Category Archives: Leadership

#saskedchat – Feb 19th, 2015

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Topic – Professionalism – teacher well being

We had a great chat tonight with a number of new participants. Our focus was to discuss well being and ways that we, as professionals, can support ourselves and each other to be the best we can be each day.

The topic was prompted by a blog post by @stangea – Burning Out which then became our #saskedchat blogging challenge topic for the week. There have been a number of post that deal with teacher burn out and a number of response posts that discuss why teachers are not leaving teaching and staying. I won’t discuss either of these. Instead, I will refer you to my own experience, my last experience, with being at a cross-roads – Free Falling

Thanks to everyone who joined the chat and took part – we appreciate your sharing and the time you take to come together each week. Thank you!

 

It’ in the Attitude

For years I was a painter — I put myself through university and spent a few years afterward running my own company painting houses and commercial properties. At one point, the company had 20 summer students and 3 full time people besides myself. Like many ventures, what started off as a way to make some extra money turned into to a full blown job which led to an entrepreneurial endeavour. I learned a great deal about what life was like outside of education.

At some point, the work I was doing went from being something I enjoyed and took great pride in doing to being “a job”. I don’t know when it changed. It wasn’t necessarily what I was doing that changed but my own attitude about what I was doing. In my early twenties, I was sure there was “more”.

They made it Better

I worked one commercial job that still stands out for me. Not because of the work I did but because of two other people who were on the job. One was Tony, a tile setter and the other was Mike, a drywaller. I don’t remember much about them but I remember how they made me feel. Some people do something and the way they do it and the attitude they have forever changes the way you see things. It may be a commonplace thing but afer you see them do it, it becomes different. It leaves an impression on you that lasts a lifetime — you are made better by that exeperience. It’s not necessarily their passion for the work/thing they are doing that sticks with you but the passion for life that they have that permeates the work they do.

For me, as I worked along side these two who were doing hard , backbreaking work, I was impacted at their amazingly positive attitude. They had a presence that was ‘incredible’! They were happy and took pride and pleasure in what they were doing but it was more — it is still hard to describe. The world was made better by being with them. For that time, I once again enjoyed what I was doing.

These two would be, I think, what Liz Wiseman would call “multipliers” — they made other people better — not because of what they did but because of who they were. They had a positive effect on others. There were some people, however, that weren’t as impressed — they seemed threatened and were down and hard on them. It would make me mad sometimes but Tony would tell me to “Tend my own garden, plant my seeds and not let the weeds take over”. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant!

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

I think I understand what he was getting at — that what students do needs to have relevance, be connected to their lives, connected to their passions, meaningful to them as individuals — it needs to matter. I agree. I also know that there are many things that need to get done that can be drudgery and can seem like a waste of time. There were many things that I did while painting that were drudgery — but they were drudgery mostly because of my attitude. Over time, I’ve come to see that how I approach things, my mindset, makes a huge difference — in fact, it might make all the difference.

Writing for….value if…

As a student myself, very little of what I ‘produce’ sees the light of eyes. Even work that I have created and put online for an ‘authentic audience’ has seen little exposure — with a limited amount of feedback. In fact, as I type this, I look over to see a shelf full of papers I’ve written and, if I were to open a few files, there would be posts that have been published with zero views. In reality, much of the work I’ve done hits the “waste bucket” if I look at the ‘authentic interaction’ it has received. Does that means it’s a waste? Or is there value in the learning that I did? Can we always separate things into ‘value/no value’ piles? Do all the things we do need to have some immediate value to them to be worth doing? I write here to work things through myself and maybe get some feedback, maybe. But if there is no feedback, is there no value? Does the value have to be immediately visible? What if I were to return to this idea at a later date having grown and rethought things? What if others disagree with me? Does it now have less value? Or if they agree — more value? Does their status matter?

