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).  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Intuitive Educator

I have been wondering about teacher intuitiveness, in particular, why some teachers seem to be able to tap into their intuition and employ it more, and why some teachers appear reluctant and less likely to follow their intuition.

I am confident that I am an intuitive educator.  As a classroom teacher I rely on my intuition to guide me, and I am hopeful I do the same as a leader.  I know this, because I have spent the majority of my career digging deep into my my practice, analysing what I do, why I do it and what makes something more successful than other things.  When I haven't done something so well (as in, when I screw something up), either in the classroom or in the office, then I run my eyes over those situations as well - I suspect with a too critical eye sometimes!

It is from this behaviour of stopping and analysing what I do,  that I have discovered that my intuition derives from a mix of tapping into a variety of resources.  My intuitive formula is made up of a mix of experience, strategy, what I like to call 'reading the emotional barometer', and a variety of tools.  These resources support and supplement my intuition as a teacher and as a leader.


I consider experience as a process one might have of getting knowledge, skill and (fingers crossed) mastery/wisdom from participating in, or experiencing events, or from the day to day accumulation of 'doing'.  When I apply it to myself, I am meaning experience as a classroom teacher, within leadership and across all aspects of my life.  Mostly, for me, it is from first hand experiences (meaning, I was there), sometimes it is from the stories of others (I may not have been there but I played some role in supporting the situation from the sidelines), sometimes it is from physically doing or participating it something, and sometimes it is a more academic experience, where I have studied, read and learnt about things.

In Practice:
Tapping into my experiences forms the backbone of how I tap into my intuition.  For example, throughout my career, I have worked extensively with students who might be classified as 'challenging'.  There are very few behavioural experiences I have not 'experienced' first hand - from the psychologically alarming to the physically dangerous.  All of these collective experiences have allowed me to hone my intuition (some might call it 'spidey sense') in such a way that I am able to head most potential disasters off at the pass, before they come crashing down into an almighty version of the next apocalypse.  Sometimes, the warning signs might appear minor (to the uninitiated), but experience gives you tools and strategies you can use, and for the most part, mine will alert me of impending disaster.


By strategy,  I am talking about using strategies like problem solving, thinking skills, a variety of behaviour management techniques (like restorative justice), numerous leadership theories, practices and styles (such as agile leadership and transformational leadership), coaching, and perhaps one of the most important - the strategies of instructional practice (including understanding a wide range teaching strategies such as problem solving and being able to tap into student voice and agency).

In Practice:
Understanding a wide range of strategies that can be utilised as both a teacher and leader is critical because it means that your intuition has a repertoire of tools to reach for.  Imagine the behaviour management scenario above - your 'spidey sense' has warned you of a potential situation about to unfold, experience has helped hone that 'spidey sense' but because you also have a wide range of strategies to call upon, you are not stuck wondering what to do - instead you are able to work through options.

Reading the Emotional Barometer:

This is about your emotional intelligence (EI).  In this case, its about your ability to identify, monitor, and use your own emotions (intrapersonal intelligence) in a productive and positive way as you interact with others and with situations within life.  The more you understand your own reactions and emotional responses, the better able you will be to understand and see it in others (interpersonal intelligence).  This is about four key attributes, your self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management.  Your EI plays a big part in your intuition as the better able you are to tap into and sense  your EI, the more able you are to tap into your subconscious and be aware of the subtleties of others emotions.

In Practice:
During any interaction you might have, being able to 'read' the situation is vital.  As a teacher (or leader) there are many examples where it is easy to become frustrated.  When you are working with students (or adults), being able to turn that frustration into a positive pathway by managing your emotions shows the other person that you value them and that you have control over your frustration and anger.  Using 'I', rather than 'you', statements will avoid all involved heading into the territory of the 'defensive'.  Using your EI to validate others by acknowledging how they feel helps you walk the talk by valuing others.


In this case, I am referring to tools such as your mindset (growth vs fixed), resiliency - how able are you to bounce forward after any situation unfolds, 'bloody mindedness' (being determined to reach a goal) and your moral purpose - knowing your WHY.   There tools are all things I use to sharpen my intuition.

In Practice: 
What you focus on is what you most often manifest - do you have a growth mindset where you see an opportunity in difficult situations or do you stuck in a mire of negative self feedback?  Rewiring how you talk to yourself, being able to bounce forward from setbacks by learning from them, and tapping into your reasons for being an educator gives you a greater control over the days where educating is hard work!  It gives your intuition a more positive and powerful narrative to tap into.

