Archive | November, 2018

Parenting and Leadership

26 Nov

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I have been reading and tweeting this week a great deal about teaching, being a Dad and our community. As I reflect on my last term as a leader I can see lots of similarities between being a good Dad and a good leader.

It’s not all about you: your role as a Dad is to raise an independent adult. Sometimes your child won’t like you. That’s ok. You are not their friend, you are their Dad. A good Dad knows it isn’t about your child liking you, and sometimes you won’t like them; but it is about you loving them regardless.

Great Dads listen: they respect their children, valuing them as individuals, people who have a voice, ideas, passions and interests. Good Dading isn’t about creating a clone of you, but empowering them to live their own dreams.

Loving Dads are willing to say sorry: It takes humility, but you must be open to the possibility that on occasions your child may be right, and you’re the one in the wrong. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s about modelling: As a member of the SLT we need to be the best we can be every day and if not apologize for it.

Be the guide on the side: Good Dads are there not to judge, but to catch a child when they fall, helping them to bounce back and have another go.

And the most obvious, Dads love each of their children: they are a gift from God and they are at the centre of our schools.

I hope I am a god Dad. I pray and know that the experience has made me a better leader.

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Student Investment

23 Nov

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Student investment is not just about students sitting compliantly in a classroom and not disrupting others, but in fact when students own and take responsibility for their own learning. When students are truly invested in their learning, there is a symbiotic relationship between assessment and self-regulation. As I reflect on my own experience as a building principal, I recall that the teachers who had clarity about learning, well-planned lessons, and effective assessment practices never had issues with student behavior at the end of the school year.

There is not a teacher working today who would not want his or her students to be fully invested in their own learning. Getting there is another story entirely. I often hear educators say that we teach students responsibility when we give them homework or long-term projects and deadlines. I would argue that we are giving students opportunities to practice being responsible when we provide those tasks. Students need to be taught how to be responsible before, after, and during practice. This requires a mind shift about a teacher’s role in these all-important skills.

Student investment should be the same way. If we believe that it is valuable for students, both today and in the future, to be the owners of their learning and to learn about self-regulation, then it is our responsibility to teach it and to provide opportunities to practice. I have found in research and practice four characteristics of classrooms where assessment and self-regulation work well together to create student investment: a vision for learning, meaningful and valuable work, asset-based focus, and action and impact.

This will lead to our next work which are learning progressions. Roll on 2019.

Being a Busy Leader

21 Nov

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Manaaki Tāngata.

We are there to support and care for the people

Don’t you love watching people? It is always fascinating at conferences or meetings. At every break there is invariably the rush to the door, device to the ear or email being checked just checking in.

What do truly great leaders occupy themselves with? What takes their time, what do they prioritize, what should be important and why?

I heard a good phrase this week, “I’m not busy, I’m distracted”.

Leaders don’t have to the busiest people at school the most stressed, do the most hours, do the mahi for others, be the hero against whose everyone else’s measures their worth. Instead they should be good role models for a healthy work-life balance. I need to do this better personally.

Leaders should never be too busy that they become inaccessible: the person that no one wants to disturb because their issues would seem insignificant by contrast.

I like to set goals for the things I would like to achieve in a day. I must constantly remind myself that sometimes the distraction may be far important than the goal, particularly if it is to do with the people you serve. The moment you set yourself goals that can only be achieved behind your desk you are moving from leading to managing.

The staff member who comes into your office wanting the vent, or who is just in need of a sympathetic ear. It is in fostering these relationships, the giving of your time, that a leader is doing their most important work. It is then that they are building trust, and ultimately trust is far more important to an organisation because it unlocks the huge potential of the ‘we’.

There is nothing wrong with being busy, but what you are saying when you go on about it you don’t have time for others, you don’t have the time to cultivate what is the most important task of a leader. As a leader one of your key jobs is building the capacity of others and empowering them to do their roles so you can achieve the organisation’s vision together. We must remember the people. The students. The staff. The community.

Remember, you should never be too busy for the people you serve.

Why?

11 Nov

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At this time of year as a teacher, in any occupation, you may ask yourself why you do what you do. Why do you work where you work? Why do you make sure tamariki are treated well, encouraged, noticed, and cared for? In my akomanga or kura am I a preserving human dignity of all?

We all play a role in creating, bolstering, reinforcing, and strengthening the school environment. Every interaction with a child matters and influences how that child feels, acts, and responds. With every interaction we help create and form the climate and culture of the school. We all help determine whether or not it’s a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for learning.

Whether we are principals, physics teachers, netball coaches, or caretakers, very few of us can be fully defined by our official titles. What we do every day and why we do it expands outside our job descriptions because we care about kids and we see ourselves as part of the bigger picture.

Education is a vast profession and we all play a part in its success, whatever our official roles may be. So, the next time someone asks you what you do, don’t just answer with your title. Think about what you dowho you serve, and how you support them.

Are you a teacher or mentor? Are you the one responsible adult for a child, a connection to the broader society, an adviser, or a caregiver? 

Supporting Middle Leaders

5 Nov

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To talk about teaching without considering what is being learned, is just strange. Curriculum leaders provide a system that supports teaching and learning. In the absence of a system, students will enter class each day, participate in lessons, and at the end of the year, each student will be promoted to the next grade level. Instructional leaders must strive to identify the focus for each grade level or course and then work collaboratively to ensure that each student is challenged and provided with scaffolding as needed. Hattie suggests that principals are engaged in instructional leadership when they “have their major focus on creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students” (2012, p. 83).

