Leading the why through the how

Working in two separate schools this week led me to pondering how leaders find a balance between the “why” and the “how”.  It is great to have a vision but the real challenge is often bringing the vision into fruition.

Earlier in the week I was working with a senior leadership team around their approach to appraisal. This is a school who feel comfortable with their rationale and processes but want to focus on improving what they currently do and build teaching as inquiry into appraisal across the school.

We spent some time discussing the big ideas of appraisal, especially a focus on teachers leading their appraisal process and seeing it through an evaluative lens. Once happy with the why of good quality appraisal we moved onto the how. Interestingly this is what teachers had sought clarification around. Those who wanted this clarity didn’t express a desire to know the why but we’re feeling a tad anxious about the appraisal process in light of some big changes going on in the school.

At this point, I suggested that we use Simon Sinek’s Golden circles. I love these as a visual, structured brainstorm to be really sure that the vision is robust (the why), key principles guide the process (the how), and that the practices (the what) enable the vision to be enacted. 

  
I love this quote from Sinek’s Ted talk (viewed over 26 million times)

“Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

Each member of SLT worked on theirs alone at first and then we shared to clarify a shared vision. Both the principal and the DPs commented that this approach was really useful to test the why. There was a little confusion between the what and the how (or the how and the what) but we nutted these out together while discussing and sharing.

Once the why was agreed upon, and tested (albeit in a small way) it allowed the opportunity to take it to the HODs and continue to develop the how and what.

In another school later on in the week. I was involved in a discussion with some teachers. We were talking about the nature of the PLD contract, how it may be personalised for them, and what was “on top” for them in their practice. Overwhelmingly it was enacting the vision of the school – how to bring the why to life and see the future direction of the school play out.

Having the why is only the start. I have the pleasure of going to many schools through my work as an educational consultant. As I wait in school receptions, I peruse the walls of the public space. What is the mission statement, the vision for the school, the motto (in English, Latin, or Maori)? Is it visible? Who is the vision/motto coverings? Who may be left out? I always use this information as an anchor to place the work that I do with schools. 

The harder part of leading is connecting the why and how. We can be inspired by someone, their ideas, the vision that they have for the direction of an organisation but if there insufficient support for people to go on that journey with the leaders, is it too pie in the sky? Maybe this tension is the real challenge of leadership – how you might support others to share the why and build the how together. 

Further exploration:

https://www.startwithwhy.com

My Day as a Year 10 Student

Amazing post from my great (former) colleague and friend Steve Mouldey (a.k.a @geomouldey)

Steve Mouldey

Many of you will know that I am at a new school this year and have made the step up to a Senior Leadership position. This meant that I jumped at the chance to take on the #ShadowaStudent challenge that was created by School Retool, IDEO and the Stanford d.School. What a great way to gain empathy for the student experience at Lynfield College – to really find out what it is like to be a student here.

I asked a student if I could shadow him for the day and explained why I was doing this. Let the teachers know why I would be in their classroom wearing a school uniform and got prepared for a day outside of my office!

Ready for PE period 1 Ready for PE period 1

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Seeing is believing

Part of my job involves being an observer in other teachers’ classrooms. At Evaluation Associates Ltd, we have clear beliefs (underpinned by relevant evidence, of course) that ongoing feedback, evaluation and support of teachers in the classroom supports them to grow and improve. Cycles of inquiry are used to build teacher and student capacity where purposeful classroom based observations are key evidence to see shifts.

Sounds great, right? And it is. Having someone else in the room, noticing what a teacher is doing, how they are interacting with the students and how the students work with each other is a great thing.

During or just after the observation, we interview the students to get their perspective on whatever the teacher is working on in their practice, and the impact of this for them as learners. Still great. Student voice and facilitator notes are used to inform a professional discussion. Still great, right?

On reflection, I felt as if I didn’t fully commit to the power of observations. Ideally, teachers would also make a video recording of their practice that they could analyse prior to meeting with the observer. When some of the teachers I was working with last year expressed reluctance, I pulled back and allowed them to opt out. But I’m not happy with that and want to change this practice within my own facilitation this year.

Why? Without the recording acting as another set of eyes that the teacher can use to monitor and reflect on their practice. Without the impartial eyes of the video, the facilitators’ observation notes could become the perspective on the teaching and learning – which is too limited.

