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Empowering v Delegation #2

Following on from my previous reflections, I continue to inquire into the art of delegation.

My second stop was to read a book called Big Potential – Five Secrets of Reaching Higher by Powering Those Around You. I just stumbled across this book quite by accident and found it a good read with a few “ah ha” moments with strong links to my inquiry. I found the quote below particularly great and shared with it my Board. It provides a big hint to what you can expect to get out of the book – empowering those around you will not only lead to their potential being realised but also to your own.

This reinforces what I already know about the delegation, that empowering those around provides more opportunity for creativity and innovation.Effective delegation leads to empowerment.

“The more you expand your power to those around you, the more powerful you become.”

This book takes it further though than the previous text I read which is maybe a bit clinical. The foundation of Big Potential is well grounded in research right from events taking place in the natural world through to brain development, examples from business, and what is great to see, from education.

The author describes, and so accurately, how as a society we look at individual skills, attributes and knowledge throughout our schooling and education. We are assessed individually, reported on individually, apply for jobs individually. This is all contrary to all the research presented which shows that you will never reach your full potential by acting/learning/working individually. As we reflect on how schools operate we also embrace the individual in so many circumstances. Prizes at prizegivings, MVPs for sports teams, individual tests, head boys/girls, individual reports. We reinforce the notion of the individual and their success but the research shows you will be more successful based on how you contribute to and benefit from, the people around you.

This takes me back nicely to the whole purpose of reading this text, to Explore systems & mechanisms to support effective delegation & ‘working through others’. This book is rich in research, advice, and practical strategies to power those around us. While the word ‘delegation’ only appears once in the whole book, all of the advice in the book supports that goal but it does it in a way that is justified by research and in a way that honours the wellbeing of others e.g. just by changing the way we praise. Even if you put everything to do with empowerment/delegation to the side this book has a whole lot of good it in to support your leadership development.

I shared some of this thinking at our school’s leadership team PLG. We were updating each other on progress towards our goals. After sharing some thoughts, the rest of the team posed some questions, mostly in regards to my slightly provocative theory statement of delegation being an old school approach deeply rooted in a hierarchal leadership framework, and empowerment being the modern day equivalent and more aligned to a leading alongside approach or a networked framework.

Their questions…

  • How do you know you have empowered someone?
  • How is this theory going to help you with your feelings of workload and being overwhelmed?
  • Where are you now on the scale of: Overloaded<————————>Sweet as?
  • What systems and attitudes might our staff need to develop?
  • What ideal character qualities will you need to drive a networked leadership framework?
  • I wonder how this theory is going to help you manage your workload?
  • What might empowerment look like? How do you monitor it?

Some good meat in there for me to ponder as I continue on this personal learning stream of inquiry.

Empowering v. Delegating

I have a developing theory about the roles that delegation and empowerment play in school and educational leadership. Actually, rather than just in the context of education in my mind it is transferable into all aspects of leadership.

In short here’s my initial thinking… delegation is an old school solution to leading that reinforced  the traditional hierarchal leadership structure. On the other side of the coin, empowerment is a leadership approach that looks for and builds on strength in others, gives them the space, trust and permission to innovate, aligning itself to networked leadership structure.

Hierarchal = Delegation? Networked = Empowerment?

I need to delve a little deeper into that thinking but before I do, some background… the why. The thinking here starts back in my move from a principal at a school with a roll around 160 to my current role as principal at a school with a roll around 360. I found the workload a big set up and felt that it was impacting on life at home and the whole work/life/family balance. I don’t really know why this was though, especially with a hugely capable and already leaderful staff at my new school. Was it to do with a change from a rural school to an urban school? Was it the pace and expectations of leading a historically high performing school? Was it me not understanding how to effectively work alongside the new and extensive leadership team? I wasn’t sure but what I did know was that I was finding it a challenge.

Contributing to this was a style of leadership that I wanted to embrace and on reflection I was more than likely putting pressure on myself to make sure I started off how I meant to finish. Reading a whole lot of books continued to reinforce the leadership approach that I wanted to adopt. For example, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Empower by Spencer & Juliani, and Disobedient Teaching by Welby Ings…

None of them are specifically about leadership (except maybe the heroic v. post heroic leaders in Disobedient Teaching) but all of them describe approaches that can easily be embraced as a philosophy to drive a leadership style. More often, just changing the context (wording) e.g. from Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning to Empower: What Happens When Teachers Own Their Learning makes one think differently and put the thinking within your own context of leading a school.

So I have this issue of an increased workload after a move to a new school, the added desire of wanting to be a transformative leader, but with a sense of ensuring a need to manage my own wellbeing.

