Redefining Leadership to Build an Agile and Collaborative Education System

Redefining Leadership

For education systems to thrive in the modern era, leadership must adapt and redefine itself. No longer can leaders dictate top-down in a siloed fashion; instead the focus must shift towards agility, collaboration, and empowerment. Leadership should serve to provide direction, facilitate communication, and remove barriers so that teachers, staff, students, and parents can accomplish more together than any single role could alone.

An agile education system depends on sharing knowledge, risks, and rewards among teams and stakeholders who are closest to the work. Leaders foster constructive dialogue, seek diverse perspectives, and enable decision making throughout the organization. Rather than being individuals with all the answers, leaders develop into coaches and mentors that equip others with the skills and autonomy to succeed. Through this reframing of leadership, education systems can harness the collective intelligence of all involved to achieve more relevant, adaptable, and meaningful learning outcomes. The discussion on this emerging trend took place in 25th Elets World Education Summit in Dubai. Edited excerpts:

Abigail Alexis-Olubuyide, Head of School, Wesgreen International School, Sharjah, UAE, said that, “In recent years, technology has undergone exponential growth. Although some schools had previously incorporated technology, it was the pandemic that accelerated the need for technological integration into our educational systems. This was necessary to facilitate effective collaboration among students, teachers, and leaders. As a result, educational systems needed to be revamped, and leaders had to redefine their leadership styles to ensure the creation of agile and collaborative institutions.”

She further added, “In order to not just survive, but to thrive in these changing times, leaders had to be responsive. Today, we welcome and express gratitude to our guest speakers who will delve into the impact of technology on their personal leadership journeys. It’s worth noting that technology has played a significant role in the globalization of education, which has opened up greater opportunities for collaboration among students and staff.”

She said, “Frequently, discussions about technology center around the perspectives of teachers, the individuals who utilize it the most. However, you mentioned that leaders should be leaders of technology first and foremost, setting an example for others to follow. After all, we cannot guide our institutions to places where we ourselves have not been.”

She stated, “In 2020, due to the pandemic, we finally fully incorporated technology, but moving forward, it’s crucial that we continue to bring technology along with us into the future. Instead of fearing it, we must embrace it as a tool, because if we don’t, our institutions will be left behind. As leaders, it’s up to us to lead the charge in bringing about this change for the future.”

Dr. Sheela Menon, Principal, Ambassador School, Dubai, UAE, said that, “Undoubtedly, technology has greatly accelerated the globalization of education and opened up opportunities for collaboration. The two terms that caught my attention in your statement are “globalization of education” and “opportunities for collaboration.” Technology has played a vital role in achieving both of these goals.”

She further stated, “We now have a global system of education that transcends individual countries, and technology has brought the world closer by integrating classrooms with teaching and learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way we approach education. We have shifted from a pre-pandemic education system to a post-pandemic education system almost overnight. This has led to more opportunities for collaboration and sharing of best practices, which, in turn, has led to the development of new skills and a deeper understanding of the global education system.”

She also mentioned that, “If schools are not following this approach, we need to redefine our approach to education. We need to change the silo mindset and work together instead of in isolation. For instance, in the Teach for Planet sessions I attended, we talked about the need for collaborative action to address climate change. This is a prime example of how a collaborative approach is essential to achieving our desired results. Therefore, technology has undoubtedly brought the education system closer together and highlighted the need for collaboration.”

Allan Kjaer Andersen, Director, Chaman Bhartiya School, Bangalore, India, said that, “As leaders, it is crucial to view technology as an essential aspect of our school’s operations rather than simply implementing it because of its current popularity. Instead of blindly following trends, we should question why we want to integrate technology and ensure that it aligns with our school’s goals.”

She stated, “For example, laptops were provided to each student to facilitate flipped or blended learning, which improved the quality of lessons by allowing students to collaborate on their own and prepare for higher-level discussions with their teachers. This was only possible with technology, as students could access online textbooks and conduct research to supplement their learning. The integration of technology also enabled personalized and inquiry-based learning, which is a core aspect of our school’s pedagogy.”

“Students can use technology to delve deeper into a problem, create and present solutions, and develop physical or digital products. Technology is an integral part of our Center for Creativity and Innovation, where students can design robots, code apps, build Lego structures, and more. In summary, we should view technology as a tool to facilitate our desired educational outcomes, such as inquiry-based learning and creativity, rather than a mere accessory to be added to our curriculum,” she added.

Abhilasha Singh, Principal, Shining Star International School, Abu Dhabi, UAE, said that, “Collaboration is essential for survival and growth, as we cannot thrive in isolation. As the saying goes, “be a part of something bigger than yourself.” One way to achieve this is by initiating a project that invites local, regional, and international collaboration. A great example of this is a climate action project or a goals project that incorporates education for sustainable development into the school curriculum. Technology can be used to drive social good and create numerous opportunities for students to take action within the school.”

She also mentioned that, “School leaders must support teachers who have creative and innovative ideas by creating a space for them to implement these projects. One way to do this is by connecting with groups like Take Action Global, which conducts two flagship projects every year. One such project is the Climate Action Project, a six-week design thinking project that connects classrooms worldwide and offers virtual meetups. By participating in such projects, students gain a deeper understanding of climate and weather and the importance of sustainable development goals. By initiating similar projects and promoting collaboration, schools can encourage their students to give back to their communities and take action while learning important lessons.”

Jaya Menezes, Principal, Apple International School, Dubai, UAE, stated that, “In my opinion, the primary purpose of schools is to impart knowledge and skills to students. As leaders of international schools or schools of any curriculum, we have the power to create an optimal learning environment for our students, where both knowledge and skills can be imparted effectively. However, as technology has become increasingly central to education, our perspective towards leadership must change. For example, leaders must strive to create schools where students and staff are actively engaged in the use of technology. If leaders themselves are not proficient in technology, schools will not be able to promote its use effectively.”

She mentioned that, “Today’s students, often referred to as millennials, have a vastly different educational experience than their parents or most teachers. Teaching them using outdated methods would not create the right workforce for the future. Therefore, it’s crucial for leaders, especially those in schools where students lay their foundation, to become digital leaders. Only then can leaders change their schools’ vision and mission and create the best learning environment for their students, empowered by digitalization.”