Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Brave Company by David Hill - a book to add to your Anzac Day collection.

Anzac Day is one of the most important days in the history of New Zealand.  It was the ignition of a series of events that began the formation of the New Zealand identity and loosened the apron ties of Mother England.  It was also the beginning of unimagined sacrifice by a country with a small population.

As a teacher, I believe that this important part of our history should never be forgotten and is a valuable part of the learning journey for our children.  Consequently I teach an Anzac Day unit each year and supply and read a selection of war stories to the children.

Last year I reviewed the David Hill novel My Brother's War set in WWI about two brothers, one who volunteered to serve and one who was a conscientious objector but was forced onto the battlefield against his beliefs.  I had read this book to my class and it encouraged other children to read it for themselves and even one child to ask her mother to purchase a copy for her.  Since that review I purchased another David Hill book focused on a different war.

Brave Company is set during the Korean Conflict and the main character is 16 year old Russell who is a member of the New Zealand Navy serving on a ship called HMNZS Taupo which has been sent to participate in the Korean Conflict.  Korea is war rarely discussed in terms of every day conversations on war, but New Zealand sent 4700 soldiers to serve during the 1950-1953 war and then as a peace keeping force during the armistice until 1957, and 1300 sailors served on frigates during the war and armistice, and all up 45 military personnel were lost.  (www.nzhistory.net.nz - Korean War)

I had a great uncle serve in Korea.  The first time I did an Anzac Day unit my Gran lent me a postcard Uncle T sent home about Christmas time with the Christmas Day menu on it.  I also treasure the photo I acquired of him in uniform with my great grandfather (who served in WWI) and great grandmother.  Uncle T saw enough of war in Korea to oppose his own son joining the army to serve in Vietnam.

This is the front cover and the blurb on the back cover:

Russell's family has a secret about an uncle who served and died in WWII who Russell once looked up to.  During his time in Korea Russell finds out about his uncle and discovers not all in what it appears to be.
Russell is a boy seaman on a frigate and the battle scene the frigate is involved in is tense and described in detail.  The tension is built throughout the book with innuendo about his uncle weaved through.  Hill doesn't reveal the questions asked about Russell's uncle early in the book.  They emerge as Russell's character is revealed and he meets a man who served with his uncle as he makes several trips into the battlefields of Korea. 
The book also reveals the plight of the Korean people as they fled their homes in the battle zone and the impact upon the children in particular.  Russell makes connections with a brother and sister in this predicament and demonstrates another side to his character as his understanding of their situation develops.
Again this is a great book to engage children in the realities and impacts of war.  It is a particularly good book to target boys aged 10 up to read, but I believe girls will also read this book.  I would definitely read it to a class and supply it as independent reading material.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

ULearn14 Breakout 4: Leading Change Successfully - Mark Osborne

One of the Breakouts I went to at ULearn14 was with Mark Osborne from Core Education.  This was a very interesting Breakout to attend for me for the following reasons:
  • firstly because I did not agree with everything Mark said,
  • secondly because he made some very sound points,
  • and thirdly because some of what he had to say rang very close to recent experiences for me as a teacher who had been in a climate of poorly planned change.
The following is what I took from Mark and my response to it.... and there were a lot of questions asked.

When you change the spaces into modern learning environments, how do you make sure you change the pedagogy as well?  How do we bring in collaboration, problem solving, resilience...?

You can not change people, you can only influence them.  Especially adults.  Kids are easier to change.

And the above were valuable questions and statements.  Because currently New Zealand is in the midst of the modern learning environment revolution, but that in itself brings issues.  We can make a classroom look shiny and new and have all the high tech gadgets, but those things in themselves will not improve the quality of teaching and learning.

People have to be able to use those spaces effectively, use the tools effectively.  Modern learning environments often mean shared learning spaces for two or more classes rather than the traditional single cell classroom, therefore you will need teaching staff who can work together, with a similar philosophy of teaching and who compliment each other.  To put together two or more staff members who don't share the same philosophy is courting failure.  Sharing students and spaces takes a lot of adjustment.  This blog by @ChCh_based, Ruffling a Few Feathers: Wow, this has taken a while to write, is a wonderful description and reflection on the adjustment to shared teaching and spaces.

