Leading in the Age of Change

22 Jan

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As school leaders looking to lead complex change, must clearly define and articulate the vision for a staff to get behind it. Such leadership is central to keep our schools relevant. We must do more than talking and spouting phrases such as we are future focussed.

If we expect an instructional pedagogy to shift, the learning space – must also shift. Shifting instructional practices requires shifting spaces. No longer is the desks-in-rows, easy-to-clean set-up relevant for a personal approach to learning. If we expect collaborative work focused on higher-order thinking skills and problem solving, the learning space must reflect the desired pedagogy. All staff must reflect his also.

For our students’ future success, teachers must utilize high quality pedagogy, accelerated by technology, to unleash the needed skills. The teacher-centric, industrial-age model of classroom instruction will not prepare tomorrow’s students for a world of work where automation and robots have removed many of today’s traditional, low-paying, low-skilled jobs. Tomorrow’s workers must be able to problem solve, collaborate, and think creatively. Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction doesn’t create the needed learning opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.

Above all else our relationships are so important. Building dynamic relationships helps transform culture, laying the foundation for instructional shifts to occur.

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Classroom Walkthroughs

17 Jan

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Conducting classroom walkthroughs is not a new concept. This year as a Leader of Learning group I would like to pursue these further. These can be powerful tools but only when used correctly. Here are some of my thoughts on these:

  1. Do it together.

It is a partnership. Classroom walk-throughs are not meant to be conducted in isolation. Have staff walk through classroom. This way, the teachers conducting the walkthroughs can debrief after each visit, discussing what strategies the teacher was utilizing. Make it safe and relational. You want staff to embrace and discuss the data, not be defensive. It can be stressful so to avoid this concern, leave a post-it note on the teacher’s desk at the end. Pick out one positive instructional element and praise them for it. This will put them at ease and open the door for future conversations.

  1. Purposeful and Authentic

Classroom walk-throughs need to be a priority. Time must be scheduled to do these. It is important that these are at different times of the day.

  1. Share the Data

Like in any case collecting data will not be of any service to anyone unless it is shared, analyzed, discussed and acted upon. Remember to be clinical, not critical with the analysis. Use the Data To Make Change. Remember data is useless unless you do something with it. Once the data is analyzed, discussed, and digested, use the data to decide where you need to go with professional development.

Have you had much success with classroom walkthroughs? Have you any tips for me as I go forward with these?

Learning and Teaching

12 Jan

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Teaching is a specific skill. It is in our country undervalued. The instructional core values of the role of the teacher in the ever-changing educational space is complex. There is a need to focus on good teaching, and in this comes from reflective practice. In New Zealand, Our Teaching Standards are working to make teachings standards actually living documents and focus points for lifting the esteem and productivity of the profession. The most important work of the standards, as I see it , is their advocacy for building learning communities; teachers as learners.

I have been thinking deeply about the core teaching business. Like all educators I have had good lessons, great lessons and some unsuccessful ones too. Good and not so good inquiry. Indeed some real failures. I mentioned earlier the idea that we want to unpack as Leaders of Learning this year is  the concept of the instructional core, in preparation for classroom observation.

Teaching of content clearly leads to learning but we can look at this framework as the core business, where good teachers affect learning by building relationships with their learners and a deep passion for the content. It is the teacher who makes these connections sparkle.

I agree that PBL/ Inquiry is key to ‘education’, the joy in learning the specifics of our world and the ideas of fellow people are awesome and certainly, an understanding of such siloed concepts is taken higher when students are guided in inquiry and cross curricular discovery. When students have agency it goes through the roof.

I suppose as I conclude two things are central to my thinking:

What is Learning?

How do I know it is successful? (It must be more than about formal assessment also)

What are your thoughts?

Things to Think About?

20 Dec

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Great schools all have one thing in common: great organizational culture. I have reflected on this many times this year. Here some things, which I think, are important:

  1. Don’t Micro-Manage Teachers/Middle Managers

Teachers and principals need to be focused on one thing: their students. Too often, their focused is shifted from maximizing student achievement to compliance issues, paperwork, or other aspects that are not important or urgent. However, they will get email after email, memo after memo, reminding them to complete the tasks that will have no bearing on student achievement. Let them keep their focus on students. Trust in them that they know what their students need. After all, they are with them all day long.

  1. Give The Staff a Voice

No one likes to have decisions dictated from the top down. Teachers and principals must be trusted to make decisions for the students they work with. These decisions need to come from within.

  1. Share Success with Your Community

The use of Social Media here is really useful here.

Summer Goals

15 Dec

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Summer is here and so is my month long break from school. The following are my goals for the summer or at least until January 15.

De-clutter: We as teachers need to take time to let it go. Have a clean out and get rid of all those daily worries for the time being. January will bring new perspectives.

Reflect on Your School Year: Here is another opportunity to take advantage of specific starting and ending points in our profession. Make time with a colleague to reflect upon the school year. Discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what you will do differently next year. This process will help bring closure to one year and set you up for the next year.

