Authentic Leadership

23 Nov

 

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There is no doubt SLT who develop lasting, trusting relationships with their staff build on a foundation created by doing their job and doing it well. We need a foundation of credibility before he can earn the relational capital that creates trust. Establishing your ethos on campus comes in a variety of ways (and happens differently in each unique situation). I’ll be the first to say that each path toward trust is unique, but it’s never bad to start by managing the referrals that come your way fairly and efficiently, committing to being a learner in your leadership role, and moving toward each new year looking for ways to serve students and teachers in new ways.

It is about being mindful. Being mindful used to simply mean being consciously aware of something, but it has come to represent a state of mental being that is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment with calmness and a sense of serene acceptance. I do believe there is a larger need for all of us to be more mindful, but in the traditional sense of breathing more and taking the time to reside in the moment. I am personally less inclined towards loving-kindness meditation as I feel mindfulness as a movement is a concession to the belief that we can’t change the pace of our lives. I support the mindful revolution in schools, but not at the cost of tackling the issues that require it. To be truly mindful in schools, I think we need to find our element and be “in the zone” as Ken Robinson suggests. By finding time for our passion, Robinson contends, we will be more present, more centred, more in the here and now. This is how we should construct our schools. It’s another choice.

Trust is important also.  Trust must be earned, your work as a SLT is far from over when you reach that point. Having the respect of the teachers is not the same as having a relationship with them. Cultivating those trusting relationships is vital if you are interested in creating change (and who is not interested in creating positive change):

All leaders know the power of buy in, but it is not always the quickest road to a solution. However, getting buy in on the front end of change can make a profound difference on the success of any attempt at change in a large organization like a school.

We provide this for teachers routinely, but we rarely ask for it in return. Hearing critical feedback makes us better at providing the same for teachers, and knowing the concerns of those we serve allows us to keep a close watch on that which affects those activities.

Asking question is important. Asking these questions is not magic, but it is a great start for developing relationships through conversations with staff.

As a leader, you have to walk the walk. Credibility has a short shelf life. Even though faculty meetings and PD days are important arenas in which we must excel, we cannot only show up then.

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White Space

17 Nov

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Recently, I have been reading with members of my PLN (Professional Learning Network) about the concept of white space. White space can be described as the focused time you create for yourself to slow down and reflect. I have become a proponent of this type of mindfulness. My peers have described that they create white space by running, swimming, praying, sitting and listening to music, exploring their passion in the kitchen, enjoying art, unplugging and sightseeing, and spending time with family and friends. Does white space have to be you sitting in a soundless, sterile room getting in touch with your thoughts? ‘m not sure. White space can be anything that connects you to yourself and connects you to others. Biking, running, reading, playing in the snow, all of those can be white space moments for you. I blog. it is my “winter” or white space. I’m doing this for my own benefit as well as to share and explore the white space concept with others. Recently, I read an article about how Norwegians embrace winter and I attributed some of that enjoyment to embracing white space time. I am taking on this challenge to help me reflect, learn about myself, learn from others, and embrace “my winter” in new ways. Next year I am going to encourage my teams to participate in this further.

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

15 Nov

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We are having some discussion this week and as a result looking at evidence in literature of ‘being Māori’ in learning.  In the Ministry of Education [MOE] 2013-2017 Māori Education Strategy- Ka Hikitia, there is clear focus on Māori being Māori in their learning:

This vision means ensuring that all Māori students, their parents and their whanau participate in and contribute to an engaging and enjoyable educational journey that recognises and celebrates their unique identity, language and culture” (MOE, 2013, p.13).

This opinion is supported in much of the literature and reports that have been commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

We know that Māori do much better when education reflects and values their identity, language and culture ...” (MOE, 2013,p.6).

This vision in Ka Hikitia identifies five principles of a Māori approach to learning: the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi, incorporation of identity, language and culture, ako, a two way teaching and learning process, and productive partnerships acknowledging the connection of students to whanau.

This has linked well to our HOF Inquiry this year around collaborative leaving an dpedagogy. Collaborative approaches and the importance of relationships have also been identified in the literature (Greenwood and Te Aika, 2008, p.6) including the concept of visibility ‘kanohi kitea’ (Ferguson, 2008, p.2) Thus we start to see how Māori culture and identity (kaupapa) can be incorporated into education, part of which will be eLearning. Both eLearning and the incorporation of kaupapa Māori into eLearnng are relatively new fields of education (Tiakiwai and Tiakiwai, 2010, p.6).

