Guiding Conceptions

The guiding conceptions of leadership provide a definition of what leaders know, believe and do. The guiding image of leadership is one where teacher leaders mobilise colleagues around concerted efforts over time to improve learning opportunities for students.


The actions of a leader in a Catholic school are guided by religious, professional and ethical principles and purposes. Leadership is not confined to management roles; any individual may demonstrate leadership. Effective schools foster leadership initiatives from all members of the professional community.

Exercising leadership in a school setting primarily entails mobilising and energising others, with the aim of improving teaching and learning. Since improvement of a school's performance frequently involves doing things differently from how they have been done in the past, such leadership often requires managing a process of change. A hallmark of leadership, therefore, is that it entails taking initiative, an attitude of 'making it happen.'

However, leadership is not a matter of the heroic individual, the lone ranger, achieving momentous feats in the face of difficult odds. Instead, it reflects a collaborative relationship with colleagues.

The guiding conceptions of leadership are:

  1. Having a clear purpose driven by ethical standards and an identified need. School leaders are committed to students and their learning. By acting in response to a clearly identified need, with a clear moral purpose from the outset, leaders can accurately and perceptively reflect on the extent to which the original purpose was achieved.
  2. Building and maintaining relationships. The leader is persuasive, convincing others to join in the effort. He/she exercises the interpersonal and facilitative skills of listening, joint problem-solving, honouring other people's ideas, and maintaining focus, but also knowing when to be decisive, to cut to the heart of something, to move the group forward to action.
  3. Understanding and managing the complexities of the change process, especially change in attitudes and teaching practices. Leaders ensure participation in building a shared understanding of the purpose and nature of the change initiative. They realise the dangers of being over-zealous in promoting their own ideas; they recognise that resistance to change has the potential to be a source of useful information. Leaders understand that change leads at first to feelings of uncertainty and being deskilled; that things will often seem worse before the benefits of change become apparent. They make use of accurate data and feedback about the effectiveness of current practices in changing attitudes and the vital role that modelling and coaching play in learning how to implement new teaching practices.
  4. Creating and sharing knowledge. Leaders seek, share and act upon relevant research. Leaders also create new knowledge through documenting and evaluating their own change efforts; they contribute to the school as a learning organisation. Leaders work toward an accountable professional culture based on shared professional standards, reflective dialogue about practice, collaboration and the de-privatisation of practice. They encourage colleagues to take up leadership roles.
  5. Ensuring coherence and alignment of structures. Leaders ensure that change initiatives are aligned with existing school policies and programs. Change initiatives should not occur in a vacuum, layered on one another without coherence or connection with the culture and mission of the school. Not all change represents improvement, nor does every improvement require change. Frequently, improvement occurs when leaders motivate individuals to become more skilled and thoughtful regarding their work. Leaders establish structures that can be sustained over time, not swept away by the next popular reform.

These five principles should infuse leadership action in every area and component of the Framework.

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