Steve Francis: Empowering Schools and Educators Globally

Schools are experiencing a period of massive change. They are endeavoring to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Schools are complex organizations, with many competing priorities, agendas and initiatives. Research shows there is a clear connection between school effectiveness and school leadership. Leaders make a huge impact on both the effective operation of the school and the school’s culture. According to teamwork guru Patrick Lencioni, the key to managing the complexity of schools is to identify a reasonable number of issues that will have the greatest possible impact on the success of a school, and then spend the most amount of time thinking about, talking about, and working on those issues. This needs to be the core work of school leaders.

“If everything is important, then nothing is.”

A highly functioning leadership team operates like a slick machine. They use their time extraordinarily well, hold crisp meetings, are cognizant of the big picture and sensitive to the detail that impact on staff engagement and morale. It is essential that all school leaders are highly effective (including aspiring leaders). One man on a mission to reform the education sector for the better is Steve Francis, a Certified Speaking Professional and the Managing Director of the Happy School program. Steve is an experienced leader who works to support schools to build leadership capability.

Steve works with leading educators to help them reach their potential and optimize their schools. He is an expert in leading effective change processes in schools. In a career spanning 20 years, Steve has been the Principal of a number of schools in Australia from a one-teacher school in country Queensland, through to a large metropolitan school in Brisbane and an international school in Hong Kong. As a Principal at Jindalee School in Brisbane he led a large school with 800 primary and preschool students, including 50 special education students.

In Hong Kong, Steve was the Principal of Kowloon Junior School for the English Schools Foundation. The school had 900 students on two campuses. During his tenure in leading the school, it made the transition from teaching the UK National Curriculum to implementing the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP). He also led the design process for building the new school to accommodate all 900 students on the one campus.

For the past ten years, Steve has focused his work on developing school leaders. He argues that schools often promote great teachers to positions of leadership and expect them to be great leaders. However, the skill set of being a great teacher is different to the skills required to be a great school leader. His passion in this area became evident when he was an executive of the State Principals’ Association.

In the past year, Steve has worked with the leaders or staff of over 500 schools across Australia, New Zealand and internationally. As well as working in-house, he has presented keynotes and workshops at numerous education leader conferences including both the Australian Primary Principals’ Association and New Zealand Principals’ Federation conferences. In the past year, he followed in the footsteps of Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and Sir Ken Robinson by presenting to an audience of over 2500 teachers in Qatar.

Steve’s work as a professional speaker has been accredited with the awarding of the highest worldwide designation, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). For the past three years, Steve has also been recognized by Educator magazine as one of the top 50 most influential educators in Australia. Steve was also a member of the judging panel for the awarding of the Australian Education Awards. Steve is the author of four books including, ‘First Semester CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU!’ and ‘Time Management For Teachers’.

Steve is passionate about staff and leader well-being and reinstating the status of the teaching profession. He completed his Master’s degree in School Leadership and wrote his thesis on teacher stress. This led him to develop the Happy School program. He argues that whilst working in schools can be very rewarding, it can also be very demanding. Many a time, the staff feels exhausted, under-valued, frustrated and unappreciated. Teacher well-being and engagement are key factors in school effectiveness. Through his Happy School program Steve provides three strategies to support school leaders to improve staff morale and well-being in their schools.

Delivering Innovative Development

Happy School Membership:

Schools can become a member of the highly successful Happy School program. Over 600 schools receive the weekly one page articles on important topics for staff well-being, engagement and satisfaction. The articles are designed to be easily shared with staff and provide regular, on-going professional development in bite-sized pieces. Membership of the Happy School program includes the weekly, ready-to-use one page articles written by experts in their field. The weekly articles can be printed as part of staff news, displayed on noticeboards, emailed to staff, included in electronic staff notices, discussed at staff meetings or for professional development.

WELL Productivity Program:

The year-long WELL Productivity program provides either self-paced or leader facilitated professional development covering four areas of staff well-being and productivity – Positive, Productive, Proactive and Peak Performance. The 20 engaging action-focused units each comprise a 5-minute video tutorial with accompanying handouts and resources. The 12-month program is designed to help staff improve their productivity as well as their well-being.

