“Using the Lessons of Leadership to Achieve Results – the Ontario System”

Ms Marg Warren


Ms Warren began with a quote from Linda Hill, Harvard Business School, one of the top 50 business thinkers, who explains how to unleash “collective genius”: when we are trying to do something truly new—when we are far out on the cutting edge—we cannot know (by definition) where to go or maybe even how to get there. Instead, we have to act and learn our way forward, to discover what that new future is going to be (“How to manage a creative organization”, Scientific American, Oct 21, 2014
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-manage-a-creative-organization/). As in all programs, the Ontario programs did not set out to be the best, but there have been pleasing developments were evolvements over the last decade in its effort in tackling diverse cultures and letting all students succeed. (McKinsey report (2010) How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting)

Challenges and fruits

In 2008-14, the strategies have been on commitment to every student by raising the bar and closing the gap. The three goals are: increase student achievement, reduce gaps, and increase public confidence, leading to astounding benefits for students and parents. Student success strategies are clearly spelled out: “all students can learn”; all school members in Ontario can articulate it. The success was due to school and system leaders providing supporting conditions, not embracing power. The concept of “learning leaders” in Ontario leadership strategies (2008) was strong. Learning leaders should focus on student learning, and should be able to influence teachers and students. Other form of learning is pointless. It also set out to look for the right people (Ps and VPs) as instructional leaders..

The speaker serviced a year at Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) which provides provincial assessments. Tests there were administered not for blaming and shaming, but learning, and to build learning culture together. It is a tool to understand what is going on in school: and allow all to move forward. EQAO received inputs from parents, students, and teachers, and believed in co-learning (a student expressed: why would I want to learn from someone who does not want to learn from me?). The belief continued to be “Support every child, Reach every student”. However, it was found that mathematics learning is still a concern; reading literacy becomes better. While Ontario believes in success and well-being of every student and child, there is a need to redefine “well-being”. There is also a need to integrate education at different levels, easing students from one stage to another. The curriculum should be seen as one from age 3 to grade 12.

The revised goals were delivered in April 2014, with a commitment to collaborate: achieving excellence, ensuring equity, promoting well-being, and enhancing public confidence. On that, the Premier wrote to Minister of Education in September 2014, verbalizing commitment: “By 2025, Ontario will have an education system that seamlessly integrates services from early years to adulthood. Ontario will be a world leader in higher-order skills - such as critical thinking and problem solving -- which will allow Ontario to thrive in the increasingly competitive global marketplace” (Excerpt – Letter from Premier to Minister of Education Sept 2014).


A host of provincial strategies were presented in 2008: safe schools, curriculum, student achievement, early learning, parent engagement, equity and inclusive education, aboriginal education, etc. Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement (BIPSA) and School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement (SIPSA) were in place. There have been learning visits in the last 5 years, whereby government learned from schools.

Nonetheless, the following challenges of new principals and vice principals were seen: sorting role conflicts and ambiguity, influencing and motivating teachers, and achieving work-life balance. Similar challenges for practicing principals were seen: setting priorities and maintaining focus, leading learning in math, providing appropriate supports for students in disadvantaged circumstances with limited resources, promoting mental health of teachers and students, resolving conflicts, role conflict and ambiguity, and facing a lack of social support. Indeed, Ontario principals, as principals all over the world, should work smarter, more effectively and efficiently.

To cope with the challenges, leadership strategies were set for 2012-14: attract right people to leading roles, develop personal leadership resources (values of individuals), and develop leadership capacity and coherence in organizations. There was also re-definition of leadership: to influence, you need to be influence-able (there should be more interaction, rather than power struggle).

There is also a new angle to evolving documents: ten years ago, principals would be uncomfortable with a document to be updated every now and then, now they know changes are needed. There were slow use or superficial use of framework in the past, but now the growth planning is stronger. The three formats of frameworks are: research paper, user guide, and placemats (Work done outside the frameworks may not be funded). To understand how well plans are implemented and moving forward, educators can look at the action verbs in the placemats; word choices are developmental, rather than static.

Through the years of development, the Ontario Leadership Framework now describes “effective leadership practices” in four practicing key components: individual (school-level leadership and system-level leadership) and organization (K12 school effectiveness framework and district effectiveness framework). It also describes the “personal leadership resources” which covers the cognitive, social and psychological areas. There are also practical board leadership development strategies: recruiting and selecting leaders, placing and transferring leaders, developing leaders, coordinating support for leaders. With growth-oriented performance: a 5-year cyclical performance appraisal is in place.

For 10 years now, the leading student achievement and network for learning had attracted 57 districts, 3210 principal and vice principal volunteers, and 123 system leaders working together. Indeed, principals should be system leaders to influence other schools. They should also be head learners with open-mindedness and resilience.

In Closing

Ontario believes that “we are not good until we are all good”: showing commitment, collaboration, contribution. Therefore, the support for each other is important. Ms Warren concluded the talk by making sure education bear fruit through Susan Wojcicki’s (VP of advertising, google) “Eight pillars of innovations” (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/8-pillars-of-innovation.html):
 Have mission that matters
 Think big but start small
 Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection
 Look for ideas everywhere
 Share everything
 Spark with imagination, fuel with data
 Be a platform
 Never fail to fail

Dr. Anson Yang
Principal of King Ling College




香港副校長會主席  黃晶榕博士




(1) Keynote Speech by Ms. Marg Warren, Senior Education Specialist, LDSBG, Ministry of Education, Ontario (PPT)

(2) Keynote Speech by the Hon Jasper Tsang Yok Sing (曾鈺成), GBS, JP