Tag Archives: Relationships

Getting on the waka

19 Feb

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The job of a school leader is complex, broad, and challenging. We often focus on the notion that students need to be at the centre. I am not disputing this, I do believe that leaders need to focus a lot of their energy on the teachers. Happy teachers make great teachers.

As SLT we need to know staff as individuals. They are not superheroes. They are human. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes, they have really bad days that turn into really bad weeks. We need to connect on a personal level, understand what is going on in their lives.

When building an effective team in a school we can’t get the right people on the bus if someone is in their seat. I know it seems harsh but as SLT you owe it to a teacher who is stuggling to support them and let them find their way the profession. Do the math. A poor teacher in a secondary setting will impact over 150 students a year. Over a 25 year career that equates to more than 3,700 students. Is that the legacy you want to leave as SLT?

All that is required is a frank conversation. Talk to them. Most struggling teachers are miserable. Negative people never know they are negative. The same can be said for miserable people. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t just ship that person to the next principal. Think about the nearly 4000 kids you are saving.

Getting the right people on the bus is much easier than getting the wrong ones off the bus. Start with the positive. Any person of the street can write a good lesson plan and type a nice resume. Sustaining this in the classroom is hard and as senior leaders and middle  leaders we must support our people. Allow yourself to not just find the most intelligent person but the best person.

Having been in almost every educational setting from inner city to rural, I can tell you that relationships trumps rigor every day. I am not saying rigor is unimportant, just that kids truly don’t care what you know until they know that you care. All teachers have gone through a rough patch and it is important we support them.

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Building Trust

17 Jan

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I have been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Lencioni outlines the elements needed to build strong, cohesive teams. Here is a link to the book: Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust is the foundation in which productive teams are built upon.

As SLT it can be hard to lead change. Staff can be cynical of hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Here are some ways I am going to work on in 2019 to build trust:

Be visible

My office door should be open as much as possible. This will allow the community to see you in action. A quick hello can go a long way in building trust and respect. A current principal currently has her work-space in the staff room. I really admire that. Perhaps that is a next step for me.

Listen

It is important when making changes to consult staff members, teachers, or students. Strong school leaders listen to their leadership team, parents, and students when it comes to either making changes or keeping things the same. At the same time the feedback loop must be complete by feeding back the voice. Often it may not be what community wanted bu it is important to explain how you got there. The Why?

Be Transparent and Visible

A school is no place for smoke and mirrors. Taking on a cold war approach to communication and information gathering is not necessary. Decisions should never be made in a back room without representation from different stakeholder groups. See my previous point regarding meetings in central areas with everybody welcome.

Be Student-Centered

Do not take sides other than do what is in the best interest of the students.  Being student-centered keeps the focus on the purpose of schools – to educate children.

A Changing Classroom

18 Dec

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With a number of reviews taking place there is no doubt we are working in an exciting but also a scary time for education. These reviews are challenging a great deal of what we know to be true. There was a time I had very specific ideas about learning and teaching. Some of these preconceived notions were based on my own experience as a student. There was a time until very recently I believed students should sit in rows, quiet classroom is an effective demonstration of classroom management. Students in the same class should do the same assignments and this is best demonstrated in test or essay format best exhibited with a pen and paper. Don’t smile until for six weeks or you will lose them. Most of all as teacher I possesses the information. I would impart my knowledge. The truth is things have changed and I need to relearn how to be effective. The professional standards provide me a guide to do this.

Students create their own learning environment. You don’t need seating charts and students can be moving around to ensure their space enhances their work, whether it is individual or collaborative. In fact some days students in my class never enter the room and the learning is just as effective. My classroom is operative but it is not quiet. Indeed at times it is chaotic.

The idea that every student in a classroom should be required to complete the exact same assignment strikes me as a little silly. Of course their assessment is well with NCEA rules but it learning that our tamariki find is linked to their learning journey or inquiry. Students are at wildly different places in their learning. Their assignments should be customized to appeal to their interests and meet them where they are at in terms of skill level. This can be demonstrated in many ways not only a pen.

Don’t smile for six weeks? Our tamariki indeed just find this strange. By not smiling I think you lose the students. I had a student come up to me the other day and ask ‘what was up with Mrs X’ as she appeared unhappy. Our world has changed. We are more relational and restorative. The relationship is as important as the content.

