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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Intuitive Assessment, Teacher Agency and Being a Disobedient Educator - Part 1

I have been thinking, wondering and considering various innovations around assessment. It has been sparked in part by a request that was made in a closed leadership environment on social media by another principal, and by the timely words in the latest hit book about education, which is currently going viral in New Zealand, Disobedient Teaching, by Welby Ings.  (More about that another time). 

I am inspired by many things, people and situations, and often I act on this inspiration.  I am, however, not that often encouraged to be disobedient (well, not openly), to step aside from the fear that constrains me as a leader, to be a little radical, and then to ask my staff to be disobedient with me!  

I won't lie, or sugar coat things to you - I was a little anxious, and a little excited too! 

I have been thinking about assessment for sometime, mostly because I don't feel what we currently do is 'cutting the mustard'.  It is my hunch that what we do with our current assessment overview is not very encouraging of intuitive, formative assessment practices.   When another principal asked the wider network for ideas on whole school assessment practices that aligned with the notions inherent within the book 'Disobedient Teaching', and others indicated in that post they wanted to find out what schools were doing as well, I offered to ask the #BFC630NZ crew.  This group of educators are some of the most innovative and cutting edge educators I know, they span the length of the country and teach in a varied set of schools, settings, and across different age groups.  I figured this would be a good platform to seek ideas and advice from and to aid in my own thinking around this.  (You can read the storify on Disobedient Teaching here). 

I hosted that chat Tuesday am, at 6:30.  I got to school a little after 7, and started going through the mid year data we were going to be discussing later that day at our staff meeting.  I was feeling a little disappointed with some of the trends in our data and I had some hunches about this that were adding to my wonderings about assessment practice.  I shared a conversation around these wondering with a member of the SLT (senior leadership team) and that is when I had an idea! 

A fairly, smack you in the face, a little radical and a little risky, kind of idea.  

I ran it past the SLT member (who has stepped back in class full time this term due to staffing shortages, so if we were to do what I was thinking, it would impact on her) and she got excited about the potiential.  We ironed out some kinks, and by 9am I had run it past the other leadership members, who were also excited to see where it might go. 

I did a bit more reading and research, placed some 'Disobedient Teaching' quotes on the white board in the staff room for teachers to ponder during the day, and ran the concept past a trusted colleague up the road over coffee at lunchtime.  (Just to ensure I had my ducks in a row and wasn't being irresponsible as well as disobedient!) 

The Idea 

At our staff meeting, after we had poured over the data and pondered the 'what nexts', I annouched that I had an idea I wanted to run past them.  I read the two quotes above, then I asked them to try something a bit different, and to join me in being a little disobedient in relation to assessment. 

 I have a great bunch of teachers in my school, and I wanted them to know that I trusted their professional judgement, their experience and that if doing something a bit different means that myself and the SLT have to step aside to let them do their job, then so be it!   I wanted them to know I had their back, and that I believe in them.  

I then presented 3 options to consider and asked if they were prepared to give it a trail during term three.  Alongside the options I presented some 'must do's' for the term (because we are in contracts and have a professional obligation to hold up our end of the bargain) and one caveat. 

The Options 

Option One:  Go off reservation!

In other words, I gave the staff that wish to, the equivalent of a blank cheque to go and do whatever they wanted to in regards to assessment, however they wanted to and that I trusted them to do what they know is right for our students learning.  You see, to be an intuitive teacher and implement intuitive formative assessment practices, you have to know your students, know your curriculum and not assess to a timetable, but to the needs of your students.  I know I have teachers that can do this.  I wanted to give them the option to show me what they can achieve when all the shackles (even the imagined ones) are removed. 

Option Two: Status Quo 

Just like in the classroom, I knew I had some teachers who would be be a little wary of removing the safety barriers.  And, here is the thing, wanting to operate within boundaries is ok!  I wouldn't take away the safety net for any student in a classroom that I knew might need some support or scaffolding.  Option two is about carrying on with our current assessment timetable and format.  One staff member who has chosen this option, and is recently back into teaching after having taken a break for a number of years remarked that for now, this was a good thing for them to do, and 'that's the reason we have it anyway, right? Perhaps next year I will be ready to try something new!'.  I will confess that I was impressed with the level of reflection behind the statement, and I really respect the reasoning behind the decision.  


Option Three: Collaborate with others of your choosing/like minds with a mix of option one and two! 

Option three is a bit of a mixture of both options one and two.  It gives people some form of scaffolding but allows for the creativity that comes from collaboration with others.  I am really looking forward to what the self selected teams come up with.  Collective risk taking, creativity and innovation - could be quite a journey! 


The Must Haves

After consultation with my SLT, we included a small set of requirements that would still need to be met in order to meet our professional obligations to several contracts we are a part of, and in order to minimise what could end up being an onerous workload come term 4.  


  1. 6 yr Net/weeks at school RR/Cluster writing task 
  2. Any ALL/ALiM (Accelerated Learning in Literacy and Accelerated Learning in Math)  
  3. Evidence for LTF (Learning Talk Framework) meetings (like PLGs) 
  4. A process to ensure students continue to progress 
  5. A basis in good practice and link it into coaching 

The Caveat 

That everyone will share their journey to their colleagues in week ten of the term at staff meeting, outlining what they did (even if that was Status Quo) and what difference it made.  