It’s part of LearningPart of my learning and growth has been to realize that being different and seeing things differently isn’t a problem or an issue or a “career crippler” as I have been told for most of my life. As I stumble, make errors and mistakes, take missteps, and agree and disagree with others, I learn so much about the world, about myself and the people in my life. Much of what I have done has been discarded, like assignments in a waste basket, recycled for other purposes. But the learning — that’s stayed with me. Sometimes, it’s what I’ve learned by having to push myself through, to not just quit and walk away that has allowed me to see things differently on the other end, to see the greatness in others who do ‘ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude’.

The Story is in the Stones

Often, when I visit the mall in Saskatoon, I can still see the stones that were laid by Tony — worn from years of use. The shops where Mike did his drywalling are still there as are the headers and other work. Covered over — no one the wiser. And I smile — it makes me feel different/better — and I’m thankful because I was changed by my relationships with a stone setter and a drywaller — and I can see that now.

I wish I could thank them.

The relationships with students and the impression we leave with them aren’t because of the ‘great assignments or the amazing lesson plan’. It’s not the ‘great BYOD policy and walkthrough report’ you wrote. It’s those mistakes I made early in my career. Yes, having students do work that is meaningful is important; having them interact with authentic audiences is important; having them create and produce instead of consume and respond should be an essential part of what students do in schools. But do you do ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude? I know I didn’t.

Some people are able to work with their life passion while others are able to bring their passion for life to their work.

School Change – Breaking Free

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Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.

Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning,  personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains

While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.

Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.

Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.

Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.

There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement.  It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.

Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent study The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030 outlines that by 2030 employees with need an increasing agility and hybridization of skills

  • Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.

This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.

It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week

Changing Mindsets

There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing. 

Change takes Time
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Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.

What about you?

What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?

The Depth of the Rut

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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Ronny Siegel

Today, as with most days, I was going to spend a few moments  browsing through my RSS Reader as T settled in for some colouring and hot chocolate. I usually begin the day by picking few that I can highlight and get back to reading later. It’s kind of a routine. T, my 4 year old, settles in for some iPad time or colouring or both. It’s about 30 minutes.

The Rut

When I start to get a bit comfortable with how things are going, I remember this quote:

The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Gerald Burrill

The reason is that it’s so easy to move from routine to rut to, well, maybe not a grave but something that keeps us from venturing beyond. So what does my RSS Reader have to do with this? Well, I’d usually begin the process of browsing. Instead of going through the RSS feed, I mixed it up and went to Pocket and began to look around. No apparent reason other than there was an email about “What’s new for You?” Well, what is new for me?

Look What I Found!

This is where I came across this great post about Meaningful Work by Paul Jarvis. Jarvis discusses being an entrepreneur and working on his own – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” This statement resonated with me. I read the article, in some places reread. And then, instead of moving on, I stopped. It had me. It connected with my thoughts about teacher growth – professional development. Connections…..

First, it speaks directly to staying out of the rut! Or seeking new ways of looking at what is around you and being willing to ask questions and a risk or two. As an educational leader, we’re always surrounded by new ways of looking at things – ask the students, that will get you out of a rut! Ask the teachers and see what they have to say. Get parent input. Use the ideas to take a risk. Some will pan out and some won’t. As Jarvis points out, don’t think of them as risks but as experiments.

I do this because experiments don’t fail, they simply show results. Sometimes those results are great and point you in the direction for bigger and better things. Sometimes they just show you what idea isn’t worth pursuing.

The second reason I liked that line – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” – is because it’s what teachers need to do in their classrooms. They need to see themselves as “innovating, hacking and making something new” in their work. Instead of closing their doors and toiling away, they need to step out, sharing what they are doing and connecting with other educators. Administrators and other supervisors need to move away from the top-down view and instead work on a more parallel perspective, with their role being to assist teachers to make their products the absolute best they can be through additional resources, support people, mentoring and connections.