6 Tips to Hone your Intuitive Educator

1. Reflective Practice 

Reflect, reflect and reflect again.  The more you know about what is working, what is not so successful and why this is the case, the better you are able to grow your experience and strategy base.

Ask Yourself:

What was it about this lesson/day/situation that was successful?  Can you replicate it?
Am I excited to go to work today?  Why/Why not?  What would make me excited?
What evidence do I have that my students are succeeding?  (Soft and hard data)
Are my students/teachers thriving?  How do I know?
In what areas can I improve professionally?  How can I share my skills with others?
What new ideas have I implemented lately that keep me on 'top of my game'?
How well balanced is my life - and how do I know?

2. Data 

Data, soft and hard, is a great way to know you impact.

Ask yourself:

What does the data tell me (soft and hard)?
Which data paints the picture of success?
Do I teach my students they way they are predisposed to learn or in the way I teach?
What does student/teacher/parent voice say?

3. Observe: 

Paying attention (being mindful) of the world around us is a rich source of information.

Ask yourself:

What did I notice today?
What is new or different in my environment, and what might have caused that?
What is the emotional temperature today, and what impact dd I have on that?
How do my interactions change things - for the betterment of others, or not?

4. Read: 

Reading about new methodologies or practices is an important part of being an educator.  Information is awash in our world, tapping into this to improve our practice should be second nature.

Ask yourself:

What new things have I learnt today?
Where do I source new information (twitter, social media platforms, blogs, research) and interact with others to learn new things?
How do I keep up to date on current pedagogies?

5. Inquiry: 

Teacher as Inquiry should be a core part of being an educator - investigating into practice is always going to result in better practice.   Try things out, experiment and reflect on what you do.

Ask yourself:

How do I inquire into my own practice?
What resources and evidence will I need to ensure my inquiry will result in improved outcomes?
Who is the inquiry for?
How often do I ask 'why' about my practice?
Do I really understand why something is successful or not?
What do my students say about our classroom -how much voice, choice and agency is there?

6. Observe others: 

Getting outside of our own classroom or office to observe what and how others do things is important.

Ask yourself:

How does my practice improve by observing others?
Why does the teacher/leader I am observing do things that way, how might I learn from this?
What did I notice?
Do I understand what effective practice is - how?


Tapping into your educators intuition is a key tool in your tool kit.  Because my own intuition arises from the intentional growing and modifying of the above attributes, it is something I rely on every single day - not just in my leadership but in my life.  I am now left wondering how I might help my own team sharpen and strengthen their own intuitive practice because the more I reflect on it, the more certain I am that it is in this intuitive practice where we find where the real magic lives!  Think about it - who are the best teachers and leaders you know?  For me, the more I think about it, it is the teachers and leaders who know how to tap into this intuitive resource that are the most successful.

How is your own intuitive educative ability?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Quality of the Noise

Several weeks ago I attended an ACEL (Australian Council of Education Leadership) conference.  Dr Tim Watterson, who is the Director-General of Education and Training for Queensland, delivered the opening keynote.   I confess that my initial ‘judging a book by its cover’ reaction was not particularly complimentary, and I did wonder how I, as a Kiwi Leader, might relate to an Aussie Director-General.   I do however; stand to be corrected, because in actual fact, it was ok.   It was more than ok it was actually very ok.  

There were two key takeouts for me, this post is about the first one. 


I was particularly taken with one of his opening comments, about how the quality of the noise in your classrooms, playground or staffroom is what gives away the quality of your school. 

Let that sink in for a moment, as it has for me over the last few weeks.


I have always been a firm believer that you can ‘feel’ a school from the moment you walk into it.  The same goes for any classroom or any staffroom.  In a high functioning school here is a hum about the place, a sense of purpose and a welcoming atmosphere.

There are many examples of when the ‘noise’ reflects a less than high quality school.  Some of us have had the misfortune of walking into ‘that’ staffroom where seats are allocated to a particular person or group, and woes betide anyone who tries to sit there.   

Sometimes the conversations in the staffroom involve unprofessional discussions of students.  You know they are unprofessional because they make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable, and you would never allow someone to speak that way about your own child.  

Or perhaps you have walked into a schools front reception office, only to be briskly dismissed by an unfriendly grimace, or been completely ignored while the people behind the counter continue with their own conversation.  

