Beyond Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

A recent professional conversation with a small group of staff members on what makes an outstanding school led to the realisation that next year will see the 10th anniversary of the Ken Robinson’s TED talk on changing educational paradigms. Given the focus on a technological revolution coupled with Mark Treadwell’s explanation of the paradigm shift in education we are experiencing right now in his text Whatever!: School Version 2.0 and other leading educationalists purporting the need to transform education systems the question seems to be lost in translation…. Has learning been transformed?

With the prolific attention to school improvement through standardised testing measures and the subsequent outcry of its impact on learning, it might be an opportune time to see if learning has been transformed outside a few pockets here and there. The growing “personalising learning” commentary might have traction in professional development sessions but is it being embedded in the mainstream educational systems? Maybe a revisit to the infamous TED talk might garner a re-invigoration of schooling. Are we still in a factory model? Is it still a one size fits all approach?

Maybe its a matter of talking the talk but not walking the walk!

Learning and Improving Your Leadership

Leadership

As we begin a new year and having just completed my first term as the principal of an international school, I have, like many leaders, taken time to reflect on my learning. While not outlining the circumstances that lead to the learnings, I offer the following few points for your consideration.

  1. Doing the tough things first. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Knowing that our energy levels diminish as the day unfolds, it is a good idea to handle tough decisions and tasks early on. Better to address challenges while you are fresh.
  2. Set precise goals and repeatedly remind your staff. A key to achieving success is to ensure all of your team is on the same page. This is as important for the experienced leader continuing in the same school as it is for the new leader beginning a new school.
  3. Don’t respond to emails during the day. A number of colleagues of mine (unconsciously) boast of how busy they are and how often they respond to emails during the working day. While not withstanding the importance of attending to work related communication, it can be a distractor to the scheduled tasks of your day.
  4. Be kind to your staff. All teachers, whether directly or indirectly, seek guidance, affirmation and even correction. Working closely with staff is the instructional leader’s key ingredient for success.
  5. Students are Students. Regardless of where you lead, students have the same traits. They all have a yearning to learn. Taking time to listen to students helps to develop a balance view on school climate.

Each school has its own nuances to address and as the new leader becomes immersed in the culture and philosophy of the school, the greater the contribution he/she can make to the school.

Happy New Year.

A Time of ‘Lasts’

Leadership

During the last few weeks before transitioning to a new appointment you have the opportunity to undertake things for the last time. The last staff meeting, the last report, the last breakfast gathering, the last Parent and Friends meeting, the last playground walk, the last assembly, and so forth.

Completing each final activity brings the reality of leaving a much loved school behind and as one does, it is an optimal time for reflection.  As a principal, the first part of reflection involves the professional, reviewing how successful your strategic plans have been, the impact upon the teaching and learning and the growth in teacher professional learning.

The second level of reflection focuses on the personal. When leaving, particularly after ten years of close working relationships, you development strong bonds with staff. Personally speaking, I am very grateful for the personal and professional relationships as they have helped to shape who I am today, my thinking, my views on issues and even influence my decision making. In a sense I am the sum of my relationships.

One of the positive things about beginning a new job is that it offers you the opportunity to apply your learnings in a new setting. While many people make excuses for not taking the time to reflect, citing busyness or lack of interest, the benefits, although not always immediate, are numerous.

In a funny sort of way doing things for the final time is in fact, preparing to do things for the first time.

Transition Week

Leadership

A positive part of being appointed as principal of a new school is not only the opportunity to build upon your current experience but also to learn new skills.

How you approach your new role will have lasting effects on your leadership influence. Reading the school culture incorrectly could put you on the back foot and inhibit the quality of your decision making.

For me, a necessary beginning point is to visit the new school. There is nothing more important than meeting the people you are going to work with, taking the opportunity to immerse yourself into the culture of the school and getting an intuitive feel for how things operate. Visiting the school allows you to begin to ‘get a handle’ on school logistics.

My recent “Transition Week” at dar al Marefa offered the unique opportunity to begin my leadership journey at the school on the right foot. While everyone will have a few tips for the new principal, after having had a few principal appointments over the years, I find the following four insights useful in shaping how you should approach your new appointment:

1. Understanding History. Beginning with previous school improvement plans a new principal can digest the thinking that has shaped the school to be what it is today. To make effective decisions, the new leader needs to know why things are the way they are. Take time to understand the traditions, celebrations and why things run the way they do.

2. Get to know your staff and school community. In the early stages, (commonly know as the honeymoon period), it is imperative to develop positive relationships with each member of the community. Don’t forget spending time in classrooms and the playground to get to know the students.

3. Get Learning. Discovering what you don’t know is a key task in the early days. Locating the paperwork should be an initial goal. Reading the paperwork is the next! Items from parent handbooks to teacher appraisal processes to curriculum expectations help to establish an understanding of the school and most importantly, the culture.

4. Gather relevant information to design a short term action plan. While the school may have an action plan, as a new leader you bring a new ‘vision’ to the school and, after listening and learning, you will begin to craft your own views on what ‘needs to be done’. Developing your own action plan will help to connect the dots and and allow you to focus on short achievable goals.

Everyone approaches their new appointment differently. Whatever action you take it is most important that the new leader enjoys coming to work each day. My transition week at dar al Marefa Private School was exciting  and immensely interesting. Many people to meet, many things to take in! From any aspect my new appointment is going to be challenging and loaded with learning opportunity. I have no doubt I will enjoy coming to work each day.

Announcing Your Resignation

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Often it is easier looking for a new position than it is accepting the new appointment. Once your decision has been made you have to come to terms with announcing your resignation. Often the announcement is a shock as no-one knows that you were contemplating a new job.

Some will be happy, some will be disappointed (happy for you but disappointed for the organisation), others will begin to reflect on how the leadership change will affect them and others will want to know what’s wrong; Why would you want to leave them?

For me, this was most confronting.

As a principal who has put their heart and soul into the school, leading from the front, assisting from the side and following behind, telling staff that I was leaving our beloved school to take up a new position in a foreign country was extraordinarily difficult.

There are a number of layers to announcing your decision to resign. For me , once  I accepted the new appointment and determined a starting date, I followed the Stephen Covey’s principle of starting with the end point in mind. My end point was the date I fly out to my new school.

Working backwards four weeks from my last day at school I then had the final date to hand in my resignation. From there I was able to plan the timing of the resignation letter and then informing our staff and wider community.

Sounds straight forward.

Sharing the news with my staff was quite a task. Knowing how attached I was (and still am) to the school and after working closely with the staff on our learning platform has been an amazing experience. Reflecting on our journey together over the past ten years and witnessing the grow of our staff, both professionally and in their personal lives, has been a humbling experience. Luckily I had the foresight to write a brief resignation speech to announce my news and to capture my thanks for helping me to be more than I am.

The next big task is the farewell assembly with the students.