Communication with Community

29 Jun

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This week in my sessions this week, as we reflected on the end of the appraisal cycle, we spoke about communication. I’m a robust advocate for operative and continuing communication between teacher and parent. That communication, properly conducted, should enhance the relationship between the two parties, resulting in a strong bond that positively impacts student learning. This communication between the two groups often solves many smaller problems that can become bigger.

Communication should flow easily from both directions to better inform, eradicate the potential for misunderstanding and build of relational trust. It is difficult to argue why communication would not be on every parent and teachers’ top to do lists.

The concern I have is that this has become a 24/7 requirement. Recently I asked students if they had ever contacted one of their teachers at night, on the weekend or beyond the school day or year? They were perplexed by the question and said of course.

And even more alarming, is the expectation of some students for an immediate response, no matter when the message is sent or received. The level of communication today is overkill. Some excessive student and parent expectations coupled with the continued increase of access to technology is causing many teachers being overwhelmed with the need to stay plugged in and connected to maintain this 24/7 insanity.

Look this week’s refection is not a to be critical of students or parents who desire efficient and ongoing communication with the teacher. It is meant to raise awareness of the communication insanity of anytime, any place.

Being conscious of an issue is often the first step in making a change. It is simply to highlight the growing concern that our teachers face and the negative impact it is having on many of our finest teachers. Teachers are also parents and have families that require and deserve their attention and time when they leave the school.

While I place high expectations on our profession to be constantly improving, that expectation cannot supersede the priority of family on a continuing basis. Finding the right balance requires attention to both with not one consistently overshadowing the other.

Students should expect their teachers to be at their best when they walk into the class. Parents should expect the same. But “at their best” will not occur without some balance. This balance cannot be found without the ability to lay down the phone, not answer the text and simply unplug for a time. While communication must be ongoing for all the right reasons it cannot be all the time

 

A Cold Winters Day

27 Jun

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“My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.”                                           Nelson Mandela

Staff see me as very zealous about what I do. I don’t appear to get overly excited when things go wrong and am often able to roll with the punches. The mission sisters vision of calm is always present.

I’ve learned that with age comes experience, with experience comes wisdom and with wisdom comes patience, but I also know that my junior hockey mentality and fiery temper lies just beneath my skin. Our human nature makes it so easy for us to judge, to condemn or to treat others as they deserve, rather than how God wishes them to be treated. We can easily make excuses for our own transgressions but offer no latitude for the mistakes of others. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Luke 6:36-38

I have been emphasizing presently the notion of walking together.  And in order to walk together, with all of us at the same table, we must recognize who we are and move toward who God has chosen us to be. It is not without struggle but as faith filled people, we acknowledge that with God all things are possible.

 

Leadership and Accountability

9 Jun

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I’m sitting in my office this morning getting ready for the day ahead. As I mentioned on many occasions, I begin the day with prayer and then some quiet strategic thinking. Leadership is a complex task and a very difficult role-if it wasn’t, the world would have an abundance of great leaders. There are so many nuances that non-leaders or poor leaders usually don’t understand or can’t comprehend. The fact is that leadership counts and it should be taken with great seriousness. As I continue my preparation now and into the future, I should always be slightly nervous when I’m addressing staff because the tone at the top will set the either the right or wrong direction. Align your words and actions to set the right direction.

Kouzes and Posner (2011) noted in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, “According to our empirical data, the majority of people look for (and) admire leaders who are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring, and competent…While the exact order might vary from country to country, these same four qualities remain at the top of the list of what people everywhere want from their leaders.” (p. 7) Just achieving these four qualities, honesty, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent is a tall task and if you think differently, you are either ignorant or arrogant. Credibility is certainly foundational for leadership success and is enhanced through alignment.

