uLead 2016 – The Summit of Education Leadership – Intro


WORKI have the privilege of attending and speaking at the 2016 iteration of the uLead Summit, a gathering hosted by the Alberta Teachers Association. This summit is considered one of the top education leadership conferences in the world and I am grateful and humbled by the opportunity to be part of it.

For the past day and a half I have explored the town of Banff and the surrounding countryside. It is stunningly beautiful and I particularly enjoyed my excursion to Lake Louise and the drive along the Bow River Parkway which winds its way through the peaceful and beautiful scenery of the Canadian Rockies. Lake Louise was still frozen over so I didn’t get to experience the stunning colours of this glacial lake in their full glory. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there and will forever hold the memory of that visit in my memory.

There is much more I could write about the town of Banff and the exquisite surrounds but I’ll leave further exploration up to the readers of this blog and encourage you to either visit in person or virtually online. What I need to write about are my expectations for the conference and what I hope to gain from this experience.

Over 1100 delegates begin their summit experience today and I will join them in eager anticipation of a time of learning, networking and sharing of ideas. I hope to make some new connections, be challenged in my thinking and learn from research and best practice how to make an impact in my school and in the schools I work with.


Its the finishing moment which counts!


2016 sees the 31st holding of the modern Olympic Games. From 5-21 August Rio de Janeiro will host 10 500 athletes participating in 28 sporting codes. Olympic politics and economics aside, the Olympic Games gives the world an opportunity to pause for a moment and appreciate the talent, tenacity and determination of world-class athletes. It is truly a sporting spectacle and I cannot wait for the opening ceremony on 5 August!

One of the flagship events of the Olympic Games is the marathon. It is truly an event of endurance and determination. As the athletes set off on their 42km journey they are fresh and ready to face the road which lies ahead. They are full of hope, some with the dream of earning a medal, some with the promise of finishing the race as an Olympic marathon competitor and the honour which accompanies this accomplishment. As the race continues and the road stretches on for the athletes, some of those who set off with the determination of champions are faced with the reality of the standard of the competition, the performance pressure of the Games, the realisation of their own limitations in the heat of Olympic competition and the moment of decision-making when finishing the race no longer seems possible.

In 1968 John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania faced the agonising decision of whether to akhwariwithdraw from the Olympic marathon in Mexico City. In jostling for position he had fallen hard, injuring his shoulder and partly dislocating his knee. Despite the protestations of the attending medical staff, Akhwari picked himself up and insisted on completing the race. Back at the Olympic Stadium, the medal ceremony had concluded when the crowd became aware of police sirens and a group of police motorcycles surrounding an athlete approaching the stadium. In a mix of walking, limping and attempts at running, John Stephen Akhwari entered the stadium over an hour after the winner had crossed the finish line in front of the few thousand people who had remained behind (see this on YouTube). In what has been described as the greatest last place finish ever, Akhwari demonstrated that it is not the start which determines our place in history, it is the way in which we complete the race set before us. When interviewed after his incredible feat of endurance, he said,

“My country did not send me over 11,000 kilometers to start a race. They sent me over 11,000 kilometers to finish one.”

When our parents choose to send their little ones to join our school at three years of age, they are beginning a journey which will last another 15 years until the day comes when their young man or woman will complete their final day of Grade 12. It is a journey filled with challenges and obstacles and yet it is also a journey filled with exciting opportunities to discover, to learn, to create memories, to develop life-long skills and make friends which will last decades. We are privileged in the primary school to lead our young charges on this journey for 9 years. The pre-primary and primary school road is, in my opinion, absolutely vital to how the remaining 6 years in Junior and Senior High develop. It is in these 9 years that critical skills are developed, curiosity is encouraged and talents are unearthed and allowed the space to grow. The growth of key character traits and attitudes of grit, resolve and problem-solving is encouraged and our teachers provide ample opportunity for personal growth.

Teaching our children to get up when they fall, to live out the truth that it is how we respond to failure and difficulty which determines our success and to develop resilience and grit, is the responsibility of both parent and school. As the guardians of our pupils during their critical pre-primary and primary years, we are committed to ensuring that our pupils finish their scholastic race well-equipped for the life they will lead both in the High School and indeed after Grade 12.


Hotel Impossible – take-aways for schools


Hotel Impossible logoI am a huge fan of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible – a show in which hotel “fixer” Anthony Melchiorri visits ailing hotels and works with the owners and staff to turn the business into profitability and success. Every time I watch the show I wonder whether some of the schools I have visited over the past number of years (and, yes, the school I lead too) would benefit from some of the common sense advice and honest appraisal given by Melchiorri.

