Meet Simon Breakspear
Dr Simon Breakspear is a researcher, advisor and speaker on educational leadership, policy and change. He is a Research Fellow at the Gonski Institute at UNSW. Over the last decade his speaking and leadership development work has given him the opportunity to work with over 100,000 educators across 10 countries.
Simon develops frameworks and tools that make evidence-based ideas actionable and easy to understand. His AGILE SCHOOL LEADERSHIP program enables school leadership teams across Australia to effectively implement for impact within their unique educational context. Simon’s innovative approach to teacher professional learning, Teaching Sprints, is used by thousands of educators across the planet to enhance their expertise and engage with relevant research evidence.
Simon is a trusted strategic advisor to educational system leaders in the areas of policy implementation, school leadership development and evidence-informed practice. He serves as an advisor to the NSW Department of Education School Leadership Institute, the Australia Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the Ontario Principals’ Council international school leadership program. He is also a Fellow of WISE.
Simon received his BPsych (Hons) from UNSW, his MSc in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oxford and his PhD in Education from the University of Cambridge. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Oxford and a Gates Scholar at Cambridge. Simon began his work in education as a high school teacher and lives in Sydney with his wife and three young children.
A note from Simon
A little about how I work…
Hi I’m Simon Breakspear,
I’m an educational researcher and advisor, who helps leaders and their teams to adopt new evidence-informed ways of thinking and working. I’m a Research Fellow at the UNSW Gonski Institute for Education, and am fortunate to spend most days of the week working with leaders serving in schools and system roles. Through my speaking, advisory and capacity building work, I partner with educators in order to help them to clarify their thinking, apply relevant evidence and effectively implement. I’m flexible in how I work, but relentlessly focused on improving the learning and life outcomes of young people.
Whilst I am based in Sydney, I bring a national and global perspective to my thinking and work. I’ve been fortunate to engage with education systems across over 10 countries and sustain a strong interest in the field of comparative education. I have the deepest understanding and experience of the education policy reforms in Australia and Canada.
In all my work, I’m driven by my personal mission of unlocking human potential through improving education systems. This started when I dropped out of my medical degree at UNSW to became a teacher. Now as a researcher and advisor, I see my key role is to take complicated ideas and turn them into easy-to-understand frameworks and actionable tools that can support busy practitioners to be more impactful. By sharing fresh ideas I try to help leaders get beyond the default ways of leading educational change and create sustainable change that is appropriate for their unique local contexts.
My normal approach is to find a ‘sticky’ problem from the field that I really want to make progress on and then work from research to practice. I scan the research literature and international practice to draw out the ‘best bets.’ I look for insights across academic fields such as psychology, improvement science, cognitive science, behavioural science, organisational change, leadership and more. My team and I then work alongside educators in the field to co-create prototypes of new approaches. After months (or years) of testing and iterating I share what I’ve learned with other educators to enable them to adopt and adapt in a way that is appropriate for their own context. It’s no surprise that I’ve learned that practitioners often have the best ideas.
My work focuses on topics like …
- How might improving the organisational health of schools enable sustainable lifts in outcomes?
- How can educational leaders lead improvement despite complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity?
- What does effective implementation of evidence-based ideas look like in complex, people-filled organisations?
- How can we support educators to enhance their expertise and embrace evidence-informed practice? (See Teaching Sprints)
- How might the science of learning be able to inform how we teach?
- How can we scale up high quality school leadership development across an entire system?
After a decade of working shoulder-to-shoulder with leading practitioners, I’ve learned that educational change is both complex and deeply human. I definitely don’t claim to have all the answers nor any simple silver bullets for creating school systems that we need. I’m learning as quickly as I can from research and practice, and am committed to sharing what I discover along the way. I’ve become convinced that when practitioners on the ground are supported with useful research, frameworks and tools, making meaningful progress is possible. I hope you’ll find some of my ideas and lessons useful to your work.
