Thursday, October 23, 2014

Millionaire Techies, TIME and Education - A Grrr Moment

I like to believe the best in people, and I like to try to find the strengths and positives in most situations.  Today, however, I am struggling to find anything strength based or positive about TIME magazines cover due for release in the US on November 3.  It is currently available online. 

Quite frankly, its a shocker and it has left me feeling disappointed that a magazine of such reputation and quality would resort to such a sensationalist attack on public education, to grab the publics attention.  TIMEs cover states 'Its nearly impossible to fire a teacher.  Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.'  As far as covers go, it is a bit of a loaded gun, and it has left me wondering.

I wonder about the motivations behind TIME magazines cover.   I have 3 key wonderings:

1. Was their motivation behind using such an emotive and inflammatory statement, at best case scenario, about selling copies of magazines?  

I understand they want to sell their magazine and like any sensationalist media
'rag' they want to use this byline to entice the public to buy TIME, but I had higher expectations of TIME.  I didn't think they would drop to the level of essentially degenerating the teaching profession (a profession for which all them have to thank for their own career I might add) in order to do it.  Somehow, I thought TIME would be above that.

Their statement implies that all teachers are bad, and not only are they rotten to the core, (hence the use of the apple to portray said imagery), but they are impossible to get rid of.  Furthermore, the judges gavel implies that millionaire techies can be judge, jury and executioner of teacher quality and tenure - watch this space!  As an educator and as an educational leader in charge of teacher quality, I find this highly offensive and a blatant untruth.  It smacks of bad reporting, ill informed research and agendas that favour big corporations.

2. Or, is one of the motivations behind this cover because the editors and reporters at TIME just dislike educationalists?

Perhaps this article that implies all teachers are bad, and that bad teaching is exacerbated when teachers have job security (in this case tenure), is motivated by editors and reporters who have had a bad experience in their own educational history.  Perhaps they have a particular axe to grind?  I am less inclined to believe this would be a motivation simply because I like to have faith in the objectivity and professionalism of the people who work at TIME.  After all, I expect them to apply the same courtesy to my profession.

3. I wonder why TIME would add fuel to the fire that is educational bashing?

It is a hard time to be an educationalist.  Everywhere you look there are bad news stories, media reports about how 'bad' teachers are, and hardly anyone wants to write or publish a story about the wonderful things happening in classrooms all over the world.  Bad teachers are not the rule, they are the exception.  Teachers do fabulous things, every single day, despite ridiculous policy, ignorant political reforms and lack of resources.  Instead of buying into false mythology, how about TIME bust some myths and tell the story as it really is?  In case you missed it I will repeat the statement that bad teachers are not the rule, but the exception.  Whilst the article inside is a little more balanced in terms of the issue of tenure, it's the implications inherent on the cover.  Those with sense will buy it and read it, but many many more will simply see it, make an assumption as they walk past, and the damage is done.  Not just in the Stares, but in bookstores around the world. 

Its not just TIME magazine I have  wonderings about,  I have several wonderings about these 'tech millionaires' as well.

1. I wonder, what experience do they have in teacher quality, teacher appraisal, and teaching and education in general?

Im guessing very little.  Public education is a political hot potato that everyone has an opinion about, an interest in and one which everyone thinks they are expert at.  The mere fact that everyone has participated in the education system of their respective countries at some point makes them think they are experts.   I suspect this is where these rich techies feel they are justified in meddling in a profession they are not proficient in.

They most likely think their system for addressing quality in programming or engineering can be equally applied to that of a teacher teaching students.  This coupled with the fact they have an education themselves and they employ young people, is what is likely to be driving their belief that they are expert.  For the non educator out there - it most certainly does not make them expert, and it most certainly does not give them the mandate to reform education, take away tenure and determine quality of teaching.

If you applied that logic then you may as well let them loose on health as well.  We would all like our doctors and nurses practice to be dictated to by rich techies, because they have all been sick at some stage therefore they know how to be a doctor, wouldn't we?  (in case you missed it, that last statement was seeping with sarcasm and the answer is a definate no, not ever!)

I dont profess to be an expert on US educational policy, reform or application - but I am an excellent judge of teaching practice - I can sniff out a quality classroom in seconds - and I know teachers, students and the complexities of education.  In this case it is irrelevant which country a teacher is from, or how each countries system is set up when it comes to what it is to BE a teacher.  I also know that 'millionaire tech' moguls do not have the same understanding, experience or expertise to determine these things, and this concerns me.