Going Forward

I am unsure what the outcome for the term will be but I am certain that by stepping aside and giving my teachers agency, we are going to have some interesting outcomes.  Across our staff there is a wide variance in terms of what people are going to do, from those going off reservation, staying status quo, and going for option three.  I was not surprised to see a fairly even mix of what people would do, but I think this is a good thing.  I do not want a cookie cutter approach to teaching in our school, and I want teachers that are about being the best teacher they are meant to be - not a clone of someone else's ideal, all doing the same thing in the same way, every day.  Our children are not all little clones and they deserve a range of teachers who see them as little human beings deserving of an education that fits them, not the other way around.  We have to stop making our students fit the system and instead bespoke it for the students and the teachers.  

As the principal it is a little risky, but in some respects by doing this I am modelling risk taking so that they can risk take.  Someone asked me the question that I am sure some of you reading this is no doubt thinking 'but what if someone doesn't do any assessments?'.  I guess this is a risk, but I am confident in two things - the first that my staff are professional and capable, and the second, that we have the systems and support structures in place should we have a concern.  For example, our LTF meetings are about discussions on best practice around students we are targeting, and these require teachers to bring evidence of learning and progress to the meetings.  I did tell staff that (when outlining the must haves) turning up to one of these sessions without any evidence would be a bit of a red flag for SLT, not as a warning, but as a way to be transparent.  For our beginning teachers who might need more support, I have all the confidence in my mentor teachers.  They will provide support and guidance.  In addition, all our teachers are either coached or mentored so support is simply a conversation away.  

I have been quietly researching the ins and outs of teacher agency (I have a draft post on this for later) and what excites me the most about this trial is that what we are doing this term is an example of teacher agency at its most potent.   I am looking forward to what we find out, and what impact this will have on us going forward.  I will be documenting our journey and I am hopeful that what we learn about data, assessment and our students will be a powerful form of self review.  

Perhaps one of my favourite responses when I asked one of the team what her plan was, was 'Oh, I am definitely going off reservation, but the most important thing you said was about this being about professionalism and making a difference for our kids' (or words pretty close to this).  

There does feel like there is a bit of a buzz going on, and I am looking forward to the conversations we will be having.  

Here is to being a little disobedient!  Watch this space! 
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Your Blog Goes On Sabbatical! (6 Reasons to do it)


I have been a little quiet of late.  

To clarify (before those of you who know me personally start piping up to argue the 'quiet' bit) I mean quiet on the blog writing front.  I am not going to jump into a whole pile of excuses and blame it on being busy, because I am ALWAYS busy, but I did take my blog and place it on a type of digital 'time out'.  Not the naughty step type of time out, but the sabbatical type of time out.  

For sometime I have been wondering about my blog, and if I was going to carry on in the direction my blog has taken (which seems to be somewhat preoccupied with all things leadership and education), start a new one or try juggle two.  In someways it is a bit like being at a cross roads (some kind of blogette mid life crisis - I know blogette is not a real word but, oh well).  

You see, when I started my blog, it was to release my creative genie, which had been locked away for far too long.  Initially, I thought I would blog more around the lifestyle genre - you know, topics like 'My 13 year old is driving me nuts', or 'Is our world run by mad men?" with the odd post about some of my favourite things such as 'Why Mink boots are the best thing in your closet' or 'Why this lipstick will change your life'.  Initially I figured Four Seasons In One Kiwi would drift off into my professional life (it is a large all consuming part of my day so it makes sense) at times, but I had not realised it would morph into mostly being about my professional life.  

Hence the cross roads.  

As a result of said cross roads, I have temporary placed my blog into a time out type of sabbatical.  It is not like I have not been writing - on the contrary,  I have more half written and unpublished posts to rival any mainstream media outlet, and I have been dabbing in a variety of other creative outlets (such as Bullet Journalling, website fiddling with Wix, slideshow creations with My SimpleShow, digital badge creation with Credly and when we went away to New York at Easter, notating the trip by using Trip Cast).   I have to confess to binge watching a few things on Netflix as well, but this is about recharging by being a blobby  McBlobster than being creative! 

I decided during the recent term break to make a decision - keep it or replace it.  I want my blog to be successful and my writing to be useful, and that is why I placed it into time out. Contradictory I know.   

I needed to make some decisions.  Would I decide to stay with Blogger or transfer to Wordpress, or start fresh, or run two.  It is having to make these decision which have in some ways  held me back, and been a bit of a heavy weight on my mind, which in turn, led to a bit of procrastination.   But then I had an epiphany. 

One night as I was writing another blog post on leadership in my head instead of trying to sleep, I realised that I need to keep this blog because it serves a couple of very good purposes.  It keeps my brain for keeping me awake because I have written my words here, and it helps me reflect on what is happening in my professional world.  I still want to write the lifestyle things (just for fun) so I am still a little stuck in the traffic isle of my cross roads, but at least I have made the step back into continuing Four Seasons in One Kiwi.  At some point I will decide if there is room on here to write about professional things and the other areas that interest me or start a different blog, but for now, time to get back onto the writing wagon.  

In case you are interested, there has been some upsides to placing my blog into time out, if you are feeling a little betwixt and between yourself.

