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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Case of Professional Curiosity


Dear reader, let me begin with a small apology.  I have just noticed that I have not actually published anything since what appears to be the middle of the last ice age!  Ok, that might be the smallest of exaggerations, but I have had a bit of a sabbatical from publishing and now I realise that half of the new school years first term has flown by!  You could be forgiven for thinking that I had been hit by the proverbial bus, or kidnapped by crazy policy makers to create the next best, biggest educational disruption to hit our schools.  But no, nothing as exciting,  just your bog standard quotidian leadership tasks that plague educators when school starts for the year.  

The irony here is that my fingers have not been still - in fact, quite the contrary.  I have a plethora of drafts sitting in blogger (23 to be exact) and another pile on my phone in Notes.  Not only have my fingers been busy jotting down ideas, thoughts and wonderings, but my mind has been awash with posts to explore.  Perhaps the thing that has been niggling away at the back of my mind like some kind of bone obsessed puppy, is that of todays post.  (cue drum roll...) 

Professional Curiosity, PC for short.  

It all started in January after a routine blood test threw up a worrying anomaly.  When I say worrying,  to clarify, it was me that was fixated on it more than the health professionals I was dealing with.  And it is that clarification that started my wonderings about professional curiosity - or lack there of.  You see, what I could not reconcile in my head is why no one was curious about this anomaly.  Without going into the ins and outs (and boring you all silly) the crux of the matter is that on one hand I had either cured the incurable or on the other hand, I had a big issue.  The fact that only I was curious about the conflict in data baffled me.  

It made me think of other incidents where professional curiosity was key to being successful in a chosen field.  For example, Techno Man is a techie (as his nickname suggests) - and I know that if he gets an IT issue that seems insolvable or has conflicting data or behaviour in a strange way, that he will leave no stone unturned until he figures out what is going on.  I know of mechanics that also think the same way - if they are presented with an engine issue that does not add up, they will go through a process to uncover why and seek a pathway forward.  Teachers and educators are the same - many of you will know this as 'teaching as inquiry', where you look at the data and try and figure out where to next.  Perhaps your high achieving students have slipped in their learning from Above to At.  Your professional curiosity is what drives you to dig deeper into why something is happening in order to find the most effective way to overcome it.  

The more I thought about my own health anomaly (I am fine by the way - I think - in case you were worried about me) the more I applied that wondering about professional curiosity to the teachers I work with.  So much so, I discussed it at our Teacher Only Day, asking staff to think carefully about what was going on in their classrooms, did they notice any anomalies or things that just do not add up - what were they curious about.  I asked them to tap into their professional curiosity and use this as the basis of their Teacher as Inquiry.  

You see, inquiring into your practice - tapping into your professional curiosity - irrespective of what field you work in, is what I believe is at the heart of what you do.  I will take another large leap and say that being professionally curious and following that curiosity is what differentiates you from your colleagues that don't.  In a busy classroom, it can be all to easy to fall back into default (I am going to publish a post about that topic soon - hopefully before the next ice age!) and I imagine in a busy doctors practice the same applies.  The high achieving, successful teacher, doctor, mechanic, techie (insert profession here) who gets results does not fall back into default 'she will be right' mode.  They tap into their professional curiosity and ask themselves the hard questions about why something is the way it is, and they look for the anomalies and the outliers so that they can rule them in or out as required.  They inquire into their practice and they ask themselves - 'what do I need to do differently'. They use a system to work through (many teachers will be familiar with the Spirals of Inquiry) and they do not stop at the first stone they uncover.  They use their professional curiosity to wonder, examine, explore hunches and test out theories until they get their desired outcome.   Imagine how much more success you would have as a teacher if your students were PC about their learning!  (I feel another post brewing) 

The more I think about PC, the more fascinated I am.  I have never really warmed to the term Teaching as Inquiry as I have always found it a bit 'fad' like.  I am a strong supporter of inquiring into my practice, but I think I like the term Professional Curiosity more.  To me it differentiates teaching inquiry with students vs the Teacher Inquiry.  In my humble opinion I think some teachers get a bit confused about it, but if we were to say 'what are you curious about' I have a professional hunch that teachers would embrace this as something a little more user friendly.  Heck, I expect that applies in all fields!   I know, and I hear you (I can see you rolling your eyes) - it is the same thing.  Perhaps, but professional curiosity is not just a teacher thing, it is a 'doing your job to the best of your ability' thing, and it is applicable to all avenues. 

