When a student in our class in not growing and learning, do we blame the student or try to develop approaches and strategies that might support them? I would hope to think that we try and figure out why it’s not working for them and develop actions and responses.
Why do we not approach the development of leadership in this way. If we truly believe that leaders are developed and not just “born” then leadership, including our own, is a continuum of growth. I think even the greatest leaders of our time would never suggest that they achieved ultimate leadership capacity.
In our system we define leaders with titles – principal, deputy, assistant principal, coordinator, lead teacher etc. Yet we also know that it is our actions that define leadership and that anyone can demonstrate leadership, regardless of their title or position. At the same time, it is our responsibility as “defined leaders” with titles to develop our own leadership capacity and that of other “defined leaders” in our schools. Just as we wouldn’t let ‘Johnny’ relinquish in our classrooms, why would we allow our coordinators, assistant principals, deputies or principals to flounder without support.
The challenge in our classrooms is to develop personalised approaches to improve each learner. The challenge in our leadership teams is to personalise approaches to improve each leader. Just as in the classroom, sometimes our approaches work immediately and other times they do not, but we must not give up.
I feel that our most powerful weapon as leaders, is continual reflection on what is working and why, and what is not working and why. A principal/deputy/assistant principal who blames individuals for their lack of achievement, their misunderstandings or shortage of actions, is not reflecting inwardly and not taking responsibility for their role in that person’s leadership development. Isn’t it much easier though to play the blame game, deflecting any part in the whole growth process.
The tipping point of leadership occurs when you stop blaming others for your disappointment, frustration, or bitterness.
— Dan Rockwell (@Leadershipfreak) April 1, 2016
— Dan Rockwell (@Leadershipfreak) April 2, 2016
I have not previously attended a conference stream dedicated to leadership, in fact, most of my professional learning, in regards to leadership, has occurred through reading and actual practice (with the exception of a few sessions with Prof David Giles -Flinders Uni). I believe that investing time into intentional leadership development is critical. Being a good teacher does not equate to being a good leader, and the greater the responsibilities gained, the more there is to juggle, the greater the necessity for, vision, philosophy and strategy applied to leadership rather than just being hardworking, approachable and reliable (which can only get you so far).
There were a few critical “aha” moments during my Future Schools the first emerged during the presentation by Darren Cox, Principal St Phillip’s Christian College. Darren spoke passionately about his approach to leadership and that we must have the same belief in our staff as we do in our students, this MUST be your starting point. How often do we “write off” certain staff members in our school, waiting for them to retire or move on, placing them in groups with each other because “they’re not going to do it anyway”, labelling them a “lost cause”? I think this is even more evident in South Australia with the removal of tenure, but it makes it even MORE crucial that we don’t default to this attitude. Dylan Wiliams would refer to it as the “love the one you’re with” approach. If we perceive every staff member as valuable, that they can grow, that they can contribute in powerful and meaningful ways to the culture and learning in a school, won’t this be a more powerful foundation for change?
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) March 3, 2016
Further on from this, Darren passionately spoke about developing culture. Whether you can identify what your current culture is, developing this shared cultural identity and then as he referred, making each other accountable for this culture. I am not particularly fond of the word accountable, because I see it as a top-down approach. I would like to think that the development of a truly shared culture would mean each individual would feel a sense of responsibility and furthermore, hold each other responsible.
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) March 3, 2016
I always love a good sports analogy, and with a HPE background, Darren did not disappoint. His examples reminded me of basketball teams I have been a part of and the “reputation” each group had. Whether it be that we were aggressive defensively or offensively, owning that reputation meant that we could pull others up if they didn’t dive on the ball, or take a shot. It wasn’t taken personally, because we had created that reputation together, we owned it.
So here lies the challenge for our own journey of creating culture at my school, which has already begun. How do we share a responsibility for our culture, so we can hold each other responsible in a way that builds culture and doesn’t bust it!
This week I attended the Future Schools Conference in Sydney with two colleagues from my school. The value in taking teams to conferences, is in the conversations and perspectives you gain. This one was no different and Melissa Mulholland and Alison Buse were wonderful co-learners.
Whilst we had opportunities to explore a scope of ideas and takeaways from the range of presentations over the two days, it was the on the third day during our time spent reflecting and challenging each other to identify key immediate actions, short-term (semester actions) and longer term (within the year) was where the true value lay for me.
