Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tug of war

This is my final post about gender biases at work.  I've been inspired to write these 4 posts following a session I attended at the NESA Conference about women in leadership, where videos by Joan C. Williams were shown and discussed.  This post is about the tug of war bias, and in a way this is the saddest of all biases as it is about women working against other women at work in order to advance themselves.  This bias also includes the 3 previous patterns of gender bias, for example women often apply harsher standards of competence to other women than they do to men (which then works towards reinforcing the "prove it again" bias).  In addition, women can also increase the feeling of judgement based on male and female attributes (being competent -v- being liked).  Women with children are also criticised by other women in ways that they wouldn't think to comment on in men with children - and often this is because these same women are also in situations where they are also struggling to find their own balance between family and career.  The tug of war can be especially strong in older women who have struggled to get where they are today and who unintentionally resent the way that younger women may not have these struggles.

Joan's suggestions for dealing with the tug of war bias are as follows:
  • Assuming the best of other women - stop judging them.
  • Resolving conflicts with female colleagues - don't ignore the problems and allow them to create more tension.  Find opportunities to collaborate with other women.
  • Respecting each other's diverse experiences.
  • Mentoring other women can build positive  and supportive working relationships.
  • Advocating for other women, especially in situations where they appear to be ignored.
Here's the final video in this series:

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Student agency - giving learners a voice

Today I came across this continuum of voice by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey (whom I did a workshop on personalized learning with 4 years ago).  I've been thinking a lot about student voice and choice recently, and am keen to collect resources about developing student agency.

This graphic shows the continuum from teacher-centred, through learner-centred to learner-driven.  This graphic reminds me in some ways of Hart's Ladder of Participation which I often use in PYP workshops to unpack student action.  Basically the aim in both these models is to give students the opportunity to be active participants in their own learning and in the action that arises from this learning.

In teacher-centred environments there is little student agency, except perhaps some feedback on the lesson at the Expression level and some sharing of their strengths and interests during the Consultation level.

In learner-centred environments students will determine their own learning goals, and how they will show they have achieved them.  There is a lot more decision-making in the Participation level than in the teacher-centred environments.  In the Partnership level students will also contribute to lesson design and will engage in projects and inquiries based on their interests and curiosities, often owrking in small groups.  In these classrooms teachers are facilitating the learning by checking in with and monitoring the various groups.

Finally in learner-driven environments there is more emphasis on student action as they have identified a problem or challenge and they are working to tackle it.  At the Activism stage, students will be involved with experts outside of the classroom, actively building up their own PLN.  At the final stage of Leadership, students are self-directed, take action that will make a difference and will take responsibility for the outcomes.  The teacher is more of an advisor, providing feedback and suggestions on resources or connections that students can use to achieve their goals.

As I'm working on designing some new workshops for the PYP, I'm thinking this graphic may be a good one to share with teachers as they think about student agency.  I notice that Barbara and Kathleen have developed several other continuums as well, for example on ownership and efficacy, and I'll be checking these out as well later this week.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The maternal wall

This is my third post about women in leadership and the biases women have to encounter at work which make it hard for women to reach a leadership position.  This post is about the maternal wall.  When I first heard the term "maternal wall", the first thing that came to mind was another metaphor "glass ceiling" which also describes an invisible barrier through which women can see elite positions but cannot reach them.  In this case, the term glass ceiling also applies to ethnic minorities, who also find it difficult to secure leadership positions in the workforce.  In the case of the maternal wall, women with children encounter assumptions that they are no loner committed or competent at work - or that they shouldn't be.

When I had both my children I was living in Holland.  Although people's views of Holland are that it is a modern, forward looking country, 27 years ago when I had my son many people were shocked that I decided to return to work when he was 6 months old.  People would say to me, "You're going back to work?".  Some of the kinder people added another word to this:  "Already?"  At that time in Holland maternity leave was 16 weeks.  As my son was born in February, this meant I was due to return to work right as the schools were breaking up for the summer, so I postponed this return until the new school year.  At that point, an emergency appendectomy, followed by peritonitis and septicaemia meant that I could not return until October, by which time my son was actually 8 months old.   I returned to part-time work, and my husband also took parental leave - he was the first person in his company ever to do this.  Holland was a country where in the early 1990s women with children stayed home - in fact children were sent home from school to eat lunch at home, so having a parent at home was the only option.  Even though I worked for an international company, when I returned to work I was definitely seen as less committed to my career.  If I had chosen to stop work at this point, I very much doubt I would have been re-hired, and would probably not be an international educator today.

