Leadership programme

Charting the Future of Educational Leadership: Navigating Myths, Technology, and Human Development

Matt Silver

The Glass House Leadership Lab

CEO

Dr Matt Silver, January 2024

Knowledge is derived from information in the same way information is derived from the data. We make our own meaning from it and it is open to interpretation. How we understand information is based on its perceived importance or relevance to a problem area and this perception comes from our values and beliefs. Therefore, understanding how we as humans interpret data, information and knowledge as we develop as adults is key if we seek to lead solutions that can overcome the problems we face in evolving an education system where each unique lens can value and flourish within and beyond amidst a digital revolution.

Myths have shaped our human narrative for hundreds of thousands of years, shaping our lens in early conditioning of the mind and body, constructed from various sources of data, information and knowledge. Across these stages of development (of which 60% of the population resides), this narrative often goes unquestioned (Kegan, 1982). Within education, myths have largely been driven from powers outside of our schools, pushed by what the economy requires and joined now by more prevalent societal pressures. As Yuval Noah Harari says, ‘war is built from a narrative’. Whether this is a war that is raging globally, a war raging in the ego’s voices inside your head or a war of educators on various platforms, we are being polarised.

Some of this is intentionally accelerated by technological change and manipulation of data in its presentation as ‘true’ information. The speed and content creation of modern myths are accelerated by algorithms that are designed by those with power to intentionally hijack attention for profit; and now AI holds the potential to hijack our intimacy. Some of this also stems from a lack of awareness and literacy that we as adults have as a result of developing our own narratives within our stages of development to view the world with our own lens. We usually stop paying attention to development beyond early years.

If the education system is to move forward fast enough to not be dominated by technology it simply must appreciate this internal diversity to harness the energy of all stakeholders and revolve through at least two cycles of essential evolution. Otherwise, as the past century has demonstrated, we are left deliberating the prescription of a few and trying to run an antiquated system for the many that technology may well consume. Knowledge prescribes, intelligence decides. Yet in setting an integrated direction, this requires not only intelligence, but development- how to consciously use our decision making.

Not all is broken and we have a base to build upon. It is just that it was a system designed for another time and a society and economy that valued and required a different outcome. If we are to truly innovate and evolve the education system to care about the ‘whole human’ (not just the child!) we require leaders who are capable of taking the perspectives of many, appreciate the tension this brings, and synthesise their ideas behind a purpose that unites us. This, when combined with an energy to balance and a greater capacity to accelerate the pace of system change, enables us to address the present and step into the future whilst respecting the wisdom of the past.

It further requires investment in developing the awareness and sophistication of our own state and lens on how we talk (intelligence) and walk (development). This capacity is referred to as ‘vertical development’. Horizontal development is well baked into leadership training. It is focused on more knowledge, skills, and behaviours (adding more apps), whereas vertical development (upgrading the processor) is about developing more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking; by reframing our internal and external lens on contexts and challenges. This crosses multiple lines of physiology, emotions, values, ego and cognitive maturity that leads to shifts in behaviour, connection, and impact. All of which are essential for higher quality strategy and change management.

To reiterate, not all is broken and many of the existing qualities of education are essential for system evolution, it is the down sides to the early stages of system design such as rigidity and manipulation that are the motivators to evolve the system to consider the whole human and the potential of innovation. This may seem like a central decision but there is already an avenue that provides a way of evolving the system from within.

Personal development is a core tenant of the Ofsted handbook and holds value. What is lacking is a common map of human development to sequence and track it in the same way we do knowledge. This often means it is not a central tenet of ‘performance’ beyond early years and through adulthood. Yet our development shapes our perspective and how we look at and use knowledge as a learner, teacher or leader. We do not look at the world in the same way as a child does, yet we don’t typically have the literacy to explain why or the tools to integrate each unique lens. Whilst imbalance remains central education reform and intervention remains focused on the symptoms, not the causes behind them, we must go deeper.

Table 1. The Federation for Education Development (FED) findings from the national challenges faced by the English education system and how The Glass House Leadership’s Lab relates them to each line of human development.

