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Leadership support for teaching staff

Six principles for leading hybrid learning 

1. Clear principles of learning understood by all

Schools that move seamlessly to hybrid learning have a very clear understanding of their purpose. All staff, at all levels of the school, understand this purpose too. The clearer the principles of learning are, the easier it is for staff to make the move to hybrid learning. The principles don’t change but some of the practices they use to enact those principles need to be adjusted to take account of the shift to hybrid learning. It is generally the role of senior leaders to ensure that the principles for learning are understood and that they are fit for purpose for hybrid learning. The senior leaders then empower middle leaders to develop the actual practices.

The teachers who will be delivering the hybrid learning are then empowered to design that learning accordingly, while ensuring alignment to the school’s overall purpose and vision. 

“Successful wayfinding is the art of being able to figure enough things out — to have the intelligence to put all the information together to know where you are supposed to be. It’s about knowing when something is not working and being willing to explore what other information is needed to make it work.” 

(Wayfinding Leadership)

2. Transparency, trust and empowerment are vital

Being transparent is imperative to maintaining the trust of staff in times of change and disruption. Leaders can be tempted to use the shift to hybrid learning to make other wholesale changes that they have wanted to make for some time. Doing this will result in staff becoming wary and distrustful of the change and of leadership. Therefore, if leadership is going to treat the disruption to learning as an opportunity to make changes other than just those immediately generated by hybrid learning, this needs to be clearly signalled and the reasons for the additional changes clearly owned and articulated by leaders.

When senior leaders insist on every single programme being run past them or expect to be in the room for every design session, they can create a bottleneck and teachers will feel constricted and disempowered by these practices and the change process will be slowed down. Once baseline principles have been agreed to and are clearly understood (as in point 1, above), middle leaders are best placed to work collaboratively with teachers to put the principles into practice. Therefore, empowerment and trust in staff are vital for change to occur.

3. Resourcing and supporting change creates goodwill

Resourcing staff for a quick turnaround of new practices and learning schemes is essential and will create goodwill with staff. Identifying staff with the appropriate skill set and allowing teachers who enjoy gathering/planning/researching/developing a framework to be released to do the work that fits their skillset or to form working groups across the school which utilise teacher strengths is a useful, valued and valuing approach. If release for staff is not possible, then re-prioritising meeting times to do this work is another critical way that teachers can be supported by leaders to carry out the change required for hybrid learning. 

Leaders can also support their staff through the change process by conducting surveys with parents, collating and analysing the data and communicating the information back to teachers in a usable format to inform the development of their hybrid learning.

In general, senior leaders should be looking for creative ways to resource differently to enable collaboration to design hybrid learning, with the role of senior leaders being to ensure there is clarity and a shared approach across collaborating teams.

4. Leading for specific types of change

When thinking about leading change there is quite a body of research that talks about the difference between first order change and second order change. First order change is when a change is an extension of something from the past. Second order change is when something completely new is being created. Understanding the kind of change that is being required by circumstances is important for both senior and middle leaders because depending on the type of change, different kinds of supports and approaches will be required.

With first order change, the kinds of support people need from their leaders are guides, manuals, and procedures. That should be sufficient to ensure the change takes place. When leading second order change, like transforming the learning experiences of ākonga, then leaders need to support with space and time to talk, reassurance, coaching and opportunities to contribute to the development. 

In many schools, moving to a hybrid learning approach will be second order change and may require very different kinds of leadership supports from senior leaders than teachers are used to. Leaders will need to be explicit with teachers about the kind of change they are leading and why they are leading/supporting them differently. Some teachers may want the first order change supports that they are used to, for example, ‘just write a procedure which tells us what to do and we will do it’. But those supports will not actually help them with the second order change they are actually involved in. Leaders will need to explain why they are employing the kinds of change processes and supports that they are, and this will help teachers understand and move through the change process. 

Follow this link to find out more about first and second order change or do a Google search to find further information about this useful leadership concept. Watch this video of Dr Marzano talking about the concept.

5. Understanding complexity

Leadership is about taking people and ideas to new places.

An understanding of complexity theory is also an important feature of leadership when designing something new such as hybrid learning. While all learning is a complex endeavour, hybrid learning with its mix of pedagogies, media and modes is even more so. Complexity theory is about getting our heads around what is possible (because anything could happen) rather than what is probably going to happen (which is determined from what has happened before). To do this, leaders need to be asking middle leaders and teachers some different types of questions, while keeping the focus on desired student outcomes. Examples of questions to ask when designing learning could be:

  • What outcome do you want to achieve from this piece of learning? 
  • How can you make this clear to all learners? 
  • How could you design one piece of learning that could be accessed and adapted by learners either face-to-face or remotely? 
  • How can you design learning that gives learners choices, but all contribute to achieving the same outcome?

“One leadership skill that you might not even see as a leadership skill at all is the power of asking different questions, which pulls against the stereotype of leaders having all the answers. Most of us ask questions to confirm our hypotheses, not out of any deep curiosity or doubt.” 

Berger (2009)

6. Communicating differently is key to successful change

Communication is highly important to effective leadership, and even more important when what is required is transformational change. Teachers will need to be supported to understand their role in that communication as well. Communication cannot be the one-sided communication of the past such as the provision of manuals and procedures. It must be two-way, participatory communication that remains centred on the purpose and vision. With hybrid learning this means that leaders need to work with their staff to grow the design of hybrid learning. There needs to be time and space for two-way dialogue about what is going to work best in their context for their particular learners. It will not be enough to simply provide a how to manual or leave them to it.

“I have seen so many organisations across many fields — education, technology, finance, sports and entertainment — focus almost all of their time and resources on structures and shiny policies that, at best, have nothing more than a short-term impact. 

To change anything in a sustainable and truly effective way, you have to focus on the people and their context and understanding of why change is important.” 

Gerver (2019)


Leadership is about gathering people together — even people with quite different goals and understandings — and helping them build bridges that take everyone to a new place. Understanding other people’s perspectives is a central tool in bridge building, because until you know how others see the world, you’ll have little opportunity to influence or learn from their perspectives.

Schools working successfully together on the journey 

into hybrid learning are those where there is an environment of permission — a culture where there isn’t one way — but there is consultation and opportunities for interpretation. One school summarised this by saying ‘we designed our hybrid learning knowing our ākonga and knowing our community, in line with the principles set by our senior leaders, who set these and then got out of our way’.

“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. But when we create a movement, we need to ensure we have a clearly defined purpose, and we need to spend time connecting with the people we are trying to build the movement with. If we go straight to action, we will not sustain our efforts to change.” 
Goodin (2008) 

Where might you start? 

  • Interrogate your purpose and vision and clarify this with all staff
  • Acknowledge the principles of learning in your school — and where these might need to be adapted for hybrid learning
  • Ask staff what practical supports will assist them to make the change, i.e., time, space? 
  • Empower staff at all levels to design within guidelines that have been agreed to
  • Allow for team and individual differences within the broader generalities agreed to
  • Understand change and help staff to understand it as well

Further Information

Wayfinding Leadership: Groundbreaking Wisdom for Developing Leaders. By Dr Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, 
John Panoho. 

Education: A Manifesto for Change. By Richard Gerver. 

Tribes. By Seth Godin.

Changing on the Job. Developing Leaders for a Complex World. By Jennifer Berger.