Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Loving what I do

Today on Facebook I came across a link that was shared by a colleague I used to work with in Thailand.  The article was about the signs to look for to show you love what you do.  Since I am constantly telling people how much I do love working at ASB I thought this might make an interesting read - especially how many of these 15 traits apply to me.
  1. You don't struggle to stay disciplined, you struggle to prioritize:  definitely true - I seem to work all the time because I love work.  The other day I was reading something on the BBC website about the hours that teachers work in the UK.  For elementary teachers the figure was 59.3 hours a week - not all in front of a class obviously as a lot of time is spent on lesson planning, supervising students, marking work and doing administrative tasks.  Anyone who puts in so much time is going to be dedicated to their job.  I started to think about how many hours I work.  I reckon about 15 hours a day from Monday to Friday and then more hours on weekends.  However as I said to someone earlier this year, "I'm working harder than I've ever worked before, but I'm a lot less stressed too."
  2. You don't talk about other people, you talk about the things other people are doing: again this one really rings a bell with me.  There are just so many exciting things going on all around me at school that I am constantly talking about what they are doing, how they are doing it, the impact it has on student learning and so on.  I want to talk about the successes that teachers are having because I'm happy and proud of what they are doing.
  3. You think about what you will say and not how you will say it:  this one is very dependent on the situation I think.  Now I think about what I'm going to say, in the past I also thought about that but often I became anxious about how this was going to be received.  For example I wanted to change something that was really necessary to change (an example that springs to mind would be moving to use more Web 2.0 tools and less applications that were installed on the computers), however when I was being told things like "cloud computing will fail" and "there is no evidence that technology improves learning" it was pretty hard to cope with.  I had to think about how I would say things, I had to worry about people's personal agendas, politics, cronyism and so on.  Now I'm in a place where I trust the people that I work with and once again I can focus on what I say and not have to tiptoe through the political minefield.
  4. You enjoy your time at work:  when I taught in Switzerland I loved living there, though I hated my work.  There were times when I would drive to school and sit in the car park crying because I didn't want to get out of the car and go into work.  And yet I loved the drive to work and the drive home.  I loved the weekends.  I loved the day I spent on our smaller campus.  I loved working with many colleagues.  Today one of my very good friends posted a photo on Facebook of the street where I used to live - it's stunningly beautiful at this time of year with the pink cherry blossom against some of the bluest skies I've experienced anywhere in the world.  I still miss that, I miss the beauty, I miss walking in the mountains at the weekends, I miss the sun setting over the lake - but I could never go back into a situation where I put up with where I worked for 40 hours a week in order to enjoy my evenings and weekends - where I had to escape to "life" to be happy.
  5. You enjoy attending meetings:  I adore being part of some meetings at ASB - I come away so energized, so full of new ideas and new respect for my colleagues.  I love the thoughtful and challenging discussions that we have.  I love the fact that we are listened to, and that we make change happen.
  6. You're excited about what you are doing, but you're more excited about the people you are doing it with:  absolutely.  My colleagues are all these things:  smart, passionate, confident, funny, dedicated, giving, inspiring.
  7. I hardly ever look at the clock:  I don't even have a clock in my office.
  8. You view success in terms of fulfillment and gratification, not in terms of money:  teachers are the lowest paid of all professionals.  I don't know any teacher who does it for the money.
  9. You leave work with items on your "to do" list that you're excited about tackling tomorrow:  I'm not really a list maker (if I was I might tend to feel swamped) but I'm excited about all the new things that I get to do every day and the people that I want to talk about things with.
  10. You help without thinking:  at my last school I was blessed with a colleague who whenever he was called upon always started with the question "How can I help you?"  I've tried to be like this myself here.
  11. You don't think about retirement: haha to this one - being an international teacher with very limited options to save for retirement I have come to the conclusion I will never retire!  If I can't teach in a school anymore, I will simply teach online.
  12. You would be happy for your children to be in the same line of business:  at one point my son did think about teaching - he may still decide to go into teaching though right now he is following a different line of work - but it is something I think he would be good at, and I would especially encourage him if he wanted to go into international education.  My biggest regret is probably that I worked 6 years in my home country before going abroad - having become an international teacher I've never really looked back.
So how did I score - well a score of 12/15 gives me this:  You really enjoy your work and the people you work with.  Absolutely.  I couldn't have put it better myself!

