Preparing to Implement Change in School

Leadership, Professional Learning, School Culture, Teacher

Effective schools are ever changing as school leaders grind towards improving their schools. Recently I was asked how I have been successful in driving change in the schools I have led. While there is no “one size fits all” approach I believe there are a few key ingredients the school leader must have in order to successfully navigate the educational change process and make a positive difference to their school.

  1. Building Alignment: The saying, “have all your ducks in a row” is the first step for the school leader wishing to engage in a change management strategy. You need to be well organised and well prepared to implement your school improvement initiative. Having alignment across the school is important. Teacher understanding (and agreement) for the change will lead to commitment to the process. Ensuring you have the resources at hand, agreed indicators for success outlined and an achievable timeframe in place will aid your efforts in bringing success to your project. Having the right mindset/attitude across the school is your goal as you bring the school together. Ultimately, your organisational alignment is the glue for achieving better performance.
  2. Think before you Speak: Part of the preparation for change is taking time to think about how to implement your initiative. Gathering your data, interpreting the evidence, and making an informed decision about future steps is an initial step in determining where you are in the context of learning. As the school leader you need to sort out the inefficiencies and decide on how you want to proceed forward before embarking on sharing with the masses. 
  3. Preempting the Barriers: If you know your staff well then you probably know who the resisters to your new school improvement initiative will be. Preempt the initial rejection by focusing on what questions the resisters will raise. This way you can have your answers ready. Looking at it from someone else’s point of view will help clarify how you will respond. Watch out for the ‘late career’ teachers who have been there for a while and seen initiatives/programs come and go. How are you going to address their resistant attitudes?
  4. Manage Yourself: Continually managing change in a school setting can be a difficult task and has repercussions for the school leader. We have all seen and heard stories of how leaders have suffered from stress and burnout. Looking after your physical self to help look after your emotional self is crucial to sustaining a successful leadership role. Understanding how you respond to the negative stuff in school will help you prepare for the rigours of engaging in educational change.
  5. Building Culture:  Probably the most important preparation piece for any leader is the need to build your school’s culture. In order for your new change initiative to work you need to have the culture to support it. Your success is going to be held back by the staff implementing the plan if the school culture does not support it. As Peter Drucker so famously stated…”Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.

In summary,  in order to prepare for change, the effective school leader begins by aligning the school culture, the staff and the action plan. This will ensure success in implementing the change initiative within your school.

What teachers are really doing over the summer break.

Leadership, Schools, Teacher, Teaching

With the summer break in front of us, many teachers are busily enjoying their holidays relaxing, rejuvenating and even reflecting. Teachers are curious creatures and although they holidaying and spending time with family and friends, they are also thinking about improving their teaching and preparing for the new academic year.

Here are five things teachers are secretly undertaking during their break that you may not know they are actually doing:

  1. Silently Celebrating: The fruits of a teacher’s labour is harvested many years later but they know when they have made a difference. Each child is unique and teachers strive to meet their individual needs. They thrive on each child’s little “aha” moment!
  2. Setting New Goals: Teachers are reflective by nature. Whether consciously or unconsciously teachers use these months to make new commitments to their teaching. They look back over their year, reflecting and thinking about what they will do better in the new year.
  3. Sharing Stories: Schools are social institutions and with countless interactions between people throughout the school day, there is bound to be a few unique and interesting anecdotes being shared. Whether it be something a student or teacher said or did, there is always a funny story or two to tell.
  4. Searching for New Ideas: Teachers know that engaging lessons are key to capturing student interest and attention. They are always on the lookout for things to help stimulate student thinking. Whether it be a new poster, trolling though Pinterest (and other social media sites) to find new resources or even reading an educational text, teachers are good at spotting opportunities to help student learn.
  5. Spending Time Self Caring: After the frantic nature of classroom life, teachers need time to slow down, take time to rejuvenate and detox their “teacher” mind. They spend time with family and friends, travel on holidays and take time out to enjoy the finer things of life.

