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Things to Think About?

20 Dec

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Great schools all have one thing in common: great organizational culture. I have reflected on this many times this year. Here some things, which I think, are important:

  1. Don’t Micro-Manage Teachers/Middle Managers

Teachers and principals need to be focused on one thing: their students. Too often, their focused is shifted from maximizing student achievement to compliance issues, paperwork, or other aspects that are not important or urgent. However, they will get email after email, memo after memo, reminding them to complete the tasks that will have no bearing on student achievement. Let them keep their focus on students. Trust in them that they know what their students need. After all, they are with them all day long.

  1. Give The Staff a Voice

No one likes to have decisions dictated from the top down. Teachers and principals must be trusted to make decisions for the students they work with. These decisions need to come from within.

  1. Share Success with Your Community

The use of Social Media here is really useful here.

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Summer Goals

15 Dec

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Summer is here and so is my month long break from school. The following are my goals for the summer or at least until January 15.

De-clutter: We as teachers need to take time to let it go. Have a clean out and get rid of all those daily worries for the time being. January will bring new perspectives.

Reflect on Your School Year: Here is another opportunity to take advantage of specific starting and ending points in our profession. Make time with a colleague to reflect upon the school year. Discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what you will do differently next year. This process will help bring closure to one year and set you up for the next year.

Spend Time With Loved Ones and Reconnect: As teachers, we spend our entire day with other people’s children. From the early morning until the late afternoon, we interact with very few adults. Take time over the summer to have adult conversations.

Have a Real Coffee: With others or By yourself. Most people don’t understand that teachers can’t go out for lunch. We just do not have the time. Do it over the summer.! Be an adult.

Read and Relax: Especially not work related content. Enough said.

Evaluation 2017: Part One

27 Nov

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Sometimes as we reflect on the end of year I get the feeling of wanting to jump out of a moving car. Sometimes you have to be outside the journey to reflect on it. I have been reflecting on a host of issues as we evaluate annual goals and head towards 2018.

Bridge the Gap
Our HOF Inquiry taught us a great deal around this. It’s time to bridge this gap. It’s so easy for those who “want change” to keep pursuing a change agenda without having an understanding of what this feels like in the classroom. The next, new thing is just too alluring for some who do not take the time to understand current realities and demands on teachers. I am a firm advocate for change, but I also believe that major change needs to be managed, supported, and phrased appropriately. The pace at which change is adopted in schools and the potential for groupthink around change management that requires greater procedural mindfulness should become a significant management focus in schools.

Set Clear Personal Guidelines around Our Technology Use
I generally find that technology saves me a lot of time at work. Many issues that used to require meetings can be dealt with through an efficient email. But as a recent BBC report has found, we lack discipline when we use email and tend to use it selfishly: “People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate.”   It is all about our outlook and our self-discipline … it’s not about the technology.

Demand That Meetings Have a Purpose and Are Run Efficiently
We have all been invited to meetings with no clear purpose, agenda, outcome or value. Meetings should be carefully planned, tightly run, and participants should not only understand the purpose and outcome, they should participate. Scheduled meetings should be cancelled if the agenda is not pressing.

School Leaders Must Take Responsibility For Managing the Pace

Mindfulness needs to start and be modelled from the top. In their book, The Mindful Leader, Brown and Olson make the point that reflective practice is something that many leaders are simply not good at: “Although many of us are charged with leading learning organizations, and learning theory describes the importance of reflection for consolidation and scaffolding the next level of insights, in education we tend not to create pauses for thinking and feeling in our learning and leading, or do so only superficially.”

We need to remind ourselves and our students that being healthy and happy is the key to learning effectively. We need to breathe. We need to stop doing the things we have always done because we have always done them. We need to grade less. We need to collaborate more. We need to scrap excessive content and engage in stimulating, creative learning that places us in the zone, in our element. We need to alter the conception of success as someone who spends all day in the office to the individual who works smartly and leaves the office or classroom with enough time to do something that sustains a personal passion. We need to breathe. We have choices.

I have been thinking a great deal about this quote:

“If you get the culture right in the school … then everything grows and takes care of itself.”

Authentic Leadership

23 Nov

 

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There is no doubt SLT who develop lasting, trusting relationships with their staff build on a foundation created by doing their job and doing it well. We need a foundation of credibility before he can earn the relational capital that creates trust. Establishing your ethos on campus comes in a variety of ways (and happens differently in each unique situation). I’ll be the first to say that each path toward trust is unique, but it’s never bad to start by managing the referrals that come your way fairly and efficiently, committing to being a learner in your leadership role, and moving toward each new year looking for ways to serve students and teachers in new ways.

It is about being mindful. Being mindful used to simply mean being consciously aware of something, but it has come to represent a state of mental being that is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment with calmness and a sense of serene acceptance. I do believe there is a larger need for all of us to be more mindful, but in the traditional sense of breathing more and taking the time to reside in the moment. I am personally less inclined towards loving-kindness meditation as I feel mindfulness as a movement is a concession to the belief that we can’t change the pace of our lives. I support the mindful revolution in schools, but not at the cost of tackling the issues that require it. To be truly mindful in schools, I think we need to find our element and be “in the zone” as Ken Robinson suggests. By finding time for our passion, Robinson contends, we will be more present, more centred, more in the here and now. This is how we should construct our schools. It’s another choice.

