7 Questions with Jake Madden

Name: Jake Madden

Current title: Executive Principal

Current organisation: Al Yasat Private School

Dr. Jake Madden is the Executive Principal at Al Yasat, a private school offering a bilingual American education in Arabic and English with a strong emphasis on the respect and values of the local culture in Abu Dhabi. He has enjoyed a successful teaching and principal leadership career over the last thirty years building teacher capacity through the development of learning in the contemporary world, the promotion of flexible learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st century learner and curriculum for global mindedness.

Always passionate about teaching, after earning a Diploma in Primary Teaching in 1985 from the Armidale College of Advanced Education, Dr. Jake went on to complete a Bachelor of Education majoring in Gifted and Talented from Edith Cowan University. In 1995 he completed a Graduate Diploma of Arts in Educational Leadership from the Australian Catholic University (ACU), and earned a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Leadership from ACU in 2001. He completed his Doctorate in Education at ACU in 2006. Incorporating his doctoral studies on building teacher capacity, Dr. Jake has been an instrument of change in helping schools undergo pedagogical restructuring. Emphatic in the importance of teachers continuing to conduct their own research and continually seek to improve their work environments, Dr. Jake’s voracious aptitude for knowledge has led him to continually evolve and develop both his knowledge of curricula and policy.

His latest project examines the practical impact of an approach to teaching improvement which comprises an orchestrated interplay between (1) a strategic teaching improvement intent (the goal), (2) an approach to leadership and (3) the use of data to inform decision making, through the adoption and establishment of the teacher as researcher premise (TAR). In simple terms TAR is an approach to teacher professional learning that uses action-based research to enable the teacher to investigate and improve what they and their students do in classrooms and the greater school environment. The results of this school wide study is encapsulated in his book,“School Improvement in the UAE: A Practical Implementation of the School Effectiveness Literature”.

He is widely published in this area of teachers as researchers, authoring and co-authoring six books and a number of journal articles showcasing his experiences and research into leading educational change. Dr. Jake’s recent publications include, “Teachers TEACHing Teachers” and “School Reform: Case Studies in Teaching Improvement”

As an International Schools Consultant, he is called upon to offer insights into building teacher capacity through deprivatizing teaching and learning. Jake was awarded a Fellowship with the Australian Council of Educational Leaders in recognition for his contribution in this area and to fostering teacher professional learning. In December 2019 the Global Forum for Education and Learning conferred him in the top 100 leaders in education and in 2020 he received the outstanding contribution to education from GESS, Dubai. Currently, Jake is the editor of the Journal of Applied Research and Innovation and he sits on the editorial board for the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change. Jake is the inaugural Dean of the Australian College of Researchers.

Today, Dr. Jake resides in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

For me, there have been many great rewards, both personally and professionally over the years leading large growing educational institutions. Often the key to success is one of your biggest challenges as you engage and develop staff towards the vision of the organisation. From improving practices to providing relevant and timely feedback to upskilling staff, for me the biggest challenge is getting all staff on the same bus.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Through both ongoing study and developing key leadership skills pertinent to the communities I was leading, I gained the necessary experience and expertise to move to the next phase of school leadership. From beginning my leadership career in a small rural school and then gradually moving to larger schools through to the international arena. Each site helped form my leadership practices and enabled me to showcase my expertise.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Having a regular routine works well for me and enables those around me to know where I am and what I’m working on. Stability is central to building productivity. Whether it’s checking email correspondence first thing in the morning or planning out my day in advance and dedicating specific hours to accomplish specific tasks or maintaining regular office hours or even sharing my classroom walkthrough schedules, communicating my itinerary allows staff to know where and what I’m up to.

Generally, I follow a block scheduling process; each day setting time aside for admin, meetings, staff conversations, feedback sessions, providing staff development, studying school data, forward planning, report writing, etc.

Customarily, evenings are “my time”. Whether it be reading a professional article or some writing or just “hanging” with family, this time is about personal rejuvenation after a hectic day at work.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Schools are social institutions and successful leadership ultimately comes down to the principal’s ability to take that group of people and drive them toward the school’s vision and purpose. The key to success is activating leadership in staff so they are self-motivated to play their part in achieving the goals of the school plan.

What I have learnt over the years is that building leadership capacity within each staff member is imperative. This means getting the right people for the right positions and developing them to take leadership in those roles.

You do that by investing a lot of resources into developing your people through formal and informal professional learning, providing feedback, mentoring and coaching. Over the years I have seen the impact this focus has had in growth, innovation and a sense of purpose in my staff. This has translated into high levels of productivity and accomplishment within each of the schools I have led.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Effective leaders are readers and over the years a number of key publications have influenced and formed my thinking on school leadership. Probably the one that stands out is Hargreaves and Fullan’s book, Professional Capital.

Reading this book helped me make the changes necessary to provide students with the 21st-century competencies and learning that will equip them to be successful and lifelong learners. Supporting my viewpoint that the way we utilize, develop and support our teachers will help bring about the change we need in schools, this book offers actionable steps to transform the “capital” within your school. By providing them with opportunities to develop human capital (skills, competency, efficacy), social capital (the relationships within the system and the network the individuals are connected with) and decisional capital (entrusting those with the ability to make professional decisions) you will empower teachers to be better tomorrow than they are today.

This book was integral to substantive change at St Augustine’s Primary School

(Another great influential read is Stewardship by Peter Block)

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

I believe building leadership capacity in your school is one of the highest priorities of a school leader. Unfortunately, many principles underplay its importance, often leaving it up to chance to develop. I try to employ a five-prong approach to building leadership capacity across my school:

1. Provision of Training: The key is to enable mastery of professional skills across all levels of the school. Understanding what the individual staff member needs to improve on is the first task, the next is setting up a professional learning plan to support the development of the needed skill base.

2. Provision of Feedback: Each staff member is entitled to effective feedback on their performance. However, too often leaders offer light superficial praise so as not to upset, nor be critical of their employees. Effective feedback should be offered in a timely manner, focused on improving their teaching and thus improving the school. It needs to be specific and meaningful and offer opportunity to grow.

3. Provision of Leading Experiences: Leadership is action focused, not a passive tell and do concept. For teachers to build their leadership capacity they need opportunities to lead. Encouraging teachers to take on leadership tasks (eg policy development, chairing a committee, providing staff PD) will help develop their skills in a real world setting.

4. Provision of a Career Path: Setting up a career pathway plan for your teachers helps keep them focused on improvement. By working with them to develop an action plan that lists specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals related to their leadership development, will help them prepare for the next step in their career. Whether this be climbing the leadership ladder, being a better instructor of improving content knowledge, each teacher focused on improvement will enhance their leadership skill development.

5. Provision of Mentoring & Coaching: A coaching or mentoring program is an important way for a school to take an interest in its teachers, train them, and let them know that there is someone out there to help them. Coaching and mentoring provides staff a way to connect, learn and grow within the school and along their own career paths.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it and in the schooling sector this has seen an extraordinary shift in the delivery of learning by every single teacher. New skills had to be learnt overnight as teachers adapted to remote teaching putting pressure on both their personal and professional lives.

Being at the forefront of the team, the increased focus on wellbeing was a welcome (and timely) entity as I spent more time with staff on a more personal level, chatting about all things non educational. Getting to know your staff’s personal story will help you connect more strongly and give you deeper insight into your own leadership.