Archive | February, 2019

Religions of the World

25 Feb


While my ako inquiry will deal with leadership again this year I am making a big effort tin the area of my own specialist subject- Religious Studies. A reminder this is an academic subject not one of faith development. Well, that how I see it.

On describing his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarked, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’ (Lewis, 1945, p. 21). To paraphrase, for Lewis, not only is Christianity something credible to believe in, but it also provides a coherent and credible framework within which to make sense of everything else.

Theologians working within other religious traditions would mostly concur with this: while no one can have a “God’s eye” view of the world (other than God) – religion provides the most meaningful and satisfactory way to see the universe. Furthermore, in addition to perceiving, religions also provide a way of being in the world. They impact and form the habits, philosophies, theologies, aspirations, ethical positions and education (among other things), of those who identify with them.

RE teaching aspires to place religions into a historical context. This is important because it prevents students from the quintessential: just because a Scripture says x, or members of a tradition have done x, it does not follow that all members of a tradition will do the same. A historical context for the development of religion also encourages adherents of a given tradition to view their own tradition more critically.

However, research in the field of the Study of Religions has stressed an additional sense in which cultural context is important. W.C. Smith emphasized that ‘religion’ itself is an unstable category, which has been shaped through political processes and is defined in different ways in different contexts. Concepts of ‘religion’ may be related to one another genealogically, but what they share, according to these theorists, is that they are determined by the assumptions and political expediency of the powerful over the less powerful.

Religion has, of course, been defined in many ways by scholars. Ninian Smart argued that religion was characterised by doctrine and philosophy; myth; a tradition of law and ethics; rituals; an emotional connection to the sacred and the presence of distinct hierarchies. Smart stressed that none of these characteristics were necessary for a tradition to be a religion, but that most religions included most of these features.

Nevertheless, the study of religion has been plagued by its difficulty in pinning down its subject matter precisely: it has been accused of becoming a discipline that has failed to find anything to study. But such accusations miss the point: instead of focusing on individual religious traditions (Islam; Christianity; Judaism etc.), the study of religions has found a new focus in the problematical the term ‘religion’ itself. ‘Religion’, J.Z. Smith would argue, cannot be used as a term of analysis because its definition is too contested to be useful and we cannot be sure that we are comparing like with like.


On the other hand, the study of religion has re-focussed its efforts around tracking the ways that ‘the powerful’ have used the definition of the word to re-forge the world in their own image. Nongbri’s work in particular has rebelled against the idea that traditions have a true religious belief, which is embedded in Scripture and which, like Protestant Christianity, can be privatised without intruding on the state. He emphasises that the notion of a true core belief (‘Christianity is the religion of love’; ‘Islam is the religion of peace’) is indebted to Romantic-era notions of the ‘true spirit’ of different national cultures. We might find it appealing to imagine ‘good’ versions of Islam and Christianity, with things we dislike as later accretions, this does not do justice to the formation of religious traditions as fluid entities that change and transform as they are passed between generations. Lots to reflect on but plenty of discussion for my Religious Studies class this week.


Your Why?

24 Feb


I know if you ask staff at Manawa Tapu they will tell you Andrew keeps going on about his why. Yeah I do. And I’m glad they know. One of the most thought-provoking books I read last year was Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In his book, Sinek talks about how successful individuals and organizations communicate.

Instead of explaining what they do, they start with why they do it.

  • What is our purpose?
  • What drives us?
  • What are we passionate about?

Explaining what we do is a lot simpler than putting our why into words. It is also less effective. “There are only two ways to influence human behavior,” Sinek says, “you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

I was struck by how relevant Sinek’s words in the context of education. I’ve worked with so many school districts that are embracing technology and blended learning models, but they do not communicate why this shift is important to teachers. Without a clear sense of purpose, it is easy for educators to become disillusioned and frustrated by the time and energy required to shift their teaching practices.