And when the summer draws to an end, the rush to plan for the first day becomes more earnest. The setting up of the classroom, creating welcoming notes, writing the lesson plans and the like, become the order of business. In essence they are looking forward to the new year.

Although many of you may have been teaching for a few years, preparing for your classroom like it was your first time is always a positive way forward. Here is a useful article to get you started

Happy Summer!!

ISA Award Winner

Investigating Teacher Learning…

Instruction, Leadership, Staffing, Teacher, Teaching

I’ve been an educator for over 30 years, the last 25 in leading schools in both Australia and internationally.

While there has been a global shift in education, particularly in the personalised learning arena as schools attempt to deal with greater scrutiny from governments, school systems and parents alike; having a future focused mindset is helping schools grapple with this increased accountability as they work to address the needs of their 21st century learners.

In recent years, instruction has shifted from the one size fits all to a more differentiated approach to meet the learning needs of the student, and we know that our highly effective teachers are very reflective on their practice. They want to make a positive impact. They want to know what is working and what is not; and they want to know why. It is this notion that has shaped my leadership approach over the years as I help to build capacity within teachers to address the diversity of student needs within their classrooms.

This has seen, over the years, support for teachers to become more action research oriented in their teaching; encouraging them to investigate their teaching and using data or evidence from (and of) their teaching to inform their next steps in the learning journey.  

As a consequence of my experiences, I have published in this field of teachers as researchers, authoring and co-authoring books as well as a number of journal articles showcasing my experiences in building teacher capacity and leading educational change.

This brings to me to my latest venture. I am investigating the impact of teacher action research in improving student outcomes. The consequence of this research and the implications for schools is the focus of my next book.

There are two parts to the book: The first provides a context for the investigation through a review of the literature on the need to reform education, looking at what works in teaching and learning and unpacking the ‘whole of school strategies” in effecting school improvement.

The second part of the book outlines the evaluation and discusses the impact on teachers and student before offering some enablers for teaching improvement. It reflects on the role of the teacher as researcher as not only a means for teacher improvement but also a vehicle for fostering whole of school improvement. It discusses the New Curriculum Considerations and the New requirements of Teachers in today’s context.  The Role of Leadership in Teaching Improvement is examined and as I outline the Teacher as Researcher concept. I also offer insight into what is effective teaching in today’s educational context?

I believe that schools wishing to foster teacher improvement and improve instructional practices across their school will gain immensely from this book as it provides a roadmap for school leaders serious about improving teacher quality and raising student outcomes in their school.

Feel free to contact me for any further information. Schools (and educators) should not operate as silos. I look forward to hearing from you and furthering school improvement.

8 Truths to Improving and Managing Priorities

Leadership, Staffing

“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.” – Peter Drucker

The life of a leader is full of surprises and the balancing of competing workloads and tasks is often one of the key causes of leader stress. Furthermore, managing multiple priorities can result in important tasks being either pushed aside or attended to, too late.

Remember, you can’t do everything at once and there will be occasions where multiple priorities are on your plate. Here are a few of my “truths” that help keep me on task.

