Over the Christmas break, I spent a great deal of time reading, listening and watching a wide range of media. I have consumed more than I should have in relation to US politics, plus research and discussion on climate change and current environmental concerns. I live by the philosophy of know better, do better so this culminated in a range of actions and lifestyle changes including choosing to eliminate meat and dairy from my diet, establishing a worm farm to reduce wastage and a range ethical shopping changes. Several realisations ensued, in particular, how hard it is to determine the ingredients or origin of many products that I would normally purchase with the assumption they are locally sourced. My growing understanding was also supported by healthy debate and the need to justify my actions to a range of friends and family. Some were quick to raise stereotypical vegan memes whilst others acknowledged they could probably make some better choices themselves. My learning was self-driven, in my own time, at my own pace and to be honest, when I was most open to acknowledging these issues and I had space and time to respond.
Until widespread access to the internet, there was a ceiling on learning, limited to the expertise of the teacher, whether that be formal settings such as the classroom or the parent-child relationship. Now that ceiling is broken and we are inundated with information. Our greatest challenge will be to create environments where our students can design their own interesting questions to answer, not teach them answers to questions that already exist. Creating learning that is active as opposed to passive about issues they actually care about or create their own responses to issues that don’t have straightforward solutions. We should endeavour to construct space and time for them to delve into issues that are meaningful to them and then provide the time to enact responses and changes themselves, whether personal or within their community.
Opportunities are endless, but our time is limited, so what we value most will take precedent. My goal this year, is to question these priorities on an ongoing basis. To keep in check, that what time is being used, and the choices I make about other people’s time, whether they be staff or students, is used to address the most important priorities.
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.
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
“Good things happen when you get your priorities straight” – Scott Caan
This has really come to the forefront in my practice at school. It has actually been at the heart of how I choose to spend time on things I am passionate about and how I use my energy. Let’s face it, what’s the point of saying “I don’t have the time for that”? Be honest and say “I would prefer to do something else” or “I don’t value that enough to give it attention”.
At the beginning of the year I really wanted to develop our class blog and use it as a tool to share in ‘real time’ the learning from school to home. I have always provided the weekly news with photos and student work but I knew the blog would provide an opporutnity for parents, families and friends to interact with what we were doing during each day.
That was the plan. Term 1 passed and I did construct a blog and there was a post which welcomed visitors to the site, but that was it. So was it really a priority? Was I allowing other things to get in the way? Was it a goal that was worthy of more time and effort?
I decided that yes, it definitely could have a positive impact on our community; students, families and friends. Having made this decision, I had to make a commitment to ensure the days, weeks and months didn’t disappear without action.
So I made a commitment, a priority to post something about our learning three times a week. It has led to our students, staff, families and friends becoming involved, interacting and owning it. You can check it out here: http://wirreandaunit.edublogs.org/