This led to a conversation with my appraiser as we pulled together my annual appraisal plan. End result, a development goal providing the context for my professional inquiry: Explore systems & mechanisms to support effective delegation & ‘working through others’. I recall my appraiser, who I have immense respect for, indicated that there were already a number of documented approaches to delegation which outlined a very structured sequential process that one could use. That’s just the ticket I thought, and launched my inquiry.

My first stop was to read and what better than a text entitled Delegating Effectively – A Leader’s Guide to Getting Things Done. There is plenty of good stuff in this short 30 page ‘ideas into action guidebook’. For example;

  • delegation is essentially the ability to relate to people in productive ways
  • its starts with creating an environment of trust
  • it is not simply assigning tasks – it is giving someone the authority to do something
  • it contributes to teamwork, trust, shared authority, and group participation
  • and for the individual – enhanced value, confidence and self-image, & opportunities to use their initiative and problem solve.

In turn this allows the leader more time for;

  • creativity and innovation
  • working on more complex issues
  • developing more leaderful staff
  • creating an autonomous environment for staff
  • increasing innovation, communication and creativity.

So there is some really positive messages in this publication, and some that align themselves directly with what I want to be as a leader and to our school vision. It also shows that my thinking re delegation/hierarchal leadership v. empowerment/networked leadership does not really have a lot of substance behind it!

From this source anyway it is clear that when a leader has a desire or vision to empower staff, and they have established effective trusting relationships, then delegation (as described above) is empowerment.

More inquiring/scanning to do to gain a different perspective and broaden my thinking. Final words for now though from the book Delegating Effectively:

Progress re ‘Pick Your Own’ Appraisals

Our pick your own pathway approach to staff appraisals is all up and running now after having the complete process put under the ERO review microscope last term. The outcome is an approach that embraces our school vision and additionally ticks off the compliance aspects of teacher appraisal.

For me the first outcome was the most important, that our appraisal reinforces our school vision empowering agency, innovation and leadership. The second of being compliant i.e. a vehicle for teachers to renew and/or become a fully certified teacher, is actually pretty important for the teachers too! However, I am conscious of any compliance conflicting with opportunities for empowerment and I often want to go for the pureness of empowerment without compromise! Check the graphic below or this great clip for more in this strand of thinking. Maybe a hint of disobedience here too.

Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer & A.J. Juliani

So what are the additional processes that took place before the system went live? Beyond those outlined in the last post, here are the highlights:

First was the underpinning/official Teacher Appraisal Procedure. The purpose of this document is to clearly outline the beliefs that drive the approach and the full process. This provides all stakeholders and interested parties i.e. appraisee, appraiser, BOT, ERO, with a robust transparent framework where they can be assured that their co-constructed views have been incorporated, as well as the compliance aspects.

This procedure is unique to our schools as as far as I know, we are alone in using an approach like this, and also because the beliefs that guided it and are incorporated throughout were co-constructed with staff. Here is an example of how we went about clarifying our drivers and other elements of the process – two simple questions which were then prioritised = ownership, buy in, voice, valued…

Secondly, reference in the appraisal procedure is made to an Appraisal Plan and Summary template. This document combines both of these steps. Initially it is to be completed by the appraisee and a member of the leadership team to set the appraisal up, and then by the appraisee and appraiser to guide how the personalised process rolls out over the year, and to provide a summary report at the end of the year, the later an important compliance step.

Update number three relates to the starting point for the appraisal, the pick your own pathway doc. This has gone to version #3 now and has incorporated teacher inquiry (don’t know why that was ever left off my previous versions especially considering my older posts like this one…) into the process as well as a reshuffle of the order to prioritise our school’s vision and values over the standards for the teaching profession. Maybe TAI and the standards may do a swap in future versions.

Staff were asked to make a copy of the doc and complete it by ticking on those areas that they would like to be included in your appraisal, or at least part of the set-up discussion. These would normally be areas that they need to work on, or have a particular professional interest in. They had to tick at least one in each column but could tick more than one in any column as required. Staff were also encouraged to also add in any aspect that is not already there.

Finally, rather than having a meeting to outline and discuss the appraisal  ‘system’, the leadership team suggested a video/screencast of the process was the way to go. This attempt was well received – I am not going to be a YouTube sensation but it did allow staff to understanding the approach and do so in their own time and follow up face to face with any questions.