  1. Understand Your Limits: Knowing your limits is essential to self-growth.  However, Recognising your limitations is only the first step. It is what you do next that matters.
  2. Focus on What You Can Do: The leader is responsible for the overall operation of the school. As we are all “time poor” it is critical to tackle those tasks that you can  do well. Coming to terms with what you are capable of handling allows you to focus on what you can do, and allow others to do their tasks.
  3. Look for Support: There are two benefits from seeking support to help manage your priorities.
    1. Sharing the Load: If there is a task someone else can do for you, then delegate. Your role is to get things done but that doesn’t mean you should do everything. A great book by Todd Whitaker titled “Shifting the Monkey” makes the great point that you shouldn’t be doing anything that other people should be doing themselves.
    2. Getting Good Advice: Connecting with your peers helps to keep you on track. While some may call it networking, reaching out to your peers helps to gain access to information and help hone each other’s skill in leading complex organisations. Shared communication is a real asset.
  4. Always Be Positive: My old football coach always proclaimed “Don’t let them know you’re hurting”! No matter how things are unfolding around you, everyone needs the leader to under control. The saying that the organisation reflects the leader underpins this sentiment.
  5. Be Organised: Whether you use a checkbox list, online task builder or “post it” notes, an effective leader is well organised. The need to keep track of tasks is pivotal in completing them. When deciding on what priorities to add to your schedule ask (& then answer) two key questions: ‘What will happen if I do this?’ and ‘What will happen if  I don’t?’. Your answers will allow you to determine priority of the tasks.
  6. Prioritise Tasks: Schedule time for tasks. Determine what needs immediate attention and what can wait till later. Some say you should “Eat the Frog First” and get them out of the way. Whatever works for you to keep on schedule with leading your school, keep doing it.
  7. Keep the Promise: In the busyness of the school day when everybody wants something from you, it is easy to say “I’ll get to that shortly”. When you do, your integrity is on the line. If you make a promise to a teacher to provide feedback, ensure you keep the promise.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself: Things will fail. Be cheerful!

Finding balance and strategies to help make your day run smoother is in itself a difficult task. Some success can be achieved because of your role as leader and other successes can be achieved by influencing others and there will be some things you cannot change in your school however–despite your best efforts. And at the end of those types of days be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is the start of a new day and you can begin afresh!

8 Steps to Recruiting the Best Staff

Leadership, Recruitment, Staffing

This time of year is busy for school leaders as they forward plan for the new academic year. A key task at this time of the school year is the appointment of new staff that are good fits for your school will value add to the school’s teaching and learning agenda.

But how you you attract quality staff?

One of the first steps is writing your advertisement. But how do you write an effective teacher advertisement.

Even if you are using a recruitment firm (which is useful and sometimes cost effective) preparing for the advertising/recruiting yourself helps to solidify your expectations of teaching and learning in your school.

Briefly, here are my 8 steps to securing quality staff to your school.

  1. Be clear on your needs: The cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland offers simple, yet profound advice: If you don’t know where you are heading, it doesn’t matter which road you take! As a leader if you don’t know what you are looking for it will be difficult to distinguish between the CVs. If you are replacing a maths teacher, what are you looking for? Maths knowledge? Experience? Innovation? Charismatic? Firm? The Super Teacher? A clear profile of the type of teacher you desire should be established.
  2. Attract Teacher’s Attention: When writing your advertisement use a catchy headline to attract job seekers to read your announcement.
  3. Be Specific with the Role Description: To help differentiate the numerous CVs that come across your desk it is important to be clear about what the role entails. This ensures the candidate knows exactly what is expected of him/her if finally appointed to your school.
  4. What makes this role different to others?:  Every school needs a maths teacher, but why would a prospective maths teacher choose your school? What is it about the role (and your school) that wants candidates to apply.
  5. Outline the School Vision: Every school has its own charter as they work towards fulfilling the vision of the school. You need teachers who can value add and help drive your school improvement plan.
  6. Be Clear on the Application Process: Prospective candidates are looking at multiple positions and if you are clear on how easy it is to apply to your school the more likely they will submit an application. Be precise on the timing, application procedures (eg cover letter and criteria to address), and shortlisting criteria. It also demonstrates a well organised school.
  7. Distribute your Advertisement: Whether using recruitment agencies or going it alone, the distribution of the advertisement is critical. Choosing the media for distribution (eg newspapers, social media, educational journals) to help increase readership is pivotal. Don’t discount your current staff and the word of mouth as a means for distribution.
  8. Interview Strategically: Once you have shortlisted your candidates, preparing for the interview is an important next step. Be prepared, write your questions for the interviewee based on the role description and seek questions about their previous roles as they relate to the role they are applying. Look for potential, takes notes to make comparative judgements against other candidates you interview and always follow up with the candidate afterwards; whether successful or unsuccessful.

