Marist Leaders write about the practice of Educational Leadership

Marist Leaders write about the practice of Educational Leadership

Brian, Megan, Jennifer, Fintan, Loretta, Leesa and John

Brian, Megan, Jennifer, Fintan, Loretta, Leesa and John

Marist Educational Leadership Best Practice Forum


Weekend 1

During the first weekend of our Marist Educational Leadership Program (MEL 2018), participants were asked to contribute their questions at the conclusion of Day 1. The respective responses were offered by other participants the next day. The group affirmed both questions and responses.


How do we best to create a low stakes environment (Brian Shaw)

A low stakes environment is one where we can set goals that are achievable and allow these to build into a knowledge and skill that develops over time. So how can we achieve this? Here are some thoughts:

·       Allow students to fail in the smaller tasks because it is in failing that we discover our weaknesses which can then find solutions;

·       Build scaffolding and tasks that are doable and progress in difficulty;

·       Remember that all innovations come from failure’

·       Communicating with parents and informing them about why failure is important and do not blame;

·       Teach perseverance in students so that failure is acceptable;

·       Set up a non-threatening environment for students and parents; and

·       Show that your failures lead to learning.


How do we develop a balance between learning and performance? (Fintan Keane)

We are always learning and, as leaders, we can find ourselves always performing. Through trial and error, we can practise consciously taking time to “switch off” (especially when we are home) so that we can reflect and increase self-awareness. This will give us space for deep learning and a break from performance mode.


How do we develop a growth mindset amongst Colleague’s communal approach? (Loretta McNaught)

Dr Carol Dweck from Stanford University warns of the dangers of a fixed mindset where leaders assume a position of authority and determine all change within an organisation.  Workers in an organisation, led by a fixed-mindset, become anxious about what the boss thinks and strive to please leadership, rather than focus on real innovation and constructive growth.  Dweck refers to the power of ‘yet’ and suggests the phrase ‘not yet’ indicates that one is on a learning curve. 


In order to promote a growth mind-set within an organisation, Carol Dweck suggests rewarding effort, strategy and progress.  This growth mindset promotes greater learning and perseverance. Learning and perseverance need to be part of your school’s values.  Skills are learnable and it is essential that leaders believe that this is achievable.  Leaders must support learning and invest in time and resources to encourage a growth mindset, not only in students but also staff.



Farnam Street. (2018). Carol Dweck on creating a growth mindset in the workplace. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 August 2018.]

Mindsetworks. (2018). Decades of Scientific research that started a growth mindset revolution. [ONLINE] Available at: . [Accessed 5 August 2018.]


How do we use language today as leaders? (Megan Finnigan)

The answer to this question is not a simple one, but is something we need to consider when communicating with others we meet in a school setting. We need to consider modelling and encouraging positive communication styles. We need to ask questions of ourselves such as “Do I use positive language that clarifies, motivates, and inspires?” It is important that we make others feel respected and valued. Use words of inclusion, e.g. “team”, “our”, “colleagues”, “teammates”.  Use words of empowerment, e.g. “targets”, “goals”.  Use words of success that energise others, e.g. “performance”, “achievement”.


How does Champagnat’s approach offer us strategies to deal with parent disengagement? (Leesa Callaughan)

To answer this, we must understand some of the reasons why parents are disengaged and then move to how Marcellin’s practice could possibly re-engage them.

Firstly, we need an awareness of where these parents are in their own life experience. They may be reliving their own school experience through their children’s difficulties. Champagnat went to the hamlets and visited the children in their homes. In reading his letters, Marcellin was the child’s advocate between the authorities, the brothers, the community and the families.

Secondly, we need to rise above their perception of us as educators and leaders. Sometimes these parents may be suspicious about teachers and school leaders. As students, they may have come across school structures and settings that alienated them from learning. To aid this, we could emphasize that their children’s connection to the school and their subsequent success, will only serve to empower their children, making them more self-confident and better able to deal with the challenges of life. Marcellin’s belief of “love them all and love them all equally” supports the disengaged; they felt valued and worthy.

If we live our dedication as teachers and leaders, the disengaged parent may see our genuine wish to help. These parents have been told about their child before—probably regularly. We need to show the parent how much we care for their child, how their child’s success matters to us and to the entire school. Marcellin, through his love of work embodied this; he placed himself at many different levels. He presented as the builder on the roof with the dirt on his hands, the educator and the compassionate friend. No doubt, he had those spontaneous student conferences, as he saw parents in his daily life. These would have built trust and availability. We can achieve this in a similar manner with a phone call home to celebrate a student’s success or to help the student find the right school co-curricular activity to join.

Finally, I believe it essential to adapt yourself to the perspective of the parent.

Often, an unfortunate reality of schooling is that few teachers and school leaders have ever truly struggled in an educational setting. However, the disengaged parent may have. Interestingly, Marcellin did struggle; he left school after one day and did not want to go back. Marcellin liked to work with his hands and at times found the work hard. We can take the awareness of his walking in their shoes as a great example of his understanding of the human condition.

Unfortunately, some teachers place judgments on the parents. I find it hard to believe that parents knowingly allow their children to falter in school, but I have come to learn that they usually do not have the skill set needed to help their child. It is our responsibility to help parents develop those skills.

Once engaged, parents sense a stronger parent-child connection. Getting parents engaged is a significant part of the picture with a successful and satisfied student at the centre, which was Marcellin’s belief and focus.