Learnings to date? Several…

  • Staff were released to complete the set-up and appraisal plan. Very appreciated and worthwhile – gives it the value it requires. If it’s important – fund it!
  • When discussing the pick-your-own pathway, don’t discuss and confirm the last three columns (who, how, when) until you have confirmed the goals. The goals will often direct these aspects, especially the who (thanks for this great tip Nic).
  • Video/screencast approach is a winner and we will look to grow this semi flipped  approach more especially in light of being a no staff meeting school.
  • Need to reinforce more the working smart approach. Teachers are busy people and as such learning that they are already doing (i.e. ongoing TAIs in the classroom, professional learning) should be the basis of the appraisal goals. The goals shouldn’t be anything extra and should enhance these areas of growth. This is not inherently clear in the pick-a-path process, yet.
  • Future thinking re the pick-your-own pathway is somehow linking/initiating it through a probing reflective questionnaire (based on the column headings & content) that then magically spits out the priority areas/work ons, kind of like an e-asTTle dashboard i.e. an interactive online smart tool that helps you to pick-your-own pathway, or an app for your device.

 

Pick your own Appraisal Pathway

We are going through a bit of a review and revisioning of our appraisal system. One of the big drivers for me was to ensure that our appraisal approach was deeply rooted in our school’s vision:

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

Our vision is not just for our students learners, it is central to how we operate and learn as a community of learners and includes the board, staff and of course our students.

The seeds for change have been germinating for a while. If you have read any of my previous posts and reflections they are all about clarifying and acting on my commitment to a more personalised approach for professional learning that is rich in teacher voice and choice. That initiative is underway and parallel to the thinking behind that has been the thoughts of what if we took that philosophy and applied it to our appraisal process? What would it look like when we personalised this for staff and incorporated choice?

Let’s wind back the clock for a second… our appraisal system is not currently broken, it serves it’s purpose in supporting staff to grow in their capability and effectiveness, provides evidence to supports the renewal of their practicing certificate, has teacher inquiry as its foundation and includes a 1-1 coaching element. It ticks off the ‘requirements’ from the Ministry for Performance Management in Schools and the Education Council’s Requirements for the Appraisal of Teachers.

However, when one listens to the voices of the staff one hears murmurings that improvements can be made, especially after the leadership team had completed the ‘mid-year’ appraisals in 2017. As such the leadership team sat down and reviewed the process and the drivers for doing what we do. Some of the main learnings from the process were that there was no opportunity to staff be truely agentic, for the process to be personalised and there was not choice – it was very much a top down approach – and thus the seeds were sown…

https://katielmartin.com

It was around this time that I discovered the thinking of Katie Martin and in particular her thoughts on personalised professional learning. Her post Create Your Own Adventure (Professional Learning That Shifts Practice Part 5) really got me thinking and has also influenced my thinking around our PLD approach. The create your own adventure approach, or as I refer to it, a pick-a-path approach – just great! So, how could this planning be applied to appraisal?

So from here the planning began and initially I was thinking all circles rather than the table a like Katie’s. If you could imagine the first ring was the why, the second ring was the how etc. and they were moveable so you rotated each ring until your pathway was in a straight line. But time got the best of me and a table it was.

Below is version 2 (link to Google Doc). Probably a good time to reinforce that the approach is first and foremost about supporting teacher growth. Accountability is important but not a key driver. The headings explained:

  • Career Pathway: Long/short term goal for staff to consider, and may indicate potential goal around leadership or curriculum area etc to build in to appraisal.
  • Vision: Which element of our school vision do you perhaps need to strengthen in your own practice?
  • Values: Which one of our school values do you know you need to deepen your understanding of?
  • Standard: The compliance aspect. Either which one do you need to get better at, or, which one/ones relate to my emerging appraisal goals?
  • Who: Who would you like to appraise you?
  • How: What approach or approaches would you like to be incorporated into your appraisal?
  • When: How often, how responsive?

I presented this to staff at our retreat. The reaction was favourable and certainly initiated some great dialogue. When we explored the pathway, I asked them to choose just one from each column but that is not at all how I would envisage it rolling out.

After our initial discussion staff then planned it out and what it could look like over the year – a timeline of what appraisal looks like when it is personalised and embraces a personalised pathway. More to come on that.

I think this is pretty exciting stuff and really look forward to what the system will look like after I have collated the planning from teachers and we mould it into a workable system that:

  1. helps teachers grow
  2. meets all requirements/expectations for appraisal.

Final thoughts… if you drew a picture of your appraisal approach would it be hierarchal or networked? Which one allows for personalisation and agency?

Hierarchal Networked 

 

Time to decide: Personalised PLD

Now the the 2018 school year is underway it is time to put the theory into practice and get the personalised PLD up and running.

Step 1 was to invite staff to present their ideas about what our inquiry streams would be. This took place at our staff retreat prior to the school year starting up. Ideas were presented in a ‘smackdown’ style (those of you who have attended an Educamp will be pretty familiar with this approach). If not, it is all outlined further in the slide show embedded below.