2. I wonder what relevant educational research was used by the 'tech millionaires' to figure out how to fix all these 'bad' teachers and rid them of their job security?

I am guessing, none.  Good educational reform is about looking at relevant, up to date and sound research.  It has to be about what is best for students, and in terms of teacher quality, it needs to be about training, professional development, support and guidance and robust processes where the evidence helps teachers and schools grow.   Not only do I suspect that they have not used quality research but I suspect they actually don't know anything about the day to day job of an educator or an educational leader.  It may appear difficult to remove a 'bad' teacher, but actually, its about process and evidence.

To just be able to fire anyone on any grounds would be a damaging thing to do.  Not only will it attract less than ideal candidates to begin with, but further damages the trust that is needed to ensure successful schools.  You will never get collaboration and growth where there is mistrust and fear.  If these techie millionaires are good leaders they will know this.  They might be rich but they don't sound that great at leadership.

Education is an emotional labour.  Teachers are working with little human beings not programmes or hardware.  They carry the burdens of the students they teach, the good and the bad.  Tell me how you measure that?  Tell me how taking tenure (or in New Zealand we call it a permanent position) away from a job makes it a career you want to enter and better for kids?

I understand the need for public discourse on matters pertaining to public education, and I welcome the debate. Public education is also, technically, taxpayer funded and as such peoples opinions count.  However, what I am less enamoured of is the belief that big businesses and corporations and big wallets have the right to set the parameters of the debate, draft the policy and then lobby for its implementation and subsequent legislative changes.  Changes that inevitably reform education into something that is so far removed from the basic tenants of public education that it is unrecognisable.

3. I wonder about the motivation behind these millionaire techies.

Is it a motivation based on a genuine need to want to help?  I hope so, and if it is I have a suggestion. Talk to teachers, talk to principals and talk to students.  Find out how your money can really make a difference.  Invest in professional development, educational coaching initiatives and find a way to work with policy makers to stop the incessant testing regime, address equity and learn from the systems that are successful.   Use your powerful networks and finance for good.

Finally, have a few messages to the key players in this debacle.


I am disappointed in you for fuelling distasteful anti teacher sentiment and allowing the monied voice to push an agenda that is everything public education is not, through this cover.  I expect better of you and I am hoping you will do what is ethical and right and fix it.  I am hopeful that you did not intend to add to the teacher bashing.

To the public:

Be wary about what you see on a cover.  All is not as it looks, and ask yourself whose agenda is being pushed?  Think of what the consequences are, and ask yourself if you believe in your heart what you read.  Apply the argument to another profession like health, and if you are uneasy about it then go with your intuition.  Really challenge what the millionaire techies real agenda is and talk (I mean really talk) with a teacher about what its really like.

To the Millionaire Techies:

Really?  You fancy yourself an educator or educational reformer now?  Do me a favour before pushing your 'snake oil' onto my profession and go get qualified as a teacher and work within the system, in a class, in a tricky part of town, for a year.  Then tell me you have the solutions.  Somehow, I don't think you will do that.  Incidentally, do you see me or the public tell you how to fix your bug ridden programmes and glitchy hardware?  Would you like me to take my expertise as a tech user and tell you how to do things?  No, no you wouldn't, and even if I was a rich as you, I would not dare to presume I understood your context let alone lobby to legislate changes to how you operate.  I have more respect for your professionalism.  Or, re read wondering 3.  If your motivations are good ones, be diligent and research how best you can help.

To the politicians:

Please don't let your greed for money and the corporate dollar blind you to what is actually important - a society where equity and success is obtainable by all.  Where our kids are taught to succeed both today and in their future.  Do what is best and what the research and successful countries like Finland prove work.  You are elected to represent people - not corporations - and the children are the most important voice you need to think about.

Most importantly, to all the teachers and educators:

I want to say to all the hard working teachers out there that who you are makes a difference, try not to be disheartened by the ignorant and ill-informed 'wanna be' educational reformers out there and stay united.   What you do is shape lives, shape communities and shape our future.  It is the most important job in the world, and our children need you to believe in your strengths, your abilities and that you are important!

This post may well have been motivated by the TIME cover, but its indicative of a much more insidious and pervasive element that is creeping into public education around the world, where big money and privatisation (in essence the GERM) are eroding all that is important for societal success. Is this really what we want our children to be subjected to?

