Monday, August 31, 2015

Metaphorical Leadership

Last week I was fortunate to hear BrendanSpillane for the second time, only on this occasion I was able to be in a workshop with him for the entire day, and I was able to bring other members of my SLT (Senior Leadership Team) with me.  

Last time, he was a keynote at the NZPF (New Zealand’s Principals Federation) Conference and his hour and half was, quite simply, transformational.  My Deputy and I bought back several key ideas that we have embedded in our school.  On a personal note, his conversation on what gives you joy (you can read my blog post on that here) was something that made me stop, reflect and it is something that I often refer back to it.  You can always tell the caliber of a speaker by the way it impacts on what you do, and it would be fair to say that Brendan has had a big impact. 

He is one of my favourite speakers, and if you ever get the opportunity to hear him, you are in for a treat!  I have blogged about him before here, and here.   Perhaps why I am so professionally smitten with him is because he comes from a practical background.  He understands he role of a Principal and a leader because he has been one.  He understands education because he is an educator and he understands coaching because he is a GCI accredited coach.  In addition to this, he has a wry sense of humor, complemented by a lilting Irish accent.  

Which brings me to the crux of todays post.  

Brendan uses many clever metaphors to ‘italicize’ his stories with beautiful and clever images, and some of them may resonate with you, as they did with me.    They also gave me pause for reflection.  Which metaphors strike a chord for you?  

Metaphors of Leadership:

“People are people through other people”

People are not machines or robots.  We get the best our of our teams when we remember what it is that makes a good person.  Things like gratitude, kindness, humility and appreciation are what grow people. 

Key Questions:
How do you encourage your team to be the best they can be?  What are you doing to help your team grow and how do you do this with intentionality and commitment?

“Work on it or sit in your ‘little puddle of lament’”

In other words, you can sit and bemoan the troubles you are facing and the worries you might have in your setting, or, you can get off your behind and work to do something about it.  The power is in your hands.

Key Questions:
Are there times when you sit in your ‘little puddle of lament’?  How do you change your mindset and ‘snap out of it’?  What do you do to support your team when they are stuck in their own ‘puddles’?

“The campfire we sit around is too hot” 

Brendan spoke about this in the context of how sometimes, when leaders or teachers are talking the talk but they can’t walk it and there is a disconnect between what the expectation is and what they are pretending to do or be.

Key Questions:
Do you know who your disconnected are?  Are there moments where you have felt like you are pretending?  What do you do for those who feel the ‘campfire is too hot’?

"Up to their knees in blood and gore - from their last victim!”

Funny as this one is, there is a ring of truth to the leadership role and this applies to when the leader gets lost between their intention and their impact. 

Key Questions:
How do you evaluate the impact of your leadership?  Can you tell when your impact and intention has parted ways?  Has there been moments where you have dealt with a staff member in less than kind circumstances, and what can you learn from that?

“Hurt people, hurt people” 

Sometimes we need to speak from our soul – the place where the passion and belief lives.  Remembering where your heart lives, and knowing when to call on that passion and the beliefs that reside there to use as a resource is helpful.   When you get the heart things right, you get the head right.  This will allow you and those around you to flourish. 

Key Questions:
Is your heart flourishing?  If not, what small changes can you make, starting today, to change this?  How do you encourage others to flourish?

 “Feeding your family into the engine to feed other peoples family”

This one really resonated with me.  Education, especially educational leadership, is an emotional roller coaster.  It is a daily juggling of other people’s lives, their ups and their downs.  Sometimes, in order to be your best to support the community you serve, the sacrifice is your own family.  It is a timely reminder that in actuality, our families need to come first – we need to make our families and ourselves the first priority. 

Key Questions: 
How often do you sacrifice your loved ones in order to be on the top of your game for others?  What small step can you make today, right now, to turn this around?

“When you find your question your find your QUEST”

It reminded me a little of ‘The Meaning of Life’ and the quest in ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ when they are looking for the answer. 

