Category Archives: Leadership

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Modelling a Growth Mindset

We want our kids to understand that learning isn’t easy. It is a challenging activity, it causes a great deal of head scratching and it requires risk taking.

We talk as a staff about ‘The Pit’ and what we go through when we try something new. Our class windows and walls are adorned with pits and the associated resources that children have created to help them get out and experience the ecstasy of success.

This morning Meredith Bladen’s class were leading assembly and they walked us through their learning pits. Meredith works very hard to establish a growth mindset culture. It was great to see the children showing their hand drawn graphs with notes and reflections, with actions and emotions all mapped. I have asked Meredith to blog about this but she is a little shy – please tweet her and ask her to write about how she uses learning pits.

Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit
Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit

Earlier in the assembly I had talked about one of my faulty learning habits that I was trying to get over… I mentioned how impressed I was that the school always uses NZ Sign Language as they sing the National Anthem and that I feel a little embarrassed about not getting things right so I don’t give it a go. I asked the assembly what I could do … After a couple of weeks in, I was amazed at the response from children of all ages.

In response to a middle school child saying that I should just ask for help I asked for help. At lunchtime today I had a string of children waiting to help me. One 5 year old simply said just copy the You Tube clip. This was met with a year 3 response of “yeah he could do that but it is always much better when you learn with someone else.” So for the next 10 minutes I learned and practised with these kids who had given up their lunchtime to help me out. The bell went and they were gone leaving me basking in the glow of that Year 3 child’s response. It was priceless and I was left thinking how lucky that child was to have teachers who model a growth mindset and help their students articulate effective learning strategies and dispositions.

As leaders in schools (And I mean leaders in the broadest possible sense) it is our responsibility to model these behaviours to our children. It is our responsibility to think aloud, to share our thought processes so that our children know that learning is a challenge, we never stop doing it and that we can always get better with practise and support from the collective group.

We are more intelligent when we use our extended networks.


Make Club Arrives

One of my biggest fears before make club was that we would have more adults than children. You see I broke the soft launch rule! In struggling for a #28daysofwriting topic I wrote about Make Club. Now that combined with a little twittervertisement caused a bit of a flutter and I had a worry that we would have a couple of kids and lots of adults.

Was I wrong!

A full house for Make Club Debut
A full house for Make Club Debut

A jam packed room and two teachers leading parallel sessions in scratch and tinkercad. Yes pretty basic to start with but if you want to get into some MakeyMakey you need some basic Scratch. If you want to get into rapid prototyping you need some CAD. We had parents and students shoulder to shoulder learning together.

One of the best things that principals experience are the moments when staff shine. Now Make Club is the result of hard work by Kimberly Baars and Paula Hogg but today Kate Davison shone! Her attention to detail her and her preparation was superb. Guiding children  aged 8 – 13 (and their parents) to create a multi-level maze game in under an hour was absolutely masterful. There was support for those who needed it and challenge for those who were getting hang of things. I saw success, I saw laughter and I saw sharing.

a maze game in scratch
a maze game in scratch

We made sure that toward the end of the session that the two groups shared their learning with each other. We then gathered feedback from the kids about what they liked and what would make it more awesome next time.

Now we want sustainability, and the test will be who comes back next week. But judging by the feedback and excitement in the room I think there will a number of kids back. We are in this for the long haul, this club isn’t a flash event designed to ignite imagination. This make club is a long term investment in sustained imagination, creativity and making.

pondering the feedback
pondering the feedback

Well done to the team from Ministry of Make – I can’t wait for next Thursday!

Taking your community with you…

This #28daysofwriting piece is at the end of a school day just before dinner in the staffroom as we have our ‘meet the teacher evening’ tonight.

We have bombarded our parents with texts and email reminders as most of our parents know us. It is really important to get the community together so that we can talk about what school means to us. It is vitally important that we have alignment and that the parent body are with us.

One of the biggest issues schools face is that everyone is an expert about how schools run. This is due to the fact that we have all been to school and enjoyed it – hated it – endured it – regretted it – loved it – never left – never want to go back… the experiences are so different. Yet each of these experiences shape our mental models of what school should be like.

The stock standard line we often hear in our jobs is “School wasn’t like this in my day, it has all changed!” Well some of us would argue that it hasn’t changed enough and any changes that have actually happened are pretty surface level.