This is a case of a cover paints a 1000 words. 

You can see the link to the TIME cover and article here.

If you want to read more about this issue, especially busting myths about tenure as it is applied in the US context, read this scathing post in Badass Teachers Association blog by Steven Singer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Change - To Be Embraced Not Feared

This is part three in a series inspired by Richard Gerver who presented at the NZPF Conference.  Todays post are key takeouts from the keynote 'Change belongs to those who prepare for it'.   You can read part one on "What our students need' here, and part two on 'Finding the passion in education'  here.

Leading change is one of the single most important challenges within leadership.  As time sets in people can become less open to change and as a result become reluctant to engage in the process.  It is this reluctance that can be the most challenging aspect of leadership.  

A strategy for positive change is to ensure the process and the need for the change, is visionary and collaborative.  Too often change is reactive or imposed by policy that has not bought people along with it.  

As you watch the presentation, ask yourself, in what way does this resonate with what we do, and in what ways could we reframe or improve on our processes? 

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Oestrogen May Be the Answer

I have thus far refrained from commenting on the Labour leadership race.  Not because I am not interested but because I am a bit over politics.  I am surprised more are not 'over it', after the disaster that was the so called Election, the mess that was #dirtypolitics and the lack of cohesive team work that was the Labour election campaign.

I need to address why I have been disinterested in politics since the election and up until now, before I throw in my opinion about the need for oestrogen in the leadership race.

The election was a farce.  No party should be happy about the outcome when you take into account the circus that was the media reporting, the lack of emphasis on policy and the apathy regarding voter turn out.  Even the 'winners' shouldn't take it as a big coup - not when you consider they really won by default.  I won't rehash this here - many pundits have done this to death already (another reason I am over politics).

Then there was the disgrace that was #dirtypolitics.  It would seem that irregardless of how appalling ones behaviour is, the average punter will overlook it.  I can understand that when you consider other factors impacting on the election campaign and how unappealing the left were made to be, but for the media to pretty much overlook the blatant atrocities and our own justice system to do the same - well, what can I say.  We sure do live in perplexing times.

Finally theres the mess with the way Labour ran its campaign.  No cohesion, a failure to capitalise on the obvious because of the notion they were going to run a 'vote positive' campaign, and then there was the biggest mistake of not working closer with the Greens.  In my opinion it was a dumb move.  The public needed to see how Labour and the Greens were going to turn this country around, how they have done it before and how they have the credibility to do it again.  I don't know whose idea it was to not work with them, but it was dumb.

My biggest wondering is, where the heck has Matt McCarten been hiding?  I have yet to see ANY response from him about the campaign and that perplexes me.  (I am happy to be pointed in the direction of said response if you know where it might be lurking)

So, now that I have those particular chestnuts out in the open, let me put in my two cents about the leadership race.

I am over this particular issue as well, and I know other people feel the same way.

Labour has had three leaders since Helen Clark.  The first, a lovely man but doomed to live in the shadow of the greatness that is Helen.  The second, another lovely man, but one not that well chosen to begin with in my opinion, and I don't think many were surprised when that went sour.  Then  Labour got a leader that the membership liked and could follow,  one that had the ability to take the current PM on head to head.  But he faced one incident of sabotage after another.  Some from within, some self inflicted, some from the media (intentional or not I am not qualified to comment on) and some from forces bigger than the average kiwi can comprehend.   In hindsight, like those before him, I think he was doomed from the beginning.

Now we have yet another Leadership race and it leaves me with a big wondering.

I am wondering, why are they all men.  Labour demographics show they are reasonably popular with women.  You would think they would like to capitalise on that and throw a pair of womans heels into the race.

Three men later and we know what the record is - and its not good.  Please don't misunderstand me, I have nothing against a male leader or support policies like the 'man ban',  but I am over the testosterone only dogma that seems to permeate the Labour leadership since Helen left.  At least Goff had King.  I was disappointed to see Dalziel leave (but pleased to see her lead Christchurch) because she was a real contender.  It frustrates me to see Adern sidelined and it concerns me that there are not more woman being held up with leadership potential.

So, as a woman, I wonder.  Whats the point in participating in this leadership debacle?  I am left with the choice to vote for one of the 'DDDAG's (David, David, David, Andrew or Grant), assuming they all run.  None of which have indicated they will bring a woman alongside them.