This quote from the blog speaks volumes to me:

To me it is like a messy desk, moving things around and making piles isn’t really the same as creating a tidy desk. And I feel this is what we are doing. We have moved students around given them different teachers for different subject but have we actually really changed the way we are teaching?
The truth is no.
I have been questioning these MLE where they think giving students different teachers all the time is MLP. But is it? We are meeting the needs of your children by grouping them and they may not have their usual teacher. Isn’t this the same as streaming, groups, setting (or any other words you want to use)? Is this really MLP? What are we doing differently?

When I read this blog, I could see why this teacher took so long in writing it.  It's taken me a long time to write this post.  There are a lot of personal deep thoughts that @ChCh_based has put into this blog, thoughts that some may consider inappropriate.  But if you are struggling with change, you need to get those thoughts out.  You need to get the feed back and you need to learn from the struggle.  This is part of the journey @ChCh_based is on in order to be successful - because success does not come easy, and there should always be hiccups, stumbles and mistakes or else you are not really making change.

And that is why this post is also taking so long to write.  I will be discussing two school in which I experienced change.  The change was two different contexts, as were the schools.  But one was a positive experience and the other experience was a very difficult learning experience, one I wished I had never had to endure for many reasons, but one that will probably make me a better leader in the long run because now I know the kind of leader I do want to be V the kind of leader I do not want to be.

Adaptive organisations - when you are forced to change that can be disruptive.  So how do we make sure that our organisations are always open to change, moving, adapting so it is not so disruptive?

Resilience is the reaction to the disruptiveness of change, the ability to adapt.  That is not necessarily being resistant to change or fully embracing it.  Resilience would be to keep yourself aware of what the change is and why it is needed and how it is being done so you can adapt to it and make it work.

So what do all these birds have in common? 

The huia, moa, South Island kokako and haast eagle are all extinct.  Why?

Adaption is the reason -  these birds were unable to adapt to the introduction of a deadly predator - mainly humans  -  to their environment.

Think of the Woolly mammoth (Ice Age).  Its woolly coat was a great idea, but has the ice age drew to a close, it didn't evolve.  Mark talked about DNA evolving, changing, dumping.  He compared an organisation, like a school; changing the concept of DNA to the behaviour of the people in the organisation.  An organisation has to change its behaviour to change successfully.  That organisation is not just systems, policies and procedures, but also people and how they behave.

In my thinking and reading and reflecting on this ULearn14 Breakout, I recently came across this case study, Personal Cost of Change, on the MOE's Educational Leaders page.  This is the opening of the case study:

An experienced principal at a new school tries to bring about changes that will lead to a more supportive and inclusive professional culture for the improvement of teaching and learning. The staff are resistant to the changes and wish to continue with the status quo. The four-year change process was more complex, longer than expected, and resulted in much stress and heartache. It caused the principal to question her values, beliefs, and leadership style.

As I read through it struck a chord with me because I've been on the other side of this equation in my school, and it was no picnic.  For me it was not easy because the person making the change didn't have a clear plan, was a poor leader of people, could not articulate a vision and did not take the staff "on the journey".  I can only imagine the impact that had on that principal, because they never "shared" themselves with the team.

The principal in this case study has articulated how the change effected her and they changes that happened to the make up of the staff.  The principal had to adapt to the situation she found herself in, and part of that adaption of was be somewhat authoritarian for a long period of time to achieve the change she and the BOT wanted.  Once the change was bedding in, the principal was able to revert to her preferred consensus style of leadership.  Some staff adapted to the change, and some did not:

Staff changed. Some decided that the new direction was something they did not like, so they retired or went to other jobs. One was offered a support and guidance programme, but decided teaching was no longer for her.

We all know of schools who have a change of principal and then there is a major turn over of staff.  That turn over can happen for a number of reasons (the changes are too dramatic, this change at the top inspires an individual to reach for the next challenge in their career, it's time to leave teaching...) and the turn over can help the change as a result.