The word ‘curriculum’ derives from the Latin ‘currere’ meaning a race or a course on which a race is run.  The Latin verb ‘currere’ means to ‘run’ or ‘proceed’.

I like this idea of running for many reasons. First, it underlines the importance of the journey: to take a short-cut would be to miss the point. The specified ground must be conquered or the race can be neither run nor won. All the running matters. If we tell the runners to practise only the final sprint, we not only miss the point of the whole race. In schools we seem to miss this point. We are always rushing to the assessment. Second, it reminds us that curriculum is not a mere aggregate of things. Its character is a key. Curriculum is content structured over time. Third, it points to the curriculum as continuous. Not just a sequence it’s much more like a narrative.  Curriculum is content structured over time with all the parts talking to each other.

So often our curriculum is not coherent and lacks a smoothness. How does this absence of curricular focus happen? And what can we do about it?

It happens because at the level of a whole school, the pull of the generic is strong and understandably so. Schools must be led and managed as coherent enterprises. Parity must be found across a school’s spheres. To ascend the ladders of school leadership, subject specialism must, to some degree, be transcended.  Whole-school leaders contribute in vital ways that transcend subject. They must communicate strategy, distribute resource, facilitate collaboration, align systems, review pupils’ progress across differing spheres, build policies for behaviour… In short, they must create the best environment possible for all teachers to make things happen.

Therefore, built into the culture of staff development is a sense of subject specialism as transient.  Each subject area empire building. Built into the structure of a school is an imperative for common proxies – from assessment to resourcing – removed from the actual substance what is being taught and learned.

How easy, then, to slide into the assumption of equivalence, especially with generic terms such as ‘learning’, ‘progress’ or ‘skills’. Senior Leadership Teams need to provide leadership talking about teaching and attainment, a language which, because of its curricular character.  Such a language cannot be empty of substance. It must be rooted in a shared knowledge base, one that makes curricular communication possible.

I have learnt this year to support and grow our middle leaders. When curriculum leadership becomes the priority for our kura student understanding will grow. A kura without clearly defined pathways for these people is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).

Leading Change at Manawa Tapu

5 Nov

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Pope Francis said recently we are not in an era of change, but in a change of era.

Have we done the following in leading change?

Start by building a collaborative culture.  Collaborative and shared leadership that is transparent to all staff, students and the community provides a powerful conduit for change.

Strategic planning is a team sport.  Leading change requires a collaborative effort.  We (leaders, teachers, students and community) need to be a committed to a common purpose.

Manawa Tapu is a complex environment so it is important to fully engage all the stakeholders especially teachers and students, but also parents, whanau, community and business interests.  It is important to hear a range of perspectives around change.

A cohesive plan.  Strategic planning is the systematic process of envisioning a desired future, translating this vision into broadly defined goals and determining a sequence of steps to achieve these.  Without a plan there will be confusion and false starts – attachment

There is no easy answer and no short cuts. Others cannot do this planning for us.  We have to walk the path to own the resulting plan. This needs to be a structured and thorough process, allocated the time and resources to ensure it will be successful.

That said, we do not have to do this on our own.  Have we tapped into the knowledge and experiences of our group? It is always useful to bounce ideas off others. Connect and converse to tap into the “wisdom of the crowd”.

It is important to incorporate expert mentoring and support.  Have you engaged with your “critical friend” – someone to look over your shoulder, to challenge your assumptions and to provide both expert knowledge and different perspectives to enrich conversations and decisions.

Only add something more useful – and always try to take something away! Teachers are already overloaded so we need to plan to add value by introducing interventions that not only improve their effectiveness in the classroom but add efficiencies and reduce workload.

Have we monitored our progress and evaluate the impact of our interventions and broader plan! We need to know how these strategies are bedding in and if these will improve student learning.

Have we ticked all of these?

Our Curriculum Leaders

3 Nov

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Curriculum is fundamental to schools. It is complex. Necessarily directional and dependent on recognizable channels, it must be vibrant and changing for such is the character of knowledge and our relationship to it. For too long though it has remained unchanged.

The term ‘curriculum leadership’ is associated with middle leaders – the ‘geography coordinator’, the ‘head of science’. It is, quite rightly, linked to subjects.  Our task this year has been to change the conversation though coaching and tasks. These middle leaders are now recognised as “Leaders of Learning.”

Where SLT have tried to reach into pedagogy with generic strategies that fail to attend to subject distinctiveness, all manner of distortions has occurred. In tackling the ‘how’ (teaching and learning) and in attempting to judge its efficacy (progress, assessment, data, outcomes), if we ignore ‘what?

What can curriculum leadership mean? And why on earth does this matter so much? Haven’t we gotten along perfectly well without such senior staff changing things?

Leaders of Learning see small data more clearly. Things SLT might not see in their role. Pasi Sahlberg of Finland spoke at ULEARN 18 about small versus bigdata. “If you don’t lead with small data, you’ll be led by big data. Small data is processed by humans, and reveals causation, collective wisdom and understanding the present. As opposed to big data which looks at big trends, processed by computers, reveals correlations and predicts the future. Big data spews out impersonal trends, where small data gives a more personal view. You can strengthen small data by using professional wisdom as evidence.”

The absence of an adequate model of curriculum leadership seems to me to deepen fundamental and longstanding problems in schools with which we have all wrestled, from weak assessment systems to problems with generation and interpretation of data, from problematical judgements about teaching and learning, to attraction and retention of fine teachers, from teacher development to blaming everything on “management.”

My concern is not just about what a person in SLT called ‘curriculum deputy’ needs to know, but what everyone in a senior leadership team needs to know about curriculum to lead on everything else. Curriculum leadership is everybody’s mahi.

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