Thursday, August 4, 2016

The new guy.

I've begun at a new school as Principal after 7 years at my first school as Principal. I've moved from a rural U3 school to urban U5.

I came home from day one and felt pleased I'd had 7 years experience to equip me to deal with day 1. I'm nearly 2 weeks into it. It's been a blur. It's exciting. It feels right. I'm being well supported and made to feel so welcome. i'm aware there'll be a honeymoon period.

I was welcomed officially by the school through song, some short speeches and flowers for my wife and a book for our 2 year daughter. Nice. Meet a prospective parent. Time in rooms. Chat to some students. Lunchtime. The afternoon whizzed by and I then went out and farewelled everyone at the front gate. Board meeting that night and it was over.

This week I've been having 30 minute one to one chats with each staff member. We're breaking ice and talking about things that have come to light from a self-review sheet I gave out at Teachers only day in the school holidays.

I'm learning lots. Asking questions. Trying to contribute and take the lead. I know nothing is really going to happen until I get relationships going, send some time and build the relational trust. Everyone gets it. Time. Energy. And more time.

I came in feeling a bit sorry for the school to be honest. 20 years with an outstanding leader and a staff that have been together for a long time. And then, BOOM, me! I was worried that it would be strange for them, I'm sure it is. I was worried that they'd worry I would come in and make all these changes. I said reassuring things to let them know that I'm more about evolution than revolution, so they needn't panic.

I had an epiphany today. It's not them that will change as much as what I will. Everything's new for me. It's the same for them, apart from me. It's a different person, and yes, I'll have a different way and different strengths and weaknesses, but things will be the same, for a while anyway. I will change though. Far more quickly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Is school just preparation for life?

I kind of understand what people mean when they say that school is preparation for life, that primary school is preparation for secondary school (and therefore secondary school must be preparation for university and so it's university that is preparation for real life). And I guess that means that kindy is prep for school.

My problem with this chain of thinking is that it belittles the significance of the "now" in each instance. What is happening now is important for each learner and is real life to them.

I tend to agree more with Dewey's quote above. The power of this way of thinking is that rather than viewing our work as preparation for the next stage we must consider what will make learners successful now. By guaranteeing their success now, we are probably guaranteeing their success later too. And by success I don't necessarily mean achieving NCEA or going to university.

When I consider what I would deem as being successful in life, I tend to think that someone is doing something they are passionate about, that they have chosen to do (not forced into or fallen into by default), that they treat themselves and others well, that they can contribute in positive ways to their community, they're happy (content) and they have a positive view of themselves.

We must consider if what we are doing is ensuring that learners of all ages are being successful in their life now, not just later.

My belief is that they Key Competencies of the NZ Curriculum are the essential ingredient in the recipe of ensuring our learners experience success both now and in the future. Are our classrooms based on teaching these competencies and allowing authentic opportunities for learners to practice and demonstrate these?

In order for schools to fulfil the vision of actively involved, confident, connected and life long learners then Key Competencies need to be at the fore of our thinking in curriculum design and school culture. It would be pointless to have learners who can only relate to others sometime in the future and who can manage themselves at some later point in their life. Surely, to be successful at school then learners need to be competent at these skills as soon as possible.
Think about your "ultimate learner" or what your top 3 outcomes are for learners in your class or school and then ensure that your class/kura is enabling learners to become capable in this now, not just in the future.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Reimagining me! Impact from #NYLD16

Today I attended the National Young Leaders Day in Palmerston North along with 2500 others. We were treated to some short and punchy speeches from a variety of people, involved in a range of activities who each delivered their key points about what they've learned from their experiences- sometimes from a leadership perspective but mainly from a human perspective.

The main messages were not just for "young leaders" as an older leader at my school I took away a lot. The main reminder I got was about passion.
No matter what walk of life these speakers came from they were so passionate about what they're doing:
Billy Graham - Boxing - "Everyone's got talent, most people never go looking for it" 10% talent. 90% hard work.
James Back - Attitude - The easy thing to do isn't always right, and the right thing to do isn't always easy."
Brylee Mills - Dancer - Don't let challenges stand in your way. Everyone has challenges"
Johnny Wilson - Goodtime Music - You don't have to be the best, just try your best. Focus less on others and how good they're doing - focus on your own race."

So, important messages here for young and old. Back to passion. This was my takeaway.

I've forgotten about passion I think. I'm a passionate person I've come to realise. And in my role as Principal I may have fallen into the trap of being and behaving as I think I'm expected to. I've had to do a lot of stuff that takes me away from the things in education I really am passionate about. Have I got so busy in the day to day stuff that I've forgotten what I really think school is all about?
I love music and singing. Yet, how much of this happens in our school? Today there was a group of 2500 singing - it was moving. We watched stirring video clips, beautifully put together with moving music - you'd have to be a robot not to be effected on an emotional level.
I heard messages about problems that really need solving- environmental and war crisis situation. How involved am I in any cause? How often do I encourage others to be involved. When did I get too busy to care?
I saw beautiful dancing from Brylee Mills. I heard beautiful music from Avalanche City. I saw many students having a great time, swinging arms to the music and going crazy. Not all, but most. Caught in the moment. Having a great time. Who knows what messages they took away from the day. I'm looking forward to talking about it with the House Leaders I took today.