Perhaps you have sat in a meeting where people are disinterested, talking over each other being rude and disrespectful. 

Or maybe you have been in a classroom where the tensions are high and the feeling of disorganized chaos reigns supreme. 

The above examples are not indicators of a quality school but of one where the school culture needs some work. 

I have been reflecting on what our noise is at our place, and as a result I have pinned down some of the key things that I think indicate what a ‘quality noise’ might be. 

Characteristics of Quality Noise

People respect each other. 
You can hear it in the day-to-day interactions, in the playground and during meetings.  Teachers respect students and students respect other students and teachers.  Parents are a valued resource not a pesky nuisance.

Questions are more important than answers. 
You can hear questions being used all the time by teachers and learners.   A sense of curiosity exists.  Voice and agency is fostered for both students and teachers. 

Ideas and Wonderings are welcomed.
People are allowed to challenge/question the status quo, and ideas like AMOS are welcomed and encouraged because the sum of all of us is better than the one.   Students and teachers have ownership of what is happening in the school and you can tell because they can talk about what is important to them. 

Learning is not a one size fits all.
Teachers are free to explore pedagogy and learning processes that respond to the needs of their classroom.  Differentiation and personalization is encouraged and evident for both student and teacher learning.  Teaching programmes are creative and not mandated.  Leaders trust their teams to innovate and explore the best ways to support learner diversity in their classrooms, and do not micro manage this. 

Teaching as Inquiry is evident.
Teachers are keen to inquire into what is happening in classrooms and you can hear teachers sharing best practice with colleagues.  The notion of deprivatised practice is lived and there is a collective efficacy in place.  Teachers know that what they do impacts on the next class, and it is not a matter of ‘my children’ but ‘our children’. 

The school is inclusive.
Everyone is welcome and feels a part of the school.  Cultural competencies are lived, and students and teachers feel a sense of belonging. 

Self-Review informs practice and decisions.
People delve into what it is they do, and find out if it is working, and if not, why not, and where to next.  Data, soft and hard, assists this process and the soft data is valued highly.  Discussions around the school about evidence are used to check that what we say we are doing is what we are doing, and support growth and capacity building. 


These are just a few of the characteristics I have been reflecting on.  I would like to say we are all these things all of the time, but I am not so confident.   Sometimes I am sure we slip, and sometimes I am sure (in fact I know) we do not always get it right for everyone.  The real treasure is found when you know, through your self review and feedback processes, that things need to be improved, and you put in place a plan to address any areas that are lacking.

In case you are wondering, like I have, what the noise of your school is and if it is a true indication of the quality of your school, perhaps these questions might be of assistance. 

Questions to assist Self Review: 

What language do you notice people using in meetings and in the staffroom?  Is it strength based, positive and professional? 

What things do the professionals in the school talk about?

How do your teachers share practice?  Do teachers visit each others classroom?

What are teachers inquiring into?

Are relationships respectful?  How do you know – what does the evidence look like?

Do people feel welcomed at your place?  How do you know?

How do you use data and self review to improve?  Which data do you value and how do you talk about it?

Can students talk about their learning? Do they own their goals and do they know where they are going? 

What does student and teacher voice and agency look like at your place? 

Is there a culture of ongoing improvement and how do you know there is?

How does leadership support teachers?  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Leadership Roller Coaster

Forgive me dear reader, for I have been remiss. (If you are not a regular reader you may not have noticed, incidentally why are you not a regular reader?  Do be a dear and go sign up - somewhere on the sidebar there is an email link and then you won't miss out!)  Now the plugs out of the way, back to why I have been a little remiss.   It has been a little while since I last blogged.

In fairness, there has been a reason.   I have put myself into a digital time out.

I have purposely given myself a little bit of time away from Four Seasons - not because I do not want to blog anymore or because I have nothing to say (quite the contrary), but more because my life has been a little hectic and between the hectic moments I have been suffering a bit of an identify and self doubt rut.  In some respects, it is similar to being in a style rut but instead, it is more of an identify come professional rut.

Ironically, I have more partially written blog posts and ideas for posts, recorded in my notes app on my phone than you can shake a pen at, and I have written the best posts you will never read pretty much every night as I lie in bed seeking the solace of sleep.  Last night I 'ghost wrote' three fabulous and profound posts that alas have escaped me in the wake of a fast approaching day.  So, if thinking and crafting in my head was a paid job, I think I would be quite self sufficient.

