James Kozlowski, the principal of Endeavour Sports High School in Caringbah, Australia, was a 2018 participant in Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership, a professional learning program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
For a school principal, the task of leading school improvement can be daunting; schools are large organizations filled with those most unpredictable of things — people. They are also places where there is a plethora of opinions about the methods that should be used to achieve success.
Nearly four years down the road, my school’s success can be distilled into three words — expectations, collaboration, and celebration. When I started at Endeavour in 2015, we had just been through a tough couple of years; enrollments were falling and staff morale was down. We needed to set the standards high, get everyone working toward the same goals, and celebrate our achievements at every opportunity.
Too often, we let “realistic expectations” limit what’s possible. There is nothing wrong with having realistic expectations, but what if those expectations are built upon a false premise: that what we can achieve is based on what we have achieved — a type of recency effect? Coming into a school as a new leader, I was perfectly placed to bring a fresh view of what was possible. A natural optimist, I knew we could do better and then some; and so, the lifting of expectations began. The most tangible example of this was the creation of our High Expectations policy for students. At its core is the message that learning comes first at Endeavour. Addressing the three pillars of attendance, application, and behavior, we review student data every five weeks and withdraw privileges if students fail to meet our high standards. So, involvement in sporting teams, excursions, and other extracurricular activities are restricted until students get back on track with their learning. We help them to do this by providing additional support until the next review period. Meanwhile, those who meet these standards are rewarded and acknowledged.