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Do You Need To Change Anything?

Being a BIG proponent of reflecting, I asked everyone to complete a short survey reflecting on our recent Symposium II day of PD. Overall, the responses were positive, but like anything, you can’t please everyone.

Being completely anonymous, the responses were quite candid. One respondent answered, “It was nice to have a wide range of choices. I enjoyed learning with other teachers who I normally don’t have chance to hang around with.” to the What-went-well question. This was balanced by a What-could-improve answer – “Encourage inclusiveness vs. cliques by having beople [sic] work with those who are not in their regular social circles.”

There were some very positive comments – “The workshops offered were interesting, fun, and engaging. They helped us to get out of our comfort zone and learn things that we wanted to learn. It was also nice to be able to put on a workshop about something that we enjoy. Seeing other peoples’ talents also helped me to appreciate and admire the staff more as well.”

Some a little critical (from the What-could-be-improved question) – “Making sure that all teachers went to the sessions. I know of one teacher who skipped out and did grading instead of attending one of the sessions :(. It would be good to make sure all teachers are involved all day.”

And some very critical – “The creativity and fun aspect of the day is certainly a plus. But I question whether “remember what it’s like to be a learner” is a significant enough of a goal to spend an entire day this way. I wonder if the goal were something like “learning about other subjects with the goal of integrating,” it could lead to more valuable learning while maintaining the creative aspects. Then if we have sessions on art and dance and movie making and photography, teachers can learn those skills to better help students develop them and use them in their science and English and Korean and math classes. It might provide a better focus for choosing and developing sessions. And it might result in a bigger impact on teaching and learning. Also, it would have been really helpful if you had asked teachers their opinion about how to spend all three PD days AHEAD of time. Teachers really should be playing an integral role in the planning process of every single PD day at this school.”

My experience in developing these sorts of programs for faculty and staff across a number of different international schools over the past 15 years has led me to know that this range of opinions is expected, and even more importantly, is essential.

As an administrator it is important to know how things can be improved, what worked really well and that some colleagues felt the day was a waste of time. It is important to hear that the value I see in devoting a whole day to professional learning is shared by most, but not by all.

My (possibly controversial) reflection is this…

At it’s core, “Teaching” is about “Learning”. You cannot be a great teacher if you are not a great learner. We spend a lot of time (comparatively) learning about teaching (as expert learners), and in the process learn very little! (Generally, not a lot of our fundamental teaching practices change after a conference or a workshop!) We spend very little time (comparatively) learning about learning. This day of learning was designed in the hope that we would experience what being a NOVICE learner was like again. Because that’s what it is like for your students – EVERY day! Maybe EVERY lesson in a given day! Adults are rarely NOVICE learners. And even more rarely do they spend an entire school day being a NOVICE learner.

Before you begin to teach today, consider what it will feel like as a student to sit in your classroom to LEARN today. Do you need to change anything?

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Change the practice by changing the words!

George Couros is a thought provoking educator whose blog is a daily read for me. His post of today titled, “5 Terms We Need To Rethink In Education” has inspired me to write (which is one of the main reasons I read blogs!).

In his post, George asks us to rethink the terms we use in education, to unpack the perception of their meaning and the possibility of what they SHOULD mean. I agree completely, and write to extend the thinking.

My proposition is that our educational reality is strongly shaped by the words we choose to use. Let me illustrate.

A few years ago I was tasked with leading a K-12 school, which had not previously considered itself a “K-12” school. It had always had a Kindergarten program, elementary grade levels, middle school classes and a high school. It was lead by a Director, an Elementary Principal and a Secondary Principal. But they had been “Divisional” principals. The culture had never been K-12.

So upon my arrival, with the leadership structure changing to include a K-12 Principal, I changed the words.

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We began to use the word “sub-school” instead of “division”. There was no longer an elementary division, or a middle school division or a high school division. We deliberately chose words to reinforce the thinking required to build a K-12 culture. We referred to the elementary sub-school, the middle school subschool, and the high school sub-school. A little bit wordy, but important. Now in year three of making that seemingly simple change, we are almost at the point where the word “division” is no longer used. Almost!

We also discussed the idea of banning the word “homework”! Not banning the activity of homework, but banning the word “homework” to describe the activity of doing school work at home. Instead, I was suggesting the terms “preview” and “review” be used. The ensuing discussion was one of the most animated, charged, emotional, informative, full-participation discussions I have ever experienced in a faculty meeting! Just to change a word!!!

A school-wide blanket ban of the word “homework” was a bridge too far for the present faculty, but a number of faculty members DID rename their school-work-at-home and reflected that it did result in some changes in their practice.

