Comment on CoL Leadership.

By Colin Dale | Posted: Monday July 24, 2017

New environments such as Communities of Learners will require and generate next leadership practice. Colin Dale shares some insights and thoughts that resulted from a recent CoL leaders seminar .

On Friday, June 10 th a group of leaders from every part of our beautiful country, collectively explored the different determinants of a new leadership paradigm. This emanated from the realisation that the new leaders appointed to lead the newly established Communities of Learning must do so in a unique manner; while they have the opportunity to lead a group of schools to exciting new initiatives in learning, they are not the ‘boss’ and have limited powers as leaders of these groups of schools.

In my exploration of what this new leadership may ‘look like’ I acknowledge the leaders who shared expertise at the forum, and as I attempt to synthesize the thoughts and collaborative discussions, I have used ideas and/or thoughts that were initiated by one of the leaders and I wish to accredit the group as the inspirers of my attempt to synthesize the characteristics of the necessary attributes required to lead in and across newly established Communities of Learning. The leaders who inspired us were: Barbara Ala’alatoa; ProfessorLinda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University – Learning Policy Institute – USA), Sir MasonDurie, Professor Jane Gilbert, Professor Jan Robertson, Derek Wenmouth and Dr. LindaBendikson. Hekia Parata, the Minister of Education, was also inspiring.

It is acknowledged that some, perhaps many, of the attributes of this exciting leadership model may already be an important part of one’s present construct of leadership style. The attributes in this article, emanate from a synthesis of contributions, and become the dominant characteristics of what is now required. Behind this new paradigm, there is a certainty that what is not included in the suggested new leadership characteristics can not co-exist with the new emerging description of attributes that are necessary to be a leader within a community of schools. If it was to be the case new leadership would be compromised, and the success expected would be endangered! For example, any affiliation to being ‘the boss’ or an authorative ‘from the top’ leading, is likely to lessen the trust and the support of new leaders venturing in to leading across several schools.

The new characteristics of leaders of Learning Communities will include the list that follows.

Organisation Developer:

Leaders will develop the organisation rather than sustain and manage compliance. While we have always developed our organisation culture and pedagogical growth we now are charged with doing this innovatively (Hannon, 2015) and focus more on the building of capacity across the schools more intentionally, to deliver the necessary results that we are seeking. This is what was referred to at the forum as positive redesigning (Darling-Hammond, 2016) It is adapting our leadership skills to the context; the context being characterised by the agency of the students and community being evoked and listened to. The empowering of others seems to be an important construct in a new more consistent manner. Every teacher must now work to improve their practice; everyone has a responsibility to perform. The leader will need to be a designer and solution producer. Whether this happens by facilitation or collaboration does not matter; the innovation needs to be shared and valued by the whole organisation. It is, as Linda Darling-Hammond, 2016 acknowledges, about finding the ‘zone of proximal development’ by providing time, by not over regulating, by trusting in the growing competence of our people, rather than asking for compliance.

Evaluator of Performance:

A new understanding of assessment is emerging. In my view, it focuses more on progress. It is the leaders’ responsibility to evaluate the performance of the organisation rather than the narrow focus of test results. The inclusion of the tests as a source of evidence is required but the use of effect size as a measure and the use of technology such as video and other qualitative measures will enable us to connect better to how our learning is evaluated.

Stewards of our Education Eco-System:

 Create an Authorising Environment:

Leaders are not required to know everything. They are not asked to share ‘best practice’; they are challenged to create new practice that can be studied and analysed, evaluated and tested. This will, hopefully, transform practitioners. This will necessitate the leaders being learners. (Fullan, 2015; Darling-Hammond, 2016). They will need to demonstrate this learning and allow others to evolve their expertise and transform the learning in an organisational manner. Leaders need to authorise the learners to make new knowledge, make mistakes, take risks and enjoy what they are learning (Darling-Hammond, 2016).


A leader of our communities, and those who are leading across the communities, will be people who co-ordinate all that is going on. The will facilitate the participants to reach consensus in their decision making (Durie, 2016) This will be done by collaborating which will be done by the asking of deep questions using an inquiry approach.

Instructional Leadership by Inquiry:

The inquiry approach in leading can use any model that the group believe will work well for them. In my experience to date, this inquiry could well be enhanced by the use of establishing a hunch (Timperley, 2015) and testing by gaining evidence that the hunch is, in fact, correct (Annan, 2014; ; Timperley, 2014).There is a need for an appreciative approach using productive methodology that works towards understanding together what needs to happen and how it needs to happen. This is developing students and staff to be able to develop knowledge (Darling-Hammond, 2016).  

Transform the Curriculum:

The leaders now will pay more attention to transforming what is learnt and how the learning will happen. This will need coherency and connectedness (Darling- Hammond,2016) so that understanding is enhanced and so learners are more successful at using and applying their knowledge. In my view having a future focused component to the learning is essential; learning that prepares our students for the unknown future with skills that ensure they are competent to participate and manage their future. So the new leadership expectation is that they will create next (new) practice (Robertson, 2016)

Relational – Ako:

This was the least talked about attribute other than to acknowledge that it is a very difficult part of the new leadership paradigm. I believe that it is this characteristic that is the most important attribute and if the leader does not have the gifts of communicating with people without emotional intelligence then it is more than likely going to be less successful as a change intervention than it might otherwise be. It is far more than a conversation; it is understanding the person as a participator, valuing what they say, but at the same time wanting to enable the person to do so much more. It is about being able to critique to develop without offending; it is about making sure that the contributor wants to consider being heard again and not ‘put off’ by being made to feel small or inadequate. It is about being culturally intelligent in our understanding of a person’s perspective. It is the depth of interactions that will be the difference in our new model (Robertson, 2016). And it is how that depth is experienced, in appreciative, hopefully inspiring, empowering framework that is the difference in the way we will now lead. It may be we use coaching but it must develop people’s efficacy and capacity. This new paradigm demands that we always ask; how are we leading differently? What are we doing differently?

It is important to acknowledge that the new leadership dimensions are not just a reproduction of the old system (Darling-Hammond, 2016). It is as important to realise that all of the transformational change will build on what is good that is happening – it is appreciative. Jane Gilbert (2016) made a beautiful analogy comparing this new development of leading with that of an estuary – new species evolve, some aspects of the estuary remain and what emerges is not controlled. New images appear, new things grow, new things happen, as the tide continues as the heart of the matter. It is a leadership ofdivergence.