Friday, January 1, 2016

Year End Reflections for New Year Beginnings

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And days o’ lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear 
For auld lang syne, 
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet 
For auld lang syne!

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere, 
And gie’s a hand o’ thine, 
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught 
For auld lang syne!
Robert Burns in 1788

Translated, roughly, Auld Lang syne means 'Old Times Sake'.  

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one always seems to herald change - by its very nature, one might say, the act of a new year beginning is change itself.   Setting resolutions is, for me, a bit like trying to find a vehicle to control some of the change that is likely coming my way in the New Year.  As if devising and attempting to control some of this change we may then be able to steer it towards a safer, less stressful course.  If I have learnt anything from the three schools I have been a principal in, it is this – change is not always logical!  By this I mean, you can prepare, you can try to second guess and plan for all the different scenarios that might befall and you can have a thousand alternative options (all of which I recommend you do), but change is a fickle beastie and despite all your best preparation, change has a habit of throwing curveballs!   Therefore, the best vehicle is the one with several spare tyres, emergency kit, bull bars and armour plating! 

I have decided I am too old to set resolutions now - and perhaps a little too cynical, if I was to be honest.  I know that in all likelihood I will give up, forget about it or simply dismiss it as some crazy and illogical moment where my middle aged brain forgot its age, and transgressed into the time reminiscent of when I was 'the teenager'.   

So, while I avoid setting resolutions, I do however tend to reflect on where I am now, how I got there and what the following year might bring.  I also set goals and use the coaching process to assist me with this, but those I make on an as needed, when needed, and more organic basis.  Also, my goal setting is often strategic and related to what needs to get achieved.  I try not to dwell on the negatives - that kind of reflect will always end badly.  I like to call it 'melancholy folly' because as attractive as it can be to dwell on negatives, it is a folly because it will only end in a melancholic state.   Much has been written about how what you think is what you are, as in the laws of attraction, and if you dwell in the less than positive for too long you are likely to be dragged under, and climbing out of that particular pit is one journey I am not fond of!
Which brings me to this post.  

Just prior to Christmas I stumbled upon one of those ‘Year End Reflection’ pictures that one of my friends had posted on Facebook, and I made a mental note to come back to it.   Ironically, I had all the intentions of the world to write this post BEFORE the midnight countdown heralding in the new year! 

Oh well.

Not to worry – it is only the second of January and in other parts of the world you are still most likely celebrating! 

What I liked about this particular reflective exercise is that it focuses on not just the highlights and low lights, but also the other things that make an impact and as such, it encourages you to think a little more deeply about the impact, learning’s and options going forward. 

Enough pontification – the exercise is this, blatantly ‘borrowed’ from the original source (you can read the blog that inspired this practice ‘’ for yourself)

The actual post this was taken from - thank you Tiffany!

10 Highlights: Accomplishments, best memories

1. Coaching Conference in Melbourne

Earlier in the year, three of us went to the Growth Coaching International conference in Melbourne.  It was fabulous – a real opportunity to network with other schools and coaches, and most importantly, to connect with some coaching gurus like Christian van Niewerburgh and Jim Knight.  What we bought back from this conference made a discernable difference to our own journey.

2. Presenting our Coaching Journey in Melbourne

At the same conference mentioned above, we presented our schools coaching journey and shared our story.  Not only was this a great opportunity but a real chance to reflect on what we had achieved.  We re-shared this journey back here in New Zealand at the Education Group Symposium here in Auckland in November. (I know I have promised to share that presentation, I have not forgotten!)

3. Ulearn – Grant Lichtman

This year, for the first time, some of our teachers and I attended the ULearn conference.  There were two highlights from this conference for me.  Firstly, the Twitter Dinner, where I got to meet the real people behind the twitter handle, and I was not disappointed!  The second, meeting Grant Lichtman, whose book #EdJourney has been a key inspiration for me this year.  His book has helped remind me about the things I love, and ignite some of my mojo around innovation.  To meet him in person was simply fabulous!