Here are three takeaways from the show which I believe are applicable to education:

1) The little things matter:

No matter how big or small the hotel, Melchiorri always makes a point of looking for the small things which can make a difference to a guest. This principle needs to apply to schools as well. Way too many schools ignore simple things which can make a huge difference – the way the school receptionist/secretary greets visitors, the neatness of school bags outside/inside the classroom, clear signage, clean bathrooms with fresh flowers and so on. Most of these can be fixed with little or no expenditure.

2) Be willing to see your school through the eyes of others:

In each episode, Melchiorri makes a point of showing the hoteliers what the guest experience is like. Delays at check-in, poor service in the restaurant, confusing arrangements for key collection and so on all create a negative experience which translates into poor reviews for the hotel. I wonder how often those of us who are responsible for schools consider the experience of our pupils and parents. Complacency around this issue is a very real danger as we deal with the stark realities of teaching and leading every day. Attention to the experience of your school by others is an important part of building a quality school – we need to make sure we do it! We need to take an intentional look at our learning spaces to consider whether they are exciting and engaging places for our children. We should consider how we communicate to parents and whether our communication actually meets the expectations of our parents. What does our admission process feel like to a family desperate to enrol their child in our school? Do we have good relationships with those contractors we bring in to service our school?

3) Be open to correction:

Some of the most entertaining episodes of Hotel Impossible are those in which the owners are adamant that they know more than Melchiorri despite the fact that they are responsible for running an inefficient, failing business. On many occasions it turns out that the owners have never run a hotel before nor do they have any experience in working in a hotel! Yet, they seem determined not to take the advice of someone with over 20 years of hotel experience and a proven track record of turning hotel fortunes around. This type of arrogant attitude has no place in business and it certainly should not be welcomed in schools. School leaders must always realise that the school is greater than they are and that they do not have all the answers to every difficulty facing their school. Principals, governors and board members should be open to the advice of others, particularly those who can bring insight from fields outside education. Insights on leadership, financial sustainability, human resource management, property management and more can be gleaned from professionals outside education and school leaders would do well to pay attention to them. It goes without saying that school leadership should also be open to learning from others in education who can add value from their own experiences.

Yes, its reality television and yes, I’m quite sure there is plenty of behind-the-scenes manipulation. However, the show is entertaining and certainly gives those of us in school leadership much to consider as we lead an increasingly complex organisation in an increasingly complex world.

MEC Lesufi dances to the wrong tune


IMG_2361I came across the February edition of a publication entitled “Public Sector Manager” at Lanseria International Airport while waiting for a flight back to Cape Town. On the front cover was the portrait of Mrs Angie Motshekga, National Minister of Basic Education. Realising that there must be an education focus in this edition (and fascinated by the headline of ‘High Standards’), I took some time to browse the magazine.

One of the articles was entitled, “Gauteng Department of Education leads the pack”. The thrust of the article was that the GDE was the top performing education department in the 2014 Matric examinations. As I read through the very blatant self-congratulatory tone (after all, the magazine is published by the state’s Department of Communications), I was struck by the fact that nowhere was there mention of the high dropout rate on the way to Grade 12 in Gauteng (see this article for insights into the 2014 Matric pass rates).

I was also troubled by this sentence:

As the Minister makes the announcement Gauteng MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi jumps up screaming and punches the air as if he has just won a million rand.

It seems that Matric pass rates have become competition fodder for politicians. This is simply unacceptable. If the provincial MECs were truly concerned about the state of many of our schools and the education system, they would realise that matric results do not give the full picture of the health of the education system. MEC Lesufi was surely pleased with the announcement as I am sure he and his team have worked at various strategies to improve the matric pass rate. His reaction is however out of proportion given the huge obstacles still faced by the schools, pupils and teachers in his province.

Focusing purely on results is counter-intuitive as it creates an environment in which teachers and school principals feel pressured to hold pupils back in the lower grades who may not perform as well in Grade 12. It focuses on outcomes rather than the process of learning and it fails to take into consideration other factors in the school improvement process.

It is my hope that our politicians, including our Minister of Basic Education, stop using Matric results (and our pupils) as a means to give each other a pat on the back and start focusing on the real issues at hand (such as the quality of the Matric pass and the lack of true skills-based curriculum in the FET phase).


You’re invited – ThinkTank at Brescia House


I’ll be travelling to Johannesburg this week to participate as a panelist at the Dell Think Tank hosted by Brescia House School.

