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:
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.
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.
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…
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…
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:
Learning is designed for one size to fit all
Focus on fidelity to programs, not learners
Designed for the “average”, meets the needs of few
Externally designed path and pace
Lack opportunities to for voice and choice of the learners
When professional learning is too open-ended:
Lack of clear learning goals
Passion runs high for some and others become paralysed by too many choices
No one is really sure what is expected of them
Many left to figure it out on their own
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;
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
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.
Our writing PLD for this year is based on the underlying principal of student agency driving an improvement in student achievement. At the beginning of this development when Brian Annan was discussing the approach I was familiar with the term but not conversant nor had a deep understanding. So I needed to connect some of the dots and clarify what it was all about.
Isn’t it funny too that when an idea is emphasised like student agency, that it seems to appear everywhere now that your awareness of it is heightened. e.g.
In summary, sustained higher achievement is possible when teachers use pedagogical approaches that enable students to take charge of their own learning. Such approaches do not leave the students ‘to discover’ in an unstructured environment. Rather, they are highly structured in supporting student agency and sustained and thoughtful engagement. For example, they foster students’ abilities to define their own learning goals, ask questions, anticipate the structure of curriculum experiences, use metacognitive strategies when engaging with curriculum, and self-monitor. Pedagogies that emphasise, embed and enable metacognitive strategy-use throughout curriculum engagement for class groupings, are associated with much higher achievement and enable marked improvements for low achievers.
Student agency is a cluster of academic mindsets and learning strategies that have been demonstrated to advance learning and achievement. Academic mindsets are more evident in students who feel a sense of belonging in a certain subject, class or school; believe that they have the capacity to learn, and see value in their participation. Learning strategies include study skills, meta-cognition and goal-setting, competencies that help individuals persist when learning becomes challenging.
Student agency refers to empowering students through curriculum approaches that; engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions, give them opportunities to feel connected to school life, promote positive and caring relationships between all members of the school community, promote wellbeing and focus on the whole student, relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive.
These definitions illustrate to me that agency is about student learning and teacher teaching. It is about the teacher providing the right environment, support and approaches to learning that enable learners to develop the skills and attitudes for agency to occur, and about the student being engaged in, and empowered by assuming responsibility of their learning through reflection, goal setting and a range of other self-monitoring behaviours.
Some of the key words that describe student agency for me are therefore; enabling, empowering, self-monitoring, goals, feedback, meta-cognition, active, responsive, self-directed and meaningful.
A further look at some student agency research unpacked the following Approaches to Learning Model. You can clearly see the relationship between the approaches and agency. These are further supported by additional definitions of student agency:
the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices
since meaning-based tasks fail to proscribe the use of particular structures, learners have to take an active role in sorting out exactly what they are learning
Student Agency and Language-Learning Processes and Outcomes in International Online Environments Olga Basharina University of New Mexico
What strikes me about this model though is that it does not take in the role of the teacher in to the equation (or maybe it does… I would need to read the full explanation from Entwistle himself). As I have stated above student agency isn’t just the responsibility of the student, the teacher and school must provide the conditions and support/model/teach in an way that provides all students with the ability to learn and demonstrate agency.
So bringing it back to where this post started, with our writing PLD. Our facilitator Rita Plamer has introduced us to Ralph Fletcher’s work and she dug out this reference to agency from the text A Writer’s Notebook – Unlocking the Writer Within You. Being in control of their own development, i.e. their own learning – great! This surely is the core of what student agency is.
So what does all this mean? A couple of reflective wonderings…
Deliberate vs accidental… A few of you may be saying that this is what happens in your classroom all the time. Yes my students set goals, yes they are reflective. But how much of that agency is a deliberate approach i.e. If I looked at your planning and a see how you have deliberately structured your teaching to ensure the conditions and strategies are student agency productive?
If student agency is a way of empowering our students, then teacher agency is just as important (through the principal leading and providing the support/conditions/opportunities) which makes principal agency equally as important (with the Board providing the support/conditions/opportunities). Is this being overly simplistic? Seems to make sense to me.
One aspect that has surprised me was that there was little to no reference to student voice in the information read to date. I would have thought they go hand in hand.
Most of the definitions/examples are about the individual learners, but like the excerpt above from Ralph Fletcher’s book, the social learning aspect is really important. Meaningful action could just as well be the outcome of collaboration and teamwork. If the action is a result of feedback, then that is a partnership in learning too, or does agency count when the thinking and action is done as an individual – not the process leading up to it?