Archive | May, 2013

Mindful Reflection

31 May

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It was a very wet and cold weekend here in New Plymouth and it provided me with a great opportunity to catch up on some professional reading. It was relevant to my current position and my NAPP experiences which I am frequently thinking about.

I came across the work noted below on “Mindful Leadership.” It was a term I have never come across. The book explains “Mindfulness is simply noticing the way things are. By being mindful you can transform your life, your organization, and even your community. The first step is to transform yourself.”

In summary this is what the author had to say:

1. Mindful school leaders are present. Simply put, it means they exist in the now, in the present. They do not engage in undue worry about the past or the future. Their energies are directed toward the current moment. That does not mean school leaders do not plan. It means they do not obsess with those plans, and they are not so attached to those plans that nothing else matters.

2. Mindful school leaders are aware. They are aware of their own inner life. In other words, they are skillful in the art and science of emotional intelligence. They know themselves. They never feel themselves overtaken and blindsided by their own emotions. Mindful school leaders know who they are, inside and out, and are not deluded into thinking more of themselves than they should.

3. Mindful school leaders are calm. They don’t panic. They face trying circumstances with control. Mindful school leaders act with centeredness and authenticity at all times. Their calmness is a natural part of who they are.

4. Mindful school leaders are focused. They “channel resources to accomplish priorities.” They concentrate on what’s important. Mindful school leaders know what’s important and they zero in on that.

5. Mindful school leaders are clear. It is this clarity of mind that makes it possible to make the best decisions. They understand their own motivations and why they do what they do. They, as Gonazales aptly points out, “know what is important.” Mindful school leaders exhibit a clarity of mind that fosters quality decision-making.

6. Mindful school leaders are equanimous. This is the ability to accept things as they are, not in the spirit of resignation, but simply to be at peace with reality. They do not spend time fighting fruitless battles. They do not engage in unrealistic expectations. Mindful school leaders are at peace with their reality.

7. Mindful school leaders are positive. They are a “positive force” in their schools or school districts. They understand leadership means serving others. Because of their positivity and service to others, they inspire those around them. Mindful school leaders act and live in affirmation and are an inspiration to those they serve.

8. Mindful school leaders are compassionate. They deeply care those around them. They know and understand and engage in self-compassion too, because taking care of self is important too. Mindful school leaders act with compassion, not in self-service and self-promotion.

9. Mindful school leaders are impeccable. As Gonzales points out, they aren’t perfect, but mindful leaders act with integrity, honesty, and courage. They accept responsibility for what they do and do not blame others for honest mistakes. Mindful school leaders always act with integrity, honesty and courage when leading their schools or districts.

Maria Gonzalez, Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others

Video of the Week

31 May

I include this TED Talk from a staff member who suggests we can never be paperless.

Building a Popular Culture at School

24 May

 

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As I progress through my NAPP year I am continually thinking about school culture. For school leaders, defining a school’s culture – the core values, practices and organizational structures – is a necessity. In fact, a school’s ability to improve performance depends on it. But fostering a performance-based culture is not something that can be completed and checked off a single to-do list; it is an ongoing. It is a process like so many thing I am reflecting on currently.

How do schools accomplish this? It’s all about objectives. High-performing schools intentionally create culture by introducing clear cultural expectations, and holding staff and students accountable to these core values. When clear expectations for behavior are established and reinforced – while allowing room for reflection and adjustments to these standards – a growth-minded, results-driven environment can be achieved

When setting expectations, clear communication is key. This is an issue that comes up constantly in my blogs recently. High-performing school leaders are effective in messaging that school is a place with specific standards that enable both staff and students to thrive. I often share the following example with school leaders and find that it resonates – unlike an elevator or a place of worship, where there are unspoken norms for behavior, new schools and existing schools that aim to rebuild their culture need expectations to be stated explicitly.

These values are upheld through established cultural elements that are consistent and visible from classroom to classroom. Such elements often include instituting a identifying one positive behaviors or mega-cognitive skill per month to highlight across the school, drafting guidelines on issuing rewards and consequences for student behavior and establishing school routines and rituals.

Reflection: Dads are Important

24 May

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Researchers at Brigham Young University have found how dads are in a unique position to help their adolescent children develop persistence, which is seen as one factor for academic success. I am not surprised by this.

 

In their study researchers viewed persistence as a teachable trait, and explained how father’s involvement in good quality interactions increased the academic success:

The key is for dads to practice what’s called “authoritative” parenting – not to be confused with authoritarian. Here are the three basic ingredients

  • Children feel warmth and love from their father
  • Accountability and the reasons behind rules are emphasized
  • Children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy

 

Authoritative parenting and teaching employs the very best strategies which, of course, from my point of view look very similar to the 3Cs: co-operation in the form of acceptance (warmth and love), cognitive learning tools in emphasizing reasons and accountability, and constructive upbringing – or teaching- in trusting children with age appropriate level of autonomy.

 

There are many other studies showing how authoritative parenting style significantly predicts academic performance, while no relations can be found for permissive or authoritarian styles (Turner, Chandler et al 2009)[1]. In teaching profession we don’t usually speak about authoritative, permissive or authoritarian teaching styles – but maybe we should?