As George prompts us to reimagine or rethink what the words we use in education mean, I am prompting you to be very critical when choosing which ones you will use. Words are very powerful influencers of practice.

What practices in your school or classroom can you change by changing the words you use to describe them?

 

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The Principal as Co-driver

I love the use of analogy. It causes the reader/listener to think and put the two pieces together, comparing and contrasting at the same time. So, at the risk of asking you to put a couple of things together, here we go.

A good principal is like (or should be like) the co-driver in a rally car.

Rally Driving is my favourite motor sport to watch. Not that I’m a big motor sports fan at all, but if I’m flicking through the TV and land on some rally driving, I’ll stop for a bit and watch. It’s fast, its dangerous, it’s exciting and there are two people in the car. The on-board-camera is the most interesting for me. You get to see the driver and the co-driver interacting. The driver has feet and hands going everywhere – brake pedals, accelerator, hand brake, gears, clutch, steering wheel. He’s flicking that car around like a rag doll, sliding in and out or corners, taking off over crests, hitting blind corners at amazing speeds. And the co-driver? He’s reading. Out loud!

If you have never watched a rally, then at this point you might be a little intrigued. Is he sitting there reciting Dan Brown, trying to untangle the DaVinci Code? Is it a map? Is he making sure they stay on the right track? Take a few minutes to watch this video.

He is reading race-notes. Race notes that he and the driver have written themselves a couple of days earlier. These notes are extremely precise. Distances. Turns. Speeds of turns. Road conditions. Inclines. Declines. Etc. These race-notes describe to the driver exactly what he will be facing next as he races along the track. The driver’s job is to listen to the co-driver and adjust accordingly. If “100 L2” is the call, the driver has to slow down to 2nd gear for the left turn coming in 100 metres. Very precise, timely, informative information.

And now the Principal…

Schools are full of very smart people. Students, teachers, administrators. As the Principal, it is your job to presume this, to expect this, to create this. Of course there are some who are not. Presume anyway. And to this end, be precise with your race-notes.

Your race-notes are how you talk to people. Be precise with the language you use. Give your teachers, students, colleagues the information they need to be the best they can be. The precision of the language you use is extremely important, as it can influence the way things get done, now and in the future. Your choice of words can have a direct impact on how a teacher continues to grow and develop their teaching practices, and your choice of where you give those words can have just as much impact.

Consider this scenario…

The Principal is sitting in her office talking to the HS Social Studies teacher about a lesson she observed. The summative assessment was not good! She hands him an article to read saying, “Here’s some information on summative assessments I think would be helpful for you to read.” The teacher, listening, hears her say, “I think your summative assessments are poor and I need you to read this.”

Now, with a rally driving co-driver twist.

The Principal has entered the HS Social Studies teacher’s classroom and has asked where they should sit. They sit. The Principal passes over the article on summative assessment and says, “I saw the effort you had put into your summative assessment and it reminded me of one of the articles I have on summative assessment best practice. I thought you might like to add it to your assessment resources. It’s great to get new ideas to add to your own practice.” The teacher, listening, hears her say, “I saw your effort. I read a lot of articles. I presume you do to. Here’s how this one will be helpful.”

With this twist, the teacher is in the drivers seat (his classroom), the principal has shared that she does a lot of reading, the principal has shared she expects him to be building similar resources, and the principal has told the teacher how she expects him to use the information from the reading.

So, the analogy…

The principal should be the co-driver when working with teachers, just as teachers should be co-drivers when working with students. Both the principal and the teacher should be strapped in for the ride, committed to reaching the end and working together to get there. The principal should be very precise with his/her race-notes, which should give the teacher everything they need, and more, to make their own decisions about how to turn the corner. And if they crash, the co-driver should be there to help the driver get out of the car.

Perhaps, being a principal should be like being a rally co-driver.

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Why do we have schools?

At a recent conference I was challenged by the speakers in attendance (Prof. Sugata Mitra, Prof. Pasi Sahlberg, Dr. Tony Wagner, Dr Yong Zhao) to consider why we have schools. Here is my challenge…

Office vs School

 

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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10 lessons from the first 100 days

Today marked the 100th day of my first year as a principal. Twelve months ago I thought I was heading for the chair in the soon-to-be-empty Elementary Principal’s office, but as it turned out, that chair was rolled into the workshop. It was disassembled and combined with the Secondary Principal chair and rolled back into service for me as the the new K-12 Principal. Tonight, for the one hundredth time, I turned off the light, shut the door and left that chair in a darkened, wintery office illuminated only by the pulsating green light of the Nespresso machine waiting in the corner. It is starting to become a little more comfortable, but at times has been the last place I wanted to sit.

