Avondale study shows room for improvement in school succession plans
Fewer teachers are willing to accept or even apply for leadership positions in Seventh-day Adventist schools, new research by Avondale Business School shows.
“Future Leadership of Schools in Australia: Employee Perceptions of Taking on the Challenge” explores the views of more than 400 individuals employed by Adventist Schools Australia. Responses to the study, conducted by Peter Williams and Dr Peter Morey, reveal 64.5 per cent of Adventist Schools Australia employees have never applied for a leadership position and cannot see themselves applying in the future. Only one in four teachers would consider applying for a leadership position. Only 1.8 per cent are seeking a leadership position.
The most strongly identified factors influencing employees in their decisions not to apply for leadership positions: the time commitment and the perceived negative impact on personal and family life, categorised as the work–life factor. Female teachers also highlighted the gender bias of current leadership as a strong deterrent, a factor largely dismissed by male teachers. They were twice as likely (31.9 per cent) as their female colleagues (14.9 per cent) to apply for leadership positions.
“We didn’t anticipate the results would show such a difference in attitudes between genders,” says Williams, the study’s lead researcher. “A number of female Adventist Schools Australia staff have lamented the lack of opportunities presented to them to pursue leadership opportunities, despite their desires to progress. It’s something we now know needs to be addressed.”
The results are largely consistent with those of similar studies within Australia and other industrialised nations. However, in contrast to this other research, the study showed Adventist Schools Australia employees become less likely to apply for leadership positions with age. Williams says the typical wait-and-see approach to leadership potential may need revising.
“It’s concerning,” he says. “Given these results, creating a pool of quality, younger applicants and giving them lower level leadership roles earlier in their careers might help us address the potential shortages down the road.”
Dr Daryl Murdoch, National Director for Adventist Schools Australia, agrees with Williams. The results of the research are concerning because “leadership significantly impacts on the culture and quality of a school.”
Adventist Schools Australia conducts an Aspiring Leaders Program to help address the problem. The program, for teachers with three to eight years of experience, provides a platform to develop leadership skills. It also provides mentoring and professional support, giving teachers the opportunity to accept lower and middle level management roles before moving into more complex senior management positions.
“The goal is to move on from the concept of the heroic leader figure to a more distributed form of leadership,” says Murdoch. “The skills these teachers attain through the program will be a benefit for teaching even if they do not pursue a leadership role.”
Responses to the Avondale Business School study reveal some encouraging views on leadership, a welcome discovery for Williams and Morey. The majority of respondents indicated that internal rewards—creating positive change for students and staff—were the most influential incentives to apply for leadership positions. “The gaining of status, power and financial benefit had very little influence on [the respondents’] decision to apply for school leadership positions,” the study reports.
“We’re encouraged that many seeking leadership are not doing so for personal gain, but rather to use their God-given talents to serve,” says Murdoch. “It’s vital we have excellent spiritual leaders in our schools.”
“Future Leadership of Schools in Australia: Employee Perceptions of Taking on the Challenge” appears in the current issue of TEACH Journal of Christian Education, produced by the Discipline of Education at Avondale College of Higher Education and published by Avondale Academic Press.