6 Reasons to Place Your Blog into Time Out:   


1. Placing my blog into  time out has allowed me to try my hand at something new which has given me a new perspective about creativity and this is energising.  I have done some great things with my new iPad Pro and apple pencil (a blog post for another day!).  I am not short on inspiration.

2.  Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to decide if blogging is important enough to carry on with.  Bonus for me is that I realised that writing makes me happy, shuts my thinking up and helps me reflect on the world around me. 

3. Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to tap into a new side of creativity and this in turn, means I have explored other ways to increase productivity and write in other genres, including fiction.  

4. Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to catch up on some reading - the irony here is that that in turn has inspired me to write!  Oh the wonderings I have had!  

5. Placing my blog into time out allowed me to enjoy our holiday in New York without being tied into having to blog.  A caveat here however, is that I wrote in a journal (which allowed me to connect in a real hands on, physical way) and I recorded our daily adventures via Trip Cast.  This was harder than I thought, because I found New York to be a bloggers paradise....I could start a whole new blog just writing about the crazy beauty that is NY! 

6. Placing my blog into time out gave me a chance to do a digital detox of a sort.  In addition to taking a break, I have also tried to not open my laptop as much in weekends, or reply to emails on a Sunday.   It has not been easy, but not opening my laptop to blog is actually what is needed to take time out from the digital world of always being available.  This 'detox' has been good for me. 



Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Case of Professional Curiosity


Dear reader, let me begin with a small apology.  I have just noticed that I have not actually published anything since what appears to be the middle of the last ice age!  Ok, that might be the smallest of exaggerations, but I have had a bit of a sabbatical from publishing and now I realise that half of the new school years first term has flown by!  You could be forgiven for thinking that I had been hit by the proverbial bus, or kidnapped by crazy policy makers to create the next best, biggest educational disruption to hit our schools.  But no, nothing as exciting,  just your bog standard quotidian leadership tasks that plague educators when school starts for the year.  

The irony here is that my fingers have not been still - in fact, quite the contrary.  I have a plethora of drafts sitting in blogger (23 to be exact) and another pile on my phone in Notes.  Not only have my fingers been busy jotting down ideas, thoughts and wonderings, but my mind has been awash with posts to explore.  Perhaps the thing that has been niggling away at the back of my mind like some kind of bone obsessed puppy, is that of todays post.  (cue drum roll...) 

Professional Curiosity, PC for short.  

It all started in January after a routine blood test threw up a worrying anomaly.  When I say worrying,  to clarify, it was me that was fixated on it more than the health professionals I was dealing with.  And it is that clarification that started my wonderings about professional curiosity - or lack there of.  You see, what I could not reconcile in my head is why no one was curious about this anomaly.  Without going into the ins and outs (and boring you all silly) the crux of the matter is that on one hand I had either cured the incurable or on the other hand, I had a big issue.  The fact that only I was curious about the conflict in data baffled me.  

It made me think of other incidents where professional curiosity was key to being successful in a chosen field.  For example, Techno Man is a techie (as his nickname suggests) - and I know that if he gets an IT issue that seems insolvable or has conflicting data or behaviour in a strange way, that he will leave no stone unturned until he figures out what is going on.  I know of mechanics that also think the same way - if they are presented with an engine issue that does not add up, they will go through a process to uncover why and seek a pathway forward.  Teachers and educators are the same - many of you will know this as 'teaching as inquiry', where you look at the data and try and figure out where to next.  Perhaps your high achieving students have slipped in their learning from Above to At.  Your professional curiosity is what drives you to dig deeper into why something is happening in order to find the most effective way to overcome it.  

The more I thought about my own health anomaly (I am fine by the way - I think - in case you were worried about me) the more I applied that wondering about professional curiosity to the teachers I work with.  So much so, I discussed it at our Teacher Only Day, asking staff to think carefully about what was going on in their classrooms, did they notice any anomalies or things that just do not add up - what were they curious about.  I asked them to tap into their professional curiosity and use this as the basis of their Teacher as Inquiry.  

You see, inquiring into your practice - tapping into your professional curiosity - irrespective of what field you work in, is what I believe is at the heart of what you do.  I will take another large leap and say that being professionally curious and following that curiosity is what differentiates you from your colleagues that don't.  In a busy classroom, it can be all to easy to fall back into default (I am going to publish a post about that topic soon - hopefully before the next ice age!) and I imagine in a busy doctors practice the same applies.  The high achieving, successful teacher, doctor, mechanic, techie (insert profession here) who gets results does not fall back into default 'she will be right' mode.  They tap into their professional curiosity and ask themselves the hard questions about why something is the way it is, and they look for the anomalies and the outliers so that they can rule them in or out as required.  They inquire into their practice and they ask themselves - 'what do I need to do differently'. They use a system to work through (many teachers will be familiar with the Spirals of Inquiry) and they do not stop at the first stone they uncover.  They use their professional curiosity to wonder, examine, explore hunches and test out theories until they get their desired outcome.   Imagine how much more success you would have as a teacher if your students were PC about their learning!  (I feel another post brewing) 

The more I think about PC, the more fascinated I am.  I have never really warmed to the term Teaching as Inquiry as I have always found it a bit 'fad' like.  I am a strong supporter of inquiring into my practice, but I think I like the term Professional Curiosity more.  To me it differentiates teaching inquiry with students vs the Teacher Inquiry.  In my humble opinion I think some teachers get a bit confused about it, but if we were to say 'what are you curious about' I have a professional hunch that teachers would embrace this as something a little more user friendly.  Heck, I expect that applies in all fields!   I know, and I hear you (I can see you rolling your eyes) - it is the same thing.  Perhaps, but professional curiosity is not just a teacher thing, it is a 'doing your job to the best of your ability' thing, and it is applicable to all avenues. 