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

Mentoring and Successful Schools

10 Nov

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As school leaders, we recognise that appraisal an essential process that exists in schools. The evidence gathered in the process is central to the ability teacher registration. However, because the process is often seen as mechanical, and in some cases is not seen as a significant driver to assist school improvement, a real opportunity is missed for developing potential and bringing out the best in others.

As I work on my own appraisal and appraisal meetings I note the importance of self-accountability and growth. With growth comes an increased sense of one’s own potential. When one has both confidence and a true sense of what could be, then a space is created for the individual to try and test out new behaviours.

When mentoring is placed firmly at the heart of the appraisal process, teachers and other staff members experience a process in which belief in the development of human potential becomes central to the conversation. At the heart of these must be the PTCs.

When school leaders are skilled in using the principles of mentoring to assist their appraisal, meetings they help to create a clear path for creating a school culture where individuals to make things better.

Mentoring accepts it as a process for accelerating the achievement of school targets (that is annual goals and strategic plans) through:

– Creating alignment between organisational and personal goals

– Growing and developing others

– Enabling others to step outside of their comfort zones

– Supporting others to achieve their full potential

When opposite beliefs and attitudes exist about the purpose and value of performance management, school cultures are created in which individuals:

– Struggle to take responsibility for their own actions

– Become dependent on others for solutions and place limitations on their own ability to problem solve

– Lack the internal motivation and desire to succeed

– Weaken their ability to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The truth is, when systems for appraisal exist that do not develop an individual’s sense of self-worth, a void can be created between the individual’s perception of self and what they feel capable of achieving. In such environments, individuals either consciously or subconsciously limit what they give both to themselves and their school.

Individuals come to see more fully their unique role and the contributions they can make towards bringing about improvements in their school. Rather than seeing it as something that is done to them, they begin to understand what it means to be accountable to themselves and others and they start to own the process.

 

 

 

Fullan and Leading Change

6 Nov

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Michael Fullan has long championed the critical importance of transforming school culture and writes extensively on the topic. His perspective is also clear: “Structure does make a difference, but it is not the main point of achieving success. Transforming the culture – changing the way we do things around here – is the main point.”

For many, simply introducing change to schools is the golden bullet solution. Our recent HOF Inquiry understood this fact early. There is no point in making change unless you have clarity around “why?”

Despite the massive investments that reveal the productivity towards this trend, the reality of organizational change is far more complex. The jury is no longer out on the impact of technology on formal learning. We know that attempts to engage in change (be it digital or otherwise) without vision are simply not going to have much of an impact. Attempts to transform schools because there is some populist pressure to do so have proven similarly facile. Embracing innovation for student-centered reasons with vision and culture that is carefully cultivated to allow this vision to thrive is the way forward. I consider myself fortunate to work in a school where this is part of the ambition for every learner.

I have written about culture often recently. I guess it is on my mind. Change without attention to culture is no change at all. Levin and Shrum’s study echoes this perspective: “Leaders that engage the school community in the effective use of technology… appreciate the power of school culture. They create … cultures in which meaningful teamwork based on trust is the primary force of professional learning and continuous improvement.” This trust must be centered on a conviction that we are doing what is best for students and that, as professionals, we routinely question what this means.

The following have been on my reading list in 2017. Worth a look.

Couros, George. In the Service of the Right Aims, 2016.
Richardson, Will. Learning. All. The. Time. 2016.
Bersin, Josh. Predictions for 2017: Everything Is Becoming Digital. 2016.
Fullan, Michael. Leading in a Culture of Change. 2007.
Levin, Barbara B.  & Schrum, Lynne. Leading 21st-Century Schools: Harnessing 

Culture Again….

1 Nov

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Culture is fundamentally about relationships. Technology is a critical component of all learning environments. However, learning without human rapport and interactive relationships is a poor ecosystem for human development. A landscape in which the foundation has not been prepared to adapt to change, to embrace what is best for students, to accept that risks, constant change and uncertainty are the order of the day, is one in which initiatives will ultimately fail.

