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Leading with Purpose

8 Sep

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Some thoughts this week on being a leader in schools:

  1. Lead with purpose.

Too often, school leaders find themselves leading on automatic pilot, following old habits and modes of thinking, which trigger automated and unconscious responses. But when things get hard, you need to be able to have a reasoned, rational response — and that can only happen when you press pause and allow yourself to respond from a place of greater alignment and authenticity.

  1. Understand how your thoughts impact your emotions and behaviours. 

Our thoughts create our reality, but we seldom realise it. Too caught up in the busyness of life and Headship, you may have little time to realise that the thought you woke up with this morning impacted your behaviours and emotions throughout the day. If you can master your mind and your thought processes, you’ll experience greater mental clarity, self-awareness, and a belief in your ability to take control of your circumstances.

  1. Take care of your physical health.

Over the last five years I have pick up the training bug. My body does feel a little sore some mornings but I know it has contributed to my success. It’s easy to live in your head, but there’s no getting away from your body, so you need to consciously take care of it. This is closely tied to your emotional health too, since emotions that aren’t processed get stored in the body.

What are you doing to look after yourself as a long term leader?

 

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Supporting Your Students

3 Sep

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When students struggle, many of us see the vastness of their struggle and try to solve it all at once. We end up throwing the kitchen sink at them, trying to fill in every gap and meet every challenge they face. But when students struggle in class, they are struggling for a specific reason. Sure, they may have several learning gaps and challenges, but at that moment, their struggle can usually be tied to a very specific learning gap or challenge. Rather than try to fill EVERY need a struggling learner faces, we need to target what they need right now. The better we are at pinpointing their specific source of struggle, the better we will be at solving it. Acceleration helps us target the source of students’ struggle today and quickly get students back on track so that they can be successful immediately. We should always remember that our students are not problems waiting to be solved but gifts and should be treated with dignity.

Well- Being

31 Aug

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As a leader in a school, school development is fundamentally tied to emotional development — yours and that of others. Emotional intelligence only has meaning when you’re in relationships with others, and even more so when these relationships test your emotions.

School leadership is a journey on which each and every day you have to learn how to respond consciously to the stresses of your role instead of simply reacting and putting out fires. People who know will smile when they read that as it is a common comment I make.

There are going to be times when you’ll feel like a stranger to yourself as you try to find new frames of reference for handling new circumstances, relationships, and challenges.

Admitting your own vulnerabilities when faced with the challenges of school leadership isn’t a form of weakness — it’s what will get you through. Indeed it has got me through. I accept who I am and so do those I work with.

What’s more, if you don’t get the support you need in the role (and my goodness I am so lucky I do), you’ll end up overwhelmed with the enormity of your role and be emotionally drained. At this time there is so much literature about well-being in schools take time next week to look after yourself.

Friday thought on Culture

28 Aug

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A collaborative culture also leads to higher levels of trust and respect among colleagues and translates to improved student learning. Empowered learning requires investment in technology. It requires talented teachers who are supported. But too often the infrastructure and the investment are as far as the planning goes. Government agencies and district leaders are left frequently bewildered by the lack of impact of huge investments. This vital message is, in many instances, ignored: it’s the culture, stupid.

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.”

The best schools and the deepest learning are characterized by one simple truth. The work is about individual learner needs, not systems. It’s about the ecosystem and a humane environment that permits teachers to work for the students, not the system. As everything becomes digital, school culture matters more than ever.

Fullan, Michael. Leading in a Culture of Change. 2007.

Teaching as Inquiry

11 Aug

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The culture of inquiry is so important in our school among all ako. By that I mean students and teachers. As part of our annual plan I have been thinking a great deal about these. For a superb summary of this please click here.  Here some thoughts on the topic:

A Good Question

Questions are an effective way to frame a unit of inquiry. When students struggle to find the answer, it raises the level of inquiry. Questions encourage students to think outside of their class/content area. The inquiry needs to be framed up by this.