Tonight I am tackling this with the parents from the point of view of of course things have changed – would you expect your Doctor to treat you the same way as they did twenty years ago? The key driver for this mental model at the moment is the proliferation of 1:1 devices and schools asking kids to BYOD. So tonight I want to reaffirm our position on BYOB (yes B) and then address the age old issue of what about reading, writing and maths.

Literacy and Numeracy are still the basics yet the medium or context for them is shifting. Our children are in a digital world. The parents may prefer to curl up with a good book by the fire but the children may choose to flip electronic pages.

Tonight I have set up a padlet wall so that parents can ask questions. I want to show them the power of technology to provide voice because I guarantee you that parents, just like kids, have a fear of asking questions in public. I have emailed the link to everyone, printed off QR codes so they have access from their devices (yes so two years ago!) and embedded the wall on our caregiver page. I have primed the staff to try and answer questions on the wall while I am presenting. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. But let’s take a risk…

The standard you walk past…

I picked up rubbish today and as soon as I did there were 6 pairs of hands flocking to help me – without having to say a word.

A couple of years ago we had a visit from some Australian colleagues to look at how we used our learning management system. When people visit our place we believe that you take us as you find us. As we were walking around the school I bent down to pick up some litter. One of the visitors mentioned that he had recently seen a piece by an Australian military leader, Lieutenant General David Morrison, on Youtube that was full of amazing quotes especially this one…

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

It is a catchy phrase that really caught my imagination as it resonated with a fundamental mental model I have around walking the talk. It is a phrase that has stuck with me and I find myself repeating it to staff and to students. It can be used on so many levels but to me hits at the heart of personal responsibility and moral courage.

Our visitor commented that it was nice to see the principal bend down to pick up litter and that this very act speaks more to others than telling children to pick up their rubbish. It is true. Children are the best double standard detectors as they are always watching and effective teachers know that. We are always on show!

Now this is a handy phrase to use with kids but what standards do we walk past in relation to our professional lives and interactions? What actions do we deem acceptable due to the lack of moral courage when we are in situations that require someone to speak up? I applaud Lieutenant General David Morrison when he spoke about people who have difficulty upholding the shared values of the organisation “if you don’t like them (the values) then leave” This took me back to a couple of conversations in my leadership career that have opened with the following statement…

“could you remind me why we are paying you a salary to undermine and subvert the work we have agreed to do as a school…”

So what standards do we walk past? I know I walk past some… I sometimes think “Is that a hill I am going to die on today?” But in doing so am I condoning and indeed reinforcing that very behaviour or action?

Moral courage… I must ponder what I can see myself walking past and better still gather data from those who see me walking past things!

Framing a Leadership Inquiry

Principal Appraisal can be seen as a series of hoops to jump through. Lots of boxes to tick and indicators for which to provide evidence. The business as usual stuff with a couple of Performance Objectives and a development objective thrown in. Pretty soon you can find yourself just producing information to maintain a status quo.

The past couple of years have felt like I have been jumping through hoops. I was filling boxes because there was space to be filled. This occurred despite me leading a push to deepen our teaching as inquiry and separate attestation from appraisal that was linked to inquiry into assessment for learning practices.

After a great conversation with my BoT chairperson about the feelings we both shared about going through the motions we managed  see a way forward, a different way, opting for depth rather than shotgun coverage. Framing a leadership inquiry that hits at the heart of our school. An inquiry into collaboration.

We talk a lot about collaboration but what does that look like in our place. What does collaboration look like for and between teachers, students, parents and the wider community. How deep does collaboration go? Are we collaborative or collegial, perhaps even just congenial? More to the point how do our systemic structure with contribute to collaboration or act as barriers? I hope that the result of the inquiry will lead to what collaboration could be.

So the challenge is to find external sources who would contribute to the inquiry in a challenging and rigorous way. We had a really good meeting today with someone that may just fit the bill. Someone who will question, challenge and probe in a manner that extends my thinking and in turn my capacity to lead sustained iterative inquiry. I am looking forward to viewing the proposal later this week.

The Expertise Gap

Have you ever observed in another classroom and thought that there is absolutely no way I’ll ever be able to replicate that? Do you remember watching a talented mentor pick the perfect moment to  ask just the right question to student? Did you then think how on earth did they do that?

