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.
I love it when a member of our school team follows through on an idea or project about which they are passionate. Passion drives innovation and this is certainly the case for our school’s Digital Learning specialist, Mrs Karen Stadler.
During the course of 2012, Karen visited the wonderful Kruger National Park with her family. A trip to a watering hole was to be a defining moment as she witnessed five magnificent rhino arrive to drink the water and wallow in the mud. She realised that within a year there was a possibility that some, if not all, of these gracious creatures may have been killed by poachers.
This realisation moved her into action and she set up a Global Classroom Project known as The Travelling Rhinos which involved having five small rhinos made and covered in traditional African Shweshwe fabric. Karen ran a competition at school to have the rhinos named. Our pupils rallied to the cause and came up some wonderful names. The winning names were: Lilitha, Lesedi, Siyanda, Zindzi and Makulu (Xhosa, Setswana and Zulu names).
The rhinos were sent to schools in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA where schools have been encouraged to teach their pupils about the plight of the rhinos in Africa. It has been so encouraging to read about what these schools have been doing and how they have embraced this project. Even more encouraging has been the impact this has had on the pupils as many were unaware of the seriousness of the rhino poaching onslaught in South Africa. (See this blog post from the Global Classroom Project about a small rural school in New Zealand whose children made news in the local newspaper because of their activism as a result of involvement in the Travelling Rhinos Project.) At the time of writing, the number of schools involved stood at 36 (see the left margin of the home page here for the list of schools). This represents a significant number of children across the world who have become aware of the plight of the rhino and who have, in many cases, been moved to action.
I applaud Karen for the effort she has put into this project. Her passion for the plight of rhinos in Africa, particularly in South Africa, has allowed her to channel this energy into a project which is uniting children and their teachers across the globe.
When I decided on teaching as my career of choice, I was under no illusion that this was an easy career path. I grew up around schools as my mother was a successful teacher who received several accolades over the course of her career. The hours of dedicated preparation, the weekend and after-hours events, the challenge of helping pupils reach their unrealised potential, the late afternoons of school-imposed professional development and the effort required to build positive relationships with parents, were ingrained in me as a child and teenager. I grew to love the idea of one day teaching in my own classroom and perhaps even one day leading my own school.
Many years later I now find myself as principal of a well-resourced independent school and am now in a position where I am able to set expectations of delivery from my team of teachers and ancillary staff. Over the past few months I have been challenged to examine those expectations in light of various discussions had in either one-on-one meetings or comments made in staff meetings.
Upon reflection I have had to examine my own thinking on staff commitment, the professional life of teachers and my own assumptions about the profession and individual staff members. It seems the busyness of life has taken its toll on teachers who regularly remark on how little time they have. I want to have a team of well-balanced professionals who are able to teach with enthusiasm and energy each day and who are also able to enjoy life with family and friends outside of school. How then to make this happen?
The reality is that teaching is not an easy profession. The physical and emotional demands are very real and it can become easy to become bogged down in the day-to-day pressures of the job. Perhaps the challenge then is to help teachers learn to work smarter not harder (a cliché perhaps but real nonetheless). We also need to re-examine the curriculum and stop chasing marks (grades) but rather aim at authentic assessment which reflects true learning. The CAPS documents make this increasingly difficult but I still believe it can be done despite them. Add to this the extra-mural commitments of teachers and the expectation that they take ownership of professional growth, as well as other school commitments such as attendance at sport festivals and professional development seminars and one begins to understand concerns about time and achieving life-balance. Many teachers are also under pressure from parental expectations and this needs to be managed carefully as well.
That all said, I believe that our school provides a caring and supportive environment for our teachers. One of our strengths is the sense of community which prevails in our staffroom.There are always going to be times in the year which are more stressful than others. That is the nature of any profession. I would far rather be in a school which sets the bar high for its academic professionals than be in one in which anything goes. In order for us to remain a leading school we have to realise that change, hard work and high expectations are par for the course. Achieving mediocrity takes work but who wants to be mediocre? Achieving excellence is a much harder task and demands more of everyone in the team. My job is to ensure that every member of our team is supported, encouraged and given the tools and skills they require to remain excellent at what they do. It is also to be the sounding board for when the pressure is on!
As a school principal, I believe in what I do. I still hang on to the idea that teaching is the noblest of professions and that teachers have arguably one of the most important jobs in the world. I am passionate about leading our school towards more effective 21st century education and about developing a team of teachers who are leading educators. The example set to me by my mother and other outstanding teachers and school principals with whom I’ve come into contact, continues to burn deep inside me. I know that lots of hard work lies ahead and that I need to manage the workload of my team well so that we can build our preferred future together.
I recently shared a presentation with the Head of Curriculum and Assessment in our school. The purpose of the presentation was to inform our parents about the changing nature of education and the way in which we have structured our assessments.