So 100 days in seemed like a poignant moment to take a rhetorical lean back in that chair and jot down some thoughts on what I have learned in those 100 days. I address you as if you are about to move into a Principal’s chair…

Restraint. This is the first big lesson of my 100 days.

Be restrained. Think carefully about everything you say. Think carefully about who you say the things you want to say to. Think carefully if “saying” is really what is needed. Spend twice as much time listening. Most people know what they need to hear. Let your speaking help them listen… to themselves!

Learn. This is the second big lesson of my 100 days.

A new leader in a new school has a LOT to learn. Tell others around you that you are in the PROCESS of learning. Let them know how they can help you learn. ASK for help. Be thankful when it is given. Apologise when you get it wrong (and never by email!).

Write with a pen. This is the third big lesson of my 100 days.

Thanks written in your hand with blue ink on a small piece of paper communicates a message that reading is not required for, that is remembered for a long time, that others mention. It takes time. It is time well spent!

Reflect. This is the fourth big lesson of my 100 days.

Mistakes will become more regular, more obvious and more impactful. Take time to notice them, ponder them and act on them. Find a person you can trust. Let them listen to your story. You know what you need to hear. Let them help you say it.

Hold on and breathe. This is the fifth big lesson of my 100 days.

There are no such things as slow days. There are fast days and there are are REALLY fast days. There are days when someone has broken their leg, the fire alarm goes off, a school bus crashes on the way to school, three students get caught smoking in class, a parent wants to know whey their child received a B+ and not an A (can he retest???) and a teacher decides today is her last day. These are every days. They don’t get any slower!

Spend a part of your day with students. This is the sixth big lesson of my 100 days.

Without fail… it will be the best part of your day!

Make teachers smile. This is the seventh big lesson of my 100 days.

Sometimes teaching is the toughest job in the world, so do all you can to make teachers smile. When teachers smile, they feel good. When teachers feel good, they teach well. When teachers teach well, students learn well. It’s not rocket science. Make teachers smile.

Grow a pair. This is the eighth big lesson of my 100 days.

If calling a meeting with a teacher who is not doing a good job is going to be tough for you, get some training on having hard conversations or rethink your movement into school administration. Bad teaching needs to be addressed. Address it. Or frame an apology to the class full of students (and their parents) who have been subjected to Mr I’m-doing-my-best-but-it-is-still-really-crap!

Love your work. This is the ninth big lesson of my 100 days.

If you don’t obviously love doing the job you are doing, students will notice. Teachers will notice. Parents will notice. And no words you say will dissuade those folks from believing what they think they have already noticed.

Get your calendaring system organised. This is the tenth big lesson of my 100 days.

You will begin to live by your calendar. If it is not set up properly and others cannot add appointments to your calendar for you, you will look stupid.

And that rounds out my Top Ten. Please take a moment comment and add anything you think I might have missed.

 

 

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Passion or Experience?

I have recently pushed the little boat that is BK out into the stormy seas of recruiting for a new job, with the added turbulent winds of attempting to punch above my weight and move into a school administration position. Is it proving to be a very interesting process.

Navigating my little boat halfway around the globe to a Job Fair was a journey of significant expense and effort and as of this moment, has yielded very little. I sat with a dozen or so schools and spruiked the BK minnow as best I could in an effort to set up interviews, where I could learn more about their leadership positions, and they could learn more about my leadership capabilities.  Of the dozen or so, I successfully convinced two schools that I was worth 45 minutes of their valuable time and had the opportunity to sit with them and discuss their learning community, my capabilities as a leader and share my passion for learning

Both schools, in their emails that eventually thanked me for my time and saved me the inconvenience of having to speak with them again, commented on my “obvious passion” for learning. Both schools pointed to the fact that I did not have any experience as an Administrator as the key “crack in the hull” of the good ship BK. The schools that did not think I was worth 45 minutes of their valuable time were also wary of the no-experience-crack-in-the-hull problem. Which brings me to the question posed as the title of this post…

If you were the owner of a school, what would be the most important characteristic of someone leading your school? Passion or experience?

Maybe I am biased (because I know how well the little boat that is BK can sail in a strong breeze), but I’m going to choose passion every time!

Now admittedly, if you are going to employ someone to run your school, some experience of the nuts and bolts of organizational intricacies is important, nay, essential; but that as the highest and most important characteristic? I think not.

As an aspiring leader of a learning community, I would hope that a passion for learning would be seen as the most important element of a candidate’s bag of tricks.

You can learn how to run an organisation. You can’t learn passion!

 

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