Previously when travelling interstate, the pressure to reduce costs often means that there is a rush to the door to catch a flight home, evident by the numbers who attended the final keynotes in each conference stream.
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) March 4, 2016
When booking our accommodation and travel, I was unaware that a significant event (MARDI GRAS) was on in Sydney and the flights reflected this significant event. Resulting in being cheaper to stay the extra night and fly home the following day. This turned out to be a valuable turn of events.
After checking-out from our hotel, we headed down to The Rocks at Sydney and found an amazing cafe The Fine Food Store (with WIFI). Over a delicious brunch we discussed and identified the various valuable learnings from the conference and planned for “what next”.
As two young leaders in my school, Mel and Alison demonstrated such a commitment to their own development and the improvement of our learning community. It reminded me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by passionate, enthusiastic, committed educators. It also reinforced how crucial it is to tap into people’s passions, talents and skills.
So for my first takeaway from Future Schools 2016 ……. if you can, plan to include immediate time to reflect, review and plan actions together after attending a conference. Absolute bonus if it’s interstate, and you’re on Sydney Harbour, the sun is shining and it’s 28 degrees.
This week I begin an 8 week Mindfulness Training course. If you know me at all, this might be somewhat of a surprise, but I hope that it will force me to take some time and space each day to bring awareness to the moment.
I have read a range of research on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices, and this year taking on a new role, I felt that I would need to have greater composure, courage and compassion when faced with challenging situations.
I have a great deal of apprehension as to how successful I will be, you see, we have over the past year and a half had a Mindfulness project occurring in our school and infrequently I have had opportunities to be led in short five minute mindfulness practice. Even with a limited 5 minute practice I struggled to remain undistracted, thinking instead about all the tasks on my to do list.
I hope that committing to this course will increase my capacities and eventually have a lasting impact on my ability to manage my challenging role. Fortunately I take on this challenge with three of my colleagues, hoping that we can each encourage and support each other through the next 8 weeks!.
2015 went by so fast and I expect that 2016 will be equally as busy (more likely busier). With taking on new challenges and responsibilities, I found there were a few things that I value that I neglected which have become critical to my personal growth and wellbeing. This year I hope to be better!
One personal attribute that I value is that of my curiosity and willingness to try anything at least once. This has opened so many doors for me because I don’t shy away from opportunities. Essential to this process of curiosity and exploration is time to reflect. When I don’t deliberately commit time and space to think, reflect, review and explore, I limit my capacity to see potential opportunities or create new experiences.
Something that has always resonated, in regards to being creative, is something that author Michael Morpurgo said in an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson back in 2012. When asked what advice he would give to young writers, he encouraged living an interesting life; keeping your eyes, ears and heart open, reading (a lot) and going to interesting places and experiencing interesting events. I think critical to this is being able to take time to reflect on these experiences whether they be professional or personal, exploring what impact they may have or what it was indeed that made them good, bad or other.
In reading Innovators Mindset by George Couros, he identifies “Time for Reflection” as a critical to any innovative learning environment. He quotes John Dewey “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience”. There is nothing to disagree with here, deeper learning requires time to consolidate our understandings and develop connections to our prior learning. How often we are deliberate about ensuring time for this to occur, whether that be in the classroom or beyond, will surely impact on the nature of the learning and any opportunity for improvement or innovation.
So this year I hope to be more deliberate about creating time to reflect; for myself, for my peers and for students.
This past month has been a busy one as the school year came to a close. It is always a time for reflection and review, but more so this year with a whole range of new leadership opportunities arising in our school and the reality of some revered and inspiring leaders exiting stage left. This has meant an opportunity for personal reflection and formal and informal conversations with a range of people both at the beginning and the end of their school leadership journey.
One consistent aspect of both these groups of people, is that they did not wait for the title to demonstrate their professionalism, their passion, and their unwavering and uncompromising commitment to improvement. Instead they acted upon it daily.
Lesson learnt…. if you aspire to be a Lead Teacher, Coordinator, Senior Leader, Deputy, Principal or beyond….. don’t wait, start operating like one; speak up, support, encourage, challenge and advocate, dress and commit like one on a daily basis.
A special shout out to a unique individual, an inspiring woman, who retires from her official education role, but whom I know will still support the development of others for a long time to come. She has tolerated my constant challenging and questioning and still nurtured and supported me, especially in recent times.
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I really revere this approach to leadership where the focus is on developing others not just producing a positive outcome. Working in teams it is essential that everyone is improving and contributing in positive ways and this will only occur if the focus is on developing every element of the team not just isolated members, or yourself.