I don't know about you, but as a parent I want the teachers working with my daughter to be PC about my daughters learning pathway.  I want the teachers in my school to be PC about what is happening in their classrooms and to inquire into that curiosity, and I want my doctor to look at the anomalies in my blood work, be PC and ask themselves 'what is going on here - what stones do I need to look under to find out why'!  I don't think that is a big ask.  

Finally, what are you professionally curious about?  I appreciate most of you will be in education, but some of you will be reading this (perhaps you fell here by accident, but welcome) with as equally exciting jobs as an educator.  What, in your chosen field, makes you curious, and what are you going to do about it!  

It is all very well to be curious, but do not leave it there -explore and inquire into it.  Who knows what you might discover - your discovery could be the next best thing since sliced bread, or solve how to accelerate students who are struggling, or it might be the solution to fix that annoying thingywhatsit on your cell phone!  So go forth and explore you professional curiosity and let me know how you get on - after all, I'm curious about it!  Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, January 9, 2017

Leadership Hack Playlist - 12 Songs to Blow off Steam

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Back in early November I wrote a blog post, The Fear in the Belly, 11 Leadership Hacks to Overcome It, more of a reminder to myself that I was quite capable of getting through the tough days that are Term Four.  In that post, under leaderships hack number Four - 'Blow off the steam',  I promised I would put together a post of the songs that have been my 'go to' when my day has turned to custard and I am in the mindset where I am seriously considering and wondering how hard it is to be an Uber driver, walk away and have a fresh start.   Fortunately the super tough days are more anomaly (why was that word so dang difficult to spell)  than reoccurring cycles stuck on repeat!   

This is not a definitive list.  

There are many songs that I love to sing loudly in my car (and most days that is just because I love them and they make me happy - but that is another list for another day) and often they change, depending on what is popular for me at the time or what has struck a chord.  Some are oldies and on reflection, only really come out of the archives on really tough days.   Some I sing (or is that scream) out at the top of my lungs, with the volume so high it vibrates the car, possibly worries people on the sidewalk, and is probably impacting on my hearing!  As a stress release, there is nothing like it!  Others, I sing and they make me cry; yes the tears are ones of sadness, but they act as a healing balm, washing away my day. And this, this allows me to walk in through my front door and be mindful of those at home.  

1. Miaa - Dynasty



What is not to love?  This song is passionate, stirring and when you crank up the sound system and sing it loudly and with the same passionate verve it invokes in you, you can not help but feel the beauty of the music wash over you, and this, for me, instantly lifts my mood!  

2. Sia - Alive 





I will confess her Videos are a little weird but this song is a reminder that I am indeed ALIVE, and I am still BREATHING and I SURVIVED!  The message is powerful and when I play it, I feel grateful.  Tomorrow is another day, I am able to brush myself off and I have this!  


3. Andra Day - Rise Up 



The words speak for themselves!
"And I'll rise up
 rise like the day
 I'll rise up
 I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
 And I'll do it a thousand times a day"

I crank this song up very loud, play it more than once and I sing this with as much gusto as I can muster.  If the day has been particularly tough and I find myself in a fragile frame of mind,  this song will bring me to tears, and for some reason, when the tears fall, I feel the weight of the day lift.  

4. Artists of Then and Now - Forever Country 



This song brings me straight back to my roots.  I love this mash up of all the country songs of my youth, and it makes me happy.  I can sing along, tap my toes and be transported back in time.   It makes the list of blowing off steam because it is a great distraction.  Its' time capsule abilities make it a great soothing track.  The older I get, the more I stand up and embrace country music.  I love many genres and I am a little tired of pretending to 'dis' country when I know its a big fat lie.  

5. Glen Stapleton - Tennessee Whiskey 



OMG, what is not to like!  This bluesy, laid back song is my current favourite piece of country music and I love, love, love it.  As soon as the first chords ring out, I start to feel relaxed.  I can almost imagine myself sitting down in front of a roaring log fire, in a Queenstown bar in the middle of winter with a class of 'smooth whiskey' or 'warm brandy'.   Hmmm.  Listening to it now and I can feel the knots in my shoulders start to unwind.  This song is a pure indulgence and my advice to all you country haters is do not knock it until you try it! 

6. Disturbed - The Sound of Silence 





This song is a little darker but for some reason, its darker tones make me feel lighter in my own soul, as if by singing its lyrics I can offload the baggage to someone else.  As far as a remake goes, this is one of the best.  

7. Imagine Dragons and Lil Wayne - Sucker for Pain 



What is not to love?  This is a most definitely 'turn up loud and pretend you are a rapper of some note' song!  I love the lyrics, the beat and the movies one of my favourites!  As far as a stress release kind of song goes, this is one of the best.  

