Thursday, June 30, 2016

Being in touch with reality: truth - Integrity part 4

This series of blog posts continues my reflections on our summer reading book Integrity by Dr Henry Cloud. Cloud identifies the 6 character traits that define integrity.  The first one, the ability to connect with others and build trust, was the subject of my last post.  For this post I'm focusing on the character trait of truth.

It's impossible to consider integrity without also considering truth and ethics, as in our dealings with others we value honesty.  However as Cloud points out, the reality is that some good people will tell lies when it helps them, or in other cases may simply just skirt around the truth by leaving out things that are really important for people to know.  Let me give you an example of this.  Several years ago when I was applying for a job, one of my criteria was that my new school would offer all 3 IB programmes.  I was eventually employed by a school that did appear to do all - however what I discovered when I arrived was that the IB DP was only just starting - it was in its first year when we arrived - and that the school did not externally moderate the MYP.  The result of this was that our daughter was unable to be awarded an MYP certificate, despite the fact that she had completed 4 of the 5 years of the programme at her previous school.  Was I lied to?  Not directly.  Were we told less than the truth?  Definitely.  Did this impact her?  Likely - as when completing her university applications she had no qualifications to add onto the application form, therefore was given higher offers by her universities, which ultimately meant that she did not go to her first choice of university.  Had we known the full reality of the situation upfront, I would certainly have accepted one of the other jobs on offer.

Integrity means telling the truth no matter what the cost.  In fact, being truthful is more important if we tell the truth even when it hurts us.  Ultimately hiding the truth because of a fear of negative impacts usually leads to even more negative consequences than if we had simply told the truth.  Cloud writes, "the consequences of deceit are usually greater than the ones of the truth."

However, just like being nice is not enough, telling the truth is also not enough.  What is needed is to go beyond this and to face reality - to actively seek out and be in touch with what is true, not simply what we wish things could be or think they should be.  As Jim Collins writes in this book Good to Great, "you absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts."  And this means seeking out the truth, which is hard because, as the saying goes, you don't know what you don't know.  There are some honest people who simply don't take active steps to find out more about what reality is.  Those who seek the truth do so by considering the both the external world, and soliciting feedback about their strengths and weaknesses that will help them to grow through building on their strengths and managing their weaknesses.

People who have little self-awareness are often dysfunctional.  Sometimes people don't want to "look inside" because they fear what they might see, or because they have a fixed view of themselves.  Sometimes they might fear that they lack the skills to deal with what they might find, or they might discover that they need to make fundamental changes in their life.  However as Cloud writes, "the character who seeks reality about himself or herself has the courage to embrace whatever reality he finds."

Finally people who seek the truth, also seek it about other people.  They are cautious in their friendships and business dealings and first seek to know a person clearly so that they don't overestimate or underestimate him or her.  

An interesting concept that Cloud writes about is the way we need feedback not just from others, but from ourselves - in this way we can observe and monitor our behaviour as it is happening, and that allows us to do something about it so that we can stay on track.

During Day 4 of our Cognitive Coaching course, we looked at data - being the 3rd party in any discussion.  Data is neutral and exists separately from emotions.  Truthful people also have the ability to look at the facts separately from the emotions or from the personal opinions of themselves and others.

Reflecting on past dealings with competent people, but those who did not connect with reality, reminds me of someone I worked with in a previous school who was looking at technology in the present only.  While I was wanting to use more Web 2.0 tools, he was telling everyone that cloud computing was going to fail.  He was not informed about the trends that were taking place in the world and the new information I was sharing was a challenge to his rigid view of the world. Anything I shared was pushed back or ignored.  He could not and did not want to see new ways of doing things. Cloud writes that there are many reasons why people ward off new information - sometimes it is arrogance, sometimes it is pride, sometimes it is anxiety and fear of adapting to new realities.  And the consequences of this were huge:  many great people found they could not work with this individual and left.  