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Hierarchy AND Network

Today in our R&D Core Team meeting we started to read the book Accelerate by John P Kotter.  The first few chapters that we discussed are about how organizations start as networks but then evolve into hierarchies which are not quick enough to identify important hazards or business opportunities early enough.  The argument behind this book is that both hierarchies and networks are important to take businesses forward and to deal with the rapid rate of change.

Earlier today I had the pleasure of listening to our Superintendent talk at the Board AGM.  One of the parents there later spoke about how the presentations had given her goosebumps (in a good way).  What gave me goosebumps was the way that Craig spoke about wanting ASB to be a school known around the world as being a place where the best international teachers in the world teach, or perhaps have taught, and a place where the best teachers in the world who are not already here want to come and teach.  I started to think about how we need to change in order to achieve that.

Let's go back to the network/hierarchy idea now.  Most organizations, including schools, are organized into a hierarchy.  A superintendent at the top, heads of school below that, heads of department below that, and the teachers sorted out into grades and departments somewhere at the bottom of the list.  Now Kotter argues that hierarchies do have their place and are absolutely necessary for organizations to work - being sorted into departments allows strong expertise to develop and there are very clear relationships and responsibilities.  When you want something to change in a hierarchical system a traditional way to do this is to add task forces or project management teams into the existing system, and usually the same small number of people lead these initiatives.  The problem with this is that change is limited and communication is slow and not very effective as it relies on being passed from the top to the bottom or from the bottom to the top.  However because a business has already been successful and grown - turning itself from a network into a hierarchy - people see it as already being successful and therefore resist change.

The model that is proposed by Kotter is one where a hierarchy and a network exist side by side and operate together.  Hierarchies, while serving a purpose, are not designed to be creative, to be innovative or to take risks and the people who have risen in hierarchies are less willing to think outside the box or to see things from multiple perspectives.  The whole idea behind a hierarchy is to keep people in their place and to minimize risk - it tends not to change from year to year.  The network, however, is flexible, quick to change, innovative and creative and allows many individuals to get involved to bring about rapid change.  The network isn't so much about management, but about leading strategic initiatives.  The network draws information out of the silos and hierarchical layers, so the information flows quicker and further.  It is connected to the hierarchy because the same people are in both systems, and yet it provides a different way to collect information, make decisions and implement change.

This is the important thing about the network:  it must be done with insiders.  People within the organization need to be given the opportunity to step in and get involved.  In fact people do - in my experience organizations such as schools are packed full with very dedicated people who are simply dying to work with others on something that is important and purposeful.  They bring to the network vision, passion, intelligence, commitment, connections, skills and the desire for action, and these are the people who go back into the silos, communicate the information and create the will for change among the rest of the people there, so that large groups of people - not just the senior management team - are thinking about various opportunities and challenges and about implementing the initiatives that have been agreed upon.  In fact only a fairly small group of people is necessary to be in the network - Kotter suggests between 5-10% of the employees of an organization - and this is an easy number to find because people love to volunteer to be part of a network as it is so rewarding on various levels:  for example collaborating with a wider variety of people than normal, being increasingly visible across the organization and being able to develop professionally.

What else is important?  Well in the chapter that my group read and discussed today we talked about the importance of celebrating successes and making them as visible as possible to the whole organization.  We also alluded a number of times to the way that the R&D teams are sort of like Kotter's idea of a network, running alongside the hierarchy of the school itself.  I've ordered a copy of the book, so I'm just waiting for it to arrive now and then I'll blog about the other ideas in it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Genius -v- Scenius

This blog post has been inspired by 3 events.  On Thursday I was meeting with our R&D PD 3.0 task force and Rory, one of the members, recommended a book by Austin Kleon called Show Your Work.  She asked if we could all have a copy of it.  On Friday Scot, another member of the task force, brought me a copy of it.  Often when I get a new book it will sit around for a while, but as it happened I had a hospital appointment on Saturday and I was looking for something I could take with me to dip into while I was sitting in various OPD waiting areas.  The book was small enough to fit into my handbag, so in it went.  Now it's fair to say that the book is a quick read, but on Saturday morning as I moved from chair to chair and doctor to doctor I managed to read the first 155 pages of the book.  The first section introduced me to the word "scenius" which I'd never heard of before, and which has now become the title of this post.  Finally today I got an email from an ex-colleague, who empathized with a post I'd written earlier this month about how important it is to be part of a supportive community.  She sent me the following quote:
Go where you are celebrated not tolerated. If they can't see the real value of you, it's time for a new start.
So, reading this, and thinking about what I've been reading over the past couple of days, the ideas for this blog post were born.

