Tag Archives: Professional Readings

Leadership and Accountability

9 Jun


I’m sitting in my office this morning getting ready for the day ahead. As I mentioned on many occasions, I begin the day with prayer and then some quiet strategic thinking. Leadership is a complex task and a very difficult role-if it wasn’t, the world would have an abundance of great leaders. There are so many nuances that non-leaders or poor leaders usually don’t understand or can’t comprehend. The fact is that leadership counts and it should be taken with great seriousness. As I continue my preparation now and into the future, I should always be slightly nervous when I’m addressing staff because the tone at the top will set the either the right or wrong direction. Align your words and actions to set the right direction.

Kouzes and Posner (2011) noted in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, “According to our empirical data, the majority of people look for (and) admire leaders who are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring, and competent…While the exact order might vary from country to country, these same four qualities remain at the top of the list of what people everywhere want from their leaders.” (p. 7) Just achieving these four qualities, honesty, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent is a tall task and if you think differently, you are either ignorant or arrogant. Credibility is certainly foundational for leadership success and is enhanced through alignment.

The alignment of words and action also builds a culture of trust. For organizations to achieve greatness, a high level of trust must exist. While there will always be decisions made and actions taken that impact organizational trust, it needs to be one of the leader’s non-negotiable goals. Great organizations exude professional trust which Douglas Reeves (2016) reminds us is a “two-way street.” It manifests itself throughout our school bottom up and top down. High levels of trust allow for vulnerability for all but especially the leader. Leaders cannot come across as all-knowing robots without any human touch. Being vulnerable makes leaders real. Leaders will make errors and it is far easier to face the music when the organization knows the leader’s true value from the heart and the head.

Finally, aligning words and actions makes the leader far more accountable. Personally, as a leader, my stock goes down when I over promise and under deliver, when I say one thing and do another and when I shirk my accountability to those I lead. Indeed, I am not comfortable with myself. My accountability standard should be very high because in truth, our staff, students and communities deserve nothing less.

Trust and Vulnerability

6 Jun


Trust is essential in fostering effective and authentic relationships both inside and outside of an organization. You cannot have a strong relationship without trust.

In organizations where teamwork is crucial, trust must be alive and well. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of Team lists absence of trust as the first dysfunction. This was a great read from last year and I recommend it to anyone involved in leadership.

If there is an absence of trust, then fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results prevails. From effective relationships to organizational change, trust is the key ingredient. For a leadership team to improve it must first determine what’s getting in its way and then identify commitments to address any gaps. By default, once these commitments have been pronounced, team members have made themselves accountable to each other; and feedback is required to reinforce the accountability. This all sounds logical and most leadership teams start out with great intentions, but they often struggle to hold each other accountable.

All of us have our ‘blind spots’ and principals are no different. Unfortunately, these blind spots often hold us back from being our best as a team – we think we are behaving one way while others see us showing up in a different way. On the leadership teams we work with are often shocked when we get feedback:

  • “he does not listen listen”
  • “She talks over me”
  • “….waffles when making decisions; not decisive.”

Having trust to seek out this feedback is very important. Old style leadership would categorize this trait as a major weakness. Vulnerability however, doesn’t naturally imply weakness rather it means not losing your compassionate heart. Being vulnerable as a leader requires great confidence in oneself and a willingness to put yourself out there. It is more about strength of character than authority of position. Trust and vulnerability work hand in hand and in any successful organization, great leaders demonstrate both.

Useful resource:

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, articulates 13 behaviors of high trust in this short video


Change is plain hard

27 Feb


” Changing the way we teach requires us to change habits of behavior, and changing habits is not easy, as anyone who has tried to quit smoking, lose weight, stop spending, or increase exercising has realized… Desire and will power usually aren’t enough to make real change occur. Due to our habitual nature, we are naturally inclined to protect the status quo.” (pg 5)

Last week I spent some time to reflect on my message and to finish reading Jim Knight’s book, Instructional Coaching.The above quote resonated with me.

In a time where we are talking a great deal about well-being I’m not much of a role model, as I continue to put in my 60+ hour work week and furthermore, every Sunday has been my “preparation day” in my time as a teacher. At least I would go to Mass first!!!

