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Home >  Blog >  CaSPA Equity Scholarship Recipient - Mary Farah

CaSPA Equity Scholarship Recipient - Mary Farah

Posted on 11 August 2017
CaSPA Equity Scholarship Recipient - Mary Farah

The CaSPA Board awards an annual scholarship to the value of $5000 to a principal in a school community that might otherwise not have the ready capacity to provide support for that person's Professional Development. The recipient of the 2016 Equity Scholarship was Mary Farah, principal of St Aloysius College, North Melbourne.

Applications are now open for the 2017 Scholarhsip - click here for details

Mary has kindly provided a summary of the course she attended at the Harvand Graduate School of Education [pictured above] during July 2017:

Mary Farah: Initial Findings and Reflections:


Evolving Leadership Course at Harvard University Preamble


Firstly, I wish to extend my great thanks for the wonderful opportunity provided to me, by way of support, for my enrolment in the Evolving Leadership Course at Harvard University; the course occurred between Sunday July 9 and Saturday July 15 2017. Throughout the week, I certainly marvelled at the outstanding presenters who challenged, who provided insights and set questions to take back to our own centres of learning. Having the opportunity to read and discuss their books and their work, and now having an opportunity to implement many of their findings and ideas is unmeasurable. During the course of the week, undertaking the study allowed me time to reflect upon my own role as a school leader and the daily and yearly challenges it presents. One of the most re-assuring aspects of the experience was hearing from colleagues right the across the globe, including many Principals and Educators from different parts of Australia, share the same experiences and similar challenges in their own leadership roles. The course may have only lasted a week, but the ripples it has created will be felt for many years to come.
 
Presenters and their Topics
As demonstrated by the comprehensive list below, the ideas and themes of the Evolving Leadership Course at Harvard are deliberately wide and many. Having the opportunity to discuss further with each presenter, and topic, ensured that appropriate depth was added. The professional conversations that followed, and continue to occur, added extra layers of meaning and interpretation, resulting in learning far beyond the initial presentation.
Pre-reading accompanied each presentation, and we that were enrolled were certainly far from being passive learners; we were involved, we were challenged on both the readings and the content, but more than that, we were engaged and motivated by the energy and vitality of the presentations and by the usefulness and relevancy of the content.

  • Strategy in action Elizabeth City
  • Project adventure Challenge by Choice
  • Leadership: A cognitive View Howard Gardner
  • Powerful Learning: From the Classroom to the System- Jal Mehta
  • Mindfulness for Educational Leaders - Metta McGarvey
  • Cultural Leadership for Transforming School Organizations- Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell Family Engagement - Karen Mapp
  • Maximizing the Impact of Technology for Learning - Chris Dede
  • Universal Design for Learning - Jon Mundorf
  • Engaging Your Publics - Joe Blatt
  • Supporting Beginning Teachers in Instruction -Katherine Merseth


Significant Learning and initial Reflections
As stated earlier, and as eluded to by the course title, Evolving Leadership Course, new learning will come when much of the take-aways from the course and implemented in our own environments. The notion of evolution was a strong one, knowing where we are in the present and evolving vision, systems, processes and people to move to an improved place. Nevertheless, some big questions started many discussions:
Schools and systems spend thousands of dollars on providing opportunities for staff to attend professional learning sessions and seminars. How though are new ideas and new literature, from these sessions, shared and, the next step, how are they implemented in schools?
How can we improve transfer of knowledge? How can we ensure that resources are shared, and used to create strong and sustainable cultures of learning?
School strategies need to allow for flexibility in order to get the best outcome it is important to remember (and embrace) the fact that strategy can be amended; the essential quality is the commitment.
Howard Gardner's presentation particularly resonated. Professor Gardner spoke about the core characteristics of a leader. Here's a precis of his thoughts:

  • Leaders change minds by affecting how people think and behave, they
  • tell a narrative, or story, which communicates their ideas and arguments to persuade individuals to follow their views. The key traits of exemplary leaders are:
  • High energy, and somewhat undirected energy
  • Elements of risk taking and the challenging of authority (which accumulates over
  • time)
  • They have charisma, but charisma comes in a wide variety of forms
  • They have varying relations to institutions and organisations (often creating, often
  • ignoring, often defying)

There are rhythms of success, but interestingly and conversely, these rhythms unchecked can ultimately lead to failure usually because of the over-confidence of the leader.
Professor Gardner made the truism that in order to be a leader, one must have followers, but expanded on that concept. These followers, he articulated, need to share the beliefs of the leader in order to achieve the stated goals. This is as true within schools as it is within the broader community. Staff must share a leader's vision in order for improvements to be achieved.

Karen Mapp in Building the capacity for effective family - school partnerships also explored leadership, distilling the five essentials:

  1. Leadership as the driver for change
  2. Professional capacity
  3. Student centred learning climate
  4. Instructional guidance
  5. Parent and community ties

A key thought was when hiring new teachers do we ever about their skills in creating and sustaining school family engagement?


Mapp emphasised family involvement not partnership - how do we involve our families? The proposed question was, do we give genuine opportunity for the parents in our schools to comment on their needs and how they would like to be involved, particularly in secondary schools?


Culture was a key theme, and much time was espoused on the definition of what is culture and cultural leadership for transforming school organisations. The importance of the right culture became very clear.


Deborah Helsing, author of Immunity to Change- a tool for developmental growth, was excellent. For those who are interested her book is also excellent, Immunity to Change, and I would certainly recommend it.


Jal Mehta in Powerful Learning: From the Classroom to the System, was very thought- provoking and explored the following questions and themes:

  • Why Deep Learning for Leaders?
  • Simply because we cannot produce deep learning unless the leader is fully cognisant.

Jal started with a question:
If you went to visit a class (or multiple classes) within a school, what would you be looking for as signs of powerful learning? Again, if you cannot answer this as a leader then how can we expect powerful learning to be occurring? Simply, we cannot produce deep learning consistently unless the leader has a thick vision of good, powerful learning and that means that the leader has mechanisms for modelling, communicating, and teaching that vision.

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