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…

Where For Art Thou Mojo?

My ‘get up and go’ seems have done just that… and it has taken my teaching mojo with it.

Over the last few weeks life’s events have taken their toll on my wellbeing. I worked myself into the ground (physically) to finish the painting and flooring in our new house so that we could move in during school holidays. I then returned to work completely exhausted and was reminded of my role as a leader when I had to forgo my usual teaching role to support a colleague. School camp came and went and I discovered that the common cold that I had been denying was actually Shingles. Some extended time away from work coincided with a change in personnel and the beginning of a fantastic, new co-teaching arrangement at school. Then my beloved Granny (who lived on the other side of the world in Wales) passed away last weekend at the ripe age of 97.

In between these events I have tried to maintain enthusiasm for my work. There are so many great things happening at our school right now. Genius Hour is up and running for all of our year 7 students. This has been a big mission for me this year. Our ICT Strategic Plan is taking shape and I see exciting times ahead for our school community. We are about to host visitors from an interstate school. Yet something is missing – my spark! I know it’s still in me. I just need to find it and bring it back to the fore.

There is so much going on. Maybe that is a part of it. My Principal regularly encourages us to focus on a few things and do them well. I’m not very good at it. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I tend to take on too many things which, when combined with my penchant for procrastination, can leave me overloaded. I certainly feel stretched – like trying to share that last small piece of dessert with the whole family.

Most of all, I’m worried about my students. I took on a role of science/maths teacher at the start of the year despite a clear lack of experience and knowledge of teaching science. I am a neophyte teacher all over again. I’m learning new content each weekend to take into the week ahead. My teaching strategies are basic and I’m stuck in a cycle of trying to gain some control over what is happening in my classroom. Fake it til you make it!

It was always going to be a challenging year for me having left a long term, office-based role to return to teaching. The new Australian Curriculum was introduced to schools since my last teaching job. My previous role was heavily focused on the ICT General Capability with limited exposure to the content of the Learning Areas. It’s been a baptism of fire, having been thrown teaching maths/science after the beginning of the school year. I’ve been chasing my tail ever since. At the heart of it all, I still don’t know if I want to teach science. At which point in time do you emphasise your own wishes ahead of the needs of an organisation?

Don’t Forget the Introverts

I left our fortnightly staff meeting this afternoon feeling completely exhausted. I tried to look back on my day to get some insight into what may have led to this feeling. A quiet, reflective drive home got me thinking about extroverts, introverts and their responses to schooling. I think our education system favours extroversion. This includes our students and teachers. For many introverts, schools can be a daunting and exhausting experience. As I look back on today’s meeting, a few observations spring to mind.

The education profession, by its very nature, attracts extroverted people as teachers. Let’s face it, teaching is very much a performance and that is much more appealing for those with tendencies toward extroversion. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great teachers out there who are introverts. It’s just that schools can be a very tiring and confronting place for a teacher with a predisposition toward introversion.

In today’s staff meeting, we were met with an outstanding presentation about Connecting with Community. The presenters had the audience creating radio shows, acting out and responding quickly to prompts. Two of our team performed an inpromptu, 3 minute radio show based on upcoming events in our school. No scripts; no preparation; just live performance. My skin crawled when they asked for volunteers and I made every effort not to make any eye contact with the facilitators. Following this, we had to move into small groups to create and record a similar radio show. The extroverts in the room shone through this experience. As an introvert, I found much of the meeting confronting and overwhelming. As facilitators called for volunteers I was aware of myself trying desperately to be invisible. I left this meeting feeling like I would struggle to stay away for the drive home. At the same time, many of my colleagues bounced out of the event, laughing and commenting on the energy they had taken from the experience

Secondly, I noted one of the facilitators had a big, sparkly birthday message for a student in their class. I heard a number of my colleagues commenting positively about the teacher’s dedication and caring nature, with further comments about how special this child must have felt after having this message displayed on the IWB during class. At the same time, I felt sympathy for the student and imagined how uncomfortable they may have felt. Neither feeling is right or wrong; just different.

My son won a spelling bee competition at his school today. He is something of an extrovert and thrives on performing to an audience. The video of the final round also shows a shy (and possibly introverted) young girl looking extremely uncomfortable standing on a stage with an audience of 350 students and teachers. Without taking anything away from my son’s performance, I wonder if the young girl would have performed better without a large audience.

Extroverted students are seemingly better suited to many instances of traditional and modern schooling. Consider the questioning techniques in any classroom. Students are praised for contributing responses quickly. Our schools recognise the achievements of those who put themselves forward and at times the ‘quiet achievers’ float along in the background struggling to cope with the energy required to match the ‘performances’ of those with a more obvious disposition toward extraversion.

A couple of messages come to mind for our schools. First, and foremost, teachers need to be aware of their own preferences toward extroversion/introversion and ensure that they take into account the needs and feelings of those with a different disposition. Allow opportunities for students to delay responding to questions. Give extroverts an opportunity to perform, but don’t pressure introverts into feeling they need to conform to this. Be careful of how and what you highlight about students. Having your birthday broadcast to a large group can lead to feelings of discomfort for come of your students.

Take time to develop an awareness of your own preferences for introversion or extraversion. It is only through awareness of our own perceptions and filters that we are able to acknowledge the impact of our actions on those around us. Most importantly, respect difference and cater for diversity.

Related articles
15 Things That Introverts Would Never Tell YouMaryann Reid

I Love My New School Because…

  • Innovative ideas are encouraged and change is the norm
  • Student wellbeing is at the fore
  • Students have a voice
  • There is genuine action against bullying
  • Our leadership team support teachers’ ideas
  • There is a change agenda
  • Honesty is valued
  • Everyone has an opportunity to lead
  • People listen
  • Technology is embraced as a tool for learning not as a solution
  • Our leaders care about staff wellbeing
  • It’s ok to disagree – it encourages dialogue
  • Mistakes are ok – we learn from them
  • We are not content with the status quo

 

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.