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Leaders of Learning

19 May

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There are many tough jobs in a secondary school – but leading a subject area, especially a large subject area, must be one of the most difficult.  I’ve been fortunate to lead and to work with some inspiring Curriculum Leaders in recent years – who do an amazing job.  They grow and nurture a great team, who then achieve fantastic outcomes for the students they teach.  I thought I would try to make a list of some of the qualities they have:

  • Role models – they are always, first and foremost, great teachers.
  • Articulate greatness– they understand what makes great teaching within the context of their subject and can articulate this clearly with their team.
  • Set the standard– they clearly identify the standards they expect to see on a day to day basis – and live and breathe these themselves.  This creates a shared clarity of purpose.
  • Moral purpose– they have an unswerving commitment to getting the best deal possible for the students who pass through their subject.  They understand that a good education can transform life chances.
  • Expect excellence– they strongly believe that all students can get better and be successful.
  • Pride in their fiefdom– they patrol their subject area and make it clear to the students that they are in charge – and that the students will meet their expectations!
  • Parental contact– they won’t hesitate to call home – and will support their team with doing the same.
  • Understand change– they know how their team is performing and when they might be plateauing or when something is not working – and how at this point, change might be required in order to get that next bit of improvement – but they don’t just change things for the sake of it.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing– they understand that the key to a successful team, is developing great teaching.  So they talk about great teaching a lot!
  • Subject Knowledge– they encourage people to be passionate about their subject and to keep developing their own knowledge of the subject.
  • Evidence informed– they wary of gimmicky approaches and base what they do, and what they ask their teachers to do, on wisdom and research evidence.

Does this describe some of your people?

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Reflection for Friday

17 May

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On Easter Sunday morning our priest used the phrase, “resurrection not resuscitation”; my mind wandered.

The past thirty plus years has seen our education system built around an underpinning school effectiveness philosophy.  We want to find out what might make schools more or less effective (perfectly reasonable); identify, often judging on some arbitrary scale, how effective each school is (not at all easy; in fact really, really difficult) and then we decided to assess teacher effectiveness on an annual basis (absolutely bonkers).  Effectiveness became accountability and with it the roots of the current, increasingly flawed, our school system moved towards hitting the buffers.  Beating the accountability system rather than focusing on improving education has become the name of the game for some; it impacts on us all.  Workload, stress and anxiety and job insecurity continue to take their toll.

As a consequence too many teachers and school leaders have decided to build a new life outside of teaching; it is the only place they can find a reasonable home/work balance that gives them time for family, friends and themselves.  They’ve come to the eulogy moment; what will people talk about when I’ve gone?  How many of the five most common regrets will define my life?  It is a staggering loss of human resource, experience and potential when we already have far too little.  For too many of those who have remained, attempting to breathe new life, into a professional existence that is beyond repair, is futile.

It’s time for a paradigm shift; without it schools will become less and less effective as fewer and fewer of the teachers we need, of the calibre required, are prepared to work in out hyper accountable, manic system.  Rather than trying to resuscitate the current system we need a resurrection mentality; our education system needs new life not more of the same.

Coaching and Feedback

6 May

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As a school leader I do a great deal of coaching I work with many high performing middle leaders who want to become even more effective. According to research on effective learning, to improve performance, people need three things:

  • A clear goal
  • A genuine desire to achieve that goal
  • Feedback that indicates what they are doing well and what they are not doing well

I have been reflecting recently on my feedback and coaching sessions have unfortunately,  not been helpful. Sometimes I have been distracted, often infrequent, vague, — and as a result, leaders tend to be less proactive about getting more of it. Low-quality feedback sessions or coaching session is not useful, positive feedback is undervalued, and negative feedback delivered unskillfully can set my team back.

Without clear goals and data measuring how close or far they are from reaching them, my middle leaders will continue to find it difficult to grow and improve. When delivered thoughtfully, however, feedback can provide leaders with the actionable data they need to become more effective.

If you want to get the feedback that is necessary to improve your leadership, there are a few steps you can take.

Build a safe environment. Sharing feedback is often risky. To increase the likelihood of your colleagues taking that risk with you, show them that their honesty is not bad. Being curious starts with having the right mindset, or believing that you have something useful to learn. It is demonstrated by asking your teammates open-ended questions that you really don’t know the answers to: “What could go wrong if we try this?” Acknowledging your weaknesses or mistakes along the way are great ways to be open and vulnerable.

Ask for feedback skillfully. Asking “What did you hear when I shared my strategy?”, “How often do I interrupt people in meetings?”, personal impact (“How did it feel to you when I sent that email?”

Request both positive and negative data.  Praise tells us someone is happy with us and thinks we are performing well. Praise sounds like: “Nice job!”; “You were great in that meeting.”; “Great presentation!” While it feels good constructive criticism is ok also because you have created that relational trust.  

