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:



Focusing on the ‘why’ we do

It has been yet another super busy week and strangely enough, a fairly busy long weekend. As we plod on with planning our fantastic new school, I am continually reminded that we need to focus on the ‘why’. Whether it is a decision about resourcing the new learning areas in our school, a task which I have not yet finished for the budget I am leading, or deeply considering the ways in which we will communicate learning with whanau, the why needs to be at the centre.

For us at Hobsonville Point Secondary, the why is our vision – personalised learning, deep challenge and inquiry, engage through powerful partnerships. I talked about these before. It has been a privilege to observe our new staff as they are grappling with the why as well. The snippets of overheard conversations remind me that the vision is truly in very safe hands. This week involved most of the new people sharing their stories, their learning, who they are and what sparks their interests. I love all of this stuff – partly because I am a people person (read: nosy) but more importantly, this allows us to really get to know each other. I had a conversation with Ros on Friday where she said, catching up on recordings of the shared stories, that she felt like she knew more about the HPSS people than people she worked with previously for nine years. I feel exactly the same. I know that some of my full-time teaching friends have mocked the pace which I am currently working but I do believe that the vision we have for our learners is exactly the same for our staff. We need to personalise learning, therefore we need to personalise the individual. Therefore, the time taken to bond as a team, to create a sense of trust in the work place and to model the powerful partnerships we will be striving for is time well spent.

Towards the end of the week, the LTL team and Lea had the chance to present what we have devised for our dispositional curriculum so far to the HPPS staff. Presenting work as we were working on it, rather than at the end, and getting feedback is key. Within the HPSS staff, the habits based curriculum is beginning to be understood and imbedded so it was timely to get a critical perspective from outside our bubble. I loved the challenging questions laid out by Daniel, Lisa and the others, posing questions which we had to defend or expand on our process. Lea, Sally, Yasmin and I dealt with these challenges and the feedback about the model of learning as generally positive. By the end of the meeting, I was stewing over our where to next – I think that some work is needed to clarify the model, it definitely needs a better name and I think we have a way to go with the goal setting and planning of learning. I have given myself/been given the ‘portfolio’ of feedback and goal setting – which makes sense as I have been up to my eyeballs in it for so long – and I know that we need to come back to how to use these tools for deep challenge, personalisation and partnerships.

In the weekend, I donned a different hat and spent Sunday as the President of the New Zealand association of classical Teachers. What this actually meant in practice was working with the lovely Claire to plan out a national professional development workshop for teachers around course design and assessment. Again, even though we were both feeling quite under the weather, we came back to the why. Why? You have to be clear when dealing with any kind of big picture thinking that your thinking is based on what is at the core. For us in this context, it was why we need robust course design, why concepts need to be linked for clarity, why (and how) courses allow for increasing complexity of skills, why teachers need to be supported by their association. Lots of why questions! Thankfully we plodded through and six or so hours later had the makings of some powerful professional development.

When my son was little and was going to through the ‘why’ phase, I must admit I never found it exasperating. His constant need to know more, to be curious, was such a good thing. Thankfully now, as a teenager, he is still curious but tends to rely on Wikipedia more than me for answers. I think setting up a new school involves thinking a little like a four year old. We must constantly ask ‘why’. If we don’t, then we don’t challenge our old practice to ensure that any choices are based on our vision and could run the risk of being a teacher-centred institution. If the response to the ‘why’ is not linked to student outcomes, then we must dig deeper, take another course or simply stop what we are doing to regather our thoughts and plan an alternative way.

Sounds easy, right?