The best way to approach any significant change is to start with why. Be crystal clear about the value of the change and make sure everyone within the organization understands the why driving the change.

  • How will it improve the students’ experience as learners?
  • How will it free teachers to spend more time on the aspects of their job that they enjoy?
  • How will this create more dynamic and relevant learning?

If leaders are clear about their why, teachers are more likely to buy in and take risks. Similarly, teachers will be more effective if they articulate their why for themselves and explain their why to students.

For my Leaders of Learning I want to run the following in an Exercise: What’s Your Why? this week. I encourage every teacher to take a few minutes to think about why you teach and then complete your version of the golden circle pictured above.

  1. Start with why you teach.
    • What is it about your job that excites you?
    • What drives you to work with students?
    • Ultimately, what are you trying to achieve?
  2. How do you do what you do?
    • How are you attempting to achieve your why?
    • What strategies do you use to manifest your why?
    • What do you do each day to stay focused on your why?
  3. What do you do?
    1. When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
    2. What are your various roles?

This exercise is harder than it sounds.



Getting everyone on the waka in 2019

21 Feb



The year has started and as senior leaders we have well thought out ideas regarding new projects for the year. But them come the resistors or slow adapters or high maintenance staff.

When we encounter resistance to a great idea, we often find ourselves mentally criticizing the people who oppose it. We conclude that those who are resisting are unwilling to change, lack a strong work ethic, or have misplaced priorities.

It might be more productive for school leaders to think about times when they’ve resisted others’ ideas—for instance, times when they told their child he could not have a begged-for toy (or tattoo!); or when they told their physician that a particular treatment was not for them; or when they told their spouse that it was not the right year to take a big vacation. When people think about why they’ve resisted others’ ideas, they usually realize that their reasons were good ones. For instance, parents say no to children to keep them safe, patients select treatments that will best fit their individual needs and approach to health, and spouses want to be good stewards of the family budget.

Similarly, when teachers resist the ideas or initiatives of new school leaders, their reasons make perfect sense to them. For instance, these teachers might have worked hard to develop their current practices and view these practices as best for students. They might believe that a proposed change would be too demanding on their time, or they might think that a new idea reverses the trajectory of school programs of the past few years. When school leaders understand resistance from this perspective, they avoid judging teachers negatively. Instead, they tune in to better understand what teachers are thinking. This process has the potential to create a productive dialogue, enabling teachers and leaders to approach problem solving and planning together to address school needs.



Getting on the waka

19 Feb


The job of a school leader is complex, broad, and challenging. We often focus on the notion that students need to be at the centre. I am not disputing this, I do believe that leaders need to focus a lot of their energy on the teachers. Happy teachers make great teachers.

As SLT we need to know staff as individuals. They are not superheroes. They are human. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes, they have really bad days that turn into really bad weeks. We need to connect on a personal level, understand what is going on in their lives.

When building an effective team in a school we can’t get the right people on the bus if someone is in their seat. I know it seems harsh but as SLT you owe it to a teacher who is stuggling to support them and let them find their way the profession. Do the math. A poor teacher in a secondary setting will impact over 150 students a year. Over a 25 year career that equates to more than 3,700 students. Is that the legacy you want to leave as SLT?

All that is required is a frank conversation. Talk to them. Most struggling teachers are miserable. Negative people never know they are negative. The same can be said for miserable people. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t just ship that person to the next principal. Think about the nearly 4000 kids you are saving.

Getting the right people on the bus is much easier than getting the wrong ones off the bus. Start with the positive. Any person of the street can write a good lesson plan and type a nice resume. Sustaining this in the classroom is hard and as senior leaders and middle  leaders we must support our people. Allow yourself to not just find the most intelligent person but the best person.

Having been in almost every educational setting from inner city to rural, I can tell you that relationships trumps rigor every day. I am not saying rigor is unimportant, just that kids truly don’t care what you know until they know that you care. All teachers have gone through a rough patch and it is important we support them.

