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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The QSchool program for aspiring school leaders in South Australia

Kaye Johnson
Dr Kaye Johnson is Manager Quality Leadership, Workforce Development, HR & WD, Department of Education and Children's Services South Australia

One of the most important tasks confronting education systems in Australia is to assist the development of the next generation of school leaders. It is vital that talented and committed educators who aspire to leadership roles are encouraged to take on, or at least explore, the role of principal.

The South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS) is addressing this need through a range of measures, one of which is the QSchool for Aspiring School and Preschool Leaders program. The program, run by the DECS Quality Leadership team, is open to teachers whose nomination is supported by their principal and their DECS regional director. These participants, who have sometimes already experienced limited leadership roles, are selected on the basis of their existing expertise in teaching and learning, and their contribution to school organisation and planning.

The program aims to inform these potential new principals about the nature of school leadership, demystifying its complexities and showing how aspirants can build on their existing skills, knowledge and experience to take on a senior leadership role in a school. QSchool pursues this aim through a program of professional development that combines input from existing educational leaders, access to learning resources, and opportunities for discussion and networking with other leadership aspirants.

The inaugural QSchool program ran between September 2009 and May this year. It included four separate days of face-to-face professional learning, in which participants were addressed by national and international education experts, key DECS personnel, and experienced, successful principals. The principals' narratives highlighted the diversity of school leaders and leadership styles. Feedback from participants indicated that they valued the positive but realistic nature of the anecdotes from the principals, which dispelled a number of myths and reassured listeners that 'you don't have to be a super-hero' to lead well. DECS facilitators led workshops on topics including financial literacy for school leaders; the digital environment, including the use of e-portfolios; and the use of school-level data to improve students' learning.

The gatherings offered an opportunity for participants to meet other aspiring leaders from a range of school settings. These contacts have been sustained between these one-day events and many participants are keen to keep in touch. QSchool also provided participants with professional readings and links to current research, websites and video clips.

By the end of the program almost all participants reported that they would now consider leadership at Principal level at some time in the future – a huge shift given that in an initial survey less than half the respondents indicated they were considering leadership as a principal. During the period covered by the program a number of participants applied for principal positions and four were successful. They have each reported how valuable the QSchool program was in giving them the confidence to apply.

QSchool and the DECS Improvement and Accountability framework

QSchool works within the DECS Improvement and Accountability framework (DIAf). The framework applies a set of principles of operation that support leadership and development of improvement processes within classrooms, sites and services. The principles are Focus on Learning, Think Systemically, Shared Leadership, Attend to Culture, Listen & Respond, Make Data Count, Set Direction, Target Resources, and Continuously Improve. The QSchool program covers practical ways in which schools can implement these principles.

Future QSchool programs

A survey of participants from the first QSchool program provided a wealth of positive feedback. Participants reported that involvement in the QSchool program had helped them reflect on how they currently provide leadership, confirmed and/or reaffirmed their leadership capabilities, and increased their confidence in their own leadership capacities. Many participants reported that they have developed much deeper understandings of the complexities and challenges of the Principal role, whether around day-to-day management of a school or strategic efforts to drive change.

Participants also provided a range of suggestions for improving future QSchool programs. For example, they suggested that professional networking could be improved further if the program was rearranged so that participants with similar needs work more closely. A number of respondents also recommended that future participants receive alerts about upcoming speakers, conferences and workshops. Other suggestions included the use of webcasts and podcasts to capture keynote speakers and principal narratives; setting up a website for QSchool that could include a blog where aspiring leaders could share conversations, experiences, issues and ask questions; and using Centra, an internet-based video conferencing and learning collaboration tool, to link participants based in different locations.

Drawing on this feedback and other input, a number of decisions have been made about the second QSchool leadership development program. It will promote more flexible pathways to leadership, reducing the emphasis on proven skills and experience, and offering more acknowledgement of educators' potential for leadership. It will also explore the impact of school complexity, distance and remoteness as possible barriers to females aspiring to leadership. Principals and regional/assistant regional directors will be encouraged to nominate more coordinators and teachers aged 25–45, the group which DECS data has identified as the pool from which most future leaders will come.

As well as QSchool the DECS Quality Leadership team administers an induction program for new principals, called Leaders Briefings. The team will look at ways to coordinate this work more closely with QSchool, and will also explore ways of providing ongoing professional learning to educators who have taken part in QSchool.

One of the indicators of QSchool's success is its adaption for other groups of aspiring leaders. There is now a separate QSchool for Early Years Leaders program and there is also QSchool for Corporate, which caters to personnel in regional and corporate offices who wish to return to sites as leaders.


Subject Headings

South Australia
Professional development
School principals
School leadership
Educational planning