Monday, January 26, 2015

On The Cusp

I am writing this post the night before we begin a 3 day induction of our 7 new staff with the week culminating with a full Teacher Day. I feel as if I have had a refreshing break and am really looking forward to the next year in the establishment of our school. Two weeks ago I set myself the goal of reading (in some cases re-reading) some key books that have been driving my thinking.

I have managed to get through three of them.

The first was Grant Lichtman's #Edjourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. I reckon this is a compulsory read for anyone involved in or aspiring to be involved in any form of school leadership. I made dozens of notes of what I saw as key messages but the extract that resonated the most was:

"Project-based learning, flipped classrooms, design thinking, expeditions, collaborative work groups, makerspaces, differentiated learning programs, transdisciplinary courses, mutated schedules, teacher Twitter chats, performance-based assessment–the roots of all of these are found in the core lessons of Dewey: Learning is born of passion, which is founded in engagement, relevance, and the experience of the learner."

I also loved his final sentence:

"I passionately urge us all to stop talking and start doing."

The second was Ewan McIntosh's How to Come Up With Great Ideas. This book and the valuable day Claire Amos, Daniel Birch and I had with Ewan earlier in the year has been the most useful resource I have come across to guide me through the complex pathways of strategic planning and change leadership. Linking his strategies to Te Kotahitanga's GPILSEO model of change processes has been extremely useful and has driven our schools' recent strategic planning and resulted in a powerful document made up of a series of "How Might We" ponderings.

I also loved his concluding call:

"Well, start somewhere, but start. Now."

The third was Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd, McDowell Key Competencies For the Future. Their use of exemplars based on their own areas of interest to draw out how the Key Competencies could be more central in a future focused curriculum is both innovative and enlightening. 

I also loved their call to arms in their concluding comments:

"Just jump in and go for it!"

By now I realised something weird was going on. How is it that these three important, but unrelated, books published in the last few months exhort educational leaders to do the same thing, i.e. get on with it and oversee the necessary change our schooling needs.

It reminded me of an email I got from a principal colleague who attended a workshop at our school and went home and met some stone walling from those opposed to any change with the comment, "Why fix it when it's not broken?" His response, to me, in capital letters and exclamation marks was, "IT IS F...N BROKEN!!" He'd love to stop the talking and get on with it.

I do feel as if we are on the cusp of something. Definitely at our school as we move into our second year with another group of outstanding staff,  but also right across the sector. If the esteemed authors mentioned are all calling for action this must give some impetus. As well, Twitter is alive with huge numbers of teachers who all have a part of the answer of what should be happening in schools.

What are their blockers? I hope it is not leadership!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Learning about Leading

When I reflected on 2014 and try to ignore the big events (inducting new staff, welcoming our first student cohort, trialing our curriculum models, opening our school, setting up student council, navigating parent concerns, a school show, outdoor ed camp, big project exhibitions, strategic planning, prizegiving etc) and focus on my own journey as a leader I soon realised that I have never received so much feedback about my own performance as a leader.

We did 2 major surveys of staff at the end of Term 1 and 2 to try to gauge how the crew of the build-it-while-we-fly-it plane were coping. Obviously we got some awesomely positive feedback, but just as obviously we got feedback that was critical of how people were being led. I am proud of how we responded to the feedback. If the skin had been less thick I could have wallowed in self-pity but the strength of our SLT meant that was not an option.

As well, I conducted two surveys of parents and students to explore the nature of their experience of our school. While these were overwhelmingly positive there was also some critical feedback;feedback which, if not kept in perspective, could easily reawaken any tendency to exhibit impostor syndrome.

During the last term I held 30 minute 1-on-1 hui with all teaching staff. The questions we went through (which were provided to them in advance) were:

  • what made you the proudest in 2014?
  • what was your biggest frustration in 2014?
  • what would make next year even better for you?
  • other issues?
Listening to the responses to the first question was great!

Early on in that process I soon realised that most of the frustrations people experienced pointed towards leadership and that most of the things that would make next year even better were also down to leadership.

As well, we have had several researchers operate in our school which has included interviewing staff and students. Sometimes I have been given a general debrief of the sorts of issues discussed and so this formed further feedback for me.

And, of course, I participated in a formal appraisal process in relation to my performance which also provided useful feedback to me. One of the aspects of my appraisal was focused on my own personal inquiry on how might I achieve the balance of being Warm and Demanding: something to which I aspired because it gives me a structure in which to focus on growing a growth mindset and developing true distributed leadership.

On a 5 point scale I was rated as '4' for being Warm, '3.7' for being Demanding and was rated '4' for overall Warm and Demanding. At one level, I should be really pleased with such high ratings and I am. However, when drilling down through the comments people were invited to make I have received enough feedback to continue with this inquiry in 2015 (I suspect aspiring to being Warm and Demanding is a life-time challenge for any school leader).

So a summary of my reflections on 2014:

  • the balance between Warm and Demanding is a tightrope
  • what is seen as Warm by one person is seen differently by another
  • what is seen as Demanding by one person is seen differently by another
  • 'leadership' is never nailed and requires continual learning and unlearning
  • leadership is a team sport
  • the tightrope is a great (and only) place to be
What about 2015:

  • I'm going to try to stay on the Warm and Demanding tightrope - there's plenty of room up here and the view s great