I have an opportunity, as I take up a new leadership position at a new school. I can be the passionate individual that I really am. Be the animated person that is the true me. My true self got interviewed and offered the job, so why not carry on being me. I want to ensure that students in any school I am part of have the opportunities to pursue their passion(s). Is this more easily done in a larger school where there are more staff to offer these?

What part does my leadership play in ensuring that learners can follow their passions? A huge part. My passion for education runs deep. I must ensure that "my" school is one where passions are encouraged whether it be sport, dance or saving the world.

I must reimagine myself again and take the opportunity presented to me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Health and Safety - it's about people

I belong to a PLG with 4 other Principals and we are lead by an experienced consultant who today raised the issue of the new Health and Safety legislation and what this means for us as Principals, as Boards of Trustees and for our schools.
After plenty of discussion about the role of the Officer around property and hazard registers, we were asked to consider also the mental health and well-being of everyone in our school, especially the teaching staff. How is their well-being looked after? What do we do as leaders to model healthy work-life balance? What do we do if notice that someone is stressed?
In today's age when we're all potentially "available" 24/7 how do we ensure that teachers are not burned out or stressed.
It was a timely reminder that health and safety is about people, not compliance and it goes way way further than hazard registers.

Our work is in developing a shared understanding with staff and with Board members so that everyone is involved, understand their roles and see this as being a culture shift.

There were timely reminders today. Health and Safety does need to be viewed differently. It's about people and goes further than just their physical safety.

Monday, October 5, 2015

#edblognz Challenge 2

  1. Write a blog post about an education question/ challenge/wondering that you have or are facing. You don’t need to have the answer/solution.
So here's my post, via my question. (This will only work if people respond!)


Monday, September 28, 2015

Week 1 challenge #edblognz

Think about your teaching practice. How has it evolved over time? What are you currently working on developing in your practice? What tools have you used during this inquiry time?

I'll talk about an aspect of my leadership, as I move towards 6 1/2 years of being a Principal. What has been the most significant change in my leadership is the areas that I pay attention to. When I first became a Principal it was all about systems and getting things working in a way that made sense to me and for staff. While the systems in our school continue to evolve, my attention is more about how I can meet the learning needs of my staff, so our learners benefit from having "expert learners" as teachers. My role in this varies. Sometimes it's about creating the conditions or the culture. At other times it involves getting deep in the mechanics of a particular aspect of practice.
Like others on our staff, I'm employing surveys more often to inform decisions and gathering more voice.
An example of this has been around our professional learning programme where I have wanted to personalise things more. I'd wondered if this was working for staff, so put together a survey (using google forms) and asked everyone to respond. I've shared the results and we have a meeting in week 1 next term to discuss and make some joint decisions.
Like a classroom teacher, I'm constantly asking myself, if I see evidence of learning. And like a classroom teacher, involving the learners in the process and in the decisions.
I'm looking in particular at a couple of work ons from our last ERO report and asking teachers if these are areas they want to work on more. I'll need to ask our learners too and take that voice to the staff to help guide our decision.
A key question will be, "How might we meet individual learning needs through our professional learning programme?"

Thanks to who ever it was that first shared the "How might we..." questions. The first time I heard of this was from Maurie Abraham -a leader who I find inspiring and challenging and whose posts I always check out.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Personalising professional learning

The #BFC630nz twitter chat (which I usually browse over as I eat my breakfast, because I don’t function properly at 6.30am) from this morning has really got me thinking about what I hoped would be an effective way to go about professional learning for our staff this year.
I saw a number of tweets from teachers wishing they had input into the content of staff meetings or some choice about them.I can relate.
Previous posts of mine talk about the hit and miss of most staff meetings I have attended or lead. In response to this and wanting to personalise the learning experience for my staff, we have run “Professional Learning Groups” rather than staff meetings each fortnight this year.
Each teacher has been asked to lead something and it was up to them to work out how much time they might need depending on what they wanted to achieve.
My thoughts were that a PLG might run for a term, or for a whole year. The frequency of those meetings would vary too. A PLG might meet 5 times across a term, or 5 times across a year. It would depend entirely on what the goal was.
I wanted all teachers (5 plus me) to experience that leadership role. It didn’t mean they had to be expert in something, but be prepared to facilitate. I left it open as to what staff might choose to lead. ( I need to point out, we’re all experienced teachers and have been together for a few years, so there is already a high level of relational trust)
At the start of the year, it was a bit like an Educamp, for those of you who have been. Staff pitched an idea to everyone else of a PLG they would be prepared to lead. (They also needed a second and third option too, just in case no-one was interested in the first idea or 2).
From memory, each teacher had their first idea generate enough interest to make it worthwhile.
I was away on sabbatical the first term when these new initiative was established, so I wonder if I’d been present that things may have unfolded differently.
I also surveyed the teachers using google forms to collect some initial thoughts about how they like to learn, what they wanted to achieve with their PLG and what potential barriers they foresaw.

