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Monday, December 21, 2015

A Leaders Curse: It's not rocket science, or is it?



I have just had an epiphany.  

Again.   

I blame my ability to read and social media.  

It is not a bad thing - on the contrary it is a powerful tool for reflection. 

This is what I like about social media.  It is full of hidden wonders waiting to be discovered, and much like Forest Gump's box of proverbial choccies, you never know what you might find.  It is surprising the things I find (are you the same?) as I scroll aimlessly through the 'crammed full of information' corners of my social media feeds.  

This time, tucked away under the Reading List of my Blogger feed, I stumbled upon a post from Edutopia, The Teacher Curse No One Wants To Talk About , and it got me to thinking. 

In a nutshell, the post talks about a problem that teachers with strong content knowledge can have, and that problem is that they can have an achilles heel (described as a blind spot) - in that they have forgotten how hard it was to learn all that content.  By forgetting how long it took them to learn that content, they are forgetting how long it will take to teach it, and in doing so, can make the assumption that the lessons being taught are clear, and engaging students.   (I am paraphrasing and if you have strong content but you are one of those teachers that do not have a blind spot regarding this, then by all means, disregard).   

The article highlights seven ways to rectify this - all of which are useful bits of advice - and they also point out further places where someone might read further on this area (apparently it is well discussed in other articles).  I will leave you to read these for yourself! (see above link)

Here is where the epiphany comes in.  

I think I might have this blind spot.  You see, this blind spot is not just something applicable only to teachers.  It afflicts leaders as well.   In my case, I think it might apply to the teaching of writing, using student voice, behaviour management, student agency, personalised learning methodology...oh I think this list could be longer than I care to admit! 

You see, I say 'It's not rocket science' all the time!   In my head it is not rocket science.  

Perhaps it is.  

Perhaps it is my own professional amnesia at play.  

Perhaps I have forgotten the years of personal research into these things (who am I kidding - I am still learning, every single day in fact) and that my content knowledge continues to grow and expand, but it has been a long road to where I am now.  It did not happen overnight.  

Perhaps I need to remember this when I wonder why teachers don't know or understand concepts that I have been honing and innovating with, my whole career.  

So, in an effort to be not only reflective but helpful to other leaders (who I am sure already know this), I have come up with some questions to help you overcome your own content blindness as a Leader.

Vision 
How well do you articulate what your vision is for education? 
Is it shared?  
Is everyone on the same page and keen to go in the same direction?
How do you know this?

Space
How much space do you give your team to explore alternatives and to innovate?
Are there systems and structures that allow your team to think about alternatives, to question, to wonder and to try out things? (this is what honed my content practice over the years) 
How strong is teacher inquiry at your place?  
Is curiosity and innovation rewarded and respected at your place?

Training 
How good are your training processes?  
How well do you grow your staff?
Are you giving staff the professional development they need so that they can develop their own 'content knowledge'?
How involved are you in this process?  
Do you invest heavily in this area?  (you can't expect your team to have a growing level of expertise if you don't invest in them) 
How up to date are you?  Do you understand current pedagogy and what place it plays in todays classrooms, let alone tomorrows, and how yesterdays influenced its development? (I think this is the most important thing to be aware of)

Staffing
When you appoint new staff (experienced or new to their career), are you clear about what you are looking for?  *Hint - appointing 'mini me' teachers is not a particularly good way to solve this issue but I suspect this is a future post!

Self Review 
Do you use transformational processes like coaching to support teachers?
How do teachers share their expertise in your school and what role does self review play in assisting this?

Support 
What system do you have for self reviewing professional development and support systems in your school?
  
Your Blindspots
Do you know what they are?  
Have you spent time looking at this?
Do you know if it is your own strengths that are acting as a blindspot?  (I have written about this before on how your strengths can sometimes be your biggest blindspot)

Suffice to say, I will do my utmost to use my own questions to reflect on my own content blindspots, and I will be more mindful of 'it's not rocket science'.  

Well, I will try.  

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