4. Mindlab

I signed myself up for the some postgraduate study through Mindlab, you can read my reflections on this here.  Suffice to say, despite the fact that I choose to start it during the most busy time of the year, it has been really good for my grey matter to be stretched and challenged! 

5. #BFC630NZ

I stumbled upon this quite by accident in January and decided to made the effort to participate.  I am pleased that I did. Not only have I enriched my professional networks, but I am grateful to have a group of professionals to debate, share ideas, and to challenge thinking with.  When co founder Kerri Thompson asked me to host Tuesdays, I was surprised and honored.  I see this group as an opportunity to seek teacher voice on key ideas and issues, and that is an invaluable tool for me as a leader.  Mostly, I appreciate the lack of hierarchy, which means I am just another educator.  In this forum, it is not an issue that I am a principal – I am just another perspective.  It allows for an authentic and honest relationship that, no matter how hard you try to foster this at your own place, being the ‘boss’ always places a barrier.  I love #BFC630NZ!

6. New Staff

This one fits into a number of boxes, but for the most part, it is an opportunity and a highlight  Appointing new staff is scary and involves a certain amount of risk taking.  Ask any leader, pretty much in any field I am guessing, and the most important thing that makes the difference, is staffing.  Sometimes, despite the best intentions and processes, schools and businesses get it wrong.  The cost, when you get it wrong, is massive.  This year, we have appointed some permanent staff members who are outstanding.  The downside was we lost some amazing educators, ones we had invested in and ones who understood ‘our place’.  The upside was we found some new people to help us strengthen our journey, who will all have wonderful things to add that will allow us to grow and succeed in new ways, ways we may not even be aware of yet!  I am looking forward to their contribution.

7. Innovations Team

This is one of my personal highlights.  It has taken us a few years to be ready for something like this, timing was everything.  Three terms later, and I am pleased to announce that our 'opt in' innovations team has been a real pleaure to have been part of.  You can read more about that here. 

8. Professional Networks
Thank the good universe for my colleagues!  I count my close principal colleagues (you know who you are) as a real blessing, on both a personal and professional level.  I love how they will celebrate with me on the good days, and how they will sagely nod in empathy during the not so good days, whilst reminding me that I am not alone, and that I, and they, do a good job.  This deserves a post on its own.  Suffice to say, a good professional network is worth its weight in gold. 

9. ERO

This will seem odd, but we had an Education Review (for the UK readers, it is our version of OFTSTED) at the end of term one.  This time was a professional highlight, not because it went well (although it did) but because it operated at a very high level of self review.  It was a useful process, helped us articulate where we were, and where we are going, and it was a chance to show the success we have reaped from our hard work.  In short, it gave us a chance to affirm that we were on the right track.  It is the first time I can say that I enjoyed the process, and I have been involved in quite a few of these reviews over the years. 

10. Students

Our students are great.  Every day they amaze me with their insights, resilience and ideas.  This last year we have implemented a number of really neat and innovative initiatives that have made a real difference.  If you want to hear more, listen to this podcast Greg Curran put together about some of these things, after he interviewed me several months ago.

5 Disappointments: Failures and missed opportunities (it said 10 but I don't have 10)

1. Losing Staff

I alluded to this up above.  It is not so much a failure, as some of our experienced staff that left, left the city, something I have no control over.  The disappointment is a wider disappointment, in that our school is not an isolated case of losing staff for the lure of cheaper housing in other regions, and this needs to be addressed.  This also, is another post, because the claim by the union for an Auckland allowance is a sensible one, but as I could have predicted, it is encountering negativity in other areas of the country.  It is a wider disappointment and I fear, not addressing it will be a missed opportunity.  

2. Academic Coaching

For a lot of reasons (reasons I hasten to add, not excuses!) I was unable to finish developing the academic coaching model I have been working on.  As a result I am left a little frustrated.  However, onwards and upward, 2016 will see it in place.

3. Beating Myself Up

Here I am disappointed in myself.  Despite telling myself that I would not be taking things so personally, and to stop being so hard on myself when things go sideways, I still dish up a unhealthy helping of ‘beat yourself up’ upon myself.  It is ironic that I can blog about passing over the monkey and not allowing someone else’s agendas derail you, yet fail to follow my own sage advice! Note to self – follow own advice!  Leadership can be lonely - read my blog post on that for some tips - tips I need to remind myself about as well! 