It is not just one thing but a series of little things that have found themselves snowballing.  Life in the leadership fast lane can be fabulous, but it can also be an all consuming, draining and not always fun roller coaster of 'things'.  Somedays it feels like everyone wants a piece of you (not necessarily in a bad way) and finding the space to look outside your own reality to see the bigger picture can be a chore.  It is important to look beyond your own small seat on the roller coaster to survey the whole track, because the ability to do so gives you a perspective that is not found from a merely narrow place.  Term three felt a little bit like the roller coaster just kept on speeding up, and finding the time (actually, it is not time so much as space) to blog made it feel like an accelerant the roller coaster just did not need!  Blogging here is my way of debriefing, and making sense of the wonderings.  For the most part, it is my reflective space.  Writing the posts in my head whilst lying in bed, irrespective of how amazing I imagine them to be, is a little less helpful than actually writing them here!

I have found this term break to be one of much reflection.  In the first week I was fortunate to attend the ACEL (Australian Council for Educational Leaders) conference in Melbourne and I have come away from that with some big wonderings (I will blog about some of those in due course).  Being away from home and outside your own country, makes your realise a few things and it gives you a space to reflect on things that weigh you down as a leader.  There were several difficult leadership moments in term three that left me in a place of 'leadership self doubt'.

In times like that I try to remember my WHY.  I went into education wanting to make a difference, and I went into educational leadership in order to make a wider difference to that which is just within a class.  When you hit a bit of a professional rut you start to wondering about the why.  I have been wondering a lot about if I have been making a difference, and what more I need to do to ensure my leadership is effective, wondering if it is effective and how do I know it is.  At ACEL, John Hattie spoke about how teachers need to 'know thy influence' but I think it is the same for leaders.  Yes, I have my 360 appraisal process, but for me, its much deeper than that.  When you hear all the expectations leaders have on them (from academics presenting at conferences, Boards of Trustees, parents and teachers - heck - everyone has an opinion) you can feel a little overwhelmed.

With all these things adding to the roller coaster of leadership self doubt, a bit of a digital blogging time out seemed in order.  I am pleased I did.  I feel like I am heading into term four a little more grounded, with a roller coaster that has had the breaks applied.  I am looking forward to being open to  what opportunities term four brings with it, and I am looking at ways to ensure the roller coaster remains balanced so it does not derail itself.  In addition I am exploring a few options to expand my creative side.  When I started Four Seasons it was meant to be more lifestyle than Leadership focused, and I am at a bit of a cross roads regarding whether to merger Four Seasons into what it was intended for (because the creative side spins my personal wheels) or leave as is, and start a different one.  I imagine I will still be wrestling with this come Christmas - happy to have your thoughts.  (For example, I am pretty sure none of you who are reading this would be remotely interested in topics such as 'Parenting a Preteen - what not to do' or 'What I bought in Melbourne - the best leather shop ever').

In the meantime, if you find yourself in your own leadership self doubt rut, don't despair.  There is always light at the end of the murky tunnel.  Here are my top 4 tips.

1. Find your WHY.  Recall what it was that bought you into leadership, reach down deep and bring it back to the forefront.  It is the WHY that drives us, and sometimes in the midst of a self doubt moment we can forget it.  Don't let the roller coaster run over your WHY.  Let it be the driver. 

2. Find your TRIBE.  Leadership can be lonely but it doesn't have to be.  You can read more about that in my blog post "Leadership Loneliness'.   Talk to someone - a trusted colleague or your partner, and remember, you are not the only person who feels this way.  That is why there are multitudes of things written about this stuff.  All of us have felt it sometime - that is why your TRIBE is important. I have written before about how important my coffee sessions with my colleagues are.  They are essential.  Do it - you will not regret it.  

3. TRUST in yourself - you have this.  Yes, there are times when it is hard or the roller coaster is flying at top speed, but remember - you have got this!  Trust yourself, trust your moral compass and believe in yourself! 

4. Set some GOALS - chunk it down, set some goals and see number 3! I have always found a good list of proactive things to work on help me sort things into perspective.  

Have a great term everyone - heres hoping the roller coaster ride is a manageable one - and remember the only person who gets hurts on a roller coaster is the one who jumps off!

