Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

PIVOTAL – designing innovative leadership courses: A road map for anticipating the twists and turns in school leaders’ journeys (#216)

Susan Simon 1 , Michael Christie 1 , Wayne Graham 1 , Kairen Call 1
  1. The University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC, QLD, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

School leadership preparation must be current, relevant and able to ‘deal with the complex challenges schools are facing in the 21st century’ (OECD, 2008). Dempster, Lovett and Fluckiger (2011) have identified a gap in the preparation of school leaders in Australia. They argue that it can be addressed by responding to school leaders’ learning needs, by helping them see ‘the big picture’ and by building their confidence and capacity as leaders. The PIVOTAL (Partnerships, Innovation and Vitality – Opportunities for Thriving Academic Leadership) research team agrees with this assessment. Our research analyses how to best develop sustainable leadership practice by investigating practitioners’ leadership requirements. Partnering with local school leaders, the PIVOTAL model was the catalyst for innovation within the learning experiences of school leaders studying post-graduate education and business courses. Findings successfully informed innovative revisions to leadership courses offered by education and business post-graduate programs for implementation in 2015. Qualitative and quantitative findings included practitioner input from a reference group of local school principals, student responses to online surveys and data from past and current student focus group discussions. Informants made suggestions for improvement of current course design and broadly endorsed the model of Excellence in School Leadership (AITSL, 2011). However, they pointed out the AITSL model does not recognise the ‘personal vitality’ that first inspired school leaders to work with young people and lead a school community successfully. In combination with the Leadership Requirements and Professional Practices of the AITSL model, this crucial ‘personal vitality’ dimension adds insights relevant to designers of post-graduate leadership courses. It is also relevant to school leaders’ understanding of the ‘big picture’ and of their complex roles. Innovative ways to nurture ‘personal vitality’ in leadership course design will influence the future sustainability of professional practice in uncertain and increasingly complex times.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Personal school leadership experience and knowledge of associated complexities and uncertainties have been major motivational factors for the research team to conduct this project funded by a Commonwealth OLT Seed Grant Round 1 2014. Cognisant of how school leaders' roles are constantly changing with ever-increasing, complex demands being thrust upon them, we propose this paper is aligned well with the conference theme of Navigating uncertainty and complexity. The paper contextualises complex leadership demands globally and in Australia, the dearth of research in the field and a lack of successful implementation of school leadership preparation to date. The PIVOTAL Leadership Model is designed to be responsive to practitioners’ informed suggestions in order to maintain relevance as school leaders face their future challenging responsibilities. It is anticipated that the innovative changes made to post-graduate learning experiences will enable school leaders to ‘navigate’ their way through the complex demands of their roles with more confidence and success. The PIVOTAL model also provides the research team, and potentially other tertiary providers of leadership courses, with a framework with which to remain responsive to future complexities and uncertainties.

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