Five Benefits of Good Questions:

  1.  Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
  2.  The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
  3.  Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
  4.  Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
  5.  Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.

Reflection

Reflection is a lost art in classrooms and by teachers. We are constantly battling paper. With the push to cover more content and standards, teachers often make a choice between coverage or pausing for reflection. Reflection comes in many forms: reflective journals, group work, whole class, silent reflection, reviewing yesterday’s work, reflecting on an essential question, or creating a product that shows your thoughts on a previous lesson or understanding.

How often do students feel like the pace of schooling is rushed? Once a unit is finished, the teacher moves to the next unit. Reflection involves slowing down to share what we learned. In the absence of reflection, it is unlikely that a classroom is a Culture of Inquiry. How do students reflect and make meaning out of their experiences?

Learning takes place when inquiry is present. As you meet with your teacher team to develop lessons and assessments, analyse the amount of time students have to question, talk with their peers, and reflect. Career Readiness is not a score on a test or NCEA. Readiness means that students graduate with the skills that provide them with opportunities for success beyond high school. Here’s a thought. Contemplate how the courses in your school foster critical thinking, problem solving, and application of academic knowledge.

 

Being Hamstrung by Policy

1 Aug

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This week as part of my role we were looking at policy with the BOT. To run effectively, schools require policies, guidelines and procedures. They are important to give schools points of reference from which to operate and ensure that everyone in the organisation is on the same page.

Every school that I know has some form of staff handbook; a manual for staff that usually provides details of the school’s key policies and procedures. Depending on where you have worked, these manuals vary considerably in terms of their content, both in length and quality. You can gain an idea about the school culture when you ask teachers whether they know about what is in the staff handbook and the policies that they are aware of and are familiar with. School leaders are often frustrated when staff are not aware of the policies that have been put in place; many of them to support teachers in realizing important aspects of a school’s vision and mission and safeguarding of students’ well being.

Sp why the disconnect? Why are teachers not so familiar with the school handbooks, policies and procedures?

Could it be that teachers cannot be bothered? Perhaps they do not see the relevance until it the manual needs to be consulted, after all we are professionals, right?

There’s an element of truth in all these plausible responses.

Fact: Policies are not an enjoyable part of teaching, so making them attractive and interesting to read is not easy.

Fact: Policies are an important part of being professional and ensuring important levels of consistency in how people work together in a school.

So, how do school’s overcome the problem in having clear and effective policies that are viewed as important and are adhered to by the staff?

Cut down the number of policies
Too many policies and procedures make it difficult to enforce all of them, so cut down the number of policies in order to reduce any cynicism that may be aimed at their ineffectiveness.

Collaborate
Where possible, create collaborative teams to establish new policy or review existing ones. We have plenty of tools to create these.

Regularly refer to policies at staff hui and whakakaha
Keep important policies front and center to the work that is being done. It is important, therefore, to spend time looking at them in meetings and discussing their application. For example, if your school has an academic honesty policy or behaviour management policy, give it life in meetings rather than let it sit and gather dust on the shelf.

Support Systems

28 Jul

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On a cold Friday afternoon in term 3 it’s easy to lose sight of why you wanted to get into school leadership to begin with, but my faith or vocation is the anchor that will keep me going when times get tough. If it’s been a while since you thought about your anchor, then make it a priority this week to set aside some time and think it through again. What are your values? What gives you energy and joy? Why did you want to do this job to begin with?

Once you’ve done that, you can then take stock of where you are now and where there may be some gaps between the reality and your big why. How can you bridge those gaps?

You need to make sure that you have some good emotional and mental support, and I’m not talking about other school leaders. While it’s great to have industry friends, what so often tends to happen is that school leaders transition from comforting each other into sharing war stories. When this happens the conversations place a drain on your emotions and you only end up feeling even more battle weary. Having a neutral source of support outside your immediate circle is so important. Conversations with a professional outside of your context can enable you to gain new insights and see your problems from a different perspective. Rather than drain you, these conversations help to fill up your emotional wells so that you are able to approach the demands of your job with renewed energy and vigour. Let me know about your anchor. Would love to hear from you. 