I've had this experience myself.  I began at school A in the first term of a new school year.  The principal went to a seconded position and the deputy principal was appointed as acting principal (as a first time principal but eventually to become the appointed principal).  At the same time, three new staff, including myself, came into the school.  The school had had a negative culture due to parental/community opinion and attitude towards the principal (resulting in a roll drop), the behaviour of certain senior students, and the approach of the staff. 

During the second term the whole staff (including the support staff and caretaker) did an Eliminating Violence two day workshop with GSE in an effort to change the climate of the school.  Subsequently I lead a team of teachers to brainstorm ideas of how to continue the climate change we had started and how to put it into action.

We brought in simple actions like "Caught Being Good" cards in the playground and positive reinforcement actions within the classroom; made our morning tea longer but shortened the lunch time as the biggest issues happened in the last ten minutes of lunch time; developed a shared vision and set of beliefs for students and teachers and displayed it in the classes; tightened up our disciplinary procedures using the Bill Roger's model of assertive discipline and our consequential communication with parents; we addressed the fact that some staff were in "deficit mode" and needed to move into the "credit mode"; we made more effort to include parents and the community in the school starting with simple things like activities in the classrooms and assembly; we brought in student led conferencing for reporting back to parents; we recognised the diversity in our school and ensured that all students and staff were addressed using their actual names.... there was so much more we worked on too.

We did this because all staff were taken on the journey.  To have everyone from the principal down to the caretaker involved was essential, because how often do the most difficult kids in your school gravitate towards the caretaker as they do their work about the school?  We worked in teams for specific areas we wanted to target, and we set time frames to report back to the whole staff for further discussion and input.

We still faced challenges and difficulties on the way (such as when a student stole a teacher's laptop, which was soon returned for several reasons), but we did not give up.  The school's climate did change and the community has seen that change and consequently the roll of the school has increased.

For me, personally, as a new staff member to the school, I probably was not as challenged by all this change as much as some of the longer term staff, particularly one teacher who had been there for 25 years at that stage.  However, we pulled together and made a difference, and at the end of that first year only one teacher left (it was a fixed term position and he was travelling an hour there and then back again).

So this photo below, from Mark's presentation, probably sums up the experience I explained above.

What is the difference between leadership and management?  This was an interesting question to address.  And leadership in a change situation is crucial, so knowing what is a leadership role and what is a management role is also essential.
Where do the things in this list fit onto this continuum below?  At this point we had a bit of a brainstorm at the tables to put these things into place.
Management  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Leadership
This was how I arranged them at the time:
Some of the concepts above appeared straight forward, others were confusing to me.  Storytelling has happened in all cultures all through the years and Mark says it is very much a leadership quality.  I struggle to understand what aligning means in relation to management, and I am open to finding that out if you can be of some assistance.
I really liked this analogy that Mark used: 
Management is ensuring the bus is booked, paid for, everyone has a seat, a map and the driver has a licence. 
Leadership is convincing everyone to take the journey.
Very few people are strong at both management and leadership.  There are plenty of well organised, rostered people who have no idea of the big picture.  And then there are plenty of people who have a great big picture but couldn't organise their way out of a paper bag.
If you want to make sure you are not like the huia, you need to make sure you are closer to the leadership end and have a vision.  But as a leader, it can't just be MY vision, it needs to be OUR vision.
What is leadership for a slow-moving world?  In the 1920s a beginning teachers could have taught the same for the next 20-30 years.  But a BT today will find that within four years they are making changes.  And the reality is that all teachers are leaders.  And as leaders of learning, teachers have to be adaptive to the group of children they are teaching and the advances in education.
Have you ever met a Lone Ranger boss?  They are the bosses who stayed in their office, thought, read and occasionally toured the school, went back to their office and issued a decree.  They tend to be sequential and orderly; consult, consider, make decisions alone.
But what are the skills for leadership for a fast-moving world? 
  • Connected, empowered teams. 
  • Going out and solving problems for themselves. 
  • Networked, complex. 
  • Pooling of the information then making decisions together.

