Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you are going to walk on thin ice you might as well dance: the IB Learner Profile Risk-Taker/Courageous

Today I was reading about three great 20th century leaders who exemplify risk taking, courageousness and devotion to justice.  All of them made huge sacrifices to bring enduring change for humankind.  I'm thinking about how important it is to learn from these teachers and how these lessons can be applied in schools.

I'm also thinking about ASB's mission statement and how proud I am to work at this school.  Our mission statement also mentions courage, as well as enhancing the lives of others.
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.

A Center for Life-long (Transdisciplinary) Learning

This week at ASB we hosted 2 candidates for the Assistant Superintendent position for next school year.  One of the areas that will fall under the new position is to imagine and create a center for life-long learning.  This will involve the development of alternative and innovative educational paths for anytime-anywhere learning.  ASB has already started on this journey.  We already have service learning programmes, year round educational experiences such as internships and intersessions, and online learning for students, teacher and parents.

In his book Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, one of the issues Gary Marx writes about is the depth, breadth and purposes of education in a fast-changing world.  He, like the leadership of ASB, asks "What are the purposes of education?"  At a recent State of the School meeting with parents this question was raised by our Superintendent.  Traditionally we say that education should prepare students for the future.  The question that Craig Johnson asked was "What future?"  Are we preparing students for their future here at ASB?  For their future in another school, as our students' families are highly mobile?  For their future at university?  For their life?

Gary Marx points out that when asked this question, John Dewey's response was that a teacher should provoke "a continuous interest in learning throughout a student's life" and yet what we find today around the world is national curriculums with narrow standards and high-stake tests that mean that what is important to learn has been whittled down to the things that are easily testable.  The impact of this is that many key, creative, subjects such as music and art as well as foreign languages, science, social studies and PE are getting less and less time.  Marx writes, "We are too often faced with the prospect of preparing our students for the future - constrained by a mentality and infrastructure that emerged from another time." and proposes 5 different purposes for education:

  • Citizenship - creating good citizens
  • Employability
  • Interesting lives
  • Releasing ingenuity that is already there
  • Stimulating imagination, creativity and inventiveness.
Yesterday and today our Twitter PYP chat was about transdisiplinary learning.  As always it was great to have a discussion with so many educators about this.  Reflecting on our conversations, I noticed that Marx is also a proponent of learning across disciplines.  He writes, "It's in those multidisciplinary white spaces, in the connective tissue, that we are likely to discover new knowledge.  Teaching and learning across disciplines should be considered part of how we operate."

Is this how the new center of life-long learning is going to operate at ASB?  Looking at ASB's website we already pride ourselves on being a center of learning for students, educators and thought leaders from around the world, in an environment where all members are constantly in pursuit of personal and professional growth and development.  In addition we are building global communities of learners and researchers through sharing data, content, tools and ideas with colleagues and schools around the world.  ASB also hosts a range of educational conferences and learning events, from our Maker Saturdays, TRAI Summits, Global Social Entrepreneurship Summits and TEDx ASB events for students, to conferences such as ASB Un-Plugged, Future Forwards, InspirED and the Google Summits for educators from India and around the world.  

Last weekend I was involved in the Teacher Training Program at ASB.  Our Mission calls on us to "enhance the lives of others" and this is one way I feel I can give back to the Indian community.  The TTP is a 2 year program for Indian teachers who are working in partner NGOs.  The program is taught by ASB staff and introduces to Indian teachers new ideas and critical skills for teaching in the 21st century. 

Our journey towards becoming a center for life-long learning has begun.  I'm interested to see who is the person who will be taking us forward.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Authoritative -v- Authoritarianism

Such a huge difference between those two words!  Today I've been considering another of Gary Marx's 21 trends and also thinking about a conversation I had a few days ago with one of our teachers who has recently resigned and is looking for another job in a different part of the world.  It's a scary place to be - giving up a secure job for the unknown.  I remembered something that someone told me a little over 3 years ago when I was also looking for a new job:  when a door closes a window always opens, but until it does you are in a very dark place.  I remember being in that dark place well, though possibly what came before was even darker.

