Four strategies to help achieve educational excellence

Educational reform is firmly on the agenda in Australia with the link between quality teaching and student achievement at the focus of the debate.  Good teachers make all the difference to both the student experience and student outcomes! In fact:

‘Ensuring that qualified, professionally trained, motivated, and well-supported teachers are available for all learners is essential for addressing today’s key education challenges…………. The quality of an education system can exceed neither the quality of its teachers nor the quality of its teaching.’ [1]

A teacher friend of mine once told me that she didn’t like to think about the power she carried with respect to a student’s future – it made her feel uncomfortable. This head in the sand attitude is concerning because, if we deny our responsibility we will be less likely to engage in activities that will truly address the gaps in our performance and improve our capabilities.

How can leaders build organisations that support the development of good teaching practice and encourage all staff to acknowledge to need for their own development? You must start by establishing a clear vision and goals for educational excellence and build an organisation that is equipped to achieve your goals.

We have worked in educational organisations for years and find that there are several key principles that can be applied to achieve quality teaching and strong student outcomes. We would like to share some of our insights now.

1. Cultivate a culture of sharing and collaboration

Culture affects all aspects of an organisation. Culture influences informal conversations around the lunch table, the approach to training or teaching delivery, what is valued in the classroom, how professional learning and development is viewed, and the shared commitment to assuring all students are supported in their learning.

Why is culture important? The culture of an organisation is closely linked with productivity and success. In educational organisations a culture emphasising a strong educational mission, a positive attitude towards professional learning, and a strong culture of leadership are closely linked to improvement and school success.  [2]  Culture is developed over time and relates to the history, stories and myths, traditions and heroes/heroines of the organisation and may be described as the personality of the organisation. Culture influences and shapes the way teachers, students and other members of the school community think, feel and behave.

  • Is the culture of your organisation a regular topic of discussion?
  • How would you describe the culture?
  • Have you ever thought about why some schools or colleges perform better than others, even if they have similar demographic, facilities, and opportunity?

To be effective, leaders and staff must understand the culture and in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the culture, know what to do to influence or shape the culture to enable the organisation to perform, achieve its goals and attract the right students and staff. A culture of sharing and collaboration will foster a collegial approach to dealing with day to day issues and strategic problems that arise and will encourage a positive communication culture that encourages the community to work together to improve and change.

2. Call your team to arms

You might be wondering why this section is not titled ‘recruitment’? I did this partly because I wanted a word beginning with ‘c’ but also because I wanted to make a clear point that to build your desired culture of educational excellence the people you recruit must be committed to your cause.

What should you be searching for in teaching/training staff? After all, your desire should be to establish a whole of organisation culture that values good teaching practice.  Your prospective teachers/trainers should be able to outline their own education philosophy and provide examples of their own learning journey. They should have strong subject knowledge and experience using a range of effective teaching methods for learning. However, ‘effective teacher training goes beyond the theory of teaching to include practical classroom experience. It also lays the foundations for ongoing training that reinforces skills and knowledge.’[3] So your prospective teacher/trainer should be enthusiastic about ongoing learning and open to change and improvement.

But of course your ‘call to arms’ should not stop with your teaching staff. Every staff member contributes to the educational experience of the student and they must all be dedicated to the cause. What should you look for in a professional staff member? The roles are diverse but you should look for people who are ambitious and motivated in their own domain whether it be administrative support, student services, English support, and counselling or financial staff.

A call to arms also conjures up images of people rallying together for a cause. The quality of each individual staff member is critical to the success of your organisation. But so to is their capacity to work together towards the common goals. Rally your team together and encourage all staff to set goals, strive for excellence in their own areas and encourage discussion about alignment of all roles with the cause i.e. your vision and goals.

3. Build Collegiality, Collaboration and Communication

In reality, if you wish to encourage teacher development and good teaching practice the whole organisation should work towards becoming a learning organisation.  Learning organisations develop the habit of learning as they work together as a community to achieve their shared vision.  A culture of sharing and collaboration will foster this collegial approach. An organisation with a toxic culture and staff who are not committed to the vision will behave in a destructive and broken way, with informal networks working to spread gossip and rumours and undermine the leadership and efforts to change and improve. People need a clear sense of focus and purpose to feel motivated in their work and to become committed to the community in which they work.  Supported learning communities and a distributed leadership model will encourage participation and transfer of new skills and knowledge into actual learning and teaching practices.

Building a successful community and true collaborative practice requires a systemic thinking approach. The key characteristics of systemic thinking in educational organisations are listed below:

  • the organisation operating as a whole, not as separate parts,
  • interdependence of staff and teams as opposed to independence
  • cooperation between staff, teams and departments as opposed to competition
  • sustainability of practices that results from feedback, research, collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources
  • a leadership culture across the whole organisation that encourages participation and leadership development [4]

 4. Build Capacity

Finally, you should consider how to build capability across your whole organisation. By implementing organisation wide programs of professional learning and development all staff can participate, collaborate and share best practice. Such practices must be underpinned by effective policy and the leadership team should commit to fair and equitable implementation of such policy to ensure that all staff are valued and provided with development opportunities.

Professional learning and development programs should:

  • enable independent thinking and decision making
  • provide a strong curriculum focus and a practical focus on learning
  • promote and enable authentic and distributed leadership across the organisation
  • promote accountability across the organisation incorporating performance management and appraisal systems
  • connect the organisation with the needs of the wider community, and
  • encourage innovation, development and strategic thinking for the future.

It is vital that your professional development programs yield results, so you must be prepared to review your programs and continually improve your efforts. Professional development should be focused on enhancing strengths and building capability but it also must address identified gaps in performance. Professional development is just as relevant for high performing staff as it is for staff who are not meeting expectations.

How well do you identify with these 4 strategies?

Here are some questions to help you reflect.
  •  Has the board /executive ensured that the organisation has a clear educational vision?
  • Are your staff passionate about and connected to the vision and goals?
  • Do your recruitment practices call staff to arms to support the vision?
  • Do strategic priorities encompass the need to develop the professional capacity of all staff?
  • Do strategic priorities encompass the desire to build collaborative school communities to build capability?
  • Is there a performance management system and an aligned professional learning program across the whole school?
  • Are you measuring how professional learning and development contributes to improvement in your school?

Would you like more information about achieving educational excellence? We can provide advice on building capability, community and collaborative practices in your organisation. We can also provide a range of tools to help you to achieve educational excellence.

Why not check out our Get Smart with Great Staff resources.

Get Smart with Great Staff Guides

Great Staff Webinar Packs


We would love to hear your thoughts, why not leave a comment below or you can contact us at info@thelearningcommunity.com.au


[1] ‘Investing in Teachers is Investing in Learning.  A Prerequisite for the Transformative Power of Education’ prepared for the Oslo Summit on Education for Development (2015) p2

[2] Deal, T. E., & Peterson, K. D. (2009) Shaping School Culture: Pitfalls, Paradoxes & Promises 2nd ed.  San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

[3] Oslo Summit on Education for Development (2015) Ob Cit p9

[4]  Cooper, C. & Boyd, J., ‘Schools as collaborative learning communities in Education Horizons,9 (2007) pp 10-12.

Thanks for joining us,

Gillian Heard Polaroid2



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