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Leadership Reflection Term 2

16 Jul

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Leadership is hard but it’s also important. Vitally important. And it begins with how leaders treat people. Ineffective leaders are those who have all of the attributes from the above list. Have you worked for one? What would you do differently?

Understand however, that we can have situations where we may show one of those attributes in the ineffective list. For example, maybe we spend too much time being reactive. Is it possible to survey, interview and create focus groups of stakeholders to help us understand our current reality to help change from ineffective to effective? Can we work with a leadership coach to help us create a goal and achieve it?

Leadership isn’t about getting what we want and feeding our egos. Leadership is about raising the self-efficacy of others and collectively working to improve our school community together. That happens in creative communities more than it happens in compliant communities.

In Jim Knight’s work he talks a lot about status. Leaders have it because of their position. However, great leaders have status, but they lower theirs and raise the status of those around them, which is often referred to self-efficacy. Unfortunately, there are leaders who let their ego rule and that’s what they lead with every time.

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Leaders of Learning

19 May

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There are many tough jobs in a secondary school – but leading a subject area, especially a large subject area, must be one of the most difficult.  I’ve been fortunate to lead and to work with some inspiring Curriculum Leaders in recent years – who do an amazing job.  They grow and nurture a great team, who then achieve fantastic outcomes for the students they teach.  I thought I would try to make a list of some of the qualities they have:

  • Role models – they are always, first and foremost, great teachers.
  • Articulate greatness– they understand what makes great teaching within the context of their subject and can articulate this clearly with their team.
  • Set the standard– they clearly identify the standards they expect to see on a day to day basis – and live and breathe these themselves.  This creates a shared clarity of purpose.
  • Moral purpose– they have an unswerving commitment to getting the best deal possible for the students who pass through their subject.  They understand that a good education can transform life chances.
  • Expect excellence– they strongly believe that all students can get better and be successful.
  • Pride in their fiefdom– they patrol their subject area and make it clear to the students that they are in charge – and that the students will meet their expectations!
  • Parental contact– they won’t hesitate to call home – and will support their team with doing the same.
  • Understand change– they know how their team is performing and when they might be plateauing or when something is not working – and how at this point, change might be required in order to get that next bit of improvement – but they don’t just change things for the sake of it.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing– they understand that the key to a successful team, is developing great teaching.  So they talk about great teaching a lot!
  • Subject Knowledge– they encourage people to be passionate about their subject and to keep developing their own knowledge of the subject.
  • Evidence informed– they wary of gimmicky approaches and base what they do, and what they ask their teachers to do, on wisdom and research evidence.

Does this describe some of your people?

Growth Mindset Inquiry

9 May

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I’ve decided to use my inquiry time as an opportunity to catch up on some long overdue reading – starting with ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck.  The theory explored in this book is that there are two types of mindset – fixed and growth.

The diagram below summarises the main qualities exhibited by each one:

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It’s obvious to see the relevance of this to us as teachers and Dweck presents a very compelling case for it.  Whilst the theory is interesting, what I’m most interested in is what we can do in schools, in lessons, to move more of our students from a fixed to a growth mindset?  This is the real challenge of teaching. So what follows is an initial attempt to look at each of the qualities of the ‘growth mindset and some of the strategies and techniques we use as teachers to develop this in students.

 Embrace challenges

  • Tell students that they will be doing challenging learning in lessons – and tell them why you think they will be able to do it.  Build them up and show you have belief in their success.
  • Plan activities that will be ‘low stress, high challenge’ for all – so, know the abilities of your students and stretch them accordingly.
  • Use the idea of ‘extender tasks’ for the more able – so they are not just given more work to do, but specific, challenging tasks to extend their thinking.
  • Celebrate their successes when they overcome a difficult task or activity.  Discuss with them how they overcame the challenges.

Persist in the face of setbacks

  • Show students strategies they can use when they become stuck e.g. use the 5Bs:

So, when students get stuck instead of asking the teacher straight away, they are encouraged to think about it first (Brain), look in their exercise book/ text book, look on the board (or a display) and finally if they are still stuck, as a friend (Buddy).  If after all of this they are still stuck, ask the teacher (Boss).

Some reading provided me with these next steps:

  • Think carefully about your questioning.  When students are stuck, don’t just give them the answer.  Carefully scaffold your questions to support them with getting ‘unstuck’. Use exams and assessments formatively.  Most importantly, don’t let them give up.

See effort as the path to mastery

  • Praise students specifically for the efforts they are making with their learning.
  • Honesty is required. Provide them with the opportunities within lessons, or a series of lessons, to practice, consolidate  and embed skills and knowledge.  All too often we glance over things, without actually giving students the opportunity to master what they are doing. This also gives them the opportunity to see when they have mastered things – make this explicit to them and celebrate it.