I don't know about you, but as a parent I want the teachers working with my daughter to be PC about my daughters learning pathway.  I want the teachers in my school to be PC about what is happening in their classrooms and to inquire into that curiosity, and I want my doctor to look at the anomalies in my blood work, be PC and ask themselves 'what is going on here - what stones do I need to look under to find out why'!  I don't think that is a big ask.  

Finally, what are you professionally curious about?  I appreciate most of you will be in education, but some of you will be reading this (perhaps you fell here by accident, but welcome) with as equally exciting jobs as an educator.  What, in your chosen field, makes you curious, and what are you going to do about it!  

It is all very well to be curious, but do not leave it there -explore and inquire into it.  Who knows what you might discover - your discovery could be the next best thing since sliced bread, or solve how to accelerate students who are struggling, or it might be the solution to fix that annoying thingywhatsit on your cell phone!  So go forth and explore you professional curiosity and let me know how you get on - after all, I'm curious about it!  Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, January 9, 2017

Leadership Hack Playlist - 12 Songs to Blow off Steam

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Back in early November I wrote a blog post, The Fear in the Belly, 11 Leadership Hacks to Overcome It, more of a reminder to myself that I was quite capable of getting through the tough days that are Term Four.  In that post, under leaderships hack number Four - 'Blow off the steam',  I promised I would put together a post of the songs that have been my 'go to' when my day has turned to custard and I am in the mindset where I am seriously considering and wondering how hard it is to be an Uber driver, walk away and have a fresh start.   Fortunately the super tough days are more anomaly (why was that word so dang difficult to spell)  than reoccurring cycles stuck on repeat!   

This is not a definitive list.  

There are many songs that I love to sing loudly in my car (and most days that is just because I love them and they make me happy - but that is another list for another day) and often they change, depending on what is popular for me at the time or what has struck a chord.  Some are oldies and on reflection, only really come out of the archives on really tough days.   Some I sing (or is that scream) out at the top of my lungs, with the volume so high it vibrates the car, possibly worries people on the sidewalk, and is probably impacting on my hearing!  As a stress release, there is nothing like it!  Others, I sing and they make me cry; yes the tears are ones of sadness, but they act as a healing balm, washing away my day. And this, this allows me to walk in through my front door and be mindful of those at home.  

1. Miaa - Dynasty



What is not to love?  This song is passionate, stirring and when you crank up the sound system and sing it loudly and with the same passionate verve it invokes in you, you can not help but feel the beauty of the music wash over you, and this, for me, instantly lifts my mood!  

2. Sia - Alive 





I will confess her Videos are a little weird but this song is a reminder that I am indeed ALIVE, and I am still BREATHING and I SURVIVED!  The message is powerful and when I play it, I feel grateful.  Tomorrow is another day, I am able to brush myself off and I have this!  


3. Andra Day - Rise Up 



The words speak for themselves!
"And I'll rise up
 rise like the day
 I'll rise up
 I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
 And I'll do it a thousand times a day"

I crank this song up very loud, play it more than once and I sing this with as much gusto as I can muster.  If the day has been particularly tough and I find myself in a fragile frame of mind,  this song will bring me to tears, and for some reason, when the tears fall, I feel the weight of the day lift.  

4. Artists of Then and Now - Forever Country 



This song brings me straight back to my roots.  I love this mash up of all the country songs of my youth, and it makes me happy.  I can sing along, tap my toes and be transported back in time.   It makes the list of blowing off steam because it is a great distraction.  Its' time capsule abilities make it a great soothing track.  The older I get, the more I stand up and embrace country music.  I love many genres and I am a little tired of pretending to 'dis' country when I know its a big fat lie.  

5. Glen Stapleton - Tennessee Whiskey 



OMG, what is not to like!  This bluesy, laid back song is my current favourite piece of country music and I love, love, love it.  As soon as the first chords ring out, I start to feel relaxed.  I can almost imagine myself sitting down in front of a roaring log fire, in a Queenstown bar in the middle of winter with a class of 'smooth whiskey' or 'warm brandy'.   Hmmm.  Listening to it now and I can feel the knots in my shoulders start to unwind.  This song is a pure indulgence and my advice to all you country haters is do not knock it until you try it! 

6. Disturbed - The Sound of Silence 





This song is a little darker but for some reason, its darker tones make me feel lighter in my own soul, as if by singing its lyrics I can offload the baggage to someone else.  As far as a remake goes, this is one of the best.  

7. Imagine Dragons and Lil Wayne - Sucker for Pain 



What is not to love?  This is a most definitely 'turn up loud and pretend you are a rapper of some note' song!  I love the lyrics, the beat and the movies one of my favourites!  As far as a stress release kind of song goes, this is one of the best.  