Key Questions: 
In all seriousness, do you know what your question is?  For you and your life?  For your career?  Have you spent time pondering what your quest is?

“Finding your joy is your clue to finding your gift”

Your gift is your high performance place. It is where you excel the most.   Brendan was saying that once you know what it is that brings you joy in your life – then you will find what your gift is.   When you understand this, then your work performance improves. 

Key Questions: 
So, what brings you joy? 
In what way do you give joy to others?

“You’re never asked to be a bonsai version of yourself”

I love this one! It is very true.  No one ever asks us to be less of ourselves – to underperform at our jobs or to be mediocre as a parent, wife, husband, or friend.   To grow is to flourish and we flourish best under love.   

Key Questions: 
Are you reaching up to be a fully-fledged version of yourself or are you a mere bonsai?  Do you know what a full version of yourself looks like?  If you are a bonsai how do you know how to grow your own team?   What does flourishing look like at your place?

 “A tour of your head and none of us bought a ticket to it”

Imagine you are at a staff meeting, and you run the first 20 minutes, but people are drifting off. This is where Brendan is referring to a situation, which is a bit like your staff is having ‘ a tour of your head but none of them have bought a ticket to it’. 

Key Questions: 
Are there times where this might apply for you?   
Do you know how to practice humility?

“If its not right in the classroom the rest is just fairy floss”

This is another favourite that really struck a chord.  It is so true.  How many schools do we know of where they are all ‘whizzy bangy’ but scratch the surface and its all an illusion.  At the heart of Education are better outcomes for students.  If classrooms are not working the way they should, or we are not addressing issues in classrooms (and here Brendan referred to teacher competency) then what’s the point?  This is about tacking issues as they arise, and doing so with kindness and professionalism.

Key Questions: 
If you were to look critically at your place, is there any ‘fairy floss’ that is covering things that are not right in the classroom?  Is everything going right in all your classrooms?  If they are not, what are you doing about it?  How good is your feedback processes? 

“A vision that’s not shared is a hallucination”

It is an oldie but a goodie that refers to the people you work with all being on the same page and knowing what you are there for.  No point in a vision if you are the only one who knows it or is following it.   

Key Questions: 
Is what you are all doing in line with your vision?  Can you or your team articulate what the vision is and the steps you are all taking to make the vision come to life?  How do you check what you are doing?

“Principalship is a crucible – sometimes it is hot”

Leadership is hard.  It is complex.  It is a constant juggle.  One way to manage it is to notice and appreciate what is happening.  What you place your attention on grows.  It is important to be grateful for the things that are going well and to articulate that to others. 

Key Questions: 
How do you notice and celebrate your team?  How do you appreciate others? 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Loss of Potential


It is interesting the things that make us unite as a people.  

People around the world are angry and upset.  I'm not going to rehash that here, I'll leave that to others. I will however say this. By all means be upset about the situation.  I understand and I too mourn the loss of a beautiful creature - and for what?  To be hung on a wall as a trophy - seems wasteful.  

But actually, far more pervasive and concerning, I mourn something far closer to home.  

I mourn the loss of potential.  

Everyday, all over this country, and I'm betting yours (if you're not from here), students are being stood-down (suspended) and excluded (kicked out) of our schools.  


I don't have the statistics of every country at my fingertips, but I would hazard a guess to say it's staggering.  The majority of students that are stood-down in NZ are between the ages of 13 and 15.  More often than not, these students are Maori and they are boys.  Primary schools (Elementary) are less likely to stand-down students than High Schools.  You can find more information about New Zealand's 2014 statistics around stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions here 'Student Engagement' is the name we give to the collection of this data.   Ironic really.  

There are many elements that sit behind the whys and wherefores of students being removed from schools, and I will explore them in later posts.  For this post I want to focus in on just one.  It came up as part of a discussion at a Inclusive Practices workshop, where we discussed how the issue of extreme student behaviour as a 'special need' is not often recognised.   