Then I wonder, why can't Labour do what the Greens have done, and whats wrong with a co-leadership, where there is a male and female leader?  Now would be the time, and what does Labour have to lose.  It needs to stop being unprogressive, out of date and out of touch.

Either way, I am still over it.  I am tired of the lack of vision, the lack of cohesion and the lack of understanding what membership and the average kiwi needs.  There is a distinct chance that a key demographic will be overlooked and taken for granted once again.

That is why I think oestrogen may well be the answer - but I don't think Labour is ready to take cognisance of what it needs.

UPDATE:  Today was the close of nominations for the Leadership Race.  It is no longer a DDDAG race but a race between the DAG and the N!

As of today, Nanaia Mahuta has put her heels into the ring, and I for one am pleased to see a female leader who has a proven record taking on the boys club. Having worked with her on Educational policy 'back in the day' when she was spokesperson for Education, I am confident she has the necessarily skills to lead, especially when it comes to taking a measured and considered approach to an issue.   This will be vital when it comes to strengthening Caucus into a united and cohesive group of people working towards a shared vision for New Zealand, a vision based on the core values of Labour.   Labour finally has a race worth participating in with Nanaia who is a strong Maori female role model.  Now its a DANG race, thats for sure!

Leadership Loneliness

Leadership Loneliness

I met with a colleague today.  Call it a critical friend session, sharing of ideas, solving of all things to do with writing in classrooms and senseless data collection and of course, an opportunity to share and offload.   Speaking of senseless data collection, anyone else find the weeks at school issue here in NZ a pointless muddying of the curriculum level waters?  I digress – that’s a post for later.

Our conversation, after what was a most productive session, ended up with a discussion on the loneliness of leadership.   Not in a ‘woe is me’ kind of way, but in a reflective, slightly somber, realities of the job kind of way.

It got me wondering.

Leadership is lonely.  It is a place of great responsibility, where the buck stops with you and you hold all the cards of accountability.  It is irrelevant what leadership structure you have in place.  It could be hierarchal, non hierarchal, democratic, contemporary, traditional, devolved or any other kind of model you can think of.  It doesn’t matter. Irrespective of the structure, there is ultimately one person who holds the can should trouble come knocking, and that is the leader.

It is this level of accountability and responsibility that ultimately creates an invisible barrier between the leader and the rest of the team.

There are things we don’t share because they are not beneficial to share, and there are things we cant say, because as a leader your words are powerful.  Sometimes something innocent you say can be taken out of context and immeasurable amounts of damage ensues and you can be none the wiser.

At times we can’t be completely open because as leaders we are privy to confidential information that we are not able to share, and if we need some advice on personnel issues, especially in schools, we are limited to who we can speak to.

Leadership can be lonely when things are going in a less than desirable way, and trouble is on the horizon.  We worry about who we can trust to share our woes with because leadership can be competitive, and we toggle between wanting to talk to someone about it but not wanting to admit to others that the road is proving rocky.  No one wants to feel inadequate.

When there is a viper in the midst, causing grief and spreading trouble, especially if they are popular on the team, counteracting that is fraught with issues and leadership loneliness is the by product. Sometimes we must deal with bullies, unprofessional behaviour and incompetence.  Knowing who you can trust and turn to for support as you navigate these difficult aspects of leadership - aspects we all know about but do not often share and discuss - are some of the biggest causes of leadership loneliness.  It can eat at you, if you allow it, chipping away at your self esteem and self belief.

Leadership is about making the tough calls, and sometimes those decisions are not going to be popular.  Leaders are charged with doing what is right and in the best interests of their school, organization or business.  Consensus is always ideal but sometimes the leader needs to set aside the cloak of ‘popularity', employ a backbone of steel and make the call.

Leadership loneliness can take its toll.  Like an invasive disease it can be as bad for us as smoking or overeating.  It can take its emotional toll, impact on our immune system, speed up the ageing process and leave us with sleepless nights.

Combating the loneliness of leadership is not necessarily a one stop solution fix, but there are strategies that you can use, strategies you can tailor make for your situation.

