Business need:

The AKA is New Zealand’s largest kindergarten association. It is also the largest education provider outside of the tertiary sector. There are over 9,000 young children attending 107 public kindergartens throughout Auckland every week. The AKA was established as a non-profit trust a little over a hundred years ago. Today, it employs approximately 400 teachers and 200 support staff. Its mission is ‘To provide leadership in education.’

Historically, the education sector has not invested heavily in developing leadership capability. The AKA recognised that the quality of educational leadership demonstrated by its head teachers played a critical role in achieving quality educational outcomes for children.

“Professional leadership is second only to effective teaching among all education related factors that contribute to students’ learning” (NZEI, 2006, p.13)

There was already an induction programme for new head teachers in place. However, this did not focus on building leadership to capability. The belief was that strong leadership at a head teacher level would then filter on to teachers, families, children and communities. This would therefore establish a leadership culture in our kindergartens.

Specifically, the AKA wanted a leadership development intervention that would support head teachers:

  • To create a mind shift and see themselves as leaders
  • Support them to be visionary
  • Grow other leaders in their teams
  • Know it was okay to take risks
  • Be proactive and to ‘shoot for the stars’
  • Take others to another level

This quote from the early childhood education curriculum might be written for children. However, it could just as easily be written for adults as it captures the essence of a preferred AKA leadership approach.

“Each community to which a child belongs, whether it is a family home or an early childhood setting outside the home, provides opportunities for new learning to be fostered:

  • For children to reflect on alternative ways of doing things;
  • Make connections across time and place;
  • Establish different kinds of relationship;
  • Encounter different points of view.”

Our solution:

The Leadership Symposium initially started out as a programme that would support head teachers who were new to a formal leadership role. The AKA saw it as ongoing induction to the role and as a way to set clear organisational expectations. A needs analysis was conducted which drove the creation of learning objectives and the symposium design; this process has been repeated annually. It has supported the continuous improvement of the design and implementation over the last three years, revealing common themes including supporting change, improving planning, growing the team, having difficult conversations, providing feedback and coaching.

The leadership symposium was launched in January 2011. It was structured to run with cohorts of eighteen head teachers of mixed experience and performance over one year. We soon realised the value of having experience in the group and the value of mentoring. Even for experienced leaders, we were giving them new information and some “light bulb” moments. Five groups have completed the programme to date.

The symposium was designed on some of the following principles:

  • Self-directed and action-centred learning
  • Supporting group and collaborative learning
  • Evaluation built into the fabric of the programme
  • Provision of experiential learning experiences
  • Simple practical tools and frameworks to utilize
  • Different modules covered a raft of topics. This included everything from listening skills and high performing teams to conflict management and visioning
  • Between modules there was pre-reading, guided reflection and action steps to complete
  • To support learning we set up a buddy system where we matched experienced head teachers with new head teachers. Some head teachers formed their own informal learning groups. Line managers were co-opted to regularly touch base during the programme to assess engagement and learning transfer

Programme outcomes:

The organisation impact (from a client perspective):

  • We’ve now had around 80 head teachers through and there are some common themes.
  • As you can see from collated feedback there were a number of benefits.


Three areas of success:

  • Ability to honestly discuss my development with my team
  • Resilience and self-awareness as a leader
  • Increased confidence as a leader. and being able to tackle the “tough stuff”.


Key Learnings from the client’s perspective:

  • Our workshops were positive. We acknowledged the good leadership practices already happening. We emphasised that one of the roles of a leader was to build leadership capability in others. For some, this was a huge light bulb moment
  • Power of the buddy system
  • Value of bringing in an external facilitator that we trusted
  • Our leaders modelling powerful, positive, leadership to others is a win-win for the whole team
  • Senior teachers would hear ‘leadership language’ and tools being used. They would report back on the useful conversations they had had with their leader
  • Senior teachers noticed increased levels of confidence with head teachers when dealing with varying situations on a daily basis
  • There is confidence that further targeted investment in leadership is linked. This means it will improve quality education in our kindergartens