Warning - this may be a little controversial and may cause the reader some heart palpitations - this is your chance to stop reading.  (Disclaimer - it is most certainly not intended to cause grief, just something to reflect on)



We talked about parental expectation. 

Schools are under immense pressure to 'deal to' the child who lashed out and hurt their little Johnny or Johness   

Fair enough too - I'm a parent and I would want to be assured that if another student hurt my child, that justice was in place.  

However, kicking a child out of school or sending them home for a 'holiday' for a couple of days is not justice.  It teaches the other child only one thing - that school, like the rest of their life, will just give up on them.  

But I'm lucky.  

I am an educator with far too much experience working with vulnerable students, and I have a deep passion to look for alternative options around social and emotional welfare, so I understand the bigger picture.  

I understand that a child that lashes out is more than just the behaviour they exhibit, and that the behaviour is part of a much more complex situation.  

I understand that sending a child away (exclusion) is not a solution but a shifting of the problem to another school.  

I understand that something like a restorative practices process is more effective because it helps all parties work through the situation and allow for healing.  It teaches a lesson and it allows for closure.  In short, it grows compassion and teaches what it is to have humanity.  

I understand that students that behave inappropriately are complex.  When they lash out we see only the tip of a much larger iceberg: we only see the behaviour.  Underneath is most often a seething mess of hurt, dysfunction, vulnerability, abuse, anger and neglect.  Sometimes it is a mix of these things, sometimes all of them. 

I understand that these students have already been let down and betrayed by society.  

Most importantly, I understand that to be an inclusive society we need to include those with behavioural needs.  It is easier to understand and support students with wheel chairs or a physical disability because these special needs are more obvious.  Behaviour is part of this. A students behavioural needs impact on their social and emotional wellbeing and they are just as in need of inclusive practice as other students.  

I appreciate that parents are concerned about the safety and welfare of their child, and I agree it can not be just left.  A system that ensures the situation is dealt with must be in place because all students have the right to be safe.  This is a given.  There is no doubt that it needs to be dealt with - but throwing students out of school is not the only answer.  

The answers to the alternatives are varied and rely on a multi faceted approach to supporting both the child that lashed out, and the child that was the recipient of that.  These are things that schools need to co construct with their communities, and it is vital that there is adequate resourcing in place to support everyone.  (That issue is at least several posts in itself!) 

However, If I had one wish around parental expectation, it would be that they understood the issue as I do, and that a school that chooses not to exclude does not mean that the school is not doing something about it.  On the contrary, they are most likely putting in an 'above and beyond the call of duty' effort to support all students, and if it was your child they would do the same.  Sometimes you can not see the Herculean efforts that a school leader and the team are putting in place in order to support all the students in their school, and sometimes, you won't know because they are unable to discuss them with you.   Being bound by a code of confidentiality means that you may never know what is happening.  

So, by all means be upset about Cecil the Lion, but I wonder if you might find some room in your heart to be as equally outraged on behalf of all the kids whose potential is lost.  I appreciate that when they are angry and hurt, lashing out at all in their path, and your child gets caught in the cross fire, that they are not as cute and loveable as Cecil.   But I implore you to understand that they are just as vulnerable.  It is not a hunters gun that kills them, but societies lack of understanding and empathy that sees their potential killed off.  

The loss of any students potential is ultimately a loss for all of us because at the end of the day, it is society that pays.  

Let our compassion encompass those things just a little closer to home. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fostering Innovation

There are a few things in Education that spin my wheels.  The thing that spins them the fastest is innovation.   Today I was asked if I was going to blog about the Innovations Team we set up at our place earlier this year, and given I was asked by someone who is pretty innovative herself, and someone I respect a great deal,  I felt I had better oblige!  

