Saturday, August 13, 2016

Are you steering the next Titanic?

Are you steering the next Titanic?

Two things have occurred this week that have made me think about how some schools in the global education system have an awful lot in common with aspects of the Titanic. 

Firstly, an act of deliberate leadership growth and development.

Earlier this week, as part of our Middle Leadership Team (MLT) training and support workshops, we looked at Agile Leadership, leadership truths and we revisited our project management board, based on the Kanban approach.  It was a productive workshop, as we looked at how applying agile leadership concepts such as an agile mindset, leading innovation and how asking the agile questions of;

  • -     What can or should stay the same?
  • -      What needs to be improved?
  • -      What needs to be tweaked or modified?
  • -      What might need to be redesigned?

And how this might apply to their leadership of the improvement teams they are responsible for.

Several days later, our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) looked at what had been presented and discussed with the MLT, and we discussed how it applies to innovation and leading innovation with our MLT, and across all our teams and staff. 

This is all very nice, I hear you say, but what's it got to do with the Titanic?  Funnily enough, it has quite a bit to do with the Titanic. 

You see, I think there's more than one school drifting along in Titanic fashion, completely unaware (or perhaps more kindly, because they are ill prepared) for the future focused educational, societal, policy driven and corporate icebergs coming their way. 

I asked my SLT, 'are we as a school prepared for the icebergs? As leaders, are we the barrier to innovation or the encourager of all things adaptive and agile?  Do we have sufficient ‘tugboats’ and ‘iceberg awareness’ systems and ways to ride the looming waves?  Will we sink or will we be beacons of innovation, explorers of the unknown, and a school that can navigate its way with agility and innovation, attracting other agile and adaptive educationalists keen to travel with us?'

Secondly, I read a blog post that tied in nicely with my own thinking this week. 

The post “The new “Schools of Choice”for teachers” written by Deputy Principal of Aorere College, Stuart Kelly, is a fabulous insight into how there is a growing collective of ‘switched on’ teachers looking for schools that will grow them as educationalists, allow them the autonomy to be innovative and provide a place for ‘like minds’ to bounce off each other!  If you have read his post already, or you are in fact reading this one, then you will either be one of these teachers, or you are on your way to be that teacher!  It fits in beautifully (I can’t help wondering if Stuart was reading my mind!) with the Titanic analogy because teachers that are driven to respond to the challenge of the exciting unknown are not wanting to be in schools that are in essence, educational Titanic’s unable to see the oncoming icebergs. 

The students in our classroom face an uncertain future, and will design and enter a workforce not even imagined yet.  I don't need to rehash that here, every educator knows this - and if they don't I would wonder which ‘Industrial Age’ rock they have been hiding under, tell them to get out from beneath it, and to remember their professional obligation to their 'today's' students, and wake up!  That or get out.  There is a reason the Titanic sank. (just saying)

I firmly believe that leadership has a very key role to play in ensuring we are leading schools that will not follow the demise of the Titanic, and instead, ensure we are schools of choice for the hungry, innovative and agile teachers looking to take an active role in shaping the future of teaching and learning! 

Part of our SLT discussion this week was around how do we ensure we are agile and innovative, so that we can respond to the rapidly changing face of our educational world, and thus avoid the potential icebergs.  For our school, how do we, as agile leaders, encourage innovation and adaptability in our middle leaders so that together, we can work as a collective, collaborative 'tugboat' team, steering our Ship clear where needed, or, if necessary, attaching the heavy duty icebreaker equipment to the front of our ship so we can plot through the ice, clearing the way forward for our community to sail (i.e. innovate) freely and with the knowledge they are safe from harm. 

To be clear, I think all students and teachers deserve the opportunity to be in schools that are agile, adaptive and responsive to the challenge ahead.  For that to happen we need to be innovative.  We need to make sure that we focus firmly on ongoing improvement and that we are clear about what innovation means. 

Too often we think it is about technology, but actually innovation is, as Dr Simon Breakspear says in his ‘Leading Innovation’ video; Innovation, as leaders of schools that inspire and retain teachers, is ‘about learning…in a way we’ve never had it before ’ - in a ‘rigorous, disciplined, but creative way’.  It is the practical debate that we have, day in and day out; of what can we do better!

Finally, I am with Stuart – lets make all our schools ‘schools of choice’ – for parents, for community and for teachers.  It starts with leadership.  Leadership at all levels from Governance to classrooms. 

Further Reading: 

Stuart Kelly – this is his blog and I would highly encourage you to follow him on Twitter - his handle is @stuartkellynz - Stuart leads the very successful twitter chat #digitaledchat each Monday night, which you shouldn't miss.  He is also a keen contributor to the #BFC630NZ spark chat each weekday morning.  

Dr Simon Breakspear - you can follow Simon on twitter at @agile_schools (he is executive director) or read more at I confess I am a bit of an Agile Leadership fan - team it with Coaching and what more can I say "MAGIC"!  I also confess I am a little professionally envious - Simon gets to spend his days focussed on all things Innovative - add in Coaching and oh what a professional dream that would be! 



  1. I agree, with a burst of radicalism added. "Choice" is freedom, for the teacher, and student. And freedom comes before choice. The freedom to choose. A process that connects to parents, community, social change and radicalism. As Freire said, I want a rebel. A person with the courage to say no. With the courage to believe. To change, and to act. Kiwi`s need to leave apathetic follower tendencies in the closet and take charge. And Radicalise our education system. Take it back, from government and give it back to students. That`s what teachers can facilitate. Empowerment. Twitter @musenz

  2. I don't disagree - and leaders can help facilitate teachers choice, and bulldoze the icebergs away if required.
    At all times, it should be about what's best for our students. That's why we're here.

  3. I strongly agree and secondly leaders are in a better position to facilitate teachers choice and others please click on this

    1. Thank you for your thoughts - yes, leaders are instrumental in facilitating teacher choice.