Leaders of Learning: Part Two

20 May

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I enjoyed last time so much here is the second part. Please indulge me.

  • The more senior you get, the more people you serve – an old Sea Captain once said this!  They care for their team and look after them.  They make sure they are able to use their time wisely and question if their team are being asked to do things that don’t fit the core purpose of the team.
  • Steer the ship with confidence– they make decisions with confidence and conviction – as a result, the team has confidence in them.
  • Hands up– they have the confidence to admit when they get something wrong – and learn from it.
  • Sense the mood– they know their team and know when to push them and when to ease off a bit, when things are getting tough.
  • Collective responsibility– they make their team feel that everyone is working together and that they will be supported e.g. at the end of the day they will initiate a discussion about any problem students anyone has had, and how they can support them, with supporting those students.
  • Hard yards– they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty e.g. they will come with you at the end of the day to pick up that tricky customer and make sure they come to detention!
  • Clarity of role and responsibility– they ensure that everyone is working towards the same objective i.e. to be world class in that subject, and that everyone knows their role in it – including other leaders within the team.
  • Think ahead– they think ahead and plan ahead – and help the team to do the same, and so make them feel secure.  This involves looking ahead to where the crunch times are and supporting the team through this.
  • Celebrate the mini-victories– they ensure that the successes, even the small ones, are not overlooked – they are celebrated.
  • Everything beats the deadline– they ensure that the team understands that missing a deadline adds pressure to somebody else in the organisation.  So this is a non-negotiable.
  • Outward looking– they act as a filter to the outside, keeping the team briefed on relevant new national developments and best practice elsewhere – that could be incorporated into what then team already does.
  • Talent spotting– they make sure that they find opportunities to recruit the best people to the team e.g. engage with ITT and support/ develop potential future leaders.
  • Caring– they encourage a caring and compassionate culture – when people in the team are struggling (and we all do from time to time) they look after them.
  • Thank you– they use this phrase a great deal.
  • Happiness– they understand that a happy team, is more likely to work hard and be successful.
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Leaders of Learning

19 May

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There are many tough jobs in a secondary school – but leading a subject area, especially a large subject area, must be one of the most difficult.  I’ve been fortunate to lead and to work with some inspiring Curriculum Leaders in recent years – who do an amazing job.  They grow and nurture a great team, who then achieve fantastic outcomes for the students they teach.  I thought I would try to make a list of some of the qualities they have:

  • Role models – they are always, first and foremost, great teachers.
  • Articulate greatness– they understand what makes great teaching within the context of their subject and can articulate this clearly with their team.
  • Set the standard– they clearly identify the standards they expect to see on a day to day basis – and live and breathe these themselves.  This creates a shared clarity of purpose.
  • Moral purpose– they have an unswerving commitment to getting the best deal possible for the students who pass through their subject.  They understand that a good education can transform life chances.
  • Expect excellence– they strongly believe that all students can get better and be successful.
  • Pride in their fiefdom– they patrol their subject area and make it clear to the students that they are in charge – and that the students will meet their expectations!
  • Parental contact– they won’t hesitate to call home – and will support their team with doing the same.
  • Understand change– they know how their team is performing and when they might be plateauing or when something is not working – and how at this point, change might be required in order to get that next bit of improvement – but they don’t just change things for the sake of it.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing– they understand that the key to a successful team, is developing great teaching.  So they talk about great teaching a lot!
  • Subject Knowledge– they encourage people to be passionate about their subject and to keep developing their own knowledge of the subject.
  • Evidence informed– they wary of gimmicky approaches and base what they do, and what they ask their teachers to do, on wisdom and research evidence.

Does this describe some of your people?

Reflection for Friday

17 May

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On Easter Sunday morning our priest used the phrase, “resurrection not resuscitation”; my mind wandered.

The past thirty plus years has seen our education system built around an underpinning school effectiveness philosophy.  We want to find out what might make schools more or less effective (perfectly reasonable); identify, often judging on some arbitrary scale, how effective each school is (not at all easy; in fact really, really difficult) and then we decided to assess teacher effectiveness on an annual basis (absolutely bonkers).  Effectiveness became accountability and with it the roots of the current, increasingly flawed, our school system moved towards hitting the buffers.  Beating the accountability system rather than focusing on improving education has become the name of the game for some; it impacts on us all.  Workload, stress and anxiety and job insecurity continue to take their toll.