8. Muse - Uprising 




This is my anti establishment song and when you hear this song belting out of my car stereo then you know its been a rough day and I am pretty mad at someone or something.  This song came out during a particularly tough period of my career where it would be fair to say my distrust of bureaucracy was born, resulting in a certain aversion to risk taking (by that I mean messing with bureaucracy but that is another story for a more brave day).   This song reminds me of what is important and that I need to have faith in myself - that it is ok to be an advocate and to stand strong, and not allow the scars to sway me. Avert eyes now if you are easily offended.  It is my 'FU' song.  

9. Pentatonic - Hallelujah 




Actually, I am usually a bigger fan of Stan Walkers version, but either way, this is the one on my music playlist right now, and one of my current favs.  It could be because it coincided with the Christmas season, but regardless, I love this song and singing it loudly makes me feel less anxious and a whole lot more chilled.  On the rare occasion when the universe aligns, I have been known to hit some of the tough notes; it has to be super loud and if I pull if off, I feel a sense of accomplishment that nothing in my office that day could provide.  For that itself, it is priceless.   It just makes me happy.  

10.  Twenty One Pilots - Stressed Out 




Kind of speaks for itself really.  The lyrics really tickled my fancy.  I Play it loud, sing with pride and let the music do its thing.  

11.  Blake Shelton - Do You Remember 




Yes, it is another country song, and in fairness to Blake, I could add most of his songs to this list.  There is something about his music that makes me feel warm, safe and bundled up in a warm and comfy blanket.  His voice has the power to relax and chill.  I first heard his dulcet tones on a plane trip across the ditch on the way to a conference - I had finished my movie and was flicking through the music playlists and found his 'Based on a True Story' album and its been a love affair since.  I did not notice the plane landing (and that is the bit I dislike the most) and to this day his music makes me happy.  

12. Siaa - The Greatest 



Again, the lyrics speak for themselves.  "I am free to be the greatest here alive...don't give up, I won't give up...I've got stamina'.  It is a good reminder that we can do this, we can own this and we have the stamina to fail and stand back up!  "Don't give up - no, no, no'  

                                                                .......................................

Only twelve songs - but twelve songs that can revive me from a leadership low, and make me feel whole again.  I have more, but for the time being, these are my top (as witnessed by the 'recently played' playlist on my phone!!)  I have always found music to be one of my biggest sanity savers, and I have noticed over the years that the music I love at the time, relates a lot to where I am at.  I note that, for the most part, most of this playlist is about being strong, holding on and believing in your own strength and resilience.   

I guess, at the end of the day, it is not important whether you like my playlist but if you have your own things (it may or may not be music) that help you 'blow off steam'.  I have colleagues that like to run, and others that are Jazz aficionados (not my cuppa tea by any means), so what is yours?

Whatever your blower of steam  is - may it be the magical antidote to any leadership lows you may have!  


Monday, January 2, 2017

Beware the 'Creep Up'

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Let me begin with a clarification.  By bewaring the 'creep up' I am not referring to your underpants or the weird fella down the street with the dodgy van.  By 'creep up' I am referring to those things in life that sneak up on us, practically unexpected (I would like to say completely unexpected but if we were to be honest with ourselves, we are given signs we are more than likely to just be in denial about them).  

The life of a busy person is an interesting thing.  Sometimes it is in our 'busyness' that we fail to see things creep up on us until it feels like they have smacked us on the side of the head with the full force of a pro boxer!  Sometimes this 'busyness' has the by product of the above denial! 

One thing I like about this time of the year (Summer holidays) is that it is the only prolonged 'time out' that gives me enough breathing space and navel gazing opportunities to rediscover who I am, WHY I am and it gives me the time to do a bit of a stock take of my life; especially my health and general wellbeing (physical and mental).  

I have noticed a few things that have 'crept up' on me, which I am working to rectify (or have peace with, as the case may be).  Here are my top 5. 

Middle Age 

Actually, this is just a simple case of denial really.  I know how old I am, and soon, I will be half way to ninety, which, because my brain has not caught up or gotten the memo, seems a bit surreal really.  We spend most of our younger years pretending we are older than we actually are, and our middle years pretending the opposite.  No wonder our brains get confused!  I am not sure about this middle aged thing - nor am I confident I understand the rules!  So sod it, I will just have to do it my way.   I read the other day that the new phrase for middle aged women is Midult (which Collins dictionary defines as the 35-55 year old, digitally literate female Gen X with a disposable income, demographic) and I LIKE it.  Pretty much sums me up nicely (not so sure about the disposable income bit - that gets eaten up by Miss 13 who can consume disposable income faster than a starving puppy).  So, in order to make peace (because I can not really rectify it) with 'middle age' this Midult is going to own it her way!  (sounds great - unsure what it actually looks like but watch this space anyway) 

Winter Padding 

Oh alright, by winter padding I mean those extra kilograms that snuck up and attached themselves to various parts of my body when I wasn't looking.  Yes, you are correct dear reader, this is yet another example of denial in action.  Lack of self control on the 'delicious but should not put it into my mouth so often' front, combined with a job that has lots of pressure (I am refraining from using the S word in an attempt to take some of its power off it, much like in Harry Potter where they say "he who shall not be named') and a bad habit of leaving work too late and too tired to go to the gym!  (yes, that was an excuse - soz) My gym gear travels to work with me every day, but alas, that is mostly all it has done - come for a free ride!   On the plus side, several layers of padding have been dealt with already and the basis of good habits are being underwritten each day.  The added bonus will be that the the health effects from the 'S' word will also be minimised - so theres that to look forward to! 