I am not the only “expert” in the room. Indeed with Google in the room and more informed students I am no longer the source of all that is true and correct. I try to have students investigate and inquire, research, dialogue about what they created, and korero with each other.

These changes have made me think. They have made my staff think. What changes have you observed recently and more importantly how have you adapted?

Appreciative Listening

23 Mar

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Lots to think about this week. One of the things I did notice was the idea of listening.

Listening is complicated. It is the sign of a good leader. This week we have done some work on this skill.

Active listeners are listening both with an emphasis on enhancing the interpersonal relationship and to gather information. People have natural listening styles or ways that they process what they’ve heard. A Comprehensive listener will listen to gather information and put it together to create the big picture. An Evaluative listener is automatically judging the information they are listening to. Discerning listeners have a natural style that sifts and sorts fact from fiction. An Empathic listening style helps the listener tap into the feelings of the person they are listening to.

Listeners who have an Appreciative listening style listen for the entertainment and enjoyment of listening, not necessarily to gather information. Understanding our own personal listening strengths and our opportunities for growth is tapping into the power of listening. Almost everyone who experiences being listened to appreciatively, reports that it feels good to feel so deeply heard and respected.

 I find like most leaders, talking is what characterizes our days. Answering questions. Setting direction. Speaking with people about what needs to be done.   It is not unusual for a leader to want to find the “speed up” button when people are speaking or to be multi-tasking.   This links me back to the social discipline window which I am now using a great deal.

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Consequently, it is not uncommon for leaders to feel impatient with speakers and to view listening only as too passive a form of influence in their busy schedule.

However, Appreciative Listening is not passive. It is a highly active, totally focused form of attention.  It is not active listening, repackaged. Unlike in active listening where you’re expected to repeat or confirm that you’ve understood what’s been said, appreciative listening asks you to show that you understand the person.

What is Appreciative Listening?

It is listening with the sole purpose of identifying qualities, strengths and values of the speaker that you respect.

Your commitment to do this only needs to be 3 to 5 minutes of focused time.

The payoff is high in terms of increased understanding, improved rapport and in building a more positive work relationship.

The consequences will be that everything begins to work better simply because you have a better understanding of what really matters to the other person.

Appreciative Listening Opens Door to Changed Relationships

Appreciative Listening offers two profound benefits:

  1. It increases the common ground in all your work relationships– even the ones which feel least susceptible to any positive change.
  2. It changes you the listener.

How do you rate as a listener? What role does it play in your work as a leader?

Coaching Principles

10 Mar

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When coaches and teachers interact equally as partners, good things happen.

                                                                                                                                  Jim Knight

This week our Leaders of Learning group focused on an interesting reading. In it Jim Knight outlined the partnership philosophy approach to coaching.  Through his research, practice, and reflection 7 principles are outlined. Equality, Choice, Voice, Dialogue, Reflection, Praxis, and Reciprocity. (Knight, 2007, pp. 37-54) 

Equality: Both the coach and the teacher contribute equally to the conversation.  The teacher and coach may not have equal knowledge on all topics, but both points of view are worth being heard and valued as a part of the discussion.  Respect and compassion must be infused throughout conversations.

Choice: In a coaching partnership teachers must have choice in the professional development.  Without choice it is hard to define the relationship as a partnership, thus without choice professional development is likely to fail. (Knight, 2007, p. 42) By providing quality choices the teacher can say yes and no.  When choices are taken away the teacher’s professional opinion has been neglected.  Everyone wants to be treated as a professional.

Voice: Make teachers feel seen and heard.  Their opinions and needs are heard and do matter.  Even if the coach does not necessarily agree with what the teacher’s opinions and what they have to share, the coach must put their opinions aside to listen.   Listening provides the coach with insight and provides the teacher with an engaged listener with an opportunity to share.

Dialogue: In a coaching partnership it is not about winning the conversation, but continuing conversations and bouncing ideas around in a professional way.  I like the analogy of a pinball machine to great dialogue in which it is difficult to keep track of whose ideas are who’s because the conversation is so constant.  Inquiry and innovation occurs through dialogue.

Reflection: Reflection is a practice to engage in as an IC and teacher during and after during and after implementing a new strategy or content.  Some teachers do not innately reflect on their practices, thus coaches can provided the reminders, prompts, and strategies to do so.