8. Muse - Uprising 




This is my anti establishment song and when you hear this song belting out of my car stereo then you know its been a rough day and I am pretty mad at someone or something.  This song came out during a particularly tough period of my career where it would be fair to say my distrust of bureaucracy was born, resulting in a certain aversion to risk taking (by that I mean messing with bureaucracy but that is another story for a more brave day).   This song reminds me of what is important and that I need to have faith in myself - that it is ok to be an advocate and to stand strong, and not allow the scars to sway me. Avert eyes now if you are easily offended.  It is my 'FU' song.  

9. Pentatonic - Hallelujah 




Actually, I am usually a bigger fan of Stan Walkers version, but either way, this is the one on my music playlist right now, and one of my current favs.  It could be because it coincided with the Christmas season, but regardless, I love this song and singing it loudly makes me feel less anxious and a whole lot more chilled.  On the rare occasion when the universe aligns, I have been known to hit some of the tough notes; it has to be super loud and if I pull if off, I feel a sense of accomplishment that nothing in my office that day could provide.  For that itself, it is priceless.   It just makes me happy.  

10.  Twenty One Pilots - Stressed Out 




Kind of speaks for itself really.  The lyrics really tickled my fancy.  I Play it loud, sing with pride and let the music do its thing.  

11.  Blake Shelton - Do You Remember 




Yes, it is another country song, and in fairness to Blake, I could add most of his songs to this list.  There is something about his music that makes me feel warm, safe and bundled up in a warm and comfy blanket.  His voice has the power to relax and chill.  I first heard his dulcet tones on a plane trip across the ditch on the way to a conference - I had finished my movie and was flicking through the music playlists and found his 'Based on a True Story' album and its been a love affair since.  I did not notice the plane landing (and that is the bit I dislike the most) and to this day his music makes me happy.  

12. Siaa - The Greatest 



Again, the lyrics speak for themselves.  "I am free to be the greatest here alive...don't give up, I won't give up...I've got stamina'.  It is a good reminder that we can do this, we can own this and we have the stamina to fail and stand back up!  "Don't give up - no, no, no'  

                                                                .......................................

Only twelve songs - but twelve songs that can revive me from a leadership low, and make me feel whole again.  I have more, but for the time being, these are my top (as witnessed by the 'recently played' playlist on my phone!!)  I have always found music to be one of my biggest sanity savers, and I have noticed over the years that the music I love at the time, relates a lot to where I am at.  I note that, for the most part, most of this playlist is about being strong, holding on and believing in your own strength and resilience.   

I guess, at the end of the day, it is not important whether you like my playlist but if you have your own things (it may or may not be music) that help you 'blow off steam'.  I have colleagues that like to run, and others that are Jazz aficionados (not my cuppa tea by any means), so what is yours?

Whatever your blower of steam  is - may it be the magical antidote to any leadership lows you may have!  


Monday, January 2, 2017

Beware the 'Creep Up'

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Let me begin with a clarification.  By bewaring the 'creep up' I am not referring to your underpants or the weird fella down the street with the dodgy van.  By 'creep up' I am referring to those things in life that sneak up on us, practically unexpected (I would like to say completely unexpected but if we were to be honest with ourselves, we are given signs we are more than likely to just be in denial about them).  

The life of a busy person is an interesting thing.  Sometimes it is in our 'busyness' that we fail to see things creep up on us until it feels like they have smacked us on the side of the head with the full force of a pro boxer!  Sometimes this 'busyness' has the by product of the above denial! 

One thing I like about this time of the year (Summer holidays) is that it is the only prolonged 'time out' that gives me enough breathing space and navel gazing opportunities to rediscover who I am, WHY I am and it gives me the time to do a bit of a stock take of my life; especially my health and general wellbeing (physical and mental).  

I have noticed a few things that have 'crept up' on me, which I am working to rectify (or have peace with, as the case may be).  Here are my top 5. 

