Thought_A-256

School Leadership Lessons

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the Victorian school principal patrolling the school grounds, cane in hand and academic gown flowing behind him, is an outdated one and yet there are some school heads who act as if they are the 21st century embodiment of that stereotype.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.
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Carpe Diem – Living An Extraodinary Life

This is the address I gave to our school on the occasion of our annual Awards Evening (8 December 2011) :

Carpe Diem

There is a well known poem which begins:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying

The poet, Robert Herrick, reminds the reader that time does not wait for anyone. The poem is in fact an encouragement to young women to get on with it and marry. Times have changed I certainly would tell our young ladies to be patient! However the overall message is one to young people to make the most of their youth and to use every opportunity it brings.

It is this poem which Prof John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society, recites to his young students during their first English lesson of the year. He takes them out of the classroom into a passage where large cabinets filled with historical memorabilia and photographs stand gathering dust. Prof Keating tells his boys to look into the eyes of the young men in the photographs, some of which are obviously very old. He tells them that those young men also had dreams. They also wanted to make something of their lives. He encourages the boys to lean forward to hear the message being told to them by those young men in the photographs – As they lean forward Prof Keating says, “Carpe Diem lads! Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!” (See the clip here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQtmGcdSDAI)

That scene captured my imagination not only as a teacher but as a human being. It reminds me that every day I can make the most of the opportunities which come my way. It reminds me to work on developing new skills, to live each day with passion and meaning. When I focus myself on making the most of every opportunity I am able to grow and develop into the person I was made to be.

Let me offer three ways in which each of us can seize the day and make ourselves extraordinary :

1) Focus on others :
It is very tempting to become caught up in our own drama, our own difficulties, the struggles at work, the difficult colleague who seems determined to sow dissidence in the workplace, financial worries which make sleeping at night a struggle. It becomes easier to deal with these realities when we learn to turn our eyes outwards and focus on the needs of others. It is often when we do that, that we realise how fortunate we are.

It is the beggar on the street corner when you’ve complained about your poor salary, it’s the homeless man under a piece of cardboard when you’re dissatisfied with the size of your house, it’s the paraplegic in a wheelchair when you’ve moaned about a sore leg from having walked around a lot at work, it’s the infertile couple who have tried for years to have a baby when you’re beyond frustrated with your toddler’s tantrum.

Carpe Diem means : Stop! Take a look around you. Be grateful for what you have and be a blessing to others.

2) Find your passion :
Passion needs to be found and nurtured. When we find our passion, we develop confidence to try new things, we are more willing to take risks and we take the road less travelled by.

Passion cannot be faked. It is something which comes from deep within. It has its own energy which propels us forward to new and exciting ventures. We can discover our passion by pursuing that which keeps us talking until the late hours or the subject about which we want to read continually. We learn about our passion by considering those hobbies or activities that we already give hours to without complaint.

Carpe Diem means: Find your passion – pursue it and live it out!

3) Make your life extraordinary :
We tend to think of famous people as those who live extraordinary lives; those who live in the media spotlight as celebrities. While this may well be true, it is also true of the thousands of people who don’t make the headlines but who live lives of significance each day. These are those who diligently apply themselves to the improvement of the lives of those around them and who use their passion to make a difference to the world.

It is these people who live out the “Carpe diem”philosophy – making the most of every opportunity to realise their potential and use it to make the world a better place.

Carpe Diem means : I will be the best I can be and be a difference-maker in the world.

I believe that good teachers teach, great teachers inspire. What they inspire is a desire in children and young people to reach beyond their circumstances, to see beyond the obvious, to learn more about their world with an insatiable curiousity, to ask questions which to other may seem frivolous and most of all, great teachers inspire our children, the future leaders of our country, to seize every opportunity which comes their way to make our world (and theirs) and better place than the one we are leaving them. This generation of young people has the opportunity to seize the day – to grasp the challenges of climate change, to embrace new technologies in positive ways, to seek solutions to the vast difficulties of socio-economic inequalities in our country and on the global stage and to seek solutions for the many conflicts which beset our world.

To make this philosophy easier for our younger audience, here is a video which I would like to share :

So “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may; old Time is still a-flying” – go make your lives extraordinary. You can make a difference in the world!