In the video Joan Williams talks about how the assumption that women can't be committed both as workers and mothers has a huge impact on women's careers.  Statistics show that women with children are 79% less likely to be hired and only half as likely to be promoted.  At one point, when my son was young, I was forced to leave a faculty meeting that had run over its time, in order to collect my son from his daycare before it closed.  The following day I received an email from the head of school saying he noticed I left the meeting "early" and wondered what was wrong.  Williams points out that this is typical:  women with children are actually held to higher performance and punctuality standards than women without children.  And when women do perform well, they are often judged as being "not maternal enough".

Women with children are often not offered new assignments or promotions because it is assumed that they don't have the time or the inclination for extra work.  Even younger women, who do not have children, report that they are being passed over for promotions because it is assumed that they will eventually have children.

Williams has the following strategies for dealing with the maternal wall bias.

  • Voice your commitment when you return from maternity leave
  • If you need to be out of the office, be explicit about your reasons - otherwise people will assume you are taking time off because of your children.
  • Senior women need to set an example that it is acceptable for people to spend time with their families
  • Don't hold yourself to unrealistic standards - focus on what you are doing well and stop judging yourself
Here's the third video.  Have you experienced the maternal wall bias?  What have you done to show you are committed to your work as well as your family?

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Walking the tightrope

This is the second post about gender bias at work.  After yesterday's post I started to think about how this might apply specifically to schools.  I've worked in both primary and secondary schools, and I began to count up how many of these schools had a male head of school, as opposed to a female.  I was especially interested in this trend in primary schools where the majority of teachers are women.

When working in the UK I was a secondary teacher - both schools I worked at had a male Headmaster.  In my years in Amsterdam, the school had 5 Directors - of these 4 were male and 1 female.  In Thailand, Switzerland and India all the Directors/Superintendents have been male. Looking specifically at the primary sections of those schools, in Amsterdam I worked for 1 male Primary Head and 1 female.  In Thailand the Primary Head was male.  In Switzerland the Primary Head was female.  In India, both Primary Heads have been male.  Let's also think about the %.  Currently in my school there are 44 teachers in the elementary school, of which 4 are men and 40 are women.  You would think therefore that statistically women were 10 times more likely than men to become a head of school, but clearly this is not the case.

The second video in the series What Works for Women at Work,  focus on the issue of the tightrope. Women often feel they have to navigate between being perceived as too "masculine" where they are respected but not liked, and being too "feminine" where they are liked but not respected.  Masculine qualities are seen as being assertive, competitive and ambitious, whereas feminine qualities are things like being nice, helpful and modest. Looking at the person doing a particular job, we often make biased assumptions which work to the disadvantage of women, particularly in education, where they may be seen as being warm, supportive, nurturing and caring. When women act in more "masculine" ways that don't match our assumptions, we often have subconscious, negative feelings towards them. However by recognising these biases we are able to address them.

When people think of a successful leader they are likely to think of this person in terms of someone who is assertive, competitive and ambitious (the "male" qualities).  In order to get ahead women need to be seen as both competent (male) and likeable (female) and this works to the disadvantage of women's careers because women often face pushback for the same behaviours that are admired in their male colleagues.  What is called "assertive" in men, for example being direct and outspoken, is often called "aggressive" or "abrasive" in women. While men are applauded when they discuss their successes, women are frequently seen as lacking in modesty when they do the same.  Expressing anger or frustration can also increase a man's perceived status while it decreases a woman's.