Middle Age 

Actually, this is just a simple case of denial really.  I know how old I am, and soon, I will be half way to ninety, which, because my brain has not caught up or gotten the memo, seems a bit surreal really.  We spend most of our younger years pretending we are older than we actually are, and our middle years pretending the opposite.  No wonder our brains get confused!  I am not sure about this middle aged thing - nor am I confident I understand the rules!  So sod it, I will just have to do it my way.   I read the other day that the new phrase for middle aged women is Midult (which Collins dictionary defines as the 35-55 year old, digitally literate female Gen X with a disposable income, demographic) and I LIKE it.  Pretty much sums me up nicely (not so sure about the disposable income bit - that gets eaten up by Miss 13 who can consume disposable income faster than a starving puppy).  So, in order to make peace (because I can not really rectify it) with 'middle age' this Midult is going to own it her way!  (sounds great - unsure what it actually looks like but watch this space anyway) 

Winter Padding 

Oh alright, by winter padding I mean those extra kilograms that snuck up and attached themselves to various parts of my body when I wasn't looking.  Yes, you are correct dear reader, this is yet another example of denial in action.  Lack of self control on the 'delicious but should not put it into my mouth so often' front, combined with a job that has lots of pressure (I am refraining from using the S word in an attempt to take some of its power off it, much like in Harry Potter where they say "he who shall not be named') and a bad habit of leaving work too late and too tired to go to the gym!  (yes, that was an excuse - soz) My gym gear travels to work with me every day, but alas, that is mostly all it has done - come for a free ride!   On the plus side, several layers of padding have been dealt with already and the basis of good habits are being underwritten each day.  The added bonus will be that the the health effects from the 'S' word will also be minimised - so theres that to look forward to! 

The Impact of Clutter 

This was a legitimate creep up - promise!  On the last day of term I looked at my desk/office/laptop desktop and wondered how on earth I had managed to let it get so BIG.  I notice that when I am juggling many things, I have a bit of a terrible habit of putting something into what I affectionally call the 'when I am not so busy' pile.  Ha.  That is a bit of a joke, because the kicker is that I am always busy!  This term 4 was a particularly harrowing and frantic term, and I ended up with quite a few of these piles - digital and real life.  The digital piles have been cleared - I had to migrate to a new computer (which I should have done A LONG time ago but the job was too big for the schedule until now) and migrating a new laptop is a great opportunity to clean up.  The physical piles have been attacked a few times - I try and leave the term 'tidy' but with all the dramas of the last few days of school never quite finished so came in prior to Christmas and attacked them then.  Sadly this clutter is not confined to just my office, but had invaded parts of our home.  This is still a work in progress!   Every summer holidays I clear out the 'plastics' cupboard - how the heck does it even keep growing?  As for those lost socks - resistance is futile - you will be found and assimilated!  Sigh.  

Things don't work like they used to 

Your limbs don't move the way they used to, things hurt at random times and for random reasons, and your eagle like eyesight is less reliable than it was.  All key features of being  Midult and not something that should really come as a surprise, but when somethings refuses to work the same efficient way it used to, it really does feel like it has crept up in some nasty game of 'surprise, guess what doesn't work now'.  


Being a Midult with a Teenager 

Like Middle Age, your child becoming a teenager shouldn't be a surprise, but for some reason, this has felt a bit like it has crept up on me.  One of my areas of expertise in Education is behaviour management (I've even written the books - true story) but all those things go out the window when you have one living in your house.   It is amazing how your own child can render you from competent to incompetent in a matter of moments.   Sometimes, It is a little like living with a mercurial nuclear weapons operator (in fairness this could describe either of us).  One moment, you see glimpses of the beautiful adult they are blossoming into, the next, the crazy 'could push the nuclear button that will annihilate the world' mad person emerges.   Goodness knows how difficult it is navigating the murky waters of being a 21st Century teenager, best we can do is be there as they make the journey and hope you don't get driven to sample the special 'lemonade'  too often!  


Overcoming or rectifying the 'Creep Ups': 

Whilst I would love to offer you all some wonderful and sage advice, if we were to be honest wiht ourselves,  overcoming the 'creep ups' is really about employing some basic time management tools and a little bit of common sense.  

1. Read this post.   Some of these ideas can be found in a previous post 'Confessions of a Procrastinator' which includes some handy hints that will help you avoid a 'creep moment'. 

2. Be mindful - obviously if you feed yourself too much of the not so good for you foods, fail to look after your health and keep fit, then you are going to have some issues.  Live in the present!

3. Remind yourself that sometimes life is messy, try not to dwell on it, learn from it and move on.  

4. Be kind to yourself.  You are human - see number 3.  

5. Embrace the unexpected - see if you can find the sparkle in the dark and chalk it down to the beauty that is the journey of life.  If you can reflect on it and find the lesson, then all the more for it! 

6. Develop the growth mindset of a warrior.  Get up, brush yourself off and own it!  

7. Breathe!  Take a break, and remember, you have got this!

8. Ask for help - from a friend, family, colleague or a professional.  

These are my top 5 'creep ups' and some ways to overcome them.  What things creep up on you and what solutions do you use?  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sayonara 2016 - Don't let the door hit you on the backside as you leave...




