Middle Leadership Development Program

The School Leadership Institute’s Middle Leadership Development Program is the largest professional learning program in Australia for assistant principals and head teachers. The program began in Term 3, 2022 for 200 middle leaders.

About the Middle Leadership Development Program

Research shows middle leaders – assistant principals and head teachers – play a crucial role in leading excellence in teaching practice and student outcomes. They are the school leaders who have a direct impact in classrooms and their influence extends across classrooms, teaching teams and schools.

The Middle Leadership Development Program (MLDP) will build leadership excellence and help lift learning outcomes across NSW public schools.  The program is designed around the core principles of moral purpose, inclusion and impact.

The MLDP is delivered by the SLI in partnership with the University of Newcastle and the University of Wollongong.

Over 18 months, the program will provide targeted, evidence-informed professional learning to build on strengths and develop the capacity of middle leaders to grow as learning leaders who create impact, drive improvement, and enhance student and teacher learning outcomes.

Middle leaders will engage collaboratively in teams, supported by experienced deputy principal or principal facilitators.

This program is designed for assistant principals and head teachers who:

  • actively engage in learning and are willing to commit to a challenging program
  • are driven by the moral purpose to improve the quality of teaching and therefore the quality of student learning in their schools
  • have demonstrated expertise in teaching and learning
  • have demonstrated a positive impact on teacher and student learning.

Participants who successfully complete the MLDP may be eligible to apply for credit of prior learning for postgraduate studies in educational leadership.

Watch the SLI Advisory Board discuss how middle leaders can build strong school teams.

Ann McIntyre

- It's interesting when we're looking at leadership and the spheres of influence one of the things that is actually quite interesting is the transition that you make, when teachers move into a formal middle leadership position, because they're identified on the basis of their teaching expertise.

They then come into a position where they're thinking, hang on a sec, I feel comfortable in terms of what I need to do with my class. How do I make a difference for the classroom next door?

So the skills of leadership actually come together with the skills of curriculum and assessment and pedagogy in a very interesting way.

But some of the things that I think are really critical is looking at the fact that most of them are leading a faculty or leading a stage or particular area within a school, and to be thinking about how they work with teams.

So that focus on team leadership, the ways of developing an analysis of what's happening and what needs to happen next and co-developing goals and learning to work in a way that is actually interdependent and having some shared responsibility for outcomes.

All of those things I think are particularly important coming from that domain expertise area.

Bill Louden

It's tricky Simon when you're leading a team that you are part of.

(everyone laughs)

Which is what where middle leaders are.

Simon Breakspear

- I think so. And you kind of, you're always thinking, oh someone's just told me in a leadership program to have courageous conversations about practice improvement but I'm going to have my lunch next to this person tomorrow. Is it really worth kind of entering into that challenging space?

And so it's one of those things, you know, when I'm working with middle level leaders in New South Wales I'm often saying, yes, there's going to be a lot of the getting the nuance of the interpersonal discussions right.

But let's think about how to what Michael Fullan I think first termed use the group to change the group.

And so rather than going straight towards trying to improve individuals, firstly, I'm thinking about how do I set up some team routines? What are our team routines of, how do we program together?

How do we look at data together, our team routines if we do have an observation and feedback schedule and so, normalising the sense of what are our team routines and what are they for?

Secondly, I'm a big fan of protocols to support professional conversation. So rather than, you know, somehow I've got, I've just come from teaching five periods straight in a secondary.

And now I've got a 3:30 meeting with my faculty and we're meant to have a conversation about practice improvement and data.

I'm a big fan of using protocols because protocols often help structure a more disciplined conversation. And particularly if we've got some sort of way of capturing it, you have a third point conversation.

So you and I aren't in this relational kind of looking at each other's eyes, which could be quite challenging, but actually we're both talking about, you know some sort of improvement.

So protocols like visible thinking routines or other protocols, like a clinic protocol, a tuning protocol.

I say this as a middle leader, almost like a set of cards that you carry around and you think, what kind of conversation do we need to have as a team right now?And how might I use one of those structured protocols to have a 20 or 30 minute discussion?

And then lastly, you know, I'm a big fan of middle leaders thinking about how I can, how they can support their colleagues engage meaningfully with evidence.

So rather than it being about, well I'm the hierarchal position now technically,but maybe I have less experience in the subject or less experience in the school. And now I'm trying to convince you to teach more like me.

What I prefer to do is to have some evidence out, some evidence like Rosenshine's principles of instructional evidence, like the What Works Best.

And for us to meaningfully have a discussion about what does this evidence suggest about practices that might be more effective with our kids?

How is this similar or different to what we're currently doing? Are there areas that we might need to adjust our practice, stop doing?

So I think that idea of like using routines, using protocols, having disciplined discussions about evidence can sometimes de-personalise some of the workand allow it to be, I think easier to do If you're going to be working in the same space as someone.

Bill Louden

- And some of those things are less challenging, easier to do. Most people will be happy to look at other classes students work, and look at each other's work and then maybe do some cross-marking and then have a think about what the cross-marking taught.

So all the time you're looking at the student's work, not at the teacher's behaviour, but there's a lesson for us all in seeing what other people's kids can do.

Ann McIntyre

That's right. I've found exactly the same. So it's in the work with schools, the point that is less confronting is actually looking at student work, unpacking then behind it, what teacher actions actually brought forth those outcomes is then the interesting point of analysis.

So at its most fundamental level and like you I think having protocols to work with gives you a structure for some deeper discussion.

But I think also at a fundamental level one of the things that I found is most significant is when teachers are planning together, when they're teaching together, when they're assessing student work together, they identified those as three of the strongest points of learning about their own practice.

So it's coming down to some things that sounds simple but are so fundamental in terms of how you work together collaboratively. And how you inquire about the impact of your teaching on student learning.

Bill Louden

Yeah. So there's easy points, easy places to start and there's hard places, but I mean eventually you have to get to some of the hard places.

So, you know, I'm happy to recommend that everyone goes on looks at that what works stuff because I think it's right. Getting people to look at that and ask, well am I beginning with a daily review?

Am I being sufficiently explicit? And am I breaking things into small enough steps for these kids? Am I re-teaching often enough?

And so on, that that's the harder end because it goes much more to the heart and practice of the person. But maybe if you start with looking at kids' work, you can get there.

Simon Breakspear

- Yeah. I think one of the things I would say is take a longer term perspective that, you know, maybe the first time you try to engage with evidence, you know people don't go into that deep reflective discussion.

You say, well, where do we want to move in our team health this term, you know, can we moderate some work together?

Could we look at one piece of evidence and build some knowledge even if it doesn't change practice, could we have a better programming kind of session?

And then you think next term, well we might've stabilised some of those ways of working and we can sort of slowly edge up into deeper levels of psychological safety, willingness to learn together.

And look, you may not win the whole team, but you know, you probably can get some key allies to come further and further and sort of change where the norms are in that group.

Bill Louden

- And zooming right back out to where we were talking a bit earlier about long-term and short-term goals.

That's a perfect example of a set of short-term goals. How can we in our next 10 weeks, what can we do about our norms of collaboration and then something beyond there. But that, you know, 10 weeks progress on norms of collaboration will be worth doing.

Further reading

Additional information about the Middle Leadership Development Program is available on our Leadership Resources pages (staff only).

More information

For more information, contact the School Leadership Institute at slicorrespondence@det.nsw.edu.au

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