Archive | January, 2015

New Year

27 Jan

I have written and spoken over the past twelve months about the challenges we face. As we begin a new school year those challenges have not diminished, in fact they have increased. And they will continue to do so unless the education community faces up to some truths.

Schools have long enjoyed a competitive position that they can no longer demand or expect to maintain. In a rapidly developing assortment for learning in a connected world, schools are now just one of many modes for learning. Our students love diversity. They love choice. This is reflected no better than in NCEA in New Zealand with the standards and subject they opt in and out of.

How are today’s schools going to position themselves to become the architect of new ways of learning and teaching? What has to change, what has to be done differently? Indeed what is the work of a teacher in today’s world?

I don’t know the answers to these but I do know the answers lie in every school’s capacity to continuously reinvent themselves through innovation and research. Schools have to strive for excellence even if it means being different and embrace change, not avoid it.

We can be very confident that we know what doesn’t work, and we have ample data on why this is so. Those one-off standalone initiatives focusing on teacher control, external monitoring, new curriculum, programmatic solutions suck the oxygen out of schools and stifle the drive and passion teachers have for improving every student’s learning.

Relevance has to be the rule not the exception.

Difficult Conversations

22 Jan

To be candid, I don’t relish confrontation or tough conversations.  I certainly don’t go looking for them, but they are important. Over the years I have learned and continue to learn new strategies for dealing with them.  In 2013 our staff did some wonderful PD with Collen Douglas of Massey University surrounding these. Here is a summary of some things I have picked up:
First, make the conversation safe.  What this means is, don’t engage someone in front of others.  Find a quiet place to have the talk.

Second, try hard to not be abrasive.  We are all human beings and criticism typically doesn’t feel good. Be a human, empathize, but also be strong enough to get the point across.

Third, control your emotions.

Fourth, treat the individual with respect.  It is important to go into a conversation with a plan.  My best advice is to be honest and human.  Don’t lose sight of the goal.  Don’t over think the situation, focus on what is best for students.

Fifth, your best friend can often be documentation.

Sixth, this is not about winning and losing.  This should be about doing what is best for students and the school.  Anytime I fear a conversation I come back to one simple thought, “Is this helping or hurting our students?”  Sometimes that simple thought spurs me into action.

Remember by avoiding these a great problem often supervenes.

Collaborative Leadership

15 Jan

Technology has created the opportunity to know. Information is accessible, whether you want to share it or not.  In fact, the organization benefits when information is freely shared. People can do their job better when they have easy access to the information they need.   Values-driven leadership is essential. You can’t hide your morals behind closed doors. It might once have been possible to get away with questionable ethics, but there’s nowhere to hide anymore.

When diverse perspectives are combined, discussions are richer, more robust, and more relevant and we find better solutions. Conflict and creative disagreement, when focused on issues and not personalities, serve as the “grain of sand in the oyster” to produce creative new ideas, approaches and solutions.

In hierarchical organizations, the flow of information and decisions tends to be linear.  Although hierarchical organizations have advantages in terms of efficiency, there is a huge opportunity cost in not having access to relevant resources.

Goal Setting

10 Jan

Although January is typically the time of year when we turn to goal setting, too often, it is a waste of time. Let’s be honest. How many times have you achieved all of your yearly goals? I love the concept of New Year’s resolutions which by the way can be initiated at any time.

I loved this summary which I came across in my summers reading:

Before you set goals this year, keep these 6 things in mind:

  1. Start with your current goals.

Review and evaluate. How did it go last year?

  1. Connect your goals to a larger purpose

Set goals that move you toward what you really desire. It will be easier to stay committed to a diet if you see exactly how it will help you live a more fulfilled life.

  1. Goal setting is not always a logical process.

Usually I recommend making your goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. However, sometimes it can make a difference to just hold the intention of something you really want to do, even if you don’t have any idea of how you will achieve it.

  1. Write your goals down and put them somewhere visible.

The act of writing goals is important. It’s not enough to just keep them in mind. The act of writing them helps you make them more clear and crisp.

Then, put your written goals somewhere visible, where you’ll see them every day.

Goals that are filed in a drawer are likely to be forgotten. You don’t have to study them each day. If they are somewhere visible, your eyes will glance over them regularly, giving you a gentle subliminal reminder.

  1. Don’t keep your goals a secret.

Make your goals be visible. If you share them with others, they will be able to point out opportunities you’re not aware of. They might have some suggestions you haven’t thought of. And they will be able to offer support as you proceed.

Leadership Bias

5 Jan

A leader’s job is to ensure that there is equal opportunity and that every voice is heard. His can be hard. The squeaky wheel syndrome etc… Sometimes though, it is not enough to provide opportunity. There are many reasons why people may not speak up or take opportunities you present them with.  A leader’s job I think, is to help remove the obstacles and blockers that people experience that stop them from reaching their full potential.  We can’t assume that just because a person has not shown interest in something that they are not interested in it (it may just be that for them there are too many perceived obstacles in the way for them to put their hand up). We need to be asking ourselves along the way if everyone is reaching their full potential. If not why not and how am I contributing to that deficit? We need to be reflective practitioners always checking to make sure our time and interest in people is not weighted to those who affirm us or make things easiest. To help avoid falling prey to confirmation bias, leaders can remove hierarchies and encourage a culture of critique and feedback. Confirmation bias is particularly resistant to self-correction and so we need others to respectfully challenge our beliefs and mental models.

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