When receiving feedback, give your full attention and listen carefully. Eliminate distractions, including your phone and laptop, and focus fully on the person giving the feedback.

Don’t debate or defend. If you find yourself disagreeing with some feedback, practice self-awareness and notice this reaction. It is ok to be wrong also.

This all I have for now. Do you run coaching sessions? How are you going with them?

Catholic Teachers Focus

31 Mar

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One of my soapboxes is that Catholic education is more than having a religion class every day and learning about the Sacraments or ways of our faith. Catholic education is living out the Sacraments and treating one another well.  Catholic education is being able to recognize a student that is struggling with a difficult situation and approaching that student and saying a quick prayer. Catholic education is being able to find those teachable moments and guiding a student to learn to trust the Holy Spirit will guide them to become an even stronger student.

Placing Christ as the centre of my teaching is essential. It’s not just important because I teach at a Catholic school, but it’s also important because my students deserve it. Students deserve an environment where they can grow and learn in the faith. They want this environment. They want opportunities to ask questions about Catholicism.

Our theme at school this year is living our lives with love. As teachers in a catholic school we have to continue to let our light shine. We cannot stop letting it shine because of challenges that we may encounter. We need to have our lights shine brighter during these difficult moments. We each face challenges throughout our lives, but we need to find ways to let our light shine through any crack in that challenge and find a motivation to move forward.

I need to ask myself in our environment ‘Am I there to teach or am I there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God?’

I feel I am there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God. I enjoy attending Mass and participating in liturgy as a school. I need to be reminded of how my students are forming their conscience and growing in their faith. This reminder makes me realize that I am still learning and growing in my faith.

The growth of my students is an aspect of their learning that I find joy in undergoing. Yes, I am there to teach them history, numeracy, literacy, reading, and rope climbing. But more importantly than the national curriculum or the key competencies, I am around to teach them how to be positive members of our community. I am there to teach them that decisions need to be made with faith and morality as their guide. My faith needs to be a role model. My responsibility is to the community, the parish, the parents, and most importantly the students. If I can’t provide my students with the best religious education experience possible, I need to find ways to do that. I need to lead them to a stronger relationship with Christ.

Catholic education is my vocation. I feel that I have been called to be a teacher in a Catholic school. I feel that I need to be in a classroom to share my faith and to learn with my students. I want to be in the classroom and grow in faith. Teachers need to share the why they are teaching with students and I do share with them my reasons.

Catholic educators need to provide opportunities for students to grow their faith. Walk along the path with them as they journey through new ways to grow their faith. Being a Catholic school teacher is a privilege. Teachers need to treat it as such. Where else can we participate in the education of children and help them become positive leaders in our faith all while growing in our own faith at the same time?

 

Not Leading …

28 Mar

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Leadership is hard but it’s also important. Vitally important. And it begins with how leaders treat people. Unfortunately, if you’re a leader and you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. Ineffective leaders are those who have all of the attributes from the above list. Have you worked for one? What would you do differently?

I have found how I lead in the school environment depends on the situation. I need to remember they have to work with people who may not be on board with those big dreams, and they lose those best intentions. I sometimes enter into the situation ready to move forward, but because of mandates, rules and the politics of distraction (Hattie. 2015) I become insecure and not sure what to do first. As leaders, when we have so many choices of where to start we sometimes choose not to choose at all. I often use the GROW MODEL. Understanding the current reality is important, but what should be on our radar is not always so glaringly obvious.

In Stephen Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People he shows us this.  Covey showed me leadership isn’t about getting what we want and feeding our egos. Leadership is about raising the self-efficacy of others and collectively working to improve our school community together. That happens in creative communities more than it happens in compliant communities, and we know which 7 habits belong to each one.

Just like there are habits of highly successful leaders, there are habits that can bring leaders to a place of ineffectiveness.

These are things which I have been reflecting on this week as we reach the crunch time of the term.

Be reactive – Leaders who always seem to not see things coming and lack the ability to work with their school community on a collective goal.

There’s no end in mind – Everyone in the school is working on their individual goals…if they have one…and the leader doesn’t think about the future as much as they keep getting stuck in issues in the present.

Ego first – In Jim Knight’s work we talk a lot about status. Leaders have it because of their position. However, great leaders have status but they lower theirs and raise the status of those around them, which is often referred to self-efficacy. Unfortunately there are leaders who let their ego rule and that’s what they lead with every time.

My way or the highway – Instead of focusing on being collaborative and working with these leaders are more concerned with controlling everything and getting their own way. They walk into a faculty meeting with one idea and walk out with the same one.

Seek to be understood – Ego first. My way or the highway. Get on the waka or get out.

