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Experiencing GSF’s Peer Review from the Host Organisation’s Perspective
description description Photo courtesy of SPARK Schools, South Africa

Experiencing GSF’s Peer Review from the Host Organisation’s Perspective

Bailey Thomson Blake, Chief of Schools at SPARK, invited peers from the GSF cohort to serve as critical friends and examine her organisation’s approach to support and develop Principals. In this post, she details her experience of hosting the pilot study.

What is a Peer Review?
This February, Global Schools Forum piloted a Peer Review, a process by which a school network invites trusted colleagues to look deeply at a specific area for the purpose of improvement. SPARK Schools took up the challenge and invited peers from NOVA Pioneer and PEAS to conduct the review.

In Bailey's words

I am fortunate to participate in a regular working group of Chief Academic Officers (or organisational equivalents) from several Global Schools Forum member organisations, and I feel enriched by the communal problem-solving and consultative approach of this team. So, when the opportunity arose for a Peer Review during the Spotlight on Talent, I volunteered SPARK Schools as host.

The benefits we reaped as an organisation, and the development I received as a leader, began weeks before we hosted the Peer Review itself. I found the consultation process with the GSF team to select a guiding question for the Peer Review hugely insightful. It led me from broad organisational challenges to a specific focus area that would yield practical action steps.

We settled on the guiding question, 'To what extent is SPARK supporting and developing its Principals?'

We conducted several surveys of our Principals and Regional Managers (principal supervisors) in advance of the Peer Review, which shaped both the form and content of the two-day study itself. The data from these surveys allowed us to narrow our guiding question into thematic buckets: autonomy, decision-making, and differentiated support. Given the limited timeline of the Peer Review and the breadth of possibilities under the Principal support umbrella, I felt that this pre-research increased the effectiveness of the Peer Review.

As a starter, the peer-review team from Global Schools Forum, PEAS, and Nova Pioneer visited two of our schools, to gain some context of the environment in which our school leaders and their coaches operate. Following the visit, the team conducted 30-minute one-on-one interviews with a pre-determined group of Principals and Regional Managers. Based on the qualitative data gathered, the team conducted a 90-minute focus group with the same leaders. At the end of the meetings, the team looked at the information collected through surveys, interviews, group discussions, and school visits, and synthesized their observations and conclusions, which they shared with me at an in-person meeting.

This feedback session provided a fair assessment of our current state, clear and practical suggestions for improvements, highlights of our school and organisational culture and practices - all of these in line with our guiding question.
Peer-Review team in action at SPARK Schools
“The entire process reinforced the impression I have had of Global Schools Forum since we joined in the organisation's early years: a network of collaborative, authentic, mission-aligned folks in education committed to ensuring that children around the world receive a high-quality education.”

The recommendations that emerged from the Peer Review will help me and my team put actionable steps. These steps, I am confident, will positively impact our school leaders, their teams of educators, our scholars, and their families.

If you’d like to collaborate with GSF to conduct a similar Peer-Review in your organisation, please write to Morty Ballen to discuss further.

Leaders from PEAS and Nova Pionner participated in the peer-review at SPARK. Read about their experience here.

Bailey Thomson Blake is a founding team member and Chief of Schools at SPARK Schools, a network of independent schools offering affordable, globally competitive education in South Africa.

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