I have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to ensure that those around me have confidence in my leadership; endeavouring to lead by example, sustain a high work ethic, be reliable and trustworthy, enthusiastic and positive and communicate effectively.
Whilst these are all what I would consider effective leadership qualities, I have to remind myself that my energies should also be spent on inspiring others to see their own value.
I have always found perception an intriguing phenomenon. It probably stems from my studies in social anthropology at Uni but also as I get older, I reflect on how I viewed the world as a young person. We of course construct our own experience through how we interact and perceive the world, without getting too deep the reason I raise this is that just recently, a colleague gave me an enormous compliment and then continued to identify themselves as less adequate. This caught me by surprise, as I in fact hold them in very high esteem. It reminded me immediately of the quote from E.Roosevelt above, and impelled me to remind this particular individual of all the inspiring initiatives they had led and the challenges they had overcome. Sometimes we all need a champion to remind us of our successes. I need to make sure I do it more often.
Part of my leadership responsibilities this year has been to support the development of student voice. There have been multiple highlights throughout the year with students being involved in a range of key decisions, and instigating change at our school in the ways we approach making decisions and managing processes, some of which have been entrenched for a significant time. Developing these opportunities for students has been a natural fit with the way I work with students and an extension of the way my classroom teaching has evolved. Listening and acting upon student ideas and feedback has always been important to me as I imagine my own children in the young people I work alongside daily.
This past term though has seen a shift in Student Voice at my school with the opportunity to plan and organise a forum inviting a range of student leaders from other schools. This would be the second student forum for our school, the first one held last year.
I am well aware of my inclination to be particularly controlling over events/activities that I am responsible for. To say it was only a little unnerving to relinquish the control would be a significant understatement. Allowing students to be in control within your own community is very different to inviting the outside in and risking failure on a very public scale. Yet this is exactly what I did and, how they rose to the occasion (you can see a post about the forum here).
The difference with students being involved and heard versus students owning the project/event is tremendous. One allows the student to feel valued and the other empowers them to be invaluable. I look forward to making space for more authentic opportunities for students to own.
Each year that I teach pre-service teachers as part of their undergraduate teaching degree at Flinders University, I am both inspired and filled with hope and pained by some of their confessions.
The final assessment piece for the course I teach requires students to evaluate the teaching they observed in their placement schools, remark on their conversations with staff and mentors and reflect upon their own teaching experiences. I believe this is the most beneficial of all the assessments required of our students as I am of the belief that the most valuable skill we can develop to transform our practice is the ability to discuss and reflect upon our own teaching and that of others and develop intentions based on this as to how to improve.
For each reflection I read, I am encouraged by the aspirations of these young people to continue to grow and it is encouraging to read about so many learning environments instilling the importance of a growth mindset in both students and teachers.
Amongst the wonderful inspiring reflections are also moments of disappointment. Over a semester, I get to know these students quite well, their honesty and enthusiasm for learning and their thirst for any guidance from teachers and mentors is heartening. However, when I read that “mentor” teachers tell their pre-service teachers that their lessons and courses cannot be differentiated, or is too hard to adjust for students, a little part of me aches.
I have no delusion that each and every one of these student teachers will have a practicum experience with perfect expertise (no such thing) but still, without fail, each year I read a few statements that make me want to scratch my eyes out.
Throughout our course I remind them that that ultimately they will develop their own beliefs, their own values and should surround themselves with people that will support and encourage them to achieve these. I can only hope that “too hard” doesn’t stick and that they see the inherent value in the things that will ultimately impact on their students growth.
Oh and P.S EVERY course, at ANY year level can be differentiated. Just like EVERY child and how they experience learning is personal and different. Differentiation is not about providing individual programs, it is about knowing your students needs and responding and planning to meet them.
Every once in a while something happens to disrupt assumptions or short term expectations. This happened recently and good, bad or otherwise it is an important process to go through to reflect and examine that which is most important and valuable in the path we wish to forge.
It is easy at times to follow the road which has been laid ahead, and it is easy when opportunities are available to go with what is expected, but this does not necessarily lead us to where we truly want to be. I have done this before and it is not something I want to repeat again, but instead keep in check that what I do each and every day is meaningful and leading ultimately to the realisation of an important purpose, self-fulfilment and even a legacy, knowing that I have impacted upon the lives of others (hopefully many) for the better.