Monday, April 23, 2018

Asking the right questions

Years ago, when I first started teaching, I used to get an end of year meeting with the head of school.  This was someone who was fairly remote, had never been into my classroom, and really didn't have a clue about my struggles and successes as a new teacher.  Thirty years on things have certainly changed - coaching is becoming more and more popular in the international schools where I've worked, and conversations are not just once or twice a year - and nor are they just the responsiblity of the head teacher.  In the schools where I've worked, peer coaching is proving to be an effective form of professional development.

I've just finished reading a Harvard Business Review article on coaching.  It's focused on business of course, but I was interested to read about the coaching profiles identified by Gartner researchers.  Some of these profiles are not even what I would call coaching as such, but since all might be models adopted in schools, it's worth taking a closer look.

The Teacher - this coach uses his/her own knowledge and experience to provide advice and feedback and to personally direct professional development.  Thinking about this from the perspective of education, I'd tend to think of this coach as more of a mentor or a consultant.  This is the least common type of coaching by a manager.

The Always-on - provides continual coaching and gives feedback across a range of skills as a daily part of the job.  (Think of these in the same way as you think of "helicopter parents")

The Connector - gives targeted feedback in their areas of expertise, and then connects the employee with others who have different expertise.  To do this, the Connector spends time assessing the skills, needs and interests of the employees in order to match them with the right "expert".

The Cheerleader - has a hands off approach, and instead delivers positive feedback and lets employees take charge of their own development.  These are the most common type of managers.

Now the question has to be asked, which of these types of coaches is most effective?  Interestingly, there is little correlation between the time spent on coaching and the performance of the employee.  Quality is much more important than quantity.  The least effective of the 4 models is the Always-on.  Gartner research shows that those coached by the Always-on perform worse than those coached by the other types and there is evidence that performance actually declines as a result of this type of coaching because a continual stream of feedback can be overwhelming and detrimental.  In addition the Always-on tend to coach on the areas they themselves feel good at, rather than on what is relevant to the employees' real needs.

The most effective coaching model is that of the Connectors, which is interesting as this type of coach tends to "outsource" the guidance.  The HBR article points out that becoming a Connector involves a mind-shift away from being directed and telling people what to do, and instead focuses on asking the right questions, providing tailored feedback and helping employees to make connections to others who can help them.

Thinking about these 4 types in the light of Cognitive Coaching, it's clear that the Connectors are the ones encouraging real self-direction.  Evaluative feedback often misfires, diminishing trust and rapport by setting the coach up in a superior position to the coachee.  One thing I do relate to is that the most effective coaches don't provide the answers - they ask the right questions and empower their coachees to think for themselves, and as a result of this thinking behaviours change.  As a Cognitive Coach we realise that the teachers are the experts in their curriculum and with their students, and that our job is to broaden thinking.  It may be that the teacher just needs a little more consciousness about what is going on for themselves and their students.  Possibly they need to develop their craftsmanship and become more efficacious.  Perhaps they need to be more flexible, considering the perspectives of others and perhaps reaching out to others as a resource.  While a business model can't be applied directly to education, there are certainly some similarities.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Feeling emotional

I read something recently that said there are really only 4 emotions:  glad, sad, mad and afraid - and that all other emotions are greater or lesser states of these.  While this is rather simplistic, I do find it useful to have these 4 main categories in my mind when I'm having a coaching conversation.  In that sense, being happy is just a more extreme form of being glad.  Last summer I read the book Solve for Happy where Mo Gawdad, a Google engineer, tries to examine the facts behind makes people happy - to come with an equation for enduring happiness.  In a way The Subtle Art .... does that as well.  Mark Manson writes:
Happiness comes from solving problems.  The keyword here is solving.  If you're avoiding your problems or feel like you don't have any problems, then you're going to make yourself miserable.  If you feel like you have problems that you can't solve you will likewise make yourself miserable.  The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place .... Happiness is, therefore, a form of action.
However many of us don't take action:  either we are in denial that a problem exists, which can lead to us feeling good in the short-term, but eventually leading us to insecurity, neuroticism and emotional repression, or alternatively we can assume a victim mentality believing that we cannot solve our problems because they are caused by outside circumstances or by other people.  In this situation we might again feel better in the short-term, but eventually this will lead to anger, helplessness and despair.   In my own life I can relate to this.  When we found out that my mother had dementia around two and a half years ago, I think my greatest hope was that we could provide carers at home and that she could cope.  I would be able to use the money I earned to pay for these carers.  This year, however, as mum's mental health has declined, it became obvious that I would need to return to the UK.  At that point I became paralysed by indecision - where would I live, how would I earn money and so on.  However action was certainly what was needed.  Having gone back to the UK last month to "sort things out", I have put steps in place to live and work there, and while I'm terrified about the thought of moving back to a country where I haven't lived for 30 years, there is also comfort in knowing that I'm actually doing something to address the situation rather than let it control me.

