Tag Archives: Reflections

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.

PLD on Speed

21 Apr


Our current situation is PLD on speed. When I hear our teachers sharing their expertise and reflecting on their own practice in engaging dialogue, I get animated. I heard about kura where English teachers looking at eliminating outcomes that really don’t serve students well, our own Year 9 teachers developing cross curricular courses and everyone using eLearning. This is what can occur, when leaders provide a liberating environment to take a chance and go beyond one’s comfort zone.

Our students deserve engaging classrooms and real-life experiences. Content heavy curriculum must be replaced by project-based learning and competency attainment to ensure deep and engaging learning. Surface learning or simply covering the curriculum will not suffice. I love the concept of Deep Learning. More on this later.

When I hear our teachers dealing with their instructional practice and discussing impact. It confirms their desire to become the best possible version of themselves. 

“Do I really want a great school?”

6 Apr

Business Communication Duplicate model

“Do I really want a great school?”

If you do, gather those around you who have the same disciplined thought and align practices with core values through disciplined action. And then, we can say that we really do want great schools.

Having time in isolation has given me time to think. I have been wondering about a great deal. Do we really want great schools? I think I would be hard pushed to find anyone who would say no. But in truth, do we really want great schools or are we content with good or worse, mediocre schools.

Reading Jim Collins last week on my couch I was struck by the phrase:

“Disciplined people with disciplined thought engaging in disciplined action is what merits greatness.”

 Great schools require us to make difficult decisions in the area of human resources. They require us to ensure that we are getting the right people on the waka and then, in the right seat. With education being such a “relational business” we often shy away from making those tough decisions. We would rather try and fix or just live with the problem than terminate the problem. Manaakitangi means to address the problem.

We need to have the will to accept only the best practices in our schools. We cannot allow mediocre teaching to occur. Now that’s a tough one because “that” requires one of those hard-hitting conversations. Relationship seems to get in the way. Great schools require everybody to be at the top of their game, but we know (if we are honest) that every school is not filled with all “top” performers.

Greatness also requires us to take a significant leap from our current paradigm. We need to understand that although our current schools are “good” we will never elevate to greatness following the same path. Continuing our 20th century practices and assessments will no more improve our schools than just talking louder to a student with make them learn better. Collins suggests that as little as a 20% change (need to ensure the “right” 20%) will assists us in moving us toward greatness. Perhaps this experience might do that. Simply put, we can no longer exist as we are and reach that apex.

“The natural enemy of greatness is goodness” states Jim Collins and nothing is a more truthful statement. This is particularly apparent in our schools. We have been good for so long that it is extremely difficult to move.

COVID 19 has shaped the sense of urgency. A desire great schools and everyone in education should be yelling that desire loudest. We need great schools and the only way to get to great schools is to want them. Perhaps this is the opportunity.

Teachers should engage in self-reflection on what they can do to make great schools. Greatness begins not with well-organized systems but with well-organized people. It begins with disciplined thought not bandwagon curricula. Greatness comes through courageous and disciplined actions. As a leader, you need to have a persistent will to move from good to great. “Do I really want a great school?”


Reflection: Day 7

31 Mar


Change is an fascinating quandary. And we are among it right now. There are those in the world who are continual non-adopters of change and others who jump on every change that comes about, good or bad. From a school leader’s point of view, I can understand both, accept both and need to work with the two ends of a very diverse continuum. The most frustrating group to work with is neither of the above. Instead, I’m frustrated by those who openly advocate for the need for change but construct barriers to change or worse, practice open non-compliance.

We are constantly looking at ways to improve instructional practice, enhance curriculum relevance and to further intellectually engage students. It would be my belief that I would receive a unqualified affirmation if I posed those improvements to the general society. Who would not agree with efforts to improve instructional practice, enhance curriculum relevance or further intellectually engage students?

Every child that enters our classroom is unique. Each have special talents, hidden abilities, hopes and dreams. Every child can create and innovate. The education system and society in general can ill afford to place an abrupt end to any of those talents, abilities, hopes and dreams. But to accomplish this monumental task, we must let go of the old and the comfortable; practices and structures that only further enshrines the 20th century model of schooling and instead dream and be open to the limitless opportunities we have in the future

We have very different students in our classrooms today. In fact, we have a very different society. Knowledge is available 24/7 and technology has created a world that is flat and almost without borders. Our education system, as good as it is, cannot ever meet the needs of our current or future students without radical transformation. This transformation will require us (educators and society alike) to move away from what we know to the unknown. We can no longer embrace the traditions of schooling that we’ve held on to so dearly when we are being required and rightfully required to educate ALL children and not just some.