Final, the statement “innovating, hacking, making something new.” is what students should be doing in their classrooms alongside the teacher. Yes they will need to learn certain “basics” as foundations. Changing the mindset of how these “basics” are measured and how they are used within the school is where this idea of “innovating, hacking, making something new.” needs to play itself out.

After Reading

After reading the article, T and I moved on to, in no apparent order:

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Legos, Wii, PS2, books, Youtube – TMNT, saving the world as TMNT and some excellent chocolate milk and snack. Then it was time to make lunch. I’m learning that each day doesn’t need to be completely structured and, oddly enough, I find myself being much more open to ideas for writing and thinking about things differently, slowly letting go of years of routines. A 4 year old will do that to you – and there are no ruts when you follow a 4 year old!

Phase One – Reaching Out

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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by raymaclean

As I reflect on helping teachers grow as professionals, it’s important to realize that this is a journey for all involved and that it will continue to be as such. In this series, I am looking at the process in three parts: Phase One – Reaching Out, Phase Two – Giving Support and Phase Three – Reflecting and Celebrating.

Reaching out to teachers can sometimes be difficult for administrators. In the hectic, and sometimes frantic, happenings of the school and the daily demands it is sometimes easy to put off what seem like “other” things. As Amber Teamann points out in this post, Stephen R. Covey reminds us that we need to focus on things that will help us to build our capacity as leaders and the capacity of those around us.  As an administrator, it was always one of my goals to provide teachers with the supports they needed, to provide a helping hand.

Phase One – Reaching Out

In order to help teachers grow as professionals, administrators do need to be willing to reach out and listen. The key – listening. Too often the paradigm is to provide answers or solutions, to give “supports” so teachers can get on with their growth. Some will know what they want to do and quickly move forward. Many others, however, aren’t really sure of what supports they might need or where they want to focus their growth. As people, they are busy trying to meet the needs of their students through their planning, feedback and interactions. They are building communications with parents. For many, their own professional growth is keeping up with the initiatives and directives that they get.

Individualized PD

One way to help teachers is to provide 1 to 1 PD . As an administrator, time is a diamond commodity – it precious. In order to provide 1 to 1 PD for teachers, one needs to be do some preplanning to ensure the effective use of everyone’s time.

Three Step Plan

Professional Growth Plan -

Step 1 – start with listening/Identify strengths

I would meet with each teacher to listen to their goals. In this step, asking questions and listening are so important. “I want to use more technology” might be where the conversation starts but by asking questions and listening to teacher, we were able to narrow down and decide on some specific goals. “I really don’t know what I want to do” is okay too! Changes in teaching and the classroom dynamics may have some teachers unsure what or where to begin. Again, listening and asking questions about what they are doing right now is important. Focusing on areas where they are finding success is important. These can provide insights to strengths that can then be used to redirect to an area for growth. By providing teachers with lead time before this meeting and giving them a format for the discussion – the first meeting is to identify an area for growth – the teacher isn’t feeling like they have to make this plan by themselves. You are there as a support to help them. A simple form that has the teacher identify areas of strength in their teaching, areas of interest for Professional Development and their reasons.

Be specific with the goal. This isn’t the same as creating a SMART goal but the goal needs to have a specific focus. I would highly recommend checking out Beyond the To Do List by Erik Fisher. It gives some practical ideas to helping set specific goals. The idea here is to focus on using the strengths that were identified earlier to help in creating a plan for an area of growth.

Step 2 –  identify what things are within the sphere of influence of the teacher and what supports they may need from you or others. Depending on the resource people that are available, this is a good time to identify anyone who might be able to help them.

Step 3 –  set a date for the next meeting where you will discuss the plan the teacher will develop. It is important that the teacher be able to visit you to discuss things. This is where you, as an administrator can organize supports – training ideas, personnel, coaching, 1 to 1 time, etc

As I worked with teachers, I realized that I couldn’t work with all of them but that, through listening to them, I could support them in their growth through support. Recently I read what George Couros has been doing with teachers. As an administrator, this is one way that you could support teachers within your building by accessing resource people. Also, the idea of sharing that time and growth with others is a great idea that, as an administrator, will help others to see possibilities.

