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?
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) March 3, 2016
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.
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) March 3, 2016
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!
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”?
The problem with caring is that sometimes it hurts!
This weekend was one of those times. To discover that one of our students has put herself at incredible risk and we are still yet to know if she is ok is enough to wrench my guts and take my normally rational and calm manner into a stressed and worried state.
It is not often I am lost for words but it is difficult to explain the angst I feel currently. Each of our students are vulnerable in different ways. Some are at risk of physical injury, others of being taken advantage of with money handling and scamming, others are socially and emotionally vulnerable.
Part of our responsibility, working with young people with disabilities, is to identify what skills we need to develop to ensure our students aren’t victims beyond our school grounds and empower each to be advocates for themselves and increase their independence. This is core to developing confident young people who will contribute to their community in a meaningful way.
I hold relationships as THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of teaching and I have written about this many times. The pain I am feeling now is the result of this, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When she comes back through our doors, she will know she matters to us, that she took a risk that would not only affect her but ALL of us. We are responsible for her but she also has a responsibility to us!
With everything I have, I am hoping that this comes true and she is ok.
I recently commented on this post “What I’m Afraid Of” by Ben Grey. Not too many years ago I would have somewhat supported the view that passion in profession was paramount. When I left school I was unsure of what career to pursue. I was a “good” student and successful in the school system and an academic pathway was assumed so I began my study in Law and Anthropology.
My studies and work fulfilled my ambitious personality and my thirst for learning, however I still felt there was something I was missing. After the birth of my children I came to realise my interest in teaching and furthermore my passion for special education.
I am fortunate that my work provides me with challenge and at this stage in my life I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I am a passionate learning and committed to supporting my students to have positive and meaningful experiences at school. I continually seek ways to become a better teacher both during and beyond the school working day. Does this make me a good teacher?
I also have peers who avoid taking work home, count down the days before holidays and even go as far as to never socialise with teachers outside of school. Does this mean they are bad teachers?
I would hate to assume either!
As Dean Shareski shared..
It’s great if you’re able to go to work at something you really love but that doesn’t have to be the case.
The more we as educators and parents tell kids how important it is to find their passion and tie that to their vocation the more we are telling the bus driver, the janitor, the waitress and the gas station clerk that they are failures.
See Dean’s post here.
As an adolescent my brother had a passion for cooking. He completed his apprenticeship and became a chef instead of completing year 12. After many years of sweating it out in the kitchen and cooking other peoples food, he gave cooking away. The enjoyment he experienced years before, preparing meals for us to enjoy had disappeared and cooking became “work”. Having not been in the industry for several years now, his joy for cooking has returned and his family and friends reap the benefits!
I think my responsibility as a parent and a teacher includes supporting my children/students to find passions, to foster and encourage interests but not to suggest that their future employment must encompass these.
Lately I have been thinking about this idea of accountability and responsibility. There is a lot of talk and action around making teachers accountable for the outcomes of their students and leaders being accountable for the outcomes of staff and school performance.
Trying to get staff motivated to develop their skills and improve their practice has meant I have had to look closely at how I can do this. In my own classroom one of my strengths is to respond to the needs and interests of my students. The relationships and connections I make with them and their families impacts directly on how I engage them in learning. I have had great success with students whom have been disconnected from learning or had poor school experiences in the past.
So why is it that I approach connecting with staff in their learning differently?
I think it boils down to my own beliefs about teaching and the assumption that others hold the same.
Recently I had a parent call after school to notify me of her child’s inappropriate online behaviour at home. The call was two-fold. She wanted to let me know how she had responded and to seek guidance as to if this was correct and what she should do next. The timing for the call was not ideal as I was about to facilitate a workshop with staff, however I chose to engage in the conversation and reassure my parent letting her know I would support her and speak to the student the following day. On completion of the call, a staff member inquired as to what the call was all about and when I explained briefly, she protested “That’s not your job!”
I responded in a manner which I often do, with humour and replied “In here (teachers name), we like to solve all the world’s problems”.
What I SHOULD have done, is perhaps forget the workshop which I was about to conduct and engage the people in that room in a discussion constructing an idea of what our job IS. Perhaps taking this detour may have impacted on a few to see our roles as more than purely curriculum deliverers.
Do I think I have no responsibility the moment my students walk out the gate and the bell rings at 3:15pm? Absolutely not. Do I think I am accountable for the things that happen to my students at home ….no. Do I think that what happens at home impacts on what takes place in my classroom? DEFINITELY. I think that by supporting my students and their families, I will increase their engagement at school and their access to learning. I believe that if I have a working partnership with my families they will support us when things may not be going so well.
I love this by Dean Shareski..
I do feel a responsibility to my students and their families, I am focussed on that responsibility as opposed to being accountable to anyone or anything. I believe this has a greater impact on their learning experiences.