Assessment for Learning (which I avidly believe in) has the ultimate aim of enabling learners to become self-regulating. Part of this is generating their own feedback and connecting this cognitively, conatively and affectively. My concern is that if teachers are not filming their own practice, and using this recording as an artefact for reflection, then they could be relying on the observer as “outsider” to bring in some points about quality or how closely they have  met their goals. In short, they are not really self-regulating as learners. The role of the observer and the observation is still essential but could be improved if coupled with the video as another point of evidence to use for triangulation.

Seeing how you go about things, or things that you may not have noticed about how the students are learning, or moments where you’ve shown progress as you shift your practice are all positive outcomes of filming. Getting over the surface features- the sound of your voice, the wee foibles and eccentricities we all possess, how ugly that jumper really is (it was always borderline in your head anyway) –  and using the video as an extra set of objective eyes in the room means that it can be really powerful.

So, where to from here? For me, I need to be more upfront with the teachers and leaders I work with about the power of observation and the usefulness of the video for active reflection. I raised filming at a staff meeting last night (nervously) and the overwhelming response was positive. The teachers were keen. If I come across objections to filming in my work, I need to use my OTL skills to unpack the beliefs which have led to this reaction and build on it from there. I don’t want to push anyone into the learning pit but understanding the “why” rather than just doing the “what” is key.

When thinking about my own practice, as well as the shifting practice of the marvelous teachers, leaders and learners that I am privileged to work with, I think I need to keep the mantra up – whatever we do, it has to be better than before.

 

Video_Camera

This post broke my blogging drought!

Moving toward Assessment for Learning

I was recently contacted by an educator in Hong Kong wanting some advice around how he could make his tests more AfL appropriate. This is a great question (and a million more questions popped into my head – why a test? What is it measuring? etc.) and I promised myself to answer him fully.

Here is my response: 

There are heaps of ways to make tests more AfL appropriate for students. 

Ideally, working with the students to identify what the key learning needs to be and what is the best way to test this would be a start. 

If this isn’t possible (I.e. there is a set, common test for all students), try thinking about the lead up to the test. Are the students familiar with the success criteria? Have they had enough exposure to examples of what a quality response in the test may look like? Are they able to talk confidently about the learning and what is expected of them? Are they able to look at previous questions / test papers and go through how they may apply their learning to these?

After they’ve sat the test, don’t mark it and hand it back straight away. AfL is primarily about empowering the students as learners. I would give them a blank copy of the same test and ask them to identity questions that were easy, hard, or manageable (I use different coloured highlighters / pens for this). Then talk through in pairs where they have similar responses. This gives you really good info as a teacher where gaps may be occurring for your students. 

Then I would get them to peer mark the test. As a teacher, you could guide this process, provide model answers, act as a third pair of eyes for a student marker etc. Giving ownership to students of the learning and making them active participants in the classroom is key. I would probably get the person who the student had discussed where the student had struggled or found things easy to mark the test.

After this, I would suggest working towards some peer assessment. This is different from marking as the students need to evaluate the test information (which concepts or skills the students were able to deal with, where there are gaps etc.,) and then provide some feedback to each other. I would recommend using Hattie and Timperley’s questions: where am I going (how closely did I meet the learning goal), how am I going (feedback on strategies used, concepts or skills which are working) and where to next (new direction for learning, where the gaps need to be closed). 

Providing quality feedback to peers can be challenging for learners so some teachers guidance is key at this point. Using some sentence starters for peer feedback can be useful at this point.

Get the students to look at their peer marked and assessed work and reflect on their test. Was there correlation between things they found easy and what was correct? Or not? What does this tell them (and you) about how they are feeling about their competency at the moment?

Record the data from this test in your teacher markbook. I wouldn’t just record the final grade / percentage though. Find a way to record the student perception of their competence (at that point in time), the individual grades, groups of students who have gaps in the same areas, students who seem to be covering the key learning and finding it all easy. All of this information gives you some indication of where to go next as a teacher.

This is a suggested approach and makes some assumptions. I’ve assumed that the test is paper based, not online. If it is an online, computer-marked test another approach may be needed. The principles of AfL remain the same though, getting students actively involved in their learning so they can become self-regulated learners.

I hope that this helps in some way, please let me know how you are going with AfL.

I tried to touch on the principles of AfL and still keep things grounded at a practical level. And this is really important to me, knowing a theory and knowing what it may look like in practice are often different things. I have a clear theory for improvement coming through in my suggestion – share the locus of control with students, give them a chance to evaluate their own or someone else’s understandings of the concepts or mastery of the skills, and in doing so, students are more likely to be engaged as learners (which should lead to better outcomes for them). 

