Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coaching: using two ears and one mouth when questioning

Yesterday I blogged about the importance of awareness and responsibility as part of the coaching process.  Today, reading further in John Whitmore's book Coaching for Performance the importance of questioning as a way of raising awareness and responsibility is highlighted.  Coaches ask questions not simply to get information, but to make sure the coachee has the necessary information.  Effective questions are those that start with what, when, who and how much.  Coaches should avoid asking questions that start with why or how, as the aim is not to get involved in analytical thinking, but simply to raise awareness.  Whitmore writes that coaches should start with broad questions and then gradually focus on the details, and that these should follow the interest and train of thought of the coachee, not the coach.

The aim is to empower the coachee to take responsibility, however the coach needs to listen very carefully in order to come up with the best question to ask next.  Questioning should be spontaneous, and questions should not be prepared beforehand.  Whitmore writes "we were given two ears and one mouth [so] we should listen twice as much as we speak."  But what is a coach listening for?  Whitmore writes about the importance of paying attention to tone of voice and body language and also how important it is to reflect back from time to time, summarizing the points being made.

Whitmore also writes about the importance of sequencing questions.  He says start with the goals, both short and long term, then go on to discuss the reality of the current situation.  He puts the questions in this order because it's important to set goals that are not simply based on the current reality or on responses to current problems - the focus should be on the future, not on what has been done before.  Only when a future goal is set, can you start to consider where you are now and how you can move towards what you want to do in the future - asking the questions in this order is more inspiring, creative and motivating.

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Economic carrots -v- jumping through the window of opportunity

One of the things I'm reading about in John P Kotter's book Accelerate is creating a sense of urgency in order to bring about change.  In education I think this is really vital - we all know that it's important to prepare students for their futures, which are very different from our pasts, yet even though we know this there isn't the sense of urgency to do this in many schools.  Kotter writes about role modeling urgency - influencing 10 other people, who in turn will each influence another 10, leading to exponential growth of a change mindset.  He explains that this role modeling can be very simple - talking to people in the hallways, for example, or raising issues in meetings, telling people about what you are doing and why what you are doing is important, and in this way gradually influencing those around you to start to think in new ways too.  I think this is something that I have tried to do for a number of years - coming from my feeling that it is urgent for students to be empowered to use technology.  Writing these blog posts has reached out of countless thousands of educators, even at a time when people in the school where I was working at the time were fairly dismissive of these thoughts.

Kotter explains about why it is hard to demonstrate leadership and positive energy for change in a management-driven hierarchy - this is because they are designed around economic rewards or threats (carrots and sticks).  He refers to economic carrots where new goals are created and passed down from on-high, and new strategies to reach these goals also communicated.  These systems rely on measures being in place to track and make people accountable for reaching these goals, and then rewarding them with money if they achieve them.  Some years ago I was part of a group looking into a new salary structure at a previous school.  Most of the time it was just like that.  Interestingly enough, the consultant the school brought in to do these workshops made the statement that he felt these "economic carrots" would be attractive to teachers and keep good teachers in the classroom.  However he also went on to say that he would limit these bonus payments to under 15% of the teachers.  There were a number of ways of reducing the numbers to 15%, even if many more were performing at an excellent level, some of which involved looking at how closely people were toeing the school line, which was fairly nebulous and very subjective.  At the time I always felt this approach was flawed - it was based purely on extrinsic motivation and the belief that economic carrots can win hearts and minds and produce positive action.

There were sticks too.  I guess the biggest stick was also economic - the threat of not having your contract renewed.  Kotter writes that pressure from the top can often generate anger and create passive resistance.  Basically he writes about how the carrot and stick approach will ultimately fail, since they come from outside and are controlled and defined by others.    What is needed, he argues, is a big opportunity to pull people together by drawing on their hearts and minds.  Show them a window to the future, he writes, that is open or about to open, and get the people involved excited about jumping through that window.  Windows open all the time, of course.  They close pretty quickly too.  That's why it is important to have this sense of urgency.

In traditional hierarchies, however, managers look at the future in fixed ways - mostly through their silos (school division, department, how this window will change things in the future).  Some people won't like what they see as the future may involve a shrinking of their power and influence, or that of their department (less budget and resources for example).  Once again, this can lead to negative reactions and resistance, in particularly when vision statements are passed down from on-high.  Kotter explains the best way to change this is to reverse the traditional order of things:  first start with the window to the future ("big opportunity") that is realistic and compelling, then change the vision to be able to capitalize on this opportunity, then finally design the activities that will make the vision a reality. Combine a big opportunity with a network rather than a hierarchy and you can really have powerful results!

