What Did I Learn?

As we come toward the end of the school year in Australia, it’s time to sit back, relax and reflect on key moments and learnings from the year.

Connections and relationships make or break your leadership

Enough said! It’s possible to fall into a trap of maintaining quality relationships with people above you in the hierarchy whilst ignoring those lower in the org chart. This can only lead to problems. It’s not about being popular – it is all about respect and valuing the contributions of everyone in your organisation.

It’s not sneaky, it’s strategic…

My principal (@DarwinRose11) is a shrewd operator and a great inspiration to me. On a number of occasions I have observed her strategic thinking come to the fore. It was on one of those occasions that I commented that she was being sneaky. Her response, “I’m not being sneaky; I’m being strategic!” This has resonated with me throughout the year and has influenced me in a number of situations dealing with challenging issues within my team.

Doing what is right is often the hardest thing to do…

We are often faced with challenging situations that add significantly to our workload and can often take people away from their core business. I have been involved in performance support for a colleague that was not meeting expectations. The easiest option would be to ignore the person’s issues and support them to move to another workplace. But… can you sleep at night with this decision? Leaders need to be willing to do that hard yards and stand up for ‘good’. That can impact on your ability to undertake your normal responsibilities and be detrimental to work-life balance. It’s also the right thing to do. Poor performance in schools impacts the entire community. It is also a matter of perception. If your team do not believe that you are going to address inadequate performance or inappropriate behaviours then you are likely to be seen as a leader who can be walked all over, manipulated or ignored.

Look after yourself…

Sounds like common sense but too often we push our bodies (and minds) beyond their limits all in the name of work. This year I contracted Shingles as a direct result on intense stress. Admittedly, my family has been through the process of building our first home this year, but this was not the major stressor in my life. It was my job. I didn’t want to let people down. I wanted to be seen as strong and resilient, particularly because many of my colleagues were visibly struggling with the pressures that resulted from some big incidents. I ignored all of the warning signs because my principal was surviving and I believed that I could too. I didn’t. For anyone who has had Shingles, you will remember the excruciating pain and debilitating nature of the disease. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Since recovering, my wife has been my guardian angel, helping me to realise when I am overdoing things and when I need to take a rest.

Never, ever build a house and start a new job at the same time…

It’s really easy to take on too much in our lives. In addition to the above, I have grieved the loss of my grandmother (97 years old!) this year. She has always been my biggest supporter and believed in me. Sadly she didn’t ever get to see our house finished.

Your children are only young once…

I have missed all of my children’s school events, performances and celebrations this year because I was too focused on work. In fact, my only engagement with their schooling has been to attend a meeting with the principal when my son was getting himself into some trouble. Things have changed in the last few weeks. I am very excited to be going to see my daughter perform a song & dance act with her pre-school class tomorrow. It will be fun and work will survive without me.

As leaders, we can often take our work life a little too seriously. Life goes on if you miss a meeting. We have to look after our own wellbeing if we are serious about the wellbeing of our teams. There are times when we have to put in the extra hours to see something through to completion but this should not be the norm. Go home. Spend time with your family or just relax by your self. Enjoy these moments because there will be times when you have to take on the big issues. And always keep learning…

I’m Ready Now

It’s time to eat the proverbial ‘humble pie’.

I made my first foray into school leadership roles in 2005. At the time I was brash, cocky and filled with an immense sense of self-importance. Needless to say, things did not go very well. My principal sent me to leadership courses (which I sat through with a smug belief that I was already a quality leader). I engaged in 360 Feedback processes (but chose to ignore key feedback messages). Instead of learning and taking ownership of my shortcomings, I chose to blame those giving the feedback, convincing myself that they had a personal issue with me. I missed out on so many wonderful learning opportunities.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Laura Billings

Fast forward 8 years and things have changed considerably. I married now with two wonderful children who are not afraid to be (brutally) honest about things. They have really helped me to be more aware of my own behaviours.

Add to this some awesome mentors who saw potential in me and were willing to take the time to help me form a more accurate view of my workplace behaviours – opportunities for growth and areas of strength. I have been so lucky to learn from outstanding leaders in many walks of life.

I have always prided myself on being a learner. I just let my ego get in the way of learning about leadership. Now I love conversations that challenge my thinking. I regularly seek feedback from colleagues and leaders.

In hindsight, I was not ready to lead when I first stepped up. I was looking to lead for all of the wrong reasons – power and respect among them. I was out to prove to people that being older was not a requirement for leadership. I believed that I was smarter than people and a better teacher than most.

Leadership is not about individual glory. If you are leading and nobody is following, you’re just out for a walk. Leadership is about empowering and enabling those around you to achieve success. It’s about influencing and inspiring. And it’s a lot of hard work.

Now, I’m ready to lead because I am ready to learn.

Reflecting…

A little over two years ago I began a new job, tasked with establishing a Technology Learning Centre to support teachers to effectively use technologies in teaching and learning practices. It was to be a three year project with significant initial funding to kickstart the initiative. I was given 6 weeks to turn a (very well equipped) room into a space that was inviting and to develop a set of professional learning programs that would cater for the diverse needs of teachers and overcome barriers of distance and isolation.

6 weeks later we opened the doors for our first series of professional learning events. They were well received by teachers who gave up time in their holidays to attend full day events. There were certainly a few issues in those early days including power outages, water outages and the pleasant background sounds of jackhammers tearing through concrete in the adjoining schools. Yet positive stories spread quickly throughout the department and many more teachers have taken the opportunity to learn and develop through our programs.

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Two years on and we have hosted over 200 face-to-face and online professional learning events.

Sadly a decision has recently been made to close the centre as there has been a shift in focus and funding priorities. This came as a quite a shock to me and the broader education community. In a matter of days, the project has ended and I have moved to a new role.

Rather than focus on the disappointment, I have decided to reflect on some great successes and experiences from the last two years…

  • So many teachers are doing great things in their classrooms as a result of learning during our many events.
  • iPads are being used effectively in many schools and classrooms.
  • Technology is well and truly part the education agenda in our schools.
  • I have travelled to some amazing, isolated places in the Northern Territory.
  • My knowledge, skills and abilities as a professional learning facilitator have developed considerably.