Being an effective Principal

There are a number of scholars who have influenced my perspective of teaching and learning. Michael Fullan is one such scholar. His recent The Principal: Three Keys to Maximising Impact has proven to be a challenging and useful text as I look at what the role of an educational leader should be. To use Fullan’s term to answer this question: lead learner.

Fullan unpacks what is meant by being a lead learner throughout the book and what he has to say goes beyond simply changing the title on one’s business card. Being a lead learner is a mind shift. The book starts with how the current role of the principal is out of step with where things should be. Indeed, the redefining of the role encapsulates Fullan’s vision for the future of education referred to as New Pedagogies for Deep Learning whereby teacher and student work together in a learning partnership. Fullan’s critique of the role of the principal starts with a simple statement:

Principals’ responsibilities have increased enormously over the past two decades. They are expected to run a smooth school; manage health, safety and the building; innovate without upsetting anyone; connect with students and teachers; be responsive to parents and the community; answer to their districts; and above all, deliver results. More and more, they are being led to be direct instructional leaders, and therein lies the rub. How is this for a shocker: the principal as direct instructional leader is not the solution! If principals are to maximize their impact on learning, we must reconceptualize their role so that it clearly, practically, and convincingly becomes a force for improving the whole school and the results it brings.

M Fullan (2014) The Principal: Three Keys for Maximizing Success, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, p.7

The notion of lead learner has been around for a while, something that Fullan acknowledges. Where The Principal comes into its own is to clarify the new role of the principal and explain how that role can model learning and shape the conditions for all to learn on a continuous basis. To use Fullan’s own words, the book “sorts out the details of what is problematic about the current role of the principal and how it can shift to that of an agent of contagion and fundamental change” (Fullan 2014: 8).

The three keys to making this shift happen are, according to Fullan:

  1. Being a learning leader;
  2. Being a system player; and
  3. Being an agent of change.

Fulfilling these three functions can be a stressful matter for some principals. Indeed, at the end of the book, Fullan poses the question: do you still want the job? A fair question to ask given what he has been discussing. To assist those, like me, who would want to see his principals operate according to Fullan’s model and approach, there is a study guide that accompanies the book. Each chapter concludes with questions upon which individuals can reflect as well as questions that are designed to be asked in a group context. This is a very useful feature and I look forward to seeing how it works out in practice, particularly as this text will be a key part of the professional learning I have planned for my school’s educational leaders.


Dangerous worldviews

“Die gefährlichste Weltanschauung ist die Weltanschauung derer, die die Welt nie angeschaut haben”.

I have set myself the task, over the upcoming weeks, of airing my take on internationalism and education. In my previous post, I said that there are three aspects to be considered: international, intercultural and interlingual. It was of interest to me, then, when this quote from Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) popped up in my Facebook feed. While it is not entirely clear as to whether he actually uttered or wrote these words, they express a sentiment that resonates with why internationalism and education should be paired together. In this sense, this post might be considered to be a preamble to the posts on international, intercultural and interlingual that will follow over the next couple of weeks. Or, at the very least, the start of a preamble to some sort of final paper on the subject.

Tangentially, von Humboldt was a Prussian, geographer, naturalist, explorer and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was incredibly well-travelled, having been appointed to positions over the course of his career that would require his presence in different places across the globe, or driven to different places in the world on account of his research. If this utterance was really his (and I would like for the sake of argument and convenience to say that it was), then he certainly had the academic background, respect and credibility to make it.

While von Humboldt’s words give ‘internationalism’ a degree of historicity and veracity, despite the fact that it is unlikely he would have used the term ‘internationalism’ to describe the perspective he was conveying, I see in von Humboldt’s words something more. It is the fact that they can be seen as a call to action to teachers to bring the world into the classroom. By bringing the world into the classroom, teachers can help students create and maintain an identity that is informed by the world and not an identity that is in tension with it, an identity that embraces the world and does not live in fear of it. In light of events in recent days, weeks and months, the place of teachers in this world is never more important.

International, Intercultural, Interlingual – mapping out the Dreiländereck that is international education

I work in an educational world that is defined by the intersection of three different spaces: the international, the intercultural and the interlingual. It makes for an interesting environment. Living in an area of land that is often called the Dreiländereck (where Germany, Switzerland and France meet), the use of three terms to define this educational world seems entirely appropriate. In the same way that my school is made up of students of different countries, cultures and languages, so too is the geography of the Dreiländereck.

The application of the international, the intercultural and the interlingual into a teaching and learning environment can be challenging for those within it. The interactions between one’s sense of self and the national identities of those one teaches can prompt useful, in-depth discussions about teaching and learning. The same interactions can also contribute to points of friction or tension. Cultures collide in the staff room about what constitutes pedagogical ‘best practice’.

For me, this post is a starting point for a discussion about internationalism and education. Over the coming weeks I want to look at the ideas of international, intercultural and interlingual, all of which appear to be central to understanding what internationalism as it applies to education is about. So, with that in mind, and to bring this post to a close, here are some short, tentative definitions that might be used as a springboard for what is to come:

  • International – the basis for a comprehensive approach to education that intentionally prepares students to be active and engaged participants in an interconnected world.
  • Intercultural – an approach to education that seeks to develop student intercultural competence, which is the ability to act and relate appropriately and effectively in a variety of cultural contexts.
  • Interlingual – an inclusive teaching and learning approach that supports all languages and cultures present within the school by fostering an environment whereby all students are open and responsive to respecting and learning about other languages.