Some Questions

15 Feb


It mad me reflect the other day when I heard a principal comment to a school that if a certain behaviour continued, they would all be down the road. I’m not even sure what that means and if it is possible. One thing I it is not right, no gospel values there, nor does it meet the needs of the community.

So I started thinking and posed some questions to myself.

  1. How does engaging with teachers, students and community members in prototyping lead to an improved curriculum?
  • For too long we’ve had a closed shop in education. That may have been fine when we, the educators, held all the knowledge. But knowledge is easily attained today by simply a flick of a switch. Education has become far too complex to do it alone and today we need both internal and external views to make curriculum more alive, more relevant and more flexible.
  1. What are the new basics in education?
  • I think there is a fear out there that this new curriculum journey will not include foundational skills but let’s not use the terms “reading, writing and arithmetic.” The fact is that foundational skills will never cease to be critical- they are the building blocks. Literacy and numeracy will always be cornerstone to our education system but the basics must be expanded to include competencies. Basic skills are not enough anymore!
  • The 4 C’s- Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication are essential and what I would consider basic for education today. There was a time when all of these were learned naturally. playing hide and seek, make-believe and through engaging family sit down suppers. We left school, did our homework and then played with friends until dark. Today, that does not happen because our society is not the same. Parenting is different, we have a shrinking middle class and well put simply, our streets are certainly not as safe today as they once were. What was once taught at home now needs to be taught at school. Given that, we must adjust to ensure that these basics are part of the school system.
  1. Why do we need to transform curriculum?
  • Approximately 1 in 4 students are still not completing high school in 3 years. Now while we should not hang our hats on this three-year rate, we need to accept that we have students who are not completing high school… ever. That is a societal issue and simply doing more of the same will not address it, instead it is a recipe for insanity.
  • How many times do we hear our own kids respond to the question, “What did you learn at school today?” with “Nothing.” That is problematic and in part we have a curriculum driven by knowledge acquisition rather than based on local context and student/teacher interest. The very best curriculum finds the sweet spot between passion (what I love to do) and ability (what I’m good at doing). It motivates students as Daniel Pink would suggest because it provides purpose.
  1. Needs of the society
  • Our current curriculum is not nearly flexible enough to meet the changing labor market. We need to be able to change on almost a dime in order to support an innovative culture. Our current model of curriculum redesign is far too cumbersome and regimented!  There is a global market out there that our students are competing in and without a nimble curriculum, our students will continually lose out. We must be able to “pivot” when required!
  1. What are the essential outcomes?
  • Our curriculum has far too many outcomes and often without any relevance to any local context. Teachers have been caught teaching all the outcomes rather than focusing on the “need to knows”. Sometimes this has been the result of the assessment/accountability practices currently in place, while others it has simply become a habit. The need to cover curriculum or surface learning as John Hattie would say, is not beneficial for our students. Deep learning takes time and you can’t gain that time if you are worried about simple course coverage.

What do you think?

Education 3.0

20 Jan


A brief reflection today. In 2020 we as teachers need to understand a few things.

  • Education, infact schools, are changing.
  • Our students are different than they ever have been before because the have learnt differently at primary school.
  • That technology is not something to fear and that it will just one day “go away.”
  • That the role of the school leader is one of collaboration.
  • That summative assessments does not provide a clear picture of student learning and understanding.
  • That standing in front of kids and talking for 40 mins straight does not actually teach anything.
  • That social media can be a useful tool.
  • University is not the be all and end all of education.


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?

Managing Change

20 Jun


I have been dealing with a great deal of change management in the last couple of weeks. This has tested my skill set. I know at one meeting it also tested my patience. This book really helped me through. Here are some of my musings then:

Reflect and evaluate.  By thinking through the meaning and implication of the feedback, you can learn from it and consider what parts to work on, what parts to disregard, and what parts require deeper understanding. To do this, it helps to think about your development areas, the value you place on this individual’s perspective, and possibly, what you have heard from others as well. This is also the time to come back to what you may disagree with. Given that your objective was to learn others’ perspectives on you, ask yourself if it’s worth the potential damage to go back and “correct” the information. Typically, it’s not.

