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.
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.
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.
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 well being.
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.
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) isempowerment.
More inquiring/scanning to do to gain a different perspective and broaden my thinking. Final words for now though from the book Delegating Effectively:
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…)
moves towards smaller self-directed groups
mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
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.
Central to the approach is the school vision & values. This drives everything we do.
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
What questions do you have?
What fears do you have
What development streams do you think there should be for next year?
How does the concept of leadership being about coaching others first, rather than the more traditional role of admin and organisation?
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.
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.
The school’s vision
Conditions for innovation & creativity
Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
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.
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?
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:
Teachers are driving their own learning?
Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc
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.
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:
Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
Builds on strengths and interests
Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
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.
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.
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.
For a couple of years now I have been asking teachers to review their practice against the Practicing Teacher Criteria. This is an ongoing iterative process that I believe teachers should be performing all the time however in this instance the process is formalised as part of their appraisal and discussion and goal setting for the following year.
I think this is a worthwhile process, especially know in my current school where I have 2 years of data to look and and help support strengths and weaknesses in myself and the teaching staff. This in turn will contribute to the PLD plan as well.
So how does it work? Firstly I set up a google form that includes a simple 5 point scale from Sometimes to Consistently for each of the 12 criteria. A definition of each criteria is also included. Also, after ERO visited last year, where they had a national focus review topic related to the attestation for fully registering teachers, they recommended that I include in this process a place for teachers to show evidence to support their ratings on the 5 point scale. This has been included and is a really positive development from previous versions. Here is the full form for you to have a look at.
The purpose is to capture where teachers are at and whether they are a 2 or a 5 is not important. What matters (on an individual level) is that teachers see where they need to be more effective and over time see progress across the different criteria. It is this growth that is especially important for me. Going backwards in your self-assessment rating is also OK and is often a sign that your knowledge of that criteria and all the implications that it entails has grown thus the scope of your reflection is broader and perhaps more critical.
So what happens to the data? I pull the data out and create both individual and group spider diagrams (I think sometimes people also refer to these as radar charts). Group spider diagrams can be made for teams of teachers, management, whole school, PRTs etc what ever subgroups you have in your school you can look at the info related to them. These are shared within the leadership team at school, and with individually, along with their collated response to qualify and provide evidence of their rating, with teachers.
Individual teacher spider showing 2015 and 2016 self-assessments.
Team of 4 teachers 2016 spider.
Doc shared with individual teacher with a record of the evidence.
What happens next? I encourage teachers to upload these to their professional blogs in order for them to become an artefact in their ongoing collection of evidence to support their next practicing certificate renewal. The outcomes of the self-assessment are also discussed as part of a teacher’s end of year appraisal checkpoint meeting. As a leadership team we discuss the outcomes and what this looks like across the whole staff and in the teams of teachers. Any trends are identified and we look at how we can support teachers to develop further in the identified areas.
Next steps in the approach? This is yet to be fully completed for this year and as such the review is ongoing. I had planned for teachers to do this twice a year, mid and end, however due to a number of factors I cancelled the mid point review. I question if once a year is enough and I think it is… but only if teachers have an inquiring mindset and are reflective. Also, if there are other ways that teachers are acknowledging their growth against the PTCs as we do via any evidence uploaded to a teacher’s professional blogs, then doing it once a year is a formal acknowledgement of an ongoing process and enough.
I have also thought that including the cultural competencies from Tātaiako would be a very useful extension to the process.
The minor tweak made after ERO’s suggestion was a useful and easy addition to make to the process. I am sure that these minor tweaks will continue to add to the value of this process.
The New Zealand Curriculum describes values as deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act.
This year I am facilitating a full review of our school values, a process that is recognised strategically by the Board, along with a review of our school vision, as a priority area. Why? Well here are a few of the reasons. Our desire is to have our school values;
visible around the school
articulated by learners, parents and staff
actively modelled by learners, parents and staff
used to frame up/underpin learning, expectations and behaviour
provide a starting point in our decision making process.
There is currently little to no evidence of this taking place and this gap has guided our review and development in this area. To start this process we have based the conversations around a set of 3 core questions:
What is important and desirable in our school?
How should our students be thinking and acting?
What is to be encouraged, modelled, explored?
Taking these 3 questions we have had meetings and conversations as a staff, with our parents, at our whānau hui, and what I believe is most important, with our learners. Outcomes from some of these meetings are shown below.
Students getting their ideas down on paper. Our parents prioritising and defining what is important to them.Thoughts from a staff member.
As you can probably imagine this led to a huge number and variety of concepts as the different groups documented what was really important to them. Through a process of grouping similarly themed ideas for each of the different groups and ordering them in terms of their popularity, then repeating that process after all the groups’ ideas were pooled together, a final list of 13 values were put on the table.
There was lots of rich discussion and questioning along the way, e.g.
Is that a value or a skill?
What does that mean to you as I think of it meaning something different?
Isn’t that a concept that sits over the top of those values?
Do we really need respect as a value? Is that just a non-negotiable anyway?
Going back to the NZC definition was our guiding light and kept us on track. Additionally perhaps the most important aspect of this process was to take a lot of time agreeing on a definition of each of the shortlisted values so that when we communicated these to the students, parents and community there was a clear statement by what was meant by that term. We hoped that this would clarify any misunderstandings.
Perhaps the most challenging part was how best to integrate the thoughts of our whānau into this process. They suggested that manaakitanga (caring, looking out for each other), whanaungatanga (treat everyone as your family) and kotahitanga (being as one, the same, treating everyone as the same) were the values that should guide everybody and everything at school. We have no disagreement with these and without question they will be included in the final make-up.
As we don’t yet know what our values framework will look like when it is ‘presented’ to our learners and community (e.g. represented through a visual form like a local landmark, tree etc, or as an acronym). When we offered the shortlisted values to the community we showed how manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and kotahitanga related to them, without yet knowing how these will be shown by the end of the review and development process.
So where to now? The voting process is drawing to a close so the votes will need to be counted. We are still discussing a number of questions including;
If we believe that the students’ voice is crucially important, do their votes count more than others?
Or, should it be just a straight vote and the what comes out on top are the ones that are selected?
What is the best number of values to have? Is it a case of less is more?
Once decided, they next step is to develop a framework to ‘hang’ the values off. We are currently working with our local iwi Ngati Kauwhata to better understand the history and traditions associated with the local area. We are hoping that this will support us in developing a visual representation of the values.