Remarks by SPC’s Educational Quality and Assessment Programme Director Dr Michelle Belisle at the opening of the regional summit on advancing resilience and inclusion through sustainable school leadership

Good morning, welcome and bula vinaka to the Summit on Advancing Resilience and Inclusion through Sustainable School Leadership. I am Michelle Belisle, Director of the Pacific Community’s Educational Quality and Assessment Programme and it is indeed an honour to be here with all of you today as we open our week together.

Whenever discussions of school leadership and the role of school leaders come up, I can’t help but remember something a CEO I worked for several years ago said. His statement was “A school looks like its principal”. When he said it, one of the ladies who happened to be the principal of a very old, quite rundown facility got a laugh from her colleagues when she said, “Thanks a lot!” Of course, he didn’t mean the physical state that had been achieved over several decades of neglect and he went on to talk about some of the things that he did mean – if you have a school where expectations for students are high, you have a school leader who holds high expectations for all students. If you have a school where the community is actively engaged and involved, you will find you have a school leader who engages with the community and encourages community involvement in student learning. Unfortunately, if you have a school where students are disengaged and unsuccessful, you will probably also find a school leader who doesn’t believe in the students’ and teachers’ ability to succeed.

I also think about some of my first years of teaching in tiny communities where the principal in each case was the last man standing – and I mean that quite literally – always male, always the oldest, had outlasted everyone else so “won” the role of principal regardless of his suitability for that role. In some cases, the result was outstanding – a highly experienced master teacher with a great deal of wisdom to share and a natural affinity for sharing his vision and encouraging everyone in their pursuit of those goals. In other cases, the results were horrendous, and the school was generally left to run itself with no real direction and a lot of confusion about even the simplest of issues.

Leading up to this week’s events, we have captured and published the voices of school leaders and ministry officials from various parts of the region. Those articles are available on our Summit web page and we hope that they will feed into the discussions over the next several days. Over the course of the next few days, we will all have the opportunity to hear from school leadership experts from around the Pacific and beyond. Some of the experts in the room have years, if not decades of experience as school and education system leaders. Some of the experts bring fresh eyes and up-to-the-minute firsthand experience of what it is like to become and be a school leader in the Pacific in 2023. One of the greatest strengths of a summit such as this is that each and every one of us brings perspectives, experiences and specific knowledge to the table and it is only with that diversity of expertise that we can get a truly fulsome and nuanced understanding of school leadership. In the heart of the Pacific, leadership is not just a role; it's woven into the fabric of our communities, where every voice matters, and every contribution shapes the shared journey.

The summit participants here today include active school leaders, ministry officials, academic institutions responsible for leadership training and representatives of leadership organisations. Through a combination of presentations, workshop sessions and discussions, we will spend the first two days together gaining a shared understanding of school leadership, how it is practiced in schools around the Pacific and what collectively we expect of school leaders in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for students.

During the latter part of the week, we will all roll up our sleeves and dig into the specifics around school leadership standards leading to the articulation of renewed and reshaped Pacific Regional School Leadership Standards that are fit for purpose and relevant for 2023 and beyond. Throughout the week we will have ample opportunity to hear from one another and broaden our thinking about school leadership and how it is practiced.

Events over recent years have shown us how important leadership is to ensuring that schools are resilient and inclusive. During difficult times, it is the school leader who lights the way and is the individual the students, teachers and community look to for guidance and reassurance as well as instructional leadership that will result in a high-quality education for all students. It is my hope that the week ahead will be interesting, rewarding and ultimately lead to a strengthening of school leadership across the Pacific through the renewal of the Pacific Regional School Leadership Standards.

Thank you for being part of this remarkable Pacific Regional School Leadership Standards Summit. Let's navigate these uncharted waters together and chart a course towards a brighter future for our Pacific family.

Thank you.

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