4. Gym

I know that one of my stress management techniques is to go to the gym on a regular basis and to look after my physical health.  My gym gear has taken a ride to and from work in the car, without being taken out, on too many occasions.  Time to rectify this. 


5. Being Invisible

Have you ever felt that, although you are there, you are invisible?  This last year I have moments where I have felt invisible.  Perhaps this about being professionally lost at sea on occasion because what I have to say is no important?  I need to reflect on this some more.  It is more likely linked to number 3, and I am seeing what is not there…Either way, I feel I have missed the opportunity to make a difference and shape things simply because I failed to articulate in a way that is clear, for others.  In 2016, with the emphasis on schools working collaboratively, this will need to be something I rectify.   In 2014 I wrote a post on positive affirmations - this may be helpful again I feel! 

3 Game Changers: Unexpected things that changed your priorities

1. Staff Changes

Can you see a reoccurring theme here?  Because we lost some key players in our school that were trained coaches, we have had to really look carefully at our journey and rearrange things.  It has been a blessing and a pain.  For 2016 it means new people being trained in coaching, and this will strengthen our coaching framework back up again.  It put us back a little bit in terms of the journey, but in the same token; it allowed other things to strengthen and shine, like our Innovations Team. 

2. Illness

This was a big one for us in 2015.  On a wider level, we found the Winter term tricky, with quite a few staff absences, so we instigated a wellness action plan, and this helped.  It will be an ongoing practice and we will continue this in 2016.  In addition to this, a key player at our place had an unexpected health issue that meant they were out for the majority of the third term.  On a personal level, you realize how important someone is, and on a practical professional level, you realize how much work it is to pick up the job of someone else.   I never really understood how full on that term was until I wasn’t juggling two big jobs.  It made me change priorities – and fast, and it gave me a very good appreciation for the other persons job.  For that reason I don’t feel bad about the things we did not quite get completed or the change in direction we had to take in order to manage.  Although it was unexpected, I was proud of how well the team managed.

3. Google Docs

2015 was the year we finally went live with Google Docs, and despite the fact several of us had been using Google Apps for sometime, and the staff all have a portfolio in Google Sites, we had not been signed up for Google Apps for Education until now.  Thank the good universe that we are finally here!  The ability for us to all collaborate has increased ten fold, and has made our life a lot easier. 

3 Areas of Focus: What you spent most of your time on

The following three things are the three bold steps that inform our school vision and charter.  It is what we spend the most of our time focused on, and we review what we do against these.

1. Student Engagement and Ownership

This is where we are working to ensure students are key drivers in our decision making process (for examples of this check out the podcast here), involved in designing their own learning and working to unlock and follow their passions in learning.

2. Growing Staff

This is where teachers are supported to develop and grow as professionals.

3. Engaging Community

Here we are working to ensure parents are actively involved in the school, in partnership with staff, students and the wider community.

3 Things you Forgot: What you did not get around to

To be honest, I have systems and structures in place so that I don’t forget things or just ‘not get around to it’.  There were things we re-prioritized due to situation and circumstance, but certainly not because we forgot.  If there was anything, it was that I found I did not catch up with some of my professional colleagues enough when the going got a bit tougher - and this will definitely be something I make more time for in 2016, as it is the sanity saver I need! 

Reflection: How does this inform your plans for next year?

All of these things play a part in how we move forward into this New Year, as when we do our self-review we reprioritize and reset the goals for the year ahead.  This self-review, alongside our data, informs our next steps of the journey. 

Overall 2015 was a year of the unexpected.  In this, there are a few key lessons, and for the most part, I am pretty pleased with how we managed the unexpected.  It tested our systems and as a result we were able to strengthen and modify them.  It meant we had to learn how to share the load, and this strengthened the team in the long run.  It also taught us about what really is important to us, and that with collaboration, an innovative growth mindset, and good systems and structures, all will prevail. 

What are you reflections on the year just passed?  What did it teach you about, that is important to you?