The effective Learning and Teaching change leader

‘Change doesn’t just happen but must be led, and deftly’

  • Key lessons on effective change leadership in higher education
  • Top ranking capabilities of leaders in the higher education learning leaders studies
  • Indicators used by experienced HE leaders to judge success
  • Findings from research on effective Learning and Teaching leaders
  • Recurring satisfactions and challenges of being a higher education leader
  • Putting the leadership capabilities into practice
  • References & further guidelines on leading change in higher education

Key question addressed in this section

 

  • What are the key capabilities that higher education change leaders possess and how can I apply these to supporting effective change in assuring the quality of achievement standards, assessment and learning in my university or college?

Think of the most effective Higher Education leader you have encountered in your career. List out what it was about this person that led you to pick them. Then compare your perspective with the research findings in Boxes 14, 15 and 16 below.

Box 14 summarises the key lessons from three decades of research and experience with effective change leadership in higher education (see Scott, 1999, Scott, Coates and Anderson, 2008; Fullan and Scott, 2009, Scott et al 2012 in the Reference Section of the site). These key lessons were discussed and endorsed during the Fellowship workshops.

Box Fourteen

Key lessons on effective change leadership in higher education


  • Listen to those who have to implement the proposed change (always with a case for change and a menu of options that have worked elsewhere), link (what most of the people involved say is most relevant and feasible), leverage (by asking a small group of those staff most advanced in the area concerned to trial the preferred option under controlled conditions in order to identify what works best in practice then lead (scale up what works with other staff using the trial team as coaches) – always in that order.
  • Effective leaders are effective teachers and practice what they preach.
  • The most effective leaders have highly developed personal, interpersonal and cognitive capabilities.

 

What follows unpacks what these lessons mean in practical terms. The top ranking capabilities identified below can be used as a framework for reflection as you seek to build your own capability as a local Learning and Teaching Leader and can be directly applied to leading change in the area of assuring the quality of achievement standards and assessment in the courses for which you are responsible.

Exactly the same capability framework, subscales and items that have been used in studies of successful early career graduates (see Figure Two) have been used in an extensive range of studies of effective academic and professional leaders in universities and colleges around the world. Box Fifteen summarises the top 12 highest ranked items from the Learning leaders in times of change study of 500 experienced learning leaders in Australian Higher Education (Scott, Coates & Anderson, 2008). These align directly with the feedback given during the Fellowship workshops on the attributes of the most effective higher education leaders participants said they had worked with. What is noteworthy about these findings is that they have much in common with the top ranking capabilities of successful early career graduates and, like that group, by far the largest number of top ranking capabilities relate not to having high levels of skills and knowledge (something which emerges as being necessary but not sufficient for effective Learning and Teaching change leadership) but high levels of personal, interpersonal and cognitive capability. This also aligns with recent research by US researchers like Marilee Bresciani (2015) and Chade Meng Tan (Tan, 2012) on the critical role of ‘mindfulness’ in effective professional practice and change leadership in a wide range of professions. It was agreed that referring to the top ranking higher education leadership capabilities identified in Box 15 would provide an ideal way in which to reflect on and learn from experience, especially when, as a local leader, one is faced with a dilemma or a time when things are going awry. It was also noted that the capabilities have much in common with the attributes of the most effective (resilient, adaptable and sustainable) organisations.

Box Fifteen

Highest ranking capabilities for 500 experienced Higher Education Learning and Teaching Leaders

Personal (P)
  • Being true to one’s personal values & ethics (2)
  • Remaining calm under pressure or when things take an unexpected turn (3)
  • Understanding my personal strengths & limitations (5)
  • Energy, passion and enthusiasm for Learning and Teaching (7)
  • Admitting to and learning from my errors (10)

Interpersonal (IP)

  • Being transparent & honest in dealings with others (1)
  • Empathising and working productively with staff and other key players from a wide range of backgrounds (4)

Cognitive (C)

  • Identifying from a mass of information the core issue or opportunity in any situation (8)
  • Making sense of and learning from experience (9)
  • Thinking creatively & laterally (11)
  • Diagnosing the underlying causes of a problem & taking appropriate action to address it (12)

Skills and Knowledge (S&K)

  • Being able to organise my work & manage time effectively (6)

 

Box 16 gives the top 12 ranked capability items and their mean importance rating specifically for the 103 experienced Heads of Program involved in the Learning Leaders research and compares this with the results for the 134 Heads of School (HOS) involved in the same study (their ranking is provided in brackets). Participants said that using these in combination with the top ranked items in Box 15 will provide a more systematic way to reflect on and learn from experience as a change leader.