Last week in our Leadership PLC we were discussing the #1 reason why people break contract - it is because of their supervisor.  Having mulled over this for a whole week, and having read what Marx said about authority -v- authoritarianism, I feel a lot of empathy with those in this situation.  I guess everyone who has read my blog over the years I've been writing it, has seen a change.  Sometimes I meet people for the first time who have been following my posts and they say "Wow!  You're certainly in a much better place now"  (I think they mean mentally as well as simply that I have a much better job).  Marx writes about people who continue to work in organizations where new ideas are seen as threats and where the prevailing culture is "my way or the highway", where the leaders are authoritarian rather than authoritative.

Authoritative leaders are good news - people go to them for advice because of their knowledge and experience.
Authoritarian leaders are bad news - Marx refers to this as "a concentration of power in a way that is not responsible".  These people are dictatorial, domineering, arrogant, pretentious, controlling and narcissistic.  Here is a typical example:  at team leader meetings ideas were discussed, but the decision had already been taken.  Few people volunteered their honest opinions - those who did were "trouble makers".  Most said nothing.  Others simply said what those in charge wanted to hear.  Anyone with different opinions was "disloyal".  What happens in these situations?  Marx writes that "incompetence replaces excellence  ... the talented are often the first to leave since they have options."

Marx writes about a number of implications for education.  I've chosen to summarize the ones that I think are the 3 most important:
  • Students need to understand inclusive decision-making and how to legitimately use authority in achieving the common good.
  • Students should receive a grounding in principles that are basic to democracy.  They should understand empathy, human and civil rights and learn how to identify the benefits and consequences of their own actions, for themselves and others.
  • Teachers should be engaged in ongoing professional development in order to prepare to exercise legitimate future-focused leadership in a fast-changing world.
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Profile of a Modern School Leader

This week we are interviewing for the role of Assistant Superintendent for the next 3 years at ASB. Our leadership team already drew up a list of attributes about what we are looking for in a leader for the future.

As I was thinking over what we are looking for in our next Assistant Superintendent today, I saw this graphic posted by Edwin Lagos (@elag87) on Twitter.  I contacted Edwin to ask him whether this graphic was part of a blog post he had written.  His reply is that it was inspired by another infographic by Reid Wilson (@wayfaringpath) that had been posted on the COETAIL website.

As I considered the infographics by Edwin and Reid, it occurred to me that both involved a huge climate of trust.  Teachers will only step outside their comfort zone, take risks and allow themselves to fail, if they know that school leaders encourage a culture of innovation and motivate the community to take risks.  I love the way that "Trusts" is the biggest word on Edwin's infographic. Trust is also something that we talked a lot about in our recent cognitive coaching workshop.  The facets of trust, according to Tschannen-Moran in Trust Matters:  Leadership for Successful Schools are as follows:
  • Benevolence - caring, supporting teachers, expressing appreciation for efforts, being fair, guarding confidential information
  • Honesty - integrity, being truthful, honoring promises and agreements, having authenticity, accepting responsibility
  • Openness - communication, sharing important information, sharing decision making, sharing power
  • Reliability - being consistent and dependable, demonstrating commitment
  • Competence - setting an example, problem solving, conflict resolution, working hard, setting standards, buffering teachers, being flexible.
Below is a copy of Reid Wilson's infographic on the Profile of a Modern Teacher.  Click on the infographic to go to a larger version.

Are you a modern teacher or modern school leader?  What do you think are the most important attributes that you bring to your role?  Are there any others you could consider important in a school for the future?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Leadership PLC - part 4

