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Transcript - What is System Leadership?

Maggie Farrar: Well first of all I think the era of the standalone school is over. I think let's get that off the table. It's over. No school can continue to improve working alone.

The future is collegial. The future is cluster-based particularly as a system becomes more autonomous. It would be very easy for that then to drive towards individual isolated silent schools. So the future is not autonomy, but connected autonomy.

Therefore, this is about schools working together collegiately and collectively and I meet many school leaders who have say "Oh yeah, we do work well together. We've got a great cluster. We've got a great network". But actually if I was being harsh, I'd say it's a principals' coffee club.

They meet together, they have conversations, do they share data? Maybe, but maybe not quite to the depths that we would want and expect from them to have real improvement.

Jud Halbert: I'd say what characterises as a system leader is the capacity to think both, locally and more globally within whatever that sphere is if that you know if that makes sense.

In our work in British Columbia, we'd see school principals, depending on how they operated as system leaders, we'd see superintendents as leaders in their own district but they could be system leaders if they think bigger than their own district.

And we also have network leaders that think provincially and have an influence there. So I think as much as anything it's a mindset and it's where your kind of circle of influence is that defines you as a system leader.

Jill Farquharson: I think the difference between a leader that puts their hand up to take on a network group or to lead a network group, it has to be someone that's prepared to work hard. But it has to be somebody that has a vision, a future-focused vision. And also someone that is prepared to take risks and calculated risks obviously, but risks that may not work and if you muck up you've got to have someone that's got the integrity and the resilience to get up and keep going. And probably, that's the biggest thing, I think, in those respects.

John Cleary: Building sustaining relationships with a range of different people but also understanding I think that your ability to let others, and supporters in working to their strengths, I think is a really key part of the system leadership but being able to deal in in different currencies I think is also you know a really important part in the fact that you're going to be working with teachers, to school leaders, to students, to parents, to politicians, to chief executives, to regional directors, to executive directors and everything in between and each of those people that you're working with, often will need you to connect the urgency of your work to an existing agenda or priority for them.

Judy: It's being really really clear on the purpose and knowing the why of leadership, I think, distinguishes really effective system leaders from maybe less effective ones.

John: This idea that a coaching mindset, this idea that not only sort of setting into coaching conversations and supporting others in reflecting how they might take responsibility for the improvement they'd like to see, that that isn't something that you only do in instructional coaching conversations, but it starts to become part of what you do naturally, I think. And great system leaders do that as a default setting.

Jill: You have to be someone that is personable. My role is never going to be to come to the schools and tell them what to do. And for many principals I think it would be a threat if the person that was leading it was dogmatic and had an arrogance about them.​

In New Zealand we've got a saying, we've got kumara which is like a sweet potato and the saying is that 'kumara never tells you how sweet it is'. I think that's a bit of a message for leaders that there's nothing like being humble.

John: They're long-sighted. They're long-sighted in terms of some of the policy and some of the initiatives, that are strong initiatives, but the timing around when those things can be actioned I think is a really important part. So what's the policy that sometimes might need to sit in the top drawer and when does it go? When is there ample opportunity, what is the best time for this particular initiative to connect to what is now a wider system need or a wider government need or something which has multiple areas of investment across the stakeholders we were talking about to the best time to go around some of those ideas is also something that I think great system leaders do.

Their strategic in their thinking and they know when to connect great policy to the best opportunity for that policy to be successful.

Maggie: I think the difference between system leadership and as you term, it ordinary leadership, is that you are no longer leading a single institution but you're leading change across system. So the first thing I think that sets them apart is that they are outward facing, they're compelled to look beyond their own schools and indeed, are underpinned by a sense of moral purpose.

The reason why they are here is not only to improve outcomes for children in their own school but to improve outcomes across the whole system. So they see that very much part of their role and therefore they are more influencers, they have a strong influencing role.

They also are strategic thinkers. I think that system leaders tend to focus more on evidence and research perhaps than other leaders. And they're compelled by a real commitment to have impact. I'm not saying the other leaders don't but there's something about lifting it beyond a single institution to look at either a whole locality, or across a whole area.