Blogging voice: contrived or real?

I am not new to this blogging thing and one of the things I have noticed about blogging is that one’s blogging voice is different from that which one speaks with when drafting a chapter in a thesis, writing a marker’s report or composing a paper for a conference. Of other educationally-related blogs I have looked at (or indeed have followed), I have noticed that the blogger’s writing seems to flow more freely than compared to those texts that are engaged in more professional or specifically academic space.

Does this mean that the blogger’s voice is not as learned? Does this mean that the blogger’s voice is articulating words that are not as well considered? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is the anticipation that someone might be reading the blog. Perhaps it is the desire to make sure that what is posted is something that is of interest to the casual reader in the hope that he or she might return again to the blog. Perhaps it is the anonymity, albeit in a limited sense, that a blog provides that gives a sense of freedom. I am not sure. What I do know is that I have often wondered why one’s levels of creative output disappear or change when one shifts from the professional / academic piece to that which exists online.

I suspect it has everything to do with the anticipation and anonymity that comes with being a blogger. Certainly, there is a blogging etiquette in that you must be prepared to stand by your opinions online as if you were justifying them in a face-to-face environment. In other words, what you say online should be no different to what you say away from your blog. I think the ability to churn out a 2000 word post in a short space of time and then not be able to do the same with a thesis chapter – despite the fact that the level of knowledge for the topic being covered in the blog could well  be commensurate with the level of knowledge for the section being covered in the thesis – is that there are more heavily defined conventions when it comes to writing a thesis.

That is not to say that blogging is something that happens without any conventions or rules. There are a couple, particularly in relation to the comments one posts, the treatment of others both in and out of the blogosphere and so on. Conventions for blogging are not nearly as acutely defined as those related to the presentation of research. In one sense, I believe that blogging is an outworking of postmodernism. If we apply the concept of blogging to the construction and depiction of history, then blogging can be considered to be a medium for conveying history in a postmodern mode.

Let me ventilate what I mean by using a comparison with what might be considered to be a typical approach to the writing of empirical history. In a empiricist’s account of the past, one would expect to find footnotes and reference lists. The preoccupation with the sources, and indeed with primary sources, is something that has been characteristic of the empirical approach since the nineteenth century. The art of blogging bypasses this expectation. Certainly, there is the capacity to cite sources in a very direct way; hyperlinking the source so there is a direct connection between the blog post and the cited source. In one sense this is the epitomy of empirical history. Technology has provided the means for a reader to judge for themselves the validity of the source material upon which the historian has based his or her argument. The journal-like nature of a blog allows for free thought. There is no need to cite sources or footnote references because the nature of the blog is to allow for a freeflow of ideas. If relativism is at the heart of postmodern thinking then a blog encourages the reader to arrive at their own determination of  the discussion that has been posted. The reader has the ability to verify, in an online manner, what the blogger is saying. He or she has control over this themselves, in a very real and direct way.

So, is the blogging voice contrived or real? For me, it is quite real. I blog in the same way as I might lay out ideas in a classroom for students. The turns of phrase I use in a blog are conversational but they are not what would appear in a research-related publication. I meet the expectations that are set for successful writing in an academic context. I don’t think a blogging voice is contrived. It is simply a reflection of a different way of thinking and of discussing ideas. It is free of the formality that comes with academic publications, both in terms of the writer being free to express their ideas and the reader being able to verify what has been said, but this freedom from formality does not equate to a lack of academic integrity. No. The style may not conform with a peer-reviewed journal or the writing guidelines for a dissertation that is about to be submitted for examination but it can, if the blogger so wishes, remain a thoughtful and objective exercise in critical thinking.

My hope is that will be the case for this blog, as I continue to add to it.

By way of an introduction


At the time, I suspect many people thought it was one of the most ridiculous decisions I have ever made. In fact, I’m pretty sure some people thought it was downright stupid. I had willingly put myself into a situation whereby I was completing my PhD at the same time as changing jobs and moving my family of five to a different country.

Such was my passion for teaching and learning, and in particular for working in international education, that the absurdity of making the decision to move when I was in the final stages of my doctoral studies made me barely raise an eyebrow.

Fast forward two years into the future and here I am, living in Germany, with my family, PhD completed and awarded, fulfilling the role of Director of Student Learning and Head Principal of an international school. My role entails not only overseeing all the academic programs of the school but also the operations of three campuses, and leading the strategic planning process to make the school a better place for learning; to be the school’s ‘lead learner’, as it were.

Formative assessment, deep learning pedagogies, alternative credentials, technology accelerating learning are some of the topics that might be covered in this blog. They are certainly relevant to me and my own context, at this point in time and are definitely topics that have a wider application to teaching and learning in general. I am sure there will be other things covered as well.

So, my intent with the posts to this blog is to reflect on teaching and learning and to contribute in a meaningful way to the discourse about learning, and the discussions about the changes taking place in realm of teaching and learning. International education will be a particular focus but not the only one. So, thank you for stopping by this particular quiet backwater of the blogosphere. I hope you will continue to come back and see where and how this blog ends up.