Without the commentary for each slide, this may not make much sense but here it is anyway!
Video source : http://www.mentorcloud.com/resources/weekly-insights-19/
Although this video is aimed at business leaders, I believe there are take-away pointers for school leadership as well. What follows is my attempt at summarising some of the key points from the various speakers and a few thoughts on their application in a school context.
There is a need for leaders to develop the skill of managing across boundaries (real or imagined)
Schools are full of boundaries. Some are real while others are imagined. There are boundaries between grades and departments, among the pupils (across and within grades), professional boundaries (often linked to a lack of skills in certain areas), boundaries of knowledge, boundaries of leadership capability, boundaries of time, boundaries of classroom doors and walls separating physical space and boundaries set up by those who seek to maintain their sense of power by position alone. Effective school leaders are those who can identify the boundaries in their school which are causing conflict and inefficiency and deal with them decisively and fairly.
Tomorrow’s leader needs to be excellent at engaging with people and be willing to give things away (knowledge, skills, time)
At the core of school leadership is relationship. A school leader who is unwilling to engage with his/her school’s constituents (pupils, parents, staff, community) is bound to fail. It is imperative that a school leader be willing to make time to speak to parents, visit classrooms, engage with pupils and be a person to whom teachers can come and chat about curriculum, class management, challenging students and more.
Leaders need to accept that they will be much less in control and that they are no longer the only ones who set the agenda of their organisation
The picture of the Victorian school principal patrolling the school grounds, cane in hand and academic gown flowing behind him, is an outdated one and yet there are some school heads who act as if they are the 21st century embodiment of that stereotype. This approach to school leadership is doomed to failure as these principals have failed to understand that in an ever-changing world, access to knowledge, ideas, innovations and collaborative endeavours is now the norm and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The school principal is not the tyrant ruling his school with an iron fist but rather the catalyst for discussion and the enabler of teachers, parents and community to develop new initiatives in the school.
Leadership is about connection – allowing distributed leadership across the organisation and across sectors, divisions and industries. It is also about being a leader who builds bridges across assumed boundaries and who is willing to be open to alternative viewpoints.
Our world is no longer insular. Technology has enabled us to make connections with people all over the world. These connections expose us to varied views on educational theories and management ideas. They force us to consider a different viewpoint and provide a platform for the sharing of best practice. Our connectedness helps us become better at what we do.
It would be wise for school leaders to seek ideas about management, leadership, organisational theory and strategic planning from outside the education arena. There is much that can be learnt from the business and entrepreneurial worlds. School principals need to seek these connections to increase their own efficacy and capacity for high-level leadership. Likewise I believe that business can learn from education. Its a partnership which needs to be forged so that there is mutual benefit.
Communication remains key but leaders need to become adept at the effective use of many different media to engage with others
Technology and the rise of social media has presented school leaders with an unprecedented opportunity for more effective communication. A ‘spray and pray’ approach to communication is however not effective and school leaders need to learn how best to use the various media now available. They need to understand their target markets and know which tools are best suited to those markets.
Leaders need to be in the present to allow them to recognise talents and solutions in their organisation.
School principals needs to be practitioners of “Leadership By Walking Around”. They need to be visible to their staff and students and should always be on the lookout for those who need a helping hand or those who can be praised. The solutions to problems faced inside a school can often be found simply by recognising that within their staff (admin and estate staff included) there may well be innovative solutions and expertise waiting for the opportunity to be released. Empowering the staff of a school to be part of the solution-finding process is a powerful practice and creates community and ownership amongst all those who work together at the school.
Ultimately, leaders must be clear about their purpose
There are few things that make me feel more despondent about a school than a principal who is simply going through the motions. Perhaps it is a little naive and idealistic given the demands of the job, but I still believe that leading a school is a calling. Those who have given up on this ideal, who have been burnt out and who no longer feel the passion of their work, need to think very seriously about why they continue in the job.
Purpose gives passion. Passion creates energy. Energy creates action. Action in a school creates exciting, dynamic learning experiences set into motion by inspired and motivated teachers. It starts at the top.
I feel desperately sorry for those principals who are burdened by bureaucracy, held to ransom by politicised teacher unions, constantly hassled by department officials, made to feel incompetent by unsympathetic governing bodies and pushed to the limit by the day-to-day life and death struggles of the impoverished communities in which they find themselves. How easy it would be for them to throw in the towel! I salute those who continue to lead their schools with passion despite these conditions. They are our education heroes. May we never lose sight of their dedication and may they continue to inspire us to lead with passion.
Conferences can be very expensive and time-consuming. How wonderful then that teachers can now take part in a free global conference focused on bringing some of the best minds and practioners in education from all over the world together for five days of training, discussion and input.
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 wit