We require more awareness, literacy, and management of each of the lines and stages of development if we are to nuance learning design, maintain student and staff engagement and retention, and ready the next generation of society to navigate constant flux. Remember that it is humans who designed the earlier iterations of the education system based on what they valued and believed at the time. So for system design to happen, it must begin with adult development in the leaders that hold the power to create a momentum shift and sustain it. If we are to re-think education we need to understand how we think and what drives us to consciously make the decisions we do.

Graphic 1: The Glass House Leadership Labs Learner and Leader Model

Understanding each humans’ stages of development allows a more nuanced alignment of our own and others strengths, values and ego as well as a conscious awareness of the downside at each stage too. We require a lens that embraces diversity and challenges the downside of each lens if we are to lead change. To engage others in a change process (and this is what is required!) in which they engage agentically (as well as emotionally, behaviourally, and cognitively) requires us to curiously look through the lens of everyone else and listen with appreciation to the wisdom each perspective brings despite its differences. This facilitates greater buy-in despite more candid discussions and ultimately a coherent decision agreed by the collective. Facilitating rather than directing taps into intrinsically motivated, highly engaged stakeholders that move towards a common purpose greater than ourselves. This is meaning and what much of the system is seeking. Our communities are our vehicle for self and system evolution.

The Re-Thinking Leadership network has modeled this in every session I have been part of – active challenge and actions led by the strengths and connections of everyone in the team. When working across leadership team journeys to facilitate self and collective development, true innovation has emerged when teams have become comfortable in deep challenge and curiosity around the strategic direction of themselves, their schools, trusts, or local communities.

Table 1: The results when asking 30 Executive Leaders what top 3 priorities are on their mind

So what is holding us back as leaders? Our findings consistently show that leaders are fire fighting day to day. Table 1 below demonstrates how conditioned our lens is to addressing the here and now in a high pressurised system. Often we are blindsided by myths of what leadership actually is; believing time for ourselves and for our teams is wasteful and that we should feel guilty for considering ourselves. Yet again and again we see that when some time and space for the self is created, leaders’ energy management, communities connection and organisational performance soar! If we are to actively avoid the rabbit hole of disengagement, mental health, exclusion, isolation, and attrition, or stagnation in awaiting central change we require space as leaders and learners. This space and challenge allows us to remain conscious of authoring our own unique and collective journeys, engaging with others to illustrate a framework that provides the map to plot it, and a coach to walk alongside and guide us from time to time.

If this sounds too spurious and mythical in itself, the impact of focusing on leaders’ adult development has already been seen. Over four years, our client has seen 100% of their leadership team remain in post across all of their leadership and management in over 40 schools. Their leadership and management has become good or outstanding in every setting and layer of the organisation despite serving highly deprived demographics, whilst their academic performance continues to climb over the four years. Innovation is sprouting up across the trust. Leadership is the first step, the next step will be to better integrate development into the curriculum.

As a system we can no longer survive let alone thrive in ‘me vs you’ competition, driving for outstanding staff, students and outcomes if we are truly going to be inclusive and continuously evolve the system. It is essential in addressing wicked problems, of which education is one, that we seek to grow our own and collective capacity of our communities beyond the school gates and nationally as educators. If we are to continuously evolve solutions to the many complexities of internal and external system change, we require a network of leaders who are willing to rethink with diversity as well as act as one. For this we require a common language with which to understand each other and a framework that adds to the technical leadership, teaching and learning in place. Developing our leaders will develop our systems’ strategic and change capacity. It starts with leaders today so that they can provide the space for learners to consciously evolve and sustain tomorrow’s society and planet.

References

Kegan, R., 1982. The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Harvard University Press.

Dr. Matt Silver built his experience as researcher and practitioner whilst a CEO, head, and teacher within education. He sees and practices the real nuanced intersection of technology, human development, and leadership in creating a holistic approach to educational reform. His national and international work extends beyond traditional boundaries, integrating best practice in science and global business C-suites to guiding leaders in navigating the complexities of the education system, debunking myths (often including the leaders own narrative), and fostering positive spaces that values diversity and innovation. His company, The Glass House Leadership Lab, actively promotes and evidences the impact of self-awareness, strategic thinking, and collective growth among educational leaders through coaching and team journeys. Matt seeks to catalyze transformative change, collectively shaping the future of education with a focus on the whole human, the evolving needs of our global society and building a synthesised network of innovators.

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