This brings us onto the next character dimension - getting results.  In my case I moved to a school that is forward thinking and known as an educational leader in technology and research and development.  People come to us to see what we do, we present at conferences, host conferences, write blogs, publish books.  We are moving forward.  We are getting results.  More about this in my next post.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hearing someone's heart: trust - Integrity part 3

This series of blog posts is about our summer reading book Integrity by Dr Henry Cloud.  Cloud identifies the 6 character traits that define integrity, the first of which is the ability to connect with others and build trust.  Trust was also something that we discussed in depth during my recent PD in Genoa, where I am training to be a Cognitive Coach trainer.

When I first started on the coaching journey 2 years ago, I read studies by Megan Tschannen-Moran about the 5 facets of trust that are important to teachers. In order of importance these are:
  • Benevolence: caring, goodwill, positive interactions, supporting teachers, expressing appreciation for effort, being fair and guarding confidential information
  • Honesty: integrity, telling the truth, keeping promises, honoring agreements, being authentic, accepting responsibility, avoiding manipulation, being real
  • Openness: communicating openly, sharing information, delegating, shared decision making, sharing power
  • Reliability: consistency, being dependable, showing commitment, being dedicated and diligent
  • Competence: setting an example, problem solving, conflict resolution, working hard, setting standards, being flexible, handling difficult situations
During our 4 day training we were asked to think about someone where we feel challenged when thinking about building trust.  We could all identify people who we would regard as caring, yet we felt they were unable to connect in a personal way with what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing.  In the same way, I could identify school leaders that I've worked with previously who got my attention (and compliance), but never got my heart.  In my last school, one of these administrators told me she wanted to me take on additional responsibility and that she would mentor me for leadership skills. Yet in all our subsequent conversations I never really trusted her, because I never felt that she connected with or empathised with the reality that I was experiencing there.

Being nice is not enough!
Cloud tells us that "trust is about the heart, and someone making an investment in you from his or her heart.  And if you gain people's trust, their heart, then you also have their desire and passion." Enough said - I did not feel passion for the job I took on, and now I'm in a different place.  During the time I was there I did a good job, was mostly compliant, but could have given better efforts if I'd been able to bring more passion to the role.   Now, thinking about that situation, there were other people there who did make a huge difference - indirectly - with my growth as a leader - even though it wasn't part of what they were actively trying to do.  And even though there was nothing that they could actually do to improve the situation for me, it was still amazing to feel that they connected with and understood what I was going through.  These people were not remote and detached, instead I felt they had a genuine interest in knowing me, knowing about me, and valuing who I was and what I did.

Building empathy
A few summers ago, when I did the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit, I learned that the first stage of the design process is empathy. It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person.  Empathy forms part of both the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes. The attitude of empathy encourages students to "imagine themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

When I reflect on reasons why it is easy for me to connect with and trust some people and yet hard to do the same thing with others, it comes down to empathy:  if we don't feel that someone knows what it is like to be in our situation, then what they say has little credibility.  Cloud talks about the character components needed for empathy, one of which he refers to as "softhearted".  This means being in touch with your own real feelings, while a the same time realising that someone else's experience is theirs, not yours.  Last week, listening to one of the Cognitive Coaching participants talk about a teacher at her school, I realised that I was feeling emotional - that is not empathy and it's also not helpful - it's important to set and honour our own boundaries and not get lost in someone else's feelings.

Building empathy also involves communicating our listening to show our understanding.  This is one reason why in coaching the paraphrase is so important and why it's important to acknowledge what people are saying before asking questions that can mediate their thinking.  Cloud writes, "If we cannot communicate our listening in a way that lets the other person know we have truly understood, empathy has not occurred."

Trying to shake hands across the Grand Canyon
Cloud also considers the things that can break trust.  He starts by writing about invalidation - negating the other person's experience as if it is not real.  Again, thinking back to the person I found it really hard to trust in a professional sense, I realised that's exactly what she used to do.  Because I was constantly being told things like "you're just a glass half empty person" or "you don't really feel that way" when I raised real concerns, she immediately closed off her heart and mine.  This left me with two problems - the initial one and the new one that she did not understand.  I love the metaphor that Cloud uses to describe this situation.  It is so true:  people who try to help others by talking them out of what they feel, are simply no help at all.  It was no use to tell me that I should just get over it - all that did was discourage me and make me give up.  And this is the dangerous situation.  A person who is not being heard still has the problem and has not given up on being heard - they simply look for someone else to listen.  This what leads to toxic staff rooms and whispered conversations behind closed doors.  We need to address the fact that even if we do not think someone's discontent is valid, right or justified - it is what that person is feeling so it is true for him or her.

