Every imaginable industry has hurtled headlong into rapid transformation recently and the field of education is no different, although it was in a state of flux prior to the current health pandemic.
Pre-existing challenges in education are still present and pressing. Whilst the return to physical learning environments post-lockdown will require new health and safety routines and procedures at all levels, educational leaders are still dealing with evergreen issues around integrating technology into learning and efficiently allocating resources.
The question remains then, how can leaders of the future rise to these challenges, steering institutions through the crisis whilst maintaining the quality of the learning environment?
This blog will explore the five essential skills required by the education leaders of tomorrow and could help you decide if educational leadership could be your next career direction.
Digital advancements have shaped just about every aspect of our lives over the last decade, and this has extended to education. Increasingly, teachers have taken advantage of online resources in the classroom for interactive learning, as well as sharing information with students.
But in the last few months especially, technology has played a crucial role in securing the link between students and their institutions, ensuring that pupils still have access to education whilst at home. This has been achieved through setting tasks online and often conducting lessons through video conferencing apps like Zoom.
In the virtual classroom, both teachers and students have had to embrace these changes quickly, and many educators have taken an innovative approach to their new circumstances, with North Shields primary school teacher Richard Stephenson amongst them. During lockdown, he has produced a YouTube channel to teach his students French with the use of a character, Mr Steee, who has become a big a hit with students. His daughter and neighbours have also got involved in the project, to prove that “anyone can speak French, you’ve just got to give it a go.”
Ned Symes of Bessamer Grange Primary School in London took a similar approach, creating daily videos in which he creates songs, films his outdoor walks and uses household objects to teach his young students, a resource that parents have found invaluable.
The art of engaging students in the classroom is a practice that many teachers work years to perfect. Learning to do so over a Zoom call presents its own unique challenges, but educators like Mr Stephenson and Mr Symes are leading the way with innovative ways of blending an innate talent for teaching with limited resources with delivering lessons via the virtual classroom.
The term school-mapping refers to the processes by which future requirements in individual schools are determined, as well as how those requirements will be met.
By recognising that all shortcomings are ultimately target opportunities for change, educational leaders can improve standards, but it takes a high level of organisational skill to determine precisely how this can be pioneered.
One of the most significant future challenges will be the issue of staff shortages. A report released pre-lockdown in early March 2020 by the Education Policy Institute identified issues with recruitment and retention in teaching, with particular shortages in maths, science and languages.
This pre-existing issue was exacerbated in the early days of the crisis before school closures as teachers began to fall ill, and as schools return, it’s likely to remain a concern. Managing this will present a test of any leader’s problem-solving skills, but those who can prioritise according to needs and targets will yield positive results in difficult circumstances.
3. Emotional Intelligence
The coronavirus crisis has emotionally impacted us all, and educational leaders must be acutely aware of the profound psychological impact that lockdown will have had on many students, as well as that of the re-opening of schools as pupils adjust to safety measures such as social distancing.
Leaders must also be conscious that many teachers – and students – will have experienced loss over the last few months, and must acknowledge acute mental health awareness amongst their responsibilities.
Educational leaders must ensure that adequate support systems are in place for students and staff dealing with the emotional challenges of this transitional phase and use their emotional intelligence to keep empathy at the heart of decision-making.
The ways teachers connect sensitively with their students will be crucial, and educational leaders must allow classrooms, virtual and in-person, to become spaces of creativity, empathy and expression as part of the education process.
Many teachers are already doing this – for example when IT teacher Pete Dring set his students the homework task of “cheering someone up”, he inspired one pupil to make his own short film entitled ‘The Sweet Thief.’
When it comes to utilising emotional intelligence in the classroom, educational leaders could do worse than take a leaf from Mr Dring’s empathic and imaginative book.
Communication is a vital aspect of leadership, and in the coming months, clarity will be vital to the implementation of new health and safety measures. All guidance must be crystal clear to teachers, students and parents if policies are to be implemented with any consistency.
But alongside the ability to communicate vital and practical changes, educational leaders must be able to provide reassurance and connect with compassion.
Take Nottinghamshire headteacher David Philips of Chilwell School for example. He brilliantly demonstrated compassionate communication during school closures by recording short videos on Twitter for his students to replace traditional assemblies, as well as keeping a blog on the school’s website.
In one clip, he wishes his students well, stresses that he “doesn’t want anyone to worry” with regards to Year 11 and Year 13 students who had been due to begin exams, and asks pupils to “try and do something to bring a smile to people’s faces.”
Mr Philips’ adoption of social media to communicate with his students is an adept example of transparent communication, as these efforts reassure not only students, but teachers and parents too, that there is a proactive leadership presence prioritising resilience in hard times.
Whilst handling specific trials relating to the pandemic, educational leaders must still navigate existing challenges in education.
Issues such as closing the gap for disadvantaged students, encouraging collaboration between institutions and teacher recruitment have been at the forefront of educational leadership debates for some time now and remain live.
Educational leaders aspiring to tackle these challenges must be able to establish clear, achievable goals to work towards – goals which contribute to an overall vision of improvement and consistent quality in education.
Is Educational Leadership For You?
Do you have what it take to construct a brighter future in education?
If you have the ability to lead using a range of skills and inspire others to action, our Educational Leadership and Management MBA could be the key to a new stage in your career.
This ARU Distance Learning course offers flexible, accessible teaching designed to around your busy lifestyle.
And as distance learning fast becomes the new norm for many institutions, our remote course provides excellent insights into how this teaching method can operate, equipping you with this and many other direct and transferrable skills in preparation for your teaching career.
So as well as equipping yourself with the specialist subject skills the world’s foremost educational leaders display you’re effectively learning about distance learning by osmosis, becoming completely au fait with an alternative education delivery method which has moved into the mainstream in the short space of a few months and will likely be the default mode for generations to come.
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