ALL-IN: An Emerging Knowledge Hub for School Leadership Globally

Here’s the latest from guest bloggers Azad Oommen and Sameer Sampat, co-founders of Global School Leaders, who attended the All-In meeting in New York City last week.

Azad Oommen
Sameer Sampat

This week, The Education Commission released a report on Investing in Knowledge Sharing to Advance SDG 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all). The report calls for three key elements of knowledge sharing infrastructure in education – global public goods, capacity development and networks. This call to action resonated with our work at Global School Leaders, where we are working on creating effective school leadership in the Global South. We see a tremendous need for our colleagues in the field to network, exchange information and create common tools that will accelerate progress on increasing the effectiveness of school leaders in the education ecosystem.

The findings of this report were particularly pertinent, as we had just participated in what we hope will be a real life example of such an investment – the ALL-IN (Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network) meeting hosted by the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Initiative. ALL-IN is focused on school leadership globally and is designed to be a networking and knowledge hub on this issue.

The meeting in New York, part of the WISE@NY event, was attended by around 25 participants from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Kenya, Morocco, Lebanon, Ghana, India, Qatar, South Africa, UK and the US. This meeting was the third in a series of exploratory conversations – the first was in Doha at WISE 2017, and the second was earlier in 2018 at WISE@Accra.

Participants at the ALL-In meeting hosted by the Qatar Foundation’s WISE@NY event

At GSL, we are an active member of ALL-IN as it serves a critical purpose as a knowledge hub for school leadership globally. During our initial work on school leadership at the India School Leadership Institute, we found it very difficult to access information on best practices, innovations, and evidence of impact for school leadership, particularly related to the Global South. As we invest in the field of school leadership in Asia and Africa, we find many allied organizations have a similar hunger for knowledge and networking.

The discussions at the ALL-IN meeting in NY highlighted four pressing needs in the field of school leadership:

  1. Networking – there is a need for a forum where stakeholders can come together across geographies and function to create a composite picture of initiatives related to school leadership. ALL-IN can provide an opportunity for donors, academic researchers, and school leadership training providers to come together to discuss their interests and visions. Participants in the meeting mentioned consistently that ALL-IN was an opportunity to meet organizations that they did not know existed and with whom they would find value in interacting and collaborating.
  2. Knowledge Hub – as school leadership organizations have developed their programs in countries, there has been little systemic capturing of either their experiences or the tools that they have developed. Hence, many organizations felt that they are recreating tools and programs without the benefit of knowing what others have tried before them. They voiced the need for a knowledge hub that exposes them to resources and knowledge in the field.
  3. Investment in evidence of impact – Outside of a few countries in the Global North, there has been limited systemic analysis of the role of school leaders and organizations are grappling with assessing the impact of their programs on student outcomes. Many participants spoke of the need for robust evidence of impact frameworks that could help them evaluate their own progress but also make the case for more investment in school leadership.
  4. A more diverse vision for school leadership – as organizations discussed the varied contexts of school leadership in their countries, one theme that emerged is that there is a need to include more voices in defining models of school leadership. Many countries are engaged in defining professional qualification frameworks around school leadership and as these crystallize, the field should incorporate these emerging voices.

ALL-IN is an evolving network and we are excited about its potential. It has the opportunity to demonstrate how school leadership – an under-invested lever in education – can grow and mature through strategic investment in knowledge sharing. As Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research at WISE noted, “Leaders need a better how, not just another why.”

We would be glad to connect with people who are interested in the issue of school leadership and want to contribute to the network. Kudos to the WISE team for their leadership and vision in developing ALL-IN.

Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen

Strategic Directions for the Field of School Leadership – Lessons from the Ground

Guest bloggers Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen, co-founders of Global School Leaders, discuss four key issues about school leaders that we all need to consider as we look at the education leadership ecosystem.

Over the past couple of years, we have been developing school leadership programs across the Global South. Our work on this issue

Sameer Sampat

began in India, where we led the creation of the India School Leadership Institute, which is now running continuous professional development programs for around 400 school leaders every year. Today, our organization, Global School Leaders, is working in Malaysia and in the process of starting up programs in Indonesia and Kenya.

As we have explored the spaces of school leadership, we find that there are a number of issues to be addressed to create a vibrant ecosystem.