It is amazing how fast 2016 has zoomed by.  

It seems only months ago we were raising our glasses to toast it in - but here I am, a year later, on New Years Eve, taking a few moments to reflect on what I can only describe as a bit of a strange year.  

Strange does not really do it justice - it has, in fact, been a crazy ole year.  For me, and I would hazard a guess, for much of the world, it has had as many ups as it has had downs.  One thing I am confident of is that there have been plenty of things (cough Brexit, cough the Presidential outcome) that will no doubt be considered, later in our worlds history, as the catalysts that led to the unfolding of some fundamental world changing events; events that are yet to be seen.   Yay, something to look forward to... (insert sarcastic face)

More often than I am comfortable with, especially in the second half of this year, I have wondered if the earth has been a little off its axis and a little off kilter with humanity.      

As the neighbourhood resounds with the loud cacophony of left over Guy Fawkes fireworks, and end of year parties, I can not help but reflect on the things I am grateful for, and the things that I have to look forward to.  

I am not a big fan of setting arbitrary resolutions, because I am more of an ongoing goal setting kinda gal, but I do acknowledge that the promise of fresh starts and clean slates that hangs around like a whisper, ready for us to grab, as a new year approaches, has a certain appeal.  

As the new year countdown beckons, I am curious about what the next 12 months holds in store for us all.  Each of us has been gifted with 52 new weeks, 365 fresh and clean days, made up of 8760 hours, a little over half a million (525,600 to be exact) minutes untainted by experiences (bad and good) and 3,1536,000 seconds.  How we choose to use this time will be within our power.   We can choose to be successful, and fill them with love, peace, laughter, fun, joy, happiness and good fortune.  Or, we can waste them.  The choice is ours.  

For you and yours, I wish you a year of all the wonderful things that life has to offer, and a reminder that for the times that are a little darker and stormier, to keep the faith.  For those difficult times,  never forget that the dark allows us to appreciate the light, and the stormy weather give us a chance to welcome the warmth of the sun.   Be kind to yourself, embrace change and enjoy the ride!  Make the most of the time you are gifted with in 2017, because you just never know what tomorrow will bring.  The fact it is not promised and guaranteed is in itself like a gift.  A timely reminder to be grateful, and to live in the moment.  (note to self - put the phone down more) 

If I was to be honest, I will not be sorry to see the backside of 2016 as it slinks out the door and I am open to the opportunities and changes that a fresh and shiny new year has to offer!  I think the following short visual best sums up 2016 - in the style of a horror movie trailer!  

SO, sayonara 2016 - thanks for coming, your time is up, make sure you don't let the door smack you  on your backside as you leave! 



Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Fear in the Belly - 11 Leadership Hacks to Control It

"Without the darkness, how can you recognise the light" Tuvok 

(Star Trek Generations) 


Ever had one of those moments where you feel a little queasy and the queasiness is not related to what you ate, but what you experienced?

It's that little ball of fear that makes your tummy twist and recoil, almost in an attempt to run away and hide.  It is a visceral response, and because it is not your intellect that controls it, but something far more primitive and raw,  keeping it under control when you are facing 'those' situations (you know the ones, quite often they blindside us and proceed these dreaded little words 'have you got a minute') is no easy task. 

I know that feeling in the pit of my belly well - too well.  I suspect, if you are in leadership, especially educational leadership, you know it well too! 

This post is as much as a reminder to myself, as it is a way to support others.  


Leadership is mostly rewarding, fulfilling, and an opportunity to make a difference.  As with all bright moments, there are also some darker times, and the flip side to the great is that leadership can also be challenging, hard work, dark and unforgiving.  Some days, weeks and months are amazing and other times, not so much.  Sometimes you are faced with situations that bring about that uncomfortable feeling of fear in the pit of your belly, and the key to walking away mostly unscathed is in how you manage yourself and your reactions during the 'fear in the belly' moments. 

The following 11 suggestions/leadership hacks are by no means a definitive list, but they are things that can help, and things that I have been honing myself, over the years.  

1. Disconnect - take time out and leave work at work 


I know what you are thinking, "but I have ... (insert whatever seems important, files to file, Charters to write, data to analyse - the list is endless) to do..."  I have a revelation to share with you - disconnecting for a weekend - and I mean the WHOLE weekend, from when you leave on Friday and return on Monday, will NOT - I repeat - will NOT, make the world end.  You are of absolutely no use to anyone, family or colleagues, if you do not take some time for yourself.  You work hard - really hard.  You are the person that everyone wants a piece of, and quite frankly, if you do not keep some aside for you, you will falter and fall.  