Discord – These leaders always seem to disagree with someone and they try their best to build consensus by getting others to agree with them at the same time they vilify those who disagree with them.

Efficacy Killers – These leaders are consistently going after new initiatives, so their staff feel tired, lost and insecure. They micromanage and look for compliance on all issues.

I sometimes see myself here but not often. The Leadership Framework is now a key document for all teachers. We are all leaders in some way. How is this reflected in your appraisal documentation?

 

Catholic Parish and School

16 Mar

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In the catholic education sector we recognize that our schools can support some of our parents by offering more opportunities for communal prayer and providing information to help them work on deepening their faith with their children; however, we also recognize the diversity of our communities and we welcome children and families from all religions of the world in our schools. All our celebrations, liturgies and para-liturgies are inclusive and are designed to allow children to develop their own spiritual identity whether as Catholics, Christians of other denominations or of other faiths. The biculturalism of our nation demands it. As a New Zealanders I expect it. Catholic schools promote personal and communal prayer and reflection and as a community of faith we seek to empower each individual to understand, live and bear witness to his/her faith whilst maintaining a respectful awareness of others’ beliefs. We are on a journey of faith together as a community. We often talk about Student Learning Outcomes in educational circles but what is our desired “outcome” for our children, or for that matter ourselves? For most of us that is an eschatological dimension – something beyond our current reality. In establishing our personal relationships with God we can subsequently grow as a community of faith and journey together towards passing the ultimate test and securing everlasting life.

Why should we assess?

10 Mar

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Schools often ask  when they should use standardized  testing.  Twice a year?  Once a year ? There is no definitive answer, just a few questions, which, when answered by the school, will make choosing the time of year to assess more logical.

In a way, the introduction of teachers making their overall teacher judgement about where a student sits in the NZ curriculum, has given schools much more freedom in their assessment choices. Moderation is more common and teachers are using a range of assessments, with few relying on single sources of evidence  to make their judgement (Wylie, & Berg 2013).  So where does standardized testing fit in to the assessment picture?

The NZ Curriculum has a good statement at the beginning of its assessment section on pg. 39:

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both …respond to the information it provides. 

Keep that statement in mind as you ask yourself:

  • What information do I need to gather on which children?
  • Does the assessment chosen match the teaching  the students have received?
  • What is the purpose for gathering this data – how will it help teaching and learning?

There are many different reasons teachers choose standardized assessments to support their judgement. For many schools, the days of blanket testing twice a year for all students are gone.The reasons for using standardized assessment are becoming more considered, more refined, as schools underpin their self-review with deliberate planning.

Reasons might be:

  • Closely monitoring a particular cohort of children who have received specific interventions
  • Tracking the progress of the cohort identified in the annual target
  • Gathering information for a priority  learning group
  • Gathering school-wide data to inform strengths and needs in a subject
  • Gathering year group data to inform strengths and needs
  • Assessing teaching strategies in a particular subject
  • Getting reassurance about the moderation process and decisions about individual children
  • Cluster data to improve collaboration around improving teaching and learning in a particular subject
  • To monitor progress, determine professional development needs, and assess the value of interventions in a particular area

Schools have enormous freedom now to choose the tool and the time that best suits their purpose, but it requires a collaborative response to the question:

What is the purpose for this assessment?

Assessment and Agency and all that Jazz…

5 Mar

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We can be committed to learner agency and different forms of assessment but often still over assess. I came across the great article from NZCER.

Teachers making decisions about their students’ achievements based on a range of sources of evidence is the cornerstone of an effective cycle of inquiry in any school. The evidence-based cycle of inquiry is the engine that drives improvement to teaching and learning in classrooms and in school-wide initiatives (Timperley et al, 2010).  Research says this is how you make a difference.

The expectation is that it is the professional responsibility of teachers to decide what the students can and can’t do, using multiple sources of evidence. That evidence will inform the decisions schools make to meet the needs of their students. Isn’t that what we’ve always done and continue to do?

Learner agency is about moving students from passively responding to acting with purpose to reach a desired goal or outcome. When students have an authentic purpose and audience beyond their teacher to share what they are learning, they are more motivated to learn and often go above and beyond.  I am excited to see more schools moving toward structures that empower learners to share and drive their learning process through portfolios and student-led conferences. Opportunities for learners to share their work beyond the teacher in student-led exhibitions can be powerful to ensure students have an authentic audience and are doing work that has value.

We can teach necessary skills while creating experiences that allow learners to take ownership of the process. Learners have access to an abundance of resources and experts that enable us all to learn in ways that extend beyond the expertise of one teacher or classroom. By tapping into those resources, we can create more experiences that can allow students to apply their newly learned skill in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them and others.

Your Why?

24 Feb

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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

 

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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.

 

 

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