So, what have I seen and what has happened so far?

I think there has only been one occasion when a staff member didn’t come to a PLG. Perhaps old habits die hard, or perhaps what’s being offered is meeting people’s needs. Either way, pretty much full attendance. There are 2 time slots. 3.15-4pm and 4-4.30pm. (We finish at 2.50pm, so teachers have 25 minutes before meetings start)Teachers book up on the shared doc in advance. I send out a short email prior to each PLG I lead to give  a heads up on what’s going to be the content, so people come along prepared, or could choose not to come.
Some PLGs have been one offs. This wasn’t my intention, but it met some needs. I think a PLG offered over time would probably have more long lasting effect and would offer better support. I haven’t made up my mind fully one way or the other about one offs.
Teachers do seem more interested and invested. I have no way of measuring that other than observation and from listening to people talk. It’s certainly been way more collaborative than it used to be.

Topics covered so far: Accelerating learning in Literacy, personalising learning, mask making for wearable arts, boys ed, Reading Eggs, Pond, eAsttle, Sign language, RTCs/Appraisal.
These are quite different to what I thought might be offered. My intention was to have PLGs based around identified learning goals from end of year appraisal meetings. When I look at the list above I can see that’s it’s been rather disjointed.

The #BFC630nz chat this morning had @karyngra tweet this - “Personalised Teacher PLD combined with whole staff vision building, definitely effective”.
This has prompted me in to thinking more deeply about the vision aspect and the importance of everyone having input into a collective vision.

I refer to the “Model for Managing Complex Change” adapted from Knoste, T (1991) to work out what piece might be missing if I see something not working when dealing with change:

Vision+Skills+Incentives+Resources+Action Plan = Success.

Some people have added Relationships to that as well. I wonder if our PLGs were just my idea and broadcast rather than investigating if this is the approach that staff actually wanted. (The survey results certainly supported the move however) Perhaps I didn’t do enough around the vision aspect initially. As far as Skills go, this is where coaching comes in. Some have asked for it, others I’ve approached to see if any was needed prior to the PLG. Perhaps action plans have been missing too. I developed one for my own PLG goal as it was part of something bigger across our school. Perhaps there needed to be the expectation that a PLG would have a minimum number of sessions.

Another tweet that caused “a stir” in my brain was this one - “Please don’t refer me to the charter brick I had no input in” - there’s a challenge for leadership! And well put too.

In learning more about taking a personalised approach, I read “Make Learning Personal” by Bray and McClaskey.
Their continuum of the expert learner (and this is what I want for the teachers in my school, to be, expert learners) looks like this:

Voice⇒Choice⇒Engagement⇒Motivation⇒Ownership⇒Purpose⇒Self regulation

“When learners include their voice and have opportunities for choice, this changes how they interact with the content, the teacher, and each other.”

This has significant implications for the way in which traditional approaches to PLD have been taken. Without authentic Voice there really isn’t Choice. I had to allow staff to generate their own ideas for PLGs, because if I’d made up the list based on school priorities and then got people to choose from there, they would potentially be choosing from a list they didn’t really want anyway. (much like my Mum saying I could have broccoli OR brussel sprouts - is that really a choice Mum?)

I promised an honest post. I will lay my cards on the table at this point. Another reason I have taken this approach to professional learning for staff, is that this is the way I see our classes running and I need to illustrate this for staff. I want to show the process I went through - collect voice, allow choice etc. I cannot and will not expect my teachers to implement change without being prepared to change my own ways of doing things.  It needs to be systemic and “unbundle” traditional approaches. (Thanks Rachel Bolstad for that term, I love it).

So, where to from here? What plans and thoughts do I have for next year?

I believe that a personalised approach is the way to go. When I see what is happening for learners in our classrooms I am blown away. Must dos and Can dos are the developing common language across the school. Staff certainly seem more invested and motivated around professional learning.
I should also add that I free up funds for each teacher to use to support their own professional learning and our teachers only day for the past couple of years have seen teachers going out to schools of their own choice to meet their own learning needs.
This has generally been well received and I have been in awe of the learning and action that has occurred after these visits. I think there is benefit in 2 teachers going to a school together, as the talk between people and ongoing support is important, but not at the expense of someone tacking along just to make that happen. Remember, Voice, then Choice, not just Choice.

I think we’ll carry on with this approach but perhaps couple it with some school wide stuff too. (Our school wide focus this year was being Year 2 in ALiL). But the school wide stuff would still need to be personalised. As long as each teacher can identify goals to work on, rather than all working towards one goal, then it can be personalised. A rubric can help with this showing development of skills and goals.

I have 5 staff to lead. I wonder if this approach can/could work in a big school. What would it look like? Is it possible? Would it be wanted?

Enough. I’m exhausted. Thanks for reading. Cannot wait to hear some responses.

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