2. Do what brings you joy 


This is related to number one.  (can you see a pattern emerging here?  Good) What makes you happy?  And for this, I mean both at work and at home.  For example, my batteries are recharged at work by going and working with, and talking with students.  They are why I went into this career - they are who I want to be great for, and they make my heart sing because they are such great role models of resilience and joy.  Getting unstuck from my office to spend time with our students is a highlight and no matter how much fear might be swirling around the pit of my belly, our students remind me of the WHY.  Every time.  To recharge my batteries at home, I love to walk on the beach - the beach is like a stress soother.  It doesn't even matter what the weathers like - there is just something very healing and powerful about the ocean.  It reminds me that the world is a wonderful, changing place to explore, and life is an adventure just waiting for me to go and seek it!    Those are just two examples - what are yours? 

3. Get your 'ducks' in a roll 


Make your lists, get your systems out and be organised.  When things are difficult, it could be all too easy to slip into a state of darkness, and let the organisation systems slip.  Don't fall for that!  When things seem out of control, getting back on top of the chaos is a priority and will help you feel more organised and in control.  Be systematic, think like a Start Trek Vulcan and allow logic and reason a chance to flourish.  You can read more about things to slow down the 'roller coaster' in my recent post 'The Leadership Rollercoaster'.  Suffice to say, getting your 'ducks' in a row is the equivalent of your own leadership security blanket.  

4. Blow off the steam 


Something I find very helpful in combating the fear in the belly moments is letting off some steam.  We all have a variety of ways to do this, but my two favourites are either a hard out gym session (the older I get the more these seem to nearly kill me) or a super loud 'pretend I am a rock star' session in my car on the way home.  When I say loud, I do indeed mean loud.  One of the things I like about my car is that it has a fantastic sound system.  I have a number of songs that I LOVE to sing loudly (most likely badly but thats not important) and there is something very cathartic about doing this.  I imagine I must look like a bit of a twit (and goodness knows how bad it sounds) but, that is a small price to pay for regaining my sanity.  I hope to put together a post with some of my favourite songs shortly.  Watch this space.  

5. Become intimate with your stress response


How well do you know yourself?  Do you understand the symptoms of the 'fear in the belly' moments?  There is a difference between situational sickness and actually being unwell.  Each of us 'feels' our emotions in our belly differently, and only you know what your response is.  Some people feel nauseated, others feel 'off colour', some feel tendrils of cold running through their veins and others might feel flu like symptoms.  Get to understand your own responses to stressful situations so that you can find which of these strategies (or others) might help you keep them under control. 

6. Know your triggers 


Do you know what makes you feel that 'fear in the belly'?  Similar to the one above, this is about understanding what causes it.  For example, one of mine is feeling out of control.  By that, I mean encountering one of 'those' moments that I have never encountered before because often fear has at its core, the notion that 'I don't know what to do'.  Unfortunately, or perhaps from a growth mindset point of view, fortunately, the Universe has provided me with numerous such encounters which has given me a system to help bring some control to it.  Part of my 'system' is to do some of these very hacks.  I always start with trying to bring some perspective and control back to the situation by asking myself, who can help, what steps need to be taken, who needs to be informed, where does it fit into our policies, and what have I missed?  I wrote above about getting your 'duck's' in a row and being organised - tapping into the logical and analytical part of your brain helps to bring some perspective and calm to the situation, giving you a chance to take some control.  My brain doesn't function well when it is stuck in flight or fight mode, and having a system to calm it down helps.  

7. Debrief - you are not alone!


This is a big one. Who do you go to debrief?  Who is your confidante and 'wise shoulders'?  I am fortunate in that there are a few people I trust to discuss 'hairy' things with.  Knowing who to go to to get the correct advice (such as School Trustees Association) is also crucial. They know what you need to do, who you need to contact and what process you need to follow in order to ensure both natural justice and as a safeguard for yourself and your school.  I am in no doubt that the person I use is outstanding and without their help would have struggled.  Then there are the awesome people in your professional learning network (if you are one of mine, and I am sure you know who you are, know that I love you to the moon and back, am terribly grateful to have you and you are fabulous).  Know who your people - your tribe - are.  They are literally your sanity savers! 

8. Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude


This one is hard when the going is tough.  Our brains seem to be predisposed to sinking into the doom and gloom, but if you can shake that old dark dog off your shoulders long enough to appreciate those things that do go well, the people in our life that make it all worthwhile and the small things that we can be grateful for, then it is helpful.  At a recent leadership group meeting, we went around the room and for some of us, the term has been a little tough, all we could find to be grateful for was that we made it to the meeting!  Whilst that might seem sad, actually, it is a huge testament to the knowledge that somedays, it is the small things that make the big difference, and on that particular day, just getting there meant the world to us.  So, being grateful might just be a list of the little things (my car got me to work in one piece, the coffee was hot, the breeze from the window is fresh, the little picture of New York on my journal makes me feel hopeful I will get there and motivates me to keep on going, etc).  I would suggest meditation as another useful tool, but that is not something I am particularly skilled at - yet.  (Keeping my brain silent for more than a moment is always a victory) 

9. Affirmations 


Bare with me, because I know this is going to seem naff, but if it really helps me!  Think growth mindset!  How you talk to yourself matters.  I know it's easy to fall into the 'I hate my job' mantras when a situation occurs, and because I have had moments where I have felt like this, or where I've lain in bed in the morning reluctant to get up because, for that moment, it's just too hard! (I may have burst into tears once or twice, much to the horror and concern of Technoman).  So, I combat this with a positive mantra or two (or fifty - some days are harder than others).  I've been doing this leadership job for over 15 years, and some of my experiences as a school principal would make your toes curl.  If my naff solution around affirmations to calm the fear, and soothe the turmoil in the tummy are of any use to anyone else, I can surely overcome my own insecurities to share them.  I've set my phone to send me a reminder in the morning, and again before bed, with a little private message that reminds me that I'm doing a good job, and that I'm enough.  In addition, I have an app on my phone that if my day has been particularly rough, I can press a button and read some positive, random affirmations.  If you're interested, the apps called 'Affirmations' and you can download it from iTunes and Amazon.  It's a resiliency tool that helps keep me feeling in perspective.  What I have found, is that rewiring my inner voice to say 'I love my job, I love my job' instead of 'I hate my job' just takes the edge off the dark moments by shinning a little light of positivity.  

10. Breathe!  No seriously, breathe! 


When I encounter the 'fear in my belly' I automatically work to calm my fear by breathing.  There are many many ways to do this, and I have now got it down pat (I think) in that I can take some deep breathes to collect my thoughts and most of the time, you would not even notice that I am doing it.  Google breathing exercises to get anxiety under control and have a go at practicing this for yourself.  Never underestimate the soothing way some good deep breathes in and out, help to bring perspective and allow you to take back some of the control on your emotions.  

11. Finally, remember 'she'll be right' 


By this I mean, a bad situation doesn't mean you are a bad leader, or that things won't get better.  It doesn't rain forever, right? So pull out your umbrella, face the rain with courage and strength and hold onto the faith that the sun is coming!  You have got this, you are quite capable of sorting your way through these situations, and remember, you are not alone!  


Please NB:  If things are overwhelming you, please seek help - see your GP or seek guidance from a support specialist (see below for kiwi links - if you are from another country, find your countries equivalent).  


Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Intuitive Educator



I have been wondering about teacher intuitiveness, in particular, why some teachers seem to be able to tap into their intuition and employ it more, and why some teachers appear reluctant and less likely to follow their intuition.

I am confident that I am an intuitive educator.  As a classroom teacher I rely on my intuition to guide me, and I am hopeful I do the same as a leader.  I know this, because I have spent the majority of my career digging deep into my my practice, analysing what I do, why I do it and what makes something more successful than other things.  When I haven't done something so well (as in, when I screw something up), either in the classroom or in the office, then I run my eyes over those situations as well - I suspect with a too critical eye sometimes!

It is from this behaviour of stopping and analysing what I do,  that I have discovered that my intuition derives from a mix of tapping into a variety of resources.  My intuitive formula is made up of a mix of experience, strategy, what I like to call 'reading the emotional barometer', and a variety of tools.  These resources support and supplement my intuition as a teacher and as a leader.

Experience

I consider experience as a process one might have of getting knowledge, skill and (fingers crossed) mastery/wisdom from participating in, or experiencing events, or from the day to day accumulation of 'doing'.  When I apply it to myself, I am meaning experience as a classroom teacher, within leadership and across all aspects of my life.  Mostly, for me, it is from first hand experiences (meaning, I was there), sometimes it is from the stories of others (I may not have been there but I played some role in supporting the situation from the sidelines), sometimes it is from physically doing or participating it something, and sometimes it is a more academic experience, where I have studied, read and learnt about things.