The experience of change

What is change?  There are two kinds of change in this model: first order change and second order change.  In the photo below it talks about first order change.

Examples of first order change include changing from paper portfolios to e-portfolios for reporting; thematic studies; adapting skills from one way to another.

Second order change can be so disruptive, the organisation and staff and processes may even go backwards.  Some example of second order change are throwing out age level teaching and going to vertical levels; co-teaching; get rid of the curriculum and going to project based learning.

If I am in a BYOD school and we change from I-pads to chrome books it is a first order change.

Someone who is struggling with change maybe thinking, "I don't know about you, but I am more comfortable with being unconsciously incompetent!"  If I struggle with the change, I might be seen to be not the teacher the parents thought I was.  I might have a lot to lose.  I might struggle with change.  I might resist the change.

Someone who is struggling with change maybe saying, "Why should I waste my time learning Google Docs?"  They can change this mind set and reframe loss to gain: "I create and share in collaborative planning and get some back." 

The people in tears are those facing second order change.  But we often react with first order change solutions that don't solve second order change challenges.  Second order change requires more support, more understanding, more reassurance and input, more time.

One way to get second order change happening is to get the "untechy wise about the curriculum teacher" paired up with the "techy still learning about the curriculum teacher" for coffee chats and to share their expertise with each other.

Leaders need to build change readiness - if someone is really struggling with getting on board the change bus: are they not ready for change?  Have I not supported them enough to cope with change?

And this part of the Breakout had really challenged my thinking at the time.  I had not long left a great position at a school with students I adored and had made good progress with and had great plans for.  But what made me leave was a principal who micro-managed, did not consult but rather dictated, and who had no trust in their team or their experience.

I had begun at School B in the first term of the new school year.  During that term, the principal who hired me won a new position and left at the end of the term.  There had not been enough time to make a new appointment, so NZSTA supplied a principal for the second term and the new principal (a first time principal) was appointed during that time to start at the beginning of term three.

This principal came into the school determining to make change without knowing the community, students or staff.  At no time were the staff consulted on the directed the principal had determined would be taken, and that principal was ill-equipped to get the staff "on the bus" because the staff had no map and felt uncomfortable on that bus with that principals whose licence appeared somewhat dodgy.

While discussing first and second order change, I recognised a lot of behaviours and reactions that I had while working with that principal.  I recognised that my reactions and consequential behaviours were not particularly flattering towards myself, but I also recognised the errors that principal had made.  Consequently, even though my reaction to the change was poor, I have learned a lot about how change can and should be made.  And I was so glad I had chosen this Breakout to attend because it really did help me process the experience of working with that principal and my reaction to the change.

The reflection on the situation I had experienced was enhanced further by the next section of the Breakout.

Leading change successfully - there is a whole bunch of research on how to do it well: the non-negotiable, the optional.

Those who are resistant to change, who want to keep the status quo, are not necessarily wrong.  But have you listened to their reasoning as the leader?

Resistance to change can either be:
  • overt:  ridicule, boycott, sabotage, well-poisoning.
  • covert: token engagement, reducing output, withholding information.
These are logical responses to change.

And I have to say I was guilty of both with my recent experience.  Some of that reaction, the covert, was preservation of myself as a person.  I was running on empty because the whole experience of working with this micro-managing principal had rung almost every ounce of joy out of my position.  The overt part of my reaction was because I was at the point of knowing that my relationship with this principal was unsalvageable despite my best efforts.  The principal had blocked every positive move I had made to be constructive and was actively curtailing my ability to do my job.  And so my reactions became negative.

If we won Lotto we wouldn't hand back the ticket, because there is some change we like.  We just don't like to lose what we already have. 

Teachers hold on because they fear that the outcomes for the kids will not be as good. 

And I held on to that job despite the negative relationship with the principal for as long as I could because of the students.  I focused on the students, worked hard for them and to helped them along their learning journey.  When I left, I actively feared for the future development of those students.

