Building tomorrow s leaders today lessons from the National College for School Leadership

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1 Building tomorrow s leaders today lessons from the National College for School Leadership If you re looking for innovative ways to engage your would-be leaders through gaming and video role play, the National College for School Leadership can give you some inspirational ideas. By tailoring the e-learning to participants different experiences, learning needs and subject knowledge, blended learning can really enable organisations to release the full potential of their leaders of tomorrow. Winner of the Gold elearning Award 2011 for the Best Online Distance Learning Programme in conjunction with partner Lightbox. The National College - Thinking differently The National College for School Leadership is where the future heads of our country s schools are trained to become effective and inspirational leaders. The College already had an accelerated learning programme in place for those from an educational background, but it recognised that for those who had an interest in becoming a headteacher from outside of teaching, something different was required. Similar to a squirrel sizing up the juicy nut encased inside a hard shell, the College had to find ways to develop a diverse group of individuals coming from non-educational backgrounds. Tomorrow s Heads became the answer, and this case study shows how blended learning can extract the nut, or talent, from a diverse group of experienced business leaders, and produce excellent school leaders of the future.

2 Developing leadership skills The National College s challenge of developing the skills of those on the Tomorrow s Heads programme is shared by business leaders 1 : that if the UK is to experience economic recovery then it must develop the qualitative and quantitative skills of its leaders. The 2011 Towards Maturity s Reinventing Leadership Development 2 highlighted that four out of five organisations are investing in leadership development to help them lead change and improve performance, and that 80 per cent of organisations are introducing learning technologies into the mix in order to: Improve efficiency (saving time and cost); Improve productivity (through sharing of good practice between managers, reducing time to competency and ensuring faster application of learning back in the workplace); Increase agility (in terms of increasing speed of engagement and responding to changing business needs). For the College, this meant working with partner Lightbox to develop an innovative online approach to the online element of the Tomorrow s Heads programme, to prepare participants to become inspirational educational leaders. Changing to a modular delivery In line with the national policy to move away from commissioned programmes towards school based delivery, Tomorrow s Heads as a programme will soon come to an end. However, the College has preserved many of successful learning assets of the programme, and now with increased autonomy for schools and academies, the College has been able to create a new modular format. Where previously delivery of the programme was carried out by a provider, now the content will be taught modularly by school to school support, resulting in expert school practitioners themselves both generating and delivering the content. This new licensing arrangement with federations of schools and chains of academies will allow: The content to be more needs driven, taking into account regional differences. Participants to take modules from the Tomorrow s Heads to contribute towards a number of different school leadership qualifications. 1 See CBI reports Building for Growth 2011, Learning to Grow 2010 and the IOD report Shackled by the skills crunch

3 The content to become more flexible in its delivery, with a greater emphasis on mobile technology. Capturing diversity As it was with the Tomorrow s Heads programme, it is anticipated that many of the participants taking the new modules will be a diverse group of people drawn from a wide variety of industries. The hard shell or challenge that the College will continue to face in redirecting the trainees valuable experience will include being able to develop training that has the following: Diversity of participants - Trainees will come with very different experiences and possess a wide range of learning styles, knowledge and perceptions of school environments. They will therefore require a highly-personalised approach that will allow them to quickly develop new skills and enhance existing knowledge. Competency-based curriculum - The diverse mix of existing knowledge will mean that the learning has to be structured around what is familiar territory for the entrants: a set of management and leadership competencies. This approach will allow participants to quickly identify their existing strengths and those areas where they need to develop. Educational context - As some participants were drawn from outside education, providing a context for the competencies and learning is highly important. Not only will participants have to develop the necessary leadership skills, but also how they will relate to the classroom, pupils learning and managing the school workforce. This is further complicated by a diverse and complex range of educational contexts - from primary and secondary schools, new academies, groups of schools working together (known as federations), small rural schools and large, inner-city establishments. Pressure - Being a headteacher is a highly responsible and pressured role. The materials will need to convey both the stress of the role and the rewards that it brings. The online experience will have to allow the participant to appreciate the need for quick, decisive decision-making and how to consider and evaluate the likely outcomes that would result. So how did the Tomorrow s Head programme achieve this?