I read a lot of educational blog posts and the thing that I appreciate about the educators that I follow is the fact that they are honest about what they are working on, and they share their ideas and what they are learning.  It's through sharing that they gain an audience, and in turn this audience helps them through feedback.  I write a lot and don't find it a chore at all - actually I love spending my time sharing my ideas with others, and the end result is that now around the world I have built up a network of people who also share these passions.

Austin Kleon throws out this scenario:  Imagine if your next boss didn't have to read your resume because he already reads your blog.  In some ways it was a bit like that for me the last time I was looking for a job.  People did approach me because of my online presence and during the weeks when I was looking for a new job there was a social network of people who were familiar with me and with what I did who were able to help and inspire me to make a new start.   Much of this was via Twitter.

When I first started blogging I was part of a blog alliance set up by Kelly Tenkely.  This to me is a good example of a "scenius".  We were a group of people who were all new to blogging, all reading and commenting on each others' blogs, sometimes taking each others' ideas and developing them further.  As Kleon points out: "good work isn't created in a vacuum ... creativity is always in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds."  Very rarely is something created by the lone genius.

Another scenius that I am a part of is the #pypchat.  This Twitter chat happens every 2 weeks on Thursdays, and has grown so that now there are 3 chats in 3 different time zones.  Being a part of this scenius is all about contributing - sometimes time behind the scenes, but often ideas, conversations and connections during the chats themselves.  In fact, as Kleon points out, the Internet is basically a bunch of sceniuses where everyone has the opportunity to hang out, talk about the things they care about and where everyone has the opportunity to contribute something.  In our #pypchat scenius, all of us are there because we are lifelong learners and because we are happy to learn in the open so that other teachers around the world can learn from our failures and our successes.

Our R&D core team is also made up of a variety of different "sceniuses" all investigating different things.  As mentioned before I've been a member of several ASB R&D task forces (mobile devices, internships, PD) and it has been great to research and prototype new ideas that will impact the future of education.   ASB believes in sharing.  If you want to read more about the task forces and what they are working on, you can do this at our Findings blog.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Can a manager also be a coach?

Reading on in John Whitmore's book Coaching for Performance, I've come across an interesting section on the manager as coach.  On the face of it, it would seem that the 2 roles may well be contradictory:  a manager usually has the job of evaluating your performance, which may be tied in with pay increases, promotion and job security, and traditionally managers have taken a carrot and stick approach to make people accountable.  A coach, however, tries to build a relationship that is less about evaluation and more about partnership.

Traditional management style likes to tell people what to do.  In fact the phrase "this school is not a democracy" was heard several times by myself and other teachers at a previous school.  A dictatorial style of management is a quick and easy one, and gives the person at the top the feeling of being in control, yet in my experience the real effect of this is that teachers become upset and demotivated in a situation where it is unsafe for them to speak out and offer constructive feedback.  A toxic climate results where everyone appears to be subservient, but behind the scenes there is a lot of back-biting and resentment which saps performance.  I've sat through staff meetings where "good ideas" for taking the school or curriculum forward were "shared" and where the majority of those present were sitting passively knowing that if they didn't like the direction the bus was heading in, their only option was to get off it.  Questioning, critical thinking and so on were not seen as appropriate behaviours for teachers.

What happens at the other end of the scale?  Well I've worked in places like that too, where teachers were basically the masters of their own classrooms and just got on with teaching whatever they thought best.  I have to say these were very creative schools (I developed a huge number of different curriculums there, for example), but this can also be risky.  Some teachers in a situation like that may perform poorly because they are simply unaware of expectations for excellence, or even what excellence looks like.  Those who are extremely self-motivated will do well, those who are not, well they will probably continue to be mediocre.

The argument is that coaching is in the middle of these 2 extremes.  A manager with experience of coaching can ask the right questions and empower the teacher to become more aware and take action by him/herself.  This can lead to teachers being self-motivated enough to want to take on extra responsibility, knowing that they will be guided and supported.  In such a situation the manager ends up more in control, because teachers are prompted to think about their practice and are likely to be motivated to move forward in the direction the school is moving,  than in the situation where a manager is simply imparting instructions and expecting that they will be followed.  Whitmore writes, "coaching provides the manager with real, not illusory, control, and provides the subordinate with real, not illusory, responsibility."