You have got this!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Proposed Funding Changes: Part Two - Key Themes

This post is part two in the series ProposedFunding Changes.  Part one looked at the seven key aspects of the proposal, and this post is a brief outline of some of the key themes that arise from these key aspects of the funding proposal.  NB: It is another longish post - so feel free to skim and scan the bolded bits. 

A Quick Reminder

Earlier this year the Government announced a major change in the way it intended to fund schools.  It proposes to replace the decile funding system, which it considers to be a ‘blunt instrument’, with a more layered approach.  The Government believes this will allow schools more flexibility.   It is hoped that this flexibility will be better suited to meet the challenges with the size of the achievement challenge.   In post one I highlight what each of the seven aspects of the changes are, and include my wonderings and concerns with the proposal.  

What I noticed as I read, re read and read again the background papers that sit behind the proposal, was that there are a series of themes that keep emerging.  Todays post intends to explore those themes a little further, and the wonderings I have as a result. 

Other Wonderings 

(from the background reading and Minister on the Nation)

Theme Based:

School Choice and Demonstration/Model Schools

Of interest was the section on ways to promote competition within our current  system by creating a greater role for the private section.  This would be done by providing additional public funding, controlling schools enrolment choices (without saying how), restricting the fees charged and tagging funding to improved student performance (by using valued added data).

In one of the reports it talks about diversity of provision and how there is limited evidence that parents demand more but instead, we (as a country) could use schools set up under section 156 of the education to act as models of key features they (the Ministry and Government) want to see implemented across the whole system (bulk funding, value added data and improved teacher appraisal were mentioned but with little information about what that might look like).  It is interesting that just this week one of the changes in the Education Act has allowed for this, with the introduction of CoOL schools (Community of Online Learning).  More about my thinking on this another time. 

Further discussion about diversity of provision focuses on introducing Demonstration and Model schools and that these would be a possible mechanism for implementing change.  With a little research, it would appear that this is yet another process ‘borrowed’ from the US.  One of the reports outlines how a select group of schools (or volunteer schools) could be used to trial some of the changes such as funding flexibility with a total resourcing model, in return for higher accountability and value added data (performance pay perhaps?).   The authors discuss how this could be a trial but if successful the school could be provided with additional autonomy (although I wonder what that looks like) that they would earn when demonstrating success.  (Does this sound like a Charter model?)  However they add the caveat that it is important not to ‘overfund’ these schools so that any effective change is attributed to practice, not funding. 

I wonder, what exactly are Demonstration and Model schools - what's the plan for these? They are meant to help all schools ‘lift their game’ (yes that is what the report actually said) but it is really unclear what they are and if the intention is to slip these into the current network.  Much is written in the briefing documents about how there is space in our current system for such schools (and more Charters) but the detail about this is either withheld or purposefully vague.  

Given the introduction of the CoOL's which came out of the proverbial 'blue' this week, I would guess that that idea is just one of many new ideas we will be barraged by.  I would also wonder if this is a deliberate tactic.  A tsunami of ideas is an effective tool to undermine and shake up current status quo.  


Competition in NZ, according to one report, takes place in the context of parents having poor information on which they base their choice of school, and that evidence shows that competition garners minimal gains.  Given schools often market themselves on non academic features, which can mask performance, the MoE propose developing a ‘value added’ data process to help inform parents.   

There is very little information on what this actually is although it does appear to come under the improved accountability stream.  One report outlined areas the authors felt could be ‘pushed harder for contestability’ included the 'measurement and management of performance' to put competitive pressure on schools to raise student achievement.  The report outlines how the MoE has an opportunity to develop value added data which would better inform parents when they make a choice of where to send their children.   The report does outline skepticism toward introducing a more actively competitive model that would include vouchers, removing zoning and increasing support for private schools (interesting given this is in the proposal released by the Minister) as there is limited evidence that there are gains for student achievement.

So I wonder, how will putting competitive pressure on schools around data improve outcomes for students?  What about all the variables?  How does pressurising schools assist things?  Why not work alongside schools and actually ask the Education sector what they think will make a difference?  I appreciate that this suggestion is lacking details (much is blacked out under OIA which makes my mind boggle about what it actually says - I assume its pretty controversial) but I wonder what evidence and research sits behind such a proposal?  I have not seen anything that shows increased pressure improves outcomes.   If we look to models offshore I think we can see the damage done under a competitive (data based) model.  