There were guidelines that presenters had to follow and some key reminders for their inquiry stream concept;

  • Your inquiry stream concept needs to relate directly back to the school vision and values.
  • It is an active inquiry, inquiring into an area of need that will result in improved outcomes for our learners.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers! If you share an idea it is not expected that you are the leader/member of the stream.
  • A little hunch could be all that is required for some great professional learning…

Staff embraced the opportunity to share their thoughts on what the professional learning context/s could be with 20 slides created and shared.

The next phase of the process took the next couple of days of the retreat to process and ended at the last session where staff had to make an indiction of which stream they wanted to be part of.  This length of time was crucially important where everyone took the opportunity to consider the themes presented and reflect on which one they would like to be a part of. There were further conversations between the presenters and interested staff as they probed, questions and clarified the idea further and where it may potentially head.

Perhaps the biggest voice over this time were the comments related to;

  • how hard it was going to be to choose between the streams;
  • the similarities between some of the streams and the potential for some of them to be blended into one; e.g. the ones related to agency;
  • that some of the streams would happen anyway as part of the charter/annual plan goals and outcomes e.g. reviewing the reporting to parents approach so didn’t need to be there.

As such when it came to the last session, where everyone had to choose an option the list had gone from 20 to ???.

My observations/reflections so far…

  1. Asking staff a question a simple as “What would you like to learn?” provides such a richness to the potential learning and an extra level of engagement. Effective teachers are always learning and embrace the opportunity for any PLD but I think that when they are in the driver’s seat, the engagement steps up another level. Maybe kind of related to this this…

    Source: Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning
  2. The more I think about it the more pleased I am of how this approach is so in tune with out vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. I really do think it ticks them all.
  3. As I consider the next step, I am wondering how prescribed it needs to be. Do I let the reigns go or do I put in place some guidelines. Firstly I know that whatever the next step looks like, it will be differentiated for different streams, just like a classroom. As i ponder this I refer back to a post by Katie Martin:

    When professional learning is too standardized:

    1. Learning is designed for one size to fit all
    2. Focus on fidelity to programs, not learners
    3. Designed for the “average”, meets the needs of few
    4. Externally designed path and pace
    5. Lack opportunities to for voice and choice of the learners

    When professional learning is too open-ended:

    1. Lack of clear learning goals
    2. Passion runs high for some and others become paralyzed by too many choices
    3. No one is really sure what is expected of them
    4. Many left to figure it out on their own
    5. Little follow through and lack of cohesion on a team or staff
  4.  My professional curiosity is running high. I am so interested to see where this approach goes and how;
    • staff react to/embrace etc the process once it’s underway;
    • the impact on learning
    • how each stream manage their own PLD and use theri resourcing
    • ahhh so much to look forward to!

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 2

Right oh, so in the last post I shared some of the underpinning thinking behind an emerging approach to professional learning for staff. To quickly summarise, I would like professional learning to:

  • is personalised (voice, choice, interests, passions, ownership…)
  • incorporates ‘play’
  • moves towards smaller self-directed groups
  • mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
  • empowers teachers
  • provides conditions for innovation and creativity
  • aligns to our school vision.

As I started thinking about this more I started sketching out a diagram of where my thinking was headed. This is what shape it started taking.

I will attempt to explain what is going on.

  1. Central to the approach is the school vision & values. This drives everything we do.
  2. Stemming out from the vision are inquiry streams. These relate directly back to the vision and values. The streams are co-constructed by the staff and could be a new approach or idea they want to investigate further, an extension of one of our strategic goals, a passion or interest area, a hunch, known review area…
  3. Each stream has staff members who opt in to it. This group of teachers is currently referred to as a professional learning group (PLG). These are characterised by:
    • being self chosen
    • having their own budget with which they can spend as they decide (e.g. to release teachers, to engage outside expertise, going on school visits, purchasing professional texts)
    • defining their own structure/approach (e.g. the roles within the group, responsibilities, protocols and expectations, professional inquiry model, where and when they meet)
    • having a coach assigned to them to work 1-1 with each PLG member
  4. Each PLG develops a set of agreed upon expected outcomes. These clearly show how they see their inquiry impacting on the group, the members, and the learners, and will serve as a review & monitoring baseline for measuring the impact of the inquiry.
  5. It is anticipated that the members of the group will:
    • be in control
    • be active and engaged
    • highly value the professional trust placed in them
    • engage in rich professional dialogue.
  6. The coach assigned to the PLG will:
    • respond to individual and group needs
    • make links to vision and values, effective pedagogy
    • promote deeper thought and reflection
    • guide and scaffold thinking
    • not be a subject expert
    • be supported in their own development as a coach.
  7. The idea of flexible membership is explored. By this I mean the ability to be a member of more than one PLG, or the ability to drop out of one PLG and join another if you are no longer gaining anything from it.
  8. The time line for an inquiry stream is noted. At this stage this is deliberately open ended to remove any constraints of either having to start/finish within set dates. If a PLG is in the flow I want them just to keep to on inquiring to when the cycle has a natural end point.