My Current Projects
My team and I partner with education systems and networks of schools around the world to bring our ideas to life. Some of our major projects include:
Agile School Leadership
Every school we know has a plan to improve organisational and student outcomes. The challenge is how principals and their teams can move from a new plan to creating sustainable impact in schools. After a global scan of approaches to leading improvement (improvement science, agile development, design thinking, implementation science) we generated a clear set of frameworks and tools for school leadership teams to use in order to clarify, implement and check the impact of their improvement efforts. Over 1,000 leaders have now been equipped with our new methods from across Australia. Learn more >
We need to rethink how the learning profession gets to engage in professional learning. Teachers often report that their collaborative professional learning time doesn’t result in shifts in thinking and practice. We worked to generate a new process that would enable educators to:
- Engage with evidence-based ideas from research
- Engage in rich and disciplined dialogue with colleagues
- Deliberately practice new approaches in the classroom
- Make small incremental changes that add up to big shifts over time
We have a global community of practitioners who are using the approach. As our process is open source, we hear from new schools around the world, from small rural schools to high rise high schools, who are learning online and adapting the process to fit within their unique educational context. We’ve had deep engagements with educators across Australia, and in Canada hundreds of schools have engaged through deep partnerships in Alberta (in a 3 year partnership with the Alberta Teachers’ Association), Saskatoon and Manitoba (with MASS). Learn more >
WISE Qatar ALL-IN
In partnership with WISE we have worked to reconsider how school leadership development can be designed across an entire education system. In 2017 I worked with my collaborator Dr Asmaa Alfadala to co-author a global research paper on leadership development approaches. We have since launched a global network of leadership development providers from across the planet with meetings in Doha, New York and Acara. In September 2020 we will host our first extended program with Chief Executives of Leadership development organisations, to be held at the Salzburg Global forum in Austria.
Schools Health Index
School improvement has too often focused on rapidly shifting student outcomes, without paying attention to the organisational conditions that need to be built and sustained in order to create the capacity for long-term improvement.
This is an exciting new project. Stay tuned and let us know if you would like to be the first to test some early prototypes.
Papers & Publications
WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education): Report on ‘Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership policy for dynamic times’. View article >
Centre for Strategic Education: Occasional Paper, ‘Agile Implementation – Learning how adopting an agile mindset can help leaders achieve meaningful progress in student learning. View article >
How does PISA Shape Education Policy, Nov 2014: Why how we measure learning determines what counts in education. Download PDF >
Talent Magnets, May 2009: Attracting & Retaining Top Talent. Download PDF >
Simon played a critical role in designing, facilitating and evaluating the 2016 NSW Education Symposium described by many participants as the most significant education conference in NSW for a decade. His understanding of students, teachers and school and his relentless focus on impact make him a highly sought after identity in education, not just in NSW but across Australia.
Hon A. Piccoli
NSW Minister for Education (2011-2017)
The feedback has been awesome! I wanted to congratulate you and thank you again for an enormous effort in planning, facilitating a fantastic two days, and guiding and supporting our workshop facilitators and Impact storytellers. The feedback is evidence of a hugely successful Residential.
Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership
(Event: SEIL System Leadership Residential)
“QELi is privileged to work with and alongside Simon and the Agile Schools Team. His high impact programs tailored to leaders at all levels, from teachers through to Principals and System Leaders, rate significantly high in our impact evaluation process. We continue to use Simon and his team as critical drivers within our programs and as standalone offerings with ‘Learning Sprints’ and ‘Leading School Improvement Strategy’ as the two significant embedded programs. Simon connects well with all audiences and is a pleasure to work with.”
“Simon has been working and collaborating with the system leadership team at Bastow in deepening our work and thinking around implementing a Community of Practice approach across our Education system. Simon has been able to provide us with a very bespoke suite of professional learning that builds on the skills, knowledge and disposition of our current leaders and stretches their thinking and actions. Simon makes great connections from ideas to practice and is very agile in responding to the learning needs of the group. He is engaging and thought provoking, all rolled into practicality.”
Community of Practice Facilitator
Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership
Simon’s presentation was precise and thought provoking. His clarion communication skills are exemplar. He met and exceeded our expectations in every aspect. We feel fortunate to have the benefit of his expertise.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission
Simon is exceptional in his approach and revolutionary in his ideas for education. He is a great asset to any organisation, looking to gain a refreshing and cutting-edge perspective in improving education.
Organiser of World Educational Leadership Summit 2015
Simon is committed to working with educational jurisdictions in an ongoing relationship with the goal of improving teaching and learning. He acts as both a facilitator and a critical friend. He is mindful of the current educational landscape with a vision for the future that is achievable through incremental change beginning in the classroom. His presentations are highly motivating to educators, but he asks more of his audience than just a change in mindset – he sets the stage for action through thoughtful innovation and implementation of Deeper Learning constructs.
