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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.

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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.

White Space

17 Nov

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Recently, I have been reading with members of my PLN (Professional Learning Network) about the concept of white space. White space can be described as the focused time you create for yourself to slow down and reflect. I have become a proponent of this type of mindfulness. My peers have described that they create white space by running, swimming, praying, sitting and listening to music, exploring their passion in the kitchen, enjoying art, unplugging and sightseeing, and spending time with family and friends. Does white space have to be you sitting in a soundless, sterile room getting in touch with your thoughts? ‘m not sure. White space can be anything that connects you to yourself and connects you to others. Biking, running, reading, playing in the snow, all of those can be white space moments for you. I blog. it is my “winter” or white space. I’m doing this for my own benefit as well as to share and explore the white space concept with others. Recently, I read an article about how Norwegians embrace winter and I attributed some of that enjoyment to embracing white space time. I am taking on this challenge to help me reflect, learn about myself, learn from others, and embrace “my winter” in new ways. Next year I am going to encourage my teams to participate in this further.

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.

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.

Leadership in My Environment

5 Oct

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In my daily work I reflect on the Kiwi Leadership Model. These key points are Manaakitanga (leading with moral purpose), Pono (having self-belief), Ako (being a learner) and Awhinatanga (guiding, supporting, building relationships).

I reflect on the document Tü Rangatira. The metaphor running throughout the document depicts a seven key roles of the leader. All of which I need some work on. He Kaitiaki (guardian), He Kaiwhakarite (manager), He Kanohi Matara (visionary), He Kaiako (teacher and learner), He Kaimahi (worker), He Kaikötuitui (networker) and He Kaiarataki (advocate).

I believe a Principal must be an outstanding teacher.  Principals play a major role in developing a “learning community” of teachers who guide one another in improving instruction. The relationship is strong albeit indirect: Good leadership improves both teacher motivation and work settings.

Above all else my leadership philosophy has been led by a commitment to Catholic education. Jesus Christ must be at the center of this.  It is easy to become caught up in a maelstrom of secular educational issues, however it is important to focus upon the spiritual development of the child, lest he or she lose connection with our Catholic faith. The gospel of Jesus Christ and his very person are to inspire and guide the Catholic school in every dimension of its life and activity.

The key to attaining this vision of Catholic education is to ensure that we, lay educators, are well versed in Catholic teachings, as well as educational research and methodology.  Our Catholic leaders should embody servant leadership.  Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 1:43-44). .

And how do we model leadership for the youth that we serve? Once we’ve fully stepped into our own leadership, we can point out how our leadership might look different than the leadership displayed by those to our right and those to our left.

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.

 

Solutions Orientated

5 Sep

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I like to think I am solutions orientated so on the back of my last piece here are some ideas around how we can be better at catching students up.

Make Catch-Ups Purposeful

Ensuring catch up sessions aren’t just an opportunity to recover what was taught in lessons. Because this may convey the message that if they don’t listen first time in class, they can listen to it again in our time after school.

Enrich

Instead of catch up classes, can sessions after school actually go beyond the curriculum?   Can we link with specialist providers in our field to show how our subjects are used in industry?  Can we bring in experts to share their knowledge and push learning beyond its existing level?

Set Boundaries

There are students who genuinely need this additional support and I don’t know any teachers who would want to not provide this.  But do we ensure that those who need it get it rather than those who can’t be bothered getting a second chance

Phase them out

Could the way we design lessons, curriculums and schemes be reviewed?  Could we analyse our teaching and learning?  Asking the question why additional sessions are actually needed could lead to some real improvements to the department.  Why do we not have the time to deliver the course in lessons?  Why isn’t the content sticking? How could we use technology to complement this?

In conclusion though and why would you remove them if hardworking students are seeking to improve their grades further?  But then again, would removing them and addressing why we might need them solve the problem itself?

Helicopter Institutions

4 Sep

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It is Mock Exam time at our place next week. It is a busy term with a variety on. We are busily running extra sessions for students so it made me question: Does the presence of extra sessions, Study Days, or 24 hour access through the flipped classroom give the message to students that even if you produce minimal work in lessons then there is still time for you to catch up later on? Are we creating a helicopter institution?

I chatted to a knowledgeable student today and posed this exact question about additional catch up sessions.  They came up with a number of reasons in a balanced way justifying their place, and even their removal, from school.  One of the biggest things he said was that the presence of them might be giving students who “can’t be bothered” a reason to choose not to do any work.  The knowledge that they could catch up at a later date might allow them to pick and choose when they wanted to do anything in actual lesson time.

With the creation of additional sessions after school, are we inadvertently creating two schools?  With the school day ending does another one begin?

Are the pressures of teaching being passed onto students?

With the increased levels of accountability and pressure for results, do teachers feel that they are required to run these sessions to fulfil targets?

With this in mind, is the expectation and requirement of students to attend these sessions actually removing the love of learning?   Are additional sessions shifting the responsibility for student’s grades from the student and onto the teacher?  Does it feel like we have to work harder to get students through their NCEA or National Standards?

With workload itself being a national talking point, are we laying more pressure on teachers to not only teach their timetabled lessons, but to also teach additional lessons outside of curriculum time?

Because we want the best for our students, and we want to ensure we have the best results possible for our own professional progress, do we feel that we should be doing these sessions?  Is that part of the problem though?  If they weren’t rolled out in schools would students work harder?  So can we be that little bit better at using catch up classes?

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.

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