Pause and Reflect

Around this time each year, I pause and reflect on the goals that I set back in January. I have realized for the first time that I actually follow quite a predictable pattern. With different projects at various stages of development and implementation, plans and initiatives underway for the following year, recruitment and the constant flux of relationship management across the school, the weight of the year can tend to weigh heavily on your mind. You can fall into a trap of letting the small number of negatives outweigh the many positives.

As I review the goals I had set for myself, I realize that I have achieved far more than I even set out to achieve. Given that I usually set quite ambitious goals, this period of reflection is a chance to look back on what I have accomplished in the past twelve months and to give some much-needed self-congratulations.

I look back on the successes (and failures), the wins, the moments of learning and the significant areas of personal and professional progress. As I reflect, I ask myself what I would do differently given the opportunity. I do not dwell on it, however. I pause and savour the moment, and then move on.

Each year I collect some data to help inform my future directions. In 2015, I completed the Genos Emotional Intelligence (EI) 360 survey, the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People 360 survey and a self-assessment using Paul Browning’s rubric for assessing trust and transformational leadership practice. I also used this rubric in 2016 and 2017. I have scheduled a Genos EI 360 survey for February of 2018 and it will be interesting to see how I have progressed.

My goals this year were on three areas – Developing Relationships and Trust, Enhancing Learning Culture and Personal Development and are listed below.

Developing Relationships and Trust

  • Visit classes for thirty minutes every day
  • Attend morning tea daily rotating across the three schools
  • Timetable fortnightly meetings with key people
  • Spend time equally across the three schools
  • Empower the Leaders of Learning and build a cohesive team to lead the different priorities of the three schools
  • Embed the GROWTH model of coaching into my daily interactions with others
  • Ensure accountability by always having actions after each meeting or conversation
  • Ensure graduates are supported throughout the VIT full registration process
  • Seek ways to affirm and thank staff members, publicly and privately, every day

Enhancing Learning Culture

  • Continue to provide permission to innovate
  • Engage staff in a managed process for focused collaborative review and improvement using both our Vision for Learning and Rubicon Atlas
  • Streamline and improve professional learning administrative processes
  • Develop a leadership development program informed by a coaching way of being
  • Drive the Centre for Learning, Research & Innovation’s strategic priorities and vision of success (See CLRI strategic plan)
  • Implementation of a new LMS that supports ongoing assessment and reporting and pastoral and data tracking across the College
  • Support staff in further developing an understanding of a Reggio-inspired approach in the Junior School
  • Develop the year seven model of contemporary team teaching and learning
  • Examine VCE data and engage key staff in determining an improvement strategy
  • Lead an elective review at year nine
  • Enhance experiential learning opportunities
  • Continue to drive Digital Portfolio rollout strategy
  • Meeting structure review in conjunction with Heads of School and Leaders of Learning
  • Develop an improved process for the placement of pre-service teachers across the College.
  • Conduct twenty-four recorded video observations of teaching practice and engage staff in dialogue

Personal Development

  • Sit colloquium for PhD candidature and begin collecting data
  • Collect 50% of data for PhD
  • Gain Growth Coaching International Accreditation
  • Train for a base level of fitness for Nepal Trek in December
  • Spend more quality time with family

Whilst I am happy with the progress made in most of these areas this year, being visible remains the biggest challenge of having a multi-campus role. One strategy for being visible that I recently come across was a Principal who every morning writes and hand delivers birthday cards to every student and staff member. A big commitment but one that quickly becomes non-negotiable through community expectation.

What strategies do you use to remain visible?

Do you have a user manual?

Transparency about how we work and learn, our preferences, values, beliefs, likes and dislikes, ultimately shortens the learning curve for your colleagues by making explicit the things that often take many years to learn through trial and error. A critical and candid self-reflection via the creation of a user manual is one way to practice radical candour and transparent leadership. A user manual is not static; rather it is a living piece of writing that captures a moment in time and articulates that you will always be a work in progress.

Inspired by the work of Adam Bryant and Kim Scott, this self-reflective exercise can serve as a prompt in identifying specific areas for personal growth, or it could be an activity a leadership team performs together as a discussion starter on how to become a more effective team.

Bryant recommends asking yourself questions like,

“Which activities give me energy, and which deplete me? What are my unique abilities, and how do I maximize the time I spend expressing them? What do people misunderstand about me, and why?”

Here is my first attempt.

I used to wag finger painting in Kinder so I guess I have always been a bit rebellious.

I identify with the tenants of progressive education but believe that there is always a place to learn directly from the instruction of others.

Your teaching style matters less to me than your attitude and dispositions toward the profession.

I enjoy exercise. In fact, I need it. Often I will squeeze in a run or a gym session on my lunch break. I make this a priority by scheduling it into my day and find that I am 100% more productive in the afternoons if I do.

I am constantly reflecting and learning. I value doing over perfection. I do not always know what I am doing and sometimes lack confidence, but I accept that, and just let my bias toward action guide me. I am committed to continuous improvement.

I have a diverse range of interests and believe that one of the best things you can bring to the workplace is a multitude of various and varied life experiences.

I believe in giving people freedom to do what they do best and then support in whatever way I can.

Intellectual stimulation energizes me. I enjoy turning challenges into opportunities. I enjoy working with people who are open to ideas and can explore possibilities.

Saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

I do not have patience for over-analysis of non-important issues and sometimes being in a discussion about semantics frustrates me. I also dislike grandstanding. If you have an issue come and see me and we can work through it. Do not wait until a public forum to air your concerns or issues for the first time.