Learn from criticism

  • Whilst formative feedback (written or formal) is important, it only becomes useful when students are given the opportunity to respond to it.

So, much of what great teachers already do will help to develop a growth mindset within their students – this what makes them successful teachers.  Again though, if we think about this in terms of ‘marginal gains’, we should all be able to think about small changes we can make to our classroom practice, to support and develop this even further.

A Wake Up Call

22 Apr

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I must put my hand up and admit it. The last month has been tough. I have been pretty sick. It has put a strain on things. While the light has now emerged from the end of the tunnel it has made me re-examine my “why?” as a school leader. In a Catholic school a school leaders spiritual life is central to their success. So, during the past month I have identified eight ways (I know it is a funny number) to enhance a school leader’s spiritual life.

  • Find a beautiful church to sit in. If magnificent cathedrals feel overwhelming or there are none nearby, find one with simple beauty—a statue, painting, stained glass windows, stations of the cross, crucifix, or beautiful tabernacle that you can soak in while in the presence of God.
  • Read the scripture.
  • Exercise in nature. You will see beauty.
  • Books. Look back over favourite book that have lifted your spirit. Ask friend what their favourite book are. Order books you have always wanted to read.
  • Enjoy a coffee. Perhaps with a friend.
  • Watch an inspirational movie. Netflix has become my friend. There are endless stories, documentaries, and lives of the saints on video or online.
  • Focus on family. While I love my students and my staff. They are not my family.

Yes, I am feeling better. We must remember as school leaders we must look after ourselves. And to doctors I have so much respect for you.

Meetings in 2019: They need to change

10 Feb

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Meetings can be crucial in the way a school runs. This year I want to make it a real focus for me in ways these can be more efficient and productive. Research shows that people in meetings spend most of their time talking about the past, and most of the time talking about things others know nearly as well as they do. No wonder so many people think of meetings as a waste of time.

This year I have set two goals for new and improved meetings which would be to move the conversation into the present and future, and to uncover in your conversation things that no one knew before they walked in the door. This means not only dealing with facts, but with how people make sense of the facts at hand.

For example, one of the most useful discoveries in a meeting isn’t just what people are thinking about an issue, but what assumptions underlie their thinking.

Two things will help me in this regard:

  1. If everyone remembers that the larger goal (e.g., of solving an important team or organizational problem) is bigger than any individual person, you’ll have people reduce their ego connection to the issue (in as much as they can, developmentally).
  2. If people can make—and keep each other honest about—a commitment to ask questions which are really questions and not points they want to make; the questions won’t create a battlefield and won’t be as likely to raise conflict. If you’ve got a space where people can ask curious questions, put assumptions on the table, and make the invisible visible, people will find the meeting a good use of their time, the solution to whatever the problem is will be richer and more significant, and you’ve increased the chance that the people in the room will grow.

In this new meeting plan, people need to change the way they behave with one another.

People should ask curious questions (rather than questions that are trying to make a point or expose a weakness in someone’s thinking), take each other’s perspective, make visible the hidden assumptions that shape the conversation.

I will let you know how I go? Have you got any suggestions of how you can improve meetings?

Being innovative v teaching the curriculum.

15 Jan

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The viewpoint of “teaching the curriculum” and “innovation in education” is that the curriculum is on one side of the continuum, and innovation is on the opposite side. What separates the great teachers from everyone else, is not what they teach, it is how they teach.

What I am trying to get staff to understand is that how we teach our rich NZ Curriculum is the innovation. This can be seen by the finding of the NCEA review document. Think about how NZQA is now approaching assessment differently.

Recently at an NZQA seminar Principals Nominee were talking about instead of lecturing on a topic, could you have the students create a video or Vlog on the topic, to explain it in an in-depth way?  I don’t think that classrooms should be absent of providing content to students, but I do believe that what we create with the content provides a deeper understanding of what you are learning.  What does it matter if a student does well on a test, but doesn’t understand the ideas a week later?

Instead of downloading Apps students could be creating them. Simply focusing on the word “create,” and thinking about how that would enhance the learning could make a significant impact.

Ok I am not saying that lecture is a bad thing.  I do it all the time and I have seen some great teachers deliver wonderful lessons. I think there are great lessons learned from lecture, but I don’t think that any one way is the best way for all students.  I know that from the experience of being both a teacher and a learner.  But I challenge you to look at one thing in the context of your work, whether it is in leadership or teaching, and ask Is there a better way?

Authentic Learning

14 Sep

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Authentic learning is a measure of connectedness based on pertinence, interest, and immediacy of a given context. Relevance is critical. Teachers will have a difficult time increasing rigor for learners who do not find the tasks at hand very relevant.