At a previous school I took on a position of extra responsibility attracted by the promise of being mentored to develop leadership skills.  This didn't happen.  Now as I reflect on it I am thinking this is because the person who was supposed to be mentoring me, still saw the job as more of a manager.   Coaching takes more time and more thought, it's quicker simply to dictate.  But according to Whitmore, here is the paradox:  "if a manager does coach his staff, the developing staff shoulder much greater responsibility, freeing the manager from fire-fighting, not only to coach more but to attend to those overarching issues that only he can address."

Is there a quick and easy way of determining when is the right time to coach and when is the right time to instruct?  Whitmore argues that:
  • If time is important, a manager might choose to do the job him/herself or give exact directions
  • If quality is most important then coaching for high awareness and responsibility will be most successful
  • If learning is the most important factor, then coaching will optimize learning and retention.
He points out, however, that in most businesses time takes precedence over quality.  I find this statement interesting and am wondering if this is also the case in schools?  Do leaders most often take decisions and share them with teachers because of a lack of time to talk, question and listen to everyone?  And in an institution that is aimed at learning, shouldn't coaching actually be more important?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Instructor, mentor or coach?

Tomorrow I'm going to be involved in the first interviews for hiring our tech coaches for next year - I'm very excited about it.  To prepare myself for any possible questions the candidates might ask, I've been reading a lot about coaching.  I've also been thinking about the main difference between coaching, mentoring and simply instructing.  Let's start with instructing.  An instructor is someone who teaches something, for example a driving instructor teaches you how to drive a car, a ski instructor teaches you how to ski and so on.  A mentor is very different, though it can also involve training or advising someone (often a new employee, younger colleague or a student) through an apprenticeship model, passing down knowledge of how things are done.  I've heard that the difference between an instructor and a mentor is that a mentor is more focused on the person, rather than the person's performance, so that a mentor supports growth and gives advice, yet the person being mentored is free to decide what to do.

On the face of it a coach is fairly similar, with the words instructor and trainer being included in the definition.  The difference, however, seems to be in the way that this is done as part of a supportive relationship between the coach and the coachee.  John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance writes that the coachee acquires facts not from the coach, but from within himself, and that the role of the coach is to "unlock people's potential to maximize their own performance."  Whitmore likens this to acorns, having everything they need inside to potentially be an oak tree, but needing nourishment and encouragement in order to grow.

People become teachers because they see this potential inside students.  Probably the greatest joy a teacher can have is seeing a student go beyond what he himself is capable of, beyond the limitations of the teacher's own knowledge or skills.  A teacher, however, does require expertise in a subject, which apparently is not the case with a coach - a coach needs to be an expert in the art of coaching.  A coach also needs to believe that people are capable of more and that they have the potential to perform better than they currently are.

Why don't people perform to their fullest potential?  Studies have shown that there are several important reasons for this:

  • restrictive structures and practices
  • the lack of encouragement and opportunity
  • management style
  • the fear of failure
The first 3 of these are what is termed "external" (within the company/job), the last one is internal and is the one where a coach can really have an impact.  Whitmore writes "building awareness, responsibility and self-belief is the goal of a coach ... building other's self-belief demands that we release the desire to control them or to maintain their beliefs in our superior abilities.  One of the best things we can do is to assist them in surpassing us."  This, however, is not often the prevailing viewpoint in the workplace - where training someone to surpass you can end up being a threat to your own job or authority!  Whitmore concludes his first chapter with this sentence:  "coaching is a way of managing, a way of treating people, a way of thinking, a way of being."

The next chapter of the book is about the manager as a coach.  All too often a manager is seen as  a threat, so I'm keen to read this and learn more about how to improve a culture so that it promotes better performance.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More thoughts about PD and coaching

With interviews for our new tech coaches being held at the end of this week and the start of the next, I have been thinking a lot and reading a lot about the type of professional development that is most needed in schools today.  I've been looking at a book that was left for me by my predecessor entitled The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education by Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill, in particular looking at Chapter 4 that deals with building professional capacity.  There are 2 suggestions here that I think pertain to what we are about to embark on.