Change readiness is built upon four components (Holt, et al, 2007):
  • personal valence (the change will be personally beneficial)
  • self-efficacy (I/we have the skills and competencies to successfully implement the change)
  • Appropriateness
  • Managerial support
Sometimes change fails because management does not see that they themselves need to change or collaborate.  And I think this was one of the key derailments in the experience I had with this particular principal.  They did not look at themselves during the whole experience and examine their part in the whole saga.

Leaders need to weigh up the cost/loss balance of staying with the status quo or pushing on with the change.

Leaders need to establish a sense of urgency for change. (John P Kotter, Leading Change):

Sources of complacency include:
  • Absence of a crisis
  • Happy talk from management
  • Human nature (denial)
  • Low-candor; low confrontation culture
  • Lack of feedback
  • Wrong measurement tools
  • Narrow goals
  • Low performance standards

Controlling the "temperature" around the change is essential.  The worst thing is if there is no conflict because, as a leader, you want differing opinions so you can have robust conversations and debate and make sound change. 

The worst thing you can do is get the list of problems, take them away and fix the problems yourself.  They are then your solutions and not the group's solutions.  You need to work with the group so everyone has ownership.

A leader needs to "cook" the conflict so it does not over boil, but also doesn't go cold.  Set a date to solve the problem, where people will meet and put ideas forward to go forward with.

In School B there was no consultation, no robust conversations or debate.  I found this confusing as at other schools these conversations and debates were encouraged.  If I tried to have those conversations with the principal at School B I was accused of yelling at them and my concerns were summarily dismissed.

At my position prior to School B, I was at School C, which had two temporary principals in terms one and two of my first year until an appointment was made and the new principal started in term three.  This was this principal's second position as a principal.

The thing I appreciated most about this principal was that they did not come in an make change straight away.  This principal established relationships with the staff, students and community first.  They observed how the teachers worked and interacted with the students, community and each other.  They stopped and watched what was working and what wasn't working.  They talked to the different groups about issues that stood out to them.

Slowly, the following year, the principal began to make changes.  And towards the end of that year that principal had to make their biggest changes in preparation for the following year - and some of those were painful changes which could have been communicated and consulted on better, and some of those changes were in full consultation and had the staff on board because they understood how they and the students would benefit.

The culture of your organisation will determine how well change will succeed and move forward.  But the culture of your organisation is all about people - about people's relationships, attitudes and mind sets.  If you have not established the relationships, not gained their trust, then how can you expect them to have a positive attitude or an open mind set?  How can you then expect to make change.

Mark says that when it comes to change you have to be able to do the following:

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I'm in my 20th year of teaching.  My career and possibly my generation of teachers has constantly been about change.  We started training as the New Zealand Curriculum documents were developed in the 1990s.  Our first five years of teaching (at least) included the draft, consultation, introduction and implementation of a new curriculum area document annually.  Then we went through the revision of the curriculum again in the mid 2000s as well as the Numeracy Project, the Literacy Project and ICTPD clusters, only to have National Standards foistered on to us before we were given the opportunity to implement and bed in the new New Zealand Curriculum document.

So I think I am pretty comfortable with change.

I am really pleased that I choose to attend this Breakout.  It was challenging for me, but it did allow me to reflect on a recent negative experience, understand what was going on and to learn from it.

As a result of that Breakout and my reflection on it as I wrote this post, it allowed me to be brutal about aspects of my experiences with leaders and change, and it clarified my views on what a leader is, what I want from a leader and how I want to be as a leader in addition to the management skills discussed earlier in this post.  This is what I think a leader should exemplify:
  • relationship building and maintenance skills
  • empathy
  • listening skills
  • the ability to consult
  • the ability to debate with opposing viewpoints
  • the ability to make a decision with the best information available, but the ability to seek advice when required
  • the ability to reflect
  • the ability to say when they got it wrong and work on fixing it constructively
  • the ability to take feedback and use it to move forward constructively
I hope I can live up to my own expectations, but I would certainly share this with those who I am in a leadership position to in the hopes that they would assist me in being honest and true to my own beliefs.

And I value your feedback as a reader too, after all, you have read to the very end.....