We recently caught up with Michael Fowles from Teach To Lead‘s Cohort 2019. Michael is currently in his sixth year of teaching, having been a Leading Teacher for three of those. Commencing his teaching career in a rural setting, he has since worked in the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne and contributed to a range of initiatives that have aimed to assist in closing the gap of educational disadvantage experienced by many students. Whilst his heart will always be working with students in the classroom, he is passionate about educational leadership and the power it has to influence teacher practice and student outcomes on a larger scale.
What made you want to become a teacher?
Teaching had always been a career I considered pursuing since I was young. However, I decided to first complete a Commerce degree due to society’s view that I “could do so much more” (little did I know). After a number of internships I decided I wanted to follow my passion and entered into a Masters of Teaching course. After the first day of placement I knew then and there that I had made the right decision and that this was the career path for me. I am passionate about working with young people and they inspire me each and every day. I am also passionate about working in areas where I can assist in the mission to close the gap of educational disadvantage that we see in our current system.
What made you want to make the move into school leadership?
My initial Leading Teacher role (Student Voice, Agency and Leadership) was a portfolio that I was extremely passionate about in my own practice and I wanted to be part of the process of expanding it into the framework of our College. I wanted to take the opportunity to share my own passion and build it into others practice. I truly believe in the power of a young person’s voice and the importance of this on their educational pathway. From this, I have continued building my own understanding of the powerful impact positive school leadership can have on the outcomes of students, not only academically but as the whole person. It has driven me to take on my current role at the end of term two, just prior to lockdown as I wanted to ensure that our senior students had the supports they needed during this time.
What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on your school community?
Whilst it was a tough time for everyone, as a whole the COVID-19 experience has been a powerful experience in which teachers had to learn a whole range of new skills in a rapid timeframe, which will continue to be beneficial moving forward. It allowed students and teachers to work together in a whole new way where they both become empathic of each other’s situation and more understanding of the challenges each other were experiencing. As leaders, we had to adapt quickly in order to support staff through this difficult time. We also had to find new ways to support students during such a stressful time.
What, if anything, do you think will be fundamentally different in teaching/learning/schools after COVID-19?
The use of technology has been significantly enhanced since we have returned to the classroom (pre lockdown 2.0). It will also allow for schools to explore different ways to deliver their educational programs, including considerations for when staff members are away and for students who are school refusers. It opens up a world of possibilities and ensures that we can continue to be adaptable in the ever changing environments in which we work.
How do you strike the balance between wanting to prove yourself as a new leader, and being vulnerable and open for feedback?
This is a challenge for all leaders however I truly believe in the philosophy of ‘leading by example’. Being willing to seek feedback from those we lead allows for more trusting relationships to be built and makes providing open and honest feedback back a lot easier. I ensure that I seek structured and targeted feedback on my leadership that will give me useful information in order to improve. This openness is very effective when the roles are reversed and I need to do the same. Showing some level of vulnerability is important for any leader as we are not always right and this should not diminish our confidence in ourselves, our role or the decisions we make.
What is your one best piece of advice or strategy for surviving and thriving in early leadership?
I believe it is important to ensure that all new leaders understand the difference between ‘Educational Leadership’ and ‘Educational Management’. Whilst at certain times we may need to use more ‘management’ skills, our role should always be focused around ‘leadership’. Educational Leadership is about empowering others to build upon their practice and the outcomes for all students. In order to do this, trust should be at the core of every relationship we hold and building this is just as important as getting through the endless list of tasks that we need to achieve in our roles.