 Communities of Learning (CoLs) 

All through the papers there is constant mention of CoLs.  Unfortunately there is actually little detail about what this looks like, with quite a few things blacked out under OIA.  I do wonder what is so 'secret squirrel'  that the public can not be privy to - is it not the publics' tax dollars?  Is it not the publics' children?   

In terms of what was available to read, my wonderings are;  What will bundled support packages for CoLs and property actually look like?  Does that mean that one school in your cluster will build a ‘Math hub’ and the other schools ‘borrow’ it?  Will it mean that we share support and caretaker staffing?  Heaven help it if two windows break at the same time!!

My wondering is – is the CoL the first step in seeing if multiple Boards overseeing one principal is feasible?  The papers seem to indicate so.  Will administrative support (which is mentioned as something that CoLs will have) mean one super board, one super principal and one super PA? Do we give them capes?) 

What will happen to schools that do not join a CoL?  –Will they miss out on special education and professional development funding and opportunities?  It is unclear what will happen for students with special needs but it looks like funding for special education will be linked to CoLs.  What will that actually mean for schools and most importantly, individual students? Does that mean the RTLB (Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour) will be linked to CoLs and due for yet another shake up? 

It is expected that all schools will be in a CoL by 2018 – that is only 18 months away.  What will happen to those who are not in one?

Staffing and Base Funding

Once again there are more questions than there are answers.  Nothing I have read or attended, has been able to clear this up.  My questions are: 

What about hard to staff areas and supplementary funding?  
What about the Auckland crisis?  What’s being planned for that?
How much would base funding be? What do they consider a minimum level?


There seems to be (you just need to read the background papers) an assumption that all schools have mismanaged the property portfolio and that is why the state of the property assets are in such a mess.  Just on that, I would like to point out that it was not schools that changed the laws that allowed for substandard building practices that led to all the leaky buildings!  It was also not the previous Government that made the building standards slip.  

In addition, the Ministry signs off every property plan, and every school has a property advisor.  Blaming schools for the property stock mess is a little uncalled for.  Might I suggest some navel gazing?  There has been issues with the MoE property department for many years, including a long report indicating concerns from the Auditor General.  

One colleague made the point that to remove property from schools would lead to the days where all schools were painted in the same batch of ugly green, and that in fact, schools look better loved and cared for now then when they were under the 'education board' of the past.  He further pointed out that this was because we make the decisions on what happens in our school so we have a higher personal investment in making sure our schools look loved and cared for.  I tend to agree - we take great care of our school because we have a vested interest - if that vested interest is replaced by no say in what happens, I believe we will become complacent.  This is not a step forward but one back to the 'dark ages'.  

Re Class Sizes

Currently schools are funded on a staffing ratio – and principals decide how many students they place in each class.  Under the new system the Minister could not guarantee that classes would not grow.  The Minister outlined to the media and public that it already happened now because principals decided how many students went into a classroom  and that this funding would allow schools to continue to decide class numbers.  She outlined that the things people are concerned about already happen in the system.  

It is a little disingenuous to say this as classroom ratios are a very complex beast.  The decisions we make have to be made by taking into account many variables.  Class numbers might seem high in a year 4, 5, or 6 class, but the ratios are 1:29, and if 8 year 6 students walk in they need to be housed - whilst that many students will generate some funding it is not enough for a new class to be set up in that area of the school.  To tell the public that the reasons class numbers in some schools are high is because I and my colleagues 'decide' is to only tell a tiny part of the story.  

A wondering that needs to be had is what will happen to specialist teachers?  The Intermediate schools have already had several attacks on them, and the new proposed funding may be a new attack.  What happens to the ratios for specialist teachers (think technology, music, art, food tech etc).   I wonder if this is yet another way (add CoOL) to phase out Intermediate schools?  Not the cheapest schools to run so when you look at economies of scale, one must wonder about the agenda.  

Although, with this 'think' in mind in term of cheaper to run schools, I would think that smaller schools would be in the firing line but it seems mass school reorganisation is off the table (or at least for the moment in an obvious way).  Mind you, the changes in the Education Act will make reorgainisation easier to instigate (cue CoOL - less actual students attending as 'bottoms on seats' means more chance of schools being unviable...). Cue also the changes to the Education Act that allow for more than one Board to appoint a principal between schools - this paves the way for mergers quite nicely.  Well played Minister and associated minions - well played!  I imagine there are more 'obstacle removers' my brain just has not made the connections - yet.  

