Rethinking Leadership: complex problems need sophisticated solutions

Education Leadership and Strategy

Institute of Education, University of Worcester

In September 2022 the Deeper Learning UK Network Coalition met in Sheffield to share emerging innovations in pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. It became evident that for innovation to seed and grow, we need to build fertile soil.  This is true for individual schools seeking to introduce more holistic approaches to teaching and learning and also across the wider system of support for educators and leaders. From this, a group of concerned leaders committed to work through what is already happening and where the gaps might be.  A consensus emerged around what we seek to do and how we might move forward.

What is Rethinking Leadership?

Rethinking Leadership is a coalition of like-minded individuals. We feel we need a more developmental approach to school leadership that is more holistic and integrated.  One that focuses on the self, and school improvement, and the wider system.  We are united in the view that schools are complex systems that need to adapt and evolve.  Complex problems need sophisticated solutions, not quick fix remedies. We need to grow and evolve ourselves as we respond to a changing world. Rethinking Leadership is about shining a light on professional learning that signals a new beginning; helping us respond to the challenges we face and supporting wider policy and practice reform in the sector.

We are appreciative in approach and intent, ‘Yes/and’ not oppositional, and fighting for an evolution.

What can I bring to the cause?

Each of us has our own personal story that explains why we are engaged in this.  For me, the publication of the PISA results last week confirmed what we have known for some time.  Children and young individuals in the United Kingdom are currently experiencing dissatisfaction, while the education system is failing to bridge the divide for those residing in underprivileged communities.  According to a recent report by Edurio, there has been a decline in the percentage of students feeling well in England. In the past year alone, this number has dropped from 47% to 38%.  Young people need us adults to step up to the challenge of responding to them and what they need. 

Wellbeing and poverty are classic ‘wicked’ problems, as is the environmental crisis. They have interrelated and complex causes and are notoriously difficult to tackle in isolation.  We must fully embrace the intricacy of these challenges and equip our young to navigate them effectively. Education is the most powerful tool we possess to address intergenerational inequality, tackle the climate crisis, and provide young individuals with the skills they need not only to excel academically but also to thrive in all aspects of life.  In order for this vision to become a reality, it is crucial that we provide school leaders with the necessary support to grow and develop themselves, their schools, and the education system as a whole. This support will enable them to better meet the needs of our young people, while also fostering sustainability, well-being, and resilience within the communities they serve.

Why get involved?

We would like you to add your unique perspective to ours.  Sharing what you are doing in this area will add to our collective understanding of how we become more mature as leaders and as a system: developing more awareness; more sophisticated mindsets and deploying these new capacities to collaborate across traditional silos to tackle issues we cannot address alone. This requires new ways of thinking, new ways of doing and new ways of being a leader. If we can accelerate our own growth and development as we do this, together, we may be able to create the conditions that leaders and teachers need to thrive as they do the great work they do, every day, in our schools.

Please get in touch if you want to get involved.  You might share some practice in a blog; or open your network to influence policy; or contribute to the research base we need to underpin this work.  Join a supportive community of ambitious educators with a vision for a better future.

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