Trust is important also.  Trust must be earned, your work as a SLT is far from over when you reach that point. Having the respect of the teachers is not the same as having a relationship with them. Cultivating those trusting relationships is vital if you are interested in creating change (and who is not interested in creating positive change):

All leaders know the power of buy in, but it is not always the quickest road to a solution. However, getting buy in on the front end of change can make a profound difference on the success of any attempt at change in a large organization like a school.

We provide this for teachers routinely, but we rarely ask for it in return. Hearing critical feedback makes us better at providing the same for teachers, and knowing the concerns of those we serve allows us to keep a close watch on that which affects those activities.

Asking question is important. Asking these questions is not magic, but it is a great start for developing relationships through conversations with staff.

As a leader, you have to walk the walk. Credibility has a short shelf life. Even though faculty meetings and PD days are important arenas in which we must excel, we cannot only show up then.

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

15 Nov

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We are having some discussion this week and as a result looking at evidence in literature of ‘being Māori’ in learning.  In the Ministry of Education [MOE] 2013-2017 Māori Education Strategy- Ka Hikitia, there is clear focus on Māori being Māori in their learning:

This vision means ensuring that all Māori students, their parents and their whanau participate in and contribute to an engaging and enjoyable educational journey that recognises and celebrates their unique identity, language and culture” (MOE, 2013, p.13).

This opinion is supported in much of the literature and reports that have been commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

We know that Māori do much better when education reflects and values their identity, language and culture ...” (MOE, 2013,p.6).

This vision in Ka Hikitia identifies five principles of a Māori approach to learning: the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi, incorporation of identity, language and culture, ako, a two way teaching and learning process, and productive partnerships acknowledging the connection of students to whanau.

This has linked well to our HOF Inquiry this year around collaborative leaving an dpedagogy. Collaborative approaches and the importance of relationships have also been identified in the literature (Greenwood and Te Aika, 2008, p.6) including the concept of visibility ‘kanohi kitea’ (Ferguson, 2008, p.2) Thus we start to see how Māori culture and identity (kaupapa) can be incorporated into education, part of which will be eLearning. Both eLearning and the incorporation of kaupapa Māori into eLearnng are relatively new fields of education (Tiakiwai and Tiakiwai, 2010, p.6).

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

Professional Reading Weekend

28 Oct

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A have had a big weekend dedicated to professional reading. This is all part of my annual goal and to continually improve. Common themes that emerge from my reading were:

  • the importance of connecting
  • a leadership paradigm of coaching
  • collaboration and learning spaces for thinking and working in teams
  • approaching curriculum design as an innovator.

In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes about generating breakthroughs and the patterns behind innovation. The keys are: developing slow hunches over time (as opposed to sudden Eureka moments), connected minds are smarter than lone thinkers, where you think is crucial, and the best ideas come from building on the ideas of others.

In Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner contends that the disruptive nature of innovation creates challenges to traditional authority.

“Can those of us who have positional authority develop this kind of earned and enabling authority? Can our institutions of learning and work recognize and promote a new kind of authority? Can we move from top-down, compliance-based systems of accountability in our schools to forms of accountability that are more face-to-face – reciprocal and relational? And, finally, are we prepared to not merely tolerate but to welcome and celebrate the kinds of questioning, disruption, and even disobedience that come with innovation?” (Tony Wagner)

In Bringing Innovation to School, Suzie Boss makes the case for design thinking, the use of physical space, gaming for learning, and using networks for innovation.

“When teachers are fine-tuning project plans, they can use rapid prototyping to invite feedback (from colleagues, outside experts, and students), make adjustments, and then see what happens during implementation. Projects will get better with each iteration if teachers make a habit of reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and how they can improve on the plan next time around. When they approach curriculum design this way, they’re modelling what it means to think and work like an innovator.” (Suzie Boss)

Revising Mentoring

22 Oct

Contemporary business people working in team in the office

The purpose of this week’s blog is for me to reflect on my mentoring (or read coaching if you wish) with my people this year. So, here goes.

Good mentors extinguish the problem of teacher isolation and individualism. Many problems identified specifically with ineffective teaching practices are attributed to teacher isolation. This degree of socialisation is potent and the fall-back position is always the long apprenticeship of observation undertaken as school students. Being a middle leader is hard. They needed to be supported.

Good mentors ensure high levels of teacher collaboration. Relational trust among teachers is positively related to student performance in schools, and trust is constructed through face-to-face collaborative work. In successful school’s teachers are engaged in frequent, precise talk about teaching practice by observing each other teach; plan, design, research, evaluate, and prepare teaching materials together. Such collaborative structures help to decrease teacher isolation, share successful teaching practices, increase staff morale, open the door to experimentation, and increase collective efficacy.