So feeling emotional is good - these emotions are biological signals that nudge us in the direction of beneficial change.  As Manson points out, "negative emotions are a call to action.  When you feel them it's because you're supposed to do something.  Positive emotions on the other hand are rewards for taking the proper action."  And yet often showing your emotions is not acceptable - even as young children we are taught to repress our negative emotions - and so unwittingly we are bringing up our young people to deny the very things that will help them to solve their problems.

Over the years I've been given advice to "choose your fights" and "don't sweat the small stuff".  Manson also writes about this.  Rather than focusing on what we want that makes us feel good, he asks us "what pain do you want in your life?"  This is because although people want to get to whatever makes them happy, most are not prepared for the hard work that will get them there.  Let me give you an example.  About a year ago I decided I'd walk 5k every day in an attempt to get fit and lose weight.  I've done this almost every day for a year and quite likely I am a lot fitter than I was at the start, but I haven't actually lost any weight.  As I was talking about this with a friend, she asked me "why do you think that is?" and to be honest the reason is that to lose weight I probably also need to cut out of my life things that I enjoy eating.  While I've been prepared to walk, I haven't been so prepared to radically restructure the little "pleasures" I get in life such as a few squares of chocolate in the evening or a trip to my favourite gelato shop.  In other words I have settled - settled for staying the weight I am.  Manson writes that people who settle often wonder "what if?" for years - what if I stopped eating the things that I enjoy (even though I only enjoy them for a few minutes).  He writes that happiness requires a struggle - that it has to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.  We need to accept and actively engage with the negative experience, not simply avoid it.  Often we are in love with the result (attractive, fit body) but not with the process of getting there - and because of that we fail, and we fail repeatedly.  

Our dreams are like a mountain.  We imagine ourselves at the top, but we don't enjoy the climb.  We want the reward but we don't want the struggle, we want the victory but we don't want the fight.  I identify with the question "what pain do you want in your life?"  I like the expression, "who you are is defined by what you're willing to struggle for".  I know that what I really need is to stop focusing on the peak of the mountain, but instead to find joy in the climb.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Renewal and innovation

Yesterday I read a blog post  that Tom Barrett wrote a few days ago about innovation.  One thing that struck me about this was that he explained that the word innovation comes from the Latin word "innovare" which means renewal.  Tom writes:
Any teacher will understand the constant questioning and reflection on what more can we do, how else can we explore these ideas, how might we approach this in a more accessible way or where can I continue to challenge these students?
What this questioning leads to, Tom writes, is creativity and taking action.  And because of this curiosity teachers become innovators, applying new ideas to improve student learning.

I think it's also important to recognise that renewal will be different from school to school.  In his post, Tom writes about how having many students working on one Google Docs was very innovative when he introduced it to his classroom over 10 years ago, and that in his role as a consultant, he finds it is still an innovation with other classes today.  What is new for one teacher or school is not necessarily the same for another.  This reminded me of the Derek Sivers video, which I'll add at the end of this post.  I shared this video recently with some teachers at school to encourage them to present what they are doing at ASB Un-Plugged in February.  They said to me "I don't think I'm doing anything new" - but again this is a great example of the fact that what might not be new to you could be really innovative for others - and therefore it is worth sharing.

It's a good reminder to me too.  As I come to the end of my time at ASB I'm thinking about all my learning over the past 6 years and how this can be shared with other teachers and schools.  I need to remind myself that this may well be innovative for them, and that this sharing can help them to renew their own schools.

Click here to read Tom's post


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Friday, April 20, 2018

The smallest dog barks the loudest

I'm moving in the summer and I realise I've got too many books.  Quite literally I have hundreds - and I've decided it's time for a good sort out.  I have challenged myself to find one or more book every day that I can take into school and put them on a shelf in the lunchroom so that other people can read them.  But there is a problem with that - sometimes while I'm adding a book to the shelf, I see a book that I want to take away and read.  That happened today.

