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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.

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Robinson

11 Dec

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Ken Robinson’s views on education have been well documented in his TED Talks. His most famous talk from 2006, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, is the most viewed TED of all-time. Yet, one can discern something of a Robinson backlash. I have heard and read the following perspectives:

(1) He’s not an educator. He has no idea what he’s talking about.

(2) He’s just a performer. Have you any idea how much he gets paid for these talks?

(3) It’s the same populist message, delivered the same way, every time.

I find his message inspiring as, evidently, do thousands of educators the world over. He speaks not of policy, but human truth. It is also true that he is a highly entertaining and disarming speaker – but this is hardly a negative for someone trying to convey an important message. His quick wit, narrative talent, and incisive perspectives are what make his delivery compelling and important

But his relate to are a challenge to the world of Contrived Complexity. As I rrewatched him this week, three statements stood out:

  • “Can we stop all this talk and just have a curriculum that works?”
  • “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have special needs.”
  • “A great school is about the relationship between teachers and students.”

If these three simple principles were applied to schools, what would the net impact be on learning? Perhaps topic for the next HOF Inquiry.

Lego and Learning

4 Dec

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Invention was the key to Lego’s appeal for me growing up. The fun of building, breaking, and rebuilding. Using pieces of that were not lego because we had lost a piece. So of those pieces were gems. That was where the challenge lay. We learnt through trial and error, through testing and refining. More wheels don’t make things go faster – the increased friction actually slows them up. The walls of buildings need to interlock with each other occasionally or they fall over. I may not have grown up to be a mechanic, a bricklayer, or a vet, but I gained some valuable understandings about how things work.

Contrast that with today’s experience of building a Lego set. Certainly there are still valuable skills and experiences to be gained: following instructions with care and the sense of satisfaction upon completion. But the words “I’m finished” are not something I have ever associated with Lego. Had we ever uttered them, our parents would have simply said “Well, build something else.” Today, many children would consider it sacrilege to convert their immaculate Jedi Interceptor into a homemade bulldozer or their Hogwarts Castle into a skyscraper. In many bedrooms, ‘completed’ Lego models sit on the shelf, an end unto themselves.

From creation to replication – therein seems to lie the change in Lego. Teaching our children to be artisans who can recreate objects, carefully and methodically crafting them from a template, is a useful skill. But encouraging them to be artists, with the confidence and creativity to create and refine original designs, may be more useful still.

Which leads to the other sneaky change – from collaborative to solo pursuits. Learners memories are communal; they are of competition and co-operation. There were highest tower races, last-car-standing demolition derbies, joint construction projects and endless haggling as my brothers and sisters and I bartered for pieces from each other’s piles. It is true that, once built, a modern day themed set does provide the basis for interactive play. However, does it replace the life-lessons of building together?

Having recently seen the Lego Star Wars Wii game being played in virtual reality on a big screen, I should be glad that the solid little plastic bricks of my childhood still even exist. Nevertheless, I challenge parents to the following next time you are cleaning your child’s room:
1. ‘Accidently’ drop two or three of their completed Lego models on the floor
2. If they still have the original instruction sheets, hide them
3. When they get home from school, tell them to rebuild. It builds resilience
4. Better still, challenge them to build something completely different

Living the Mission

30 Nov

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I love the writing of Malcolm Gladwell. His latest podcast series is also simply brilliant. In Malcolm Gladwell’s text ‘Tipping Point’, he references the concept of ‘Broken Windows’, the brainchild of James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, promulgating that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. The following has been adapted from this text. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.In the mid 1980s Kelling was hired by the New York Transit Authority as a consultant, and he urged them to put the Broken Windows theory into practice. They obliged, bringing in a new subway director by the name of David Gunn to oversee a multibillion dollar rebuilding of the subway system. Many subway advocates, at the time, told Gunn not to worry about ‘small’ issues such as graffiti and to focus on the larger questions of crime and subway reliability.

But Gunn insisted that the graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system. He stated: “When you looked across at the process of rebuilding of the organisation and morale, you had to win the battle against graffiti. Without winning that battle, all the management reforms and physical changes just weren’t going to happen. Gunn drew up a new management structure and a precise set of goals and timetables aimed at cleaning the system line by line, train by train. Gunn made it a rule that there should be no retreat, that once a car was “reclaimed” it should never be allowed to be vandalised again. “We were religious about it,” Gunn said. The idea was to send a perspicuous message to the vandals themselves. Gunn’s graffiti clean-up took place from 1984 to 1990.

