What does an authentic leadership school look like? A good example of a school that has embedded a leadership culture throughout the whole school is Fair Isle Primary school in Scotland. Leadership is an integral part of everyday life in Fair Isle Primary School, for staff, children and for many parents.
The school places equal importance on developing their pupil’s leadership skills and academic attainment. School staff model their belief that every child is unique with their own skills, strengths and talents. Great emphasis is put on recognising each child’s genius so that they can develop their leadership in this area. The ‘7 Leadership Habits’ are integrated throughout the curriculum to support staff and pupils to work towards being the best version of themselves.
Headteacher, Victoria Bell, believes that the 7 Habits leadership practices have enabled the school to develop a much stronger distributed leadership culture which has shifted the whole school. Staff are showing higher levels of initiative and responsibility with their willingness to take things on.
This leadership culture is underpinned by staff and every pupil having leadership roles that contribute towards the successful running of the school. Staff take on leadership roles which involve leading curricular development, supporting other staff members, leading school initiatives and leading after school clubs. Pupil voice has improved as the children have created innovative ways to develop their own leadership such as lunch hall leaders, playground leaders and office leaders. Primary 7 children become mentors by helping the younger pupils in the school learn how to read and write.
Being a leader at Fair Isle Primary school is a natural part of school life. The school lives by the paradigm that everyone can be a leader. Children display leadership by demonstrating problem solving skills and show independent thinking to try and find a “Win-Win” for staff, pupils and parents. The school lets their leadership light shine beyond the school grounds and into the wider community, as an example, their pupils played a role in the town receiving a Gold Award in the Britain in Bloom competition as their “Leaders in Gardening” created displays for the event and children talked with the judges, further showcasing their enthusiasm, confidence and pride in themselves and their community. Children visited a local church to share their experiences of how the Leader in Me journey had changed their lives. This gave them the opportunity to practise leadership outside the school by presenting to over 250 adults. All children are recognised for what they do outside of school.
The school has engaged parents as leaders with a supportive and active parent council that organises social and fundraising events. Several parents attended the 7 Habits of Successful Families course to get a deeper understanding of the habits. Furthermore, some staff volunteered to become accredited ‘facilitators’ to deliver the training which exhibited an elevated level of leadership for the staff.
The school seeks to continually evolve as they are embarking on embedding the ‘4 Disciplines of Execution’ (4DX) throughout the school (a system for goal achievement that is part of ‘Leader in Me’ that impacts self-directed learning). Three wildly important school-wide goals for this year were agreed on and these have been cascaded and aligned to grade level, class level and pupil level. Every child will have a personal development and academic goal that is aligned to the school-wide goals. Children will learn the 4 disciplines within the system for goal achievement and then practise applying it to their own wildly important goals for the year. The process starts with every member of staff modelling it as they set their own personal and professional goals and get their pupils to be their accountability partners. The school believes that 4DX will enable pupils to play an active part in their learning and ultimately take charge of their academic and personal goals.
The ethos of Fair Isle is one of respect, nurture and empowerment. Teachers embrace the leadership paradigm that educators must empower pupils to lead their own learning. The school regularly receives visitors from all over the world and these visits are always turned into opportunities for the children to practise leadership. In April this year, 40 educators from 18 different countries visited the school for a half-day to see a leadership school in action. Educators commented on the high level of socio-emotional skills and self-regulation by pupils, and the school’s inspiring leadership environment. They also loved how the staff modelled leadership by demonstrating their career journeys and the key life skills that were applied. A headteacher from Germany who visited the school later in the summer for a day said, “it’s the kind of thing you see in the movies.” Carrie Lindsay, head of Child Services in Scotland said, “well-being in the school has flourished.” Later this year the school will receive a visit from 22 early-year’s educators from Norway. No doubt another leadership event opportunity for pupils.
Astonishing achievements, yet you may be surprised to hear that these confident, polite and well-mannered children attend a school that sits in an area of deprivation, but they have not allowed anything to hold them back from reaching their potential and more! I believe a critical element of leadership is that no teacher should do something that a child can do; and Fair Isle Primary school are working hard to make this a reality on their leadership journey, as they develop independent and interdepend learners who will have the key skills for employability in the 21st century.
United Education Group