Every year at ASB we have a summer read.  In fact we have several books that we can choose from, and quite often some of these books find their way onto the shelf later on in the year.  Last year one of the books was called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  To be honest the title itself put me off so it wasn't a book I chose, but today I saw it on the shelf and thought I'd give it a go.  I'm spending a lot of time right now feeling sad about leaving India, and I thought that perhaps this book might give me a different perspective.

I've also been walking a lot, and sometimes I walk with colleagues in the evening around a place called Joggers' Park.  Sometimes we walk, sometimes we walk fast if we have a lot of "energy" to get out, and sometimes we talk as we walk.  Earlier this week I was with a colleague who was talking about the "always positive" cheerleading atmosphere at school where genuine grievances are not really listened to.  Certainly there have been times over the past few months when I've felt less than positive about moving, and yet in an atmosphere where people are constantly asking "How are you today?" it feels a bit churlish to reply saying "Well, actually I feel like shit."  People don't want to hear that, they just want the positive.  And yet, as The Subtle Art points out, the focus on the positive simply reminds us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.  I read the expression "the smallest dog barks the loudest", which is a great metaphor for people, organisations etc who are actually quite mediocre feeling the necessity to prove over an over again that they are good.  Big dogs actually don't need to bark at all.

Actually I've felt sad about leaving places before - it comes with the turf of being an international school teacher.  I was very sad to leave The Netherlands, where I spent 17 happy years.  I was sad to leave Thailand and Switzerland too.  Now it's India's turn.  Of course there are some things that I'm looking forward to missing (air pollution, the heat, dirt etc) and other things that I will miss terribly (the people, the colours).  Every place that I've left, I've also left a little piece of my heart - special memories - even though mostly I've been moving on to something better.  So today I was really happy to read that everything in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.  Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or silence it, only backfires.  "The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering.  The avoidance of struggle is a struggle.  The denial of failure is a failure.  Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame."

So although this was a book that I initially rejected, now I'm quite looking forward to reading it.  The book is about moving lightly despite your heavy burdens, resting easier with your greatest fears, laughing at your tears as you cry them.  There are a lot of these right now.  When I talked to my brother last month about being terrified (yes, that's the word I used) about moving back to England he thought I was crazy.  He pointed out that I was born in England and grew up there.  But somehow I'm not British any more - I've changed while everyone else hasn't.  Going "home" is going to be the hardest move I've ever made.

So this is what the book promises, and what I'm hoping for:  to take an inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items.  I'm doing this as I pack up or chuck out "stuff" that I've had for years, that has been transported from one country to another as I've moved from one school to the next.  But can I really do this with my feelings, with the sense of loss of my life in India, knowing that I'm moving to the UK to spend time with my mother only to face another loss, as daily she forgets more and more of our shared life?  Let's see.  I'll keep you posted.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Global competence

I've been thinking a lot about cultural competence, especially as I've been in a book group that has been reading The Culture Map.  Today I came across an article by Andreas Schleicher, the Director of Education and Skills at the OECD who has been writing about how to assess global competence.  He starts his article with a reference to the 193 countries that adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, pointing out that the goals will only be fulfilled if we are addressing these issues with today's students.

One of the SDGs is about quality education for all, and this goal also emphasises the need to learn to live together sustainably.  As a result the PISA test is now including global competence as something it will measure this year.  There are several components to this:
  • examining issues of local, global and cultural significance - combining disciplinary knowledge to ask questions, analyse data and arguments.  This also involves students being able to critically evaluate messages being posted on the media as well as being able to create media content themselves.
  • understanding and appreciating others' perspectives - being able to see issues from multiple viewpoints.  This should encourage respect for others and mean students are less likely to tolerate injustice, hold prejudices and subscribe to stereotyping.
  • appropriate engagement across cultures - being able to adapt one's behaviour to interact with others from different cultures and to communicate in a respectful way.  
  • being active and responsible members of society - creating opportunities to take informed and reflecting action and to make their voices heard.
So how can teachers help students to succeed in global competencies?  The first thing that struck me is how closely this aligns to international mindedness and the IB learner profile attributes.  Schools can certainly provide opportunities for students to look at issues that have local and global significance as well as being relevant to their own personal lives.  The internet and social media can be important tools for students to use in this respect.  The important thing is that global competency is not an additional "subject" like literacy and maths, it should be integrated into all areas of the curriculum.