Grey Areas: Questions and Responses from Weekend 2

Participants identified some grey areas in leadership, workshopped some responses and then wrote up their preferred resolution option/s. The contributions are in the voices of each participant.

Brian and Megan

Brian and Megan

Grey Area

How to resolve with conflict between staff who are at a stalemate?  How do you work with staff members who refuse to work together and allow the conflict to impact on wider areas of College life?

This issue affects the whole school and therefore, requires strong leadership.  Staff members may have competing interests and competing views of work and their own role. Often these conflicts can go on for a long time and can have a broader effect on the atmosphere of the staffroom. 

Possible resolution – some ideas

·       Listen to both and try to find a middle road;

·       Restorative discussion?  Great if they are open to it;

·       Common goals – point out the College’s vision and goals;

·       Challenging – professional conflict resolution from external professional;

·       Senior leadership’s level of expertise may need to be developed;

·       Employee Assistance Program (EAP);

·       Treat others with respect;

·       Affecting the school – as principal cannot allow this to go on.  Does have an impact on school and a good school leader knows this;

·       Strong leadership is needed to guide parties involved to find a step forward;

·       It is a matter of facing it directly and appropriately.

(Loretta McNaught)

Grey area

Finding a balance between parents requesting confidentiality about a complaint/concern about a teacher and keeping open communication with my staff. Many parents decide not to communicate directly with their child’s teacher, but rather contact the Head of Department (HOD) and ask that the teacher not be involved.  This is a difficult situation to be in because I want to respect the confidentiality request of the parents but also want to maintain open communication with my staff.  I also believe people grow personally and professionally if they are given feedback in a constructive manner.

Possible resolution

If parents request confidentiality, then that must be respected. However, they must realise that in requesting confidentiality, then they are “tying my hands” (as HOD) from being able to take any action. This needs to be carefully communicated to them.

It was agreed that if confidentiality is not requested, open communication is essential in maintaining trust with staff. Members of this group agreed that directing parents to communicate directly with the staff member they have concerns about to rectify the situation, is the first port of call. Parents would also be told to contact the HOD directly in the future if the concerns communicated to the staff member are not addressed.

(Megan Finnigan)

Grey area

Inconsistency in the application of school rules (grooming, uniform, demerit stamps). This was previously addressed and a “whole school” approach posited as the answer, but leaders and students continue to flout.

Possible ways to resolve

If policies are not well-aligned and not implemented, there needs to be a process to rectify this.

(Fintan Keane)

Grey area

How do we, as middle leaders, react when more senior management make a decision and do not provide adequate explanations of the decision that are made and which affect your area, or your understanding of the situation?

Proposed resolution

·       Talk with other middle leaders detailing your concerns or issues. Ask for help for possible solutions and actions.

·       Do research on the issue to have facts and appropriate data available.

·       Find out reasons why these decisions were made.

·       Talk privately with senior leaders explaining your situation and ask for help and try and find a consensus solution. 

(Brian Shaw)

Grey Area

A cultural change at a school which chooses to change its approach to Years 4-12. What actions do school leaders really want and why?

Proposed resolution

There are four elements which will aid connectedness in a whole school structure

Relationships build a whole school state of mind. These can be defined as the connection with individuals based on warmth, empathy, respect, positive regard and interest. These relationships are imperative for growth and stability in this area. These respectful relationships are the “glue” that holds a positive school community together. These could be achieved through:


This is the sense of connection with the sub-group and the school. Students and staff need to feel like they belong to a social group as well as belong to the school itself, that they have an understanding of the other party’s day to day issues and struggles 

Inclusion of the whole school

This is the willingness to form relationships with people who are different from you, and the ability to make them feel like they also belong (Primary teacher, senior physics teacher/ Grounds person etc.). Schools can promote inclusion by valuing diversity as a strength, treating everyone as a unique individual, teaching about positive attitudes to diversity within the school environment.

Active equality and participation

Active participation is the ability of individuals to take part in community life and contribute in meaningful, ongoing ways that have a positive impact on the individual, as well as the community itself. Both staff and students benefit from a real sense of participation and contribution and their worlds appear fair and transparent. The stereotyping of groups should be avoided.

We need to acknowledge there are major differences between teaching primary and senior school students:


Obviously, high schoolers are much more independent than primary-schoolers. Kids who already know how to organise themselves and pack a lunch will naturally be “better” at art projects or math. Primary students need more guidance and support as the world can seem more daunting.


This relates to the aforementioned issue of independence. Primary students have relatively limited abilities in this area, compared to high-school students.


High school teachers usually enjoy a considerably slower pace of life. High schools use block scheduling, which may mean 50-minute classes with a longer planning period each day or once every 2 days.

Primary schedules, on the other hand, are hectic. “Classes” last an hour or less, and the kids are going somewhere new every hour or so but staying in the same room with you all day. Your planning periods are short, and there is no block time.


Behaviour issues are present at any age. In primary school, students often need assistance in managing their emotions. It is the teacher’s job to help the student understand their emotions. In high school, it is common for students to be withdrawn and dealt with at a different level. However, the behaviours are more significant and life changing in high school.


Level of involvement, needs, demands and expectations.

The essence of a Years 4-12 school revolves around having strong conversations across the school, listening and acting with consistent, clear directions.

(Leesa Callaughan)

 Edited by Jennifer Elvery


Leadership from a Marian Perspective

Leadership from a Marian Perspective