In the video below you'll see Joan William's suggestions for dealing with walking the tightrope at work.  She suggests:
  • Practicing gender judo
  • Forming a group of co-workers who will celebrate one another's successes
  • Expressing anger carefully and sparingly
  • Using strategic body language
  • Making statements with confidence and avoiding "upspeak" where statements appear to be questions
  • Making sure that time-consuming office "housework" gets rotated, and ensuring you are involved in high-powered work that will allow you to turn down undervalued work.
Here's the second video:

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Prove it again ... and again ... and again

This is the first of 4 posts about women in leadership, specifically about the Women in Leadership session I attended at the NESA Conference last April where the videos by Joan C. Williams were shown and discussed.  Joan is the co-author, with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, of What Works For Women at Work:  Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.  This post is about the "prove it again" bias against women, where women's performances at work are undervalued and where women have to provide more evidence of competence than men to be perceived as equally competent.

Williams mentions that 2/3 of the women she interviewed had encountered this bias, where men tend to be judged on their potential but women on their performance, which means that women often lost out on promotions as they are seen as risky.  In addition, women's mistakes are noticed more and remembered longer.  Whereas men's successes are attributed to skill, women's are more likely to be put down to luck.  Women also experience polarised evaluations, often being rated much less competent than men.  There'a also a very common pattern that emerges in the workplace called the stolen idea - an idea that is overlooked when a women states it, but which is taken up immediately when later on a man says it.

Strategies for dealing with the prove it again bias include;
  1. Going for promotions that are outside your comfort level
  2. Keeping records at the end of every day of your successes and achievements.  A great idea is to form a posse that includes men as well as women to celebrate each other's successes.
  3. If you see a "stolen idea" make sure you acknowledge the originator of the idea.
And now here's the first video:

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Women in leadership and the imposter syndrome

This morning I was talking to our school counsellor, and she mentioned something to me that I had to go and look up - it was the term "the imposter syndrome".  People experiencing this feel that they do not deserve the success they have achieved, along with a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".  The term was first coined by Clance and Imes in 1978, and apparently is particularly common among high achieving women, many of whom believe they are not intelligent and that they have been over-evaluated by others, and these beliefs lead to them undermining their achievements, discounting praise, overworking and perfectionism.

People who exhibit the imposter syndrome often overwork to avoid the fear of being "found out"; sometimes they work 2-3 times as hard as others, leading to burn-out and sleep deprivation.  Feelings of being phoney can also lead to giving people the answers they believe they want, which then increases the feeling of being a fake.  Gifted women often don't react well to praise or recognition - they may attribute this success to charm, not to ability.  Because of this someone with the imposter syndrome tries to avoid showing any confidence in his or her abilities, fearing rejection by others.

As I dug a little deeper, I came across an article in Forbes that categorises people with the imposter syndrome into 5 types:
  • The perfectionists - who set high goals for themselves, yet when they fail to reach a goal experience self-doubt and worry.  These people can be control freaks who believe if they want something done right then they have to do it themselves.
  • Superwomen/men - who push themselves harder  to  measure up to their colleagues and often overwork.
  • Natural geniuses - who judge success based on abilities rather than efforts.  They believe if they have to work hard at something then they must be bad at it.  These people differ from the perfectionists in that they are focused on getting everything right first time.
  • The rugged individualists - who believe asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  • The experts - who feel they have tricked their employer into hiring them and who fear being exposed as inexperienced and unknowledgeable.
As I read through this I immediately recalled a Women in Leadership session I attended at the NESA Conference in April that was led by Laura Light of International Schools Services.  Laura showed a 4 videos presented by Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for WorkLife Law at the University of California.  She is the co-author, with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, of What Works For Women at Work:  Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.  On my return to school after the confererence I was able to lead a session on this at ASB.  These four patterns are as follows:
  • The prove it again bias (underestimating women’s performance and what women have to do to prove themselves)
  • The tightrope bias (being seen as likeable -v– being seen as competent)
  • The maternal wall bias (the assumption that women are less competent and committed to their careers)
  • The tug of war bias (how women interact with other women)
Following on from the conversation with the school counsellor I looked back at this blog and asked myself how did I fail to blog about this really important issue (and to share these great videos)? And do any of these biases that Joan Williams identified match with the imposter syndrome? Therefore my next post will be about the patterns that women experience at work and how to deal with them.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A cat's view of time

Another section in Mo Gawdat's book Solve for Happy that struck a chord with me was the chapter about time.  Perhaps I should mention at this point that I have 2 cats.  Living with these 2 cats I certainly appreciate that animals have no sense of time - or rather no sense of "the right time".  When they feel hungry they go and eat.  When they feel tired they sleep.  I've often said that I'd like to come back to life as a cat one day!