I remember watching my Tutor Teacher Mrs Jane Mackie with a sense of wonderment and awe. She seemed to be able to know exactly what each student needed by simply looking at the whites of their eyes. I knew there must have been more to it than that. She must have been so well prepared, planned to the hilt. She must have anticipated every possible situation in her head and then planned a suitable response. She was an expert teacher. When I asked her how she did I was surprised to hear that she hadn’t spent 4 hours planning that lesson. When I pushed further she really couldn’t help me step through the process or provide me with a recipe.

I was a bit slow on the uptake and I really only understood the reason for Jane saying ‘I just know, it’s hard to explain’ when John Edwards and Bill Martin of the OUREducation Network introduced me to the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition. There was a lightbulb moment. I was an absolute novice and she was an expert.

Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork
Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork

Jane had developed Personal Practical Knowledge that allowed her to make decisions based upon the context and the situation. As a new teacher I was reliant on rules to govern my decisions and actions. I needed lots of – if this then that – thinking.

We all experience being a novice when we do something new or start in a new place or position. I was a novice principal, I relied on rules and regulations to drive my work. I was always consulting what the policy says. Again I had an expert mentor principal who had left me scratching my head thinking how does she do that? Right now I would say I am pretty proficient but I know that if I got another principal’s position I would be an absolute novice in that position.

Knowing this, why do we pair novice teachers with expert mentors? Are we setting them up for the “I can’t possibly do all those things” moment that causes nagging doubts about their aptitude for the job?

The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is the reason we try to (within the constraints of a small school) partner teachers with 3 – 4 years of experience with those who are beginning their career. The advanced beginner or proficient people know what it is like being in the novices shoes. They make great tutor teachers as they have recent memory of things that the experts have long since forgotten.

‘Plain Language’ Education

One of the great things about the #28daysofwriting is reading what other people have to say. There is a lot that resonates in the hash tag, but this is also one of the dangers. If we keep reading stuff we agree with we will never really explore the reasons why we don’t agree with different points of view. Dissonance leads to clarity of our mental models as we mould and shape what we assume and believe to be true.

Steve Mouldy writes great stuff. His piece for Day 6 of #28daysofwriting centred around an experience he had where a group of teachers were banned from using education buzz words. Anyone who was caught using the buzzword had to put a token in the fine jar. I thought finally I can disagree with Mouldy about something! Banning professional language at an e-fellows retreat? Let me hoe into that one! Would doctors talking with other doctors substitute specific words in an effort to eliminate ‘jargon’? Do lawyers use less precise language so that everyone gets the general idea – not very lawyer-like.

Now I am not suggesting that teachers are in the same league as Doctors after all they save lives, teachers just mould, guide and inspire them. But really, if we are having professional conversations should we not use professional language? Now I am taking Steve’s post literally and he does make a killer point in that everyone has such different ideas of what the buzzwords mean that there is confusion. So let’s have those discussions. Let’s talk about what agency means to us, let’s get it clear in our heads what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Let us define it so that we can applaud it when we see it and go ‘that ain’t agency’ when it is passed off as such before our eyes. After all if we can’t decide as a profession then how can we talk with our communities?

Is this the rationale for plain language reporting to parents? At what point do we say, ‘hold on what I am trying to explain requires precise language’. Isn’t our job to educate, can we not use the language and bring our parents along with us so that they can use the language that teachers and students share? Does watering down a statement add to comprehension or merely consign it to a sea of sameness.

Long live precise, clearly defined and understood jargon.

Make Club – a debut

I am looking forward to the opening of our Make Club on Thursday 12 February for a number of reasons. I have long been a proponent of schools and communities using facilities outside of the regular 9am – 3pm day.

analogue and digital meet
analogue and digital meet

Make club is a mid-term event in the bigger journey of turning our technology centre into a community maker facility that is open 24/7. Make Club will be open to students, parents, teachers and any adult who likes to tinker, build, create, make and more importantly share knowledge.

We have had an amazing response after informing our community, with numerous people wanting more information and asking if children can come along. This is fantastic, not just for the fact that we will have lots of minds to set free but because of one of our founding principles for Make Club. All kids who attend must bring a parent/caregiver. You see Make Club isn’t a glorified after school care programme where you pay your money and leave. We believe that parents and kids creating and learning together can’t be a bad thing.

This club is also open to teachers. Teachers who want to learn about new technologies. Teachers can join in and learn alongside others and it is an extension of our experiment with ‘Staffies’ last year. Teachers have an amazing capacity to see an idea and then just run with it. We have all experienced a time when we have sparked of each other and come up with some amazing experiences for kids.