I am fiercely loyal but if my confidence is broken it is hard to repair. Be open and honest, communicate with me and treat people around you in a friendly and professional way. When communicating I like to get to the point. I also like others to do the same. Please don’t talk in riddles. Say what you mean. Be yourself. Challenge and disagree with me because I value this. But please be respectful.

Communicating face to face with me is preferred, but sometimes if you require a thoughtful and considered response, an email can also work. I appreciate people telling me what I need to know, not what you think I want to hear.

I’m often working on many different projects so appreciate help making sure all the details are covered, and flagging for me any that need my attention.

Have empathy for others, as you never know the struggles they are going through.

I value difference and believe in diversity. High functioning teams have a range of experiences, expertise, skillsets and mindsets.

I want every member of my team to feel valued and empowered. I want you to feel supported in your quest to be a better version of yourself, because I believe we can all be better. 

This is not exhaustive by any stretch and still needs a bit of work, but it is something I look forward to revising and revisiting regularly.

LMS Evaluation & Selection

We have the great fortune of having some talented developers on staff. Many of our ICT platforms over the years have been custom developed to suit our needs at any given time. However, the reality of this current landscape, whilst operational, utilizes many disparate systems that lack cohesiveness, integration and certainly timely access to student data profiles.

Our College ICT Strategic Plan outlines the provision of a secure and integrated student information system that provides access to student learning information throughout a student’s life at the school, including learning pathways, assessment, reporting and data on student wellbeing. A recent review led to the development of a strategic intent that supports the internal business drivers and demands from external influences, but also sees us aim to increase the knowledge we have of our students, to increase the level of communication between home and school and to gain efficiencies by reducing the overall complexity of our systems and processes.

This has meant us adopting a new Learning Management System (LMS) for 2018. Our LMS evaluation and selection process took place over a twelve-month period (yes you read that right) and involved five major steps: needs analysis, requirements definition, product evaluation, staff consultation and product selection.

The market is saturated with different products including Schoolbox, Canvas, Schoology, Edumate, Moodle & SEQTA. We have decided to go with SEQTA.

All staff across our College had the opportunity to view a demonstration of different platforms on multiple occasions. This followed by opportunities to provide feedback that has informed the process at different levels. Although this is a time consuming process, involving staff in the evaluation process results in them having greater ownership of the resulting decision. No matter how much you communicate and consult however, you will still have some staff who are critical of the process. Identifying and engaging with critical staff and having them involved right from the outset is something I would definitely advocate for those going down a similar path.

These platforms often promote conformity and tie you to a single way of doing things. This is problematic considering that my modus operandi is to promote bottom-up innovation and to encourage people to use the tools and resources that work best for them. That being said, I think there is a nice middle ground when an LMS provides a central repository for attendance, welfare, analytics & continuous reporting, but doesn’t require the use of the course creation modules.

For those going down a similar path I have included below a copy of our LMS Research Timeline and proposed implementation plan for our preferred platform SEQTA.

Reach out for a discussion if you are doing something similar.

Finding Joy

Life is full of challenges and adversity. Obstacles and tragedy can seem overwhelmingly unfair. We lose loved ones; we deal with unexpectedness and become grim acquaintances with grief. Often this requires a self-explanation like “everything happens for a reason.” I have used this platitude myself recently as a way of explaining away the mysteries of life.

The impact of losing people close to you creates a deep sadness. The raw emotions of despair and compassion filter through acknowledgement of the pain. Introspection at times like this can leave you wondering about life’s purpose. During these moments, I have come to realize that life in and of itself has no inherent purpose. You have to find your own purpose. This acknowledgment empowers resilience. You realize that nothing lasts forever and that often the greatest moments come after the dark. Kahlil Gibran captures this in saying that “the deeper sorrow carves into our being the more joy we can contain.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B, explores adversity and the concept of post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is a change of perspective in finding greater meaning in life and a stronger sense of purpose rooted in something of significance. After tragedy, some find this in work or family, some in religion, and others through athletic endeavours. Finding this purpose creates joy. Paying attention to moments of joy takes effort however, because we focus on the negatives more than the positives. This is our built-in negativity bias. Yet negativity bias is not real. Your thoughts are only what you decide to believe in and continually reinforce in your mind.

Last Friday we received news that Lainey Carr had lost her battle with cancer. Lainey was our first administration assistant at our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

Lainey brought joy and positivity to everything that she did. Lainey didn’t dwell on the negative, even towards the end. Thinking of Lainey today I am imagining her saying something along the lines of “Today is a wonderful day – find joy in what you do and live life in the present.”

Building Capital

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu identifies cultural capital as the assets an individual possesses in terms of financial and social resources, in conjunction with an individual’s knowledge, status and formal qualifications.

Professional capital is defined by Hargreaves and Fullan as a function of human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgments about learners).

Professional capital is essentially about the growth and development of the people within a school. In The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, Fullan suggests we need to “reposition the role of the principal as overall instructional leader.” I argue that it cannot just be the principal; it needs to be all leaders across a school – a united team focused on leading learning for teachers and students.

The question “how do you ensure accountability?” then becomes “how do we create the right conditions for all staff to grow and develop?” This necessitates a shift away from measuring, supervising and evaluating teachers to a more trusting and collaborative approach focused on growth and development.

Call it naïve optimism but I firmly believe that if you invest in capacity building or in the growing of capital, people will automatically become more accountable. Firstly to themselves and their own learning, but also to their peers, their students and their workplace.