Phoenix P-12 Community College principal Karen Snibson is one of five Victorian school leaders taking part in a unique program to help reform leadership of schools.

The two-year Menzies School Leader Fellowship Program helps build the capabilities and skills of school leaders through intensive coaching, research and projects.

At its core is the notion that school leadership is critical to improving learning outcomes of students, so by improving the school’s leaders the entire school will benefit.

Run through the Menzies School Leadership Incubator, if the program is successful it is hoped it could be scaled more widely across the education system.

Ms Snibson applied for the program in 2018 and after a rigorous selection process began the program last year.

Its focus on collective efficacy – or the shared belief that a school’s staff can have a positive impact on student achievement despite other influences in the students’ lives that challenge their success – struck a cord as it was something she and staff at Phoenix had been working hard on over recent years.

And some of the lessons she has learned in her latest studies as part of the fellowship program have given her fresh insight in to the importance of providing support to school leaders to help them through more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments such as the recent months of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Part of the program has been intensive leadership coaching where she regularly reflect on and explain decisions she has made and actions she has taken as a school leader.

“I have been doing that quite intensive leadership coaching for about 18 months around how I develop as a leader and how we develop our leadership team and structure and elements of that have been particularly beneficial through recent months,” Ms Snibson said.

“To be honest I could not be prouder of the way our leaders have stepped up and leaned in to the work of leading in a really difficult environment … and our teaching and educational support staff have been really committed to staying connected to our kids and learning and ensuring we come out the other side of coronavirus stronger.

“Coaching has been pivotal around that understanding of how to keep connections strong and human leadership and what that means when, within a short time, you deconstruct a school and what you have to do to put it back together again.”

    Ms Snibson has found the program challenging and rewarding despite the increased workload on top of an already demanding role as principal of a school of 1500 students throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

    As part of the fellowship program Ms Snibson is also part of the research they are conducting and if this type of leadership development is found to be successful it is likely to be rolled out more broadly across the country.

    Menzies Foundation researchers said there was a gap between theory and implementation of collective efficacy and it is hoped building the skills of school leaders would close the gap and improve educational outcomes.

    Article written by Michelle Smith for The Courier – 16th June 2020