More importantly make club is open to makers. Adults who want to turn up and share. Experts who want to pass on their knowledge. We have been very lucky to have range of people visit our school over the past few years giving their time and energy. This is because we value collaboration and encourage people to join in.

Make club is the result of Kimberly Baars (Design Tech Teacher) Paula Hogg (BoT Chairperson) and I saying “wouldn’t it be great to…” Kim and Paula have done all the work though and without their input and urgency it would still be an idea. We don’t yet have a website for Make Club… but maybe the kids will fix that up for us, as we really want authentic contexts to be the backdrop for making.

Our hope for make club… to build community, to build capacity, and to build stuff!

MoM_header brand

Short Term Wins

In any change initiative that is designed to alter our fundamental values, beliefs and assumption we need to make sure there are short term wins. We must celebrate them to ensure that the energy and drive moves us closer to the vision. Essentially short term wins maintain vision focus.

With the end of our onsite server lease we were ready to make full use of our N4L Connection and head to the cloud. We were finally ready to sip at the Google Kool-Aid.

A main part of our staff only day was exploring Google Apps for Education. We could have had sessions from experts but we decided that we would follow a key mental model for professional learning – The Knowledge is in the Room! So we un-conferenced it up and teachers opted into workshops across the day run by colleagues. We worked on need to know skills but the sessions soon delved into what we could do. Exclamations of “hey we could…” or “how could I” were common.

Now we have a range of technological competency in our place and yes there were some very apprehensive people. Can I still use word? What do you mean my documents aren’t stored on the Teacher Drive? Normal first order change and in some cases reactive tension hit.

This week was full of wins…Greg the ‘caretaker’ Caretaker set up his Caretaker’s notebook in a google form and activated a notification add on so that he knows when people have requests. Shannon shared folders with her PRT Ashley and then promptly shared her meeting notes and received comments from both Mary the AP and myself. A transition to school meeting was captured in a shared doc with teachers contributing to notes and thoughts. Whilst one was note taking another was adding links and resources. Amanda and Carole are now emailing me phone messages that go straight to my todoist messages project – Amanda is even experimenting with priority settings and time based alerts. All within a short time frame and yes albeit with people who are not afraid to take a chance and try something new. But short term wins nonetheless.

Change, however small can be a challenge. I am fortunate to work with people who embrace challenge and who possess a growth mindset. Can’t wait to see what else eventuates.

My Modern Learning Environment

I had a cup of tea left on my desk about 10am this morning. Amanda, one of our admin stars, left it there for me…

Taupaki School was established in 1899. A single room that doubled as a community meeting space outside of school hours. There have been many changes over the years and we have just finished having our administration block ‘remediated’ due to New Zealand’s infamous leaky building era.

Remediation effectively means ripping down the affected areas and replacing like with like – nothing new. So we have just finished 10 months of construction to move back into the same building with the same space.

During the construction the entire admin team were housed in a tiny Portable office. We lived in each others pockets. Our Office Manager and Administrative Assistant were no more than a couple of metres from my desk and our Associate Principal a few more metres removed. There was no privacy – the walls and doors were paper thin.

It was the best ten months. We had fun, we laughed and joked, we shared and we worked together. I asked for advice, “Carole,” I would call out, “I am about to send this email to a parent, how do you think it will land?” Great conversations ensued.

When one of us made tea, we made tea for everyone…

We moved back in to the ‘New’ old Admin block before Christmas. I didn’t unpack as it was a busy time with end of year school and all. So in January I had the chance to set up my office. A chance to do it differently. To turn my traditional Principal Office into an MLE. The first step was to ditch the L-shaped desk and the swivel chair.

My makeshift standup desk... cant wait for @refoldNZ
My makeshift standup desk… can’t wait for @refoldNZ

A temporary standup desk (until my ReFold desk arrives) in the corner is working a treat! The couches in the middle give me some reading or thinking space as well as a relaxed place to chat with people. The round table and chairs provide a collaborative workspace. All I need now is a maker corner! The legs are tired (I need new work shoes!) but am definitely feeling the benefits of standing to work.

There is one thing missing… the bustle of people and the feeling of connection as one of the ‘port-a-com crew’. I would have loved to have reinvented the space, but we weren’t given that option. An open environment with some private meeting rooms for privacy when needed would have been perfect.

That cup of tea on my desk this morning reminded me that an MLE is not a building or room, but a state of mind – a mental model centred in connectivity! Thanks Amanda!