Tag Archives: Relationships

Teaching is relationships

18 Jan

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I believe being digital or using digital tools is more than just giving devices to kids or even providing professional development for teachers. Going digital, rolling out devices, or digital makerspaces shouldn’t just be about the new and the flash. Technology should allow us to do things that are truly transformational. It should be less about technology and more about relationships and attitudes. Teaching to the North East by Russell Bishop confirmed my thinking on this over summer.

Technology should never isolate us. Learning is social. Spending time together is how we learn. I will be the first person to tell you I use social media to make connections and learn with so many different people from around the world. But I will also tell you that nothing beats the face-to-face time I get to spend with people at conferences, meetings, or just over coffee. That face time is so valuable to my learning. I learn so much in those interactions. And that type interaction is so important for students to develop interpersonal, emotional and collaborative skills as well. So we have to get out from behind the screen often and learn together and from each other. Not everything has to be done through technology. Sometimes it’s a hindrance rather than a benefit.  It enables us to interact easier or across great distances, but there is still room for students (and us to) to work face-to-face.

Unlocking Passions. School shouldn’t be preparation for real life. It should BE real life. We’ve got to do better as educational leaders (teachers and administrators) to help kids (and adults) unleash their passion. Providing time in the day to tinker, explore, reflect, learn and grow helps us all discover who we are inside. Technology is truly transformational and should allow us all to do things not possible before. Technology isn’t just for rote memorization of facts, having students take hours or meaningless assessments or judge whether they read a book with some low-level recall questions. Kids will do incredible things, if we enable them and get out of their way. Schools should be safe and caring places for them to discover and peruse their passions.

Enable Collaboration. Ideas are made better when they are shared. This is another that doesn’t happen enough in our schools, even though technology-enabled collaboration has made it so much easier. Share the good stuff. Let kids build, discover, and problem solve, together. (We should do that more as adults, too.) And share what happens. Let others take what you’ve done and build upon it and make it better so that can be shared with even more people. Just like before, we can learn better together. Your story is important and deserves to be shared but more importantly, others deserve to learn from your success and failures too.

Talk Less and Listen More.
 This goes back to the face-to-face time, right? And really, it’s more listening than it is talking. As educational leaders (teachers and administrators alike) we must be willing to listen to ideas, suggestions, or complaints and use them to grow ourselves, each other and our organizations. Really, listening should happen much more often than talking, especially when it comes to education leadership. As educational leaders we must be willing to listen and hear ideas, even if they make us uncomfortable or that we might disagree with. The same is true for students. We must take the time to listen to what they want to do. What do they want to create? How can a digital classroom or technology-enabled learning environment help them meet their goals?

“Care For” means more than “Care About.” This educational leadership quality is an important one. A simple change in our language can have a huge impact and outcome. Saying “I teach math.” and “I teach kids math.” have 2 differences in meaning. We must care about who we are doing it for. Kids! Just because we may have some amount of digital technology at our disposal doesn’t mean it’s always in everyone’s best interests to use it. No matter what we do we always have to keep our kids in mind and make sure we are doing what is best for their interests. But most of all, we have to care about kids.

What do you think?

Have you read a book this summer that has grabbed you?

Some Lessons to Learn

16 Dec

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I was thinking about the ideas of what makes a great teacher as I reflect on the year. To be truthful as I started writing the same applies regarding a leader in a school. I add one of my favorite models at the foot of the page.

Model expertise

Modelling this is part and parcel of every lesson: confident answers and conspicuous depth of knowledge of the subject that models the value that is placed on learning it.  Actual expertise matters more than simple enthusiasm.  There is no short-cut here: study the subject continually, know your stuff, get ahead.  Don’t wing it or teach, guessing your way through.

Prioritize Curriculum

Linked closely to Model Expertise, it’s essential to know how your subject is deconstructed into key concepts, skills and knowledge elements that allow learners to make progress – so-called pedagogical content knowledge.  Do you know how the course curriculum relates to the wider subject knowledge base? Is there an optimal sequence or at least one you could make a good case for?  You should have a sense of a sensible sequence and hierarchy of ideas and be able to see where content areas overlap.  You should have good knowledge of the assessment criteria in general and the specifics of any public exam.  Knowing the types of questions that students should be able to answer is essential in understanding and planning your subject curriculum – the enacted curriculum that students experience in your lessons.

