Sabbatical – Part 1

Introduction

Russell Street School is a decile 8 U5 urban contributing primary school in Palmerston North. Our roll is made up of approximately 15% Māori and 60% New Zealand European. As a school we celebrate te ao Māori through every classroom and especially our Māori enhanced learning space, Poutokomanawa. Our school has always embraced new ideas and modern pedagogies which enable us to realise our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. Our learners are central to everything we do.

We also know that what we do is deemed to be effective, at least through the eyes of ERO, where we are currently on a third consecutive 4-5 year review cycle. However we are not complacent and a restructuring of our leadership team and being involved in other initiatives such as MST and TLIF has brought in new ideas and a new direction, which is well supported by an effective pedagogical foundation that the school has built up over recent years. 

One area that has not seen huge amounts of innovative practice and thinking is in the area of assessment and reporting practices. Perhaps this was due to the impact of the former National Standards assessment and reporting regime, or simply that there were more important aspects of the teaching craft that took priority when developing our strategic direction. Regardless, our current approach of predominantly teacher directed assessments and sending home written reports twice a year with learning conferences thrown in does not closely align with our vision. Yes there is still a formative approach to learning design and great examples of agentic practices in our learning spaces but I know that over time we have just lost our way a bit.

It is this disconnect, the distance between what we believe and what we do that drives our desire to improve and change our practice.

The challenge I see in classrooms and hear about in conversations with students, teachers, administrators, and families is that there is a misalignment between our aspirations – what we believe that learners needs – and what we actually do in schools.

Couros & Novak, 2019, p. XV

As such, this inquiry focuses on looking at innovative ways to assess and report on learning and achievement and how this process can embrace our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. It also stems from a desire to

  • confirm what is important to learn, and therefore what is important to assess
  • adopt an assessment approach that is genuinely driven by the learner
  • ensure what is assessed and how it is assessed reflects what we believe and know is important for effective learning
  • develop a reporting approach (for all contexts i.e. the learner, parents, Board and community) that also stays true to the essence of our vision.

In order to do this, the inquiry provides the opportunity to attend workshops where the same questions are asked, investigate what other schools may be doing, as well as extensive reading on learning approaches that are innovative and empower learners.

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…

  1. How do you know you have empowered someone?
  2. How is this theory going to help you with your feelings of workload and being overwhelmed?
  3. Where are you now on the scale of: Overloaded<————————>Sweet as?
  4. What systems and attitudes might our staff need to develop?
  5. What ideal character qualities will you need to drive a networked leadership framework?
  6. I wonder how this theory is going to help you manage your workload?
  7. 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.

#delegation #empowering

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 = Empowered?

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.

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…

  1. 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!
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

#empowering #voice #pathway #choice #appraisal

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…

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Vision: Which element of our school vision do you perhaps need to strengthen in your own practice?
  3. Values: Which one of our school values do you know you need to deepen your understanding of?
  4. Standard: The compliance aspect. Either which one do you need to get better at, or, which one/ones relate to my emerging appraisal goals?
  5. Who: Who would you like to appraise you?
  6. How: What approach or approaches would you like to be incorporated into your appraisal?
  7. 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

#appraisal #choice #pathway #voice

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;

  1. Your inquiry stream concept needs to relate directly back to the school vision and values.
  2. It is an active inquiry, inquiring into an area of need that will result in improved outcomes for our learners.
  3. 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.
  4. 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;

  1. how hard it was going to be to choose between the streams;
  2. 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;
  3. 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…

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

My professional curiosity is running high. I am so interested to see where this approach goes and how;

  1. staff react to/embrace etc the process once it’s underway;
  2. the impact on learning
  3. how each stream manage their own PLD and use theri resourcing
  4. ahhh so much to look forward to!

#empowering #smackdown #agency #personalised #innovation #learneragency #leadership

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:

  1. is personalised (voice, choice, interests, passions, ownership…)
  2. incorporates ‘play’
  3. moves towards smaller self-directed groups
  4. mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
  5. empowers teachers
  6. provides conditions for innovation and creativity
  7. 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 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.

#Personalisation