Good mentors encourage constructive conflict. They need to push the envelope of course where appropriate. The further up a hierarchy you go, the more people attempt to avoid the zealous debates that are indispensable to great teamwork. However, conflict is normal, inherent, and essential to community practice. Conflicts help draw out and solve problems, and opposing views can be opportunities for growth and learning. Educators often find themselves in conflict because collaboration challenges norms of isolation and autonomy, and the most common response to conflict in schools is avoidance.

Good mentors model that it is OK to make mistakes. Amy Edmondson’s brilliant work reveals the importance of psychological safety for learning through leaders providing what she terms ‘the fallibility model’.

Good mentor bring in outside help.

Good mentors challenge people to question what they take for granted. Robert Kegan argues that the confusing, changing demands of modern life may be developmentally inappropriate for most adults and while it used to be adequate for people to do as they were told, today people are needed who “understand themselves and their world at a qualitatively higher level of mental complexity.” Kegan talks about moving from a socialised mind to a self-authoring mind, not just learning more but seeing things in new ways. People tend not to develop unless they are challenged in some way to question what they take for granted and people tend to slip back into old comfortable ways of thinking. Kegan uses the metaphor of a bridge, where it is incumbent upon those over the bridge to head back onto the bridge and hold out a hand to help others take the steps to get on the bridge themselves.

So I have been doing some reading. In this conference paper, Carter & Francis: ask whether mentoring just enriches the status quo and stifles professional growth?

“High amounts of professional support, including mentoring support, may only serve to entrench the status quo and stifle professional growth. The literature suggests that this is one of the central problems associated with mentoring for beginning teachers and is a recurring aspect of several case studies investigating teachers’ induction experiences. Ballantyne et al. went as far as to suggest that mentoring sometimes constrained the learning of beginning teachers rather than facilitated reflective practice…The effectiveness of multiple mentoring relationships and voluntary mentoring relationships have also been explored in the literature suggesting that the emphasis should be less on the identification of individual mentors and more on the provision of professional environments in which mentoring relationships can emerge.”

In conclusion, I really like this article from Harvard Business Review: Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You.

In 2018 I am planning to step up my efforts in this area. As I plan this will require going away to a quiet space. Watch this blog.

 

A Change in the Classroom

10 Oct

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Change happens whether we like it or not. Schools were instituted upon two fundamental certainties:

(1) Knowledge has unique value and is known best by experts

(2) The way we communicate with each other is limited by time and, very often, location.

In New Zealand have seen very significant shifts in these certainties in recent years, shifts that should have significant implications for schools.

I have been contemplating this change by keeping in mind the tools we have and our students use. What use is knowledge in the age of the smartphone? Most students carry the sum total of human information with them each day. A great deal of teaching must go around this too. If a taxi driver takes you to your destination from memory or GPS, do you care? If the GPS version is cheaper, do you begin to care?

My daughter the other night had the task of adding roman numerals for homework. To solve the problem she used a smart phone. I am certain that is not the way her teacher intended the task to be solved by that was it was awesome to observe.

Do we allow the same freedom to students with basic questions that Google can answer for them or do we judge them critically for using technology that they use naturally on a daily basis in every circumstance except school? If Siri knows basic arithmetic and the capitals of the world, do we still need to spend time on these thing?

These are the questions we should be asking to ensure we are heading in the right direction for our students? For it means more time teaching critical thinking and messy play.

Being an Expert

5 Oct

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I love the way training and teaching continually complement each other. Today’s reflection is no different. Hargreaves and Fullan state: “To ‘teach like a pro’ is a personal commitment to rigorous training, continuous learning, collegial feedback, respect for evidence, responsiveness to parents, striving for excellence, and going far beyond the requirements of any written contract.”

Taking this on board, I look around my own school and the experts begin to stick out and they may not necessarily be the most experienced. When it comes to respecting the evidence, the first words I may hear in a conversation about teaching and learning is: “In my experience…” or “from my experience…” An educator’s experience may not acknowledge any other sources of evidence, which can be problematic.

Experience allows us more opportunity for reflection, experience allows us more opportunities to get it right and experience gives us more opportunities to learn and develop wisdom. Though to be an expert teacher, we cannot rely on experience alone, we have to spend time looking at education research, questioning it, discussing it, applying it and, at times, refuting it. My experience does not carry the same weight in conversations about education, if I have not taken time to read about my profession and how I can better support students.

With 25 years in education, I can certainly call myself an experienced educator but there are colleagues that I work with who have spent less time in the profession and have considerably more expertise in certain aspects of education; I can learn from them. I have to keep reminding myself that “if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”

References:

Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne.

Hargreaves, A and Fullan, M. (2012, March). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press. ISBN: 0807753327

Restorative

10 Sep

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Restorative justice, by its nature, is a responsive practice, but I suggest that schools cannot simply implement a practice of restorative justice without considering the disparate impact that implicit bias will continue to have in the application or selective application of community-building principles on their students. We must welcome and establish critically reflective practices amongst our staff and students as we develop restorative justice in our schools, beginning with the terminology we use with which to describe the players.

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