One of the suggestions for improving PD is that it needs to be focused around the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.  The idea behind this is that these are not really skills that are focused on by colleges of education/teacher training and so the chances are that many teachers have not had any training in these 21st century skills.  The chapter goes on to outline different ways to doing this, including reviewing and refiguring the roles of current personnel to make them more focused on PD.  This list can include merging the responsibilities of tech coaches, 21st century skills coaches, librarians, curriculum specialists and PD specialists.

Peer coaching is also something that is recommended.  Rather than hiring new PD personnel, the suggestion is to identify teachers who have the most potential for serving as peer coaches and then training them as teachers are likely to turn to trusted colleagues for professional guidance (this is basically the idea behind what we are hoping to do next year).  Generally these coaches have strong communication and collaboration skills and know about best practices in tech integration.  We are not expecting them to be experts, they are collaborators and facilitators and most important of all they are co-learners.

When we invited teachers to apply for the position of tech integration coach we asked them what appealed to them about this role.  A number of responses were that they have experienced being coached themselves and know what a difference it has made to them, and now want to help, encourage and support their colleagues.  Many wrote about the satisfaction they get from working with other teachers and helping them to develop skills and confidence.  Of course they do - this is why they became teachers in the first place - because they wanted to help students to become they best they could be.

I am really looking forward to the interviews this week and next week.  I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what our teachers can offer as we develop our coaching and PD programme.

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I'm starting a new MOOC on coaching

At ASB we are in the process of identifying tech integration coaches for next year.  We are fortunate that so many great teachers have stepped forward to apply for these new positions.  I'm also excited that it will be part of my new role next year to coach the coaches.  This summer I'm doing a cognitive coaching course with Bill and Ochan Powell, but I decided to get a little ahead of myself by enrolling in a 5 week coaching MOOC through Coursera at the end of this school year too.

We do already have a literacy and maths coach at ASB this year and I have heard many positive things about the impact of these coaching rounds.  The MOOC is specifically looking at how a coach can encourage lasting changes in teaching practice.
Effective teacher-coaches are not just knowledgeable about instruction; they’re also highly strategic in their approach to changing teachers’ behaviors. That starts with preparing teachers to receive critical feedback, and then continues with a careful selection of goals and scaffolds to ensure that feedback is implemented with fidelity.
This year every teacher, teaching assistant and classroom assistant at ASB has set a tech goal based on the NETS-Ts, and we have attempted to provide and support a personalized professional development plan for everyone.  During the year I have met individually with each teacher to discuss progress towards goals with the aim of helping them achieve the goals they have set.  Suggestions for such PD have involved webinars, online courses, prototyping and in some cases simply trying new things out.  My role has not been to evaluate whether or not they have achieved their goals, but simply to walk alongside them and help them to move forward.  The TAs and CAs have had the support of one of our educational technology specialists to achieve their goals and they have made spectacular progress this year following targeted sessions after school each week.  In fact our TAs and CAs have been so empowered with technology that they have felt confident enough to lead training sessions at school for both teachers and for assistants and to present at international conferences.

While I feel our approach to date has been extremely successful, I'm also aware that I have never had any formal training in coaching teachers.  I think that I have done a good job, but I think that I could probably do better.  I was interested to read this statement about the upcoming MOOC:

Even teacher coaching that’s described as “good” can sometimes fall short of resulting in meaningful change. The coach might see and say the right things, and the teacher might be very appreciative of the feedback. But unless the coaching drives true changes in behavior, the “good” in this case could actually end up being the enemy of effective.

The MOOC identifies 5 principles of effective coaching:

  • Permission-based coaching - teachers must want to be coached and want to change their practice.  They must be open to receive critical feedback following observations in order to grow.
  • Shared vocabulary and vision - there needs to be a shared vocabulary and vision about what excellent teaching looks like.
  • Setting measurable goals - teachers need to be able to prioritize the next steps they need to take to improve their instruction so that they can set a meaningful goal.
  • Directive feedback - teachers need to be clear about the steps they need to take to achieve their goals - coaches need to be clear about the direction that teachers need to move in order to successfully implement the feedback.
  • Opportunities to practice - coaches need to give teachers the opportunity to rehearse or apply the action steps in the presence and with the support of the coach before the teacher tries to do this in the classroom.
I'm looking forward to learning more about all these during the 5 week course starting in May.  Are you also interested in learning more about effective coaching?  If so this MOOC might be for you too.
Coaching Teachers:  Promoting Changes that Stick

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