That’s it in a nutshell. I have shared this concept with my own principal PLG, the leadership team, the staff and the Board. I have drawn it on the wall in my office so I can ponder more over the structure and implications.

In doing so what has emerged are ongoing thoughts re the place of the learner agency tool (described in Part 1) as a possible tool for supporting any measure of the impact of the streams.

When sharing the concept, there are plenty of questions thrown about and interestingly no matter what the audience the questions are the same. Some of these are shown in the image on the right. These have been great and have helped clarify how the whole approach could work.

Perhaps one of the biggest ah ha moments has been the perceptions of what leadership is all about in a school. I think that there is still a string voice that outlines how school leaders are all about managing and administration. I challenge this notion and see developing people to be the most effective they can be as the core job of a leader. Question 4 below is a reflection of this.

We are revisiting the concept as a whole staff in a couple of weeks. In the interim I have asked them to reflect and have a think re the following questions:

  1. What questions do you have?
  2. What fears do you have
  3. What development streams do you think there should be for next year?
  4. How does the concept of leadership being about coaching others first, rather than the more traditional role of admin and organisation?
  5. If you could design your own professional learning pathway, what would it look like? How would you spend your money?

The general feeling though is one of excitement and support. Looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 1

One of my goals for next year is to promote teacher agency through the implementation of a personalised approach to professional learning and development. This is an area that I have increasingly felt strongly about as I have read and reflected and had my thinking prompted by some key people.

When the goal was set we outlined the following expected outcomes.

  • PLD is personalised & involves teacher choice and voice
  • Teachers have more ownership over their own learning
  • Teachers ability to coach & facilitate conversations with each other is enhanced
  • Teacher collaboration is enhanced
  • The opportunities for teacher creativity and innovation are increased
  • Teachers articulate that their professionalism has been valued & that high trust exists
  • Outcomes from inquiry contexts will inform the focus for 2019

And while these have been set relatively recently, I am already wanting to add in another to acknowledge the relationship between classroom learning and professional learning. Something like:

  • PLD mirrors our beliefs about learning and teaching in our school.

This one is perhaps more of an underpinning philosophy, where the beliefs that drive what learning looks like for our student learners should be the same beliefs that drive learning for our adult learners.

Right let’s move on… the purpose of this post is to outline all of the influences that currently guide my thinking.

  1. The school’s vision
  2. Learner agency
  3. Personalised learning
  4. Conditions for innovation & creativity
  5. Personalised pathways
  6. Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
  7. Play based

The School Vision

Our school vision is;

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

This is the starting point for all that we do; reviewing, decision making, strategic direction, resourcing, budgeting, appointing staff… and as such must be a driver for and be reflected in our approach to professional learning. Thus empowered teachers, the conditions for innovation and the opportunities for for staff to lead their own learning must be present in any approach to professional learning.

Learner Agency

Our school was privileged to recently lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project  which focused on developing learner agency. One of the outcomes was the development of a learner agency self-assessment tool, derived from a matrix, which outlined the skills and dispositions of agency.

As we discussed how we could use this tool to capture data about our learners  to show progress of groups or individuals, and also review how we were providing the conditions for agency to flourish; (after all, this is critical, it is one of the key strands in our vision), I kept asking myself and then later my colleagues a question. Could this tool also be used for teachers to measure their own agency? If we change the RSS Kids in the middle to RSS Learners, would the characteristics of agency be the same for both students and adult learners?

Personalised Learning

I have found Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why a great read. Particularly useful has been the table on the inside cover that outlines the differences between Personalisation, Differentiation and Individualisation which looks a little like this:

As a principal I don’t have a class of learners but I do have a staff of learners. So rather than looking at this through a teacher’s lens, I am looking at it through the lens of a principal. That changes it up a bit and puts me in a position where I ask myself a range of reflective questions.

For example, with a desire to personalise learning for my staff, am I providing the conditions where:

  1. Teachers are driving their own learning?
  2. Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
  3. Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc

Conditions for Innovation & Creativity

Another book I am constantly going back to is George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. There is a whole lot of material in here that is influencing my thinking and personal learning. Let’s take this graphic for instance that outlines the 8 things to look for in today’s classrooms.