The Impact of Clutter 

This was a legitimate creep up - promise!  On the last day of term I looked at my desk/office/laptop desktop and wondered how on earth I had managed to let it get so BIG.  I notice that when I am juggling many things, I have a bit of a terrible habit of putting something into what I affectionally call the 'when I am not so busy' pile.  Ha.  That is a bit of a joke, because the kicker is that I am always busy!  This term 4 was a particularly harrowing and frantic term, and I ended up with quite a few of these piles - digital and real life.  The digital piles have been cleared - I had to migrate to a new computer (which I should have done A LONG time ago but the job was too big for the schedule until now) and migrating a new laptop is a great opportunity to clean up.  The physical piles have been attacked a few times - I try and leave the term 'tidy' but with all the dramas of the last few days of school never quite finished so came in prior to Christmas and attacked them then.  Sadly this clutter is not confined to just my office, but had invaded parts of our home.  This is still a work in progress!   Every summer holidays I clear out the 'plastics' cupboard - how the heck does it even keep growing?  As for those lost socks - resistance is futile - you will be found and assimilated!  Sigh.  

Things don't work like they used to 

Your limbs don't move the way they used to, things hurt at random times and for random reasons, and your eagle like eyesight is less reliable than it was.  All key features of being  Midult and not something that should really come as a surprise, but when somethings refuses to work the same efficient way it used to, it really does feel like it has crept up in some nasty game of 'surprise, guess what doesn't work now'.  


Being a Midult with a Teenager 

Like Middle Age, your child becoming a teenager shouldn't be a surprise, but for some reason, this has felt a bit like it has crept up on me.  One of my areas of expertise in Education is behaviour management (I've even written the books - true story) but all those things go out the window when you have one living in your house.   It is amazing how your own child can render you from competent to incompetent in a matter of moments.   Sometimes, It is a little like living with a mercurial nuclear weapons operator (in fairness this could describe either of us).  One moment, you see glimpses of the beautiful adult they are blossoming into, the next, the crazy 'could push the nuclear button that will annihilate the world' mad person emerges.   Goodness knows how difficult it is navigating the murky waters of being a 21st Century teenager, best we can do is be there as they make the journey and hope you don't get driven to sample the special 'lemonade'  too often!  


Overcoming or rectifying the 'Creep Ups': 

Whilst I would love to offer you all some wonderful and sage advice, if we were to be honest wiht ourselves,  overcoming the 'creep ups' is really about employing some basic time management tools and a little bit of common sense.  

1. Read this post.   Some of these ideas can be found in a previous post 'Confessions of a Procrastinator' which includes some handy hints that will help you avoid a 'creep moment'. 

2. Be mindful - obviously if you feed yourself too much of the not so good for you foods, fail to look after your health and keep fit, then you are going to have some issues.  Live in the present!

3. Remind yourself that sometimes life is messy, try not to dwell on it, learn from it and move on.  

4. Be kind to yourself.  You are human - see number 3.  

5. Embrace the unexpected - see if you can find the sparkle in the dark and chalk it down to the beauty that is the journey of life.  If you can reflect on it and find the lesson, then all the more for it! 

6. Develop the growth mindset of a warrior.  Get up, brush yourself off and own it!  

7. Breathe!  Take a break, and remember, you have got this!

8. Ask for help - from a friend, family, colleague or a professional.  

These are my top 5 'creep ups' and some ways to overcome them.  What things creep up on you and what solutions do you use?  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sayonara 2016 - Don't let the door hit you on the backside as you leave...




It is amazing how fast 2016 has zoomed by.  

It seems only months ago we were raising our glasses to toast it in - but here I am, a year later, on New Years Eve, taking a few moments to reflect on what I can only describe as a bit of a strange year.  

Strange does not really do it justice - it has, in fact, been a crazy ole year.  For me, and I would hazard a guess, for much of the world, it has had as many ups as it has had downs.  One thing I am confident of is that there have been plenty of things (cough Brexit, cough the Presidential outcome) that will no doubt be considered, later in our worlds history, as the catalysts that led to the unfolding of some fundamental world changing events; events that are yet to be seen.   Yay, something to look forward to... (insert sarcastic face)

More often than I am comfortable with, especially in the second half of this year, I have wondered if the earth has been a little off its axis and a little off kilter with humanity.      

As the neighbourhood resounds with the loud cacophony of left over Guy Fawkes fireworks, and end of year parties, I can not help but reflect on the things I am grateful for, and the things that I have to look forward to.  

I am not a big fan of setting arbitrary resolutions, because I am more of an ongoing goal setting kinda gal, but I do acknowledge that the promise of fresh starts and clean slates that hangs around like a whisper, ready for us to grab, as a new year approaches, has a certain appeal.  