How will global competency be tested?  This year there will be a 2-part assessment which will include a critical analysis of news articles about global issues and perspectives, communicating with others and identifying actions that will address global issues.  The other part will be a questionnaire about familiarity with global issues and attitudes.  The OECD believes the data from these assessments will provide the global community with the information it needs to build a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world through education.  Although measuring attitudes is not easy, hopefully the new PISA assessments will at least form the start of a global dialogue about what is needed for the future, and the role that education can play in sustainable development.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Culturally proficient people, culturally proficient schools

A couple of months ago I wrote several blog posts about a book I was reading called The Culture Map.  Now I'm digging a little deeper into Fran Prolman's book Building Your Instructional Leadership.  I find culture such a fascinating area, working in an international school we talk a lot about international mindedness but it needs to go much deeper than having Festival of Nations days where people get dressed up, wave flags and eat from from various countries.  Culture is evidenced in many ways:  gender, geographic origin, history, ancestry, language, occupation, physical characteristics, disabilities, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on.  People who are culturally proficient try to understand what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes.  A culturally proficient school is inclusive, respectful and knowledgeable.

One thing that does not help cultural proficiency is "colour-blindness".  Often you hear people saying "I treat everyone the same" as if this is some sort of a virtue.  Colour-blindedness is definitely not that!  Treating everyone the same, regardless of their heritage, culture and so on is to ignore or not to acknowledge or welcome our differences.  It's almost like saying that individual needs will not be addressed.  There's a big difference between treating everyone the same and treating everyone fairly.  Schools that don't embrace cultural proficiency fail to address inequity.  In such schools, some students may adopt the behaviours of academic dependence.  Moving towards independence involves teaching and practicing various habits of mind such as using all your resources, practicing perseverance and embracing active engagement such as peer problem solving.  This helps all students to be ready for rigour and independent learning, taking risks and taking agency and ownership for their own learning.

Celebrating diversity as a way of continuous learning and broadening of perspectives is at the heart of cultural proficiency.  It's a way of getting a clear sense of your own culture, as well as knowledge of others.

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Teams - high functioning or dysfunctioning?

At the recent NESA Conference I did 2 days of workshops with Fran Prolman and Gail Seay.  On day 2 of these workshops we talked about how vulnerable connections build team dynamics.  Fran talked about building voice and choice among adults and how team building is based on trust, which involves bonding and knowing each other before you have to have difficult conversations.  One of the things she also shared with us was the 5 dysfunctions of teams which was based on the work of Patrick Lencioni (see diagram below).


Lencioni writes that the largest team problem, invulnerability, is a sign of a lack of trust.  Without trust no team member is willing to interact with each other.  It's only when a team is willing to be vulnerable, supportive, honest and loyal to each other that real teamwork can begin.

Moving up the pyramid, the next big issue for teams is that there is often an emphasis on harmony - however this becomes artificial harmony because dysfunctional teams are afraid of conflict (in other words, when considering the team phases of forming-storming-norming-performing outlined by Bruce Tuckman, these teams get stuck on the forming stage which is superficial and non-productive.

Further up the pyramid is ambiguity, caused by a lack of commitment, clarity and focus which also impacts productiveness as team members all have different interpretations of what needs to be done.  In these dysfunctional teams the members are all going in different directions.

Another aspect of dysfunctional teams is low standards and a lack of accountability.  In these teams the members often blame each other or external factors for their lack of success.  In these teams there are low expectations and poor quality work.

Finally some team members are caught up in their own egos and are not interested in results, or in reflecting on ways to improve.  In these teams they are more concerned with perceptions than embracing reality.

Now we know that there is a direct correlation between adult interaction and student achievement and it's because of this that teamwork is crucial to the success of any school.  The effectiveness of teams, be it grade level or subject teams, have a tremendous impact on how students learn and achieve.  In high functioning teams the members are motivated as they are working towards a common goal - and this motivation leads to synergy, support and loyalty.  Efficiency improves as members volunteer to take on various roles within the team, dividing up tasks to meet the deadlines and building on everyone's strengths.  We learn more through collaboration, and so teamwork expands our intellectual capacity as we consider diverse opinions and viewpoints.  Also, as we establish norms of respectful collaboration, listing to all the voices around the table, our interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence increases, fostering the feeling of connection.

In Fran's book, Building Your Instructional Leadership, she provides a number of suggestions for improving the functioning of teams in schools.  These include:
  • Creating time when teams can meet regularly
  • Providing structures and protocols to help teams focus on the work
  • Giving time for reflection
  • Clarifying roles within the team
  • Empowering each member to contribute and make decisions
  • Building capabilities
  • Providing recognition and reward for success
  • Encouraging risk-taking and experimentation

Do these suggestions resonate with you in your context?  What does successful team work look like in your school?