As a consequence too many teachers and school leaders have decided to build a new life outside of teaching; it is the only place they can find a reasonable home/work balance that gives them time for family, friends and themselves.  They’ve come to the eulogy moment; what will people talk about when I’ve gone?  How many of the five most common regrets will define my life?  It is a staggering loss of human resource, experience and potential when we already have far too little.  For too many of those who have remained, attempting to breathe new life, into a professional existence that is beyond repair, is futile.

It’s time for a paradigm shift; without it schools will become less and less effective as fewer and fewer of the teachers we need, of the calibre required, are prepared to work in out hyper accountable, manic system.  Rather than trying to resuscitate the current system we need a resurrection mentality; our education system needs new life not more of the same.

An Inquiry

17 May

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I have been reflecting on the idea that student become anxious and lack self-belief in the classroom. I did some rereading around this idea. Inquiry should underpin our teaching – if students are going to believe that they can be successful, they need to experience success.  So, we need to provide the opportunities for this to happen.

The following report, ‘What Makes Great Teaching? ‘ provides a good starting point when thinking about planning learning.  It identifies content knowledge and quality of instruction as key components of great teaching.

Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students’ learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.

Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

Growth Mindset Inquiry

9 May

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I’ve decided to use my inquiry time as an opportunity to catch up on some long overdue reading – starting with ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck.  The theory explored in this book is that there are two types of mindset – fixed and growth.

The diagram below summarises the main qualities exhibited by each one:

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It’s obvious to see the relevance of this to us as teachers and Dweck presents a very compelling case for it.  Whilst the theory is interesting, what I’m most interested in is what we can do in schools, in lessons, to move more of our students from a fixed to a growth mindset?  This is the real challenge of teaching. So what follows is an initial attempt to look at each of the qualities of the ‘growth mindset and some of the strategies and techniques we use as teachers to develop this in students.

 Embrace challenges

  • Tell students that they will be doing challenging learning in lessons – and tell them why you think they will be able to do it.  Build them up and show you have belief in their success.
  • Plan activities that will be ‘low stress, high challenge’ for all – so, know the abilities of your students and stretch them accordingly.
  • Use the idea of ‘extender tasks’ for the more able – so they are not just given more work to do, but specific, challenging tasks to extend their thinking.
  • Celebrate their successes when they overcome a difficult task or activity.  Discuss with them how they overcame the challenges.

Persist in the face of setbacks

  • Show students strategies they can use when they become stuck e.g. use the 5Bs:

So, when students get stuck instead of asking the teacher straight away, they are encouraged to think about it first (Brain), look in their exercise book/ text book, look on the board (or a display) and finally if they are still stuck, as a friend (Buddy).  If after all of this they are still stuck, ask the teacher (Boss).

Some reading provided me with these next steps:

  • Think carefully about your questioning.  When students are stuck, don’t just give them the answer.  Carefully scaffold your questions to support them with getting ‘unstuck’. Use exams and assessments formatively.  Most importantly, don’t let them give up.

See effort as the path to mastery

  • Praise students specifically for the efforts they are making with their learning.
  • Honesty is required. Provide them with the opportunities within lessons, or a series of lessons, to practice, consolidate  and embed skills and knowledge.  All too often we glance over things, without actually giving students the opportunity to master what they are doing. This also gives them the opportunity to see when they have mastered things – make this explicit to them and celebrate it.

Learn from criticism

  • Whilst formative feedback (written or formal) is important, it only becomes useful when students are given the opportunity to respond to it.

So, much of what great teachers already do will help to develop a growth mindset within their students – this what makes them successful teachers.  Again though, if we think about this in terms of ‘marginal gains’, we should all be able to think about small changes we can make to our classroom practice, to support and develop this even further.

Coaching and Feedback

6 May

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As a school leader I do a great deal of coaching I work with many high performing middle leaders who want to become even more effective. According to research on effective learning, to improve performance, people need three things:

  • A clear goal
  • A genuine desire to achieve that goal
  • Feedback that indicates what they are doing well and what they are not doing well

I have been reflecting recently on my feedback and coaching sessions have unfortunately,  not been helpful. Sometimes I have been distracted, often infrequent, vague, — and as a result, leaders tend to be less proactive about getting more of it. Low-quality feedback sessions or coaching session is not useful, positive feedback is undervalued, and negative feedback delivered unskillfully can set my team back.

