Leading and Learning for the 21st Century

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Educational Transformation and Inspirational Leadership

by Bruce Hammonds

Source: External LinkLeading and Learning in the 21st Century


Ideas arise from people with passion. When passion is institutionalized it mutates into procedures, rules and policies. Schools too easily comply with distant authority rather than being driven by local innovation and creativity. Unfortunately the imposed bureaucratic curriculum and assessment demands of the past decade are now too often seen as 'barriers' to learning themselves. Sadly inspirational leadership to confront this situation is in short supply.

'The goal of education must be to create schools that have their eyes on the child rather than the bureaucrats above.'

Linda Darling- Hammond: 'The Right To Teach'.

All worthwhile change has always occurred when people get behind a powerful vision of a better world. The current vision of solving all problems through 'top down' imposed solutions, and has had its day. We are rapidly entering a more free flowing era of ideas and creativity. To thrive in this more dynamic environment we need to envision new schools that are able to realize the talents, dreams and passions of all learners. Our current system, designed for a 'factory era', is simply is not equipped to ensure all students success and never was. We still fail about 20% of all students which is just not good enough. On the positive side we now know enough about how people learn to ensure the success of all, but only if we change our minds first. We need to stop blaming teachers and students and start transforming schools!

Schools need to focus on the needs of their students and communities and not the demands of distant bureaucrats. Like the dinosaurs their time has passed.

'It is easier to count bottles than describe the wine'.

If the will were present to reinvent schools they could be the key element in developing a fairer and more creative world. Forget strategic plans, timelines and targets, we need to foster community/school integration by aligning people behind shared vision, beliefs and principles.

Bruce Hammonds

'All you who are dreamers too, Help me make our world anew'

Langston Hughes

'Nothing is as powerful as a lost cause'


Why do we avoid facing up to reality?

History teaches us that when societies ignore the reality around them they are in the final throws of collapse. How many times do we need to be reminded of school failure before we figure we need to stop blaming the students and invent new forms of schooling? At the recent Knowledge wave Conference Prof. John Hattie (Auck.Univ.) said we still fail 20% of our students. Some would say more. He believes schools simply fail to 'engage' with these students and that it is the schools responsibility to do so. To do so however schools will need to be transformed - particularly at the secondary level. How long can we just tinker with the current system?

In NZ, youth violent crime, drug abuse and suicide is on the uptake, and our prisons are unnecessarily crammed full of people we have failed, but we have no real solutions except more of the same. Our fragmented social service system is simply unable to cope.. Even the smallest of towns reflect the terrible alienation of disaffected youth. NZ is slipping into a two class society - the 'have and have-nots'. And we haven't even mentioned the despoilation of resources and our natural environment. The old fragmented system, the product of a 'factory' orientated industrial era, needs to be replaced by new holistic thinking. We persist trying to prop up failing fragmented systems - living an elaborate lie, hoping it will turn out all right.

We all need to break the bonds of dependency we have slipped into and realize that leaving decision making to ruling elites at any level is not working. They seem to have no real answers except tinkering. There are just too many vested interests at play for them to lead dramatic change.

Every community, and in turn every school, if we are to reinvent society, will have to formulate their own answers. If this were encouraged a range of creative solutions could emerge. Whatever we evolve could hardly be worse than the present mess.

Wayne and I believe there are plenty of new ideas to explore once the need for transformational change is understood by enough people - but we also appreciate there are no maps. This is why leadership is so important at all levels.

'Life is the path you beat while you walk it. It is the walking that beats the path. It is not the path that makes the walk'.

Antonio Marchado

'To lead the people walk behind them.'


Exemplary Leadership - to inspire and challenge

Link to this leadership article: (Broken?)

Exemplary leadership will be required if we are to move beyond the compliance culture that so many principals have learnt to accept. Beyond the horizon is a changed world very different from today's world. The current crop of educational managers (doing 'things right' rather than the 'right things') may have themselves unwittingly become 'barriers' to developing new insights. It is worth remembering that bottlenecks are always at the top!

We need leaders who passionately believe that dreams can become reality. Who believe in vision, trust, teamwork and the power of relationships. Leaders see their role as the need to create the conditions for new ideas to flourish. Leaders stand firm against forces of the 'status quo' and most of all leaders give all involved the courage to take the risks to continue the quest.

'Great leaders motivate others to improve the human condition.'

John Kotter Leadership expert

Leadership 'gurus' Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner analyzed the practices of successful leaders and found five common practices:

(1) They Model the Way: they establish principles concerning the way everyone should be treated. They create standards of excellence and set the example for others. They unravel bureaucracy and put up sign posts when people are unsure.

(2) They Inspire a Shared Vision; they passionately believe they can make a difference. They create an ideal and unique image of what the organization could become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion they enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities.

(3) They Challenge the Process: they search for opportunities to challenge the 'status quo' .They look for innovative ways and encourage risk taking.

(4) They Enable Others to Act: they foster collaboration and spirited team work. They understand that mutual respect, an atmosphere of trust and personal dignity is what sustains extraordinary efforts.

(5) They Encourage the Heart: Achieving extraordinary things is hard work. Leaders recognize contributions, celebrate accomplishments and share the rewards: they make people feel like heroes.

'If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea'.

Antoine- Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupery.

A Vision and Five Points for Quality learning.

Successful schools make it clear to all what they stand for and all involved can articulate this shared purpose. To develop a shared vision can be as simple as asking people what they want from their schools - teachers, parents and students? What attributes and skills do they think students need to thrive in the future? What do they think is really important? What doesn't seem to be working? How can we connect all the broken parts? 'The future is about the 'power of three': Parents, teachers and students'.

Michael Fullan

There are ideas to assist individual schools to create a powerful future vision and to develop quality learning/teaching strategies on our site www.leading-learning.co.nz/creating-vision.html

A vision we currently like is:

'To develop the talents for the future generation.'

For values we like: 'We Care, We Share, We Dare'.

'Learn to make the best choices you can - and then learn what you can from them'.

Five simple beliefs which we think 'attractive' and which `teachers can easily align behind and self reference their teaching against are:

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