The project “Supporting school principals as leaders in the curriculum reform in Lithuania” implemented by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and National Agency for Education in cooperation with British Council and the European Commission has reached its halfway point.
Lithuania is developing a new competency-based curriculum to be implemented in schools. The success of the curriculum reform depends on the capacity of school principals to lead teachers and their school communities, and their ability to shape the vision of academic success. The intended long-term impact of this project is to strengthen the quality of school leadership and specifically the quality of instructional leadership in schools.
The project consists of two phases – two-hour training sessions on instructional leadership were delivered on-line between September 28th 2020 and 28th April 2021. From October 2021 the Pilot Group of 30 school leaders from across Lithuania will use the toolkit on instructional leadership developed by them within the framework of the project and cooperate with volunteering principals from other schools in Lithuania by helping to pilot the renewed programmes during the 2021-2022 school year. The Pilot Group participants will train about ten principals in their own school locality under supervision of international experts and with their consultation, coaching, instruction and guidance. The Pilot group will train their peers to master instructional leadership strategies. The larger group of the project participants will produce their feedback on what has proved to be success and what should be still elaborated with the aim of implementing the updated curriculum reform from September 2022.
After completion of the project, those involved in it will act as mentors in the Lithuanian education system who provide assistance to general education schools that will have access to practical use of the toolkit.
According to Rūta Krasauskienė, Director of National Agency for Education, a frequent head of a Lithuanian educational institution has listened to many lectures and participated in professional development events, but few who are able to apply the acquired knowledge, implement innovations. „Many of us know that a principal, and even more so a leader, is often lonely. Therefore, this project is extremely beneficial for the entire development of the educational leadership process. The participants of the project have the opportunity, in consultation with the international experts, not only to gain experience both in Lithuania and from other countries, but also to put that experience into practice in their schools. This project expands the leadership opportunities of managers in the implementation of curriculum changes in the country's schools, helps to self-assess and, based on the best examples, focus on one of the key activities of the head of the educational institution - leadership in curriculum implementation. Development and targeted implementation of strategic visions, change management, lifelong learning and leadership, planning, monitoring and evaluation, revealing and assisting others in developing it, working with colleagues, partners, education policy makers are just some of the competencies developed by the participants of this project.
I hope that the school leaders “accompanied” by this project will become strong educational leaders, able to successfully create the school of the future in Lithuania”.
How it was implemented?
In 2019, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport applied to the European Commission for technical support to help them strengthen the capacity of school principals to become better leaders of teaching and learning in their schools. The Ministry felt it was particularly important to support school leaders as they were required to implement the renewed national curriculum in their schools. The two-year project is funded by the European Union through the Structural Reform Support Programme and was launched in June 2020.
The plan had been to identify 30 school leaders who would each attend face to face training events during the first year of the project led by expert trainers from the UK and Finland. In the second year, these school leaders would lead their own two-day training sessions to 10 of their colleagues in their local area so that in the region of 300 Lithuanian school leaders would have had the opportunity to learn about the importance of instructional leadership and who could use their new skills to help teachers in their own school to use the principles of instructional leadership to assist them in successfully launching the renewed school curriculum.
After these plans had to be adjusted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the training took place online. A group of 29 principals (19), deputies (4) and non-school based educators (6) were selected to participate in Year 1 of the project. They also committed to full attendance at the training sessions and to having continued involvement in Year 2 by training other Lithuanian school leaders in instructional leadership techniques. The first key lesson learnt is that early decision making, being realistic rather than hoping for the best, gave the participants, the Ministry and the trainers certainty and the ability to properly plan for the revised delivery model.
Participation throughout the year was higher than expected. 99.6% attendance was recorded and one of the benefits of remote virtual learning is that you can access the training sessions from wherever you may be, as long as there is a good broadband connection. Lithuania is very well connected and so technical hitches were few and far between. The 2 hour training sessions could be attended whilst in the normal workplace, or home, or an office and required no travel increased attendance rates and for hard-working school leaders, this was a huge advantage.
The majority of sessions followed the same pattern. Two trainers delivered the same materials twice each day dividing the Pilot Group into two. Slides with training materials were drafted in English by the delivery team and translated into Lithuanian. Each of the sessions were delivered in English and engaged the participants in some pre-reading and breakout room sessions that were mainly conducted in Lithuanian and then reported back to the main group in English. Learning objectives for each session were outlined at the beginning of each session and reviewed at the end of each session.
What did the project participants learn?
Key professional practices and learning outcomes for school principals were identified, based upon the British Council’s work with school leaders in other countries and included sections on:
- Creating strategic vision and direction
- Leading and managing change
- Leading effective teaching and learning
- Planning, monitoring and evaluating
- Coaching others to undertake similar leadership training
- Working with partners and other stakeholders
- Embracing digital literacy
With schools closed and on-going difficulties due to the pandemic, the delivery team adjusted their plan and arranged for the participants to work in pairs and deliver a short on-line pre-prepared training session to the trainers and their colleagues to simulate the activities for Year 2 of the programme when the participants would be delivering training to their peers.
These sessions included topics such as: Leading change: supporting schools to address the curriculum reforms and Motivating teachers to engage in the curriculum reforms. Oral and written feedback was given to each of the participants by members of the British Council delivery team. Responding to the reality of education during a pandemic also helped to maximise participation. The Pilot Group also met with school leaders from Croatia who shared their experience from a similar project to support the national curriculum reform.
Feedback from participants
During the year the participants got to know each other well and were able to expand their professional networks as well as learned another key lesson – that you don’t need face to face contact to build strong professional relationships.