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Showing the Way towards Growth Minded Change Culture

Showing the way towards growth-minded change culture is about building a cultural mandate. Building a cultural mandate for change begins with helping a community commit itself to the value of its educational future and its educators. How does the school build the mandate of its community to go about a process of change?


It is through our sense of mission that we are most formed in terms of our leadership practice. Our beliefs about what is important and what should be done about these things that drive our compelling narrative, the reason why we do what we do. Our leadership task in this respect is to convince those around us of the worthiness of this purpose. In this respect, we identify with a fundamental purpose for educational leaders of building cultures of excellence in leadership and learning within communities of inquiry. We need to aim to be the very best we can be at leading and learning within a discourse that is built on asking and answering questions.

Contemporary models of leadership emphasise the qualities of humility and will power, as well as an understanding of how to resolve the apparent tension between these two:

    1. What is my value system?

    2. How well do I value those around me?

    3. How well connected am I to my community and its needs?

    4. Am I the servant of my fellows?

The fundamental questions about culture go beyond the leader’s self-reflection to the work of reflecting on the community as a whole. Research findings from PISA and the Grattan Institute suggest three fundamental questions that get to the heart of growth-minded change culture:

    • Do We Value Education? The school community must place a high value on education – this should be reflected through levels of funding, attitude, support, community involvement, and support. 
    • Do We Value Teachers? At the same time, quality teachers are key to the success of students and the teacher/student relationship is vital to making sure that well-intentioned statements about the value of education are borne out in the concrete actions of connected and supportive school stakeholders who value teachers, recognise the importance of their work and understand that their profession is complex. 
    • Do We Value Improvement? Stakeholders need to be drawn together to help develop teachers through mentoring, classroom observation, and constructive feedback to become more professional and more collaborative in all areas of practice, especially in tracking and diagnosing the nature and progress of an individual child’s learning.

We have noted previously the relationship between building character capital and the development of growth-minded change culture; both of these important cultural dimensions operate to increase the quantum of the other. The work of the leader in a school who seeks to build a mandate for the culture work by promoting answers to these questions (and therefore promoting the three types of value that they suggest) is intricately wound up in these dimensions.

It is through our sense of mission that we are most formed in terms of our leadership practice. Our beliefs about what is important and what should be done about these things that drive our compelling narrative, the reason why we do what we do. 

But what does the work of the leader who shows the way look like?

Character leadership in practice is inspired by example. We believe that currently, character leaders in schools typically have a clear picture of the challenge of service and the daily character work inherent with this, and that the nature of this work should correspond to how the work of other character educators is located within their schools. Nonetheless, there seems little opportunity for them to reflect on how this work can be situated within a model or series of models that allow for the development of a cogent theory of character leadership. Such modelling at a theoretical level is essential for them to build a consistent, high quality culture of practice in character leadership throughout their school.

Ultimately, the cultures of great schools are built on relationships and the trust and confidence which emerges from them as a result of the culture work of the leader. We might, therefore, to consider a multi-dimensional model of what we do as change leaders:

    • Personal leadership: We start by considering how we build relationships with individuals. While we might wish to spend more time in this dimension, the reality is that the greater the responsibility that we take on, the more limited our capacity becomes to create meaningful and sustainable deep relationships with individuals as we might have when we practiced our craft earlier in our careers. It is more effective, therefore, for the majority of our individual relationships to be built on our ability to inspire individuals through opportunities for providing aspiration, motivation and engagement.
    • Tactical leadership: The second dimension of our relational leadership is how we build relationships with teams. In many ways, we have more opportunity to interact with a greater number of teams, but in doing so we probably can only allow ourselves so much time to spend with them before we need to move on to another group. As such, our role is to enhance the journey of the team through the commitment of a combination of energy and emotion combined with the role-modelling we can provide to team members.
    • Strategic leadership: the third dimension of relationship for our leadership is how we apply ourselves to the strategic challenges of our organisation. Again, we need to make wise choices as to how we invest our time by focusing on those things that will make the greatest difference in the long run for the school. As such, our aim needs to be to create a vision for the destination at the end of our journeys and to help the organisation to align, implement and evaluate what the school does to ensure the greatest positive impact on intention, design and culture.
    • Global leadership: the final dimension of our relational leadership connects our school with its wider world. In this respect, we are building a relationship with the school’s different and intersecting communities, negotiating and advocating for the place of the school and the value proposition of what it offers. In doing so, we assist the school to define its preferred position and to situate itself within its context by reinforcing its purpose, commitment and connections within the community.

Change usually works best in schools when it is logical, systematic and incremental. It has to be accompanied, if not foreshadowed, by a clear and compelling rationale that explains how and why a community might move forward without disrespecting its own past. The courage and conviction required to construct this message and convince a school community of its validity and value is an ongoing act of persuasive leadership that becomes in many ways the defining character of school leaders. 

To do this well, they need to describe a possible trajectory towards a vision of what the future of the community might become. They must also measure and record the integrity of the shared story of the learning journey of the community in terms of the alignment and attainment of rationale, values, dispositions, actions, behaviours, and impact. Leaders also need to support the members of their school community to transition from a primary focus on operational thinking and response to authentic, transformative, sustainable, and service-oriented leadership that balances the demands of yesterday, today, and tomorrow through proactive planning and implementation.  To make this happen, they need to help align strategic intentions with actions and embed them in each organisation’s culture and operations. Their solutions most address the potential gap between intentions for school improvement, and the actions and measures needed to achieve the desired outcomes.

Leaders show the way forwards by doing the culture work: personally, tactically, strategically, and globally. 

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