A Relational Approach

23 Jul

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I am a great believer in starting with a clean slate. There is no better to time to this than at the start of the term. The first day of the school term and every day after provides the perfect opportunity to stand at your door, in the hallways, and meet and greet everyone. When I mean everyone, I mean everyone! I propose this because we will never know what student or colleague will build a connection with us. These short and sincere encounters with people in our communities are what begin to build the strong fibers of an interconnected environment. Ask: What is your name? What is your favorite thing about school? What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your interests? How has his day been so far? Relationships, like trust, build slowly over time. As leaders in the community we must provide the time and space to nurture all kinds of relationship building, whenever possible. What would our schools be like if we knew everyone? Building relationships with everybody helps all of us build a community. A whanau. It allows us to know who connects with whom and who can support whom in a time of need. The same can be said with staff culture.

What are your best practices in relationship building? Where do you struggle? Share both with us below in the comments sections—we’ll celebrate along with you and troubleshoot wherever necessary.

Being Relational and Empathy

16 Jul

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Empathy is so important and it something we all need to work on. Empathy is now considered one of the most important skills in the 21st Century. Teaching empathy. Learning empathy. It is something I reflect on often in my role. When interview students and staff I think about these things. I found at a recent workshop on the Law and Education that being good at these things solved so many problems.

When interviewing I practice the following:

  • Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you. A conversation started from one question should go on as long as it needs.
  • Never say “usually” when asking a question. Instead, ask about a specific instance or occurrence, such as “tell me about the last time you ______.”
  • Encourage stories. Whether or not the stories people tell are true, they reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.
  • Look for inconsistencies. Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Be aware of body language and emotions. Have tissues handy.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. If you allow for silence, a person can reflect on what they’ve just said and may reveal something deeper.
  • Don’t suggest answers to your questions. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.
  • Ask questions neutrally. “What do you think about buying gifts for your spouse?” is a better question than “Don’t you think shopping is great?” because the first question doesn’t imply that there is a right answer.
  • Don’t ask binary questions. Binary questions can be answered in a word; you want to host a conversation built upon stories.

Super Coach

4 Jul

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There is no doubt that Graham Henry has a wonderful ability to bring out the best in others. Most School leaders recognize that performance management is an essential process that exists in schools for managing adult behavior. However, because the process is often seen as perfunctory, and in some cases is not seen as a significant driver to assist school improvement, a real opportunity is missed for developing potential and bringing out the best in others.   When school leaders are skilled in using the principles of coaching to assist their performance management meetings they help to create a clear path for creating a school culture where there is an organic sense of self-improvement fueled by the genuine and self-motivated desire of all individuals to make things better.

When a school’s culture is as described above, what is created is a set of common understanding and beliefs about performance management. That accepts it as a process for accelerating the achievement of school targets through:   – Creating alignment between organisational and personal objectives – Growing and developing others – Enabling others to step outside of their comfort zones – Supporting others to achieve their full potential – Inspiring confidence in other’s ability to succeed – Ensuring ownership and accountability.   When opposite beliefs and attitudes exist about the purpose and value of performance management, school cultures are created in which individuals: – Struggle to take responsibility for their own actions – Become dependent on others for solutions and place limitations on their own ability to problem solve – Lack the internal motivation and desire to succeed – Weaken their ability to take risks and learn from error. Graham Henry like many great coaches did this so well.

When coaching is placed firmly at the heart of the performance management process, teachers and other staff members experience a process in which belief in the development of human potential becomes central to the conversation.Individuals come to see more fully their unique role and the contributions they can make towards bringing about improvements in their school. Rather than seeing it as something that is done to them, they begin to understand what it means to be accountable to themselves and others and they start to own the process.

With self accountability, comes confidence and growth. With growth comes an increased sense of one’s own potential. When one has both confidence and a true sense of what could be, then a space is created for the individual to try and test out new behaviours.

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