The alignment of words and action also builds a culture of trust. For organizations to achieve greatness, a high level of trust must exist. While there will always be decisions made and actions taken that impact organizational trust, it needs to be one of the leader’s non-negotiable goals. Great organizations exude professional trust which Douglas Reeves (2016) reminds us is a “two-way street.” It manifests itself throughout our school bottom up and top down. High levels of trust allow for vulnerability for all but especially the leader. Leaders cannot come across as all-knowing robots without any human touch. Being vulnerable makes leaders real. Leaders will make errors and it is far easier to face the music when the organization knows the leader’s true value from the heart and the head.

Finally, aligning words and actions makes the leader far more accountable. Personally, as a leader, my stock goes down when I over promise and under deliver, when I say one thing and do another and when I shirk my accountability to those I lead. Indeed, I am not comfortable with myself. My accountability standard should be very high because in truth, our staff, students and communities deserve nothing less.

Why Change

8 Jun

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There always seems to be a fear of what will be lost when a curriculum or school structure are revised. All of us can remember attending our own classes and wondering why we had to learn a certain concept. What was the purpose of learning this isolated fact or formula and how would it serve us beyond our days of schooling? New curriculum must be flexible enough to show relevance in students’ lives. Our patent response to why students must learn something can’t simply be because it is in the curriculum. Future curriculum must allow students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to their daily life. In other words, schools can’t only exist to prepare students for real life – schooling needs to be real life.

“Doing things differently” has been a focused direction for me for the last number of years and will continue to be into the future. That shift in practice, however, does not come without some trepidation. It is far easier to default to what we’ve always done or what we know. But what is easier isn’t always right. In order to build on exemplary practices and innovative approaches a new curriculum is required. Our students deserve the very best and part of the solution resides in a responsive curriculum that engages students and motivates them to become active lifelong learners.

Trust and Vulnerability

6 Jun

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Trust is essential in fostering effective and authentic relationships both inside and outside of an organization. You cannot have a strong relationship without trust.

In organizations where teamwork is crucial, trust must be alive and well. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of Team lists absence of trust as the first dysfunction. This was a great read from last year and I recommend it to anyone involved in leadership.

If there is an absence of trust, then fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results prevails. From effective relationships to organizational change, trust is the key ingredient. For a leadership team to improve it must first determine what’s getting in its way and then identify commitments to address any gaps. By default, once these commitments have been pronounced, team members have made themselves accountable to each other; and feedback is required to reinforce the accountability. This all sounds logical and most leadership teams start out with great intentions, but they often struggle to hold each other accountable.

All of us have our ‘blind spots’ and principals are no different. Unfortunately, these blind spots often hold us back from being our best as a team – we think we are behaving one way while others see us showing up in a different way. On the leadership teams we work with are often shocked when we get feedback:

  • “he does not listen listen”
  • “She talks over me”
  • “….waffles when making decisions; not decisive.”

Having trust to seek out this feedback is very important. Old style leadership would categorize this trait as a major weakness. Vulnerability however, doesn’t naturally imply weakness rather it means not losing your compassionate heart. Being vulnerable as a leader requires great confidence in oneself and a willingness to put yourself out there. It is more about strength of character than authority of position. Trust and vulnerability work hand in hand and in any successful organization, great leaders demonstrate both.

Useful resource:

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, articulates 13 behaviors of high trust in this short video

 

Reflection: Ako@Home

25 May

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Our platform for delivering digital learning during Covid-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4, Ako@Home, proved to be a successful model.  Microsoft Teams provided consistency of delivery and flexibility in its capacity and proved to be an appropriate place for both the sharing of resources and virtual face to face engagement.

The key to the success of Ako@Home were some key habits generated through our Manawa Mission dispositions of Ako, Manaakitanga and Wāhine Toa. These habits were:

  1. Students checking their email every morning
  2. Staff and students following the daily timetable
  3. Finding a quiet place to work
  4. Embedding the relationship with lead pastoral carers, Manaaki teachers.

The key support person at school was the Manaaki Teacher, who contacted students every week. Through this process, I’m proud that our staff were constantly looking at ways to move forward and offer our students a better educational experience, instead of defaulting to a compliant “it worked before” mentality. I was excited about seeing positive energy from our staff in preparing our students for their futures, as a result of this unusual experience. As we reflect on Ako@Home, we must continue to move forward by re-considering our structures and reflecting on our teaching.

