First Seminar of the Hong Kong Principals’ Institute

22nd April 2013

Keynote Speech by Professor Clive Dimmock

Five Strong Claims Successful School Leadership that Challenge Conventional Practice

 

Synopsis

According to evidence from research, Prof. Dimmock identified five key leadership practices:

Claim No. 1

High-performing leaders transform their schools intoprofessional learning communities (PLCs). These PLCs adopt research as their foundation of teacherprofessional development and improving professionalpractices.

This claim challenges existing leadership practices that over-rely on tacit knowledge (隱性知識) generated from practical experience. It also challenges professional development models thatemphasise personal rather than community development, andgeneralised models that are not tailored to specific needs of a school.

Claim No. 2

High-performing leaders differ frommediocre and poor leaders by their personal qualities,attributes (特質) and dispositions (傾向).

Personal qualities include examples like emotional stability, extroversion (外向性), openness, ability to agree with others and conscientiousness (責任心). Dispositions are attitudes or approaches like optimism and confidence. Attributes include knowledge, values and skills (like the higher-order abilities of reading situations, making balanced judgements, political sensitivity).

This claim challenges the traditional view that the social interaction aspects of leadership are most important, because these aspects in turn depend on the leaders’ personal qualities, dispositions and attributes.

Claim No. 3

High-performing leaders differ from theirpeers by their greater ability to learn from practicalexperience and to apply their learning in timely,effective ways.They seem to have greater ability to pick up things, to understand, and to have more reliable intuition (直覺).From “on-thejob”experiences, they are more able to acquirepractical wisdom and apply it effectively.

This claim challenges the traditional thinking that leaders learn most through on-the-job experience (as opposed to formal academic studies), but different leaders have different capacities to reflect on the experience, acquire the wisdom and apply it in new situations.

Claim No. 4

High-performing leaders at all levels are focused onlearning. They pay attention to their teachers as well as their students, and are knowledgeable about the curriculum. They develop variable and appropriate amounts ofdistributed leadership to suit their school situations at stages of development.

Compared with mediocre leaders, high-performing leaders devote more time to the curriculum, to nurturing teachers to practice quality teaching as the way to promote student learning. They are not drawn by overwhelming administrative and students’ welfare matters.

Claim No. 5

High-performing leaders are passionate in re-designingand transforming their schools to be innovative 21st century learning environments, so that they are fit for their purposes.

This claim challenges the traditional focus of leaders on academic learning, test scores and the conventional piecemeal approach in changing schools. High-performing leaders instead focus on the development of students’ ‘soft” skills like teamwork and problem-solving, alongside of academic progress and test scores. They adopt coherent and systematic approaches involving PLCs to transform their schools.

Conclusion

The basis of these five strong claims: High-performing leaders use time differently to others and focus on “doing the right things” and on “doing them right”. Evidence suggests that few leaders are high-performing (Ofsted judged that some 20-30% of school leaders are sub-standard, the majority are mediocre, and <5% are high-performing.)

Personal reflection

  1. While Claim No. 1 warns leaders not to over-rely on tacit knowledge but to use research as the foundation of professional development, Claim No. 3 points out the diversity among leaders in their abilities to acquire wisdom built on tacit knowledge developed from personal experiences. Connecting the Claims together, a leader’s habit of research-engagement apparently sharpens his higher-order abilities mentioned in Claim No. 2 (reading situations, making balanced judgements, political sensitivity), and therefore with time increases his capacity to reflect upon experiences to build tacit knowledge and wisdom.
  1. “Soft” skills required in 21st century workplaces and test scores in the same century do not necessarily oppose each other. Can academics and practitioners develop or modify “tests” that can better accommodate the “soft” skills and the hard reality of demands of fairness in tests?

Keynote Speech by Dr. Allan Zeman

Innovation and entrepreneurial qualities of leaders

Synopsis

Dr. Zeman depicted his journey from a kid in Montreal, from the moment his father died when he was seven. Being in the top class in his school, ‘not studying’ was his key to success (he said that he had never read a book in his life). He started to engage in paid work at the age of ten, and bought his first car when he was 16. At 17, he decided to work full time instead of going to university. At 19, he made his first million dollars (USD) and then he came to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was difficult in the old days back then and things were expensive for the common folks, but people shared the feeling that if you are confident with yourself and work hard, you can do it.

Dr. Zeman felt that schools teach people how to solve problems in a theoretical way, while real life allows you to think out of the box, and this makes one a great entrepreneur. He feels that parents are often obstacles to children’s out-of-the-box thinking because the former always put all senses of insecurity away from their children. So, “Do not listen to your parents” if you want to be a great entrepreneur. Instead, “Don’t be afraid to dream”, Dr. Zeman often tells students, in the same way he told principals in this speech.

Thinking out of the box: (1) When Dr. Zeman first saw Lan Kwai Fong, many regarded it just as another back street full of rubbish, but he saw beauty in it. He fixed the pavement, got rid of long faces of among the staff serving customers and old-style uniforms, and now Lan Kwai Fong has become a brand duplicated in so many cities in China. (2) When people first commented that the Chairman of the Ocean Park dressed in jellyfish outfits was ridiculous, he thought the idea was marvelous, and he was eventually proved right by the response from the market.

Dr. Zeman hoped that principals can think out of the box, so as to help our students to think out of the box, too. He appealed to principals to take students more out of the classrooms, to see the real world, and to learn the culture within it!

Personal reflection

  1. To what extent do our curriculum and assessment appreciate out-of-the-box thinking? Do creativity and originality count significantly in subjects outside the Art Education Key Learning Area?
  1. Acting with creativity and originality are often associated with risks. How often do school principals tell teachers and students who want to put out-of-the-box thinking into practices but who are afraid of the associated risks the following:

“Calculate the risks first, and if they are justified, go ahead to put your ideas into practice, and I will bear the consequences for you!”

(Synopses and reflections contributed by Dr. John K. Tan)