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Coaching: realizing potential through raising awareness and developing responsibility

John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance identifies 2 key elements in coaching.  These are raising awareness and developing responsibility.

Awareness involves focusing attention, or concentrating on something - becoming alert in the way you observe and interpret what you see, hear and feel, deciding what is relevant and being self-aware.  It's important for a coach to give up instructing, and to encourage the people s/he is coaching to be aware of what they are doing.  Being a coach does not involve showing or telling someone to do something the "right" way ( i.e. the way the coach does it).  While this can lead to short term benefits in performance, the focus is still on the coach rather than on the teacher who wants to improve - in coaching the personal attributes and preferences of the teacher are important whereas in the apprenticeship model these are suppressed and the teacher becomes dependent on the "expert" in order to improve.  True coaching raises the self-awareness of the teacher and boosts the teacher's confidence so that s/he feels he can improve without being dependent on the directions of the coach - the job of the coach is simply to raise and sustain the awareness of the teacher on the areas s/he wants to improve.

Responsibility is also really important -  a teacher needs to make choices and then commit to taking action.  When given a choice, the teacher "buys in" and performance improves.  This contrasts with the situation when someone is ordered to be responsible for his/her improvement - if the teacher does not choose this or fully accept it, then performance will not improve.

The coach doesn't have to be an expert.  However the coach does need to believe that the teacher has the potential to improve and that it is the teacher's own responsibility to do so.  Whitmore writes:
Our potential is realized by optimizing our own individuality and uniqueness, never by molding them to another's opinion of what constitutes best practice.
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1001 blog posts

I have written 1001 blog posts on Tech Transformation.  That seems like a huge number (enough to fill several books - I actually self published the first 2 years worth of blog posts as books, though have found it a daunting task to publish the last 2 years).  Today I have looked back at the 1001 posts to see what it is that I've been mostly writing about.  Here are the statistics:

  • 41% of posts have been about teaching and learning
  • 11% of posts have been about 21st century skills
  • The IB Curriculum accounts for 7% of posts, with an additional 8.3% about the PYP
  • Web 2.0 accounts for 6.6% of posts
  • School administration comes in at 4.6% of posts
  • 2.5% of posts are about R&D
Just like Sheherazade and her 1001 nights, I wrote my stories/blog posts to keep myself going during tough times, but at some point I fell in love with writing and with sharing and so wanted to continue it, even though my main purpose for writing disappeared.  Now I am part of a vibrant face to face community of educators - we can talk about all the things that I used to write about and only discuss with educators online.  However with half a million people reading my posts, it seemed sensible to continue to write.  1001 blog posts represents four and a half years of my life, four and a half years of moving from the darkness towards the light.

One of the stories in 1001 Nights is that of Prince Husain who has a magic carpet.  Sitting on the carpet and "willing in thought" allows the carpet to fly you in the twinkling of an eye to a place "nearhand or distant many a day's journey and difficult to reach."  This has been a magical carpet journey for me too. It has taken a lot of strength of thought and will, but I've travelled further than I ever thought I would and ended up in a school that is pure magic.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

From push to pull

I've been reading a lot about change, and about the sorts of structures that need to be in place to encourage change to happen.  This has also involved thinking about leadership and management.  Now I'm back in John Whitmore's Coaching for Performance book and I'm reading about the shifts that are occurring in the way people are managed.  He writes: "you used to be able to tell or push people to do what you want, but  now they expect and demand to be treated differently".  I think this is true of students too - gone are the days when they sit passively waiting to receive the knowledge that teachers are pouring into them, now they want to be more active in constructing their own knowledge.

Whitmore writes that we should be grateful for this change in mindset because it leads to the possibilities of higher performance.  In particular people want to be given choices and responsibility, however as he points out: "although executives talk about empowering people all the time, they still have plenty of push left in them."

We talk a lot about student voice and choice.  We also talk about empowering teachers.  My last blog post was about empowering teachers to become part of a volunteer army/network ( being "pulled" in by their own choice) where they feel willing and able to make changes, not where they wait to be told what to do next ("pushed").  Whitmore agrees with Kotter:  give people responsibility and those people will give of their best - and everyone wins.

A lot has been written about workspace stress.  Believe me I have experienced this myself.  The data these days points to this stress being created by little personal control, leading to burnout.  In my experience this is true.  I've been much more stressed in schools where I've been micromanaged than in those where I have been trusted to get on and do a good job.  Ironically it's at the schools where I've been micromanaged where I've ended up being the least productive.  In my case, when I'm left alone, given trust and responsibility, I rise to the occasion, am motivated to work hard, and feel very satisfied.  Whitmore points out:  Self-esteem is the life force of the personality, and if that is suppressed or diminished so is the person.  Stress results from long periods of suppression.  Offering someone choice and control wherever possible in the workplace acknowledges and validates their capability and their self-esteem.  Stress is therefore eliminated.