Without clear goals and data measuring how close or far they are from reaching them, my middle leaders will continue to find it difficult to grow and improve. When delivered thoughtfully, however, feedback can provide leaders with the actionable data they need to become more effective.

If you want to get the feedback that is necessary to improve your leadership, there are a few steps you can take.

Build a safe environment. Sharing feedback is often risky. To increase the likelihood of your colleagues taking that risk with you, show them that their honesty is not bad. Being curious starts with having the right mindset, or believing that you have something useful to learn. It is demonstrated by asking your teammates open-ended questions that you really don’t know the answers to: “What could go wrong if we try this?” Acknowledging your weaknesses or mistakes along the way are great ways to be open and vulnerable.

Ask for feedback skillfully. Asking “What did you hear when I shared my strategy?”, “How often do I interrupt people in meetings?”, personal impact (“How did it feel to you when I sent that email?”

Request both positive and negative data.  Praise tells us someone is happy with us and thinks we are performing well. Praise sounds like: “Nice job!”; “You were great in that meeting.”; “Great presentation!” While it feels good constructive criticism is ok also because you have created that relational trust.  

When receiving feedback, give your full attention and listen carefully. Eliminate distractions, including your phone and laptop, and focus fully on the person giving the feedback.

Don’t debate or defend. If you find yourself disagreeing with some feedback, practice self-awareness and notice this reaction. It is ok to be wrong also.

This all I have for now. Do you run coaching sessions? How are you going with them?

A Wake Up Call

22 Apr

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I must put my hand up and admit it. The last month has been tough. I have been pretty sick. It has put a strain on things. While the light has now emerged from the end of the tunnel it has made me re-examine my “why?” as a school leader. In a Catholic school a school leaders spiritual life is central to their success. So, during the past month I have identified eight ways (I know it is a funny number) to enhance a school leader’s spiritual life.

  • Find a beautiful church to sit in. If magnificent cathedrals feel overwhelming or there are none nearby, find one with simple beauty—a statue, painting, stained glass windows, stations of the cross, crucifix, or beautiful tabernacle that you can soak in while in the presence of God.
  • Read the scripture.
  • Exercise in nature. You will see beauty.
  • Books. Look back over favourite book that have lifted your spirit. Ask friend what their favourite book are. Order books you have always wanted to read.
  • Enjoy a coffee. Perhaps with a friend.
  • Watch an inspirational movie. Netflix has become my friend. There are endless stories, documentaries, and lives of the saints on video or online.
  • Focus on family. While I love my students and my staff. They are not my family.

Yes, I am feeling better. We must remember as school leaders we must look after ourselves. And to doctors I have so much respect for you.

Computational Thinking

31 Mar

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This week at school we have done some work on implementing the new digital curriculum in 2020. We have entered a modern age of education where classrooms are commonly filled with students who are programming robots, using data to create a plan for reducing food waste or plastic or working with a computer to design a 3D model of an area of our local environment. Computational Thinking one of the elements of the digital curriculum.

Computational Thinking is not “thinking like a computer,” but a set of foundational skills that harness the power of computing to solve problems. It involves formulating problems in a way that a computer can solve them, analyzing data, using models, creating simulations and employing a step-by-step approach to solve problems efficiently and effectively.

Today’s students have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Computational Thinking transforms students from consumers of content into creators of content.

Advances in computing have expanded our capacity to solve problems at a scale never imagined, using strategies that have not been available to us before. Students will need skills to be successful. Students will need to learn and Computational Thinking skills to take full advantage of rapid changes in technology.

Through workshops last week we identified Computational Thinking activities in many classes, from maths and art to music and Te Reo. We know there’s a strong economic imperative to prepare the next generation of -literate students but I think it’s about giving students the essential skills to create their own futures and helping them find meaning in the tech-powered world around them.

How are you delivering this new curriculum? What are your challenges?

 

Catholic Teachers Focus

31 Mar

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One of my soapboxes is that Catholic education is more than having a religion class every day and learning about the Sacraments or ways of our faith. Catholic education is living out the Sacraments and treating one another well.  Catholic education is being able to recognize a student that is struggling with a difficult situation and approaching that student and saying a quick prayer. Catholic education is being able to find those teachable moments and guiding a student to learn to trust the Holy Spirit will guide them to become an even stronger student.