The Background 

As a teacher I spent hours reading about what was happening in classrooms, and I was happiest pouring over the latest book or research on the subject of teaching and learning.  This all in the days before Auntie Google provided information at the flick of a fingertip!  I enjoyed visiting other classrooms, and I was extremely lucky to work in a province that was innovative and for the time, cutting edge.  Most importantly, I spent most of my teaching career within a school that allowed its experienced teachers to 'think outside the square'.  When I look back now, I realise that some of us did some amazing things, with little to no resources and certainly no budget.  

As a leader, I still thrive best when I am in an innovative environment, and in all three schools I have been lucky to lead, I can say that I have worked with some incredible teachers and senior leaders that have worked together to create some pretty innovative and creative learning environments.  

It is important to note that innovative outcomes take time and quite a lot of ground work.  It doesn't happen overnight and it can not be taken as a given.  The conditions for innovative practice need to be in place.  

Every school is unique and every school has a its own culture.  When I reflect on my early years as a teacher, I realise that I was very lucky.  The key to my early forays into innovation was the support I had from leadership - both the Principal and the Deputy Principal.  What sat behind their support were two critical elements that guide my own leadership now - trust and freedom.  

Condition One: Trust

Both my DP and the Principal trusted my curriculum knowledge (incidentally, the better you understand curriculum the easier it is to innovate), my ability to inquire into my practice and my teaching skills.  They knew that I would still meet deadlines, ensure student assessments were up to date and that the personalised learning programmes I was implementing would benefit and not harm my students.  In short, they trusted me not to let them or my students down.  It is because of this trust that I worked extra hard for my school.  

Condition Two: Freedom 

This works hand in hand with trust.  Leadership gave me the freedom to explore, experiment and to try new things - to test pedagogies and challenge status quo.  They knew that if something worked, I would share the successes with others, and if it failed, I would look at why it had not worked.  Allowing me to innovate kept me excited about teaching, engendered a respect for the people I worked with and gave me the opportunity to unlock the best teacher within me.  

Current Situation

As a leader I do strive to create the conditions needed for innovation to thrive.  It is not always easy and I don't always get it right, but I do try to look for opportunities and maximise the skills on our team.  I felt that the timing was right for us to branch out a bit more in my current place, but I wasn't sure what direction that might take.  Then two things happened.  

Firstly, at the end of last year, I got some feedback that there might have been a communication disconnect.  I thought a message about any teachers wanting modern learning furniture for their classrooms had been made across the board but it hadn't quite got to where it was meant to.  I only discovered the disconnect when a teacher had her students complete an inquiry into if they could have a certain piece of kit, what its benefits would be and how they would use it; which they then presented to me.   Hence the Innovations Form was born.  (I will come back to that shortly) 

Secondly, over the Summer break, I read Grant Lichtmans book #EdJouney - A Road Map to the Future of Education  and it struck a chord - in particular, it struck a chord about what innovation looks like, and how the issue of time and workload is managed in schools.  From that, the Innovations Team was born.  

Innovations Form 

The Innovations form came first and out of a need to give teachers some choice and options for buying and trialling new things in their classrooms that are bigger assets.  This might be tech based, furniture or some other big ticket item.  As a leader, I am not one to go forth and replace everyones furniture all at once (or buy all one type of technology), and certainly not because the school down the road did that or because a fast talking salesperson came in and convinced me.  I find that wasteful.  Not all teachers want new things thrown at them when they haven't had a chance to research the benefits or see if they work.  It is one thing to replace assets that are broken or no longer fit for purpose, but to go forward all holds barred is foolhardy.  

When I realised that there had been a communication disconnect, but that I had some teachers who wanted to trail new things, the Innovations Form was born.  Now teachers can apply for money to buy assets for their classroom that they want to trial - it might be furniture or a big ticket resource.  All they have to do is show their Inquiry into it, how it will be used and report back findings.  Interestingly. it was also opened up to our Teacher Aides who were one of the first to put an application in.  It doesn't mean we don't replace assets or buy in new technology, it is alongside that process.  It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the year when we review it.  I notice so far that I need to remind teachers it is there.  It does however, provide teachers with a vehicle for exploring innovation with support for the funding of items.  