  
When I first moved toward an AfL pedagogy I felt a little hamstrung by the rigour of high-stakes assessment in senior secondary. By focusing on the principles of AfL, I found ways (and continue to find ways) to empower learners even when I couldn’t set the the assessment task myself (such as in NCEA exams). Assessment for Learning requires a shift of thinking for both students and teachers.

Building student learning focused relationships – critical friendships

Working in a learning hub is a great way to get to know students individually – to know their strengths, passions, aspirations, their learning, their whanau.

However, the challenge is how to get them to build learning focused relationships with each other. Teenagers tend to have some difficulty in providing peer feedback which is deep, honest and useful. In order to keep social relationships strong, they may not be truthful or as truthful as necessary when supporting each other in learning.

In Orakei hub, I tried (unsuccessfully) to set up the concept of tuakana-teina within my hub. Some struggled to articulate where they could support others; interestingly, they were all able to state where others in the hub could help them.

So back into a new term, I have a new plan. Rather than pushing some students towards a tuakana-teina model (this may be on the cards for the future), we are using a critical friendship model.

I introduced the concept on Monday and asked them to select (via google form) some students that they would like to work with and a justification why, as well as any student that they would prefer not to work with. Not surprisingly, many of the students picked their close friends. I looked at their selections and paired them up with their second or third choices.

Today we started off our extended hub class with:

  1. listing characteristics that they wanted to see in their (yet unnamed) critical friend
  2. listing characteristics that they individually would bring to the critical friendship – strengths. Then they followed up with areas where they felt that they may struggle being a critical friend
  3. Then they found out who their critical friends were
  4. Next step was to compare their lists to establish their agreed ‘rules of engagement’

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

  5. Then review their critical friend’s “learner story” and give feedback on the quality of their reflections (we had already co-constructed the success criteria for this).
Working with critical friends

Orakei hub students: Working with critical friends

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” – Don Tapscott

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/dontapscot564023.html#0IYxafpIQOGSAvsj.99

 

 

Teaching is who we are, not just what we do

I was privileged enough to attend the funeral of a dear colleague of mine today. It was hard. Tony was an exceptional human being who had an impact on so many lives. His life was celebrated to his family, friends, colleagues, and former students – with his love of mathematics, learning, compassionately serving his community, seeing students succeed and being an all-round good bloke to boot was evident through every tear shed, every laugh shared, and every quiet moment of contemplation. Tony was the epitome of a life-long learner, a leader, and a kaiako.

Everyone spoke about Tony as a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be more than just a “teacher”. I’m many other things: a mum, a friend, a wife, a shoe collector, a wannabe snowboarder, a part-time tap dancer. I have always believed that we are the sum of our parts. Yet for many of us, teaching takes up so much of our time, our energy. Our families listen as we talk teaching, think teaching, talk about our students etc. It keeps us awake at night on occasion. We worry about students and staff – their well-being, their learning, about whether we are doing enough to make a difference. We want a life outside of teaching. Bring on the holidays so I can be my real me.

Yet, I wonder if we sometimes fight too much. We entered this profession knowing what it was all about. Teachers who are passionate about others, about learning, about the subjects they teach which get their blood pumping, therefore they should be proud to be teachers all of the time. I was simply overwhelmed at points today reflecting on this gem of a human being who is no longer with us. I loved how he shared his love of new things (he was prone to sharing new learnings with others all the time – he taught me about the power of crtl T, among other things), instilled a love of problem solving in thousands of students over a 48 year career, tried to teach this classics and drama teacher about the importance of problem solving when timetabling (my non-logical thinking struggled at times!), and treated ever person he encountered as a friend.

Today was testament to a true teacher – it was amazing seeing how many people were there to acknowledge a life spent in the classroom. I have reflected deeply on both this wonderful man and my perceptions of myself. What is wrong with being a “teacher” as part of our definitions of ourselves? I am a teacher. I love teaching. I am a learner too. Teaching is about connecting with other souls and working together to learn more. Tony’s journey as a teacher was also a journey as a learner.

I’m not really sure what the point of this blog post is. To reflect. To ponder. To share my pride in being a teacher and to challenge others to consider the impact of what they do every day without getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of the industry.

I am proud to have taught with this man. I hope that I can live up to the example he lived, breathed, and taught to others.

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Professional Reading: May / June 2015

My blogging has slowed but my reading hasn’t. This is what I have been reading recently.

Books