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An army of volunteers

Reading through John P Kotter's Accelerate, I've come across the phrase "volunteer army" to describe how networks get populated.  Since we are reading this book as part of our R&D work, it has made me think about how all the various members of the R&D teams were "recruited".  When I arrived at ASB I remember getting an email, sent out to everyone, asking if I was interested in becoming part of R&D.  From memory there were just 2 questions to answer - what do you think you will get out of this, and what skills can you bring to the team?

Now I already knew that I wanted to be on this team - it was one of the attractions of coming to Mumbai.  I don't know of any other school that has an R&D department and I'd already heard about several initiatives that took place the year before I arrived, such as multi-age classrooms, BYOD, games based learning, project based learning, personalized learning and facilities design.  The thing that most attracted me to volunteering to be part of this team was that in the year that I started, several areas researched by the R&D teams the previous year were already being implemented.  I liked the way that I could be part of something that would be making a difference immediately.

Last year several of the teams from the 2011-12 school year continued with their work.  For example I was part of the BYOD task force which turned its focus to mobile devices.  Later in the year I was also part of a small team prototyping internships.  Other new initiatives which have now been incorporated into "the way we do things" are the alternative school year and intersessions.

The R&D core team brings together a large number of people from across the school.  It's completely different from a management driven hierarchy which relies on a small number of people taking on important roles.  In the R&D network all sorts of people are taking initiatives and not simply following orders.  In Chapter 5 of Accelerate, Kotter writes about a "get-to" and a "want-to" attitude, instead of a "have-to" one.  Our R&D meetings are dynamic and I come home with my head buzzing, and I'm sure everyone else does too.  It's such a contrast with the bi-weekly team leader meetings that I used to attend at a previous school where people were incredibly passive and where I seemed to spend a lot of time looking out of the window.  This was typical of a system where people were appointed to these positions, and then took on their posts of responsibility in addition to their regular work.  It was also a control mechanism - we were told that we had to support various initiatives that were brought to us from on high because of being in this" leadership" position.  There was no discussion about many of these issues and our views were not listened to.  It was not a team that people wanted to be on - in fact some colleagues refused to take on positions of responsibility for that very reason, instead saying they wanted to "focus on what they were doing in the classroom".

A network make up of volunteers works because you have energized people who know they can be instrumental in bringing about change and make a real difference to the organization - many people are prepared to put time and effort into that and so the mindset is completely different from one where you have "busy, harassed people who feel they have been stuck with one more set of tasks".  Kotter writes that both head and heart must pull people into the network, not just the former.  Volunteers have the right mindset:  they initiate action without waiting for higher-ups to give orders/permission.  In fact being in a network promotes the development of leadership behaviours (much more so than being in a hierarchy I've found).
In a network ... people will want to be change agents, will volunteer, and will do extra work without extrinsic carrots, if they feel the task is rational - but much more so because they feel some true passion for the work.
 One thing that I've noticed is how the enthusiasm of the R&D team members is infectious.  A couple of years ago we prototyped BYOD with 2 classes, last year we prototyped BYOM with 3 classes, this year 37 colleagues stepped forward to prototype various mobile devices and to write a weekly journal about what they are doing and learning.  A couple of years ago another R&D task force investigated the idea of multi-age classrooms.  Over the past 2 years our Day 9s have been run in multi-age groupings and have now developed in both Elementary and Middle Schools.  More and more of our colleagues are being drawn into these experiences.

Some of the work we do on our task forces is, indeed, brand new.  Other work is about redefining existing ideas to take account of the challenges of tomorrow.  For example multi-age classrooms were around hundreds of years ago, apprenticeships and internships were also fairly common at one time too, but what we are doing is breaking down the barriers that have been erected by "formal" education over the past decades, and turning these ideas into a new reality.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Going fast -v- going far

Our new teachers collectively chose a new quote this morning - one that captures their feelings about moving to ASB following our New Teacher Institute.  This was my choice too.

But I'm interested in this impression.  I think ASB is moving fast, and as a school maybe we are out there ahead of the pack and going it alone.  But that's not the whole picture.  We share a lot of what we do, we are involved in collaboration with other schools, we share what we do freely through our blogs, Facebook pages and with the presentations that we make at conferences.  As a staff one of the things that I most value is that we do things together.