Finding the right staff that fit your school can be an arduous task. However, having the right staff makes your school life a lot more exciting.

Teachers Transitioning to a New School

Instruction, Leadership, Staffing, Teaching

Across the globe there are many teachers preparing to move schools. While there are many reasons teachers change schools (eg looking for a different set of experiences or career move), when you walk through the doors of your new school it can be  a daunting process. It is a time that can be filled with excitement about the prospects ahead, yet at the same time it can bring about anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.

While the summer break offers you time to relax and recharge, it is also time to plan your new beginning. If you are in this boat here are some thoughts to ponder on as you prepare to meet new colleagues and new opportunities.

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Understanding how your new school operates will increase as you experience the day to day happenings. However, the more research you can do prior to walking through the school gate the better prepared you are to make a difference. Once there, quickly ensure you are familiar with the staff handbook, school policies and procedures.
  2. Begin as You Mean to Finish: First impressions are lasting impressions. Meeting new colleagues can be daunting and it takes time to settle into a new environment however, there is an opportunity to present yourself to your new world. How do you want your colleagues to see you? This will be evident in how you communicate, interact and even how you arrange and organise your classroom.
  3. Put Your Best Foot Forward: You were chosen for this new position. Put your best foot forward and let them know they made a great decision. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a newly appointed middle leader, take the opportunity to shine.
  4. Build Relationships: Schools are social entities and comprise of various stakeholders (students, staff, parents, wider community). Connecting early with your parents, getting to know your students and fostering strong communication practices will enhance your place in the school.
  5. New Beginnings, New Opportunities: Sometimes things don’t go to plan. There may have been some disappointments or even frustrations about your previous school year. Changing schools is an opportunity to start from scratch, to begin a fresh and to put the past behind you.

Remember, you were chosen specifically for your new school. Your principal wants you to be the best teacher you can be and will help you achieve that goal. It is up to you to run with it. Enjoy!

The Evolving Classroom

Instruction, Leadership, Schools, Teacher

Through Our Students’ Eyes

If we as teachers begin to view the world from behind our learners’ eyes we will be able to build future learning environments. Looking at how our students interact outside the classroom provides an opportunity for us to learn about how we can improve the in  class environments. The environments outside the classroom are student centred. Their ‘play’ environment allows quick flexibility for collaboration, working in small groups.

When Students Learn

The conception that learning takes place only at school, behind four walls and between school hours is misguided. Students use social areas (libraries, cafes, parks, sports fields, loungerooms, etc) to gather and collaborate. What is it that engages students in their learning environment? The comfortable furniture in the social areas lures students to informal meetings to share and discuss and the opportunity to work socially to converse on issues. It is not simply an adult domain to meet at a coffee shop to share personal experiences and insight into their views on ‘things’.  Environments like these are places of action, full of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a terrific 5 minute video clip by David Thornburg offers further insight into the evolving classroom that highlights the changing classroom.

We know that basic technology allows students to create and build content for learning. Given the open, comfortable and flexible learning environment it is then the role of the class teacher to facilitating learning, stimulating conversations and addressing specific learning needs.

Innovation and Creativity

Leadership, Professional Learning, Staffing, Teacher

In recent times the push towards innovation and creativity as a vehicle to both lift educational standards as well as meet the future skills required of the knowledge economy workforce, is an admirable stance. It appears that the Sir Ken Robinson crusade is finally gaining traction with education agencies beginning to require schools to provide evidence of innovation being enacted (for example, see the new UAE unified School Inspection process).