Brescia House School is recognised as a leading innovative school and this initiative promises to be a most worthwhile event – I’m looking forward to it!


SAMR Introduction – presentation from Innovate 2014


I presented this workshop at the E-Schools Network 2014 Conference held at Wynberg Girls’ High School in Cape Town. The workshop was a brief introduction to the basics of the SAMR model of technology integration.

SAMR – Making Teachers Feel Inadequate?


I am a fan of Dr Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model which shows levels of technology integration in learning (for loads of resources on this model, see Kathy Schrock’s great collection here: http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.htmlsamr-model-graphic). There are many visual illustrations of this model available online and they are in their own way helpful guides to those wishing to understand this way of examining tech integration.

So then here are two questions related to this model:

1) Does every activity in the classroom need to be at the Redefinition level?

2) Should teachers feel that they are not using technology effectively if they are not at the Modification or Redefinition level?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘No’. I fear that many of the available SAMR graphics illustrate this model as a progression from poor use of tech at the Substitution level to the ‘proper’ use of tech at the Redefinition level. I even came across one which linked an increase in academic rigour to the move from Substitution to Redefinition! I’m not convinced this is helpful. Don’t misunderstand me on this – I firmly believe that our teachers should be making every effort to integrate technology into their teaching and the learning experience of their pupils. What I am looking for is for teachers to use all four levels in their teaching and not to feel guilty if every lesson isn’t redefined by the use of technology.

Just as I expect my teachers to use the Blooms Taxonomy in its entirety as they plan and execute effective learning experiences for their pupils, so too do I want to see the full range of the SAMR model as they use technology. In doing so, I do not want any of my team to feel inadequate or ineffective in their use of technology because they have planned a lesson in which the use of tech is at the Substitution or Augmentation level. This is especially true for those teachers who are in the early stages of their understanding of the use of technology in their classrooms and who are just beginning to understand their changing role in a 21st century classroom. I believe that through ongoing professional development, mentoring and accountability, teachers can be taught, encouraged and expected eventually to include all four SAMR levels in their teaching.

It is idealistic to expect every lesson in our classrooms to be transformed through technology no matter how much we wish this were true. As teachers move in their understanding of their role in the classroom and begin to see themselves as facilitators of learning, and as they begin  to understand how technology can support their pupils’ learning, their application of all four levels of the SAMR model will improve.

Let’s not make our teachers feel inadequate by creating the impression that they are somehow not making the grade if every lesson they teach with technology is not at the Modification or Redefinition level. Let’s rather provide the encouragement and the platform for them to continue their learning and their journey towards a fuller understanding of how technology can bring a entire new way of learning into their classrooms.

What Makes A Great Leader In The 21st Century?


We all know the familiar stereotype of the stern school headmaster brandishing his cane while looking over the rim of his spectacles at his young charges. Academic gown flowing behind him, he demands respect for his position and rules his domain through fear. Teachers and pupils both fear and admire him while parents dare not question his motives nor decisions for fear that their children may bear the brunt of the headmaster’s wrath.

This model of school leadership is thankfully both outdated and stereotyped. The challenges of modern school leadership are vast and require a particular skillset. It was with interest then that I came across a TED talk delivered by Roselinde Torres.

She conducted a survey of 4000 companies to determine the effectiveness of their leadership development strategies. What she and her colleagues determined was that the vast majority of these companies were not effective in building leaders for current or future realities. The model of success which these companies prepared their staff for was simply no longer valid. She took a year off to travel and interview hundreds of corporate and non-profit leaders to determine what constituted effective 21st century leadership. The result of this work was the realisation that there are primarily three key questions those wishing to lead in today’s world need to ask:

1) Where are you looking to anticipate the next change?

2) What is the diversity measure of your network?

3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

From the perspective of school leadership, I’d like then to pose the following questions:

1) As a school leader, where do you look to stay ahead of the curve? What books are you reading? What media are you consuming which will keep you aware of current and future educational trends? With whom are you spending your time to grow your understanding of the society into which you are sending your pupils? Are the professional growth opportunities given to your teachers still relevant for this fast-changing world?

2) Are you willing to develop relationships with people who are different to you? Can you build trust across personal and professional difference to achieve both personal and corporate goals? Are you willing to embrace different solutions from a wide variety of sources?

3) Are you willing to break the bonds of tradition so that your school can move forward to greater relevance? Do you have the emotional stamina to deal with both critical and sceptical parents, alumni and staff? Do you have the courage to dare to be different?