A healthy culture is immediately discernible, though perhaps difficult to define: “A collaborative culture feels a bit like family: Although individuals may not always get along, they will support each other when push comes to shove. A collaborative culture is a strong culture in which most people are on the same page.” (Gruenert, Whitaker)

A collaborative culture also leads to higher levels of trust and respect among colleagues and translates to improved student learning. Empowered learning requires investment in technology. It requires talented teachers who are supported. But too often the infrastructure and the investment are as far as the planning goes.

The best schools and the deepest learning are characterized by one simple truth. The work is about individual learner needs, not systems. It’s about the ecosystem and a humane environment that permits teachers to work for the students, not the system. Being relational. As everything becomes digital, school culture matters more than ever.

Gruenert, Steve & Whitaker, Todd. School Culture Rewired. 2015.

Professional Reading Weekend

28 Oct

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A have had a big weekend dedicated to professional reading. This is all part of my annual goal and to continually improve. Common themes that emerge from my reading were:

  • the importance of connecting
  • a leadership paradigm of coaching
  • collaboration and learning spaces for thinking and working in teams
  • approaching curriculum design as an innovator.

In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes about generating breakthroughs and the patterns behind innovation. The keys are: developing slow hunches over time (as opposed to sudden Eureka moments), connected minds are smarter than lone thinkers, where you think is crucial, and the best ideas come from building on the ideas of others.

In Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner contends that the disruptive nature of innovation creates challenges to traditional authority.

“Can those of us who have positional authority develop this kind of earned and enabling authority? Can our institutions of learning and work recognize and promote a new kind of authority? Can we move from top-down, compliance-based systems of accountability in our schools to forms of accountability that are more face-to-face – reciprocal and relational? And, finally, are we prepared to not merely tolerate but to welcome and celebrate the kinds of questioning, disruption, and even disobedience that come with innovation?” (Tony Wagner)

In Bringing Innovation to School, Suzie Boss makes the case for design thinking, the use of physical space, gaming for learning, and using networks for innovation.

“When teachers are fine-tuning project plans, they can use rapid prototyping to invite feedback (from colleagues, outside experts, and students), make adjustments, and then see what happens during implementation. Projects will get better with each iteration if teachers make a habit of reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and how they can improve on the plan next time around. When they approach curriculum design this way, they’re modelling what it means to think and work like an innovator.” (Suzie Boss)

Revising Mentoring

22 Oct

Contemporary business people working in team in the office

The purpose of this week’s blog is for me to reflect on my mentoring (or read coaching if you wish) with my people this year. So, here goes.

Good mentors extinguish the problem of teacher isolation and individualism. Many problems identified specifically with ineffective teaching practices are attributed to teacher isolation. This degree of socialisation is potent and the fall-back position is always the long apprenticeship of observation undertaken as school students. Being a middle leader is hard. They needed to be supported.

Good mentors ensure high levels of teacher collaboration. Relational trust among teachers is positively related to student performance in schools, and trust is constructed through face-to-face collaborative work. In successful school’s teachers are engaged in frequent, precise talk about teaching practice by observing each other teach; plan, design, research, evaluate, and prepare teaching materials together. Such collaborative structures help to decrease teacher isolation, share successful teaching practices, increase staff morale, open the door to experimentation, and increase collective efficacy.

Good mentors encourage constructive conflict. They need to push the envelope of course where appropriate. The further up a hierarchy you go, the more people attempt to avoid the zealous debates that are indispensable to great teamwork. However, conflict is normal, inherent, and essential to community practice. Conflicts help draw out and solve problems, and opposing views can be opportunities for growth and learning. Educators often find themselves in conflict because collaboration challenges norms of isolation and autonomy, and the most common response to conflict in schools is avoidance.

Good mentors model that it is OK to make mistakes. Amy Edmondson’s brilliant work reveals the importance of psychological safety for learning through leaders providing what she terms ‘the fallibility model’.

Good mentor bring in outside help.

Good mentors challenge people to question what they take for granted. Robert Kegan argues that the confusing, changing demands of modern life may be developmentally inappropriate for most adults and while it used to be adequate for people to do as they were told, today people are needed who “understand themselves and their world at a qualitatively higher level of mental complexity.” Kegan talks about moving from a socialised mind to a self-authoring mind, not just learning more but seeing things in new ways. People tend not to develop unless they are challenged in some way to question what they take for granted and people tend to slip back into old comfortable ways of thinking. Kegan uses the metaphor of a bridge, where it is incumbent upon those over the bridge to head back onto the bridge and hold out a hand to help others take the steps to get on the bridge themselves.

