleem
“Many international schools still don’t focus adequately on employee professional development, perhaps because they view employees as being transient in the international schools market, or investors don’t view the development needs as a priority for staff who may not stay long-term. In the UAE however, research shows that expats are staying longer than their initial contract term of two or three years, and many educators see the UAE as a long-term career base now. Therefore, for Taaleem as a UAE-based company, PD is a vital tool in retaining and developing high performing leaders.

International school staff and school leaders in the UAE have to adapt to the inspection and national agenda requirements of the UAE. Taaleem addresses these challenges with regular training for new staff on understanding and preparing for the UAE inspection process. We also provide media and communication training and use the annual appraisals to provide detailed feedback to all staff on their performance.”

Michael Drake is CEO Asia of Cognita Schools Group
“Much of the professional development we see is technical and education specific. Heads of School need to be expert leaders and this is something we need to continue develop in them.

At Cognita, I believe the best way to avoid common mistakes regarding SLT professional development is for us to speak openly and honestly with each other about performance. If we do that with the right integrity a natural agreement as to what is required for individuals or teams to improvement will arise. Very often this does not have to be the traditional ‘trip abroad to a convention,’ but can be very practical ‘experiential’ interventions. 

Also, an advantage for Cognita (and a benefit to our staff) is that we have an amazing amount of resource within our group. By reaching out to experts within our family of schools around the world, people soon find support and knowledge that can be readily shared which enhances our PD tremendously.”

Another question on leadership development will be answered in the August issue of ISL Magazine. 

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