Hold Attention 

Without this, most of the rest won’t be effective.  It always pays to reinforce the routines around attention so that you get it promptly from everyone.

Explain well

Sometimes I have not done this well as I have been reflecting on my practice lately. By relieving in some junior classes I have noted the need to find different ways to explain the same thing – not simply repeat one method over and over.   It’s often overlooked because people spend so long talking about what to teach, rather than how to teach it.

Respond 

This links to your curriculum thinking and planning.  Designing good questions is a skill you acquire with experience and research – initially it pays to explore sources of questions rather than make them up. Planning how to organise questions in a classroom context: The trick is to involve every student, solicit multiple responses and engineer a collective response that deepens everyone’s understanding – rather than skimming from person to person.

Feedback effectively 

Giving good feedback is an essential teaching skill.  Your goal is to seek improved performance, correct errors and challenge misconceptions but also to affirm and deepen successful learning. Feedback needs to be positive and specific and be very much geared towards an immediate practice opportunity.  You need should tell them what they’re doing right; identify a specific aspect of their technique to change and improve and then get them to practise.

Routines

It is ok to change things up occasionally, but routines keep a sense of certainty.

Manage time

Time: it can all be managed well or managed badly.  It pays to map out the long term, set some time goals and milestones.

Show kindness

Relationships –are a product of other actions.  I’m suggesting that showing kindness is an essential element to relationship-building.  You can be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise but still have difficulties – or cause them – if students don’t connect with your human qualities; if they fear you or resent you.  Kindness means allowing mistakes to be made, extending a degree of parental warmth and acknowledging emotions.  You can be quite formal and disciplined and still be kind.  Crucially, it’s essential to give kindness in order to receive it in return.

React

Being responsive to students’ answers is crucial to maximize the learning from the process.  You need to tackle misconceptions and explore errors without making it seem a big deal to get things wrong; you need to probe and challenge for deeper and better answers; you need to involve other students in building on each other’s answers.

I hope your year has gone well.

Do you have any suggestions for leading your class or staff-room?

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Reflections on a Friday at an Airport

29 Nov

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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?

Growing others

1 Nov

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This week I have been reflecting on my own leadership style and growing other leaders on my staff. Coaching is an important part of my job and growing new leaders is an important part of this. My current principal has taught me the foundation of a great school is shared leadership. All participants must have a seat at the decision-making table. This ensures that the vision and direction of the school is decided upon collectively and in the best interest of all parties. Teachers are key players in the process and need to be encouraged to step into leadership roles. After all, great leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.

  • Have Middle Leaders Lead Professional Development Trainings

Professional development for teachers should be designed, implemented, and vetted by teachers. Training days need to be planned by the individuals who will be tasked with implementing the new program or idea. Furthermore, teachers should oversee running the training. Teachers should be modelling and providing information to their colleagues. Teachers will respond better to a training designed and implemented by their colleagues that one created by administration.

  • Create an opportunity for Middle Leaders to Step Up

There are times when a school is left without a member of the senior leadership team on campus due to meetings, illness, or travel. With my role in the NCEA review I have been MIA a bit this year. This is a great model to use for teachers who want to become senior leaders. Rotating this position throughout the year will give multiple teachers exposures to the work that happens up in the office and give them the opportunity to lead.

  • Inclusive Leadership Teams

A school’s leadership team should comprise of a mix of administration, teachers, and support staff. Teachers need to have a seat at this table in order to ensure that their voices are heard. Decisions about curriculum, programs, innovations, and school procedures. Without a voice at the table, teacher will be less likely to support new initiatives. Having these new ideas vetted and discussed by teacher leaders will give the initiative stronger legs to stand on and provide a path for success.

How are you growing new leaders?

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.

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.

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