These are important questions to ask as we strive to lead our schools to greater relevance in the 21st century. I have been challenged by these questions and hope to grow into greater leadership competence as I lead my school into our shared future.

Roselinde Torres’  TED talk can be found here: What It Takes To Be A Great Leader

Blame or Change – Your Choice!

Change - ObamaPhoto source (without quote): www.wodumedia.com

Effective leaders often need to break new ground, challenge assumptions and introduce new thoughts to well-established traditions. This is certainly true of school principals. They need to consider the existing demands of national curriculum statements and the expectations of the broader school community. They need to be aware of the realities of hard-working teaching staff who have become bruised and battered over the years by the changing goalposts of curricula dictated by state and provincial education departments. While considering all these realities, they are also tasked with bringing effective change to ensure relevant teaching practice and dynamic learning opportunities for all the pupils in the school.

The challenges listed in the previous paragraph coupled with the very real element of fear and reprisal can lead school principals to adopt a “we’ve always done it this way” approach. In no way do I advocate change for change’s sake but when change will improve the learning experience for pupils and will create a more dynamic learning environment, it is up to the school leader to pick up the reins and drive the change process.

It can become too easy to blame the Department of Education, the CAPS curriculum, the lack of resources, poor parental support and so on for perpetuating poor teaching practice. The losers in this scenario are both pupils and teachers. It is up to the school leader to put in the hard yards in learning about new ideas, preparing and implementing an effective change plan. This is a scary prospect for many principals who have never had any previous experience in leading change but perhaps becoming an educational dinosaur leading a school which continues to operate in a time warp is a lot more scary!

In my experience the most effective tool in bringing about effective change in a school is COMMUNICATION.

Without open communication the principal risks being a lone voice unsupported by the very people who are needed for effective implementation of the change. A mistake I have often made is that I have rushed this critical aspect and have then found it much more difficult down the line to bring staff and parents on board the change process. Changes to curriculum and any other aspect of teaching need to  be communicated clearly and early on to the academic staff. They need to know the reasons for the proposed change and how the change will affect them. Will it require more time commitment for planning? Will teachers be required to redesign lesson plans or revisit their assessment procedures? What new administrative tasks will be required? Is there clarity on what benefits teachers will derive from the proposed change? Do the teachers understand how the proposed change will bring about more effective learning in their classroom?

Innovation and change are two distinct concepts and should not be confused. There are way too many principals who think that regular change makes them innovative school leaders. This is simply not true and too much change can create confusion, mistrust and anger. Innovation involves well thought through and considered risk taking which can lead to incredibly effective change.

Creative risk taking is essential to success in any goal where the stakes are high. Thoughtless risks are destructive, of course, but perhaps even more wasteful is thoughtless caution which prompts inaction and promotes failure to seize opportunity. – Gary Ryan Blair

Change will never come to those who choose to sit on their hands because they are paralysed by thoughts of failure or because they are afraid of the inevitable push-back from certain quarters. Effective leaders of change are those who can see the need for change and become involved in bringing the needed change to reality with the help of their team. I certainly do not want to be a school principal who is afraid of change. I want to be a principal who sets the course for change and brings his team with him in the implementation process. If at the end of 2014 I look back on the year and this is all I have achieved professionally then I’ll be a very happy man.


10 Day Twitter Challenge


Twitter is my number one source of new information, challenging thinking, teaching and leadership resources as well as the medium through which I share my own online discoveries and thinking. I cannot imagine why any teacher would not use Twitter to connect with other professional educators for shared learning and resource sharing.

Some folk to whom I have spoken feel that Twitter is too complicated for them or that it is simply too much of a time-waster. These people have not spent enough time learning how Twitter works (very simple actually!) nor have they developed the discipline of 10 minutes a day browsing Twitter to discover what is actually available. There is rubbish on Twitter (as with any other online network) and there are those who use the medium to self-promote and certainly don’t add value through their inane commentary on the world. Those seeking to use Twitter as a professional tool need to be given the tools to do so and the support and encouragement to persevere.

This is why I really like the idea put forward by @SeanHCole who has issued a 10 Day Twitter Challenge for South African teachers. The graphic below explains how the challenge works. I will be putting this to my staff on Thursday morning and running this as an internal staff challenge. I encourage you to do the same. Let’s build the South African education community on Twitter so that we can all learn from each other. Those on Twitter already may wish to share this challenge. Follow the #10STCSA hashtag to find those teachers who have taken up the Twitter challenge.

Follow me on Twitter too – @artpreston