My new school is an ambitious, gutsy, energetic institution, with so many great things happening. The place – teachers, students, the walls, the facilities, the community – oozes with energy as you enter the campus, take in the environment and pass through the halls. Cheerful students greet you loudly and warmly between heated rallies in Four Square courts. Great to see my school game of the 1970s in provincial NZ played in downtown Singapore almost 50 years later!
I have fallen in love with this young, vibrant hectic school. There is so much great work that has been done in a mere 10 years to get the school to where it is now. There is growth ahead of us, too, though.
Our questions for growth going forward:
How might we ensure that every child is appropriately supported and challenged so that they are empowered to create their unique future
How might we build a culture where service, empathy and inclusion are emphasized and influence who we are?
What are your driving questions as a school leader as you move forward?
I have recently started a new role as a principal for the first time, in a completely new school in a new country. I have moved within Asia from a small school to a very big school, and from a secondary school to a middle school.
At the same time I have been reading #Relentless by Hamish Brewer (@brewerhm on Twitter). The book is all about showing every single kid that you care, and building their resilience by helping them “go one more round”. Brewer talks about the importance of relationships before anything.
While much of the book so far has been meaningful, I was particularly struck by the advice Brewer had for someone like me: a new leader moving to a new school. He says:
I felt validated to read this, as I have been working with new faculty for two weeks, and the full faculty for one week. I felt like his thoughts were aligned with how I plan to get started, and what I had told our faculty from day 1. I talked about what they might expect from a new principal, what changes and initiatives were coming their way. Basically, there are no initiatives right now. I am in inquiry mode. I will be watching, listening, asking, reading. I told faculty the book I am currently reading is called SAIS Google Drive. I would be going into classrooms, meeting with every teacher, reading policies, to consider the lines of inquiry shown in the slide below right.
Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year at EARCOS. I did not sign up for a pre-conference workshop as I normally would, so came with less direction of what I wanted to learn than in previous years. Quickly I was able to establish a few useful threads though. Such as: international mindedness and global citizenship; technology in education, as well as two personal ones: managing stress and public speaking tips. Here are a couple of the big highlights for me.
The keynotes were worthwhile as always, culminating in the powerful and emotional story of Kim Phuc’s journey from her Vietnam War injury and iconic image when she was 7 years old. From near death to pain to anger to hatred to forgiveness and peace and love. A life lesson for us all in there. Possibly the best speech I have ever heard.
Listening to the bold steps that WAB, Beijing is taking was inspiring, to say the least. I am envious of the strategic and relatively successful way they have embarked on their #flow21 transformation. Student choice and voice as well as giving the space and time for kids and teachers to fail and … (sorry, I cannot resist adding) to develop all important ATL skills, that really are the prerequisite for graduation.
It’s always fantastic to hear what Rami Madani has to say about curriculum and learning, so his sessions are guaranteed to be worthwhile, and Eeqbal Hassim’s expertise on global competencies was informative and helpful, too.
Thanks to the wonderful friends and colleagues I reconnected with or made for the first time.
This summer was one of the best our family has had. We cycled along the Danube, and were amazed at what Croatia offered when we visited there, right amidst the soccer world cup final stages. Mostly, we had a fantastic family time with our two teenagers. We certainly do not take quality time with a 16 year old and a 14 year old for granted.
I also got some great reading in. Fabulous works of fiction, of which The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah must be the highlight. Amazing story of the brave women of the French resistance in WWII. I do have to add A Gentleman in Moscow here too. So beautifully, poetically written. A story about the value of diverse human relationships and their cultivation. In this case, relationships were lifesaving multiple times over. Of course I am biased: Moscow was my first international teaching post, and I met my husband there. Another lifesaving relationship.
My professional reading included a Tech Leader’s manual which was quite handy, but paled in the shadow of Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek and Design Thinking for School Leaders by Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson.
Design Thinking for School Leaders reminds us of the value of piloting, of seeking opportunities, taking risks, and being a producer. As I went through the book, I found myself self-assessing on each of the qualities addressed, and carefully considering which attributes I need to develop in order to be a better school designer and leader.
I think Leaders Eat Last might define me as a leader. As leaders, how do we serve others, and put our workers’ needs first? This might seem unselfish, but the employer, leader or company will indeed reap long term gains, as people who are well looked after and know they are cared for respond positively and remain loyal to that environment.
The main thing about summer reading for me: it is such a fantastic luxury to have the time on my hands to indulge extensively in a huge range of wonderful books.
I feel quite good that I knew a lot of the factual information from the first four days of cognitive coaching. It was also very helpful talking to others about their learning from and after the first four days. We were able to connect a lot of different learning experiences to a connected understanding, that felt great. The example of this that sticks out is how by sticking to the belief that everybody has the answers inside themselves, we are actually practicing a growth mindset philosophy: we are telling the coachee or student that they can do this, that they have the answer, and that we believe in them. They just need time and prompting (coaching) for those answers and ideas to come out.
My use of maps, tools and evidence of success:
We had several opportunities to practice the planning conversation, and I do feel quite confident with the map in this case. For the times that I practiced with colleagues, I felt like it went really well. I felt confident as I made our way through the conversation, and I could tell by the coachee’s body language that I was eliciting thoughts that they had not previously considered. Afterwards, I received compliments from these coachees on how well they felt the conversation had gone.
For the reflective conversation, I feel much less confident. I have not had the opportunity to practice this as much, and cannot remember the steps without consulting the book. I think this is a powerful conversation map so I do really want to get better with this one. Perhaps that is my goal for today.
My awareness of my own States of Mind
This is an area of growth for me. I know and understand the states of mind but am not able to apply them in conversations or in my own personal thinking. Perhaps that means I am low in consciousness!
I am currently reading The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros, in preparation for an upcoming PTC course. In the meantime, in case you didn’t hear about it, Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup in sailing this week! The NZ news website, Stuff, published an interesting article about the conditions that facilitated the innovation needed for the NZ boat to be so competitive.
One university lecturer stated that the shortage of funding produced constraints that could have given TNZ a competitive advantage for innovation, while another attempted to refute his comments citing the poorest countries and their lack of innovation.
Surely there is an optimal level of limitations though, that can be a condition for innovation to flourish. The critical difference between TNZ’s situation and the world’s poorest countries is education. Innovation and creativity are based on sound foundational knowledge, together with the freedom to try, fail, iterate. Some of our students’ best demonstrations of learning come from creation of new ideas based on the newly acquired knowledge, often under constraints. One such example is our school’s recent IB DP Group 4 project this year, where all students needed to create a product from upcycled, not newly purchased, materials.
What do you think, does a lack of funds help or hinder innovation?
How do we get reflection right? So that reflection is:
not seen as a chore
celebratory, when appropriate
energizing for those reflecting
shared appropriately in the community.
We talked about blogs and reflection a lot at #beyondblogging this year up at #yis, and the big takeaway for me was actually a short comment made by a participant during one of the discussions: the class itself is most often that “authentic audience” we need for blogging.
So, in order for a reflective session to be successful, students need:
choice – what to reflect on, and how to share that reflection
an authentic audience, which is their peers, mostly.