Transformative leadership - transforming outcomes

ASCL Preferred Supplier Unifrog shares their views and findings on transformative leadership, and how teaching can play a key role in helping students to broaden their horizons and realise their ambitions. 

Unifrog’s recent Horizons report found that 46% of students who were considering studying abroad said that “being able to speak to someone who’s studying overseas” was the most important factor encouraging them. 

Yousuf Bakshi, a Unifrog user from Cardiff’s Fitzalan High School, shares his experiences of where teachers thinking differently and going above and beyond led to a transformative outcome. While watching Obama’s inauguration speech in January 2009, Yousuf decided he wanted to go to university in America. Despite applying himself at school and having the support of his parents, he explains that “no one from my school had ever applied to a US university before so they lacked information”. 

Luckily for Yousuf, his teachers weren’t going to let this stop them. Assistant Headteacher Jo Kemp said: “for the last few years we have really looked at our high achievers”, and it’s this culture that enabled Yousuf to realise his dream. “My school was incredible with the support they gave me when I decided I wanted to apply to Harvard - one of my teachers went on a course to find out how to be a great counselor for my application. They learnt about how to write a Letter of Recommendation and what other supporting documentation the school needed to provide. I can’t thank my school enough for this.” 

As a result of both Yousuf and his teachers’ refusal to let themselves be pigeon-holed or deterred by what had gone before them, and with a little help from the Unifrog USA search tool, Yousuf started at Harvard this year, the first student from Fitzalan High to apply to a US university. As his mum told him when he first decided to apply to the US: “if you work hard then the world is your oyster and anything is possible”. 

Cultivating the right environment
Eamon Connolly, headmaster of St Thomas the Apostle College in South London cultivates an environment where students believe anything is possible. Teachers often say it is strong direction and talented leadership that makes a school brilliant. Connolly’s deputy headteacher Polly George agrees, saying that: “the head dictates everything about the school ... he fuels its ethos, expectations and its standards”. 

Connolly explains that “some kids growing up in notorious inner-city areas might as well have had a label around their necks”. But, as teachers and school leaders, “it’s really about believing in them, nurturing their talent, showing them success is a possibility.” And Unifrog’s Horizons report found that the aspirations of disadvantaged students are changing, with a 5% increase in the number of disadvantaged students shortlisting a Russell Group university on the platform from 2017-19. 

How to encourage transformative outcomes
  • Lead by example. How you act and conduct yourself trickles down to the rest of the school, to both staff and students. Set the vision for your school and motivate by your own actions. Your school’s mission and values aren’t just words, they need to be how you as a leader act, every day. 
  • Create a supportive environment. Eamon Connolly’s advice is that leading a school also means being prepared to experience the work expected of staff. He still takes lessons from time to time which helps create a supportive environment where responsibility is shared, regardless of seniority.
  • Be open-minded and optimistic. When Yousuf came to his teachers to tell them he wanted to apply to the US, it would have been easy for them to point out all the barriers in his way. But by being receptive, they were able to help him fulfil his potential. 
  • Stay willing to learn. Attend conferences or courses; a key part of transformative leadership is being adaptable and ready to embrace change.

Unifrog are this year’s main sponsor of ASCL Cymru Annual Conference on 21 and 22 November.
Posted: 14/10/2019 11:59:57