Educational Leadership for the 21st Century

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Educational leadership for the 21st Century demands that anyone with an interest in improving or transforming schools thinks differently about how schools operate. A school is a live operating system, more akin to a living organism than a mechanical model. Each part is critical to the health of the system, and a problem in any one part detracts from the health of the whole. If the goal of the educational leader is to create a school that better serves the needs, interests and potential of the learners and community he or she is accountable to, the design of the learning system must be easy to implement yet provide for the complexity in which schools operate.

The five themes in the Indigo Schools Self-assessment Framework provide deep insights into the health of a school’s learning system and identify the priorities for improvement. The framework provides for educators to explore opportunities, identify priorities for action and act to transform the results achieved within a school. The purpose of Indigo Schools is to enable every parent, teacher, school leader and governor to have access to a school leadership framework that they can apply to magnifying the prospect of excellence now, and realise the school’s vision for a preferred future.

The Indigo Schools Framework is designed to enable a school leader to answer the question: 

“How good is the school I lead, and what are the priorities for change I should make to:

  1. Optimise student progress and achievement;
  2. Strengthen progress towards the school’s vision for a preferred future, and;
  3. Enhance the quality of the student and staff experience?”

An audit of the Five Dimensions of the school’s operating system through a self-review process reveals what the priorities for improvement are and what can be expected to add greatest value to the health of a school. This serves to align all parts of the system with the overall purpose for the school’s existence: to optimise student progress and achievement, along with the quality of the staff and student experience within the school environment. 

School leaders sit at the centre of a complex web of groups with a vested interest in the curriculum offered to learners in their schools. They are accountable to a regulatory authority for making sure the prescribed core of skills and knowledge it believes is essential is delivered. A school leader is also accountable to the School Governing Body for translating a school’s mission, including its vision for the future and what it values and establishes as its goals, into the operational work that shape its learning, teaching and assessment programmes.

A modern age of rapid change informed by disruptive technologies and innovation along with the collective experience of Covid-19 has accelerated into both learners and school staff an additional responsibility: to actively interrogate what they do, how they do it and the reasons for why the programmes they are a part of exist as they do. This applies to every aspect of school life starting with the main reason schools exist; to enable learners to learn what they must as effectively as possible in the contexts within which they live, work and learn.

The first step on the road to continuous improvement is to ‘see yourself’ as you really are. The Indigo Schools Framework provides for all interested groups to explore the opportunities to improve, identify priorities for action and act to transform the results achieved by a school that serves the needs, interests and potential of the learners and communities they are accountable to. The process shifts the entire emphasis of school improvement from an input focus to an output focus, externally directed and proscribed to self-directed, with the locus of control shifting from external authority to decisions made by informed professionals. 

The five themes that form the core of the Indigo Schools Framework are:

Theme 1

Six Phases of School Development that highlight the journey from a traditional school structure to one that is future-ready. These six phases describe the evolution of schools’ operating systems across three broad stages with three transformational stages. They demonstrate how schools have operated in the past and this can be displaced by a series of interconnected interventions. These interventions enable schools to leapfrog into a preferred future of student progress, achievement and organisational excellence. 

The three broad stages that exist in the evolution of a school are Fragmented, Formalised and Focused, and this evolution is characterised by continuous improvement. Continuous improvement in an organisation manifests in two forms: incremental improvement and transformation. In the transformation stages the priorities for improvement that form the foundation for a new and better way of optimising student progress and achievement are made explicit. Transformation disrupts current best practice and displaces or absorbs it in an utterly new way of ‘seeing’ and operating that is exponentially better. 

Theme 2

The Five Levels of Work relate directly to a school’s main responsibility as a service provider to the students and community of interest it serves. Five levels of problem-solving and decision-making complexity are identified, and these are based on the most important problems that must be solved and decisions made in each. 

In the most effective schools, every member of the school community takes responsibility for the obligations attached to his or her role. What this means is that in every level of problem-solving complexity on the spine of authority and accountability in a school, people invest the best they are capable of in meeting their obligations for the roles that are their own. 

The main purpose of work in schools is to optimise student progress and achievement. The key point of focus and where the value is created is the relationship between each spectrum of work. The relationships between work streams is always ‘with’ – never ‘to’, and the Levels must align to optimise the health of a school’s operating system.

Theme 3

Five Critical Questions guide educators towards what they must achieve in their roles. It is important to be as clear as possible about exactly what the outcomes to be achieved in every role and level of work are and how the results they are expected to achieve in their roles will be assessed.

A simple review consisting of five basic questions is outlined to assist in this process. These questions are essential for a person to have meaning in their work, to understand why the job is necessary and how what they do adds value. The questions examine what the work means in the contexts in which it is done, and what the value is that a person is expected to add to their school. 

Theme 4

Through extensive research, we have identified the Seven Dimensions of School Operations that most strongly influence the quality of a school’s offerings and services. The seven dimensions of work are interconnected and interdependent, and are essential to any healthy education and learning system.

Three dimensions that focus on the work done to optimise student achievement and inspire a love of learning cohere in what we have dubbed the ‘Golden Triangle’. This concerns the meaning of the contribution made in each level of work, the context of the work, and the changes in it that are a key feature of continuous improvement.

The seven dimensions focus on all aspects of a school’s services, including curriculum design, shaping and delivery of assessment, reporting and record-keeping. They translate the school’s values into action in a culture that secures the well-being of learners and staff and a commitment to improvement as a norm in all school activities, and ensures alignment with the school’s Mission, effecting excellence in the performance of school operations.

Theme 5

A Dynamic Work Cycle that sustains a commitment to excellence now and even better next time. The stages in the Dynamic Cycle sustain a commitment to ‘excellence now’ in learning and work, and students and educators can use them to address problems in learning, work and life. Through applying the Indigo Schools Self-assessment process, evidence of a school’s strengths and weaknesses and identification of the priorities for improvement initiates a dynamic cycle of continuous improvement. This process is integral to how people in modern contexts manage themselves, along with the teams they are accountable to within modern organisations.

For schools to evolve from an industrial model of education, the school leader must identify the departure point for school transformation along the continuum of school development and identify the priorities for improvement. 
The themes described above are flexible and easily adapted to reflect the particular interests of concerned parties such principals, teachers and curriculum managers or members of a school board. They represent the Indigo Schools’ commitment to provide resources to any educator or person with an interest in transforming schools and learning systems globally. If you’re interested in Educational Leadership for the 21st Century and learning more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school, send us an email at Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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