As the new year countdown beckons, I am curious about what the next 12 months holds in store for us all.  Each of us has been gifted with 52 new weeks, 365 fresh and clean days, made up of 8760 hours, a little over half a million (525,600 to be exact) minutes untainted by experiences (bad and good) and 3,1536,000 seconds.  How we choose to use this time will be within our power.   We can choose to be successful, and fill them with love, peace, laughter, fun, joy, happiness and good fortune.  Or, we can waste them.  The choice is ours.  

For you and yours, I wish you a year of all the wonderful things that life has to offer, and a reminder that for the times that are a little darker and stormier, to keep the faith.  For those difficult times,  never forget that the dark allows us to appreciate the light, and the stormy weather give us a chance to welcome the warmth of the sun.   Be kind to yourself, embrace change and enjoy the ride!  Make the most of the time you are gifted with in 2017, because you just never know what tomorrow will bring.  The fact it is not promised and guaranteed is in itself like a gift.  A timely reminder to be grateful, and to live in the moment.  (note to self - put the phone down more) 

If I was to be honest, I will not be sorry to see the backside of 2016 as it slinks out the door and I am open to the opportunities and changes that a fresh and shiny new year has to offer!  I think the following short visual best sums up 2016 - in the style of a horror movie trailer!  

SO, sayonara 2016 - thanks for coming, your time is up, make sure you don't let the door smack you  on your backside as you leave! 



Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Fear in the Belly - 11 Leadership Hacks to Control It

"Without the darkness, how can you recognise the light" Tuvok 

(Star Trek Generations) 


Ever had one of those moments where you feel a little queasy and the queasiness is not related to what you ate, but what you experienced?

It's that little ball of fear that makes your tummy twist and recoil, almost in an attempt to run away and hide.  It is a visceral response, and because it is not your intellect that controls it, but something far more primitive and raw,  keeping it under control when you are facing 'those' situations (you know the ones, quite often they blindside us and proceed these dreaded little words 'have you got a minute') is no easy task. 

I know that feeling in the pit of my belly well - too well.  I suspect, if you are in leadership, especially educational leadership, you know it well too! 

This post is as much as a reminder to myself, as it is a way to support others.  


Leadership is mostly rewarding, fulfilling, and an opportunity to make a difference.  As with all bright moments, there are also some darker times, and the flip side to the great is that leadership can also be challenging, hard work, dark and unforgiving.  Some days, weeks and months are amazing and other times, not so much.  Sometimes you are faced with situations that bring about that uncomfortable feeling of fear in the pit of your belly, and the key to walking away mostly unscathed is in how you manage yourself and your reactions during the 'fear in the belly' moments. 

The following 11 suggestions/leadership hacks are by no means a definitive list, but they are things that can help, and things that I have been honing myself, over the years.  

1. Disconnect - take time out and leave work at work 


I know what you are thinking, "but I have ... (insert whatever seems important, files to file, Charters to write, data to analyse - the list is endless) to do..."  I have a revelation to share with you - disconnecting for a weekend - and I mean the WHOLE weekend, from when you leave on Friday and return on Monday, will NOT - I repeat - will NOT, make the world end.  You are of absolutely no use to anyone, family or colleagues, if you do not take some time for yourself.  You work hard - really hard.  You are the person that everyone wants a piece of, and quite frankly, if you do not keep some aside for you, you will falter and fall.  

2. Do what brings you joy 


This is related to number one.  (can you see a pattern emerging here?  Good) What makes you happy?  And for this, I mean both at work and at home.  For example, my batteries are recharged at work by going and working with, and talking with students.  They are why I went into this career - they are who I want to be great for, and they make my heart sing because they are such great role models of resilience and joy.  Getting unstuck from my office to spend time with our students is a highlight and no matter how much fear might be swirling around the pit of my belly, our students remind me of the WHY.  Every time.  To recharge my batteries at home, I love to walk on the beach - the beach is like a stress soother.  It doesn't even matter what the weathers like - there is just something very healing and powerful about the ocean.  It reminds me that the world is a wonderful, changing place to explore, and life is an adventure just waiting for me to go and seek it!    Those are just two examples - what are yours? 

3. Get your 'ducks' in a roll 


Make your lists, get your systems out and be organised.  When things are difficult, it could be all too easy to slip into a state of darkness, and let the organisation systems slip.  Don't fall for that!  When things seem out of control, getting back on top of the chaos is a priority and will help you feel more organised and in control.  Be systematic, think like a Start Trek Vulcan and allow logic and reason a chance to flourish.  You can read more about things to slow down the 'roller coaster' in my recent post 'The Leadership Rollercoaster'.  Suffice to say, getting your 'ducks' in a row is the equivalent of your own leadership security blanket.  

4. Blow off the steam 


Something I find very helpful in combating the fear in the belly moments is letting off some steam.  We all have a variety of ways to do this, but my two favourites are either a hard out gym session (the older I get the more these seem to nearly kill me) or a super loud 'pretend I am a rock star' session in my car on the way home.  When I say loud, I do indeed mean loud.  One of the things I like about my car is that it has a fantastic sound system.  I have a number of songs that I LOVE to sing loudly (most likely badly but thats not important) and there is something very cathartic about doing this.  I imagine I must look like a bit of a twit (and goodness knows how bad it sounds) but, that is a small price to pay for regaining my sanity.  I hope to put together a post with some of my favourite songs shortly.  Watch this space.  

