I am writing this article a few days after the ending of our Council meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland. Given that our time together saw the release of the latest Principal Health Barometer survey from Finland, it might be expected that the meeting would have a rather sombre tone. These Health Barometer results confirmed disturbing findings from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and other parts of the world, and suggested that the pressures face by school leaders and the resulting impact upon their health, has never been greater.
However, rather than being downbeat, I think I can never remember such a positive four days, characterised by tremendous professional energy, commitment, and a determination to work together to develop practical and constructive solutions to the real problems and challenges facing our colleagues around the world.
As I thought about our time together, five aspects of it particularly struck me:
- The development of ‘the way we do things around here’. I shared at the end of Council that this phrase is still the best definition of the culture of an organisation or group of people. So what is ‘the way that we do things around here’ in ICP? In my view ICP is a community of practice, a group of experienced practitioners and leaders from around the world committed to sharing their experience and knowledge in order to help their colleagues. Craig Petersen from New South Wales summed it up when he talked about the ever-deepening conversations that we are having with one another during ICP meetings. When Wendy Cave from Australia shared with us a powerful research study, I was struck that it was both carried out and funded by leaders. The ethos and values of our association are becoming ever more defined. The way we do things around here is to share knowledge, expertise, and insights in order to help the worldwide community of school leadership.
- A focus upon the future. I found the first two days of our meeting very powerful as we worked together to explore how best to support the next generation of leaders. The input of newly appointed and emerging leaders to these discussions was deeply impressive and demonstrated the outstanding contribution that they have to make. Whilst recognising barriers and challenges, the overwhelming sense was that existing leaders needed to act as advocates and to take every opportunity to share what a wonderful job we do. This is not to run away from the challenges, but it to ensure that we always represent the privilege of taking a formative role in the leadership of our colleagues and the development of the next generation of young people.
- Only Connect. We concluded with a strong sense that this was just the first step in our work with and for Emerging Leaders. Just as ICP continues to develop as a community of practice, so we need to foster a network of Emerging Leaders and to provide regular opportunities for them to receive the support, encouragement and mentoring that we receive from our network of established leaders.
- Embracing Change. Part of our focus upon the future was a wonderful session on the use of Artificial Intelligence, led by our colleagues Gabriel Rshaid from Argentina and Nadine Trépanier-Bisson from Ontario. They demonstrated its huge potential and the ways it can be used to support school leadership, whilst also reminding us of the challenges and ethical considerations that need to be considered as its role develops. One thing emerged with great clarity- we have to ensure that we grab hold of the opportunities that AI provides. The reality is that our students are already making regular use of Chat GTP, and we have to ensure that we harness its potential.
- Hope. Above all else, our meeting was summed up by this word. By now my colleagues on Executive are used to regular reminders of my allegiance to Liverpool Football Club. At the start of our meetings in Rovaniemi, I explained that the club anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ summed up the approach of ICP to Emerging Leadership and to all of the challenges currently faced by leaders. We want to walk alongside them every step of the way on their leadership journey. Kees van Bergeijk from the Netherlands took us one stage a few days later, by reminding that the reason we do not walk alone is that we have ‘hope in our hearts’. Leadership is all about the sharing of hope, and the school leadership community particular reasons to be hopeful because we have the privilege of shaping the future and preparing the next generation. At the end of Council, I shared the key words that had shaped our four days together, and I suggested to colleagues that Kees had powerfully captured the way in which ICP works. It offers all of us the unique privilege of working with school leadership colleagues from across the world. Thanks to their support and inspiration, we walk on together with, above all else, hope in our hearts.