I made some change or modifications last year after becoming very ill. Change is hard. Jim Knight also talks about the stages of change from researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente (pg 85-89). The six stages from an educational perspective are as follows:

  1. Precontemplation- teachers in this stage tend to blame externally for problems in their classrooms. They tend to blame students or parents, complain about lack of support from administration, class size or anything other than themselves.
  2. Contemplation- teachers begin to consider why they may need to change and what are the gains and losses of adopting.  They start to look internally but just don’t know what to do.
  3. Preparation- teachers start to take the time to plan and articulate exactly what they want to change. They begin to have conversations with their colleagues in preparation for the change. It is at this stage that I am convinced an environment of risk taking must be part of the culture of the school and/or division. Teachers need to feel safe in knowing that it will acceptable to fail and be prepared to “fail forward.”
  4. Action- teachers are now doing things differently. They are implementing new teaching strategies. Support is critical at this juncture. Teachers need to feel the support from their colleagues and especially from their administrators. “We don’t do that in this school/division!” will surely put a quick end to any forward action.
  5. Maintenance- teachers need to continue the action in order for it to be sustained. Continual support is still required and the fear of slipping back into old habits is a reality. The maintenance phase is adjusting to and finding comfort in the new routines and can require considerable time and effort.
  6. Termination- teachers at the termination stage have fully integrated their new teaching practices. The change is not viewed at anything other than the normal course of events.

“Change is difficult because change requires us to change our habits and create new routines. If teachers are emotionally fatigued by the pressing immediacy of their professional life, overwhelmed by innovation overload, is it any surprise if they are not quick to pick up a practice and make it a routine in the classroom? Yet teachers need to keep trying to learn and implement better instructional practices if school are going to get better at reaching all students.” (Jim Knight- Instructional Coaching pg5). 

If we truly want to transform education in our schools, then it is the responsibility of the government, the profession, the ministry, the public and the individual teacher to fully understand the difficulty of the change process and support with more than just words the actions required.


14 Jan


If you read only one book in your leadership journey this year make it the above. It is a stunner. It has made me rethink the concept of meetings. It also made me think about how each faculty in the school runs. At a basic planning level – as well as the level of team ethos – it’s important to establish how the team will function.  Do we do our own thing? Do we stick tightly to an agreed plan? Do we allow the shared drive to fill up with endless versions of PowerPoints and worksheets making it ever harder to find the original or best one?  Where in the curriculum is there scope for teachers to go off-piste without risking messing up an element of our carefully planned coherent curriculum?

Reading log: Star Date 2020

9 Jan


Day nine in my attempt to reflect each day and it is getting tough. The holidays for me is head space time without the demands of parents, pupils and staff. I do love the summer break to get away from it all but I like many others simply can’t help myself from thinking about school.

When I’m on holiday if I switch off. My mind full of summer reads always has a huge variety. As many who know me understand I set myself a reading challenge every year of 104 books. I know, that is two per week. Where does it come from? In 1996-97 I had a year out studying and in that year I read 104 books.

I’ve started the latest Jack Reacher and I’ve even got a few leadership books to advance my pedagogical thoughts. Like many in the profession several my close friends are also teachers and guess what we talk about during the holidays… Yes.. School.

For several years, I even attended a summer school with the aim of deepening my knowledge and to get ready for the challenges of the new year.

I don’t think any teacher ever fully switches off. Yes, I can turn my email off and enjoy the quality family time I crave for the rest of the year but for me (and I know I’m not the only one!) I’m still a teacher and it is my job – 12 months of the year.

By the way included below are my favourite five books from 2019.


Reflections on a Friday at an Airport

29 Nov


It is Friday. I have just finished running a PLD in Auckland. I am at the airport and I am reflective. It got me thinking “How strong are your relationships in school?”

Relationships between staff and students are important in promoting strong outcomes. However, the relationships between staff are also vital in developing effective teaching and learning. In order to become more resilient, it is important to emphasize the positive. For us, as teachers, it is important to remember that:

  • we operate as part of our student’s lives;
  • we can tackle whatever challenges are created on a day-by-day basis;
  • we reflect on how we have benefited our student’s lives;
  • we are able to respond to change and handle difficult situations.

I have reflected recently about the importance of reflecting on our success and not simply focusing on the negatives or disappointments. It is important to speak positively. Studies have shown that being positive and reflecting on the successes can:

  • act as protective factors against depression (Tindle et al., 2009);
  • lead to less disruption of normal life, distress and fatigue (Carver, Lehman, Antoni, 2003).