I saw many things in our students during Ako@Home. Our students have engaged in the learning at times that suited them. They have self-managed; driven their own learning and behaviour, such as making the effort to contact staff themselves one on one when they had questions. They made choices, problem solved such as solving technical problems and discovered how to use digital tools themselves. They felt empowered and a sense of accomplishment. They developed skills that will one day truly assist them moving from education to employment. At home, they noticed real-life and reconnected with whānau in their homes. They genuinely applied our Manawa Mission dispositions.

Some students struggled. In saying this, we need to remember that it is OK to be stuck or to have a hard day.  In fact, this should be welcomed as I would suggest that if we can find ways to get past difficulties or hard days, we can find our way forward towards real learning. As teachers and caregivers, we need to try to avoid finding solutions for our young people straight away. While it might be frustrating when our young people don’t follow our instructions, or we feel understandably worried for them when they are not managing their learning, we need to resist rescuing. These challenges lead to enhanced learning.  By helping our young people develop these key life skills we are also helping them to experience that sense of achievement that can only be truly experienced after a struggle.  This builds determination, resilience and a growth mind-set.

Celebrate our Principals..

12 May

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Last week, I was at an online course and one of the contributors spoke about the importance of pedagogy on student learning. She spoke about the importance and impact of quality leadership in schools on student learning. Very true.

It made me drift away and consider the role of principal. The role of the principal is not just that of a master teacher who has climbed up the ladder. Occasionally it is and that is where we get it wrong in our profession but that is a blog for another day. Principals are tasked with fostering effective relationships with students, staff, parents and whanau. Look at any job description and you will see there is an expectancy that they are visionary in nature and are able to lead their learning community both effectively and efficiently. They must also be instructional leaders, facilitate leadership opportunities in others, manage school operations and do so with an appreciation and understanding of multiple perspectives and varying contexts. In addition, be problem solving and collaborative in nature.

Being a lifelong learner is part of their mandate. Great schools come about by pushing good schools to be better, not upholding the status quo. Persevering what has always been done. Challenging the status quo is never easy and is often met with resistance from both home and abroad.

To continually seek innovative practice and enhanced student learning, is never without some push back. Being a successful change agent requires that principals build significant organizational trust and practice both persistence and patience simultaneously.

Even though school leaders are required to be learned, it is equally important that they are constantly learning and modelling continuous growth to staff, students and parents. Sometimes it might be difficult for these leaders to be gone from the school and out of the building, principals must be fully engaged in high quality professional learning in order to support the overall school community. It is crucial that they maintain a high level of educational leadership through their own learning.

When you really look at the job description of a principal it is easy to recognize how important their role is in promoting student learning. It is a complex position that requires almost superhuman abilities. This week while we are celebrating going back to school it important to take time to reflect on our principals and the job they do.

Kai kaha.

 

Challenge the status quo ..

10 May

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Leading requires challenging the status quo. I cannot believe that some leaders are hired to keep everything static. Leadership requires a focus on solutions not problems and moving forward not falling behind. But that does not mean that fostering effective relationships is not also a part of leadership. You won’t move forward without building authentic relationships with your stakeholders, but you also won’t move forward if you try to please everyone. It is a fine line that leaders must walk and often that line moves mid-step. This is one of the many traits that leaders must possess to be truly effective and why there is not an abundance of exceptional leaders. It is extremely difficult for any leader to deal with the multitude of opinions or polarizing expertise and so it is critical that the leader is very clear on the mission. Keeping that in the forefront will assist the leader in carrying on the work in the face of adversity.

Designing schools for the future is about improvement and innovation. It is about challenging the status quo. It is about challenging assumptions and beliefs and confronting the brutal facts. It will be messy and, on a road, less traveled. Committing to evolving our practice is the inertia required for the simplest form of innovation. We seek to do something better, then we do something different and innovation begins. School improvement which is always preceded by individual teacher improvement. There is no magic bullet and there is no other way for innovation to begin and eventually scale up and scale out. It begins in the classroom with a pivot in thinking and in doing! Innovation can become the normal routine when educators believe it is about transforming ideas, shifting processes and reflecting on one’s practice.

