Engaging and Leading a Professional Staff

Engaging and leading a professional staff

“You need to wake up to the fact that if you’re not engaging your employees, you’re hurting them – and your company” Tucker Robertson CEO – CDL Helpers

In any organisation a critical factor underpinning its success, and the sustainability of that success, is employee engagement. The ability for a leader to communicate and develop a culture of engagement based on the organisations values and vision is central to ensuring that the employees are connected and in tune with what is important to that organisation. If employees are not engaged it will come through in their motivation, quality and accountability of their work.

Engagement of employees does not rely on a leader to display autocratic, top-down control. This by its very nature tends to have the reverse effect of demotivating and demoralising employees. The leader’s use of strong interpersonal skills to develop a professional culture based on empowerment, support, respect, competence and relatedness are major traits in providing the employees with the necessary connectedness to the organisations values and vision. These five traits not only add to the overall connectedness within the organisation but also increase productive employee engagement. In John Adair’s book “Lexicon of Leadership – The definitive guide to leadership skills and knowledge” , he tables the eight principles of motivation, of which number 5 is – Remember that progress motivates. For employees to be making progress towards a meaningful goal or vision produces greater productive employee engagement which leads to greater job satisfaction and organisation connectedness.

“When employees are not engaged, they generally aren’t paying attention to their work, and tend to be apathetic about their jobs” Orin Davis, Principal Investigator – Quality of Life Laboratory

The question still remains – How does a leader communicate and develop this culture of engagement, linked to the organisations values and vision? Throughout my leadership experiences in educational organisations I have found the Functional Leadership Model has greatly assisted me in developing a culture of productive and professional engagement amongst staff. It has enabled me to develop and communicate a shared vision, and transfer this vision into reality. The Functional Leadership Model, and its three areas of need, and how vision (leaders role) is used to encompass these needs is shown below in Figure 1.


Figure 1 – Functional Leadership Model

In order to fully appreciate this model one must first understand that the three areas of need are not separate or static, they are interactive and dynamic. The vision, which is linked to the organisations values and vision, is used to maintain the areas of need, and these in turn support the vision.

The vision enables the leader to communicate their task to the team and individual, giving them direction and the ability to develop this task into reality. The leader, team and individuals are able to monitor their progress based on how effectively they are maintaining the vision. The primary function of the leader is to maintain, communicate and support the vision. The leader also needs to ensure they are supporting and informing the team or individuals on the progress of the task and how this progress is achieving the vision. By continually celebrating team or individual successes and progress, the leader is able to promote organisation connectedness and productive employee engagement. The leader’s effective use of strong interpersonal skills and the five major traits of empowerment, support, respect, competence and relatedness across the three areas of need are central in achieving employee connectedness and engagement.

“We asked the students how they could best represent themselves and the school in a way that would make a difference. My mantra was that staff and student leaders should pledge to leave the school a better place than when we arrived. We should all make a mark.” Ray McLean


Blanchard, K. et.al. (1993). The One Minute Manager builds high performing teams. Harper Collins, London.

Collis, J. (1995). Work smarter not harder. Harper Collins, London.

Stark, P. and Flaherty, J. (2011). The Competent Leader. HRD Press, Massachusetts.

Stark, P. and Flaherty, J. (2010). The only leadership book you’ll ever need. Career Press, New Jersey.

Sutton, R. PhD (2012). Good Boss, Bad Boss. Business Plus, New York.


Adair, J. (2005). How to grow Leaders. Kogan Page Limited, London.

Adair, J (2011). Lexicon of Leadership – the definitive guide to leadership skills and knowledge. Kogan Page Limited, London.

McLean, R. (2010). Team Work – forging links between honesty, accountability and success. Penguin Group, Australia.


My educational leadership journey

Life is no brief candle, but a splendid torch to be made burn ever more brightly.

Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop AC, CMG, OBE

The educational leadership journey I have followed has seen me develop a transparent vision I share with my colleagues and those I report to. My Vision is to;

“Support and encourage all students within an educational atmosphere built on tolerance and mutual respect, so they are able to achieve to their full potential and develop into self-managed, and self-motivated lifelong learners.”