Innovations Team 

The premise for the Innovations Team was that I initially wanted a group of keen teachers to investigate innovative ways to manage 'time' and 'workload' issues, as these are two of the most common complaints that teachers have about education.  My initial wondering was that if teachers investigated ways to improve both, there would be more chance of success than if senior leadership imposed ideas.  The more I read of Grants book, the more I wondered about what an Innovations Team might look like and how it might operate.  

It was timely for us.  

We had just put in place a new Charter based on 3 Bold Steps (I will blog about that at some stage).  One of the steps was around Student Ownership over learning, with a foundation of engagement and collaboration.  Then I found an inspiring article on Edutopia with a video about a school in Australia that was doing similar things to what we wanted to achieve.  They were further down the journey, but they had a similar philosophy and they were only in Melbourne.  So, I showed it to my Board of Trustees (who thought it was great), then I showed it to my Senior Leadership Team, floated the idea of setting up an Innovations Team, which they supported, and then I showed it to the staff.  I have added the link below, under resources.  

After we watched the video of Wooranna Park Primary, we had a discussion about our vision and what we wanted to achieve.  I shared with the staff that I had been reading Grants book, and I asked for volunteers to start up a new group - the Innovations Team, essentially a place for like minded teachers to come together and explore what could be possible.  

We used the following questions as a guide around what Innovation is.

- What do we currently do that is innovative?  How do we know?
- What is the big deal about innovation?
- What impedes our innovation?
- How do we imbed our innovation? 
- What role does research and data have in innovation?
- What opportunities are there for our students to innovate?
- Who leads innovation?
- What is our culture around innovation?  What happens if we fail - do we learn from it and try again or do we give up?
- What is the best way to support innovation?

Once our volunteers indicated they were keen, we had our first meeting.  

We set up under the following guidelines:

- It was an 'opt in' not a requirement 
- I did not have funding for release (but could provide coffee and cake/treats) 
- It would need to be above and beyond their Improvement team involvement (each teacher is part of an Improvement Team in our school)
- It would not have a leader but I would be happy to 'coach' people and if they took on a leadership aspect I would be happy to support that
- Nothing was off limits and anything was possible - we just needed an open mind 
- It was not open to Senior Leadership (but they were able to inquire into options and put it to the team) 
- We set up an Innovations Team google site to share resources, track our journey and bounce off ideas
- Our first meeting was a brainstorming session exploring what changes might happen and what would it look like if we started our school from scratch - would we keep things or would we do things differently 

In Conclusion

The team has been set up now for just over a term, so it is still quite new.  So far, the team are investigating a number of things, from Emilia Reggio principles integrating across the school (and what that might look like), flipped learning in a junior class - how might the learnings apply across the school, personalised learning timetables (and how to free up time in a classroom from a year 1 perspective to year 5/6) and how tools like SOLO and Creative Thinking/Problem Solving fit into our Inquiry.  

According to the team, their team and individual explorations will lead into wider questions about how their learnings apply to freeing up workload and time across the school.  In addition to the above, they have already put in place a plan of how to streamline our whole school assemblies to the school, which was debated by the staff and adopted. 

Where to Next

I have been wondering about what our Innovations Team might look like in 2016.  So far they are just wonderings, which the team will help me tease out further, alongside the staff, but I'm wondering if we look into putting some funding behind the team, including funding for a professional development component and linking it to the Innovations Form.  Staff may also want it to become an Improvement Team with a salary unit attached.  All things we can explore and set in place for 2016 - watch this space. 


Wooranna Park Primary School  Click the link to read the article and see the video of what this school has done to engage students. 

Modern Learning Environments vs Modern Learning Mindsets - it is not about 'stuff', it is about a growth mindset.