 

In the same way students, who are treated at school with co-operative, cognitive and constructive principles, are more likely to grow to become respectful, accountable and determined adults.

 

[1] Journal of College Student Development, Volume 50, Number 3, May/June 2009, pp. 337-346 (Article)

Video of the Week

24 May

This video from Enabling e-Learning/CORE shows Tony Gilbert (DP at Greenbay High School) talking about the importance of staying focused on a plan driven by a clear vision and direction. He touches on staffing, learning, and purchasing. This comes from the NAPP Korero on Resourcing.

Outstanding Leaders Live by Bold Principles

18 May

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After spending some time at the NAPP Hui the other week I made a list of following points about exceptional leaders:

  1. Courageously declare themselves.
  2. Embrace bold principles.
  3. Live authentically.
  4. Pursue excellence.
  5. Expect others to rise to challenges.
  6. Practice rigorous accountability.
  7. Don’t make exceptions for themselves.
  8. Believe in uncomfortable transparency.
  9. Love their organizations.
  10. Put people first.

An observation:

Some organizations reward fitting in and punish standing out. Exceptional leaders, on the other hand, make fitting in dangerous.

Being a Principal: Some Reflections

18 May

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During the last few weeks I have been Acting Principal. As this time comes to an end I thought I should reflect on some key thing I have learned and been aware of. Before you write them off as not applicable to you, consider that these are common in any type of leadership position and in a great deal of literature.

Healthy relationships: A common mistake that leaders make is to hole up in their office and neglect the relationships that will help them to be successful. You have plenty of other things to do, but this is the most important. Make time in your schedule to make the connections that will be mutually beneficial.

Listening: You must go beyond hearing to developing the kind of listening that goes deeper. This kind of listening includes watching body language and observing emotions. If you don’t listen in this way you’ll miss plenty of opportunities to learn and connect to others.

Silence: Leaders who exhibit strategic silence know when to stay still. They understand the impact of words that can hurt, anger, or create fear. They know that when they say too much, others stop speaking and creativity and inclusion are a lost cause.

Appropriate pace: It’s a difficult thing to match the pace of others. I find some leaders are so driven that they outpace those who follow, leaving them in the dust, confused and dazed. Other leaders may be too slow to make decisions and take action, and we all know what happens if this becomes a repeated pattern. You must be authentic to who you are.

Patience: Many leaders are intolerant of others who might do things differently or at a pace the leader finds unacceptable. Action oriented leaders may have a tendency to jump to conclusions before things are thought through. The lack of patience can manifest itself as anger or decisions that aren’t fully thought through.

Calm: Remaining calm is a great asset that can be lacking in many leaders in our high pressure, high stress organizations. Leaders who are not calm may show anxiety and an inability to remain still. They might be excitable at the moments when an organization needs calm, spreading anxiety.

Inclusive: There are very few places where a lone wolf leader can be effective. Decisions are complex, and it takes a village of smart people to help make them. Leaders who aren’t inclusive may find that their organizations lack creativity. The people who are most talented may be taking their brilliance elsewhere.

Respect: A deep respect for all people in the organization is the hallmark of a great and enduring leader. Everyone is treated as someone who matters.

Professional: A leader who is professional is one who dresses appropriately, walks the talk, and is loyal to their organization. Despite how they might feel about certain guidelines, rules, or bureaucracies, they do what needs to be done.

Reflective: Leaders who spend their days reacting are heading for trouble. Most leaders get more responsibility by taking decisive action, but unless they take some time to reflect on past and future successes and failures they’ll eventually run into trouble. Setting aside thinking time is imperative for success. I suppose this blog reflects this.

A Website that Wowed Me!

18 May

Being Effective Without a Classroom

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. She also hosts “Teaching Channel Presents” on public television stations around the country. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

 

21st Century School

10 May

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In many of our documents we are encouraged as teachers and leaders to be lifelong learners. It is known as the 21st century school model. This term is one that is worth debating but that is for another week and another blog.

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I love (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer and iDevice. Not a night goes by when I don’t catch up with my PLN on Twitter. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference. This is a real soapbox of mine.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. Sometimes it doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport. Learning IS a contact sport. Sometimes my students forget this also.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where I notice my daughter with her friends recognize play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

Source: Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

Professional Reading

10 May

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Quality relationships have long been the defining feature of good schools. When we talk about a teacher’s contribution to student learning outcomes, it is understood in the context of the teacher’s ability to relate to each student. This year we have focused in our annual plan on relationships. These quality relationships lead to trust which leads to deeper thinking conversations.

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to change a student’s life – to move them from being disengaged to challenged? It’s an idea Canadian Professor Ben Levin examines in his 2008 article ’20 minutes to change a life?’

Based on studies and discussions, Levin concluded that in many cases a 20-30 minute per day conversation can have a positive impact. Be it with a struggling student over a period of time or a middle manager that needs support.

It’s a concept worth considering when discussing ways to improve school culture

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