My vision is underpinned by my own values of;

  • Fairness and equity
  • Respect for all
  • Love of learning
  • Striving for individual excellence
  • Integrity and loyalty
  • Honesty
  • Appreciation of diversity and tolerance of difference
  • Promoting the value of teamwork and service to the wider community
  • The virtue of family values

Recently, as our Year 12 cohort leaves The SCOTS PGC College at the conclusion of 2013, I sought their feedback on how they believe I have shared, implemented and lived my vision and values. Through this open and honest communication they provided informed and reflective feedback. They confirmed that I shared a vision that was truly student-centred, and focused on the ideals of developing each of them into self-managed, self-motivated, lifelong learners.

I believe a student’s educational achievement cannot be measured through academic success alone. The focus for all exemplary educational institutions and education professionals should be on developing individual students into lifelong learners, each with a positive self-esteem to succeed. Further, our aim should be to enable them to develop and engage in an ever changing world. In 2008 I used this philosophy as the foundation for developing, in conjunction with boarding and College stakeholders, a Vision Statement for boarding at The SCOTS PGC College:

“To provide a boarding experience that will allow each boarder to develop life skills to cope with and engage in an ever changing world”

This Vision Statement now underpins the social, emotional, pastoral, and academic practices in the College’s boarding community. The attached Annex (Annex A) shows the relationship between this shared vision and all College stakeholders. Further supporting this vision, the College’s boarding community focuses on ensuring that, by the time a boarder leaves the formal education system they must have ‘learned how to learn under self-motivated and self-managed conditions. Thus the boarding community has developed into one in which the boarders not just live, but in which they live and learn how to learn.

To enact this, I developed a Pastoral Care Program that takes into consideration both the formal and informal learning opportunities within the boarding and wider College community. The framework for this program uses the four characteristics of lifelong learners as its supporting pillars:

Learning to do (acquiring and applying skills, including life skills)

Learning to be (promoting creativity and personal fulfilment)

Learning to know (an approach to learning that is flexible, critical and capable); and

Learning to live together (exercising tolerance, understanding and mutual respect)

The boarding pastoral care program is complemented by a pre-existing pastoral care program delivered by teaching staff once a fortnight during the school day. Formal aspects of the boarding pastoral care program are undertaken in the boarding community at nights and on weekends. They include training and reflective sessions on leadership, life skills, managing emotions, practical life skills and more. Some of these components are also embedded within the comprehensive boarding activity program that ensures boarders are fully occupied with meaningful pursuits. Informal aspects of this program focus attention on the need for all boarding staff and boarders to develop a significant, supportive and intellectual relationship. For boarders to feel truly supported and challenged on their educational journey they must know that the people charged with their well-being are passionate and committed about the ongoing pursuit of learning and their students’ individual needs.

The ongoing maintenance of this holistic vision, and its associated program, has required a strong collaborative and supportive leadership style. It has also required that each staff member feels connected and takes ownership of the shared vision so that they can, as a group, identify with its importance as a guiding set of principles. In this way we have developed an organisational culture in boarding. In practical terms, this has been achieved through ongoing staff training and professional development, challenging staff to strive for personal excellence, and embracing the idea that staff should know each student. It has also involved working closely with the College Executive, Principal, Deputy Principal and academic staff to ensure they also share in the organisational connectedness to, and embracement of the vision. I encourage all boarding and academic staff to use this vision when reflecting on their own best practices at the College, and will offer them support, advice and coaching on how this can best be achieved.

I have also extended this vision into my role as Head of Faculty, ensuring that the reconceptualising of the curriculum takes into account changes in employment and societal conditions. This has been achieved through the provision of expanded educational and vocational pathways, and pedagogies that focus on student-centred learning. This, in turn, allows for greater flexibility in student academic outcomes. As the Technology Faculty at the College moves towards the introduction of the National Curriculum (Technologies) there has been increased use and development of technological and digital production processes and widespread use of e-learning material and assessment methods. This has been done, not only to ensure compliance with the certain National Curriculum scopes and sequences, but to allow students to use their self–taught digital literacy to achieve greater success in their learning environment. Academic staff in the Technology Faculty embrace these new technologies and are encouraged to be effective modellers of lifelong learning by collaborating with students in the areas of digital literacy where they may not share in the same advanced capabilities. Staff then become learners themselves and share in the students educational journey, further developing their professional relationship with the student.

