Change

PathwaysThink of any change related project which you have been involved in and you will be able to appreciate the clear path between the starting point and the end point.   This is just how we remember things.

The reality of it is that hindsight prefers a distorted view of events.   During the change itself the path is not so linear, involving various changes in direction as a result of new found information, changing perceptions or other feedback gathered during the process of change

This has recently frustrated me with a project I have been engaged with, which had a clear pathway along which progress was being made with slight deviations and modifications being made along the way, but nothing substantial or at least this is how I envisaged things would progress.   Late in the year however it was decided to back away from the project and deliver a smaller pilot version of the original plan.    My initial reaction to this was to be disappointed and a little bit annoyed if I am being honest.   This move to a smaller pilot project represented a more significant change in direction and pace than anything I had considered.   It presented a significant deviation from the envisaged plan.

Looking back now, having distanced myself from my immediate emotions in relation to the project, I can now see that this big change in direction is just a factor of change and therefore should not be viewed as necessarily negative in context.   The direction of travel is still the same albeit the route is not as straight as I had originally thought it would be.

As such I will continue on with the now smaller project, as part of the project towards an ultimately planned more holistic implementation.   This recent change is not a set back back a small step on the journey towards the eventual goal of the project.

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Seeking continual improvement

I am very committed to the process of continual improvement.   We live in an ever changing world with new opportunities, new people and new technologies constantly presenting themselves to us.    As such what may be considered “good enough” today is unlikely to be equally good in the new context in a years time, or possibly a months time, or maybe even tomorrow.    Due to this it is important to continually strive to improve.

The step I am currently undertaking as part of my bid to continually improve is to seek some anonymous feedback from colleagues with regards leadership where I myself am one of the leaders to which those invited will provide feedback.

parapet

Sticking your head above the parapet so to speak is never easy and never without some worry or concern with regards the feedback you may receive.

From a research perspective the responses received will be based on the interpretation of the questions being asked and then the perception of the individuals providing the feedback.    Their perception may be coloured by recent events, which due to ease of recall will appear more important than more frequently occurring events which may have resulted in an inverse response.    An individuals state of mind and emotional state on the day they provide their feedback may have an impact on the feedback they provide.    Where a person is having a good day and therefore feeling positive, they are more likely to respond in a positive fashion however where they are having a bad day, where the world is against them the opposite is also true.    If they have recently received bad news the response is also likely to be less positive.

From a statistical point of view I know there are various ways I can interpret the data with each approach potentially resulting in different findings.    A simple look at the highest and lowest average scores may seem to suggest the strengths and areas for development however a look at standard deviations may indicate a high average resulting from some widely fluctuating scores.    This initially apparent strength may therefore turn out to be either inconclusive or even an area for development.

Given all these variables it may be easier to decide to avoid asking the questions.   My choice however is to ask the questions as I would prefer to have data which may upset me rather than having no data at all.   At least if I have upsetting data I have a position to work from and to improve from as opposed to existing in blissful ignorance and therefore having no clue that things need improving.   I also have a baseline to work from in terms of checking if any actions taken have made any difference.

I await the results of the feedback with an element of trepidation and an element of anticipation.

 

 

 

Obstacles and Opportunities

obstacle_is_the_wayAm currently listening to “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday on the drive to work.   Now in this hectic world where we are all looking to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of our waking hours I recommend the use of audio books on the drive to and from work, however that’s not the subject of this post.

In “The Obstacle is the Way” the reaction of people to “obstacles” is discussed including how generally people are often found complaining about obstacles or difficulties which they encounter in their life, be it a difficult colleague, students or a disagreeable boss.   Ryan Holiday suggests that such obstacles need not actually be obstacles and that instead they may represent unrealised opportunities or the way ahead.    Marcus Aurelius, for example said:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.“

This approach to obstacles means that little time is wasted on complaining, an act which may provide some self satisfaction however is unlikely to do anything in terms of progressing a resolution to the prevailing obstacle.    Consider the teacher complaining about a lack of resources which are available to them.    The act of complaint is unlikely to help address the issue of the lack of resources however it will take up valuable time.   Instead we might change our perspective and consider the lack of resources as an opportunity to develop new bespoke resources which specifically meet the needs of teaching and learning in the coming weeks.     We might consider it an opportunity to work with the students in creating resources together.   Maybe we might consider the situation as a challenge to our ability to improvise and exercise creativity in our teaching.    These three perspectives provide the teacher an opportunity to at least attempt to tackle the identified obstacle and in doing so he/she might realise new solutions and success which otherwise they may not have.

I myself have found things difficult in recent months mainly due to perceived issues with my workload.    The fact I haven’t posted much since January goes to prove that I have been finding it difficult to manage my time or to find time to actually post anything.    Having listened to the book however I have decided to change my perspective with regards the lack of perceived time.   Instead I will consider this as an opportunity to try out techniques from Coveys, First things first which is a book I am currently reading.   This will include focussing on doing what is important as opposed to trying to do a high quantity of tasks.   Part of this will require me to spend some time on identifying that which is truly important to me both in terms of work, family and also personally.   I will also try to be more efficient in my use of time, no longer hitting the snooze button as opposed to getting out of bed when the alarm rings in the morning.   I have decided to commit to this act of getting up, in order to be able to better trust myself, that I will make best use of the available time to maximise my impact.

It is my intention to take each obstacle that stands in my path, and try and change my perception to turn it into an opportunity.