Being vulnerable
Trust allows people to be vulnerable with each other - to be open, creative, take risks, learn from each other and so on.  In this situation people can achieve more than if they are in "protected mode".  Cloud writes "to get to everything that can come from two people's hearts, minds and souls, you have to get to openness and vulnerability.  You have to have access.  And access is only given as trust increases."

For you to build trust with people you have to be vulnerable - to allow them to identify with you. And so while you have to possess strength, you also have to be imperfect.  It's a hard balance!  We don't like weak leaders as we feel they are incompetent and don't want to trust them with our lives or our future.  This is why a domineering person is not trusted as much as a competent one.  Cloud writes, "Being effective is experienced by others as strength."  At the same time we need to be imperfect and not always get things right - and we need to deal with these and overcome them.  People who don't want to be seen as making mistakes because they think this is a sign of weakness often appear to be narcissistic or fake.  We can't identify with perfect people.  Cloud writes:
We can only ultimately trust people who are being real with us.  But part of that is transparency not just about the facts, but about themselves as well.  We need to see their vulnerabilities, and know how they are feeling about things.   We also need to know about their failures and times when they haven't gotten it right.
In fact what we need to see is the truth.  And this is going to be the subject of my next blog post.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Strengths and weaknesses - Integrity part 2

Let's think a little more about integrity and what it means.  While my first reaction is that a person with integrity "walks the talk", there is actually more to it than that.  Of course integrity is about being principled and honest, but a dictionary also points to other definitions:
  • the state of being whole and undivided
  • the condition of being unified, unimpaired and sound in construction
  • lack of corruption
When applying the term integrity to things, it refers to them being effective and "running on all cylinders".  Can this definition also apply to people?  Cloud sees integrity as being a fundamental aspect of character. It covers:
  • the ability to connect authentically - which leads to trust
  • the ability to seek truth
  • the ability to finish tasks and get results
  • the ability to embrace, engage with and deal with the negative - which leads to problem resolving
  • the ability to be oriented towards growth
  • the ability to be transcendent which leads to bigger picture thinking
All of the above are important - all need to be integrated.  For example a person who is a good problem solver but who is not orientated towards growth will tend to be a "maintainer" who fixes things.  This person would end up simply flat-lining.  Another example is that someone may be good at building trusting connections but may have difficulties seeing the truth and so have blind-spots when dealing with people. This person may end up making connections with people who it would be better to avoid.

Integrity is about wholeness and balance.  Cloud warns us that "strengths turn to weaknesses without the other parts of a person to balance them out".  Today I'm looking at these various aspects of character and considering which ones I'm strong in and which ones I'm weak in.  What do you think? How balanced is your character?  The following few blog posts will dig deeper into each of these character traits, starting with trust.

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Integrity - part 1

Every summer we have a choice of a book for a summer read - and we discuss these books as part of our teacher orientation at the start of each school year.  This year we had 4 choices:  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough,   Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön,  Grit:The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth  and Integrity by Henry Cloud.

There were many reasons why I chose Integrity.  First of all it is a value that I hold dear and so the title resonated with me.  Secondly, it didn't seem to be so "school" orientated, so I thought it would have more general relevance.  Thirdly, since this is a school read, it relates directly to our mission:
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.
Finally, it relates directly to our IB programmes.  For example one of the attributes of the Learner Profile is principled.  Principled people:
act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.
It's also one of the PYP attitudes where integrity is defined as being honest and demonstrating a considered sense of fairness.

All in all, this seemed like a book I wanted to read.

As I have the whole summer to read this book, my reflections will be done in slow time - a blog post whenever I have internet access.  My first post is about The Wake.