At today's Leadership PLC we were asked what were the 4 factors that would cause a new teacher or administrator in a critical position in school to leave within the first 3 months.  This got me reflecting on my "early days" experiences in the 6 schools where I've worked.  Now before I go further I just want to say that I have never broken a contract and left a job after just a short time in the place, though there was once a time when I considered it.   After discussing various reasons, we were told what the findings, according to the Harvard Business School, are:
  • Your Supervisor.  According to the HBS this is the #1 reason why people decide to leave after a very short time in the job.  I started to think about this.  In fact in most schools where I have worked I have been hired by someone who was not my supervisor - usually the Head/Director of the school.  And no matter how many "good vibes" you might get in an interview situation, usually this is not the person that you are dealing with all day, every day in your new job.   In fact by the time you arrive, this person may even have moved on to another school.  Arriving in a new job and finding that the person who is one step up the ladder from you is just not a person you can work with, is horrible.  This is something that it's not really possible to do a lot of homework about beforehand - in particular because your supervisor might well be a new hire too.
  • Transition Issues.  We talked about how hard it is to transition from one school or one country to another.  At ASB we pride ourselves on being "masters of transition" - even brining new staff to the school 3 months before their contract starts, to give them a good introduction to the school and to living in India.  Other places are not so good at this.  Someone I used to work with recounted her arrival story at a different school where she had to find her own way from the airport to her new apartment all by herself and when she got there she found there was nothing at all in the apartment.  She recounts how she had taken the blanket with her off the plane and how she put this down on the floor of her new apartment and lay down on it to sleep.  The following day she had to navigate buying furniture, getting a telephone connected, getting internet and so on - all in a language she did not speak.  Perhaps it's not surprising that this teacher resigned before Christmas of her first year!  We all go through a honeymoon period following a transition, and then a big dip.  The support (or not) of a school can make a huge difference as to how deep the dip is and how quickly you can get out of it.
  • A Disconnect.  There are many reasons why you might find yourself in a situation of disconnect, so that you feel you don't fit into your new school.  Perhaps the values of the people there are different from yours.  Perhaps their philosophy of education may be different.  Perhaps you have been led to believe something and it turned out not to be true.  Perhaps you were so keen to get the job that you settled for something that was not really a good fit for you.
  • Personal Reasons.  These are the ones that everyone will understand - the ones that no one can ever hold against you.  Suddenly finding that you or a family member is ill.  A death of a parent that calls you back home.
It's interesting to think how these may apply to our students too.  Why some kids who do very well in one place, do extremely poorly in another.  Perhaps they end up in a class with a teacher for whom it is just not a good fit.  Perhaps the culture of the school is totally different from what they are used to.  Perhaps different things are valued.  We often forget that we, as adults, can do our homework about a school and can still make a terrible mistake in accepting a job there - and we have the choice.  Our children don't have any choice at all.    Something worth thinking about for international school teachers who end up with "difficult" children in their classes!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1 in 100

Today I heard from Bob Greenberg who has just published his 100th Brainwaves video on YouTube. This 100th video doesn't highlight one individual educator, but rather pulls together some words from 13 of the thought leaders he has interviewed this year.  I am honoured and grateful to be 1 of Bob's 100 Brainwaves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hierarchy is the death of creativity and innovation

One thing that Jim Collins' team found when researching how a good company can become a great company is that many small, start-up companies are high on creativity, innovation and risk-taking, whereas a more established company can often be a victim of its own success.  Collins charts the movement from an egalitarian, fun company to what he calls "an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff" which leads to a hierarchy being established with a "we" and "them" attitude, the result of which is that the most innovative people leave and the creative magic starts to wane.  Let's think how this applies to education.

Over my 30 years in schools, I've worked in large schools of over 1,000 students and small ones of under 300.  I've also worked at small schools that have become large schools and I've thought about what vital spark disintegrated as the school grew.  Certainly the small schools seemed friendlier places:  I knew every single teacher and student who worked there and they all knew me, whereas in large schools, especially those split among multiple campuses, this was not the case.  I recall one time when I went for a parent conference with my daughter's teachers and some of the teachers I spoke to were surprised to find that I was also working there!  I also recall working in small schools where everyone had to pitch in and take on multiple hats, and where there was also a feeling of having a finger on the pulse, or being involved more closely in decisions that were made.  In others it was pretty much an "old boys club" where cronyism was rife and where the culture became less and less innovative the more the school grew.

Jim Collins writes "the purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence".  His point is that basically if you have the right people onboard in the first place, who are self-directed and self-disciplined, then there is no need for a bureaucracy which is only in place to manage the "small percentage of wrong people".  His advice is to avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline.  Today at lunch I was sitting with our R&D Coordinator and we were talking about the fact that everyone at ASB works hard because they are so motivated and given a huge amount of freedom within certain guidelines (autonomy and purpose).  I remember saying to him "I'm working harder than ever before, but I'm also much less stressed."  Jim Collins writes about this, referring to the culture in good to great places as being one of freedom and responsibility within a framework, and that these places are filled with self-disciplined people who engage in rigorous thinking before taking action, and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities.

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