So I do love the quote .... but I also think that much of what we do at ASB is done together AND fast!

"African Proverbs." QuotesWave.com. April 26, 2014. <http://www.quoteswave.com/picture-quotes/390966>
Read more at http://www.quoteswave.com/picture-quotes/390966#1YFq9CKcw55L0oF2.99

A Culture of Learning

Today on the final day of our New Teacher Institute, I had the pleasure of listening to several of the "newbies" present about what they have discovered about ASB's culture of learning.  Since we want to attract the best teachers to ASB, it's really important for us to consider how well we communicate this culture and how it is understood by those teachers who have spent a couple of days with us.

One of our new teachers used a Visible Thinking routine to tell us about what she had seen and what she was thinking.  She noticed the Mission Statement posted around the school and that it applied to everyone, not just the students.  She noticed lots of images of hands around the place and felt this was indicative of our culture of collaboration.  She spoke about global citizenship, innovation, creativity, critical thinking and the way that we encourage questioning.  She also noticed a lot of play, and that for us process is important, not just the final product.  This is what she thinks:  ASB is a great place for students and teachers.

Another teacher made an iMovie about how the school looks, sounds and feels.  She talked about how we value being a risk-taker and also being reflective.  She talked about how the place looks dynamic and always changing, how it sounds LOUD (because of all the collaboration) and how it feels supportive, safe, challenging and inspiring.  She said it feels like a community.

One of our new teachers used the book "Oh the Places you'll Go" by Dr Seuss as the inspiration for her Keynote.  She talked about observing and discovering flexible and differentiated learning in our open spaces, she also talked about engagement, relationships, ideas and resources.  Her take away was "think and wonder, wonder and think."

Another new teacher chose the music "Bombay Dreams" as the soundtrack to her iPhoto slideshow. She also talked about how ASB is dynamic and successful, how it is beautiful and never boring, that it is friendly and that everyone contributes.  She talked about both high expectations and high encouragement.  She said "children love school, and teachers love students and teaching."

Another teacher talked about the number of international schools and how this number is growing. However she asked the question "But are you growing?".  She spoke about how ASB is committed to helping you become the best you can be.  She said she sounded like a used car salesman, but then said at ASB the philosophy is that we will drive our car together.  You will get PD to take you from where you are to where you want to be and it will all be based on best educational practices and on research.

One teacher spoke about the word open.  What she'd noticed was open spaces, open minds, open hearts and open-ended inquiries.  She said ASB opened the door to authentic, lifelong learning.

I could go on - but these were the impression of 6 of our new teachers.  What a joy it is to have them on-board, adding to our culture and being part of our learning community.  Sometimes it's hard to see things as outsiders see them - but today was a great opportunity to view all the great things we do again, through new eyes.

The Management-Leadership Matrix

It's an old, old debate - which is more important, management or leadership?  It's addressed in John P Kotter's book Accelerate too.  There's a nice graphic to accompany it too that reinforces how BOTH are actually very important.  First, however, it's important to think about the different role that each one of these plays:

  • Management - is responsible for stability and efficiency - both are needed to run a successful business
  • Leadership - is what creates the changes that are necessary to take advantage of new opportunities and move in new directions
Kotter writes about how organizations evolve.  He writes that any organization over 10 years old and with more than 30 employees will tend to have many people working on management issues and doing these effectively.  However he writes that in the majority of cases sufficient leadership is not evident.   Now as long as things are fairly stable, there are not many challenges and there is little competition, you can survive with this situation.  The problem is that this "stable" world is quickly disappearing.

Here is the Management-Leadership Matrix.  It shows clearly what happens in organizations that have good management AND leadership, good management but poor leadership, good leadership but poor management and neither management nor leadership.  It's been interesting to think about the schools where I have worked and to consider which quadrant they fit into.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I see, I think, I wonder

For the past couple of days at ASB we have hosted 27 new teachers.  Now the interesting thing about this is that these new teachers are not due to start until the end of July, but for many years ASB has run a new teacher institute where we fly all these newbies out in April in order to help them transition into ASB.  It's just one more way in which this school is remarkable.  An all expenses paid trip where new teachers are introduced to the school and to life in India.

Over the past few days we have introduced these new teachers to ASB's culture of learning, Bloom's Digital Taxonomy and the ISTE standards which they could use when looking at student work, and a student tech "bill of rights".  We have taken them on apartment tours, taken then out for social events, introduced them to multicultural India and arranged a city tour.  They have met students who have talked about their work, attended speed geeking sessions with teachers where they have been introduced to new tools and skills, and met up with both professional and social buddies who will help them transition. Tomorrow these new teachers will present about their ideas of ASB as a professional learning community.