4 The solution The learning experience The approach that was taken was a set of traditional e-learning materials that allowed the learner to embed this knowledge with some creative roll play. This allows the participant to study the theory and increase their knowledge, then try out newly-acquired skills and techniques in a safe environment. To ensure a mix of learning experiences, it was important that modes of delivery and learning styles were appropriate to the learners needs. This enables them to select their own individual learning journey that reflects their own particular learning requirements, prior knowledge and experience. By understanding the types of likely participants and the constraints that they have in using the learning modules, for example, being geographically dispersed, we were able to design an appropriate programme. The online elements provide a variety of different types of experience, combining video scenarios, written and visual materials and reflective thinking to appeal to different learning styles. Both the competency materials and The Mind (see below) are self-directed learning modules, allowing users to progress at their own pace at a level of detail and in time periods they determine themselves. The immersive experience The Mind One of the outstanding features of the Tomorrow s Head programme was a set of roleplay, gaming simulations called The Mind. Whilst the programme offered more traditional distance learning to provide a foundation for the learning, by drawing on games-based learning techniques The Mind embeds this knowledge by putting the participant into the place of a headteacher, where they would face the challenges and pressures they would experience and see the impacts of their decisions. Increasingly, organisations are looking for innovative ways to create meaningful learning experiences to help individuals practice and perform either through the use of video simulations or games. The Mind is one such great example of how technology can help build the practical skills that translate to real world goals and needs. How does it work? The Mind provides a suite of over 50 video-based challenges and dilemmas to participants over the course of a working week.

5 At the outset they are greeted by the executive head of a federation of schools - their new boss. He sets the scene, outlining his expectations and identifying some current issues. Then it s in at the deep end! The materials are arranged around a number of story arcs an ongoing narrative that extends across several scenarios with a background story unfolding over the course of several scenarios. A technique that is much used in television drama to move characters between situations and build familiarity, story arcs are now also a key technique used in games-based learning. Using it within The Mind allows the learner to build their understanding of characters through the various situations and start to understand their motivations and anticipate their responses and reactions. The Mind is not a linear experience, and the user is presented with a number of scenarios to choose from; some, if ignored, will escalate and become more serious. For example, repeatedly ignoring a phone call will likely result in the caller turning up at school rather irate. Others are simply distractions from the main events that the head should be focusing on. The course is designed to help learners cope with inevitable time pressures, to prioritise effectively and when necessary, to make decisions based on partial information.

6 Each scenario is video-based, presenting a situation involving characters from around the school in a first person view. At first it may appear that one is watching a scene play out on screen until the characters turn to you as the head and ask your opinion. At this point the participant is presented with a range of materials and options; they may examine background information about the characters, ask them questions and consider options available to them. Ultimately, as headteacher, they have to make a decision, doing so returns the learner back to the scenario, and the consequences of the decision are played out on screen. Reflection and learn Having viewed this, the learner is then asked to reflect on the decision they made using a double-loop reflection cycle. This innovative technique helps to embed the learning and give users a deeper insight into their decision making. When a user interacts with a scenario they are asked to make a decision, on doing so they are asked to consider the impact this decision will have on various groups within the school. This is the first loop, reflecting on the likely impacts of their decision. Once they have done this, they are presented with an expert s view on the likely outcomes and impacts, and where these differ from those they anticipated. This provides a second loop where the user reflects on the differences between their anticipated impacts and those considered likely by an expert. This second loop encourages learners to review their decision making process, their motivations and the pre-conceptions. It provides for a deeper level of self-review and criticism and is therefore more likely to lead to changes in belief and behaviour.