From the MoE (Ministry of Education) presentation  

At the presentation meeting  it was stated that they were looking for ‘ideas’ – I wonder, what are all these magical 'ideas' coming out from the sector?  Are they going to share them, so we can both applaud and critique them?

It was said that the ‘consultation’ was to seek our thoughts and support for change, but I wonder, what if the sector doesn't want to change or go that direction?  Then what?   How much buy in is enough buy in for this proposal to progress?  Is it one person, all educators or just a percentage?  What is the magic number?

The roll out of the new funding proposal is due to come into effect just before the new decile recalibration would take effect.  I wonder, If the roll out is before the next decile recalibration is that because with the state of poverty in our country there is an expectation that there will be higher need?  And actually, this will cost more?

Regarding the ‘consultation', Apparently it is to determine the core rules that will be determining the funding; this is the design phase and the details are to come.   We were told that the Cabinet has agreed to undertake a testing of the ideas, which will then be tested in greater details.  Great pains were made to point out that 'nothing is set in stone'. The adequacy question is to get addressed through the design process.  I am unsure if I fully understand how this will occur.  What if it is shown to be highly inadequate? Then what?

When the Ministry was asked if the design process was looking at other school models like  middle schools, the answer was no.  Yet this would be wise because middle schools have issues regarding funding and staffing that schools like mine don’t face.  It was stated that the intent was to get the year design bit rights, but the point about how different rules applying to the primary and secondary contexts was important, so I wonder what will happen around this?

Other Questions asked:

At our meeting the question of will the amount of staffing credits be enough to maintain what we have now, was asked but there was no answer to this.

When asked if staffing will be linked to at risk kids, the MoE replied that apparently this  could be cash or a percentage of teacher – this detail is still to be ironed out.  Hmm.

When asked if this new process will allow us to increase funding and staffing as our roll increases, the short answer was yes.   Staffing will still be paid centrally but charged as an average.  In our accounts we will see the average but the Moe will pay the ‘bill’ for overs.  But for how long, I wonder?    

Right now no schools know what the staffing entitlement will look like – this is still to be determined. 

When asked if the number of staff a school is credited will be based on student numbers as it is now, the answer was unclear.  Apparently this needs to be tested because the Ministry data shows that schools fund an additional 900 teachers over entitlement now.  2019 will be when schools get the first indicative staffing notice.   So, if schools are already funding 900 over entitlement now, surely this shows the current system is inadequate - if I was to ask my colleagues (in particular those who can not afford to 'over staff' if they would overstaff if they had the money) - I am betting they would.

The best question asked was why not do a trail first? The answer was that some bits, like the property aspects are already being trialed.  I wonder where and what does that look like?   That’s the first I have heard. 

Finally, Be Careful about what you wish for:

A final point and wondering I might make is about property and decile.  For quite sometime the Minister has been telling the pubic via the media that schools and school principals constantly tell her that we hate property and it takes much of our time.   We also (not me by the way) tell her and her officials that the decile system is unfair.  Interestingly, I do hear this quite a bit from colleagues who tell me that it is unfair that their decile 10 students get far less per pupil funding than mine.  When I ask how many 'at risk' students they have, or what kind of money they bring in from fundraising efforts or donations, or if they need to implement significant pastoral care programmes, or if they have ever had difficulties staffing (although all Auckland schools are now struggling in this area), or how much transiency is an issue for them etc (you can see where I am going with this) then the conversation shifts - sometimes.  

Whilst there is a truth to the issues we face regarding property, and sometimes the decile system is not as targeted for all students, the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for' applies here.  Now, instead of asking educators what we want (or actually fixing the issues in the Ministry) we are instead going to get no say and lose the ability under self governance to make our own decisions about what our schools look like, and the funding mechanism is now likely to do less to ensure equitable outcomes.  

In this situation, like the decile shake up, the Minister is using our own concerns against us in order to save money and set the agenda.  In some respects, I feel we have been the catalyst of our own coming misfortune.  Education should not ever be about 'one up man-ship'  - instead there should be a collective efficacy from both educators and Boards of Trustees for the educational outcomes of our all our students.  To do this schools need to acknowledge that there is not an equal playing field for all students and instead of being envious of the per pupil funding a school with many at risk students has, be looking at ways to share best practice across the system and be supportive of the challenges all our schools face.  

Remember, where there is disharmony in the hen house, the fox will find it easier to get in and to take charge.  


Treasury Report (mostly blacked out by OIA)