God bless you all.

 

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What Teachers Make – World Teachers’ Day 2011

Today is World Teachers’ Day – have you hugged a teacher today? 🙂

This poem by Taylor Mali is now a few years on and many have seen it. I still think it is outstanding and worth another listen!

 

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Learning to change – changing to learn (Video)

I love this video which challenges our perceptions of what true learning in the 21st century really looks like. I am challenged to take this message not only to my team of teachers at school but to our parents and wider education community.

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I Believe In…

I believe education matters : I believe in education that is relevant to a rapidly evolving world. An education that prepares children for a world where they will change careers multiple times before retirement. An education that gives children the tools to cope with an ever-increasingly connected world. An education which recognises that learning takes place in an organic and connected way. An education which does not rely on a system of grades to indicate whether a pupil is learning or not. An education which teaches the value of emotional intelligence and the importance of respect for one another.

I believe teachers matter : I believe in teachers who foster a life-long love of learning. I believe in teachers who know that in a Google world they can no longer be seen as the source of all knowledge. I believe in teachers who are open to new ideas about the value of grading pupils and about seeing change in their classroom practice. I believe in teachers who are on a journey of self-discovery and personal learning and who are constantly learning how to be better at what they do. I believe in teachers who persevere through difficult circumstances because they believe that what they do really matters. I believe in teachers who choose to teach each day with the same enthusiasm they had on their very first day in the classroom.

I believe parents matter : I believe in parents who understand that the education of their children cannot only happen at school. I believe in parents who choose to work in partnership with their child’s teacher. I believe in parents who realise that teachers have personal responsibilities after 5pm and don’t call them at home or on their mobile phones at night. I believe in parents who support the discipline of the school and don’t undermine teachers by bringing down teachers around the dinner table. I believe in parents who see themselves as part of a team with the staff of the school. I believe in parents who believe in the inherent potential of their child. I believe in parents who choose to invest in their child’s education as a priority in their monthly budget. I believe in parents who are the singularly most important people in their child’s life – providing love, security, boundaries and support.

What do YOU believe in? Send a tweet to @artpreston with the hashtag #headthoughts – in a  few week’s time I’ll post the results.

Thought_A-256

Stale Teachers Stink!

It seems to me that teachers can very quickly become set in their ways. It becomes easy to haul out files of work done in previous years and simply present it again to the current class. Large files are kept ready to be opened when a particular section of work is to be taught and pupils who catch on to the pattern can score high on assessments as they borrow a book from a pupil who had the same test the year before.

A stale teacher is an albatross around the neck of any school, class or pupil. They either need to be helped to improve or helped to leave.

We can choose to blame the education department, financial woes of the school, the changing nature of society, increased class size or poor school leadership but if we fail to address the issue of outdated, tired and repetitive teachers, we are not really tackling the problem.

Ongoing professional development opportunities, peer review mechanisms and a culture of professional accountability are important factors in keeping teachers fresh and “in the game”. I certainly do not want “stale” teachers in my school nor do I wish this for my own children.

Teachers need to be taken back to the day when they walked into their first classroom and reminded of what that felt like. I encourage my staff to remember the feelings of excitement, wonder and enthusiasm as they started their teaching careers and challenge them to remember why they entered the profession in the first place. Our nation faces serious challenges in the education sector. One area we should not have to worry about is teachers who have forgotten their calling to the classroom!

 

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Lessons From Dr Seuss

Creator of rhymes and of stories spectacular

Used words both rare and in the venacular.

His name was Suess and the books that he wrote

Told tales of wonder and demand a requote.

For the lessons therein have much to remember

From January all the way through to December.

Both children and adults can learn quite a lot

From the Grinch to the Cat to Horton and Yot.

Each one has a lesson right there at its core

It leads us to read even further and more.

So here is the talk that I gave to our school

On an occasion when the need was there to refuel.

I hope you find it both inspiring and useful

And to old Dr Suess be eternally grateful.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

On the occasion of our school’s 2010 Awards Evening – 30 November.

Good evening parents, Board members, honoured guests and pupils.

I am never quite sure what direction to take my Awards Evening address as there is always so much that can be said when there is a captive audience!