Strategies for Combating Leadership Loneliness:


Find other colleagues in similar roles to you that you trust, and build up your professional networks. All of us (yes that includes the ones that look like they walk on water) have had leadership skirmishes and days where they feel lonely.  Talk, share and offload. I can't think of a single networking meeting I have had where the opportunity to share what's ontop hasn't featured in some way or shape.  It never fails to amaze me how often a colleague is having a tough time and was sufferering in silence.  Notice those who seem to have been missing in action or never turn up for collegial events.  Chances are they are struggling and could do with your support.  Remember, we are in this together.

Family and Friends

The power of the people we love to keep us sane and grounded is immeasurable.  The irony is that when we are most at our loneliness in leadership, that is when we need them the most.  Don't be tempted to wallow and push them away.  Share your troubles and your journey - the good and the bad.  That old adage of a problem shared is a problem halved, makes sense.   Sometimes we don't like to burden them, or we think they won't understand.  That may be the case but they can offer you a shoulder and a hug - never underestimate the power of a hug!

Have a life outside of work

Find a hobby, something you enjoy doing, or play a sport.  My happy place is the beach and my stress buster is the gym.  Finding something that makes you happy and fulfilled outside of work keeps you balanced and grounded.

Critical Friend/Professional Supervision/Mentor/Coach

This is a really important sanity saver.  Having an impartial person who understands your leadership position and the ebbs and flow of your role is a godsend.  They are the people you can turn to when you need to ask the questions, offload the concerns too and seek advice from.  I have been fortunate to have had such valued people in my professional life - many have been my lifeline during stormy periods.

Work to establish a shared collective efficacy culture

If your team has engagement, ownership and is a part of a shared vision, the likelihood of having to navigate many storms alone is diminished. It doesn't take the ultimate responsibility away but it does make the journey easier.

Teach your emerging leaders resiliency

If you can protect your team from the frustrations of when you feel isolated and give them strategies for coping should they feel the loneliness of leadership, then you do them a great service. None of us understand it until we get there. That includes your middle and emerging leaders. It may not be at the same level as yours but it's presence inevitably shows itself.

Watch who you confide in

This speaks for itself. Surround yourself with those you trust.

Believe in yourself 

Watch your self talk.  It can be easy to fall into the 'woe is me' category and blame ourselves and others, to feel pity for ourselves or to think that we are failures.  How often do we chant the affirmation mantras but deep down fail to believe?  You are not the only leader to sometimes wake up and not want to go to work - but remember that state is normal and most importantly, it is temporary. Believe in yourself.  Back yourself, and remind yourself of why you are a leader.

Avoid destructive self soothing

It can be easy to drown your sorrows, attempt to deal with stress by smoking it away or to eat your way out of loneliness.  Don't - there are healthier options and you don't deserve to punish yourself in this way.

Find ways to seek feedback

Talk to your team and seek feedback in ways appropriate to you.  It is not easy to listen to dissent, but it can give you valuable insights and possible ways forward.

Despite it's lonely moments, leadership is not without it's rewards. 

For me, it is always about giving back and making a difference. It is what keeps me motivated and keeps me going.  Find your motivation and remember, you're not alone, we are out there with you!

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He doesn’t set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they do not flock; you find them one at a time.” - Unknown

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Leading In Complex Times

Todays post was inspired by a keynote at the NZPF Conference by Brendan Spillane.  Brendan is an ex teacher, principal and is well known for his work as an executive coach.

He was our final keynote, and they choose him well.  I have read some of his work and although I had heard of him, this was my first opportunity to hear him, in the flesh, at a conference.  The only disappointment I had was that we only had one opportunity to hear him!  I would have particularly liked to have heard him speak on his experiences as a coach.

He was a fabulous speaker with a number of important messages, one in particular, about finding the joy in our lives, which I will come back to.  If you get the chance to hear Brendan speaking on leadership, I highly recommend you take up the opportunity.

The following presentation was created using PowToon (which I think has huge applications within classrooms) and highlights the key takeout messages I was particularly taken with, from Brendan's Keynote.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Visual Goal Setting

This is my fourth post inspired by the NZPF conference in Invercargill.  The previous posts are; "Fifty Shades of Green',  'Finding the Passion in Education', and 'What do our Students Need?'.  

Todays post was inspired by Patti Dobrowolski, TedEx speaker and presenter extraordinarie (well, in my eyes).  Patti led delegates through the Visual Goal Setting process.  An impressive feat considering there were hundreds of school leaders in attendance for her keynote.