Spend Time With Loved Ones and Reconnect: As teachers, we spend our entire day with other people’s children. From the early morning until the late afternoon, we interact with very few adults. Take time over the summer to have adult conversations.

Have a Real Coffee: With others or By yourself. Most people don’t understand that teachers can’t go out for lunch. We just do not have the time. Do it over the summer.! Be an adult.

Read and Relax: Especially not work related content. Enough said.

Robinson

11 Dec

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Ken Robinson’s views on education have been well documented in his TED Talks. His most famous talk from 2006, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, is the most viewed TED of all-time. Yet, one can discern something of a Robinson backlash. I have heard and read the following perspectives:

(1) He’s not an educator. He has no idea what he’s talking about.

(2) He’s just a performer. Have you any idea how much he gets paid for these talks?

(3) It’s the same populist message, delivered the same way, every time.

I find his message inspiring as, evidently, do thousands of educators the world over. He speaks not of policy, but human truth. It is also true that he is a highly entertaining and disarming speaker – but this is hardly a negative for someone trying to convey an important message. His quick wit, narrative talent, and incisive perspectives are what make his delivery compelling and important

But his relate to are a challenge to the world of Contrived Complexity. As I rrewatched him this week, three statements stood out:

  • “Can we stop all this talk and just have a curriculum that works?”
  • “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have special needs.”
  • “A great school is about the relationship between teachers and students.”

If these three simple principles were applied to schools, what would the net impact be on learning? Perhaps topic for the next HOF Inquiry.

Examination Time

8 Dec

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NCEA is over and we have just concluded the examination season. Phew.  Do teachers really need contrived, formal examinations at the end of a full school year in order to make a professional judgment – should one be required – on their students? We are also talking at our school about the purpose of junior exams. What is the point?

What were exams originally introduced for? If we are honest, it was to sort the elite minority into elite, selective institutions in order to perpetuate a hierarchy in which wealth, knowledge, and possibilities were exclusively defined, controlled, and limited.

Society has certainly changed this we know. Technology has transformed the possibilities for learning and the opportunities for our young people. We are challenged with the reality of inevitable, unknown challenges and known global crises that are not going to go away with a bombing campaign or populist piece of legislation. We know that all people have the capacity to learn. We recognise that the elite selection process throws – along with the brilliant and truly bright – some of the most banal and incompetent into positions of power and influence. Knowledge is cheap today and access is virtually unlimited; the ability to create transcends the old order and requires real talent. Yet the exam system remains largely the same.

Imagine an educational system in which we based our understanding of student potential and achievement upon individual interests and passions, developed and nurtured throughout the years of schooling. This is what most teachers instinctively seek to do. Imagine, then, how amazing schools could be without the false conventions of examinations and tests that are philosophically at variance with all that we know about learning and humanity. The fact is, we know that we don’t need examinations for students to get into good colleges and we don’t even need good colleges to learn and be successful, so why is this absurdity still the unchallenged tail that wags the dog of our school systems?

Lego and Learning

4 Dec

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Invention was the key to Lego’s appeal for me growing up. The fun of building, breaking, and rebuilding. Using pieces of that were not lego because we had lost a piece. So of those pieces were gems. That was where the challenge lay. We learnt through trial and error, through testing and refining. More wheels don’t make things go faster – the increased friction actually slows them up. The walls of buildings need to interlock with each other occasionally or they fall over. I may not have grown up to be a mechanic, a bricklayer, or a vet, but I gained some valuable understandings about how things work.

Contrast that with today’s experience of building a Lego set. Certainly there are still valuable skills and experiences to be gained: following instructions with care and the sense of satisfaction upon completion. But the words “I’m finished” are not something I have ever associated with Lego. Had we ever uttered them, our parents would have simply said “Well, build something else.” Today, many children would consider it sacrilege to convert their immaculate Jedi Interceptor into a homemade bulldozer or their Hogwarts Castle into a skyscraper. In many bedrooms, ‘completed’ Lego models sit on the shelf, an end unto themselves.

From creation to replication – therein seems to lie the change in Lego. Teaching our children to be artisans who can recreate objects, carefully and methodically crafting them from a template, is a useful skill. But encouraging them to be artists, with the confidence and creativity to create and refine original designs, may be more useful still.

Which leads to the other sneaky change – from collaborative to solo pursuits. Learners memories are communal; they are of competition and co-operation. There were highest tower races, last-car-standing demolition derbies, joint construction projects and endless haggling as my brothers and sisters and I bartered for pieces from each other’s piles. It is true that, once built, a modern day themed set does provide the basis for interactive play. However, does it replace the life-lessons of building together?