At thatpoint, the Transit Authority hired William Bratton to head the transit police, and the second stage of the reclamation of the subway system began. Bratton was, like Gunn, a disciple of Broken Windows. With felonies on the subway system at an all-time high, Bratton decided to crack down on fare-beating. He believed that, like graffiti, fare-beating could be a signal, a small expression of disorder that invited much more serious crimes. Bratton turned the transit police into an organisation focused on the smallest infractions, on the details of life underground.

The positive effect on both the subway from the approaches of Gunn and Bratton were remarkable. After the election of Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York in 1994, Bratton was appointed head of the New York City Police Department, and he applied the same strategies to the city at large. When crime began to fall in the city, as quickly and dramatically as it had in the subways, Bratton and Giuliani pointed to the same cause. Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, they said, were the tipping points for violent crime.

This is got me thinking this week.  That is, the small, immediate things do matter. So when we ask the students to look tidy, or be punctual to class or pick up litter, we are not simply asking them to accord to a set of arbitrary requests. Rather, it is a recognition thatthe undertaking of such requests and responsibilities contribute ina meaningful manner to a broader culture and set of behaviours, attitudes and values which are aligned with the mission of our College. It is being part of society. It is Living the Mission.

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.

Fullan and Leading Change

6 Nov

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Michael Fullan has long championed the critical importance of transforming school culture and writes extensively on the topic. His perspective is also clear: “Structure does make a difference, but it is not the main point of achieving success. Transforming the culture – changing the way we do things around here – is the main point.”

For many, simply introducing change to schools is the golden bullet solution. Our recent HOF Inquiry understood this fact early. There is no point in making change unless you have clarity around “why?”

Despite the massive investments that reveal the productivity towards this trend, the reality of organizational change is far more complex. The jury is no longer out on the impact of technology on formal learning. We know that attempts to engage in change (be it digital or otherwise) without vision are simply not going to have much of an impact. Attempts to transform schools because there is some populist pressure to do so have proven similarly facile. Embracing innovation for student-centered reasons with vision and culture that is carefully cultivated to allow this vision to thrive is the way forward. I consider myself fortunate to work in a school where this is part of the ambition for every learner.

I have written about culture often recently. I guess it is on my mind. Change without attention to culture is no change at all. Levin and Shrum’s study echoes this perspective: “Leaders that engage the school community in the effective use of technology… appreciate the power of school culture. They create … cultures in which meaningful teamwork based on trust is the primary force of professional learning and continuous improvement.” This trust must be centered on a conviction that we are doing what is best for students and that, as professionals, we routinely question what this means.

The following have been on my reading list in 2017. Worth a look.

Couros, George. In the Service of the Right Aims, 2016.
Richardson, Will. Learning. All. The. Time. 2016.
Bersin, Josh. Predictions for 2017: Everything Is Becoming Digital. 2016.
Fullan, Michael. Leading in a Culture of Change. 2007.
Levin, Barbara B.  & Schrum, Lynne. Leading 21st-Century Schools: Harnessing 

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.

 

Personalized learning and technology

19 Oct

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As I was out running yesterday I was watched the people in the local shopping centre. I thought about how people live now. It is all about them. “Me” not “you.” This is one reason why social media works. Facebook is about “you” building and connecting to “your” friends. It’s about sharing what you like, liking what others do, and showing off what you do. Twitter is even more about “you.” Yes, you can use these tools to think beyond yourself. You can use these tools to promote and share. But they became big because of how they are about “You.” Even Linkedin as a professional tool is about building up “you” to the world. It’s about how many connections you have and who these connections are.

When it comes to being connected, we are more connected today than ever before. Almost everyone must have a smartphone, especially teenagers. They must be available immediately to their friends. Texting is now bigger than email and using the phone. That’s old school. With unlimited texting packages, we can write back and forth whenever we want with as many words as we want. And we do.

Interpersonal relationships mean more to most kids than their own families. They check their phone often. This is why texting why driving is such a problem. Smartphones alert you when there’s a text, a tweet, or some other response or nudge about almost anything. You are “always” connected to your network unless you turn your phone off. If they turn off their phones, they lose their connections.

I loved this clip which appeared in my feed this week:

This got me thinking about the options we are providing for students.  We can focus on learning that is personal, but we need to teach and model compassion, kindness and empathy. We need to demonstrate what it is to be part of a social network and how to look beyond yourself. We also need to use these tools so kids can learn the way they learn best. Take advantage of them. But we also need to show them that they need to look up and out at the world. Connect with others to not only build connections but to share what you learn and learn from others. Teach the skills to recognize bias, validity and authenticity. Help them to be able to articulate intelligently and thoughtfully. This is their future and right now I’m a little concerned if they are ready for it.

 

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.

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