The first image that comes to mind when I think about the word wake is the swell on water after a boat passes through.  In the book Integrity, Henry Cloud refers to the wake left by people.  This wake is in two areas - task and relationship:  what does a person accomplish and how does s/he deal with people?  Looking first at the task, this could be things like the growth of a business, accomplishing the mission, introducing new ways of doing things, increasing the reputation of something.  All of these can certainly be applied to what happens in schools.  I can easily identify the "wake" being left by leaders in schools - sometimes a large impact, sometimes a small one.

On a personal level people leave a wake in other ways.  It's not just their accomplishments, it's the ways they interact with people.  This wake is not seen in accomplishments, but more in the hearts and minds of the people they come into contact with.  Cloud writes:
Are there a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling and having a great time for our having moved through their lives, or are they out there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded as shark bait?
Are people better off or worse off for our having moved through their lives?  Have we been a blessing to them or a curse?  Have they grown by being associated with us, do they feel better about themselves, have they learned and been lifted up and encouraged?  Have they been stretched and inspired?

Well as I look at the leaders of the schools I've worked in, yes - certainly some of them have encouraged and helped me to grow and others have done the opposite - they have put me down, let me down, and lied to and about me.   And while I have benefitted from leaving these situations (of course!) I still feel that although I have learned a lot about myself and dealing with adversity, I have also been damaged by my interactions with these people.

Cloud writes that with some people the negative wake that they leave gets in the way of accomplishing the task - no matter how good the person is at their job.  He writes:
Interpersonal shortcomings [get] in the way so much that the very tasks that [they] are accomplishing get compromised in a big way.
So this is my thought for the day:  what sort of wake am I leaving?  What sort of wake are you leaving?

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Changing Behaviour

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve changed over the past 4 years I’ve been in India. Clearly some of this change has been brought about by the opportunities for growth that I’ve had since moving here, but change can only happen if you have the right mindset and the willingness to give up the old and embrace the new.

Recently, while reading the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith, I came across the concept of the Wheel of Change. This explains the 4 options we have when thinking about changing our behaviour. In a nutshell we can decide to change or keep the positive things or change or keep the negative.  I tried to reproduce these concepts in the graphic below:

When considering changing our behaviour we have the following options:
  • Creating – these are the positive elements we want to create in the future. Viewed from this lens, change is a process of self-invention – one that we do by choice not one that is done to us. It can lead us to take risks, start new ventures and so on. Creativity depends a lot on how satisfied we are with our life – satisfaction can leads to a state of inertia where we continue doing what we have always done. Conversely, dissatisfaction is also not always positive – sometimes it just leads us to chase wild new ideas. The Wheel shows that there is a continuum of creating from adding to inventing. We don't need to be totally focused on inventing - interestingly enough, for successful people, adding or starting one new behaviour is usually enough to create positive change.
  • Preserving – these are our positive elements that we want to keep in the future. This is not the same as inertia because it is not passive – it involves critical thinking about what is going well, and then making the choice to keep doing that, rather than rushing after something new. This is often hard to do – especially for successful people who recognise the need for constant improvement and therefore don’t like preserving the status quo. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that there are some things that need to be preserved and not changed.
  • Eliminating – these are our negative elements we want to get rid of in future – and this can be very liberating. It’s easy to eliminate the things that we know hurt us, but really hard to stop something that we enjoy – the example given in Triggers was of micromanagement which can make people feel good because they are in charge, yet it is something to be eliminated because it can be frustrating and demoralising to others.
  • Accepting – these are the negative elements but ones we need to accept, often because we are powerless to make a difference, and because of that we need to accept rather than engage in counterproductive behaviour. Accepting is hard – it’s the area that I struggle with the most on the Wheel of Change. 
Creating, preserving, destroying - interestingly enough these are the characteristics of the 3 main Indian deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  Accepting to me is more like karma.  All these 4 concepts resonate more with me since living in India, so it was great to read about them in Triggers and see how they apply in my life.  So I guess this is what we need to think about when we think about changing - what do we want to start doing, what do we want to keep doing, what do we want to stop doing and what do we simply need to accept?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Leaving a trail

I'm finishing up my 4th year at ASB and moving into my 5th.  It occurred to me today that I've been at ASB longer than any other school now, with the exception of ISA.  It's great working here - I love the vibrant atmosphere, the can-do attitude.  I am happy to be working in the only school I know that has an R&D department and I believe that I have had so many opportunities to grow and develop here.