There's a really interesting bit in the book that I've just read about emotions - most of your thoughts have very little to do with the present time - they are anchored in the past or are ones we are projecting into the future.  And that's especially true of negative thoughts.  Anger, annoyance, guilt, feelings of disappointment and hurt - all these are linked to events that have already happened.  Nothing I can do now will change that.  That time is gone forever and now only exists in memories.  Perhaps I need to stop dwelling on what cannot be changed.

The same is true of the future.  Thinking about what could be in store can cause all sorts of anxiety: for example just this morning the news appeared to show that the USA is on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea. Thinking about the future can cause stress and tension, anxiety, worry and pessimism.  And again, nothing I can do can have any impact at all on the future.  There are infinite possibilities of things that can happen - and I'm focusing on just one or two of these and letting them worry me.

Positive emotions tend to occur in the here and now.  For example as you can see in the photo I'm sitting out on my balcony on a day off from school (it's Indian Independence day today - a public holiday).  It's a little cloudy and there's a light breeze so it's quite cool out here and I'm feeling calm and relaxed.  I'm satisfied with today, even though the only thing I have planned is a walk around Joggers' Park later, because this is also part of my goal to get fit and keeping healthy.  And I'm really happy that I have found the time to blog which always makes me feel good.

According to Mo this is the important thing:  when we're focused on the past or the future then we're living in our thoughts and not in reality - and we know that our past and future thoughts are often quite negative ones.  When we are living in our heads in the past and the future then we're not experiencing the present.  In fact we're not even laying down the present that will become a past memory in the future.  What a waste!  So here is one part of Mo's equation - maybe the most important part (I don't know because I'm only half way through the book): use time, don't let it use you.  If you want to be happy, live in the here and now.

So here is another analogy.  You're on a train and it will stop at 75 stations, each of which has a lot to experience.  You have the capacity to press a button whenever you want that will move you to the next station.  You can press it 75 times to get to the end, or you can get out at each station and experience what's there on the journey.  The ride is all you have - at the end there is no destination, only death.  What do you choose to do?  Will you spend your time thinking about getting to the end, will you spend your time regretting all the stations that have already passed, or will you get out and enjoy every station and all that it offers as it comes along?

So right now I'm sitting on my balcony and enjoying my cats, my little family here in India.  And because I get so much joy from them I'm going to post another photo!

OK, time for a little more mindfulness .....

The Eraser Test

Every year we have a summer read - in fact this year at ASB we had 4 books we could choose from. I chose to read Your Brain at Work, but I was also interested in a couple of the other books as well.  So this week I did a swap.  I gave my book to a colleague and I took the book that she had read.  This book is called Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat.

At the weekend I was chatting with my son, who doesn't read much, but who has set himself a task of reading 6 books this year.  Perhaps I should clarify that - he reads non-fiction but not fiction - the challenge is to read 6 novels.  Because of this I hesitated to recommend him a non-fiction book, but I did think he'e enjoy this one.  The section I was talking to him about was called The Eraser Test.

Before I go into this, a little background.  Mo is a highly successful engineer who works for Google [X], yet in 2001 he realised that despite all his success he was really unhappy.  He set out to find the equation for permanent happiness.  Having found this, in 2014 his perfect happiness was put to the test when Mo's 21 year old son Ali died during routine surgery.  This prompted Mo to write his book to share his equation with the world to help as many people as possible to become happier.