I was impressed and inspired within minutes of her starting.  She had me at 'every picture in your mind is a seed'.  I could immediately see links to the work I was doing in my own setting, and started imagining how her process could be modified or incorporated into some of the things I, and my team,  already do.

Some of you may recall I have a passion for Coaching.  Recently I became an accredited Coach with Growth Coaching International.  (yay me)  As a 'growth' coach, I use questions to facilitate a coaching conversation around the GROWTH model to assist coachees to set goals and actions towards achieving their goals.  Part of that process involves exploring ones current reality.  Patti's process has a Current Reality component (which automatically piqued my interest as you can imagine), and a Desired New Reality phase.  As soon as I saw her template (see the slideshare) and worked through the process during the keynote, I knew there was going to be a place for this as a tool in my coaching tool kit.

Patti's use of visuals makes sense.  It struck a chord with me in how well it fits into the educational (or indeed life and business) coaching process, and I am looking forward to exploring the use of visuals in goal setting more.  I am particularly interested in how this tool will assist in coaching students (and area I am currently inquiring into), and for when I am working with my teams, particularly leadership teams, to bring our share vision to life.  I have also been wondering about how I might use this tool to support vision work with focus groups of parents and staff.

This is the first blog post based on Patti's keynote - watch this space for post two on how to utilise the tool a bit more, inspired by working with various scenarios in her workshop.

As a part of my own e learning skill building, I have been playing around with different visual tools. Todays presentation is bought to you by fiddling around with slideshare!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finding the Passion in Education - Richard Gerver part 2:

Infographic number 2, based on the workshop I attended at the NZPF Conference, run by Richard Gerver.  You can find part 1, 'On What Students Need', here.

Education is the kind of profession, in my opinion, where all teachers enter with the distinct belief and desire that they are there to make a difference.  I have never met a teacher who started their career thinking otherwise.

Teachers, in my experience, can however lose that passion and desire.  I am pretty confident that they would never have wanted to have turned into 'that teacher'.  The one that turns up each day sour, grumpy and jaded.  The kind of teacher that makes for a good character in a fictional story about schools that persecute its students.  I wonder sometimes if they know that this is the teacher that they have become.

Richard asked the question, 'where does the passion go?'  For all of us in Education, and especially leadership, its a really important question to reflect upon.  Not only do we not want to become 'that teacher or leader' ourselves, but its important that if one of our colleagues is in that situation that we look to ask ourselves why, and how can we help them find their way back.

A teacher who has lost their way is no different to one of our students who may have lost the magic of learning.  Ask yourself, what would you do to reignite the passion for learning in a student, and apply the same logic to a colleague.    None of us would 'write off' a student so why would we not try to help our colleagues rediscover their passion.

The following infographic is based on some of the things Richard discussed during the conference, alongside some of the questions my colleagues and I pondered in discussion afterward.  If all it does is generate some discussion and perhaps reframe they way we think, then as a profession we are making inroads into reigniting the passion for education.

In the words of my ten year old Squirt, 'nothing is ever too late'.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What Do Our Students Need? Richard Gerver Part 1:

In my post Fifty Shades of Green, I mentioned that I had been to the NZPF (New Zealand Principals) Conference, where I had heard some fabulous speakers.  This is the first post in a series, with my key takeouts from the conference.  In an effort to consolidate my own thinking and learning in a variety of ways, todays post is in the form of an infographic.  

Richard Gerver - Part 1: Infographic - What Do Our Students Need?

Our First Keynote was Richard Gerver speaking about 'A New Education Age'.  There were two parts to his keynote, the first this post is related to about preparing our students for their future, and the second (which I will come back to) on branding.

We were fortunate to hear Richard three times, in the form of two keynotes and one fabulous workshop.  Like all good speakers, he has an on stage charisma that stems from a passion for what he does and for what he believes in.  For me, it was refreshing to hear a likeminded individual who spoke the same language.  From discussions with some of my colleagues afterward, it was clear that what he had to say had an infectious influence on many of the principals in attendance.   It can be all to easy to get bogged down in the policy and agendas of others, and forget what it is we know to be important.  It is never a bad thing to be reminded of our passion for what we do.

The following infographic sums up the key takeouts I had from Richards first keynote.


Imagine If...

I have been wandering through a variety of social media sites in the last few days.  You can tell it's term break because I rarely have the luxury of time to randomly float around in social media sites aimlessly, usually I am researching or looking for something specific.  It is however, aimless rambling that more often than not sees one find the best little gems!