Once again I don my principal’s hat and ask myself a similar range of questions related to what I should be looking for in our school for my teachers;

  1. Do they have voice and choice?
  2. Are there opportunities for them to be innovative?
  3. Do I give value to and provide time for reflection? etc.

Also, recently George posted about the 4 Questions for Administrators to Promote a Culture of Innovation. The first question struck me as it is almost a carbon copy of my own underpinning philosophy recorded above.

1. Are your professional learning opportunities mirroring what you want to see in the classroom?

Often we ask teachers to do something different in the classroom, while we continue to do the same thing in professional learning. The best way for teaching practice to change in the classroom is for professional learning to look different as well. We create what we experience. If teachers are not excited about the learning opportunities that are offered, why would we expect them to create engaging and empowering environments for students?

Model what you seek.

Personalised Pathways

A recently new discovery of mine has been the work and thinking of Katie Martin who has a wealth of work been writing about a personalised professional learning approach. There is some great stuff on her blog that I encourage you to check out such as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

If you have taken note of everything else above then you can see how easily the points here dovetail with the other influences on my thinking re professional learning. Additionally when you do look at the full 10 characteristics there are many other ideas that align with my thinking including; inquiry based, collaborative, personalised and purposeful. Also I am really interested in investigating further the Create Your Own Adventure approach – that appears to have great potential and value.

Whole staff → Group→ 1-1

My thinking in this area has been influenced strongly by my own involvement in smaller more intimate professional learning groups supported by 1-1 coaching. I know that this has a much greater impact on my personal development than attending a large group professional learning opportunity. Based on this premise then my belief is that staff will also greatly benefit from small group professional learning supported by 1-1 coaching.

Play Based

I have previously reflected on my thoughts in this area as it also compliments my current thinking in personalising PLD. Again, looking at the approach from a principal’s perspective as I attempt to create an environment where the professional learning is personalised for teachers.

So what now?

OK so that is a quick overview of what is influencing my thinking. I have a plan forming in my mind about what shape it might make which I will describe soon after I have talked it through with a couple of key people.

Play based learning… played based professional learning?

Recently our staff took part in a day long workshop focused on play based learning run by the very knowledgeable team from Longworth Education. I found the workshop very worthwhile, providing a valuable pedagogical base and framework to support what is seemingly an aspect of education that is currently having a high profile in NZ primary education.

My mind wandered as it always does during any professional learning experience to how this new knowledge can impact my role as the lead learner and principal and my school. Throughout the day, 3 wonderings rose up above the others.

  • The potential of a play based professional learning approach.
  • The essential element of teacher expertise in coaching guided play.
  • The importance of male teachers in play based learning environments???

This post will unpack the first point, elaborated here through a question…

How can the benefits of play based learning be utilised in a play based professional learning approach?

So let’s reference the folks from Longworth in how they describe the philosophy that drives play based learning.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

Now let’s change the context and think of this as a starting point for play based professional learning: thus, primarily, play based professional learning could be underpinned by it being:

  • self-chosen and self-directed;
  • process rather than product driven;
  • contains structures or rules established by the players [learners] themselves;
  • imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality;
  • occurs between those who are active, alert and non-stressed.

Does it still work? Do those statements sit comfortably with you in terms of your understanding of professional learning, (or perhaps more accurately, where you see you can transform/innovate in the professional learning space)? For me all but 1 do very nicely – I can’t seem to mould the imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality statement into a professional learning context. I know that any PL needs to be centred and targeted to improving outcomes for learners, as such, it can’t be removed from reality. Maybe I am thinking too literally.

The remaining 4 points dovetail very nicely into where I see PL moving… increasingly open and directed from the individual (but underpinned by the vision and strategic direction of the school), features a replicable process that can support other teachers in improving outcomes for their learners, is designed by and personalised for those involved (but is grounded in what we know about effective PL i.e. an inquiry approach), and is a strongly collaborative, and altogether creating an environment that supports the wellbeing of the staff.

On the topic of environments, let’s head back to Longworth and see what a played based learning environment is characterised by and then reword that for a played based PL approach.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

Play based professional learning is an environment where through play:

  • Teachers are in control of their own learning.
  • Teachers are active and fully engaged.
  • Teachers take part in rich conversations with their colleagues and their leaders.
  • Teachers choose and manipulate loose parts to enable them to engage in authentic learning.
  • Leaders are seen as facilitators, guiding and scaffolding the learning.
  • Leaders respond to the urges and the developmental stages of the teachers.
  • Leaders are able to link the learning in the play to the practicing teacher criteria/school’s vision & goals.