We did an activity with them about their thoughts so far - I've turned these into Wordles and have chosen my favourite quotes from their I see, I think, I wonder feedback.  Enjoy!

  • Engaged and knowledgeable students
  • Highly motivated and happy students
  • Students who are empowered, confident and proud of their work
  • Children using technology for authentic and rigorous learning
  • Articulate students who own their learning

  • It's exciting to become a part of this teaching and learning environment
  • This is a place where I will grow exponentially
  • Professional development is going to be redefined as something much more active for me
  • Students are intentional in making choices about sharing and reflecting on their learning
  • It is a product of teachers who are performing at the top of their game and who are effective in teaching their students not just content but also how to communicate about their learning
  • How it seems to run so smoothly?
  • How collaboration is built into the schedule?
  • How I will be able to integrate technology in a meaningful way so as to enable maximization of learning?
  • What tech skill teaching happens and who does it?
  • How to emulate this interaction between people of all ages and people with technology within my curriculum?

Welcome new teachers - I am proud to be part of ASB's teaching and learning community.

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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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ha ha ha

I always liked the fact that the Thai word for the number 5 is "ha". Sometimes in Thailand when people wanted to show that something was funny they would write 555 instead of ha ha ha.

Today my blog passed 555,555 readers.  Writing this blog has brought me enormous professional benefits as well as a great deal of pleasure.  It also brought me into contact with amazing educators who have supported me through leaving a soul-destroying situation and finding a truly excellent school where people are appreciative of what I do.   Today I am laughing out loud at how far I have come in a short time - and how far I will still go as next year I will be taking on the role of Director of Educational Technology.  Today all I can think of is this:  ha ha ha, HA HA HA!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Approaches to teaching and learning part 2: integrated -v- interdisciplinaray

I'm reading a recent IBO publication about approaches to learning and thinking in a little more depth about student-centred learning.  Over the past year and a half I've been part of many conversations about learning, and about inquiry, project based learning and collaboration.  The publication by Na Li discusses these different approaches.

Inquiry - students solve real problems by asking questions, analysing problems, conducting investigations, gathering and analyzing data, making interpretations, creating explanations and drawing conclusions.  The skills that are addressed through inquiry are critical and creative thinking, self-regulatory skills, metacognition and communication.  Studies show that there are challenges to designing good inquiry based learning units:
  • motivating students
  • the mastery of inquiry strategies
  • covering enough content knowledge
  • the management of complex activities and resources
  • practical constraints (class size, technology etc)
I think that many teachers who do not use inquiry are confused about what it involves and worry that students don't learn enough facts.  Actually content knowledge is very important for inquiry and teachers often front-load the content that students will need for their inquiries.  In addition more scaffolding and more teacher questions are needed for younger students who engage in inquiry.  Another very important aspect is formative assessment - which should be used by teachers to guide the planning of the inquiry units.  Both content knowledge and skills should be formatively assessed, and teachers need to be able to observe and identify students' abilities to use inquiry strategies.  These shifts in pedagogy generally require teachers to have additional training in order for the effective implementation of inquiry-based learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL) - similar to inquiry, PBL is often done in small groups with the teacher as facilitator.  Knowledge and skills are developed by solving authentic problems.  There is similarity between inquiry and PBL because PBL involves inquiry strategies.  Studies that have looked at the impact of PBL on knowledge and skills have shown that:
  • PBL has a positive effect on skills, however PBL has a different impact on content knowledge depending on students' expertise levels and knowledge base - in particular students with a low level of prior knowledge may be overwhelmed when applying new knowledge.
  • Students may learn fewer facts and less content in PBL, however they acquire a more elaborate knowledge and may perform better in retention and transfer of this knowledge.
  • Diversified assessment is needed to get a clear picture of students' knowledge and skills achievement in PBL.
Collaborative learning - both inquiry and PBL rely on collaboration as students come together to solve problems and construct knowledge through interacting with others.  The effectiveness of collaborative learning depends on factors such as the composition of the group and the prior knowledge of its members.  Without enough prior knowledge students do not come up with high quality explanations, nor do they construct deep understanding through considering the multiple perspectives of the group members.

How do these various approaches to learning match with either an integrated or an interdisciplinary curriculum?  An integrated curriculum starts from authentic real-life problems and then brings in content knowledge from different disciplines.  This sounds to me more like the PYP transdisciplinary approach.  An interdisciplinary curriculum, however, is designed around the content knowledge of one discipline with relevant content knowledge from other disciplines being aligned and mapped.  This to me seems more similar to the MYP.

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