So I have been doing some reading. In this conference paper, Carter & Francis: ask whether mentoring just enriches the status quo and stifles professional growth?

“High amounts of professional support, including mentoring support, may only serve to entrench the status quo and stifle professional growth. The literature suggests that this is one of the central problems associated with mentoring for beginning teachers and is a recurring aspect of several case studies investigating teachers’ induction experiences. Ballantyne et al. went as far as to suggest that mentoring sometimes constrained the learning of beginning teachers rather than facilitated reflective practice…The effectiveness of multiple mentoring relationships and voluntary mentoring relationships have also been explored in the literature suggesting that the emphasis should be less on the identification of individual mentors and more on the provision of professional environments in which mentoring relationships can emerge.”

In conclusion, I really like this article from Harvard Business Review: Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You.

In 2018 I am planning to step up my efforts in this area. As I plan this will require going away to a quiet space. Watch this blog.

 

Doing it Better

21 Oct

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I have a lot on my plate at the moment. Last week I worked over 60 hours at school with many crucial meetings and by the time Friday came around I was tired. As a result, I made a couple of errors and let standards slip. Part of being a good leader though, is recognising when that occurs and doing something about it. And here I go doing something about it.

Yes, I know that leadership in schools in the 21st century is complex and challenging and most of the time I feel like I’m on top of things. On Friday night, it took me one km in the pool that night and a rigorous 8km run on Saturday morning to finally gain control of my emotions and to think it all through and plan a way forward.

You see, there are times when you are tested as a leader, often when you least expect it. The most important thing that I have learned as a leader is to work on your self-leadership skills. If you can’t lead yourself, then you will never, ever lead others successfully.

So what did I learn:

  • Breathe deeply and give yourself time to think. Consider that sometimes your biggest problem may be your biggest opportunity. Choose actions that will make you a better person. Actions that are aligned to your values and reflect what you love to do.
  • Use a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset ensures strategies to keep learning and growing. A Fixed Mindset will stall your growth and development and you will find yourself blaming others.
  • Remember that working your way through problems and frustrations will develop your resilience.
  • Remember that it’s not always about you. It’s about what you can do to help others grow and develop.
  • Always focus on learning. What am I learning and how can I improve.
  • There is always tomorrow. The staff at our school are reading one of four books over the summer holidays.

Personalized learning and technology

19 Oct

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As I was out running yesterday I was watched the people in the local shopping centre. I thought about how people live now. It is all about them. “Me” not “you.” This is one reason why social media works. Facebook is about “you” building and connecting to “your” friends. It’s about sharing what you like, liking what others do, and showing off what you do. Twitter is even more about “you.” Yes, you can use these tools to think beyond yourself. You can use these tools to promote and share. But they became big because of how they are about “You.” Even Linkedin as a professional tool is about building up “you” to the world. It’s about how many connections you have and who these connections are.

When it comes to being connected, we are more connected today than ever before. Almost everyone must have a smartphone, especially teenagers. They must be available immediately to their friends. Texting is now bigger than email and using the phone. That’s old school. With unlimited texting packages, we can write back and forth whenever we want with as many words as we want. And we do.

Interpersonal relationships mean more to most kids than their own families. They check their phone often. This is why texting why driving is such a problem. Smartphones alert you when there’s a text, a tweet, or some other response or nudge about almost anything. You are “always” connected to your network unless you turn your phone off. If they turn off their phones, they lose their connections.

I loved this clip which appeared in my feed this week:

This got me thinking about the options we are providing for students.  We can focus on learning that is personal, but we need to teach and model compassion, kindness and empathy. We need to demonstrate what it is to be part of a social network and how to look beyond yourself. We also need to use these tools so kids can learn the way they learn best. Take advantage of them. But we also need to show them that they need to look up and out at the world. Connect with others to not only build connections but to share what you learn and learn from others. Teach the skills to recognize bias, validity and authenticity. Help them to be able to articulate intelligently and thoughtfully. This is their future and right now I’m a little concerned if they are ready for it.

 

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