Essential skills….

2 May

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Over the years, I’ve been involved in the curriculum development process. Being part of the NCEA change has been charming. I have seen misunderstanding and debate and discussion on which outcomes are most important. Like it or not has been about “my subject” and ‘my favourite unit.” The ill-fated result is that egos are seldom left at the door and therefore every outcome becomes non-negotiable. Hearing, “my school would not support this curriculum without the inclusion of these outcomes” is rather exasperating.

Let’s focus on what has been realigned, re-emphasized and ultimately re-imagined. I would suggest that these bold moves and emphasis shift do not support the need to simply prepare our tamariki for the next step. Education to employment. Everybody works. Our children need to be taught skills not who was Henry the eighth second wife. Don’t get me wrong I am a history buff but it is not that important.

Every outcome does not have equal standing. There is a hierarchy of importance and everybody involved in the curriculum design process must be conscious of that simple fact. What we’ve had up to this point is excessive outcomes, that at times, has provided a barrier to innovate teaching because covering the curriculum has become more important than deep learning. Add in some standardized testing, link them to accountability and you have many teachers who default to surface learning, i.e. covering the curriculum.

While teaching practice may vary greatly, the impact of the learning must have a level of standard to ensure high quality education from class to class, school to school, and system to system. And, although I prefer the term assurance, it would be naive to believe that there should be no accountability for the use of public funds to finance education. The issue with standardized testing and accountability rests on the emphasis as opposed to the existence.

I’ve asked our staff to redefine the curriculum into “need to know” and “nice to know” and focus on the first.

There are essential outcomes that without concentrated time for deep learning, students will ultimately fall into the abyss! And now, given the elimination of these barriers (real or imagined), teachers can go beyond surface learning and covering the curriculum. In our system have been given a very clear message from me to ensure students have full understanding of the essential outcomes to be successful. I’ve asked our staff to redefine the curriculum into “need to know” and “nice to know” and focus on the first.

While there is still mahi to do on the consensus on essential outcomes, teachers have the ability right now to “thin” the curriculum and focus on innovative strategies without “big brother” looking over their shoulder. Project based learning and other pedagogies focusing on deep learning will enhance cross curricular connections, elevate student engagement and provide an improved and transformed system. With initiatives the move by teachers to begin debating essential skill will allow them to get ahead of the curve, to reflect on their own teaching practice and most important provide an even better learning experience for their students.

Let’s make sure we don’t just, “cover the curriculum!” Lets prepare our tamariki for the mahi.

 

A time for everything….

24 Apr

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I  believe that prayer, mediation, mindfulness call it what you will is good for the soul. The following I keep close at hand:

A Time for Everything from Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot,

A time to kill and a time to heal,

A time to tear down and a time to build,

A time to weep and a time to laugh,

A time to mourn and a time to dance,

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

A time to search and a time to give up,

A time to keep and a time to throw away,

A time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak,

A time to love and a time to hate,

A time for war and a time for peace.

 

Currently I am often asking often that we do not understand where, or when, or why, or how. But we learn to trust in the Lord and we walk together as a faith community.

I’m proud of our middle leaders and the staff in our buildings. I’m proud that they are constantly looking at ways to move forward and offer our students a better education experience, instead of defaulting to a compliant “it worked before” mentality. I’m excited, as I see the positive energy in our staff and transformational changes in our buildings and classrooms that are preparing our students for their future and not our past. That is the passion they possess as we go AKO@HOME.

I laugh out loud when I hear people who wish us to return to the ‘good old day’s of education. I might argue if it was truly good enough for them but I’m sure it is not good enough for our students today. It can’t be. The world is far too complex to resort to the basics. Foundational skills must be mastered but not as a product but rather as an opportunity to expand our learning.

We must move forward by adjusting our structures, reflecting on our instructional practice and creating the rich learning environments that our students need and deserve.

 

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