18 July | Leading With Character

Lead: Leading With Character

Helping students to grow in the character, competency and wellness needed to thrive is the purpose of school: today’s learning for tomorrow’s world.


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Helping students to grow in the character, competency and wellness needed to thrive in their world is the purpose of school: today’s learning for tomorrow’s world. For us to honour this new social contract of education with our students, we need to learn to become Game Changers ourselves and then how to build and lead a community of Game Changers.

Inherent to this process is an inside-out developmental process of answering four questions. Who am I? Where do I fit in? How can I best serve others? And whose am I? The answers to these questions (which are the same questions that you should in turn pose to your students and your teachers about their own learning) describe a pathway to excellence that connects self-awareness to relationship to service to vocation. This pathway has the potential to help us to unlock our own humanity because it draws on the character of curiosity, of compassion, of courage, and of conviction to connect us to a sense of something greater than ourselves. 

We see many educational leaders around the world who are ambitious to do this because they want to build this new world of learning and of community with other people. In our conversations with them, we see them using questions like these to prompt the development of the leadership work that builds today’s learning for tomorrow’s world. They place wellness first then move towards pedagogies that promote student voice, agency and advocacy. They insist on an approach to creation of curricula that build whole people. They use approaches to educational design that utilises experimentation and temporary failure. 

They are focused on encouraging leadership at all levels with the character of Game Changers, brave pioneers who don’t wait for permission to build and exercise adaptive expertise and self-efficacy for others and themselves.

The energy and commitment of school leaders within our a School for tomorrow. network can be so inspiring. Jim Collins observes in Good to Great that great leaders combine humility, willpower, and the capacity to bridge the apparently irreconcilable gap between the two. They help us to feel as though we just have to go on a journey with them. They pick us up when we're feeling down. They help us become the best versions of ourselves.

Great school leaders work from a space that is deeply respectful of the ethos of their community. They draw on this to help their community to identify and explore their sense of belonging, their potential, and their capacity to add to the character of the societies which they serve. They define and champion what is distinctive about the character of a school and its graduates. They need to defend its capacity to stand out both in what it does and also in what it doesn’t do as they help the school to define its vision, claim its purpose, and journey together towards this preferred future. 

Great school leaders do not allow themselves to be drawn into competitive comparisons that compel them towards sameness with other schools. They do not measure themselves by how close they can be to the yardsticks of others. They veer away from the safe ground of off-the-shelf solutions imported from elsewhere without adaptation to the local context. 

If we are going to commit ourselves to strive to become great school leaders, we need to be leaders of today's learning for tomorrow's world. We need to do this in a way that most closely meets the needs of our own communities, then we need to understand how the pursuit of excellence through character, competency and wellness is always most powerfully defined from the core of what matters to a community: its sense of people and place. 

Every opportunity we have, we need to be conscious about how we connect our practice to that purpose which is shaped by people and place and planet. We can support students, teachers and school leaders to thrive in the new world environment by inspiring and challenging them to find new and better ways to take the big step forward and up in their own learning and leadership. In this way, through the work of the communities of inquiry and practice in our schools, we need to recognise that our leadership capital can influence how our learners' experiences and outcomes might become a more authentic and substantive manifestation of our values in action and in context.  

Creating the professional community of inquiry and practice around intentionally an education for future fit and future-ready character, competency and wellness needs to be a key part of our purpose and practice as school leaders. The process of how we build our own model of the character of a leader and the leader of character as a Game Changer, and then use this model of being and becoming to shape the character of the school which we serve is central to this.

What is your process for building, testing and refining your model of the character of your leadership?

Dr Phil Cummins is the Managing Partner of a School for tomorrow, Associate Professor of Education & Enterprise at Alphacrucis University College, Managing Director at CIRCLE – The Centre for Innovation, Research, Creativity & Leadership in Education, and Head of Education at Voyage.

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