A google search on innovative schools will see a plethora of entries that denotes innovation as a measure of a school being different to other schools. The Steve Wheeler blog post on 4 Things Innovative Schools Have In Common should be catalyst for for all leadership teams in raising the conversation of how we meet the needs of our future learners (and ultimately workers). His analysis of the common ingredients are:

  1. students are seen as unique individuals rather than groups
  2. schools are connected with the outside world
  3. curriculum is delivered in a manner that encourages critical and creative thinking
  4. design of the learning spaces is creative

To contribute to this discussion I’d add that innovation is played out by the creativity and expertise of the classroom teacher. Two vital ingredients necessary are having a bold vision and strong leadership within the school. It is through these two elements that the fruition of the innovation can become reality.

Quality Learning Begins with Quality Recruitment

Leadership, Recruitment, Staffing

Earlier this week I was reading an article on teacher absenteeism and its extent and the impact on student achievement. We know that teacher quality is one on the largest factors is raising student achievement outside the influences of the home. While some schools have difficulty with teacher absenteeism Dar Al Marefa has a very low absentee rate.

Interestingly at this time of the year, as we embark on recruitment for the new academic year ahead an erroneous perception is that here at Dar Al Marefa we are somehow “lucky” because we have and are able to attract “good” staff who are committed and dedicated to their profession.

We at Dar Al Marefa have a strong recruitment process and know that “You are who you recruit. That it is a reflection of yourself” and we begin with ensuring we have a clear position description (ie identifying what is the job we are recruiting for, identifying the difference in what teachers do in our school)

As our short listing avoids perceived bias and not making decisions solely based on information, (ie name, location, qualification) ensuring a question list is used for scoring applicants. Our interview techniques focus on ensuring a comfortable environment is used; that questions are open ended and linked linked to the job description. Each question should be able to be scored. In providing scenario questions we ensure the panel doesn’t do all the talking.

Consequently we are able to recruit good staff and they are committed and dedicated but it has very little to do with luck. They are good because we deliberately target and recruit the best staff available; we clearly communicate the standards and quality expected; we support and assist them to reach those standards through ongoing professional development and they are monitored through a well-established and rigorous appraisal system.

The teachers we place in front of each class are expected to rise to the challenge of becoming life-long learners, continually improving and developing their skills. They set “SMART” (Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Realistic and Timely) professional development goals for themselves. They do this because of expectations and an obligation they have to themselves, to the school and to their students. They take their place in and role model the work ethic that goes with a legitimate learning community and it is this attitude combined with sheer hard work that provides the foundation for the quality and standards of education enjoyed throughout the Dar Al Marefa Community.

Remember, you are who you recruit.

Selecting New Staff? Look for Leaders.

Leadership, Recruitment, Staffing

The international school sector is an exciting playground for not only honing leadership skills but acquiring new ones. It is at this time of year when the focus begins to look at recruitment; both retaining and employing new staff. Classroom teachers, middle management leaders and even principals are at the mercy of interview panels.

But what do you look for when appointing? For me, regardless of the position we need to fill, I look for leadership qualities. Someone who will make a difference. I’m not looking for puppets who do move when strings are pulled. I need decision makers, innovators, creative thinkers and risk takers. I want someone who wants to make a difference and have the evidence to show they can.

I was once called a “Maverick” by an employer and I took that as a compliment even though I knew it was meant as a slur on my leadership. The connotation was that my visioning, decision making or leadership was being a principal that was independent, unorthodox or not in keeping with what other principals were doing. Therefore I was out of line. The message given clear; I was suppose to follow, not lead.

I was heartened when I stumbled across the thoughts of Kim Williams, the Australian Media Executive and Composer, in his autobiography. His views on leadership and the role of leaders moving their organisations struck a chord with me .

 Kim Campbell - Leadership

What resonates is his interpretation of and the confusion surrounding “busy” people. Too often leaders are busy doing “things” (managing) rather than building the path towards improvement (leadership). This is particularly important at the classroom level. You don’t want doers following, you want leaders acting, diagnosing, planning and intervening in the teaching/learning.

If you want improvement to be a key outcome then the need to appoint a leader rather than a manager, at any level of the organisation, is pivotal to your school’s success.