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.

Becoming Mindful

Chaotic People on Charles Bridge in PragueBY VIKTOR HANACEK via PicJumbo

Chaotic People on Charles Bridge in PragueBY VIKTOR HANACEK via PicJumbo

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!.

Reflection leads to Opportunity

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Brighton jetty (2015), a favourite place to sit and ponder!

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.

Developing as a Leader

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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.

Inspiring Confidence

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Mark Brennan – “Inspire” via Flickr

“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.

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?