As an educational leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. You do need to use the tools and resources at your disposal to support teachers so they can “Do what is best for Students” and, just as important, share that learning with others. This allow individuals to connect and the synergy to take over. By leading others to connect with others, a leader is helping others find their passions and grow as an individual – nothing is more powerful than that!

Leadership – Lesson #1

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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/a/albert-schweitzer

These past few weeks I’ve been listening to Read to Lead podcast. I came across it as I was looking for something that would help me in my quest to figure out which direction I needed to explore next. Being that I really don’t believe in coincidence, the podcast has introduced me to a number of great books and thought leaders. Better yet, it has introduced me to a number of great authors who are really at their peaks, each being an influential and successful entrepreneur.

The Read to Lead Podcast is based on the belief that intentional and consistent reading is key to success in business and in life.

As a leader in education, this is a foundational belief that I have had since I began teaching. I know that I would not have been able to make the progress nor been able to continue to grow as a teacher and an administrator without continuing to read and learn. Most of my reading was educational in nature until I ventured into social media sites and began to broaden my reading through recommendations of people within my PLN. Lately, having decided that I needed to change course, I was searching for insights and ideas, new experiences that would introduce me to things that weren’t necessarily educational in nature. This is when I found Read to Lead.

At the end of each podcast, the host, Jeff Brown asks each of his guests about a leadership lesson they’ve learned. These guests include Chris Brogan, Scott M. Fay, Dave Delaney and Todd Henry just to mention a few. Almost to a one, they all answered with a version of “Be good to other people. Help others. Build relationships.” As I listened to these, I wondered what educational leaders would say. If I were honest, I would probably have answered “Do what’s best for students.” Really, that’s probably what I would have answered. As I’ve listened to the podcasts, I began to realize that maybe in education we’ve tried to make things much more complicated than needs to be. As I listen to these leaders of today, it was clear that they genuinely were focused on helping others to get better. Do we really focus on making everyone around us better? Or just on most of the people around us? Do we have an entrepreneurial mindset of looking not to make ourselves look good but to help others? Do our divisions/districts focus on this from top to bottom or is this lost somewhere along the way?

Helping Others

Today I received an email from one of administrators I’m mentoring in the mentorship group that George Couros established this fall – SAVMP – about a situation. As I read through what was happening, I again wondered about the “helping others” leadership model which definitely wasn’t being followed. Why does it seem that many of the educational leaders are not understanding that in our social and connected world, the top-down hierarchical system doesn’t work? That to be effective, you must connect other people to something of value. In the case of education, connecting students to learning of value to the student is quickly shaping the change in education. Helping others is the cornerstone of this and teachers and principals, in order to do that, require new skills which in turn requires that schools, division/districts and states/provinces begin to shift away from the top-down, one-size-fits-all format. It’s becoming apparent that the traditional models of teaching and the systems of schooling are not able to meet the needs of many of the students within the system but the desire to retain “power” in some fashion limits what can be done in schools and in classrooms.

Let’s Look Outward – Our Navels Have Been Studied

I’m all for listening to the thought leaders in education and what is being said. It’s time, however, we looked around – raised our heads and looked beyond the nest of education. Not listening to Big Business and what they think of education but to listen to what thought leaders in other areas are saying from their perspectives and seeing how it might have cross-over potential and how it will help us help students find value in their learning. That’s why I believe such things as Design Thinking has so much potential in education because it has been successfully used in many different industries and situations. They focus on helping others, on creation and innovation. So if you have a few moments, I highly recommend Read to Lead Podcast.

#1 Leadership Lesson

Again and again and again – it’s helping others. A great example of this is someone like George Couros who continues to work to help others to make connections, to find value in what they are doing and bring about change and innovation in education. Helping others – who would have thought!