There are degrees of relevance. Something is less relevant if it is an isolated experience and far more relevant if it offers knowledge and skills to support life-long endeavours. Relevance is also contextual. Studying the setting of a story will seem less relevant to a student who hates reading literature than it will to a student who aspires to be a novelist. Fortunately, teachers can increase the relevance for everyone by helping learners find personal value in the studied content or skills. For example, disinterested readers can understand that their entire lives are defined by their personal settings. They can then begin to explore the variables within their own control to alter their settings for the better, making setting a relevant concept to explore beyond literary options. When content (e.g. literature) is used as a medium (not the end goal) to explore critical, real world skills, then relevance is maximized.

When considering if learning is relevant, as a teacher I explore the following questions:

  • Are the questions, prompts, or tasks interesting for the learners? Consider age, region, and modern trends as variables.
  • Might the questions, prompts, or tasks unintentionally exclude some learners (e.g. those who aren’t interested in sports, those who don’t have access to gardens, those who don’t wish to become historians, etc.)?
  • Do the questions, prompts, or tasks replicate processes that are authentic to ‘real world’ applications?
  • Will the questions, prompts, or tasks be fun or engaging? Will they be explained in the context of life-long application?

Few learners will accept robust challenges if they 1) don’t believe someone is there to support their efforts, and 2) can’t find a worthy reason to engage in something that will not be easy.

Whakawhanaunga

13 Sep

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Last week a note I wrote about expectations. As we raise the bar on our expectations that all learners can be successful, we must also raise the bar on rigor for all learners.

When trying to meet the demands of supporting all learners, it is impossible to increase rigor without also attending to whakawhanaunga (relationships). My daughter recently met Helen Clark ONZ. Nobody could fined a better role model as wahine toa.

Personally I have an interest in the tuakanateina relationship, an integral part of traditional Māori society, provides a model for buddy systems. An older or more expert tuakana (brother, sister or cousin) helps and guides a younger or less expert teina (originally a younger sibling or cousin of the same gender). In a learning environment that recognises the value of ako, the tuakana–teina roles may be reversed at any time. For example, the student who yesterday was the expert on te wā and explained the lunar calendar may need to learn from her classmate today about how manaakitanga is practised by the local hapū.Relationships matter greatly. The concept of the tuakanateina relationship, is one that interests me. An older or more expert tuakana (brother, sister or cousin) helps and guides a younger or less expert teina (originally a younger sibling or cousin of the same gender). In a learning environment that recognises the value of ako, the tuakana–teina roles may be reversed at any time. For example, the student who yesterday was the expert on te wā and explained the lunar calendar may need to learn from her classmate today about how manaakitanga is practised by the local people.’

Marzano (2011) notes: “Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction” (p.82). Simply having positive relationships with tamariki and colleagues will not increase achievement. Quality teacher to student relationships impact student achievement in 4 significant ways:

When teachers build trust and rapport with tamariki, tamariki are more likely to take the necessary risks required to learn at deep levels. As mistake making is an inherent part of the learning journey, tamariki need to feel safe along the way.

When tamariki feel safe, they are more likely to offer teachers the necessary insights and feedback that can support the teacher’s ability to respond appropriately.

When teachers strive to understand each learner’s desires, needs, and assets, they have the necessary ability to connect the learning in targeted and specific way that ensures the learner can be successful.

When teachers know their tamariki well, they can better interpret the meaning behind a student’s unconscious nonverbal responses to the learning at hand. Raised eye-brows, tapped pencils, and deep sighs represent different emotional responses based on the learner exhibiting the behavior.

Unless a teacher knows the tamariki well, it is challenging to make learning relevant or rigorous.

The SAMR Model again

14 May

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In most ways, teachers that use technology in the classroom are not much different than those that don’t.

All teachers assesses, evaluate and then revises planned instruction based on data from those assessments.

They manage their classroom in a way that works for them, create a positive learning environment, and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders to make sure every humanly possible attempt is made to meet all students need.

They care about learning more than tools, people more than curriculum, and questions more than answers.

But using technology in the classroom–and using it effectively–might require some slight adjustments on the part of the teacher to sustain the effort, creative problem-solving, and innovation required to actually improve learning through the use of technology. This occurs at the belief level–what teachers believe about technology, education, and their own abilities to manage technology.

Looking at the characteristics of teachers that effectively use technology in the classroom can be useful to create a growth mind-set–one that believes in purpose, adaptation, change, and meaningful planning. If you spend your time planning at the upper limits of the SAMR model, it may simply work as a quick reminder of how edtech can work–and work well at the teacher-human-belief level.

Friday Night Thought

20 Apr

Feedback is an essential part of learning, especially when we want to improve our practice and attain high professional standards. And the best form of feedback is right there in front of us in our classrooms. #nzai #assessment #edchatnz

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