I've read about half of the book so far, and the theme is to be content with our present situation and optimistic about the future.  The Eraser Test fits into this in the following way:  imagine a technology was invented that would allow you to choose a past event and to erase it from the flow of time.  Of course this would also erase all the effects and consequences of this event as well, right up to the present moment.  How many events would you choose to erase?  Surprisingly, even though at the time that we experienced events as being bad, most of us would not choose to erase them now.  Most people would choose to keep the events and be grateful for the path onto which they were led.  Even Mo, who admitted he would erase the death of his son, has seen that some positive came of it - it led him to writing his book which in turn was good for others.  I thought of some of the events of my past which initially I thought I would like to erase as well, though in retrospect I realise they did bring me to a better place, and without which many, many good times and opportunities would not have occurred.  And this knowledge does give me comfort at times like now when I find myself in another tough place, wondering where my path will lead me next - should I stay in India, or should I return to Europe?

Mo writes "When you realise that every seemingly bad event nudged you onto the path of many good events, you'll reset your definitions of good and bad ... life can surprise you by eventually coming around to work in your favour.  It so often has in the past.  Why would it change now?"

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The Thinking Teacher

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I'm in a virtual Cognitive Coaching book group.  We "meet" every Wednesday and discuss a chapter from Art Costa and Bob Garmston's book Cognitive Coaching.  This week we have been focusing on teacher cognition.

Near the start of this chapter is a quote by Charlotte Danielson that teaching is very cognitively demanding - "a teacher makes hundreds of nontrivial decisions daily" - as he or she manages the multitude of activities in the classroom.  This made me think about when I first started teaching in Amsterdam where I was a high school teacher, however I used to eat lunch in the classroom of a colleague in lower elementary where it seemed that all sorts of different activities were going on simultaneously and where the teacher was totally aware of all of these and managing them skillfully. At that time I remember thinking I could never be an elementary school teacher - and yet eventually I did become one!

My earliest experiences in the classroom allowed me a lot of flexibility to make instructional decisions.  In both the UK and in Amsterdam I wrote and assessed most of my own curriculum.  The longer I've been teaching, the more the trend has been away from this - and with some state or national curricula that has now been adopted in many schools, I have seen a growth in the tendency for some teachers to deliver this curriculum in a rather unthinking way (hence my wish to stay working in PYP schools where teachers have agency to collaboratively build the curriculum).  It has been clear to me, and something that I continually aspire to, that teaching is a highly intellectual process and, as Art and Bob point out, "teachers who possess cognitive systems with highly developed levels of perception, abstraction, complexity and decision making consistently have students who perform well on both lower and higher cognitive tasks".  Teachers who do not actively think about their experience are more likely to focus on short-term surface knowledge (the content) when planning or teaching a lesson, whereas the thinking teacher simultaneously is aware of the deep long-term learning (conceptual understanding) which can be transferred to other situations in school and later in life.

There has been research on teacher cognition, with studies showing that when teachers talk aloud about their decisions this causes examination, refinement and the development of new theories and practices, and it also engages teachers emotionally - another plus for collaborative planning!  Further research has shown that there are 4 real categories of teacher thinking:  planning before teaching, interacting during teaching, reflection when recalling and analysing a lesson, and projection when teachers use this thinking and apply their learning to plan next steps.  As I read this I immediately called to mind the coaching maps we use when having our conversations with teachers, which really provoke thinking in all these 4 areas.

I was interested to read that developing learner outcomes is often a low priority for many teachers when planning their lessons.  Studies point to the fact that teachers often think first about the content, materials and resources before they consider aims and purposes.  In Cognitive Coaching the learning outcomes are discussed right from the start in the planning conversation, with the first 2 areas of the map being those of clarifying goals and specifying success indicators - what the students will be thinking, saying or doing that shows the learning outcome has been achieved.  At the same time the coach will be aware of the need for flexibility, and the ability of the teacher to see not just the immediate details of the lesson, but also how this connects to other long-term learning or curriculum goals.  A flexible teacher can design multiple alternative instructional strategies for achieving their learning objectives because during a lesson teachers need to juggle many things - the content, the instructional process, and the learners - and the flexible teacher will be able to respond to how all these are interacting and how the lesson plan is paying out.  In a nutshell, what Art and Bob are telling us is that the basic teaching skill is decision making.

The goal of Cognitive Coaching is to help teachers become more thoughtful in the decisions they make - as teachers reflect upon their experiences they will become more conscious, efficacious, precise, flexible, informed and skillful decision makers - and therefore together coaches and teachers will come to impact student learning.

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