Once again, I prompt you to consider the above. What do you agree or disagree with? From my current thinking, all but one of them sits very comfortably with me and that is only a matter of clarification. That is the point referring to loose parts – however, if I look on loose parts as being components of PL such as; external expertise, professional texts, observations, feedback, visits, coaching, mentors, reflections etc then it makes complete sense and gets the big tick from me.

So the BIG question really is what would this/could this actually look like in practice? If you have read any of my thinking before I see professional learning, performance management & professional inquiry as synonymous with each other… now throw in some other recent thinking of mine related to the personalisation of professional learning, all of which is now infused with play. I think that is a really exciting place to explore..!

But, plenty more thinking to do in designing and discussing what this space could look like. So next I am on a quest to find out who else out there is wading through this space.

A quick Google has revealed the Institute of Play where “We are committed to empowering young people to navigate their way to a promising tomorrow by making learning irresistible. Join us in creating a movement to bring the power of play and design into every classroom”. This includes “Educator Programs: Research-based educator programs that integrate design and play”. A video outlines more. This does not fit exactly to my brief/thoughts, but it certainly helps channel and clarify my thinking.

Finally, as part of our leadership PLG here at school, we recently viewed the short video Locating Yourself – A Key to Conscious Leadership. Watch the whole thing, it is great and excellent for reviewing your leadership approach and avoiding a cup half empty view… What, you may ask, has that got to do with a play based professional learning approach?Well, take note of what is highlighted at around 2:15.

What do you think?

Learning Maps and Professional Inquiry

I have been a bit of a fan of Learning Maps ever since I was first introduced to the concept 4 or 5 years ago. They were introduced alongside the concept of student agency and putting the students in the driver’s seat of learning. I reflected on the use of the maps then and after recently attending a workshop with Infinity Learning, have appreciated how the concept has grown and developed over the years as teachers and Infinity have fine tuned the approach and worked on how to make them as effective as possible in contributing to the agentic learning we all strive for.

Attending the workshop also made me ponder how this could also be used with teachers and support their developing agency, as well support them to identify an area to work on in terms of an appraisal/professional inquiry goal. When using learning maps with the students we ask them to identify an area for change, what they will do to make these changes, and who will support them in this change. This is the very same process that teachers to go through as the initial part of their inquiry, after they have identified their target students.

So a plan was hatched and I asked teachers to create a learning map that was focused on how they meets the needs of their priority learners to help them identify what they do, what resources and tools they use, and who they seek out support from. Prior to them drawing the maps, teachers had already collected a range of assessment data to identify a group of target /priority learners. The process I used with teachers was the same as what we would use with students which is outlined via a link at the bottom of the post.

Here are some examples from teachers, complete with a few blurred out bits to make them as anonymous as possible. We used a template from Infinity which provides the prompts and scaffolds to support creating the maps and the conversation that need to be had.

The arrows are important to show the interactions between people, tools and places. After attending the workshop earlier in the year we starting using a new arrow, the zig zagging challenge arrow, which we also used when working with students. The challenge areas lead the way to identifying next steps and areas to work on. This is how we have encouraged the use of arrows to add more meaning to the maps.

A little bit of learning =
A lot of learning =
Learning comes in to me, and I give it back =
A challenge in my learning =  

Once the maps were created, they were shared with a colleague prompted by; What is the same? What is different? What are their challenges? before identifying an area for change.

  • What would you like to change to help you in your learning?
  • What would you want to do differently?

This is followed up by a conversations with me to clarify the area for change (not to change it as this takes away from the teacher owning the goal and the process). This in turn helps to identify the expected outcomes/indicators for their professional inquiry goal included in their appraisal.

I guess you could argue that it is quicker just to skip the map and go straight to the conversation to identify the goals and expected outcomes. However I think there is huge value in creating the maps; it puts the teacher in the driving seat, recording how they see their learning and the interactions, or lack of between all the different areas, and from that identifying areas for change. The visual nature of the process and outcome makes seeing gaps and successes straightforward. When two teachers/learners share their map and discuss the similarities and differences, and expand on their challenges together, the collaborative nature of inquiry is highlighted and utilised. The conversation with me just formalises the decisions that have already been made.

We have also used this process with the leadership team in terms of helping to clarify their leadership inquiry goal, although in our case, these had already been set with our external facilitator. The process for me was still worthwhile, it helped to clarify the people, networks and tools that currently supporting my learning in this area and most importantly reinforce what I new are the challenges – an ever growing list. I find the process of drawing very reflective in itself and once completed provides a great source for reflection and conversations. Here is my map, related to my goal of getting to know my learners.

So what next? Like with our students, we will revisit our maps and add to them throughout the year so they are a living record of how we progress and adapt to catering for our priority learners. These updates will again be shared and discussed with colleagues, referenced in our PLGs, and used as a resource for appraisal purposes.

