NZIE News

The Invisible Leadership

I had the opportunity to run a professional development workshop for our staff at NZIE on international students’ journey through higher education and our commitment to the Code of Practice for the Pastoral care of International Students. To set the scene for the workshop, I invited a small group of students to participate in a panel discussion.

It is one thing to ask a student, being subservient to their teacher, to participate in a staff workshop. It’s another when they are international students from cultures who hold high respect for the teacher and authority. It’s quite a leap to ask students to respond to a panel discussion in front of those tutors when they will be back in class the following week. It then extends to a giant leap to ask international students to participate in a workshop when the senior leadership team were also present, as were support staff and cameras.

So, how do we engage students in such a challenging project when the power imbalance is so great? The answer is in leadership. Yes, simple leadership involving good clear communication of the project, guidelines for sharing their experience, a well-defined outcome and a clear sense of purpose. Believe it or not, rewards, payment or bribery was not discussed, nor requested by the students.

International students have much to share and a lot to lose.

Readers who are in the higher education business will understand the challenges that international students in New Zealand experience. Not only do they choose to leave the familiarity of life at home. They learn a new language, eat strange food, put up with a wet, cold and damp island-based climate. Also they live on the smell of an oily rag while at the same time unlearn their previous learning mode do that they can meet the requirements of New Zealand academic study in a highly regulated and compliant environment. Therefore, international students have much to share and a lot to lose. One issue that educational providers face is finding different ways to enable students to share their stories and for us to hear them. Often, we hear the story when something goes wrong. That, of course, is too late.

An opportunity for international students to share their stories was the proposal presented to them. “Come and tell us how your journey with NZIE was”, they wer. The invite was not to just come and talk, but come and talk because … . It was the ‘because’ that was critical in the invitation. Because we want to hear, because we want our staff to hear your journey. And because we want our staff to have an opportunity to reflect on their role in supporting international students. Because we wanted to make a difference for students who will follow. That’s a lot of reasons why an international student would choose to accept an invitation to talk in front of their tutors and support staff. And they did.

The thing I learnt from this project is that the old theory learnt a long time ago during my Master’s study is still very relevant. We can manage processes, procedures and resources (including staff), but we can only lead people to achieve organisational goals.

Leaders don’t have to be managers.

This brings me to a different question: is management and leadership really two separate theories, activities or attributes? Are each so separate that we have to cognitively apply different skills, knowledge and practices to achieve great outcomes? Managers are appointed and assigned power to complete a set task. Leaders, on the other hand, are not appointed and have no assigned power. However, they are recognised because of the way that they empower their team. Managers can manage without any leadership qualities. Leaders don’t have to be managers. Leadership is an attribute that is only ever recognised by others. Can a leader call themselves a leader because of their leadership qualities? The answer is no, as that becomes a self-opinionated attribute. 

Author: Laurie Richardson

Quality Assurance Manager at NZIE (New Zealand Institute of Education)

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