In my first year at this school I spoke mainly about how each one of us is uniquely gifted to make a difference in the world in our own special way. Last year I focused on on the incredible role we have as parents in moulding and shaping the young lives in our care.

This year I would like to start by asking a question of the adults in the audience :

“How many of you can remember reading a Dr Seuss book when you were a child?”

Now let me ask our pupils : “How many of you have read a book by Dr Seuss – the author who wrote “Cat In The Hat”, “Green Eggs And Spam”, “Horton Hears A Who” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”?

I have fond memories of enjoying the rhythm and rhyme of the rhyming couplets of these books as a little child as first my parents read them to me and then I too discovered the joy of exploring the words.

Who can resist lines such as –

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

or

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. Its not.”

or this one which is perhaps appropriate for this time of year,

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of seomthing he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

One of my favourite Dr Seuss books of all time is “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. This books reminds me that no matter what challenges may lie ahead of me, with the right attitude and with the wisdom to make correct choices, I can succeed.

I believe this is an appropriate message for us as a school as we come to the end of a year which has, in many ways, been a challenging one for staff, parents and pupils.

There are 4 lessons which I would like to share with you this evening from “Oh The Places You’ll Go” which have a bearing on the nature of this occasion and on us as a school community:

1) You have all the basic skills needed for you to accomplish your goals.

During times of difficulty it becomes very easy for us to focus on that which we do not have. We start to believe that we cannot achieve because of our wants. Perhaps it is time for a refocus. Perhaps it is time to start looking at what we do have. Our school has had a tough year, particularly on the financial front, and yet we still have a team of dedicated teachers, a growing sports academy, a full and varied cultural and academic program and a supportive parent body. These are the ingredients for future success and I believe that as we focus on what we do have, we will build strength in our school.

2) Be a leader in your niche by being the “best of the best”.

Our school needs confidently to position itself as the best independent English-medium Christian-ethos school in our community. We need to continue to seek new and innovative teaching methods, build strategic partnerships within the community and strengthen our overall educational product.

3) When obstacles arise, be prepared to overcome them through ingenuity. Evaluate the situation and take action.

We have faced several obstacles this year. In each case creative ideas have had to be sought to overcome them. It would have been much easier simply to give up and wallow in self-pity but we have not done so and I believe we have come out the stronger for it. Solutions have been sought and found and we will continue to work at strengthening our school as we move into 2011.

4) Don’t allow fear to keep you from moving toward your goal.

Fear paralyzes us and keeps us from achieving what we are capable of and as parents giving into our fears may mean denying our children opportunities. Fear of failure, feare of ridicule, fear of what our friends might think, fear of the unknown, fear of the consequences of our mistakes, fear of repeating the mistakes our parents made and fear of our own insecurities can and do prevent us from reaching the goals we have set for ourselves and our children.

We cannot allow fear to be our reality. We need to grasp our reality with both hands, be grateful for what we have and use the opportunities we have been given to their potential. Only then can we achieve the goals ahead of us.

In the book “Oh The Places You’ll Go” we are told,

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Boys and girls, as we celebrate the achievements of fellow-pupils this evening, I want to remind you that each of you has a bright future ahead. You will face challenges – physical challenges, academic challenges, family challenges. No matter the obstacle you face you will have a choice as to how to deal with it. I hope and pray that you will make the right choice and that you will face your obstacles with faith, strong character and a determination to succeed.

Well done to those who receive awards this evening. You have learnt these lessons and are leading the way in showing your peers how to face challenges and grasp the opportunities given to you.

I would like to read the last few pages of “Oh The Places You’ll Go” as a message to all of us tonight – let’s listen then to the wisdom of Dr Seuss:

“All Alone!

Whether you like it or not,

Alone will be something

You’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance

You’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,

That can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go

Though the weather be foul

On you will go

Though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

Though the Hakken-Kraks howl,

Onward up many a frightening creek,

Though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike

And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know,

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dextrous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will indeed!

(98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…

Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So … get on your way!

(excerpt from “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, Dr Seuss, Collins, 1990; orig. 1957)

"Oh The Places You'll Go" by Dr Seuss

Click on the cover to buy the book.