Religious Education in schools

17 Feb


Yes, RE is sometimes brilliantly taught, and is essential to the curriculum; but its quality is too often undermined by a range of factors. The Religious Studies or Education community cannot allow these factors to continue damaging the subject’s quality: we need support around professional development.

My vision for RE is that it produces pupils who are religiously literate and who function well in a theologically and philosophically diverse world. Imagine an OECD or MOE survey report on RE in 2025: it reports that 7 out of 10 teachers are clear that the core purpose of RE is to promote religious literacy; that teaching is usually good or outstanding and based on a clear progression pathway; that there is excellent support for primary and secondary teachers of RE; that local bodies help to resource RE and national expectations are consistent and clear; and that RE is an entitlement for all pupils up to 16, parents having accepted the nature of RE and seeing no need to withdraw their children.

I want a Religious Studies course which has real intellectual integrity, reflects the reality of religion and belief in the modern world , and makes an excellent contribution to pupils’ education. It needs the structures that can deliver this. I am not critical of the people who operate in the present structures. I am only able to teach and to present these ideas because of the great work done by leading  people in the past and present. I owe them my thanks. It is the system that is broken and indefensible, because it is not serving teachers and pupils well enough. I appreciate that change is a challenge for people who have invested time, talent and reputation in the present system. To go for change may well feel like a betrayal, or a risk. But surely the greater risk, the greater betrayal, would be to recognize that our structures are failing, and leading our subject to weakness and irrelevance, to know that we could do better – and to do nothing? What will the teachers who come after us say to us then? The historical moment is on us now. It is dangerous to do nothing and left the situation drift. I hope we will have an informed and inclusive conversation in order to shape our future.

Innovation and Key Learning

17 Feb

Contemporary business people working in team in the office

I look out my office window on a Sunday (I know please do not judge!!) and I reflect there is so much to do so much to learn, and it all keeps changing. It can be overwhelming. As a leader I want to be innovative, creative, and make a greater impact. As I reflect on the data of our curriculum inquiry I identify three main areas that are “work ons” for me:

Less hui and more doey

We spend too much time spent thinking, reading, and watching what might change your teaching, your school, education — and not enough time spent doing the work. It is great the I now have evidence but the key is the next piece of mahi.

I read a lot of twitter chats, blogs, books, and TED Talks on how to innovate in education and transform learning. So much so, that a few years ago I felt overwhelmed just by the amount of reading. After taking a break from reading, I realized that there was a reason I wanted to get it right. Like my student I didn’t want to fail. Yet, unless I started taking action, there was not going to be any change that was made.

Don’t get drowned out by the information highway and not make time for creating and growing your people.

Focusing on the shiny instead of what works.

Yes, I am still recovering from years of worrying about the newest, latest, greatest thing. Whenever a new product, or new release, or new phone would come out, I would jump on the bandwagon immediately. I like the “new” part of innovation, but not the “new ideas that work better” piece.

Trying to do everything

There is lots of material out there about leaders going out by themselves. You are not alone wolf. Use your network. Ask others to help.

What mistakes have you made in doing innovative and creative work? What lessons have you learned along the way?

Innovative and Enriched Learning Environments

13 Feb


We are continuing our curriculum inquiry this year. I remind you of the question:

What do we want learning and teaching to look like at Manawa Tapu?

It is imperative that we create a school environment that is inviting, engaging, and conducive to learning for ALL students.  Over summer I did some reading on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and learnt that ALL students are gifted and talented in some (many) area(s) beyond the findings of any formalized assessment measure. Sadly, with all the demands of school enriched learning environment for ALL students can get lost in the noise of bureaucracy and a false sense of accountability. As we inquire further I thought about these ways to Create an Enriched Learning Environment for ALL Students and the following appeared.