7 The effects of each decision are scored within The Mind and mapped to the rating of the school, the overall aim being to take the school to an outstanding rating. A collaborative approach Design The design of the overall approach, learning model and scenarios for The Mind was a collaborative undertaking between: National College - Ensured that previous experience with similar learners and models of leadership were embodied. Facilitators and advisors - Made sure that supporting materials were appropriate and available. Academic educationalists - Provided a learning model and approach that was based on good pedagogy. Representative users - Challenging the assumptions at each stage. This collaboration continued throughout the project and materials were updated and enhanced on a regular cycle. Encouraging learner collaboration One of the drawbacks of online distance learning can be its solitary nature, with little opportunity for social learning to occur; a vital component for embedding knowledge. To get around this, each participant is supported by a learning development advisor who guides their progress, suggesting additional activities and encouraging their reflective thinking. Each advisor is linked to several participants allowing them to actively encourage participants to learn from each other and to share and comment on reflections as to how they may work. This is further enhanced by the extensive online community provided by

8 the National College.

9 Challenges Because the Tomorrow s Heads programme represented such an innovative approach for the National College, a number of challenges emerged and were overcome along the way. 1) Contextualising the environment One of the biggest challenges was being able to prepare participants for the huge diversity of school contexts. The environments portrayed in The Mind had to be representative and appropriate, whatever the context. The solution was to base The Mind across a federation of schools, focusing on the transition phase between primary and secondary and with events occurring in both. This enabled various school contexts to be explored in appropriate scenarios. The result was that the series of activities didn t leave the participants wondering about the relevance to them. 2) Realism It was important that the scenarios felt real and engaged the participant with what was going on with the characters. To achieve this, story arcs and scenarios were devised through collaboration between an instructional designer who specialises in games-based learning and a leading academic author in educational leadership. Filming took place in a real school (during the holidays) using a production house that specialises in educational materials. The result is a set of characters that feel typical and with which participants can connect and empathise, which adds significantly to the engagement of the materials. Results Tomorrow s Heads was a relatively new course with a small group of participants, and statistical results and impacts have been encouraging: Take up of the online materials was extremely high for this programme compared to others within the National College, with 99% of registered participants accessing the three online modules. In a survey of learning development advisors, they unanimously described the online materials as excellent.

10 In the most recent monitoring period (1 month), 296 participants have accessed The Mind, undertaking 1,497 activities and making 498 reflective comments. Learning development advisors surveyed had the following feedback: The course is definitely not one size fits all and provides flexibility to be adapted to the participant needs. Further scenarios in the style of The Mind would be very helpful for stimulating mentoring and coaching sessions. The gaming approach has been very well received by participants; it offers a very different approach to the majority of College online provision appealing to different learning styles, particularly within the context of the blended learning provided across the programme. User feedback gathered from participants in online forums and focus groups: I'm torn between being oddly addicted to it and musing on progress in 'my' school to and fro during the journey to 'actual' school... I have noticed I am not agreeing with the exec head (particularly in regard to lesson observations)... am now questioning my abilities in this respect! Must say that I m enjoying the challenge. Trying to fit in the odd hour here and there, and even despite being tired attempting to cope. Imagine it'd be similar once we make it to headship. The Tomorrow s Heads programme at the National College and the emerging Modular Curriculum content provides some powerful lessons on how to develop the talent of leaders from diverse backgrounds in any organisation. When leaders have a great experience of online learning, they are also more likely to advocate it to their staff and peers. Consider the hints and tips below to apply these lessons to your leadership talent programme. Find out more about the National College at

11 Top tips for implementing effective online leadership training If you have trainees from diverse backgrounds, don t ignore their existing skills, ensure that your programme is flexible enough to identify strengths and adapt. It is important to speak the language of your trainees. If they are from a high calibre business background, then speak in terms of management and leadership qualities. Ensure that modes of delivery are appropriate to learners needs. This includes constraints such as geography and available technology. Focus on context, otherwise they will have difficulty comprehending the true reality of what the training is all about. Encourage staff to reflect and comment on each other s reflections to embed the learning more thoroughly. Involve trainees in the design of learning through focus groups. Don t be afraid to innovate, creating meaningful learning experiences. Video and games are great ways to help staff practice and perform.

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