Category: Developing Self & Others

Eliminate Smoke Blowing


cc labelled for reuse without modifications by TexasProductions

I feel one of the toughest things to do in a team is pull someone up for exaggerating or fabricating the truth to make them appear hard working, professional or with greater expertise than may in fact be the case or indeed to cover up the reality they may not understand the expectations whatsoever.

I just read this post by Dan Rockwell where he identifies 10 tactics that produce brilliant solutions.   The two that stood out for me were the following;

Ask tough questions. One of the saddest things I’ve seen leaders do is listen to bull crap. Exposing smoke-blowers motivates people to prepare for meetings and discussions.

Terminate drifters and butt kissers. They just take up space and drain vitality from real workers. Spend time with honest hard thinkers.

It actually takes me back to a lecturer I had at University back in the mid 90’s, as a group of students we knew that we could sabotage the entire 2 hour workshop by setting our lecturer off on an unrelated tangent by prompting him with different ethical issues.  He loved to talk and we took absolute advantage of this, and rarely ever had to complete our readings because we were never accountable to respond of reflect upon them. Two hours would be over before he had a chance to ask any questions about our required tasks or homework.

The same can happen though when people within a team take up air time sprouting fanciful accounts minimising the opportunity to actually get on with the real work, in an attempt to avoid the tough questions. Especially if they’re allowed to.

So here-in lies the challenge.  We work with people, with sensitivities, insecurities and different mindsets including the need to be admired by peers. How do we create an environment where people can be challenged to be honest both with their peers and themselves, by asking tough questions in a supportive environment where it then becomes more acceptable to respond “I have not done that”, “I don’t know how to do that”, “I need help to understand what is expected”.

How do we make it more admirable to admit that we are having difficulty or don’t know what to do, as opposed to affirmed for making stuff up to avoid “being found out”?

Being more Thai

For two weeks this month  I have had the fortune to work closely with staff and students in a school in a province in the North East of Thailand called Kanthalakwittaya, a co-ed school from years 7-12.

As an English speaking foreigner visiting Thailand, language becomes the greatest barrier. Beyond “hello”, “yes” and “no”, the majority of rural Thai do not speak, read or understand English.  Additionally my Thai is limited to……. well nothing! It is no wonder that many who visit Thailand stay in Bangkok or popular tourist destination Phuket, where the influx of English speaking tourists demands the capacity to communicate in a common tongue.

This is however, not where the richness of Thai culture is experienced.

Kanthalakwittaya is a school without the bells and whistles of my own.  Students are often amongst 45 peers in a class with concrete floors, broken wooden tables and chairs blackboards and chalk dust. No devices, no screens, no flexible furniture or spaces.  Yet their is immense richness in their school community and by this I am not referring to the monetary kind.

Their wealth is in their kindness, their generosity, their overwhelming commitment to help each other and to share everything. Their caring, nurturing approach is evident and was demonstrated in every classroom, every staffroom and every home I entered.

Community is at the heart of Thai culture, in fact their school curriculum identifies it as one of eight “Desirable Characteristics” as “Public-Mindedness”.

Having an authentic Thai experience (and not the white tourist version), allowed me to see how very much my own community is disconnecting from some of the things that matter most. That in our schools, it’s not the bells and whistles that matter most as we all try and get as many “things” as we can, but indeed the opportunities we provide for students to do work that truly matters.  Great joy comes from the happiness of others, from being part of family (related or otherwise), from “Public-Mindedness”.

This year I am going to be ‘more Thai’.



Team on the Agenda


“Team” via Flickr by Dawn (Willis) Manser


I believe working as a team is crucial to the success of any venture or change, particularly in education.  How much can truly be achieved, but more importantly sustained in isolation?

Professional teams are just as diverse as a classroom full of kids.  We cannot expect to build or be part of a dynamic successful team if everyone shares the same views, works the same ways or has the same strengths and passions.