To trust or not to trust

Have been reading and have finished Stephen Coveys Speed of Trust recently.   I have found the book to be very interesting and very much in line with my thinking with regards having a growth mindset and focussing on solutions rather than problems plus on the need to acknowledge the humanistic side of education rather than focussing purely on data such as standardised tests.  It is my belief in the need to trust people and act with trust as a default condition as opposed to assuming distrust and acting accordingly.     The Speed of Trust focuses on this although it also goes on to discuss “Smart Trust” such that we take care on exercising trust where previous events or the situation dictate it.     The book discusses a predisposition towards either trust or distrust, which I think is the key feature of the book.  It suggests the need to encourage a predisposition towards trust.   I have found myself having to defend this position during the last six months having been told that I shouldn’t be open with how I feel to my team and colleagues.   Leaders apparently need to be totally positive even when the situation, either professionally or personally is not, or at least this is what I was told.    For me I believe, and according act, in a way as to display trust in my colleagues and staff and as such I communicate how I feel to them.   I am, after all, a human, a person like everyone else and therefore I have good days and not so good days.   This is not to say that I necessarily have negative days, more a case that I have days when I find positivity and the act of working with a growth mindset more difficult than normal.   During a period of time recently my wife had damaged ligaments in her knee which limited her ability to move, leading to time off work and myself having to take on more duties around the house and with our family as a whole.   As such my ability to remain positive while at work was more difficult than normal and in phone calls or in discussions my tone of voice and body language may have conveyed this.    I was open with people as to the prevailing situation yet I was told that my openness with my emotional status and feelings was a negative thing and something unwanted in senior managers.

Now let us consider the alternative here;   A leader consistently comes across as positive both in terms of beliefs and emotion despite the prevailing situation.    I have worked with people like this and over time you start of lose your trust in them as they repeatedly underplay the humanistic side of life and also the challenges which particular jobs, tasks or activities may present.    They also tend to underplay or fail to acknowledge the culture and climate within the organisation, department or team.   Imagine the boss who you have plainly made aware of personal or professional difficulties who makes light of it rather than engaging you as a person, looking to provide support and arrive at a solution.   “Its going to be fine, just keep at it and focus on solutions”.    I think the reason this constant positivity is stated as positive lies in the hope that positivity will rub off on those you lead and work with however this underplays trust.   Constant positivity both in belief and in emotion suggests a constant level of effort however this is not the case.    Some professional situations require more effort or, as in my situation where my wife was injured, some personal situations result in the need for more effort professionally in order to maintain the normal level of positivity.     As such a consistent “things will get better” approach to positivity may not always work as it fails to recognise the personal effort, commitment or resilience required.     If a leader fails to recognise and acknowledge how a static level of positivity may require varying levels of effort, commitment and resilience then trust may be lost as they more and more appear to be disconnected with a team members reality (Note: I am considering reality as subjective with the only reality which exists to a colleague or team member being their own reality).

Covey puts so much stake in the importance of trust and I cannot help but agree.   Education is more and more focussing on data and standardised testing while ignoring the softer data of what school leaders see and hear on a daily basis.     Trust may steadily be in process of being eroded and teachers more and more see themselves being judged based on data which very often lacks any context.  This is especially evident in terms of a focus on achievement.   Here in the UAE not all students will do Kindergarten so would it be fair to compare two teachers where one has a class of students who did not do kindergarten against a teacher of a class which did, where the later teacher benefits from a class who have two additional years of schooling despite being the same age as the students in the former class;   I would suggest not.

Data is going to continue to be an integral part of education systems as is accountability.   I believe we need to also make some room for trust.    We need to develop the predisposition towards trust as suggested by Covey.   Professional development for example should not be focussed on the needs of the weakest staff at the expense of those who have highly developed skills.    Education often talks of distributed leadership and of empowerment however both of these concepts cannot operate without a level of trust.

I write this in following one of Coveys initial points in his book which is to trust yourself and in writing this I am trusting that my beliefs and ideas are worthy of sharing and consideration.   I trust that you will feel free to share your thoughts whether they be in agreement or disagreement.

Leadership Discussions

The other day I was lucky enough to have time to sit and discuss the important issues of school improvement with Vice Principals of a number of schools.

A number of issues were discussed however 3 key points came out of the discussions:

  • School Culture and Climate
  • School Communication Systems
  • Vision

Now the issues are written down in the order them arose in the discussion so no priority should be read into the order above.   Let’s take each of the issues in turn:

School Culture and Climate

We discussed the need to improve the quality of teaching and learning and how those teachers currently delivering high quality learning experiences could be utilised to encourage this however this doesn’t happen unless a culture exists where staff feel safe in sharing ideas and where ideas are openly discussed and questioned.     Ideas and thoughts regarding how to improve a school often already exist within the school itself although unless a safe, sharing culture exists, these often go without being verbalized.

In addition to this a sharing, safe culture, encourages and supports staff in peer observation, collaboration and team working.    It also serves to support distributed leadership, where teachers are encouraged to take on leadership roles.

School Communication Systems

Now we are not just talking about a weekly briefing here; we are considering the communication system of the school in its most holistic terms.   How do staff and students within the school find out what is going on in the school, its priorities, its mission and its progress towards realising this mission?    Equally how does the school find out about how students and staff feel about the school, its systems and, in general terms, how things are going?     Consideration needs to be given to processes and systems but also to more humanistic issues like how do managers find out about their staff as people with lives outside school.    Communication is about ensuring that the right messages are heard and that all staff feel as if they too are heard, and that their contributions are valued.

Vision

How is the schools vision arrived at and who is involved in this process?    How do we turn the written vision into an espoused vision acted and believed by all staff within the school, independent of role or position?   Some discussion was had regarding whether or not all school vision statements were essentially the same, however I do not believe that this is the case as even although the words used may be similar and the general aim may be education, what this actually means within a given staff body in a specific school in a specific area, at a specific time may differ significantly.

Now overall the discussions were very interesting and identified three important strategic areas in need of consideration however one very important question remained:

How do we go about building on these 3 areas within your school?