It has been found that when faced with challenges, resilient people act purposefully and creatively, to find multiple strategies for any problem. In order to become more resilient and ultimately achieve the best outcomes for our students, it is important to remember why we became teachers. The passion and commitment that teachers show daily, can be lost under the weight of the demands of teaching. Teaching is not an easy profession, but by nurturing resilience we can support and sustain our practice. What are you current challenges?

Some Thoughts

12 Nov


If “children grow into the intellectual life around them” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.88), then what kind of intellectual life are we presenting to the students in our classrooms? Teachers all over the world have had to accept the compromise of focusing more on delivering the prescribed curriculum than developing understanding; test-taking rather than learning. We have what the authors of Making Thinking Visible describe as “a distorted view of teaching that is self-reinforcing and divorced from what we know about effective learning”(Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p.25).

Learning is a consequence of thinking. Because most of our thinking is invisible, it can be hard for students to know how to think well and difficult for teachers to know how to help students become better thinkers. This is where thinking routines play a key role. Thinking routines are an adaptable collection of practices to nurture thinking skills. Most classrooms have routines, usually based around behavior management, but when thinking routines become a regular part of classroom discourse, they assist learners to control thinking processes so that they become habitual.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Growth Mindset Inquiry

9 May


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:


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.

Innovative and Enriched Learning Environments

13 Feb


We are continuing our curriculum inquiry this year. I remind you of the question:

What do we want learning and teaching to look like at Manawa Tapu?

It is imperative that we create a school environment that is inviting, engaging, and conducive to learning for ALL students.  Over summer I did some reading on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and learnt that ALL students are gifted and talented in some (many) area(s) beyond the findings of any formalized assessment measure. Sadly, with all the demands of school enriched learning environment for ALL students can get lost in the noise of bureaucracy and a false sense of accountability. As we inquire further I thought about these ways to Create an Enriched Learning Environment for ALL Students and the following appeared.

  • Believe and Learn

Believe that ALL students are gifted and talented in something.  There are countless articles in circulation about gifted and talented education.  Learn as much as you can about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and other gifted and talented models and theories.  Gardner says that these differences “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning. Indeed, as currently constituted, our educational system is heavily biased toward linguistic modes of instruction and assessment and, to a somewhat lesser degree, toward logical-quantitative modes as well.” Gardner argues that “a contrasting set of assumptions is more likely to be educationally effective.”

  • Share Your Findings with ALL Stakeholders of the Community

Communicate your beliefs and thoughts about enrichment for ALL students with ALL stakeholders. This includes teachers, parents, staff, community advocates, and students of the community. Introduce this concept to your teacher leadership team, staff, and students to gain voice bring them on board.

  • The Plan

Develop a clear vision and design a realistic plan for enrichment opportunities using the Building Level Enrichment Team as the driving force for enrichment opportunities.  Use informal surveys and questionnaires to help design the enrichment program that best fits the needs of your students (depending on age/grade level – teachers and parents can also assist).

Questions to ask yourself and your team: What types of opportunities best serve your students’ needs?   What types of opportunities do your students want? Do your students want to learn how to sing Opera or do they want to build a robot? Who will serve as the facilitators of these enrichment opportunities?

Rise of Superman: Part Two

28 Jan


Routine is the cornerstone of productivity. But you’ll rarely enter a state of flow just by doing the same thing you did yesterday.

Instead, find an environment that challenges you on a daily basis and pushes you outside of your comfort zone (a bit). Think of the surfer who’s forced to adapt to every individual wave they catch. According to Kotler in Rise of the Superman, it’s this novelty, unpredictability, and complexity that will set off your state of flow. Kotler says there are a few environmental qualities we can look for to help trigger flow:

  • High consequences:Find environments and activities where your actions have real consequences to you. While an athlete might pick a harder course or opponent, for you, this could be as simple as speaking up during a meeting if you’re shy or publishing a post you’ve written on Medium if you’re afraid of comments and public feedback.
  • Rich environment: Find environments that require more of your attention and for you to react quickly to changes. Kotler gives the example of the Pixar offices, which feature a central hub for places frequented by all different employees regardless of their department.

“Steve Jobs artificially created the environmental conditions that massively upped the amount of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity in the environment because people across departments and disciplines started running into each other and having conversations,” said Kotler. “As a result, flow, innovation, and creativity went up.”

How could you use flow in your environment?

I am current experimenting with my routine. I will let you know the results.


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