  • Believe and Learn

Believe that ALL students are gifted and talented in something.  There are countless articles in circulation about gifted and talented education.  Learn as much as you can about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and other gifted and talented models and theories.  Gardner says that these differences “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning. Indeed, as currently constituted, our educational system is heavily biased toward linguistic modes of instruction and assessment and, to a somewhat lesser degree, toward logical-quantitative modes as well.” Gardner argues that “a contrasting set of assumptions is more likely to be educationally effective.”

  • Share Your Findings with ALL Stakeholders of the Community

Communicate your beliefs and thoughts about enrichment for ALL students with ALL stakeholders. This includes teachers, parents, staff, community advocates, and students of the community. Introduce this concept to your teacher leadership team, staff, and students to gain voice bring them on board.

  • The Plan

Develop a clear vision and design a realistic plan for enrichment opportunities using the Building Level Enrichment Team as the driving force for enrichment opportunities.  Use informal surveys and questionnaires to help design the enrichment program that best fits the needs of your students (depending on age/grade level – teachers and parents can also assist).

Questions to ask yourself and your team: What types of opportunities best serve your students’ needs?   What types of opportunities do your students want? Do your students want to learn how to sing Opera or do they want to build a robot? Who will serve as the facilitators of these enrichment opportunities?

Meetings in 2019: They need to change

10 Feb

download (1)

Meetings can be crucial in the way a school runs. This year I want to make it a real focus for me in ways these can be more efficient and productive. Research shows that people in meetings spend most of their time talking about the past, and most of the time talking about things others know nearly as well as they do. No wonder so many people think of meetings as a waste of time.

This year I have set two goals for new and improved meetings which would be to move the conversation into the present and future, and to uncover in your conversation things that no one knew before they walked in the door. This means not only dealing with facts, but with how people make sense of the facts at hand.

For example, one of the most useful discoveries in a meeting isn’t just what people are thinking about an issue, but what assumptions underlie their thinking.

Two things will help me in this regard:

  1. If everyone remembers that the larger goal (e.g., of solving an important team or organizational problem) is bigger than any individual person, you’ll have people reduce their ego connection to the issue (in as much as they can, developmentally).
  2. If people can make—and keep each other honest about—a commitment to ask questions which are really questions and not points they want to make; the questions won’t create a battlefield and won’t be as likely to raise conflict. If you’ve got a space where people can ask curious questions, put assumptions on the table, and make the invisible visible, people will find the meeting a good use of their time, the solution to whatever the problem is will be richer and more significant, and you’ve increased the chance that the people in the room will grow.

In this new meeting plan, people need to change the way they behave with one another.

People should ask curious questions (rather than questions that are trying to make a point or expose a weakness in someone’s thinking), take each other’s perspective, make visible the hidden assumptions that shape the conversation.

I will let you know how I go? Have you got any suggestions of how you can improve meetings?

Courageous Leadership

9 Feb


As leader it is really important to be courageous. I have been reading lately the work of Dr. Brené Brown, as detailed in her book Dare to Lead .

As Brené Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability.” This means having the courage to show up fully when you can’t control the outcome. It’s about being vulnerable in your relationships with others in every meeting, email, phone call and face-to-face conversation inside and outside the workplace.

Brown say to focus on clarity, as when you do you increase trust and decrease unproductive behavior. Being clear creates more connection and empathy. Clarity also creates a boundary that allows the other person to decide what to do with the feedback.

Know your triggers. When you’re triggered, do you try to control the situation, protect yourself or start people pleasing? Knowing this can help you move into a place of choice to step into vulnerability.

Courageous leaders who live their values instead of just talking about them are never silent about hard things. For example, courageous leaders do not partake in willful blindness. As a leader, you must be aware of what is going on around you. You must realize when to act and know that sometimes you need to act in difficult situations. It takes courage to recognize these opportunities for leadership and to set an example for your team. Making decisions that honor your values will be tough because doing the right thing is rarely easy.

I really liked this clip which emphasized what I am reflecting about.


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