I found this 'gem of a meme' as I was trolling through Pintrest.   It got me wondering about words and thoughts, resiliency, and moderation tactics.

Imagine if our words or even worse, our thoughts, appeared on our skin! 

If you think about it, for most of us mere mortals, that could be an alarming prospect.  We all try to moderate what we say, how we say it and where we say it.  If we are in a leadership position, even more so.  

Being mindful of what we say to others and ourselves is not a skill we are born with.  Our upbringing and our experiences shape the way we frame our words.  It is a learnt skill and as such we can choose our responses.  Knowing what triggers our frustrations so we can moderate our less ideal comments would be a useful strategy for ourselves, but one to teach our children and the students in our schools.  

Just that one thought 'would I be proud to wear these words forever on my body' could be a useful tactic that could save angst.  It's a tactic I would have liked yesterday when I allowed the preteen in the house to wind me up.  As an aside, why is it we can be patient, un rattled and calm when a student has a melt down, but fail in behaviour management 101 when it's our own child?  Being a human is hard! 

Whilst this meme refers to the spoken word, it did get me wondering.  Imagine if our thoughts transferred onto our skin.  How many of us would want to wear our thoughts out in public for the whole world to see, judge and make comment on?  Not me.  I struggle with my inner voice more frequently than I would care to admit.   

Don't get me wrong, I am a strong proponent of the power of positivity and training ones inner monologue to be one of gratitude, the universe will provide and positive affirmations.  But I am the first to admit that it is hard.  When your journey gets difficult, and the effort to stay on track seems impossible, keeping your thoughts positive and affirming takes practice, preserverence and determination.  We are our own worst critics, but the reality is that we need to be our own very best cheerleaders.  Have you ever looked at that one person who seems so positive and upbeat, who appears resilient and never seems to give up despite the odds?  Chances are they struggle with their inner monologue as much as anyone, but perhaps they win more of the struggles through their resilience and positive bounce forward skills. 

Teaching resiliency and the ability to self regulate is a critical component for assisting members of our community to be successful in life.  With this in mind, I've been thinking about how I would use this in a classroom.  It would make a great discussion starter, where students could write their initial thoughts on post it's and place them around the picture.  In groups they could discuss this at a deeper level, or write a paragraph outlining what they were thinking.  You could debate the pros and cons and as a final activity each student could have a silhouette of themselves (minature or a whole class or group large human sized) where they write positive statements they would be proud to wear.  Statements in response to everyday things that cause angst in a students life, particularly around conflict management and resilience.   

As a parent/caregiver it's a useful tool to use, especially to open dialogue on why it's important to moderate our words.  Squirts response after some discussion was that to have 'to wear ugly hurtful words around would be a reminder of how you are an unkind person', and it would be better to be nice to people.  Imagine if your body was the canvass for your words.  I agree with Squirt, positive words paint a far better picture of us as humans than the ugly negative statements. 

The uses for this meme are endless.  Imagine if you used it with your staff, what would you uncover? 

I'm pretty confident that if our words or our thoughts did transpose themselves onto our skin we would indeed be more careful. 

Imagine if this was the case.

Would your skin be more positive than negative?  

Would you be proud to carry your words and thoughts on your skin?  On your arms, your face?

Apparently my family think I talk to much (conversely I don't think they talk enough) so I suspect there wouldn't be enough space on my skin.  Perhaps in that case old could be replaced with new!  That means there could be hope for the future, and we could erase the negatives with more thoughtful and kind responses. 

I don't know about you, but I'm not perfect, and this was a good reminder that words have power. 

Imagine if we used them to build up ourselves and others instead of breaking them.  How would this change our homes, our workplaces, our classrooms and our communities?

Imagine if....

Further Reading:

It would be remiss of me to write a post that advises you to rewire the thoughts in your mind and the words you speak without some further suggestions to assist.  Here are some of my favourite posts.   My favourite is the People Self Esteem Suckers - avoid them at all costs!! 

Know a few people who suck the self esteem right out of your very soul?  Never fear, here is a handy post on how to recognise and deal with them!

Positive Affirmations for Educators - Who you are makes a difference!!

Procrastination can be a good thing!  If you are on break right now, don't forget to chill!

Leadership can be lonely, don't forget to look after yourself - that will help keep your negative thoughts at bay!

