Category: Leading Improvement & Change

Choosing to do the “Right Thing”

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By Paramore [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During the school term, I rarely watch television, so when the holidays hit I tend to catch a few movies and maybe indulge in a series between my mandatory holiday novel binge.  A few nights ago I caught the film “Coach Carter” which I have previously never seen (surprising really, since I am a sucker for any basketball related flicks, especially those based on real people and events).

Whilst there were a range of important themes throughout the film, the most significant for me was ‘doing what’s best for kids’. Coach Carter (Samuel L Jackson) choosing to “lockout” his players from any basketball until they met the agreed grades and expectations. Despite incredible pressure and volatility from parents and the Richmond High School community, Coach Carter sticks to his convictions with the bigger picture in mind.

This is the exact challenge that we are faced with as educators today. Imagine if each of us took a stand for the future of our students, did not bow to the pressures of structures, politics, timetables, content demands and even student resistance and actually chose to push for the bigger picture and imagined what could be.  If you agree with me that 20th century education and paradigms are not best for 21st century learners, then our challenge is to foster the importance of lifelong learning over the immediate gratification of grades. To break the learners focus on being measured and ATARs and instead have them choose learning and personal challenge over being defined by their final numbers.

I am excited by some of the initiatives coming out of Universities now, where they are honouring students who choose challenge over subjects that will gain them the best ATAR (hat tip Flinders University). Especially exciting for girls choosing mathematics, physics and other STEM opportunities. Even greater reason for us to be forging ahead, reimagining the learning to foster ownership and agency with relevant and meaningful work which sees us (teachers and students) as creators, problem solvers, mentors, and instructors grappling with problems bigger than ourselves.

Thanks to David Truss for sharing this gem from a recent Tim Ferris interview with Seth Godin.

“We need to teach students two things:
          1.HOW TO LEAD
         2.HOW TO SOLVE INTERESTING PROBLEMS
Because the fact is, there are plenty of countries on earth where there are people willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So we can not out-obedience the competition. Therefore, we have to out-lead or out-solve the other people… who want whatever is scarce. The way to teach your kids to solve interesting problems…  is to give them interesting problems to solve. And then, don’t criticize them when they fail because kids aren’t stupid, if they get in trouble every time they try to solve an interesting problem, they’ll just go back to getting an ‘A’ by memorizing what’s in the textbook”. — Seth Godin

 

 

Getting the Right Fit for the Greatest Impact

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“Square peg, round hole” image via Flickr – Yoel Ben-Avraham

If you are interested in developing leadership, apparently you are not alone, it seems it is quite big business, you do not have to look very hard to find a range of views, top 20 “characteristics” or strategies to improve it! We should all be experts right? Well seems it’s not that easy.

Leadership, just like teaching, learning and coaching, involves people, and thus relationships. If you want great results, you need great people to have those relationships with.  Companies that are revered for having great cultures, Google, Netflix etc are also in the position to choose/hire whomever they want.  

Additionally, having a great culture means that you can attract and keep great people. The greatest challenge is how you create a great culture whilst you have people that aren’t people that you would actually choose to employ but instead have inherited.

These answers are few and far between! Just like in professional sport, some incredible players perform better under certain coaches and systems than others. As do players who may not possess “superstar” qualities, seem to shine in some teams, in particular circumstance than at any other time or in any other place.

What I am trying to get at, is that not even the best players/people are going to thrive in circumstances that are not conducive to their set of skills, expertise or interests.  It does not mean that they are less impressive, nor does it mean that the leadership is not effective.  It means that it is just not the right fit.

Just because an impressive dessert chef will be under-utilised in a McDonalds cafe, does not make the McDonalds unsuccessful. It means that their purpose does not marry.  That is not to say that we should not be looking at the talents within our buildings and try to utilise people’s passions and interests. It means that sometimes, trying to find a perfect fit, does not align with the vision/purpose of the school and each time we veer away from our intentions, we use time and energy that could otherwise impact on our success.

 

Leadership Lessons from Future Schools

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photo by Diz Play via Unsplash

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?

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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.

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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!

Co-Learning @ FutureSchools

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.  

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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”.

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Combining good food and good conversation with @MelissaMulh & @MissBuse161

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.

Potential vs Opportunity – how schools impact on Social Mobility

 

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Cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher

I love the word potential. It is full of hopes, dreams and possibilities. I believe we all have unlimited potential and the journey of our lives is how we cultivate and utilise opportunities to achieve our hopes and dreams. There are however challenges in how many opportunities we can create and how many opportunities we have access to. Unfortunately these challenges are harder for some groups than others, and as an educator, as a parent, as a human being, this frustrates me.

Public schools in more affluent suburbs have self-fulfilling prophecies. They attract their cohort because of their perceived success and have success because they attract affluent families.  This does not necessarily correlate to good teaching and learning, but it does mean that they can demand more of their families in terms of contribution; be that money; devices; uniform; or extra-curricular involvement.

As schools increasingly innovate and utilise technology to improve learning, this generates a greater disparity for schools with higher numbers of low-SES students. If schools in more affluent communities can insist (as does my own children’s school) that families provide a device (in my case an iPad) for middle school and another for secondary (in my case a Macbook Pro), how does this leverage opportunity?

There is undeniable evidence that when students have access to technology it increases their opportunity for learner led construction of understanding and personalised learning. If schools are able to demand the best of devices to be accessible to individuals 24/7, this of course enables a range of innovative approaches including the breaking down of traditional education. When students do not have access 24/7, this limits the opportunity for schools to challenge traditional systems, approaches and structures and ultimately makes it more difficult for them to foster and cultivate learning that leads to critical, creative and independent thinkers who can leverage a range of technologies.

The ultra-conservative approach to education reform and funding is failing a significant proportion of our young people to compete with their privileged peers. I do not believe for a second that the young people I work with could not have the same opportunities as those living in the leafy greens. In fact, I truly believe that the resilience and determination embodied in their daily actions would lead to the achievement of even greater potential if they were afforded the same opportunities as more affluent teens.  
If we do not address this issue, and do not support schools by subsidising technology in lower SE areas, then we will not long see the limitations upon social mobility, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

Empower and Embrace

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via  St Johns Kindergarten – Kingaroy shared on FaceBook

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.

 

Innovation vs Disruption

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There are a range of different representations of the concept of innovation in schools. It’s a word that I don’t particularly like to use, in fact when my school was looking to name its new collaborative open learning space I strongly contended for the word “innovative” not to be included in the label.

Buzz words fly around business and education continually as we reevaluate what it means to develop successful organisations.  This is even more true now as change accelerates with modern technology and access to a global learning and business community.  Just recently my son’s school rolled out their new promotional campaign of being “Future Proof” claiming the aim is “teaching children at all ages to be happy, resilient, adaptable and inquisitive, … future-proofing its students, to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

The Edtechteam promote the “Future Ready Schools” initiative, claiming that “Future Ready means having a comprehensive approach to the technology integration”. Furthermore they claim “Being Future Ready is a mindset, not a destination… In order for students to have agency, learning should take places in inspiring spaces where teachers are empowered to make instructional decisions.”

I think we spend a lot of time generating labels and linguistics to represent modern learning and modern spaces and by the time they are adopted, things have changed once again. It’s no wonder schools and teachers become overwhelmed and even despondent as new ideals are continuously rolled out.

So where am I going with all this? Well for me it’s trying to make sense of how I can be part of a leadership team that supports and develops continual and sustainable change in a school without it feeling like an entire makeover every year. How can we develop an emerging culture that embraces disruption as an ongoing response to making choices about what is best for kids in the now, which could ultimately mean rapid change in some respects in short periods of time. A definite challenge, but ultimately what choice do we have if our ambition is to do what is right for kids?

 

Celebrating Great Teaching

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Hand under a scanner CC via Flickr by Vera de Kok

One of the favourite parts of my job is the opportunity to observe other teachers in full swing in the classroom.  I think often when we approach classroom observations we are expecting to highlight deficits of practice and this may lead to judgements not founded in developing others, but instead on comparisons and negativity. Of course it is crucial to identify opportunities to challenge ourselves to always improve, but this post is my opportunity to shine a light on someone who may not typically be spotlighted.

At our school, we have been implementing Feedback for Learning strategies over the past two years and I was delighted to see this practice embedded in a year 9 music lesson by Miss D. I only wish I had recorded it so that others could see how well she applies the strategy of no hands up (mental note for next time).

When I gave feedback to Mel about how well she utilised this strategy, she responded to effect of;

‘Well otherwise, it’s just the same kids answering isn’t it!’ 

Exactly! Succinct and to the point, we know that when we only call on those who raise their hands, we are choosing to only teach to the group of students who are mastering the content.

Another powerful strategy Miss D used and one which I was extremely delighted to see in action after facilitating a whole school session this week on Growth Mindset, was clarity and purpose for students into the reasons why she was testing their understanding and knowledge.

In the lesson I observed, Miss D explained to her class that they were about to complete a test, she also explained that on the test there was a question that she did NOT expect anyone to be able to answer. She explained that this would not contribute to their grade, but instead was a way for her as their teacher to determine if there were any students who already understood this concept and could be challenged further, any who may have some idea which she could work with to embed over the coming weeks and those who had no idea at all yet and that she would be working with over the coming months.

I was not only impressed with how clearly she explained the purpose of having question 12, but I was really interested to see how the students responded. Instead of being daunted by question 12 those students who’d had no prior exposure to the material appeared more confident. They may not have answered the question, but I do believe that when they handed in the test, they would have felt that the focus was on their learning continuum and not a fixed sense of ability.

Thanks Miss D!

 

Eliminate Smoke Blowing

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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”?

Team on the Agenda

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“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.