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October
02
2019

Systems Thinking Leadership Programmes

When the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (now the Education Scotland Professional Learning and Leadership (PLL) team) came into being, the very first programme was about Systems Learning as the SCEL Fellowship began. Since then a number of new systems programmes have been piloted and we are now looking at systems learning as a purple thread connecting and permeating all of our leadership programmes.

The two new programmes that have been developing alongside the transition into Education Scotland are Leading Systems Change and Evolving Systems Thinking - enhancing, growing and strengthening our systems offer.

This enhanced offer is founded on evidence from research and the latest thinking on systems leadership. The programmes draw on research commissioned in Scotland through ADES and the Staff college with documents such as 'Towards a Learning System' and 'Making Sense of Reform in Scottish Education' The quote below is from the third piece of important systems research which has been part of our work.

Systems leadership is described as all about the skillful harnessing and holding in of the creative tension and energy in the wider system, rather than driving through change by sheer force of will and exercise of power. Systems leadership is described as being as frequently about ‘willingness to give things away’ as it was concerned with achievement of one’s own goals or promoting of one’s own agency agenda. In this respect, systems leaders were often not engaging in ‘win/win’ transactions (in the sense of ‘you win, I win’) but in a situation where an individual, whether an organisation or a person, might have to cede ground in order that the wider collective might benefit.
['Exceptional Leadership for Exceptional Times - A Synthesis Paper' Deborah Ghate, Jane Lewis, David Welbourn October 2013]

Over the last year the systems programmes which were added to the suite of professional learning offers by the PLL team have attracted great interest and have been highly evaluated by participants.

Leading Systems Change in Scottish Education, the first of the systems offer, was developed in partnership with the Association of Directors of Education, Scotland (ADES) and the Virtual Staff College and proved to be a welcome addition to the professional learning landscape.

Leading Systems Change is a national programme for senior leaders in education and allied services, rooted in systems leadership and the principles of GIRFEC which supports the delivery of excellence and equity through a whole-systems approach to integrated leadership. It reflects the rapidly changing local government and public sector landscape in times of ambiguity and change. This programme provides an opportunity for small groups of senior leaders to apply alternative approaches to leadership to real, systemic education challenges that they are currently facing.

Informed by the latest research and practice into systems leadership in public services, senior leaders in education will have opportunities to work collaboratively across local boundaries. They will explore ways to deepen their learning about leadership and make behavioural changes that impact positively on the system.

The programme has given me the opportunity to look outwards at developments nationally and internationally while at the same time providing stimulating opportunities for discussions during a range of workshop opportunities.
[Participant Cohort 1]

The intention is that two additional cohorts of Leading Systems Change will be hosted this session with dates and locations to be announced shortly.

Evolving Systems Thinking is an exciting new international programme developed for our Scottish context in partnership with the Ontario Principals' Council. This programme has had two very successful national pilot cohorts, a transitional non-residential national cohort and is now moving to a new regional model to expand and increase the offer.

The Evolving Systems Thinking programme supports system level educators, headteachers, local authority officers and Education Scotland staff to enhance their leadership skills and experience through national and regional collaborative working – with a strong focus on delivering excellence and equity for all children and young people in Scotland.

Scottish Education, and leaders in particular, are under unprecedented pressure to meet the ever increasing demands with continuously decreasing resources. EST not only provides valuable insights into key aspects of educational leadership to meet those demands but it also provides you the opportunity to work with incredibly enthusiastic, positive and creative colleagues, which makes it such an inspirational and re-energising experience.
[Participant Cohort 1]

The content of the Evolving Systems Thinking programme is founded on research that points to a clear and powerful connection between effective school-level and system-level leadership practices (Leithwood K, 2013). Understanding what effective schools and school-level leadership looks like is the crucial foundation for delivering effective system-level support and thinking.

A quality education system requires a large number of people in various roles and the power of EST is to bring that group of people to together and allow them to learn with and about each other to further improve education for our children and young people. The EST programme is an opportunity to truly look inward, outward and forward and provides participants with the knowledge and strategies to start this the very first day together.  I have been able to share the knowledge and use many of the strategies from EST but I think my biggest takeaway has been the confidence it has given me to share my “Why” and to encourage others to focus on their “Why” as a starting place for all our work.
[Participant Cohort 1]

Once again I just want to say what a privilege it was to be involved in EST. I have seldom been involved in professional learning which is so relevant to my role and look forward to developing my leadership and sharing ideas with colleagues in my local authority.
[Participant from Cohort 2]

There is much more detail for each of these programmes within the online resource for professional learning and leadership as well as learning activities based around the development of this model in Ontario. Please take a look and see which programme would best support the next stage of your professional learning.

We are currently recruiting for the regional delivery of EST through the local authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives. This work has been strengthened by a Train The Trainers Programme which involved staff from all of the Regional Collaboratives with our Professional Learning and Leadership team to support and develop Evolving Systems Thinking in each region.

We would invite you to take up any opportunity to join us on any of our Systems Leadership programmes and look forward to connecting, collaborating and learning with you to improve our education system for all of Scotland’s learners.