Face-to-face professional development:

Steve Francis also provides awesome face-to-face professional development at conferences, clusters of schools and in-school professional learning. For the past three years he has been recognized as one of the top 50 most influential educators in Australia. His keynotes and workshops at national and state conferences for Principals and teachers including APPA, NZPF, VAPP, QASSP, QSPA, INTASE, TAFE Qld and EduTech have led to him being invited to work with schools and leadership teams across Australia, New Zealand and internationally. His sessions are relevant, practical and engaging and are always well received.

Whether schools choose face-to-face professional development with Steve, the self-paced WELL Productivity program or subscribe to receive Steve’s weekly Happy School articles, the team at Happy School are dedicated to improving the well-being of staff in schools.

Emphasizing on Reputation and Attitude

In unison with his favorite quote ‘Live the Reputation You Want to Have,’ Steve says, “We all have a reputation in the eyes of parents, students and our colleagues as well. If they were asked to describe us in three words, what would we like them to say?” Steve recommends working out what one would like to be known for and then act that way. He says he’d like to be known as a positive person, who gets things done and never has a bad word to say about people behind their backs and endeavors to make sure that he behaves accordingly.

“Early in my career I learnt that the most important decision you make every day is your attitude. You can either choose to be positive and enthusiastic about the challenges you face in schools or waste your energy in constantly complaining. I know where I’d prefer to put my energy and focus,” Steve adds. In his opinion, school leaders need to be constantly monitoring the ‘happiness’ of staff, students and parents. It’s like unlocking a combination lock. Fine tuning each of the factors is essential for an optimal culture.

Piloting Comprehensive Progress

To assist school leaders to understand and monitor their culture, Steve developed the Survey My School interactive surveys that seek input from staff, parents and students. As well as providing benchmarks, the instruments help to identify specific issues that are having a negative impact on the school culture. He argues that the fastest way to improve the school culture is to identify the barriers that are having a negative impact. School leaders need to address whatever issues they can and acknowledge that they are aware of the other issues and working towards resolving them.

Steve believes that the existing culture in a school has a huge impact on staff. It impacts on how they behave, how they interact with co-workers, how happy and engaged they are at school, how they interact with students, how much discretionary effort is put in and how much gets done. The influence of culture can be positive and fulfilling or negative and deflating. Optimal results will only be achieved in an ideal culture. Managing culture is the most important work of the leadership team. Steve developed the Survey My School instrument to assist schools to measure and improve school culture. He believes that school leaders need to be acutely aware of their school culture. He argues that culture wins every time. If you have a bad culture, it will win – and ruin your school. If you have a great culture, it will also win and enable you to do great things.

Great staff makes a huge difference to both the outcomes achieved by a school and the school’s culture. Attracting and retaining great staff is paramount. Superstar Teachers – dedicated, hardworking, and talented staff which have a great work ethic and a terrific attitude are very much in-demand! They are highly sought after and are able to ‘pick and choose’ where they would like to work. To attract and retain such staff, it is more important than ever, that school leaders position their school to be the ‘Employer of Choice’.

Steve suggests that being an Employer of Choice means becoming recognized as a school where potential and existing employees want to work for, over and above others. He argues that positioning a school as an ‘Employer of Choice’ is important as the current education sector approaches a shortage of talented teachers. Steve has also developed a process for assessing and independently certifying schools as the ‘Employers of Choice.’

Reaching out to Students

Steve has also worked with schools to increase student voice and ensure teachers are receiving formative feedback from their students using the instrument he developed called, Survey My Class. Student surveys provide invaluable feedback to teachers about what is working in their classroom and what isn’t. Effective teachers utilize the feedback to improve their teaching. Regular student feedback should be an integral part of school improvement. Formative feedback from students should be utilized to provide a clear focus for teachers to reflect on their teaching with the aim of increasing student engagement.


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