More recently I have proactively employed social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to enhance the staff, parent and student connectedness with the wider boarding and College communities. Through posting status updates and photos of individual boarding or College achievements on a Boarding Facebook page, staff and parents can now share in the educational journey that was once isolated by distance and time. My understanding and use of these social media platforms has enabled me to instruct students on their safe use and ways in which these platforms can be used to enhance their learning environment, not just to merely update their social status. Through instruction on the use of web search engines such as Scoopit students are enabled to collate and manipulate information more effectively and share information through social media platforms.

The digital technology now available to assist students and educators in the learning process is widely diverse. It is still the case, however, that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the most important factor in facilitating student success. Their passion for education and pedagogy, their ability to teach for understanding and to develop students into self-managed and self motivated lifelong learners, will still underpin a students learning.

You will be known for your footprints – not your fingerprints

Have you ever done an internet search on your name? Were you pleasantly surprised; a little disappointed or horribly shocked? Your digital footprint is the legacy that is left behind in the vast digital environment. It is a trail of what you post online, have searched , clicked on, liked, tweeted and sites you have joined. Are you aware that your IP address (a numerical code that is specific to the device you are using) is also recorded? For most of us who pre-date the World Wide Web and the internet (or can still remember the VIC-20 Commodore Computer) our digital footprint might only date back some 25 years. Unfortunately, many of our boarders have digital footprints that pre-date their births as parents posted images online of their prenatal scans. As the digital world of tablets, smart phones, social media and information sharing become a part of our boarders everyday lives, there is a need to ensure that they understand how their online actions create their personal digital footprint.

Employers are now using external recruiting agencies to find suitable employees for their business, cutting out the middle man of HR and streamlining the recruitment process. Many of these agencies simply perform an online search of a candidate’s name to see what type of digital footprint they have. There are thousands of stories of people failing to secure a job because of a poor digital footprint. Most often this occurs due to a post, a photo, or a like, that took place during their secondary schooling or whilst undertaking further studies – usually many years prior to applying for the job. As boarding staff we are tasked with ensuring that our boarders develop life skills that will allow them to engage and cope in an ever change world. We must therefore encourage our boarders to fully understand their responsibilities as a digital citizen, and ensure that their online behaviour creates a positive digital footprint.

There is endless literature on teaching digital citizenship in schools and how to create and maintain a positive digital footprint. I have listed below some strategies that I will incorporating in our College’s Life Skills Programme to assist the boarders in understanding both digital citizenship and digital footprints.

  • Encouraging boarders to attend afternoon “Internet Cafe” session on campus. These sessions will run for 30 minutes and are based on collaborative learning. Boarders will bring their digital device to the session where boarders and staff with similar interests will share how they use their device, talk about new apps they are using. This will assist boarders to understand how to better use their device for both social and educational purposes.
  • All Year 12 boarders will develop a Linkedin account. Staff will then assist the boarders with the maintenance and use of this account listing personal achievements, goals and objectives.
  • Boarders will be assisted to develop a Digital Portfolio. This is very useful for boarders involved in the arts or technology.
  • Boarders will be educated on the positive use of Twitter in setting up a Professional Learning Network (PLN).
  • Infographics (or Piktochart) will be used throughout the boarding houses as a way of educating boarders about digital citizenship and digital footprints.


The most important aspect of this learning process is to ensure that boarding staff role model positive and responsible digital citizenship. As we all know, adolescents are most likely to mimic the behaviour of adults. For many staff, it is likely that they will not have the same depth of digital literacy as some of the boarders in their care. Therefore it stands to reason that the educational processes outlined may well need to be taught to both staff and boarders.


Like many boarding communities, at SCOTS PGC College we use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to assist us in communicating with parents and the wider boarding community. I am always conscious of what I am posting and the digital shadow that this will create for the boarders who appear on these social media pages. What is your boarding school’s digital shadow saying about your boarders?

It would be great to hear from other boarding schools about what you do in relation to teaching your boarders about digital citizenship and digital footprints. Please feel free to contact me on twitter @BoardingSPGC or Greg.Wacker@scotspgc.qld.edu.au to share your ideas. I hope to develop a blog in coming months titled “Student Digital Welfare – the promotion, education, maintenance and provision of a conducive digital environment by educational intuitions, and provide students with the relevant knowledge and understanding of their rights, responsibilities and social well-being within this digital environment”. I hope to generate through this blog ideas and discussion on this very important topic within education and boarding.