5. Become intimate with your stress response


How well do you know yourself?  Do you understand the symptoms of the 'fear in the belly' moments?  There is a difference between situational sickness and actually being unwell.  Each of us 'feels' our emotions in our belly differently, and only you know what your response is.  Some people feel nauseated, others feel 'off colour', some feel tendrils of cold running through their veins and others might feel flu like symptoms.  Get to understand your own responses to stressful situations so that you can find which of these strategies (or others) might help you keep them under control. 

6. Know your triggers 


Do you know what makes you feel that 'fear in the belly'?  Similar to the one above, this is about understanding what causes it.  For example, one of mine is feeling out of control.  By that, I mean encountering one of 'those' moments that I have never encountered before because often fear has at its core, the notion that 'I don't know what to do'.  Unfortunately, or perhaps from a growth mindset point of view, fortunately, the Universe has provided me with numerous such encounters which has given me a system to help bring some control to it.  Part of my 'system' is to do some of these very hacks.  I always start with trying to bring some perspective and control back to the situation by asking myself, who can help, what steps need to be taken, who needs to be informed, where does it fit into our policies, and what have I missed?  I wrote above about getting your 'duck's' in a row and being organised - tapping into the logical and analytical part of your brain helps to bring some perspective and calm to the situation, giving you a chance to take some control.  My brain doesn't function well when it is stuck in flight or fight mode, and having a system to calm it down helps.  

7. Debrief - you are not alone!


This is a big one. Who do you go to debrief?  Who is your confidante and 'wise shoulders'?  I am fortunate in that there are a few people I trust to discuss 'hairy' things with.  Knowing who to go to to get the correct advice (such as School Trustees Association) is also crucial. They know what you need to do, who you need to contact and what process you need to follow in order to ensure both natural justice and as a safeguard for yourself and your school.  I am in no doubt that the person I use is outstanding and without their help would have struggled.  Then there are the awesome people in your professional learning network (if you are one of mine, and I am sure you know who you are, know that I love you to the moon and back, am terribly grateful to have you and you are fabulous).  Know who your people - your tribe - are.  They are literally your sanity savers! 

8. Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude


This one is hard when the going is tough.  Our brains seem to be predisposed to sinking into the doom and gloom, but if you can shake that old dark dog off your shoulders long enough to appreciate those things that do go well, the people in our life that make it all worthwhile and the small things that we can be grateful for, then it is helpful.  At a recent leadership group meeting, we went around the room and for some of us, the term has been a little tough, all we could find to be grateful for was that we made it to the meeting!  Whilst that might seem sad, actually, it is a huge testament to the knowledge that somedays, it is the small things that make the big difference, and on that particular day, just getting there meant the world to us.  So, being grateful might just be a list of the little things (my car got me to work in one piece, the coffee was hot, the breeze from the window is fresh, the little picture of New York on my journal makes me feel hopeful I will get there and motivates me to keep on going, etc).  I would suggest meditation as another useful tool, but that is not something I am particularly skilled at - yet.  (Keeping my brain silent for more than a moment is always a victory) 

9. Affirmations 


Bare with me, because I know this is going to seem naff, but if it really helps me!  Think growth mindset!  How you talk to yourself matters.  I know it's easy to fall into the 'I hate my job' mantras when a situation occurs, and because I have had moments where I have felt like this, or where I've lain in bed in the morning reluctant to get up because, for that moment, it's just too hard! (I may have burst into tears once or twice, much to the horror and concern of Technoman).  So, I combat this with a positive mantra or two (or fifty - some days are harder than others).  I've been doing this leadership job for over 15 years, and some of my experiences as a school principal would make your toes curl.  If my naff solution around affirmations to calm the fear, and soothe the turmoil in the tummy are of any use to anyone else, I can surely overcome my own insecurities to share them.  I've set my phone to send me a reminder in the morning, and again before bed, with a little private message that reminds me that I'm doing a good job, and that I'm enough.  In addition, I have an app on my phone that if my day has been particularly rough, I can press a button and read some positive, random affirmations.  If you're interested, the apps called 'Affirmations' and you can download it from iTunes and Amazon.  It's a resiliency tool that helps keep me feeling in perspective.  What I have found, is that rewiring my inner voice to say 'I love my job, I love my job' instead of 'I hate my job' just takes the edge off the dark moments by shinning a little light of positivity.  

10. Breathe!  No seriously, breathe! 


When I encounter the 'fear in my belly' I automatically work to calm my fear by breathing.  There are many many ways to do this, and I have now got it down pat (I think) in that I can take some deep breathes to collect my thoughts and most of the time, you would not even notice that I am doing it.  Google breathing exercises to get anxiety under control and have a go at practicing this for yourself.  Never underestimate the soothing way some good deep breathes in and out, help to bring perspective and allow you to take back some of the control on your emotions.  

11. Finally, remember 'she'll be right' 


By this I mean, a bad situation doesn't mean you are a bad leader, or that things won't get better.  It doesn't rain forever, right? So pull out your umbrella, face the rain with courage and strength and hold onto the faith that the sun is coming!  You have got this, you are quite capable of sorting your way through these situations, and remember, you are not alone!  


Please NB:  If things are overwhelming you, please seek help - see your GP or seek guidance from a support specialist (see below for kiwi links - if you are from another country, find your countries equivalent).