Sunday, 6 September 2015

Peace of mind with an external review around the corner - 5 easy steps

External reviews can cause undue worry and stress for a school community no matter how well prepared they may be. How can we as leaders, create a supportive climate and ensure peace of mind for our staff ?

In a Catholic school, we have two external reviews every three to four years. One is the mandated government education review that enables school trustees, leaders and teachers to identify the strengths and weaknesses of current performance. We had our last one of these in 2013 and will be next reviewed in 2017-2018. You can read that report here. The other important review is the External Review of Catholic Special Character and Development. We have these every three years and we are due for one next week. You can read an earlier post on the Catholic review process by going to this link.


Challenge and be challenged
As leaders, I believe that we should always be looking at ways to challenge ourselves, have a growth mindset and "move out of our comfort zones". External reviews are an ideal opportunity to ensure that we haven't remained doing the "same old, same old" as we were doing during the previous review. However, waiting until the external review happens isn't good enough. Our system of continual internal self-reviews ensures that we remain at the "top of our game" and don't ever sit back and believe that we are "the best that we can be". Active leaders know that we can always keep growing and learning and must be authentic role models for our colleagues.

Importance of having a national Catholic voice
It is thanks to an enthusiastic and supportive team of staff, in particular our Assistant and Deputy Principals who step up when I am away, that I can accept new and challenging learning opportunities. Most recently, I was able to participate in the New Zealand Catholic Primary Principal's  Executive Meeting in Wellington. The Executive Committee is made up of two representatives from each of the six Catholic dioceses: Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The meeting took place at the New Zealand Principal Federation (NZPF) offices over two and a half days. During that time, guest speakers included Denise Torrey (NZPF president), Sir Br Pat Lynch (CEO Catholic Education Office), Chris Duthie-Jung (The Catholic Institute) and Lorraine Kerr (NZSTA school trustees association president). The opportunity enabled me to reflect on the important role we play as leaders of Catholic schools, especially in ensuring there is a Catholic voice at all levels of the country. It is quite clear that greater consistency of practice in Catholic schools across New Zealand is a must - national Catholic review indicators are an excellent starting point.

Flip the process and write our own report
Keeping that in mind, our external Catholic review is an optimal time to share, showcase and review our excellent practice. We want the experience to be a valuable and positive one for all concerned and we want to be open to new learning, next steps and recommendations. We don't want to finish the review and then say, "I forgot to mention or share this..with the review team." 
Recent reflections have led me to the potential of writing our own review report. That way we can take ownership of the process and therefore experience a reassuring "peace of mind". We can write our own report and present it to the review team either before they arrive or when they arrive. (I am open to suggestions and advice - before or when they arrive ?)

5 easy steps to follow
1. Prepare a template for the final report based on the review format from a past review. It could look something like this.
2. Gather feedback from staff, board, students and parishioners. This can be done collaboratively on a google document or on large sheets of paper. 
3. Agree on recommendations as a result of this collaborative process. Be open, honest and challenging. Present your version of the report to the external review team and encourage them to refer to it during the review.
4. At the formal welcome for the review team, give the students and staff a chance to share and celebrate their roles in relation to the report. 
5. Ensure that the board of trustees share their reflections utilising the different 
dimensions of the report as a planned presentation. 

We have taken ownership of the process and believe that we are as prepared as we can be. 
The outcome is peace of mind for all concerned .


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