We are what we believe and we are what we wish for - Affirmations for a new beginning! 

Having a rough day?  Here are some affirmations to remind you that 'In the end it will be alright, if its not alright, its not the end!'.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fifty Shades of Green


In the last week, I have been down in Southland for the NZPF Principals Conference. I will blog more about some of the fantastic speakers (in particular Patti Dobrowolski and Richard Gerver) we had and the workshops I attended, in posts to come.  This post is simply dedicated to the fifty shades of green that is Southland.

The Deep South

The small plane we flew in on
from Christchurch 
Southland is often refereed to as ‘The Deep South', a provincial nickname the rest of the country uses to describe Southlanders and the ‘metropolis’ that is its capital, Invercargill.  I use the term ‘metropolis’ loosely; large rural hub is more accurate.    

Before we go much further, I would like clarify something that bugs me somewhat, and that is to point out that the term ‘Deep South’ is not one that the inhabitants, or those of us who used to live there, generally use to describe Southland.  At best, we will say we are heading down South.  A quick survey of friends and family from the South, and we are in agreeance that to refer to it as the ‘Deep South’ is a bit of a ‘piss take’ that implies sub Antarctic temperatures and perpetual rain.  

Ironically, the day I flew in, it lived up to its reputation, and without a word of a lie, we flew in sideways.  To say my companions and I were grateful we landed in one piece (especially as the plane we were in was a glorified skateboard with wings) is an understatement. 

Southern Hospitality

The southern hospitality began the moment our plane touched the tarmac.  Our group was met and chauffeured by Peter, a friendly and affable local principal.  To not have to worry about transport to our accommodation was a big relief and one less thing for us to worry about.   The generosity of spirit, amazing food, and commitment to ensure all had a fabulous time was a constant through out the conference.   Hats off to the organising committee - this has to have been on my list of the top conferences I have been to.  Not only have I come away having overindulged in fine southern cuisine, but inspired by the outstanding speakers.  

Southern Hospitality was not confined to just those who were running the conference.  Every taxi driver, cafe owner and shop assistant we met were polite, friendly and showed great restraint in failing to tease us about being a JAFA.  

I was fortunate to spend several days after the conference with family, and what continued to strike me as I traversed through Southland (and later through Otago) was the beauty of my surroundings.  

It wasn’t however, the exceptional hospitality and amazing food that took my attention, as I had expected that would be the case, but the landscape.   

The Landscape

It is true what they say about taking things for granted when you grow up with them.  As a child, Southland was green, grassy and to my eyes, normal and unremarkable.  As an adult who has been away for a prolonged period, the greens are bright, vibrant, and simply stunning.  I am sure my Mum thought I was mad, as I continually waxed lyrical about the beauty of the countryside.  Technoman was, I expect, as equally over my remarks of how beautiful everything was - especially as we traversed our way back to Christchurch via rental car.  

In Southland there’s a depth and texture to the grasses and trees, that the southern light reflects off.  Perhaps it is the Souths proximity to Antarctica that produces such a clear, and distilled light.  

Not content to be described simply as ‘green’, the landscape is a symphony of emeralds, olives, limes and at least 50 shades of various greens.  It is spectacular - a veritable candy store for the eyes.  Even inclement weather fails to diminish the beauty that is Southland.  Wind simply enhances the shades of emerald as the blades of grasses, as they bend backwards to accommodate, flash with a tinge of sliver.  In exposed places, trees, whilst bent to the prevailing direction of the wind, remain resolute, steadfast and determined.  

Add rolling hills lush with foliage, rivers that rumble their way through towns, serene creeks that traverse the landscape,  and content sheep nibbling grass beside ambling dairy cows, and the visitor to Southland is spoilt for visual choice.  Although the weather was less than ideal when I was down, including a wind chill factor that cut to the bone, when the sun shone - and it did - the beauty that is Southland was amplified.

It was only on this trip South that I understood what others who have visited Southland have been telling me for years.  My usual response is 'yeah, its alright' when they tell me how stunning it is.  Having now viewed the place I grew up in with new eyes, I will be in total sync with their appraisals of beauty, and will enthusiastically agree, because Southland really is fifty shades of green.

My only regret is that I couldn't capture what I saw to share with you all.  Instead, I would urge you to go and visit Southland (and Otago) for yourself.  You won't regret it, and I can assure you, it really is fifty shades of green!