Superintendent, Pine Creek School Division (Canada)
Simon’s presentation demonstrated his clear understanding of the current directions within education. An extremely thought provoking and engaging presentation that left his audience thinking and wanting more. A brilliant catalyst for in school conversations and future planning.
Principal & Organiser, NSW North Coast Primary Principals Conference
Mr Breakspear’s presentations were outstanding, pertinent, engaging and contextually ‘on the money’. The subject matter was incredibly relevant but it was probably the efforts Simon went to in building a theme of ‘effective planning’ and change management that most impressed.
Barrenjoey High School
Through our partnership with Simon and the dynamic processes he employs, we were able to accelerate a pathway to school improvement especially in the area of learning design.
Simon’s collaborative approach to working with teams sweeps in a broad range of views resulting in greater levels of coherence and depth.
I greatly appreciated your expert and engaging facilitation skills, which ensured conversations were well scaffolded and transitions throughout the day were seamless. Your wrap up of each session was on point, and clearly focused on what we were trying to achieve on the day. It is no easy feat to maintain the energy and focus that you did throughout the day, so thank you.
CEO of AITSL
(Event: National School Leadership Roundtable, 2019)
“I wanted to thank you once again for a simply amazing longitudinal program of Agile Leadership for school teams. All of the schools in our network have engaged deeply with the program and I believe have worked authentically to start a process of change and improvement using the architecture and learning you and the team have provided. I felt the room was buzzing today – high energy, high engagement, high commitment, high passion! I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with each of the schools in my network to continue the dive with a relentless focus on growing leader and teacher quality and by using the tools and strategies you provided.”
Director, Educational Leadership – NSW Department of Education
“In Saskatoon Public Schools, our work with Simon has had significant influence on the culture of our school division. He has challenged us to examine our processes for professional learning and provided us with tools that have helped teachers to increase impact on student learning. We are grateful to Simon for his insightful provocation and guidance.”
Superintendent of Education, Saskatoon Canada
Simon’s presentation was amazing. Principals have not stopped raving about it. His Masterclass was filled to capacity and his message hit the target with our Theme of What Matters Most – Faith, Learning and Well Being. He is extremely engaging and we would love to have him back again.
Executive Officer – Australian School Catholic Principals (ASCP) Conference
On behalf of the International Baccalaureate, I would like you to extend our sincere gratitude to Simon for his contribution to all the sessions he engaged in. His professionalism, preparation and insight are admirable and he made a deep impression on participants. His role as a moderator in the panel was simply fantastic, facilitating a meaningful discussion for heads of school.
Academic Consultant – IB Africa, Europe & Middle East
International Baccalaureate Organisation
Working with Simon is the safest way to make sure a high profile, ambitious event for school leaders breaks new ground and leaves people wanting more. From the start of the planning, through to the post-event and follow-up, Simon took charge, covered every detail small and large, and delivered one of the most compelling, engaging, and provocative global workshop we’ve run.
Nobody can engage, challenge, provoke, and entertain a room full of school leaders like Simon Breakspear. Having him lead our program ensured our education partners were taken on a journey they will never forget. Simon knows his stuff, knows people, and knows how to merge the two together to create magic. It’s a pleasure to work with him.
Director of Education, Teaching & Learning Strategy
The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. Simon thoroughly engaged the audience and set the tone for the whole conference. I couldn’t have asked for more.
President of NSW/ACT Educate Plus
Simon’s keynote presentation was very well received by our international audience of development professionals, education innovators and policy makers. His unique combination of expertise in education systems reform, pedagogy and technology helped us think through the effective use of ICT for education in developing countries. Simon impressed with his dynamism and thoughtful answers to audience questions, which were grounded in a practical emphasis on learning outcomes.
Organiser of 2015 All Children Reading Innovators Summit
World Vision Australia
Simon has brought extraordinary benefit to our strategic planning process. He is an outstanding facilitator of process; however, it is his breadth of knowledge regarding global educational thought and practice, and the razor-sharp acuity with which he is able to clarify issues that lift his contributions into the highest echelons. I have no hesitation recommending his work.
“Our partnership with Simon Breakspear has been foundational in providing the support, tools and resources to shift the way we support professional learning within our division.”
Superintendent of Education, Saskatoon Canada