Disillusioned with the dulled apathy and behavioural struggles he saw manifesting in schools and their staffrooms, he ‘steered away’ from the profession.

“They seemed like time servers ... and their unhappiness was implanted in me,” he tells delegates at the 2019 ACEL Conference.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why Jones has been selected to host ACEL’s flagship event this year – he understands the impact that educational leaders can wield and he is here to facilitate the conversations that will drive best practice.

Driven by the bold theme ‘Vision and Voice: setting the learning agenda’ the all-encompassing event is now in full swing. Involving more than 900 delegates, a line-up of international and national experts in educational leadership and learning, authors, exhibitors and interactive panels, the largest professional association in the education sector have put on a PD gig that looks likely to drive tangible change – and tangible outcomes – in our schools.

EducationHQ was on the ground on Day 1, capturing proceedings as they unfolded.

Deemed ‘the Robin Williams of education’ and the hottest ticket in the US by Jones, delegates awaiting their first presenter in the Grand Ballroom of Sydney’s Hilton Hotel were twitching with anticipation.

Dr Todd Whitaker does not disappoint.

Hailed as one of the United States' leading experts on staff motivation, teacher-led leadership and principal effectiveness, Whitaker has come to us with a clear purpose.

That is, to reveal exactly what it is that great leaders do differently. To define what sets apart the exceptional from the average. To pick apart the qualities and visions that our great school leaders possess which elevate them from the mediocre.

But first, Whitaker had some thoughts on Twitter to share.

“Twitter is the best free PD I’ve seen in my life,” he notes. While Facebook has morphed into a “dang obligation”, Twitter provides a platform for unlimited teacher learning that operates 24/7. On Twitter, he says, the knowledge of one becomes the knowledge of all.

“When I see a quote on Twitter, I steal it,’’ he concedes, before rattling off a few of his favourites:

“In a great teacher’s classroom, everyone thinks they are the favourite.”

“Teaching kids to read is a teacher’s job. Teaching kids to love reading is a teacher’s gift.”

Then Whitaker really gets to work.

Animated, comical and utterly commanding on stage, the expert dives in to hit home some hard truths that, he says, play out across school systems the world over.

Great leaders, he argues, hang around great teachers. Mediocre principals do not want to associate themselves with exemplary teachers because they can clearly see their inadequacy.

“They know”, he probes. Educators surround themselves with those who have the same skill-set, so as not to feel sub-par. For those who dwell in compliancy, Whitaker says, it’s affirming to be enshrouded by others who gripe, resist change and resent their jobs each day, too.

Now Whittaker lets his audience in on a ‘secret’ – a tip of wisdom that could well unlock the gateway to effective leadership in our schools. 

“Teach, don’t tell,” he said. “We do so much telling in education…”

That is, it’s not enough for a leader to tell staff to make a change, if they cannot explain how they can action it in practice. Being told to do something without the direction or understanding, simply invites push-back.

“Average people hope great people have something wrong with them”, he concludes.

Whitaker regularly drops in little ‘secrets’ to his lively spiel.

Some include:

  • One problem we have with leadership is that we often ask effective people to do ineffective things
  • There is no need to address a whole staff for the poor behaviour of one individual. This only serves to punish those doing good, and we punish ‘good’ people all the time in schools.
  • You can’t improve any teacher’s performance from the office.
  • The key to an effective difficult conversation is making sure it’s actually addressed with the difficult person.                        

Whitaker wraps up his address to mass applause. The 2019 ACEL Conference is off to an energetic start.