Thursday, January 29, 2015

One Word 2015

The start of the year always brings renewed vigour around goal setting. We all set goals and then the blur of day to day work takes over and I’ve found again and again that by the time you get round to asking staff to reflect on their goals four or five weeks into the year, many often have to go and look up their goals to tell you what they were. Ive tried various strategies over my years of leadership to help staff make their goals become a living thing but with varied success. I was wondering how to do this for 2015 when my twitter reading brought me awareness of and interest in the #oneword2015 movement.

So I started thinking about what my successes last year were and what were the things I felt I didn't succeed so much with. And over the course of a week I came to the decision that my word for 2015 would be SHARE. 

  • I will share the load- ask others for help, delegate tasks to others and give them the time and support to do those tasks.
  • I will share leadership- we have constructed a really distributed leadership model of school wide teams for the year and  my job as the educational leader in the school is to coach the leaders of those teams so that  we have real sustainability.
  • I will share my story as an educator and our story as a school with the wider education world.
  • I will share my reading. I do a huge amount of professional reading but I don't always take the time to review that reading and consider the implications or pass that on to others.
  • I will share my learning- I am going to finish my degree and I am going to really commit to learning Te Reo. And by sharing that learning it will make me more accountable to commit to the time that learning will require.
The process of reflecting on my last year-both the successes and the things I wanted to work on  and narrowing it down to one word was really powerful so now I’ve asked my staff to do the same thing.
We are currently spending a couple of days on one of the local maraes- reconnecting as a staff whanau as we do each year.
In between team meetings and planning sessions staff have been reflecting on their successes from last year and what they want to work on next. They have been talking about it with each other and documenting it in a way that suits them. And then they have been making a physical artefact to be a physical reminder of their word for the year.
Sally with stickers
Andrew planning
Steve thinking
Huia creating

Im going to integrate this word into their performance agreement and performance management for the year. On  Friday each week when we meet at 3pm to reflect on things from the last week, I’m going to ask them to centre their reflection on their #oneword2015.

Some of the finished words at the end of the day

Im going to put a photo of each staff member and their #oneword2015 artefact on the wall in the staff learning space so we are all aware of each others word and can help each other hold ourselves accountable to it.

An arrangement of the words once everyone had presented and explained their word to rest of us.

 "My goal is not to be better than anyone else but better than I used to be." 
Dr Wayne Dwyer

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Leading in a Different Way

When I was a baby teacher a syndicate leader was the person that organised you, checked on you, turned out the unit plan you all followed and stuck up for and fought for their team at management meetings. Anything to get the better resources or better timetable slots or the best non contact times or whatever was big currency in the school of the moment. When I became a team leader in my sixth year of teaching that is exactly what I was told my job was. But that was nearly 20 years ago and thankfully many schools do not have the same thinking any more.

 This is not what we want or need from our senior or middle leaders in education and schools today. Firstly we want leaders of learning not organisational or administrating managers. We do not need our leaders to organise resources and we definitely do not want our leaders to do the planning for their teams and hand it over to them As Cheryl Doig stated in a ULearn presentation I attended a few years ago:  “Doing the thinking for other people is not just a waste of our own time it also gets in the way of other people working out the right answers.”

 At TKAS, even though we are a relatively small school we are lucky to have an excellent full-time Office Manager/Leadership PA who takes full responsibility for finance, administration, property and generic personnel tasks. As a Principal while I maintain an overall responsibility for oversight of these important tasks, I do not complete any of them on a day to day o even week to week basis. I have worked alongside our highly skilled office manager and given her the skills, experience and confidence to do these tasks. This allows me to lead learning and focus on that full time.

 This year while we are teaching within learning communities loosely based on ages we are also intending to be flexible with this. For example our Year 2-5 students will be learning in one community for their inquiry and skills based learning and our Year 6-13 students in another community. However for the passion experiences part of our programme (to be explained in a future blogpost) the Year 6-7 learners will work alongside the Year 2-5 learners to begin with. We see this becoming more and more flexible and individualised as the year goes on. We also want to see our immersion and mainstream learners mix things up together as well, as we believe both groups of learners will benefit from this.

To make this work we need to plan together. Accordingly we have not nominated any leaders to be leading our learning communities and we will plan all together as a teaching team of 16 once a week. Teacher aides, and other support staff are always invited to attend our planning sessions too.

 There is a lot of writing and discussion these days about distributed leadership and flattened leadership structures. But as with curriculum reforms often this results in “tweaking” with current structures rather than completely throwing out the current system and starting again. So this year we have thrown out our previous leadership structures and are trying something new.

 Our leaders are going to lead cross school teams based on the things we have identified as integral to our learning programme being implemented as rigorously as possible. Teams such as Futures Focus, Inquiry learning, Passion Experiences, Restorative Practice and Whanau Engagement have been formed and contain members from across the school. These are the teams our team leaders will lead, and other teachers and support staff will be part of. This means there will be a constant cross pollination throughout the school for everyone. Everyone will be responsible for the learning and achievement of all learners, there will not be an overall responsibility placed on one person.

We have a coordination team of six leaders who have been learning community leaders in the past who will meet for a day once every three weeks. (We are only timetabling three weeks ahead at a time- again the focus of an upcoming blogpost.) This team will monitor the personalisation of our programmes and look at things like achievement results across the school. The entire team will look at SEA and 6 year net results as well as NCEA results. We will operate as a team without specific responsibilities for areas of the school. We will all be responsible for knowing about the learning of all learners.