Box Sixteen

Top ranking capabilities in the Learning Leaders study for Heads of Program and Heads of Program and heads of School/Department

Top 12 items in rank order for Head of Program

1. Understanding my personal strengths and limitations (P) (HOS 5)

2. Being able to organise my work and manage time effectively (S&K) (HOS 9)

3. Remaining calm under pressure or when things take an unexpected turn (P) (HOS 2)

4. Energy, passion and enthusiasm for learning and teaching (P) (HOS 20)

5. Being transparent & honest in dealings with others (IP) (HOS 1)

6. Empathising and working productively with staff and others from a wide range of backgrounds (IP) (HOS 3)

7. Admitting to and learning from my errors (P) (HOS 7)

8. Being true to one's personal values and ethics (P) (HOS 6)

9. Making sense of and learning from experience (C) (HOS 15)

10. Thinking creatively and laterally (C) (HOS 18)

11. Being willing to take a hard decision (P) (HOS 4)

12. Maintaining a good work/life balance (P) (HOS 33)

 

A key finding from this research is that everyone, not just senior staff, is a leader of change in their own area of expertise and that local leaders are, in fact, the final arbiters of whether a desired change actually gets translated into daily practice by staff. Also, the capabilities identified in Boxes 15 and 16 align with the attributes and culture of change capable universities and colleges. So it is by populating higher education institutions with central and local leaders who have the above profile that change capable institutions are built through leaders who have these top ranking attributes modelling to their staff how to behave when change is in the air. As the Learning Leaders in Times of Change study (Scott, Coates & Anderson, 2008) and subsequent higher education change leadership research (Scott, Tilbury, Sharp and Deane, 2012) have noted this has important implications for exactly what criteria and measures are used in selection processes for leadership positions in universities and colleges and for the professional development of leaders. A detailed discussion of this issue is undertaken in Fullan and Scott (2009: Chapter 9 – Leadership selection and learning).

 

Key question

  • How do I judge that I am doing a good job as local leader in this area?

Team exercise

Think of a time when you really thought that you were doing an effective job in your role. List out what indicators, occurrences and evidence led you to come to this conclusion. Then compare your indicators with those from the leaders involved in studies of effective performance as a local L&T leader below.

Findings from research on effective Learning and Teaching leaders

The following indicators identified by the people in different local leadership roles in the ‘Learning leaders in times of change’ study were discussed at the workshops. Participants suggested they be included in this guide as a way for people in the same role to compare their perspective on the indicators they use to judge they are successfully implementing key changes in higher education Learning and Teaching:

A/Dean

  • Producing significant improvements in L&T quality
  • High quality graduate outcomes
  • Successful implementation of new initiatives

Head of School

 

  • Collegial working environment
  • High quality graduate outcomes
  • Successful implementation of new initiatives

 

Head of Program

  • High quality graduate outcomes
  • Positive user feedback
  • Producing significant improvements in L&T quality

Directors of L&T

  • Successful implementation of new initiatives
  • Bringing innovative policies/practices into action
  • Producing significant improvements in L&T quality

 

 Key question

  • What most gives you satisfaction and what most causes frustration in your role as a local leader in this area?

Compare your results with those in Box 17

Suggestions from Fellowship participants

Fellowship workshop participants noted the importance of understanding the recurring satisfactions of being a local leader as well as the recurring challenges. As Box 17 indicates the satisfactions identified in our higher education leadership research emerge as being essentially the opposite side of the coin from the challenges. This, participants suggest, indicates that, as the challenges are addressed, the satisfactions are likely to increase.

Box Seventeen

Local L&T leaders - key satisfactions and challenges 

 Recurring Satisfactions  Recurring Challenges
  • Working with a great team
  • Helping shape strategy 
  • Implementing projects
  • Seeing systems run smoothly & productively
  • Being recognised for work well done
  • Senior Staff Support
  • Having Autonomy & trust
  • Positive student response
  • Addressing a key world issue
  • HR & staffing issues
  • Unclear direction / priorities
  • Staff / Leaders hard to engage
  • Inefficient processes, systems & meetings 
  • Contrubution not noticed 
  • Constant ad hoc demands
  • Assessment quality 
    • unclear concept
    • unaligned resources; silos
 Listen, link, leverage then lead
  • With a menu & rationale
  • Listen to resisters
  • Listen to key players before a meeting
  • Discuss first then confirm with an email

 Leader as model

  • Model the attributes of a change capable culture whenever possible
  • Deft use of meetings & chairing
 Leader as Teacher
  • Peer group counts
  •  Link to successful solutions via tracking systems – in the same course and context 
  •  Learn by doing under controlled conditions

 Leader as Learner

  • Strategic networking
  • Use networked learning
  • RATED CLASS A works for you as it does for staff & students