Praxis: When a teacher applies a new strategy or ideas and applies to their existing practice, this is praxis.  The teacher may explore, prod, stretch, and recreate a new approach into one’s own teaching practices (Knight, 2007, p. 49).  In my opinion Praxis “dove-tails” well with reflection.  As we become more reflective teachers and instructional coaches we tend to be more open-minded and connecting new strategies to practice is simplified.

Reciprocity:  The coaching relationship is one that provides both parties with learning opportunities.  Both parties have an opportunity to win.

One member of staff put a successful coaching session this way. I feel valued. I feel as though I have reflected.  I suppose staff “feel validated as teachers, as professionals, and more important, they feel validated as people.” (Knight, 2007, p. 51)

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.

Fullan and Leading Change

6 Nov

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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.”

For many, simply introducing change to schools is the golden bullet solution. Our recent HOF Inquiry understood this fact early. There is no point in making change unless you have clarity around “why?”

Despite the massive investments that reveal the productivity towards this trend, the reality of organizational change is far more complex. The jury is no longer out on the impact of technology on formal learning. We know that attempts to engage in change (be it digital or otherwise) without vision are simply not going to have much of an impact. Attempts to transform schools because there is some populist pressure to do so have proven similarly facile. Embracing innovation for student-centered reasons with vision and culture that is carefully cultivated to allow this vision to thrive is the way forward. I consider myself fortunate to work in a school where this is part of the ambition for every learner.

I have written about culture often recently. I guess it is on my mind. Change without attention to culture is no change at all. Levin and Shrum’s study echoes this perspective: “Leaders that engage the school community in the effective use of technology… appreciate the power of school culture. They create … cultures in which meaningful teamwork based on trust is the primary force of professional learning and continuous improvement.” This trust must be centered on a conviction that we are doing what is best for students and that, as professionals, we routinely question what this means.

The following have been on my reading list in 2017. Worth a look.

Couros, George. In the Service of the Right Aims, 2016.
Richardson, Will. Learning. All. The. Time. 2016.
Bersin, Josh. Predictions for 2017: Everything Is Becoming Digital. 2016.
Fullan, Michael. Leading in a Culture of Change. 2007.
Levin, Barbara B.  & Schrum, Lynne. Leading 21st-Century Schools: Harnessing 

Restorative

10 Sep

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Restorative justice, by its nature, is a responsive practice, but I suggest that schools cannot simply implement a practice of restorative justice without considering the disparate impact that implicit bias will continue to have in the application or selective application of community-building principles on their students. We must welcome and establish critically reflective practices amongst our staff and students as we develop restorative justice in our schools, beginning with the terminology we use with which to describe the players.

Well- Being

31 Aug

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As a leader in a school, school development is fundamentally tied to emotional development — yours and that of others. Emotional intelligence only has meaning when you’re in relationships with others, and even more so when these relationships test your emotions.

School leadership is a journey on which each and every day you have to learn how to respond consciously to the stresses of your role instead of simply reacting and putting out fires. People who know will smile when they read that as it is a common comment I make.

There are going to be times when you’ll feel like a stranger to yourself as you try to find new frames of reference for handling new circumstances, relationships, and challenges.

Admitting your own vulnerabilities when faced with the challenges of school leadership isn’t a form of weakness — it’s what will get you through. Indeed it has got me through. I accept who I am and so do those I work with.

What’s more, if you don’t get the support you need in the role (and my goodness I am so lucky I do), you’ll end up overwhelmed with the enormity of your role and be emotionally drained. At this time there is so much literature about well-being in schools take time next week to look after yourself.

Workplace Culture

25 Jul

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Keep it on the quiet but I love the people that I work with and the mahi that we do. I believe is truly a special vocation. But even in the strongest of relationships (especially in the strongest relationships—we take those the most for granted) we can unintentionally slow down progress or build resentments if we’re not careful to honor what’s important; not just what’s important to me, but what’s important to we.

Come to think of it, how much better would all of my relationships be if I started to pay closer attention to the “we” importance over the “me” importance? I must be careful about the language I use eg Leading my team. I know when staff get frustrated because they refer to me as a manager rather than leader. Very subtly of course.

Because I suppose the truth of it is, we’re all right about what’s important? So rather than trying to figure out who gets to decide which one of us is more important, why not try to hold both as equal? Because in the end we just want to feel heard; we want to feel respected; we want to feel understood. And the best way to do that for each other is to listen and ask questions… to take the time to find out what each other wants.  To take the time, period.

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