Placing Christ as the centre of my teaching is essential. It’s not just important because I teach at a Catholic school, but it’s also important because my students deserve it. Students deserve an environment where they can grow and learn in the faith. They want this environment. They want opportunities to ask questions about Catholicism.

Our theme at school this year is living our lives with love. As teachers in a catholic school we have to continue to let our light shine. We cannot stop letting it shine because of challenges that we may encounter. We need to have our lights shine brighter during these difficult moments. We each face challenges throughout our lives, but we need to find ways to let our light shine through any crack in that challenge and find a motivation to move forward.

I need to ask myself in our environment ‘Am I there to teach or am I there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God?’

I feel I am there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God. I enjoy attending Mass and participating in liturgy as a school. I need to be reminded of how my students are forming their conscience and growing in their faith. This reminder makes me realize that I am still learning and growing in my faith.

The growth of my students is an aspect of their learning that I find joy in undergoing. Yes, I am there to teach them history, numeracy, literacy, reading, and rope climbing. But more importantly than the national curriculum or the key competencies, I am around to teach them how to be positive members of our community. I am there to teach them that decisions need to be made with faith and morality as their guide. My faith needs to be a role model. My responsibility is to the community, the parish, the parents, and most importantly the students. If I can’t provide my students with the best religious education experience possible, I need to find ways to do that. I need to lead them to a stronger relationship with Christ.

Catholic education is my vocation. I feel that I have been called to be a teacher in a Catholic school. I feel that I need to be in a classroom to share my faith and to learn with my students. I want to be in the classroom and grow in faith. Teachers need to share the why they are teaching with students and I do share with them my reasons.

Catholic educators need to provide opportunities for students to grow their faith. Walk along the path with them as they journey through new ways to grow their faith. Being a Catholic school teacher is a privilege. Teachers need to treat it as such. Where else can we participate in the education of children and help them become positive leaders in our faith all while growing in our own faith at the same time?

 

Not Leading …

28 Mar

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Leadership is hard but it’s also important. Vitally important. And it begins with how leaders treat people. Unfortunately, if you’re a leader and you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. Ineffective leaders are those who have all of the attributes from the above list. Have you worked for one? What would you do differently?

I have found how I lead in the school environment depends on the situation. I need to remember they have to work with people who may not be on board with those big dreams, and they lose those best intentions. I sometimes enter into the situation ready to move forward, but because of mandates, rules and the politics of distraction (Hattie. 2015) I become insecure and not sure what to do first. As leaders, when we have so many choices of where to start we sometimes choose not to choose at all. I often use the GROW MODEL. Understanding the current reality is important, but what should be on our radar is not always so glaringly obvious.

In Stephen Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People he shows us this.  Covey showed me leadership isn’t about getting what we want and feeding our egos. Leadership is about raising the self-efficacy of others and collectively working to improve our school community together. That happens in creative communities more than it happens in compliant communities, and we know which 7 habits belong to each one.

Just like there are habits of highly successful leaders, there are habits that can bring leaders to a place of ineffectiveness.

These are things which I have been reflecting on this week as we reach the crunch time of the term.

Be reactive – Leaders who always seem to not see things coming and lack the ability to work with their school community on a collective goal.

There’s no end in mind – Everyone in the school is working on their individual goals…if they have one…and the leader doesn’t think about the future as much as they keep getting stuck in issues in the present.

Ego first – In Jim Knight’s work we talk a lot about status. Leaders have it because of their position. However, great leaders have status but they lower theirs and raise the status of those around them, which is often referred to self-efficacy. Unfortunately there are leaders who let their ego rule and that’s what they lead with every time.

My way or the highway – Instead of focusing on being collaborative and working with these leaders are more concerned with controlling everything and getting their own way. They walk into a faculty meeting with one idea and walk out with the same one.

Seek to be understood – Ego first. My way or the highway. Get on the waka or get out.

Discord – These leaders always seem to disagree with someone and they try their best to build consensus by getting others to agree with them at the same time they vilify those who disagree with them.

Efficacy Killers – These leaders are consistently going after new initiatives, so their staff feel tired, lost and insecure. They micromanage and look for compliance on all issues.

I sometimes see myself here but not often. The Leadership Framework is now a key document for all teachers. We are all leaders in some way. How is this reflected in your appraisal documentation?

 

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