I always push my brother of a cliff when I talk about teams and having different players with different strengths and capacities.  My brother was not “school smart”, the whole sitting, reading and writing deal wasn’t really his strength. Yet, if I were to create a team for any challenge or to get something done, and I mean ANY, he would be my first pick. My brother is a hard worker, gives his all, can problem solve independently even if he doesn’t have a clue where to start. He works with people, communicates and just gets stuff done (plus it kind of helps that I love him a fair bit).  A team full of “Tav’s” isn’t ultimately ideal, there also needs to be others to spark ideas, some to challenge the ideas, some to be conservative and some to shoot for the pie in the sky.

In schools we all work in different teams whether they be structured in curriculum areas or responsibilities, or whether they come together for specific events or projects. I have been part of many teams within my school and have been truly blessed to build a fantastic group in a curriculum area for the past three years. I think one factor that remains central to my passion for education, is that whilst I may have investment in one or several smaller teams, I am part of a larger team that is our school. I think there is great danger in seeing ourselves isolated to our own small corner of the school and not honouring our role as part of the bigger picture.

Next year I leave the comfort of my familiar curriculum area and join several new teams.  Whilst I may be investing in the development and growth of these different teams, being part of team Wirreanda remains a central focus. Understanding what role the teams I am part of contribute to the growth of our school is crucial and I know that we each play an integral part in that.

Life Balance vs Being Centred

My Creations (11)

flickr rhonimcfarlane “nature walk”

Now that technology keeps us connected 24/7 we hear constant messages about maintaining work/life balance.

In the ten years from 1986 to 1996 work-life balance was mentioned in the media 32 times.

In 2007 alone it was mentioned 1674 times.

– Time Magazine

Twitter chats are full of people sharing how to manage time away from work, ironically these same educators are spending time on education chats!

If someone counted the amount of hours I spend working, I am sure there would be more than a few that suggest my work/life balance is skewed.  Perhaps this is where my view on what is healthy differs.

I am an advocate for spending your time in meaningful ways. Spending time “in the moment” is more important to me than how long I am there for. Finding value in what you do and how you do it and developing your own sense of integrity.

I would rather find a short moment in my day to find quiet moment, listen to a music I love, be still, enjoy a coffee, see the beauty in nature or the embrace or laughter of a child and for a brief moment feel genuine gratitude and peace, than count the hours that I am at or away from work. My mother demonstrated to me that it was not the extent of time she spent with my children (she lived 5 hours via plane away) but the quality of the time she spent with them that developed their deep bond that is still felt today 6 years on from her passing.

“Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.” – John P Robinson

So busy is not bad, but a sense of calm is important.

Ever since my mother passed, my children and I have made a tradition of getting out into nature on Mother’s Day. This year was no different as we headed for a bush walk in the Adelaide Hills. I took the picture above and in a moment when the three of us stood in awe of the magnificence of the tree, we felt genuine appreciation and joy.

I like being busy, I love challenge and I crave new opportunities. Perhaps it is by taking a little time to be “in the moment” that enables me to keep centred.








Is Comparison Constructive?

Apples & Oranges - They Don't Compare

Apples and Oranges – They don’t compare cc Flickr Michael Johnson

A tendency to compare ourselves to others seems to be quite natural. We compare ourselves to our friends, to our teammates, we compare our children to their peers or their siblings and so on. While learning from others is a useful way to develop our understanding or make a decision, can it also reinforce unrealistically high or disappointingly low expectations?

I actually find it quite easy to avoid comparing my own children or my students to each other because I see them as completely unique and value their talents as precious to them.  I have incredible role models who inspire me to be better and examples all around of remarkable human beings. In each of these people, I can find qualities that I aspire to replicate.  Just as I see uniqueness in my own children and students, we are all unique too, each on a different journey, each with a different vision of what success is.

Should our goal be to compare ourselves less to others but more to our previous selves?  Am I better than yesterday? How can I be better tomorrow? Did I give myself an opportunity to think about what I did or didn’t do well or what I really want to be better at?

