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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.

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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.

 

Doing it Better

21 Oct

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I have a lot on my plate at the moment. Last week I worked over 60 hours at school with many crucial meetings and by the time Friday came around I was tired. As a result, I made a couple of errors and let standards slip. Part of being a good leader though, is recognising when that occurs and doing something about it. And here I go doing something about it.

Yes, I know that leadership in schools in the 21st century is complex and challenging and most of the time I feel like I’m on top of things. On Friday night, it took me one km in the pool that night and a rigorous 8km run on Saturday morning to finally gain control of my emotions and to think it all through and plan a way forward.

You see, there are times when you are tested as a leader, often when you least expect it. The most important thing that I have learned as a leader is to work on your self-leadership skills. If you can’t lead yourself, then you will never, ever lead others successfully.

So what did I learn:

  • Breathe deeply and give yourself time to think. Consider that sometimes your biggest problem may be your biggest opportunity. Choose actions that will make you a better person. Actions that are aligned to your values and reflect what you love to do.
  • Use a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset ensures strategies to keep learning and growing. A Fixed Mindset will stall your growth and development and you will find yourself blaming others.
  • Remember that working your way through problems and frustrations will develop your resilience.
  • Remember that it’s not always about you. It’s about what you can do to help others grow and develop.
  • Always focus on learning. What am I learning and how can I improve.
  • There is always tomorrow. The staff at our school are reading one of four books over the summer holidays.

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.

 

Friday Reflection: October 20

19 Oct

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Our students need the skills to know when they are being manipulated so they can take control of their learning and their life. They also need to know that if they get a recommendation from a company to purchase something, they don’t have to buy it. They need to be able to spot fake news. They need to be critical thinkers. They need to be sceptical, curious, and critically consider what will be best for them. That’s our job as educators. It’s about encouraging learners to have a voice and choice so they are intrinsically motivated to want to learn.

Let’s help them navigate the new world of what some call “personalization.” But let’s be clear what that means for teaching and learning and fight for our students so they are the ones personalizing their learning experiences with teachers guiding the process not a company that is using their data to tell them that they know best how they learn.

We need students that are not “compliant” following the leads from a company based on clicks. They are so much smarter than we give them credit. We need to encourage learners at a very young age to learn how to learn, to reflect on their learning and to be the ones in control of their learning so they are lifelong, self-directed learners.

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.

Leaders and Listening

24 Sep

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One of the most important tips on leadership I have received was from my Mum. She has not lead a school and she left school at a very young age but she knows a thing of two about leadership. I only have to look at my siblings as evidence of that. Her tip was always LISTEN.

I have been really moved this week through my coaching sessions. Once again, I have been reminded of the tip from my Mum regarding listening. I have been reminded that when individuals are listened to deeply, they are given a space which quite simply allows them to be. In this space they learn to take off the armour, to be vulnerable, to show true emotion, fear and courage and through doing so re-connect with what matters to them most. This is when relational trust really occurs.

The simple act of being listened to, become the means through which people begin to unwind and take a step back from the stresses of their roles. Active and emphatic listening is so important. It is the ability to listen to another in such a way that they know that their own self-worth is not dependent on anything that they either say or do. Emphatic listening is powerful because when listened to in this way, individuals feel a great sense of liberation. The act of being listened to so deeply helps them to listen to and understand themselves with a greater degree of accuracy. Thoughts, feelings and emotions that may have been weighing them down are released. As a result individuals are able to experience a lighter emotional and mental state.

Through emphatic listening, fear and internal emotional blockages are cleared. Individuals become more in tune with their own emotions. They learn not to run away from them, but learn to listen and understand them; so that they are able to exhibit greater control over their behaviours, particularly in stressful situations. When individuals master the art of self-control and self-management they show up as a more balanced and in control version of themselves.

As a school leader it is important to find someone to listen to you, to be that critical friend yourself. I know the team I have is invaluable. Shout out to them this week. You know who you are.

 

Culture vs Strategy

19 Sep

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Is culture really more important than strategy to an organisation? Peter Drucker’s oft-quoted appreciation for the importance of culture is rooted in his strong belief in community. But surely a company that places greater value on culture over strategic planning is doomed to failure? I don’t think so. In fact, when it comes to schools, I think culture devours everything it encounters.

While places of learning need to be strategic, nothing is more important than school culture, what Michael Fullan refers to as “the guiding beliefs and expectations evident in the way a school operates”. Culture is all about people. Therefore it follows that the single most important thing a great school needs is great teachers

We know that placing the latest cutting edge technology in the hands of a weak teacher will do little to improve learning. And so it is in a school with a great strategy and a weak culture. School leaders need to pay more attention to recruiting the very best teachers then supporting them in a collaborative, supportive environment that enables them not only to embrace change, but to lead it.

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?

 

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.

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