School Improvement and Governance Network

Four Key Areas

1.1 Leadership and vision

What is it?

Leadership is thinking outside the 'box' to develop a vision within an organisation or community. The status quo is led to new heights, and a great leader will not shy away from such challenges. Leaders share a dream and direction that other people want to share and make happen. The more that a vision is shared, the more that it may really inform actual practice. The most effective leaders leverage the power of partnerships to bring about change and improvement. Leadership can be bottom-up and top-down. People in positions of authority may be great leaders but not have a monopoly on leadership.

What can I do?

See the discussion of the on-going development of the leadership role of principals. And as a teacher, parent or student, ask yourself: what specific leadership role do I already play (or could I play or develop further) in my school community? See the Great Schools Checklist for practical questions about leadership and vision to ask yourself and others.

Publicise in the school community the leadership work of teachers, including their system leadership. Organise a school council or parent group discussion about the specific ways in which parents lead, and what needs to be done to further support and promote parent leadership. 

And does your school have a clearly defined, well-communicated shared vision? A shared vision provides the standard for assessing the appropriateness and effectiveness of everything that your school does. Principals and school councils suggest that it is worth investing considerable time in: (a) ensuring that a school vision is truly shared and (b) communicating the vision clearly, constantly and consistently.

Useful links and reading

Examples of great practice

Leadership is not confined to principals, although their roles are obviously pivotal. A principal's leadership role also becomes more important and influential as many more school community members (including parents and students) become involved in leadership. Teachers, parents and students are leaders in different ways. This means unlocking the full potential of the ‘hidden leaders’ or non-traditional leaders in school communities. It also means developing the understanding that the more power and control we share, the more power we all have to use to improve outcomes.

One of school leaders’ big roles is increasingly to work with other schools and other organisations, collaborating to improve outcomes. System leaders, as they are called, care about and work for the success of other schools and organisations as well as their own. This can happen in clusters of schools and in partnerships with other organisations. System leaders include principals, teachers, parents, students, business managers, and community members (and other educators) who:

  • Develop good practice in school-family-community partnerships
  • Build partnerships with kindergartens and colleges/universities
  • Work in a cluster of primary and secondary schools (P-12 schooling) or a network
  • Help to build research-practice links and professional networks
  • Lead work toward a school as a community hub and resource
  • Strive to deeply understand the community context of a school and how the curriculum and teaching methods should be modified to reflect this
  • Work with local government, local businesses, and community agencies such as health services
  • Lead partnerships to understand and protect ecosystems (e.g., schools involved in replanting areas and promoting biodiversity).

At the broader organisational level, it involves school community stakeholders (from principals to teachers and parents) who seek to influence systemwide educational policy through involvement in organisations such as the AEU, VASSP, VPA, Parents Victoria, ASCIV and VICCSO.

1.2 School governance

What is it?

School governance is about how a school community makes decisions relating to achieving important goals, maintains relationships, and provides accountability and feedback - and who participates in all of this. It centres on the work of a school council or board. The work of a leadership team, staff committee, parent group and student representative council is also part of a school's governance. A school council is thus part of a system of governance that supports improved learner achievement.

What can I do?

Join your school council (or one of its sub-committees or teams) or join the parent group or your school council's education or policy sub-committee. To find out about how to get involved, ask the principal or school council president. See the Great Schools Checklist for practical questions about school governance to ask yourself and others. As well, our school council Q & As and our Top Ten Practical Tips for good governance in schools are great tools for improvement. Both are recommended by many principals and school council members.

Useful links and reading

Examples of great practice

School council work is exciting, engaging, and rewarding the more that a council develops its leadership role. Indeed, the principal, teachers, parents and other members on such councils feel increasingly that their council is actually governing, not narrowly confining its role to management oversight and not allowing meeting agendas to get clogged up with reports and administrivia.

To make this happen, the community-building skills of the principal and school council president are crucial. This work can be assisted by facilitators skilful at creating safe, respectful places for school council and school community conversations about challenges, opportunities and options for action.

A great school council values frank discussion among the teachers, parents and other members. Instead of seeing governance mainly as a set of tasks (e.g., hearing reports), a council looks at its school’s achievements and challenges from different perspectives, which inform new options for action. As diverse views are really valued, the risk of factionalism is reduced. Such councils hold forums in which teachers, parents, students and other community members explore key questions such as:

  • What can we do by way of plans, policies and partnerships to further improve students’ learning outcomes and reduce the achievement gap?
  • How do we by working together further personalise students’ learning based on their needs, interests and goals?
  • How do we further build a strong school-family-community partnership focused on shared goals such as personalising learning?
  • What education model are we creating (e.g., a cluster of schools developing a P-12 curriculum)?

Through local decision-making, principals, teachers, parents, students and community members can build a powerful alliance for improving learning outcomes. As Professor Brian Caldwell puts it:

"It is time for the community to become more fully engaged in the governance of public education".

1.3 Management and values

What is it?

Management involves planning and budgeting, coordinating resources, controlling workflows and systems, organising projects, managing staffing, and monitoring and evaluating performance. School management and values develop together. Shared values can energise a school and meld a diverse group of school leaders, teachers, parents and students into a strong, self-managing community.

The effective functioning of a school is assisted by understanding and respecting the distinction between school governance and the professional management of the school. If council members seek to micromanage the school, there is a lack of clarity about a council's role and the strategic issues for which council members' knowledge, skills and perspectives are needed. A great council is engaged in strategic discussions and decisions that make the best use of members' time.

When working well in a school, self-management means that:

  • Educators, parents, students and community members are involved in strategic planning
  • They define the key issues and develop a shared vision and shared values and goals

Of tremendous importance is the collaborative management work of the principal and school business manager with:

  • Financial management
  • Strategy and governance
  • Human resources
  • Compliance, accountability and legal oversight
  • Managing buildings, facilities and resources.

What can I do?

Principals and school business managers are reinventing management. With on-going improvements, the ABMVSS notes the UK studies that suggest that school business managers can save up to 35% of principals’ time as well as help free up educators to focus more on teaching and learning.

School leadership teams and business managers review this work and also develop cluster-based models of management. As well, as a principal, teacher, parent or student, review and (if need be) improve your school's policy about values, behaviour and relationships. See also the Great Schools Checklist for practical questions about school management and values to ask yourself and others. 

Useful links and reading

Examples of great practice

The challenge is to make sure that values are not just aspirational or rhetorical. If values are an expression of what matters most in a school, schools make sure thay are reflected in all policies and practices including how students learn. Managing by values involves three things:

  1. The school leaders, teachers, parents and students developing their school's shared values - through a school community values forum with a facilitator
  2. Communicating these values in every possible way
  3. Aligning daily practices, including how the school is managed, with the values.

To align daily practices with their values, schools do the following kinds of things:

  • Using their values as a template for informing the strategic plan and annual report
  • Reviewing school policies (including the code of conduct) in light of their values
  • Planning and evaluating program success in accordance with their values
  • Using their values to guide funding priorities in the budgetary process
  • Placing their values on letterhead, the website, student reports, classroom walls, at all events, etc.

Schools report that managing by values is a powerful way to lead change and improvement. Change is more likely to be effective and lasting when staff and all school community members feel that it accords with what they value deeply, and are convinced that their contributions will make a difference.

Power of values to build relationships

As an example of what schools do, in one school the following values are widely publicised and are used to influence all relationships between teachers, students and parents. These values are:

  • Care for yourself and others
  • Do your best in all you do
  • Everyone deserves a fair go
  • Be honest, sincere and truthful
  • Treat others as you want to be treated
  • Act in a responsible way
  • We are all different, and that's OK.