I have no doubt that this is the path to a better me.

This Year Make a Move, Shake it Up


Change cc Flickr photos – Sebastien Wiertz

This time last year I was struggling with the belief that not everyone shared the basic premise that all kids can learn (see Clear to Me Opaque to Others).  Over the year I have spent more time listening and working with individuals and small groups and gained a greater understanding of what it is they believe and want to achieve. Time to build some relationships has definitely made a difference, after all no one goes to work with the intention to be terrible or do a poor job. Starting from this point I have been able to see more clearly what breeds reluctance or fear in trying something new.

I believe it is essential that whatever the small step may be to change our practice for the better, we must commit to take that challenge.  For some it may be something grand, for others it may be small shift in habit or attitude or just acknowledging that support is needed.

I have the most respect for staff whom I know are feeling frightened by trying something new, but are willing to do so because they know it will benefit the kids. If we are willing to be vulnerable and admit “this is hard” or “this is scary” or “I am feeling intimidated by this” but then seek support from others we are truly modelling the challenge of learning for our students.

So this year, what will you do to make a move or shake it up, to take a chance, to make a change?

Growing Changemaking Communities

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by *patrick

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by *patrick

Education leaders such as George Couros and Stephen Harris are always seeking ideas and examples from beyond the education arena to develop and strengthen learning and leadership in schools. I think there are many lessons to be learnt from corporations as they continually reflect upon what contributed to their success or their failure.

I am not suggesting in any means that schools should fashion themselves entirely on a business model – our core business is kids, not making a profit, but I do think the more that business looks at building success on the basis of developing relationships and connection, the more we can learn from their change journeys.

This morning I read this article by Alexa Clay – “5 Tips for Growing Changemaking Communities in Your Company“.  Clay puts forth the importance of building an entourage which she describes as;

“people who bring you energy and ‘get it’ Your entourage is what gets you through the darker times and plays a much needed role in keeping you going when things appear stuck”

I have previously written about this idea in terms of our Circle of Influence and Who Makes You Average. I feel strongly about the team that we build to cultivate and grow ourselves and our school.

Clay says the following in which I have added the alternative (schools) or (classrooms) substitute:

And corporations (schools) aren’t merely collections of individuals. Corporations (schools) are communities. Behind every business (school) is an environment where people are looking to find connection, fulfillment, and identity. And yet, within and across cubicles (classrooms), it can be so hard to connect on a human level. So how do we bust through? How do we generate communities to really unleash game-changing innovation within big corporations (schools)? And how do we grow our entourages into truly powerful networks of change.

For each of the 5 tips Clay suggests to move towards developing changemaking communities I have included a ‘school’ alternative.

1. Visualise your relationships

Company model: …. go beyond the usual suspects and think about organizations or communities you might never engage with …Map out these actors and understand their competencies and points of leverage within the system. Then spot areas where a shared agenda could emerge.

School model: there may be people in your school that have a passion or interest in what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t assume it will always be the same people who put their hand up for everything, develop opportunities for support staff, parents, families, ex students and others to be involved in what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Find your counterparts

Company model: …make sure that you connect with like-minded intrapreneurs within these organizations. Systemic collaborations require an enterprising spirit to be ignited and sustained. So find the right allies in other organizations that you can rely and depend on to accelerate these types of initiatives. You’ll save time and energy by working with others who share the same mindset as you.

School model: Connect with people who share your passions both in and beyond (local or global) your school.  Develop a network of educators on the same journey and share and build from each other. Utilise #twitter , google+ or other ways to connect and share and forge the development of your community.

3. Practice code-switching

Company model: Be able to shift how you communicate, depending on your audience–know the right language to use depending on your stakeholder. Part of building community has to do with knowing how to translate your prerogative into the language of others.