Having recently seen the Lego Star Wars Wii game being played in virtual reality on a big screen, I should be glad that the solid little plastic bricks of my childhood still even exist. Nevertheless, I challenge parents to the following next time you are cleaning your child’s room:
1. ‘Accidently’ drop two or three of their completed Lego models on the floor
2. If they still have the original instruction sheets, hide them
3. When they get home from school, tell them to rebuild. It builds resilience
4. Better still, challenge them to build something completely different

Living the Mission

30 Nov

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I love the writing of Malcolm Gladwell. His latest podcast series is also simply brilliant. In Malcolm Gladwell’s text ‘Tipping Point’, he references the concept of ‘Broken Windows’, the brainchild of James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, promulgating that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. The following has been adapted from this text. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.In the mid 1980s Kelling was hired by the New York Transit Authority as a consultant, and he urged them to put the Broken Windows theory into practice. They obliged, bringing in a new subway director by the name of David Gunn to oversee a multibillion dollar rebuilding of the subway system. Many subway advocates, at the time, told Gunn not to worry about ‘small’ issues such as graffiti and to focus on the larger questions of crime and subway reliability.

But Gunn insisted that the graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system. He stated: “When you looked across at the process of rebuilding of the organisation and morale, you had to win the battle against graffiti. Without winning that battle, all the management reforms and physical changes just weren’t going to happen. Gunn drew up a new management structure and a precise set of goals and timetables aimed at cleaning the system line by line, train by train. Gunn made it a rule that there should be no retreat, that once a car was “reclaimed” it should never be allowed to be vandalised again. “We were religious about it,” Gunn said. The idea was to send a perspicuous message to the vandals themselves. Gunn’s graffiti clean-up took place from 1984 to 1990.

At thatpoint, the Transit Authority hired William Bratton to head the transit police, and the second stage of the reclamation of the subway system began. Bratton was, like Gunn, a disciple of Broken Windows. With felonies on the subway system at an all-time high, Bratton decided to crack down on fare-beating. He believed that, like graffiti, fare-beating could be a signal, a small expression of disorder that invited much more serious crimes. Bratton turned the transit police into an organisation focused on the smallest infractions, on the details of life underground.

The positive effect on both the subway from the approaches of Gunn and Bratton were remarkable. After the election of Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York in 1994, Bratton was appointed head of the New York City Police Department, and he applied the same strategies to the city at large. When crime began to fall in the city, as quickly and dramatically as it had in the subways, Bratton and Giuliani pointed to the same cause. Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, they said, were the tipping points for violent crime.

This is got me thinking this week.  That is, the small, immediate things do matter. So when we ask the students to look tidy, or be punctual to class or pick up litter, we are not simply asking them to accord to a set of arbitrary requests. Rather, it is a recognition thatthe undertaking of such requests and responsibilities contribute ina meaningful manner to a broader culture and set of behaviours, attitudes and values which are aligned with the mission of our College. It is being part of society. It is Living the Mission.

Evaluation 2017: Part One

27 Nov

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Sometimes as we reflect on the end of year I get the feeling of wanting to jump out of a moving car. Sometimes you have to be outside the journey to reflect on it. I have been reflecting on a host of issues as we evaluate annual goals and head towards 2018.

Bridge the Gap
Our HOF Inquiry taught us a great deal around this. It’s time to bridge this gap. It’s so easy for those who “want change” to keep pursuing a change agenda without having an understanding of what this feels like in the classroom. The next, new thing is just too alluring for some who do not take the time to understand current realities and demands on teachers. I am a firm advocate for change, but I also believe that major change needs to be managed, supported, and phrased appropriately. The pace at which change is adopted in schools and the potential for groupthink around change management that requires greater procedural mindfulness should become a significant management focus in schools.

Set Clear Personal Guidelines around Our Technology Use
I generally find that technology saves me a lot of time at work. Many issues that used to require meetings can be dealt with through an efficient email. But as a recent BBC report has found, we lack discipline when we use email and tend to use it selfishly: “People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate.”   It is all about our outlook and our self-discipline … it’s not about the technology.

Demand That Meetings Have a Purpose and Are Run Efficiently
We have all been invited to meetings with no clear purpose, agenda, outcome or value. Meetings should be carefully planned, tightly run, and participants should not only understand the purpose and outcome, they should participate. Scheduled meetings should be cancelled if the agenda is not pressing.

School Leaders Must Take Responsibility For Managing the Pace

Mindfulness needs to start and be modelled from the top. In their book, The Mindful Leader, Brown and Olson make the point that reflective practice is something that many leaders are simply not good at: “Although many of us are charged with leading learning organizations, and learning theory describes the importance of reflection for consolidation and scaffolding the next level of insights, in education we tend not to create pauses for thinking and feeling in our learning and leading, or do so only superficially.”

We need to remind ourselves and our students that being healthy and happy is the key to learning effectively. We need to breathe. We need to stop doing the things we have always done because we have always done them. We need to grade less. We need to collaborate more. We need to scrap excessive content and engage in stimulating, creative learning that places us in the zone, in our element. We need to alter the conception of success as someone who spends all day in the office to the individual who works smartly and leaves the office or classroom with enough time to do something that sustains a personal passion. We need to breathe. We have choices.

I have been thinking a great deal about this quote:

“If you get the culture right in the school … then everything grows and takes care of itself.”

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