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  • jancresswell

Leadership for a changing world

’Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead they describe a future they’d like to create.’ Seth Godin

It matters even more so now in the context of an interconnected world which faces complex and increasingly global challenges. Not only do we need to promote collaborative practice within our classrooms and our staffrooms but we also need to nurture empathetic responses. Our students will step out into a world of AI and robotics, a world in which they will need either the skills to create the code and / or the skills which computers are still some way from mastering: the skills of empathy and compassionate decision-making.

Research published by Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., into the future of jobs and training sees this as an opportunity: ‘Devin Fidler, research director at the Institute for the Future, predicted, “As basic automation and machine learning move toward becoming commodities, uniquely human skills will become more valuable. There will be an increasing economic incentive to develop mass training that better unlocks this value.” Susan Price, a digital architect at Continuum Analytics, commented, “Increasingly, machines will perform tasks they are better suited to perform than humans, such as computation, data analysis and logic. Functions requiring emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and creative judgment and discernment will expand and be increasingly valued in our culture.”’

We set our students well on the road to thriving in this brave new world if we make these our daily habits of interaction and if we design our curricula both in and beyond the classroom to provide opportunities for everyone in our community to practise them. In a world brought to a sudden realignment by the limitations of Covid lockdowns, we have demonstrated our innate adaptability and our ingenuity in finding ways to connect and collaborate. In effect, we have all been granted a little focused time to hone our empathy and compassion.

As school leaders, too, we face increasingly complex situations where a collaborative response allows for dialogue, exploration and negotiation. If we are to address matters such as representation and visibility of all communities in the curriculum, or issues of equality and social mobility, or if we are to find supportive approaches to the questions raised by gender identification, and if we want to ensure that our plans to promote well-being meet the needs of our community, it will help if we realise that we do not hold all the answers ourselves. Complex situations are often messy, shifting and full of uncertainty, and they sometimes require painful acknowledgement of error, judgement or oversimplification (all of which may well have stemmed from good intentions).

Take the issue of environmental sustainability. Many of you will have experienced the collective action of your students participating in the Extinction Rebellion protests which gathered global attention in 2019; no doubt you spent time with them afterwards reflecting thoughtfully and practically on the implications. As compassionate leaders, we hold as core values care for others and care for the planet but this does not mean that the decisions to be made in response are straightforward. In their paper ‘Tackling the tangle of environmental conflict’, Walker et al describe the ‘tangle triad’ of complexity, uncertainty and controversy. They note that environmental decision-making often involves encountering ‘multiple parties, multiple issues, cultural differences, deeply-held values and worldviews’, a list which would be equally applicable to any of the issues identified above.

No matter how clear an understanding we may believe ourselves to have, on any of these important subjects, there is huge value in taking the time to find and listen to other perspectives before making decisions or taking action. I rather like Susan Senecah’s notion of having a ‘Trinity of Voice’, where interested parties are brought meaningfully together by having access to the discussion (including the information they need to understand the issue), standing (the recognition that they are entitled to a view) and influence (the chance to have their opinion considered). We are back to the important territory of listening.

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