School model: depending on whether you are engaging with your allies, leadership or those whom may be resistant, your communication will need to change.  No point going full blown excitement on a peer that is reluctant to change anything at all, save that for your ‘counterparts’

4. Foster a subculture

Company model:  at times, it might feel like the culture you’re trying to create is not reconcilable with the culture of your organisation. Ask yourself what is the delta behind the culture that is and the culture that you are trying to create. And the delta should be fairly small. Most people don’t like massive change.

School model:  Change is hard! Start by developing a small culture which you can cultivate and grow eventually infiltrating the rest of the school.

5. De-couple your entourage and your ego

Company model: Communities don’t revolve around one person. Nor should the success of an idea or innovation be dependent on one person. To be successful you need to be able to democratize ownership of your ideas. Beware of isolating yourself with a community of enablers. Get the “scary people” within your organization or from the outside to champion your work. They are key in getting your ideas to scale.

School model: Make sure there are people within your community who are willing to question and challenge ideas (critical friends). Success will be measured not by what you envision on your own, but by what is owned within a vision.

“most game-changing ideas are 10% epiphany and 90% relationships and community building….People don’t just lean in to ideas; they lean in to communities where they can discover purpose and meaning.”

Aren’t I supposed to?

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by

Seth Godin is someone I really enjoy reading regularly. I don’t always agree with everything he has to say, but his reflections on stigmas, cultural change, relationships and education are always interesting and often inspire further exploration. The following post had me thinking about our roles in maintaining the status quo in education.

“Am I supposed to like this?”

If we think we are, we probably will.

We’re more likely to laugh at the comedy club. More likely to like the food at a fancy restaurant. More likely to feel like it’s a bargain if we’re at the outlet store.

Am I supposed to applaud now? Be happy? Hate that guy? Use a fork?

Judgments happen long before we think they do.

And successful marketers (and teachers and leaders) invest far more into “supposed to” than it appears.

As we approach a new school year, I have been considering how I will support the continued development of learning experiences we cultivate for our students. I often get told that my perspective is fresh because I haven’t always been a teacher. Whilst that may have some truth and I do believe that we all benefit from the richness of experiences we indulge in beyond the school walls, I think it is also true that we need to approach teaching with new eyes every day.

We have all spent at least 13 years in an education system, good, bad or otherwise which means we have an expectation of what school is “supposed” to be.  Parents and families (and of course students) also have an  expectation.  I certainly don’t go to my doctor and say, “yes but when I was a doctor” but our families do have experience of  being a student  “in school”.

“All to often, on the long road up, young leaders become servants of what is rather than shapers of what might be.” ― John Gardner

I never want to maintain a practice just because it has always been done that way. I want my actions and choices to be determined by purpose, merit and opportunity, to be open to what might be. Part of this challenge is to work with families, community, peers and students to change their ideas of what school is “supposed” to look like, feel like and sound like. Even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact on perceptions and attitudes. Something as simple as committing to welcoming your students each and every day can increase their sense of worth and make them want to be at school, through to developing real world projects that give students opportunities to make a difference in their community or another.

I am extremely excited about the opportunities we can make this year and I will continue to be open to what might be.

Will you be reproducing, or shaping something new?

Reflections on a Year that Was


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by flower87

It seems not that long ago that I was planning for this year, now it is all but over.  No catastrophic events professionally or personally this year but definitely some periods of challenge and a few “firsts”!  The following are some key things that come to mind as lessons learned or significant reminders that have been important for me this year.

First impressions can change!

I have always considered myself a pretty good judge of character and would like to think that I never treat people differently regardless of their circumstances. This year though, I’d made some assumptions about why some of the people I work with became teachers and I was ignorantly mistaken. My lesson was to take the time to get to know people before I categorise them in any way.  It’s easy to assume that people are resistant to change because they’re lazy or stuck in their ways. Listening to what they need, how they learn, what they fear or are frustrated by gives me an insight into how or if I can be a support. By listening more and talking less, I have learnt a valuable lesson and developed some great working relationships.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGill

Letting go

One of the challenges this year has been to “let go”. One of my strengths is modelling practice and sharing everything I have that may be of use to anyone whom is interested. I am truly invested in making myself redundant, by supporting and developing the people around me until I am no longer needed.  What this requires is for me to give up control of things I am used to handling. It means things are done differently and at times have not been as successful, but mostly it has been that people and ideas have developed and grown for the better.  This will be something I continue to work on.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’
 Lao Tzu

Don’t take toxic behaviour personally

I can’t control other people’s behaviours, nor their intentions. What I can do is control how I let it affect me. This year has seen some significant events occur that have caused me stress.  I cannot control the behaviours of people involved with my students beyond my classroom, what I can control is how I react to that student, how I support their development, how I show them they are important, cared for and valued.

The same is true for the behaviours of other adults in my life. I will continue to focus on surrounding myself with a positive circle of influence.  People that challenge, encourage and value me. I know that I do not have to agree with everyone and not everyone will agree with me. It is only the dignity and compassion that I show in this regard that will truly reflect who I am and I will continue to let my actions speak louder than others’ words.

Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.

– W. Clement Stone

Embrace opportunities wholeheartedly 

I have always been a believer in not letting opportunities pass me by.  I encourage my own children, my students and my friends to take risks, embrace opportunities and at times fly by the seat of their pants! I have always had difficulty saying no, so professionally it has not been difficult to jump into projects when opportunities arise. This has led to some great prospects this year for myself and our students. Personally I probably play a lot safer and this will be something that I will be mindful of next year.

“Your life is an occasion. Rise to it!”  – Mr Magorium 

Some things turned out the way I planned and some things did not. The only success to be measured is that I become better tomorrow than I was today. Here’s to the year ahead!

Solicit the Positives


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Emma Line

Even with having close friends and family whom suffer from depression, I don’t know that I will ever truly understand how debilitating it is unless I was to suffer it myself. What I always endeavour to do, is listen, read and educate myself as much as possible and continually develop my own well being.

In saying this, I recently watched this TED talk by Andrew Solomon; Depression, the secret we share (it is 30 mins, but well worth viewing). It reminded me that depression can strike at any time for anyone and that each individual’s experience is as unique as themselves.  It made me conscious of those I know whom suffer from depression and their loved ones and families. It also made me think about the people I work with both young and old and how we can be oblivious to much of their own secret suffering.

George Couros recently shared this HBR article When You Criticize Someone, You Make it Harder for that Person to Change which reminded me of some experiences I had many years ago.

The article addresses research conducted by Richard Boyatzis on “how coaching affects the brain differently when you focus on dreams instead of failings.”

The research suggests that when you focus on positive goals and dreams, your brain is open and ready for change whilst any focus on what is deficient will result in the shutting down of these same brain centres.

Throughout my sporting endeavours, I was fortunate to be involved with elite athlete programs where I participated in sports psychology and physiology training. One particular program I was involved in showed how this understanding of positive vs negative input can effect performance.  As my sport was basketball, the activity I was asked to perform were foul shots. I was required to shoot six rounds of foul shots (I believe each round I took 20 shots with breaks in between).  The first two rounds were under “normal” conditions. The next two rounds I wore headphones. The messages I heard during this round through the headphones, were extremely negative and included general put downs that were not specific to basketball. Things like “you always let the team down”, “you will never be successful”, “why do you even bother”. The final two rounds had me again wearing the earphones, but this time the messages were extremely positive. “You can be what you want to be”, “you will be successful”, “you can win” and so on.

The results were no surprise, my shooting percentage rapidly declined under the bombardment of negativity and increased when receiving positive messages. This experience taught myself and my peers at the time, how important it is to remain positive and maintain self-belief.

For me, the TED talk and this research article express the importance of always focussing on the positive. Not only is criticism not going to elicit change in anybody, it may be that on that day, at that moment or in that space, it may be something that has a detrimental impact on a student or an adult, greater than you will ever know.

So my takeaway is – Don’t spotlight the deficits, always focus on the hopes and dreams and work towards finding ways to achieve them!