Tag Archives: Relationships

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?

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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.

A Relational Approach

23 Jul

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I am a great believer in starting with a clean slate. There is no better to time to this than at the start of the term. The first day of the school term and every day after provides the perfect opportunity to stand at your door, in the hallways, and meet and greet everyone. When I mean everyone, I mean everyone! I propose this because we will never know what student or colleague will build a connection with us. These short and sincere encounters with people in our communities are what begin to build the strong fibers of an interconnected environment. Ask: What is your name? What is your favorite thing about school? What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your interests? How has his day been so far? Relationships, like trust, build slowly over time. As leaders in the community we must provide the time and space to nurture all kinds of relationship building, whenever possible. What would our schools be like if we knew everyone? Building relationships with everybody helps all of us build a community. A whanau. It allows us to know who connects with whom and who can support whom in a time of need. The same can be said with staff culture.

What are your best practices in relationship building? Where do you struggle? Share both with us below in the comments sections—we’ll celebrate along with you and troubleshoot wherever necessary.

Being Relational and Empathy

16 Jul

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Empathy is so important and it something we all need to work on. Empathy is now considered one of the most important skills in the 21st Century. Teaching empathy. Learning empathy. It is something I reflect on often in my role. When interview students and staff I think about these things. I found at a recent workshop on the Law and Education that being good at these things solved so many problems.

When interviewing I practice the following:

  • Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you. A conversation started from one question should go on as long as it needs.
  • Never say “usually” when asking a question. Instead, ask about a specific instance or occurrence, such as “tell me about the last time you ______.”
  • Encourage stories. Whether or not the stories people tell are true, they reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.
  • Look for inconsistencies. Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Be aware of body language and emotions. Have tissues handy.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. If you allow for silence, a person can reflect on what they’ve just said and may reveal something deeper.
  • Don’t suggest answers to your questions. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.
  • Ask questions neutrally. “What do you think about buying gifts for your spouse?” is a better question than “Don’t you think shopping is great?” because the first question doesn’t imply that there is a right answer.
  • Don’t ask binary questions. Binary questions can be answered in a word; you want to host a conversation built upon stories.

Early Findings

30 Jun

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Our HOF Inquiry this year has been the following:

What will an innovative learning environment look like at Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth?

Recently I added this particular clip by Charles Leadbeater.

I am now reading the findings of the inquiry along with the HoF group. We are discussing next steps. I believe the following are key conditions that can make a difference:

  1. A vision for learning is incessantly and clearly communicated

What is our vision? Make sure you know where you are going.

  1. Learning is future-focused

The world is changing, make sure the learning context recognises this. Observe the students, how they work and communicate. Email is becoming obsolete. Find different ways to assess e.g. make a website or tweet an answer.

  1. Culture takes time and perseverance

Once you have the vision – prioritise your steps. The reality is, change will take time. If you believe it, be resolute. Help those who are struggling to change, but stick to your guns.

  1. Be student centred

Do students have voice or agency? Put current practices through the ‘learning’ filter – do they still belong?

  1. Equipped and supported staff are essential

Vision + ‘Learning’ Filter = Regular PD to support through change. (Fullan)

  1. Technology is an environment for learning, not the driver

Students live in a world of technology – the school-world needs be relevant.

  1. Relationships matter

In the midst of all the learning, technology and activity nothing matters more than quality relationships. Students need to belong, be known, valued and accepted. This is only achieved through relationship. Our GEMS programme is central to this.

  1. Learning is authentic

Set in a real-world context, skills will be learnt readily when there is purpose.

  1. Creativity and innovation have expression

There will always be barriers to innovation, find ways to break or go around them. Support those who are willing to make the first step and embrace failure. See an earlier blog on this.

The inquiry continues.

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