For those who may be interested, here is the guide we developed when creating maps with our students, feel free to use as required, however I really do encourage you to go to a workshop or have one completed in your school by the gurus at Infinity Learning. It will provide you with all the missing theory and pedagogy behind the maps which has only been skimmed over here.

Getting to know my learners – DISC Profiles

One of my professional goals this year is to investigate a personalised approach to how I work with my staff with a particular focus on communication. Personalised as in getting to know them better, understanding their learning and teaching styles, their personality traits and preferences for such things as how they like to receive feedback, school admin communication and engaging in professional learning. I am after them be self-directed and empowered as a professional and because I know them better I can provide the environment that enables it.

There are a couple of reasons why this is important to me and more importantly, to the staff.

  • Firstly it is all about supporting a culture of trust and honesty within our school, understanding each other to a deeper level will help facilitate that process.
  • Secondly the anticipated benefits of improved communication between myself and the staff and between each other will improve as we will better understand how staff prefer to interact in such areas as mentioned above as well as; meetings , coaching/questioning, face to face, email, systems, documentation.
  • Additionally it is an attempt to mirror what we are working on and investigating as a staff, to make learning more personal for our learners and elevating the place of learner voice and choice in their learning. I don’t have a class so my learners are are the staff – I want them to have more voice a choice in their role as a teacher and self direct and take control of areas such as their professional learning.
  • Ultimately with enhanced communication and personalised approaches that suits everyone style, combined with empowered teachers will lead us to the end goal and our baseline measure of improving outcomes for our students.

To date this term I have been very open and honest with the staff, explaining to them my goal and the reason and thinking behind it.

One of the strategies or data gathering steps I have taken is to ask staff to complete a DISC Profile. This is something I have completed previously when I worked for CORE Ed and something I found useful. Although when I completed the DISC the first time round I was quite sceptical about the accuracy of the system to capture who I was. However, the outcome was pretty good, not perfect in every aspect but overall captured me accurately and made me understand myself better as a person, learner and leader.

Staff completed DISC online and their profile report was available straight away to download. 

Individual profiles place you on the DISC map then outline what this means and summarise the characteristics related to this profile. Additionally they outline how someone with this profile relates to the other quadrant and profile types which is very helpful when understanding what others preferences are and what you can do to adapt your ways of working with them.

You can also request a group report where all staff who participated are mapped and the group culture is discussed.

I have made the time to share my profile with the staff, going through it and acknowledging my style and preferences, the parts that captured me perfectly and those that I didn’t think were quite right. I wanted to model this process with them with the aim that they would also want to be open and honest about themselves and sharing their profile with others.

I have been processing this information and I am really intrigued as to how it is going to develop and where my inquiry will lead next. There are emerging questions, not necessarily related to the DISC profiles, which already challenge my existing mindset. Here are a couple of examples.

  • A much more experienced principal once gave me some advice about how ‘close’ to get to your staff. In their practice they deliberately maintained a distance between themselves and the rest of the staff but as you would expect, stayed professional at all times, took an interest in their life outside of school but did not dive right into it. I wonder if this approach hinders a leaders’ ability to really get to know their staff, to a point where there are no ‘filters’ applied in any context or discussion?
  • My second question relates to what I would have called an active participation in discussions whether at staff meetings or PLGs. I do, rightly or wrongly, currently have the expectation that all staff will contribute to our professional dialogue. However if in the act of getting to know my staff, I recognise there are a couple of teachers who have a strong preference for not participating in discussions or don’t like being asked questions directly? Yes there are different forums and groupings to gather their response in other ways, but a PLG potentially falls apart if people do not engage in the process.
  • Another question are the implications if, for example, the staff/leadership/teaching team you are currently part of, where all members had similar profile maps. Is this a positive that we are all ‘on the same wavelength’ and look at situations in a similar way, or is it more advantageous to have a blend of all profile types so that the lenses the group has on a situation covers all perspectives? From where I sit now, I can see a mix of profiles being the preferred option.

There are many more examples as I think about how best to personalise my approaches with staff. Important to acknowledge too that the use of DISC outlined above is only one way that I am gathering ‘data’ about everyone, as the ongoing observations and conversations of their work and life greatly contribute to what I know about them.

Where to next? I have yet to sit down and discuss with each staff the outcomes of their profile. This will allow them to have the ability to agree and disagree as well as clarify what they do prefer, especially in regards to communication which is the central focus of my inquiry. I know too of other principals who have spent a lot of time in this space so connecting with them will be a great way of providing additional insight on the direction this will take.