Plan and act. All the steps before this set you up to plan and put it into practice. Pick one or two capabilities you want to improve, get really clear about what “improved” looks like, and then consider the steps necessary for you to learn and adopt that new behaviour. Planning and acting are not only important for your learning and development, they’re also a signal to those who shared the feedback — you are serious about improving and you value their perspectives.

Sustain progress and share updates. You need to repeat new behaviours for them to become new habits. If you go back to your feedback providers and tell them what you are doing differently, you’ll give them a catalyst to change their perspectives, validation that you heard and appreciated what they had to say, and the opportunity to see you as a person who is committed to your professional development.

Great leaders are great learners. Their never-ending pursuit of information pushes them to constantly improve and sets them apart from the rest. Getting and learning from feedback isn’t always easy, but it is necessary, if we want to become better. It’s rare that our colleagues will offer us the kind of feedback we need to develop, and rare that we respond in a way that rewards their efforts and helps us improve. It’s worth building the skills to do this well if we want to reach our full potential.

Not Leading …

28 Mar


Leadership is hard but it’s also important. Vitally important. And it begins with how leaders treat people. Unfortunately, if you’re a leader and you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. Ineffective leaders are those who have all of the attributes from the above list. Have you worked for one? What would you do differently?

I have found how I lead in the school environment depends on the situation. I need to remember they have to work with people who may not be on board with those big dreams, and they lose those best intentions. I sometimes enter into the situation ready to move forward, but because of mandates, rules and the politics of distraction (Hattie. 2015) I become insecure and not sure what to do first. As leaders, when we have so many choices of where to start we sometimes choose not to choose at all. I often use the GROW MODEL. Understanding the current reality is important, but what should be on our radar is not always so glaringly obvious.

In Stephen Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People he shows us this.  Covey showed me 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, and we know which 7 habits belong to each one.

Just like there are habits of highly successful leaders, there are habits that can bring leaders to a place of ineffectiveness.

These are things which I have been reflecting on this week as we reach the crunch time of the term.

Be reactive – Leaders who always seem to not see things coming and lack the ability to work with their school community on a collective goal.

There’s no end in mind – Everyone in the school is working on their individual goals…if they have one…and the leader doesn’t think about the future as much as they keep getting stuck in issues in the present.

Ego first – In Jim Knight’s work we talk 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.

My way or the highway – Instead of focusing on being collaborative and working with these leaders are more concerned with controlling everything and getting their own way. They walk into a faculty meeting with one idea and walk out with the same one.

Seek to be understood – Ego first. My way or the highway. Get on the waka or get out.

Discord – These leaders always seem to disagree with someone and they try their best to build consensus by getting others to agree with them at the same time they vilify those who disagree with them.

Efficacy Killers – These leaders are consistently going after new initiatives, so their staff feel tired, lost and insecure. They micromanage and look for compliance on all issues.

I sometimes see myself here but not often. The Leadership Framework is now a key document for all teachers. We are all leaders in some way. How is this reflected in your appraisal documentation?


Vision and Relationships

21 Oct


Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi

Without foresight or vision the people will be lost

This week it was important to “join the dots” and bring staff back to the vision. While these are exciting time it is important not to lose the vision.

As we embark on our collaborative experiment with curriculum our focus in our team this week was lesson one and two as we get to know our students. Here are some observations.

Get to know students from day one. Educators must understand how students prefer to learn. Interest surveys work very well in providing this information. Educators need to find multiple ways to measure knowledge because education is not one size fits all. We will only learn how to reach our students by getting to know them on a personal level.

Set high expectations for all students. I let my students know that they can do ANYTHING if they set their minds to it. At the same time, I let them know that their education is an “us” priority as opposed to a “them”, meaning we have to take ownership for our students or lack thereof. We must bring their parents in early and ensure that we communicate with them along the way.

Celebrate success. Teachers must begin to embrace the idea that any growth is growth that should be celebrated. We need to unplug from the idea that students are numbers when clearly every child is unique and different. A gift from God. We must celebrate those differences and adapt our pedagogy to respond to their diversity. Growth is growth, and it is our job to celebrate our students’ accomplishments.

Listen. We have to take students’ feelings into consideration when we make decisions that impact them. By listening to them, we show them that we respect and value their opinion. Even when we plan lessons, we should give them a voice and a choice as to what their learning should look like. When we respect our students, our students will respect us, and they will open their minds for us.

Relationships matter because good teacher-student relationships breed success. By getting to know students, setting high expectations. Vision matters because without going back to the why we can get a little lost.


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