As a School we are committed to bringing specialists in to drive professional learning forward. Our philosophy is clear. We value the importances of learning and growing together. The only way to impact culture and engage in meaningful dialogue is when we are all affected by a learning force bigger than ourselves.
This year has been a challenging year in terms of teaming, collaborating and connecting with one another. We needed an outside force to bring ‘play’ and ‘imagination’ and the power of ‘story telling’ back to the centre of Who we are.
Enter Neil Farrelly. An experienced performing arts teacher who has predominately worked in International Schools. He is also an author and moves around the International School circuit to lead all sorts of workshops.
Our teachers were exposed to situations where they were thrown into expressing themselves, being spontaneous and creative and most of all laughing with each other. And didn’t we do just that! Laugh. We also needed to leave our egos, inhibitions and grudges at the door as Neil pushed, nudged and encouraged us to put our selves out there and be vulnerable again.
Learning how to deepen trust and collaborate has been a focal point for us as a Primary School. Everyone had a voice during the week and there were so many lessons to dissect for different reasons.
How we ‘set up’ the conditions for learning creates the tone and climate for Who we want to become as a caring and connected community. Neil was constantly setting it up for us and together we responded in ways that energized us and illuminated the importance of people, pedagogy and place.
Conversations were elevated and the scope for being part of an audience was just as important as the presenter on the black box. This challenged our thinking in the way we value our audience and how we listen and respect one another. Knowing our audience improves interactions and promotes positive intensions. Listening with our ears does not mean we’re effective listeners. We learnt to listen with our mind, eyes and heart.
One of the things we shared with teachers is that the ‘loudest’ person in the room or the one to be ‘on’ the black box does not always equate to leadership. We stated the opposite is true. We are all leaders and this can take many forms. As long as you are part of the learning and contributing in positive ways to impact ourselves and one another, then that is leadership too.
We often hear teachers talk about ‘looking through different lenses.’ Our professional learning week was all about Who we are when it comes to collaboration and Who we want to become using performing arts as the ultimate lens to look through.
This experience put our teachers in the shoes of our students. The ideas and connections went into overdrive from there. We were constantly ‘connecting up’ and the learning felt real and raw as we shared together.
We could have easily run a workshop on collaboration and why it is important… yada yada yada. This time we were listening to our audience and decided to go a very different direction to shake it up – and it worked brilliantly!
Neil is already coming back in May.
I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.
There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:
- that success = money
- that waste is OK
- that pollution is inevitable
- that destruction = progress
- that new is best
- that media = truth
- that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
- that school = work
- that education is the key
- that its OK for technology to lead the way
- that we have no control over the future
I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.
In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.
I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?
Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?
These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.
Recently, I have caught myself boring myself while talking about education.
As a result, I have started to say less in an attempt to stop boring myself. However, I have also found that saying less bores me too.
These are worrying signs that I am on the predictable path many of those who opt for leadership roles in schools find themselves on… the path towards irreversible irrelevance. I am boring because I am not cutting edge anymore. I am not cutting edge anymore because I am not a teacher. Sure, I have my experiences from before, but those become stale and worn the more they are recounted and rehashed. Sure, I have the experiences I gain from spending time in classrooms, but those are gained from teaching vicariously and are not really my stories.
Perhaps boredom is the goal… a form of bliss. But, it’s not working for me.
- Be interested. Show up in their room from time to time and see what they’re up to, just out of interest. Talk with them about learning, about students and about ideas. Make it clear that you are not only interested in how they teach, but also in teaching generally.
- Recognize their talents. Every teacher (yes, every teacher!) has a particular talent or strength. So much focus is placed on goals that are about developing your areas of weakness, getting better at some new initiative or doing your job better. Shift the focus as much as you can to show teachers you are aware of their talents and that other people are aware of them too.
- Have zero-tolerance of gossip or hearsay. Don’t allow other people to shape your judgments of teachers, and make it very clear you don’t act upon anything other than your own first-hand knowledge about them. Make sure teachers are totally confident that you know them, know how they work and base your opinions of them purely on those factors. That way they will know praise is genuine, criticism is constructive and both come directly from you.
- Teach. You are probably in your position because you were recognized as a good teacher and then removed from the classroom… ironic eh? Well, make it one of your priorities each week to get back in the classroom. You could cover a lesson, team-teach with someone or run a session. Your staff will respect you for it and, if you really were a good teacher, learn a great deal from you!
- Bring people together. Many problems in schools come fom poor relationships between teachers. Little pods form and cliques gather. This will only worsen if you don’t actively seek lots of opportunities to get people talking, to break people out of their patterns and break down any misconceptions people may start to get about each other.
- Give them time. The best way to show you value something, or someone, in schools is to give it or them time. Make it clear that you understand the negative relationship most schools have with time, and take obvious steps to give people time to work on things.
- Play. People who move into leadership positions often start to take themselves too seriously and forget to be playful, with both kids and adults. Share jokes with teachers, play harmless pranks, be silly, let down your guard. Students value the teachers who behave this way, and teachers value the leaders who behave this way.
I was speaking to Kevin Bartlett recently. Kevin is the Director of International School Brussels and one of the leading educational innovators behind the creation of the PYP. We were talking about leadership and he said:
“If leadership is not improving learning, there is no leadership.”
This made me think of the many hundreds of things that take up our time in education and I altered Kevin’s statement a bit to become:
“If our time is not being used to improve learning, we might be wasting it.”
Have a look at your working week, your school calendar, your meeting agenda. Are some things on there that will not improve learning? If so, do you need to do them?
Go on. Scrap ’em!!! Take back that time, you need it.