When I left Switzerland 4 years ago I was given this card by a colleague (I just found it again today as I was moving offices). I hope I have lived up to his expectations!  Thinking about this, I decided that I would take stock of some of the new trails that we have started at ASB over the past 4 years.

  • A Bring Your Own Device Program for teachers and students in grades 4-12 was initiated in 2012 to support personalized learning approaches for students.
  • Beginning in 2012-13, all teachers started to collect student artefacts of tech-integrated learning and note which ISTE-S tech standard was addressed, the type of artefact and quality of learning. The data we have collected shows that technology is increasing used to promote higher-order thinking.  We have also used the data from the Tech Audit to determine teachers’ strengths and areas for growth and developed PD to target this growth based on the ISTE-T standards.
  • Based on the data collected from the Tech Audits, we have written books on tech integration and digital citizenship which have been distributed to parents. The books contain information about ASB’s program, questions parents may wish to ask and parental guidance for home technology use.
  • ASB is the only school in India to host a Google in Education Summit and we have hosted four of them since 2012.  As a GAfE School, this provides wonderful PD for our teachers and TAs at different levels.  
  • From 2013 - 2015 ASB educators have presented at the annual ISTE Conference. Last year 13 presentations were from ASB, reinforcing the school as a world leader in the field of educational technology.
  • In 2013-14 - 39 teachers and TAs took part in a year long prototype to study the impact on mobile devices on teaching and learning.  Nine further teacher prototypes took place in 2014-15.  This year 25 teachers have prototyped mobile devices with their students.  Following the successes of these prototypes, a mobile device is now a required tool for PE teacher throughout the school and for academic support teachers in secondary.
  • Tech integration coaches were appointed in 2014 to support colleagues in integrating technology.  Currently there are 4 tech coaches in elementary school, 5 in middle school and 2 in high school.
When I think back to how some of these trails started, and what they are like now, it makes be realize that some of these initiatives are no longer trails - they seem like highways.  What started as small prototypes in R&D have become mainstream in teaching and learning throughout the school.

Sustainable Leadership

One of the new challenges of my role at ASB over the past few years is mentoring and coaching the people who report directly to me.  For example in the tech department there are two educational technology specialists, both of whom have degrees in IT or computer science, but neither of whom have ever worked in a school before.  They are young millennial women who have chosen to work in tech, and I really want to encourage them to go further in this field.

Another group that this could equally apply to is our tech integration coaches.  These are all full-time teachers who have shown an interest in taking on more of a leading role in technology.  I'm really aware that at some stage in the past I was given an amazing opportunity to leave my job as a homeroom teacher and to work alongside someone to learn to be a technology specialist.  At the end of that year, when he left, I was easily able to step into his shoes.  In the same way I really want to create a system of sustainable leadership, so that when the day comes that I leave ASB, everything keeps ticking along well.  This, to me, is a real measure of leadership - to create other leaders.  I want to get to the point where I make myself redundant and can follow other paths.

Something I've been reading recently is about situational leadership.  This looks at the relationship between leaders and followers.  In the book Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith describes it in the following way (which I see as a sort of continuum):
  • Directing - this is for employees requiring a lot of specific guidance about how to complete tasks.  It involves giving step-by-step directions and is mostly a one-way conversation.
  • Coaching - this is for employees who still need guidance but who want to grow and learn, but here it includes more two-way dialogue.  For example as well as giving directions, you could also ask what the person thinks about this.
  • Supporting - this is for those employees who have developed the skills to complete the task but who lack confidence.  Here there is a minimum amount of direction, and more questioning of the employee about how she or he thinks the task should be done and what help s/he needs.
  • Delegating - this is for employees who are motivated, skilled and confident.  They know what needs to be done, how to do it, and can do it on their own.  
As I enter my 5th year at ASB I hope that most of what I am doing is supporting and delegating. How about you?  What do you spend most of your time doing as a leader?

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