 We then have another set of identified teachers who are supporting leaders and are being grown into their leadership roles. Upcoming leaders are identified by their attitudes and skills relative to the philosophies of the school- not their years of service. This has always been a strongly stated philosophy of appointment in our four years of being a school. We have had in the past and again do have this year some teachers at or near the beginning of their teaching careers who are being given opportunities to develop as leaders because they understand, subscribe to and support everything we aim for as a school, and something valuable to offer the leadership of our school.

 We are aiming for sustainability of practice. We are a small isolated school and we don't want to be caught out when we have staff leave as they inevitably will. We are working to build internal secession so the philosophy and vision of the school is held to with integrity regardless of individual staff members. We don't want to fall into silos of syndicates or departments that become competitive with each other for resources or successes.

 Stoll and Fink (1996) identified the key elements of an effective culture which positively influence school improvement.
 Shared goals – we know where we are going 
Responsibility for success – we must succeed
 Collegiality – we are working on this together
Continuous improvement – we can get better
Lifelong learning – learning is for everyone
Risk taking – we learn by trying something new 
Support – there’s always someone there to help 
Mutual respect – everyone has something to offer 
Openness – we can discuss our differences 
Celebration and humour – we feel good about ourselves

These are the things we hope to see this year partly hrough implementing a truly distributed flattened leadership structure where as an entire team we all take responsibility for the success of all learners.

It is both exciting and scary because no-one can rely on what they have done before as a leader, or what their leaders before them have done.

We are forging our own pathway, but together as a team.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Value of Sharing our Journeys

Im still on holiday, and Im trying desperately to cling on to that for another week but twitter won’t quite let me. Yes, I could turn it off, but then this small voice in my head says I might miss something so I cant quite bring myself to do it.

Three things I've read in the last few days have had a real effect on me.

The first, interestingly was an article in a women magazine about Antonia Prebble and impostor syndrome. I haven't read such a magazine for ages, but was sitting in an airport lounge and they were there so I picked one up. I love watching programmes with Antonia Prebble in them and to read about her explaining how she always felt that someone would come along and tel her that what she was doing wasn't really that great struck a nerve. I spent a lot of my earlier years of teaching justifying what I was doing in a classroom to management and leaders who were suspicious of my quest to provide personalised programmes and to integrate real world knowledge with classroom learning, way before those things became more acceptable practice. And I think that suspicion I lived with has followed me into leadership. I have real conviction in what we are doing in our classrooms and our school, but Ive always lived with that small nagging doubt that maybe someone would come along and tell me I was completely wrong.

The second and third things that I read were blogposts from some of my edu-heroes. Ive been admiring-mostly from afar- the work that Hobsonville Point Secondary School has been doing over the last two years- mostly by following their blogging and tweeting and a post from Claire Amos, followed by one from Sally Hart really got me thinking this week.

Claire wrote about building a plane while trying to fly it. 

I know that feeling so well. Four years ago, we too started a new school with a difference. We had a full roll from Day 1. We had to meet the needs of 5 years olds and we had to cater for senior students and NCEA qualifications from Day 1. We really were also flying the plane and building it at the same time. As a leader, it was both exciting and terrifying to not have all those procedures and practices defined. Some people classified us as disorganised. We never were. We’ve always had a vision and been working towards that, and we didn't have, or actually want, the power of long held traditions and “thats the way we do things” to fall back on when things went wrong, which meant we had to be reactive and truly personalise our response to situations when things did happen.

Sally wrote about what the school valued. It was so exciting to read this post about what they celebrated with their students at the end of the year.

I think the language we use to describe things in schools has a lot of power. I’ve often been referred to as a “hippy” because of that belief. Four years ago when I said we weren't holding a prize giving but a Celebration of Annual Achievements, I got a fair amount of flak. When we refused to do things like top of class awards and instead gave awards focused on school values, when we chose the things that we thought were especially important to our school philosophy- Contribution to leadership, Excellence in digital literacy, Excellence in independent learning  for our major awards rather than the traditional awards, we got a fair amount of feedback indicating some of our colleagues out in edu-land thought we weren't really a “real school.” When we decided to give a supreme award- based on a number of criteria- quality learning but also values and contribution to the school and we did that for every year group rather than a school dux award, we found a lot of people again thought that was because we couldn't rather than chose not to. 

So to read about a school I have such respect for doing something very similar was really affirming. I guess that impostor syndrome thing has sat in the background of my mind, alongside dealing with that continual feedback you do get back from others about you not being “real” when you don't do things the way schools always have. To know you are not alone in the quest to search for different ways to do things that meet the needs of learners in the world they now live in, reduces the power of those quiet "impostor voices" in your mind.

Reading these posts this week has reminded me of the power of non geographic learning communities and the value they hold for us all. Im really glad I didn't turn off twitter and miss them. 

The power of networks like twitter and in reading blogs from other educators is well documented but for those of us working and teaching and leading in remote corners of the country the ability to share in the learning that comes from other bigger schools in bigger centres is vital to our continuing to grow and challenge ourselves.

It’s also reminded me that perhaps continuing to tell the story of our journey as a school has value alongside the stories of schools like Hobsonville, and the others doing such exciting groundbreaking learning throughout New Zealand. 

So, Claire, I’m going to join you in your quest and write a blog post each week in an attempt to clarify some of my thinking and share the next step of our journey with others.

Hopefully, just like I have gained so much from reading blogposts from the staff at Hobsonville Point Secondary School someone out there may also be interested in following along with the next steps in our journey.