Tagged: schools

  • Do teachers disagree yet remain friends?
  • Do students learn to disagree and yet remain friends?
  • Are students taught the skills of disagreement?
  • Do leaders encourage disagreement?
  • Do people have the time to disagree?
  • Is disagreement valued?

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Cauliflowers and Leadership… eh?

During my week with Kevin Bartlett, he would often refer to “the cauliflower principle” during conversations about leadership. He used it to say that things don’t (or shouldn’t) really change that much when you take on leadership positions in schools. He argues that the attributes, the skills and the values should remain the same… it is only the scope of influence that changes.

So, to give a few examples to explain this in more detail:

  • A teacher is concerned with getting the best out of his or her students. A leader is concerned with getting the best out of the  people they are leading.
  • A teacher is concerned with making the most of the talents and skills of his or her students. A leader is concerned with making the most of the talents and skills of the people they are leading.
  • A teacher is concerned with learning. A leader is concerned with learning.
  • A teacher is concerned with creating the conditions for success for his or her students. A leader is concerned with creating the conditions for success for the people they are leading.
  • A teacher is concerned with getting to know who their students really are. A leader is concerned with getting to know who the people they are leading really are.
  • A teacher is concerned with building positive and constructive relationships. A leader is concerned with building positive and constructive relationships.
  • A teacher is concerned with providing support and help for those who need it. A leader is concerned with providing support and help who need it.
  • A teacher is approachable and easy to talk to. A leader is approachable and easy to talk to.
  • A teacher is flexible and open to new ideas. A leader is flexible and open to new ideas.
  • A teacher can be light-hearted and playful. A leader can be light-hearted and playful

That’s enough of that! I am sure you get the point now and can make up plenty of your own examples. It all seems very obvious really doesn’t it. I guess the main thing for us all to think about now is… are you working with, or for, leaders who apply “The Cauliflower Principle”? If not, why not… and imagine if you were.

So, schools, what is learning?

Kevin Bartlett, and other like-minded educational leaders like Bill Gerritz and Bambi Betts, have a mantra that guides their style of leadership:

“If leadership is not about improving learning, there is no leadership.”

They advise that educational leaders use this as a filter, a way of making sure learning is at the very core of everything they do. I think this is a very powerful notion as I have seen many educational leaders, often at the same time, devoting massive amounts of time and energy to issues that have either no impact or a negative impact on learning. Likewise, I have witnessed many decisions that have been made with little or no consideration for learning.

One thing I find very tricky though, is “learning”. What is learning? What do you think learning is? What do I think learning is? What does he or she think learning is? There is an infinite quantity of perspectives on what constitutes learning, and perhaps more crucially, what constitutes valuable learning?

It may surprise many of us to find that close to 100% of schools have no shared, common understanding of what learning is and what they, as a school, believe is valuable learning. It is almost as if we are afraid to broach the subject for fear of looking stupid, or because we believe the answers are obvious. Kevin argues that this is the reason that so many schools’ mission statements, while very nice, are actually not very helpful. We are often working with a kind of “mission statement template” that has no real meaning. As a result, it cannot really guide anyone in their decision-making: parents to decide if it is the right school for their child, teachers to decide if they want to work there, leadership to decide if they are doing a good job, students to decide if they are being successful.

Kevin shares the example of the mission statement from the Avenues Schools project that is just emerging in New York:

They have clearly tried to express what learning will actually “look like” in their school, what their students will hopefully become.

So, does your school have a shared, common understanding of what learning is? Do all the stakeholders have a clear understanding of what learning the school values? If not, why not? Consider the benefits for them all:

Kids would:

  • Know what they are learning and why
  • Know what “good” looks like
  • See the value in the school’s approach
  • Have clarity

Teachers would:

  • Be able to track everything back to this definition of learning
  • Have strength when dealing with parents
  • Be able to decide if it is really the right school for them to work in
  • Have a shared philosophy that guides their practice
  • Have a clear focus for their methods

Non-teaching staff would:

  • Have a clear understanding of what the school is trying to achieve
  • See how and where their role is also contributing to student learning
  • Get a sense of themselves as learners

Parents would:

  • Be able to decide if it is the right school for their children (and, indeed, for them!)
  • Be able to understand what the school is trying to do
  • Be able to see evidence of learning outside school
  • Have a better understanding of what success looks like for their children
  • Have confidence in teachers

Leaders would:

  • Be able to continuously ask “am I leading?”
  • Have strong filters to guide their decision-making
  • Have a clear vision of where they are taking the school
  • Be able to articulate, in simple terms, what the school is trying to do
  • Be able to recruit the “right people”
  • Be able to provide professional development that has a clear focus

The school would:

  • Have a strong identity
  • Have a tangible culture
  • Be able to develop a strong reputation
  • Be distinguishable from other schools
  • Have a clear moral purpose

Who would have thought that something so simple, so obvious, could be so profoundly powerful?

It’s us, not them.

My family and I recently went on holiday to a secluded villa in the North East of Thailand. On  the first day I took my little girls for a walk, they are 2 and 3 years old. I pulled them along and was in a mad rush to go wherever we were going (which was actually nowhere). I urged them to “hurry up” and got irritated if they stopped and I was forced to wait.

I was still in “work mode” or “school mode”.

Poor girls. Luckily, I realized the error of my ways and started letting them set the pace. By the last walk of the holiday I was carving bits of wood with a knife as we strolled along at their speed. They were stopping to draw in the sand, pick things up, touch leaves and flowers, watch butterflies, make observations and ask questions.

I realized that I had “de-schooled” myself. But, what does that say about the person I am when I’m teaching? Am I constantly hurrying my students along? Are they missing out on as many powerful moments and potential inquiries as my kids were on that first walk? Am I walking past my colleagues without saying “hello”? Why am I like that in school? What is it about the “busyness” of schools that makes us such manic people?

It must not continue. The time has come for people who work in schools to start looking at how we use time, and to start using time better. Most of us work in schools that profess to create people who will “create a better and more harmonious world”, but how harmonious are our schools, how mindful are our children, how frantic is the atmosphere?

It’s time to look at time, but we need to have the time to do it. Catch 22, or just another feeble excuse not to make positive change.

Do you have any stories like this?