Azad Oommen

This blog offers suggestions for measures on the issue of school leadership that would help advance this key lever of education.

 

Create integrated approaches to school leadership – Too often, countries are looking at school leadership merely from the standpoint of training school leaders. Of course, training is critical because being a school leader is a vastly different job than being a teacher, and too many existing leaders have not been trained for their position. However, introducing training without simultaneously addressing selection and accountability is not sufficient for a comprehensive investment in school leadership.

We believe that in order to improve leadership, school systems must simultaneously develop capacity in three areas:

  1. Pipeline: Develop systems to attract, identify, and select leaders.
  2. Support: Support leaders through pre-service and continuous professional development programs.
  3. Accountability: Define the leader’s role and have a system of results-based recognition, accountability, and career progression. 
School Leadership Training

Implement standards for school leaders competencies – We find wide variances in education system structures and the autonomy given to school leaders across countries. These range from the control teachers have to deliver curriculum in the classroom to school leaders’ ability to influence change in their schools. However, school leaders often do not have a clear sense of their role in the process and the competencies they must demonstrate to deliver against these expectations.

Many countries have been through extensive processes to create national qualification frameworks for school leaders, such as the United States, the UK, South Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia (see Bruce Barnett’s blog April 11, 2018 Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured?). We believe that these competency frameworks are the starting point for improving school leadership, because they give concrete expression to a system’s ideals of the role of a school leader. From these frameworks, we can design recruitment pipelines, training methodologies and accountability measures for school leaders. However, many countries do not have such standards and this causes training to be delivered without the school leaders understanding what is expected of them.

One idea we have is to build on the commonalities in existing country frameworks to create an agreed upon international basic standard for school leaders that can then be adapted by individual countries for their specific needs. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently working on ISO/PC 288, which will create standards for the field of educational organizations management systems.

Use technology effectively to address shortages of high quality trainers – A key challenge to implementing scalable training programs for school leaders is the limited availability of high quality trainers and the high cost of in-person trainings. Online programs hold the promise of overcoming these limitations and creating learning opportunities that can deliver self-paced, continuous professional development programs. While there has been a lot of focus on online learning for teachers, there are few programs designed for school leaders.

The Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education are piloting a school leadership course. In addition, the National Centre for School Leadership, an Indian government institution, is launching on online school leadership training program. There are also less-structured professional learning opportunities such as the Global Schools Forum’s webinar series that has highlighted examples of school leader training programs in Uganda, India and Kenya.

Online learning encompasses a wide range of courses – from video-taped lectures to presentations to more interactive methods. For the developing world, we believe that as data access becomes more prevalent, we need to create mobile-centric learning systems that addresses school leader competencies. Based on our experience training school leaders in India and Malaysia, we believe that what would work best are short video-based courses, coupled with online coaching and virtual peer networks to support learning.

Use of data to improve support for school leaders – One surprising factor for us as we look at school leaders across countries is how little information is easily accessible about them. We know very little about average tenure, career progression, and even basic demographics to ensure adequate representation of various groups in the leadership ranks in schools.

For instance, we know that in many countries, women form a large proportion of primary school teachers, but a much lower proportion become school leaders. There is very little research on the systemic impact of female school leaders on schools and learning, but if we draw on widely accepted views from other industries, diversity in leadership ranks should lead to better schools.

With little research about demographics and career management, it is very difficult to understand systemic interventions that could improve school leadership.

Despite these large opportunities still to be addressed in school leadership, we are encouraged by initiatives around the world. The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018 highlighted the need for increased investment in leadership and management within school systems. At the WISE conference in Qatar in 2017, the Qatar Foundation announced the launch of ALL-IN, a global school leadership development network.   All of these initiatives point toward a growing global interest in school leadership. We must capitalize on this momentum to drive toward ecosystem-wide initiatives on this issue so that we can avoid fragmented efforts and leverage the limited resources being allocated to this sector.

In sum, we must think about school leadership beyond just the necessary measures to ensure that school heads receive adequate preparation for their role. The conversation in the field needs to be comprehensive, and policy makers, academics and practitioners must find ways to collaborate and strengthen this critical lever of education systems around the world.

Meet Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen