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!
My leadership journey in schools is only in it’s infancy, however my experience leading people started long before I came into education. I have always tried to lead by example; working towards developing trust and credibility. I do not expect anyone in my team to do something I am not doing, have not done, or are not prepared to do myself.
When taking on my current role, I thought about what sort of culture I wanted to be a part of. How I could articulate this to the people I would work with and how I would demonstrate it in my actions. I started by developing a purpose for our work, always asking of myself “why” and asking my peers to ask the same question of themselves.
Next I set some expectations, priorities and goals.
I set an expectation that we would continuously move towards more authentic learning experiences and create more opportunities to showcase our learning to real audiences. I developed some immediate opportunities and some long term scenarios.
I established reporting and assessment guidelines that focussed on growth and identified ways we would support students to continually develop skills, understanding and personal relationships. We continue to evolve this process.
I promoted an attitude of risk taking and high expectations by focussing on what we need to do to make something possible, rather than repeating what has already been done.
Within our team we have genuine champions of change. They each have very different strengths and interests, but we all share a desire to support the success of the young people we work with. Keeping this at the forefront of my mind, I know it is through recognising the work they each do, the risks they take whether successful or not and the effort they contribute each day, that we will work towards growing and sustaining our champion team.
Taking a group of students away on camp is always an experience which requires plenty of planning, time, effort and commitment from staff. Taking a group of students with special needs away on camp just amplifies this.
This year to date has been time challenging for several reasons. Not only am I continuing in my coordination role to facilitate improved classroom practice across the school, I have taken on the leadership of the Unit for students with disabilities, accepted a teaching opportunity at Flinders University in semester 1 and teach in the classroom 14 lessons a week. This has placed pressure on my time, sleep practices and mental health! No regrets though, quite the opposite. I have in a short period of time learnt a great deal about my skills to manage my time, set priorities and further understood how hard it is for me to step back, release control and let others shine.
I truly believe that the things we value most, we need to prioritise, whether that be at work or at home. I have previously written about how “Action Expresses Priorities”. When I make a commitment, I’m good at sticking to it. At times this can mean I stick to things that really I should let go. I read books to the end because I feel a sense of guilt if I don’t complete it (unfortunately a “friend” gifted me a copy of Eat Pray Love and I dragged myself through until the end – agony) I’ve never walked out on a movie, or left at breaks in seminars when others are leaving by the droves.
I make commitments, I say them out loud to myself and I stick to it, even the little things. I made a commitment to write a comment on 7 student blogs per week via #comment4kids because I know that 1 or 2 sentences from me can have an impact, encouraging students to write more. Confession – sometimes I find myself on a Sunday night finding 7 blogs in a hurry, but it really only takes me 15-20 mins and I think that it a valuable use of that time.
I prioritise my exercise because I know it makes a difference. I work full-time and have two amazing kids. Going to the gym or a run at night is difficult because it is dinner and homework and getting ready for the next day, but I know I have to include it, so I get up at 530am every weekday and head off to the gym for an hour.
At work, I am able to prioritise actions by asking “why” and “how” …. a lot! I ask this of myself and I ask this from my colleagues. We can easily get swept up in a new idea, a new technology, a new activity, or revert to old habits and comfortable strategies, but I always ask:
“why” should we do this?
“how” will it improve experiences and understanding for our students?
If we can justify that it is worthwhile, then we need to make it happen.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
So for me, setting priorities has never really been a difficulty. It is when it comes to letting something else go so it is not just an “add on” that I find the greatest difficulty.
My problem is, I want to be involved in EVERYTHING, I want to know what is going on, where it is going on and how I can be involved. I know this means at times I spread myself so thin that I cannot possibly do all these things to the standard I expect of myself thus it leaves me working an unreasonable time outside of school. What I am learning gradually is to let go and allow others to develop and lead around me. It stills leaves me feeling anxious when I hand something over, but I know that the greatest outcome of my leadership should be that I am no longer relied upon.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
― Ann Landers
With our differentiation focus at school, we set about to establish criteria to ensure all curriculum planning involved specific elements to guarantee student learning objectives were at the centre. One of the offshoots of this process was the realisation that our curriculum planning time in faculties was very limited and meeting structures needed some/a lot of adjustment to make them more productive.
With this brought to light, I looked at my own faculty, how we spend our time and how we could streamline it to make it more effective. We made two adjustments which have led to great improvement and less time wasted!
1. Developing an agenda that requires action!
My first focus was to ensure we had something to show. What was our aim and what was it we wanted to get from our time together. This led to establishing a requirement for our meetings; that items on the agenda must be related to:
- curriculum planning
- relationship building
- professional development or
- problem solving and decision making
Each item on the agenda required a solution, an action or a product by the end of the staff meeting. These could include; curriculum design, developing responses to behaviour, organising excursions, timetable changes or looking at technology implementation.
Here is our Unit Agenda from our last meeting.
You will also notice at the very bottom, an expectation that staff bring ‘materials’ or complete ‘preparation’.
2. Eliminating announcements!
Developing a shared “notice board” meant that announcements were kept for reading prior to the meeting and precious time was not wasted broadcasting information. Initially this led to addressing only queries or questions during meeting time.
Recently we have taken this one step further. We share our notices (and everything else) on Google Docs so we established a space underneath for questions or clarifications. This enables us to address these in real time, prior to meetings to again ensure we use our time more productively.
These two simple changes have meant that our meetings always have something to show at the end. It relies on a level of professional practice with an expectation that everyone reads both the notices and the agenda. We still do share information via email, text and of course face to face, but having these two documents ensure we maintain communication and utilise our collaborative time better.
This morning I participated in a Google Hangout as part of #SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program). I am very fortunate to be grouped with mentor Jimmy Casas (thanks @gcouros) and with great education professionals Jenna Shaw, Dana Corr, Kevin Graham and Jen Lindaman. (If you’re not already following these passionate educators on twitter, you should be!)
This mornings hangout had Jimmy, Jenna, Dana and I spending an hour together getting to know where we are at in terms of our own leadership journeys.
It was evident from the initial introductions that we come from diverse school environments and have a range of experiences. Nevertheless it was also obvious that each of these dedicated educators will have a great deal to contribute to my learning.
Of course any opportunity and coming together of people is only as valuable as what you are prepared to invest. After today’s chat, I am confident that there is a definite commitment to this little PLC and it already has me reflecting.
During the chat, Jimmy made two comments that really struck a chord with me. It wouldn’t matter where in the world your school was, how many kids enrolled or the demographic nature of the school, it just makes good sense!
1. always following up, is key to building relationships
2. never make excuses for not acting – take responsibility of how you can be the change
I have always felt strongly about both these concepts, but it often isn’t until you are “in” conversation or listening to someone else’s take on an idea that you truly “get” how you can do it better.
Listening to Jimmy speak about how he ensures relationships are strengthened even after difficult conversations was one of these moments.
I have always tried to ensure I do this with people I lead, however what about the people that lead me? Can we say as leaders we have no influence because our line manager, our principal, our cluster, our region, or our education department has a different agenda? Where does our voice die out? Should we still not be following through after we make an observation or address a concern and not leave it at that? Where does fighting for what we believe in stop and how does it leave the relationship if the last thing said was not resolved?
Lots to think about before we meet again.
How do you go about creating innovative practices in your schools?
How do you know if they are making a difference?
How are they revisited to ensure that they have the same impact that they once had before?
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of a team to establish a faculty all shiny and new. Not only was this a fresh beginning as a new faculty but I was also new to the school, thus not entirely compromised or pressured by previous practices, history or approaches.
I was adamant that we would not create a carbon copy, but base all our decisions on what is best for our kids and their learning. That might mean that some of our choices reflect that of other schools, but would not be because of other schools. I had only been working in the area of disability for a year prior so had again, not been influenced by traditional practices, approaches or expectations for how this new environment should run.
No limitations, no deficit model in sight!
Working with students with disabilities comes with many assumptions. Misconceptions about students “abilities” to be problem solvers or to manage technology. Attitudes towards “wasting” time, effort and money on students with little to contribute to the community and ignorance to the expertise and skills required to support these young people to access opportunities despite their personal challenges and the limitations from these external forces.
If you enter our learning spaces you will quickly see that our students are negotiating their learning, problem solving and manipulating a wide range of technology to enhance their development. Our space is innovative, not because we have 1:1 iPads, interactive whiteboards and laptops, but because we approach learning as a constantly evolving practice, always trying to find ways to improve both the teaching and the learning.
I develop innovative practices, by constant reflection and asking these questions:
- Is it authentic?
- Is it student driven?
- Is it improving student understanding and skills?
- How can we do it better or replace it with something better?
I think these questions are valid for all learning practices and environments, do you?
What other questions would support the development of innovative teaching and learning?
When people aren’t given the opportunity to share their ideas openly, then some end up getting ripped off!
I see this in 2 ways:
1. We have people in schools with great ideas that never get an opportunity to be “heard”
2. We have people who share their great ideas only for those ideas to be passed on or used without credit
The danger in #1 is that great potential is lost which could lead to people feeling under-utilised.
The danger in #2 is that people may ultimately leave because they feel “used” and unappreciated.
I think organisations have the challenge of providing its people with a voice to eliminate or reduce these problems. How this is achieved is the burden of leadership.
Do you have any suggestions as to how to give voice to staff and create avenues where power relations are not hamstrung?
“People will always move toward anyone who increases them and away from others who devalue them.”
– John Maxwell
I think the key to building trust with students, families and staff for me is to ensure they feel valued.
I work hard to build trust with my students. Many have plenty of reasons not to trust; some come from trauma backgrounds and some come from very unsuccessful school experiences and never had anyone believe in their ability to succeed. I endeavour to build trust by listening first and foremost. I listen to what they have to say, what their parents/families/carers have to say and I try to take the history from their previous school as useful, but not the complete story.
I retweeted the tweet below from @supportmeandyou to my staff. Sometimes it’s hard to reassure myself and my colleagues not to take the behaviour personally. That can be hard when a student with ASD is having a melt down and calling you every name under the sun, or when a child of trauma is hating you because you showed another student attention.
The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways
— Support Me & You (@supportmeandyou) August 31, 2013
It is the trust we build, so these kids can feel comfortable in their skin, to break down barriers and be ready to learn so they are no longer anxious about being judged, ignored or unsuccessful, and ultimately because they feel valued.
I work hard to build relationships and trust with families. I do this through continual communication and fostering a message that their child is at the centre of everything we do. I endeavour to provide lots of opportunities to celebrate student learning and include families in “real time” by utilising text messaging (including photos), our class blog, phone calls and emails and requesting feedback both formally and informally. At times I have had to reflect on whether my openness with parents is sustainable as there have been occasions when they have relied on me more than is perhaps ideal, but I will continue to regulate this balance.
With staff that I “manage”, I endeavour to build trust by never asking them to do anything I am not willing to do myself. This includes; simple errands, curriculum development, planning, behaviour management and student personal care (which generally falls upon support staff). I hope that by doing all the tasks I ask of teachers and support staff, I show them how much they are valued and that I never take them for granted.
I also hope to build trust by doing what I say, not just talking about it. This is a challenge as a new leader because in the past I have tended to take on too much and not allow my staff to be responsible for anything, and I mean ANYTHING! I KNOW that my role is to help build skills in my staff so that I can make myself somewhat redundant, this is something I truly see as a measure of my success. It is however one of my greatest challenges and I am extremely conscious of providing opportunities and entrusting these amazing staff to shine and not avoid delegating for fear of loss of control. I know that by doing this, I will ultimately demonstrate that I value them.
People who are committed to a team or a vision, show up, follow through and stick with it even when the going gets tough!
I remember when I was young and I was playing basketball for a struggling club. We played on a Friday night as juniors and my club wasn’t exactly a winning franchise at that time. I was a fair junior player but a stand out in my club and as a result I would often play three games in a night. This wasn’t what normally occurred but due to my clubs low numbers it was needed to fill the team with good enough players. I would play my own grade U/14s then U/16s followed often by U/18s.
At that point I was desperate to leave the club for a better option. One where other players could share the load. My mother however insisted that I stay committed to my team and at least stick out the season until they could get enough players to survive without me. Of course at the time this frustrated me. I played three games most Fridays and scored most of our team points in each grade. Whilst being a lead scorer may have been enough motivation for others, it wasn’t something that I really cared so much about. I would have rather scored nothing and be on a side that played a higher standard.
Eventually the time came for me to exit and the rest is another story, but to say my scoring was less prolific instead I gained the team game I craved.
So what did this teach me?
“Dependability is more than ability alone.” – John Maxwell
A big part of committing to a team is being true to your word; if you say you’re going to do something,you do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere, you be there. Showing your team members they can depend on you is vital. Working towards a team goal doesn’t always mean it aligns 100% with your own vision. It would be great if it did but sometimes we need to compromise a little. As a leader if I didn’t would that be a dictatorship?
I read and hear a lot of talk about motivation in education. This week alone it has filled the twitter stream on #satchatoc and #satchat trending. One tweet actually suggested that an unmotivated teacher is “dangerous”. I was quite shocked by this statement and whilst I wasn’t actually participating in the chat I couldn’t help but jump in and ask….
Whilst I will leave that post for another day, it concerns me that we place such high stakes on being motivated when there will be some times, (just like when I was a kid playing basketball) that commitment to the team may need to come first. I wasn’t motivated by potential success or the quality of the “game” we were building. I just had to push through and play the best I could because I was part of the team. So when we say we need to support kids to be more resilient to show more “grit” doesn’t commitment play a role in this?
Just some thoughts, I would love further considerations…