In Practice:
Tapping into my experiences forms the backbone of how I tap into my intuition.  For example, throughout my career, I have worked extensively with students who might be classified as 'challenging'.  There are very few behavioural experiences I have not 'experienced' first hand - from the psychologically alarming to the physically dangerous.  All of these collective experiences have allowed me to hone my intuition (some might call it 'spidey sense') in such a way that I am able to head most potential disasters off at the pass, before they come crashing down into an almighty version of the next apocalypse.  Sometimes, the warning signs might appear minor (to the uninitiated), but experience gives you tools and strategies you can use, and for the most part, mine will alert me of impending disaster.

Strategy

By strategy,  I am talking about using strategies like problem solving, thinking skills, a variety of behaviour management techniques (like restorative justice), numerous leadership theories, practices and styles (such as agile leadership and transformational leadership), coaching, and perhaps one of the most important - the strategies of instructional practice (including understanding a wide range teaching strategies such as problem solving and being able to tap into student voice and agency).

In Practice:
Understanding a wide range of strategies that can be utilised as both a teacher and leader is critical because it means that your intuition has a repertoire of tools to reach for.  Imagine the behaviour management scenario above - your 'spidey sense' has warned you of a potential situation about to unfold, experience has helped hone that 'spidey sense' but because you also have a wide range of strategies to call upon, you are not stuck wondering what to do - instead you are able to work through options.

Reading the Emotional Barometer:

This is about your emotional intelligence (EI).  In this case, its about your ability to identify, monitor, and use your own emotions (intrapersonal intelligence) in a productive and positive way as you interact with others and with situations within life.  The more you understand your own reactions and emotional responses, the better able you will be to understand and see it in others (interpersonal intelligence).  This is about four key attributes, your self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management.  Your EI plays a big part in your intuition as the better able you are to tap into and sense  your EI, the more able you are to tap into your subconscious and be aware of the subtleties of others emotions.

In Practice:
During any interaction you might have, being able to 'read' the situation is vital.  As a teacher (or leader) there are many examples where it is easy to become frustrated.  When you are working with students (or adults), being able to turn that frustration into a positive pathway by managing your emotions shows the other person that you value them and that you have control over your frustration and anger.  Using 'I', rather than 'you', statements will avoid all involved heading into the territory of the 'defensive'.  Using your EI to validate others by acknowledging how they feel helps you walk the talk by valuing others.

Tools:

In this case, I am referring to tools such as your mindset (growth vs fixed), resiliency - how able are you to bounce forward after any situation unfolds, 'bloody mindedness' (being determined to reach a goal) and your moral purpose - knowing your WHY.   There tools are all things I use to sharpen my intuition.

In Practice: 
What you focus on is what you most often manifest - do you have a growth mindset where you see an opportunity in difficult situations or do you stuck in a mire of negative self feedback?  Rewiring how you talk to yourself, being able to bounce forward from setbacks by learning from them, and tapping into your reasons for being an educator gives you a greater control over the days where educating is hard work!  It gives your intuition a more positive and powerful narrative to tap into.

6 Tips to Hone your Intuitive Educator


1. Reflective Practice 

Reflect, reflect and reflect again.  The more you know about what is working, what is not so successful and why this is the case, the better you are able to grow your experience and strategy base.

Ask Yourself:

What was it about this lesson/day/situation that was successful?  Can you replicate it?
Am I excited to go to work today?  Why/Why not?  What would make me excited?
What evidence do I have that my students are succeeding?  (Soft and hard data)
Are my students/teachers thriving?  How do I know?
In what areas can I improve professionally?  How can I share my skills with others?
What new ideas have I implemented lately that keep me on 'top of my game'?
How well balanced is my life - and how do I know?

2. Data 

Data, soft and hard, is a great way to know you impact.

Ask yourself:

What does the data tell me (soft and hard)?
Which data paints the picture of success?
Do I teach my students they way they are predisposed to learn or in the way I teach?
What does student/teacher/parent voice say?

3. Observe: 

Paying attention (being mindful) of the world around us is a rich source of information.

Ask yourself:

What did I notice today?
What is new or different in my environment, and what might have caused that?
What is the emotional temperature today, and what impact dd I have on that?
How do my interactions change things - for the betterment of others, or not?

4. Read: 

Reading about new methodologies or practices is an important part of being an educator.  Information is awash in our world, tapping into this to improve our practice should be second nature.

Ask yourself:

What new things have I learnt today?
Where do I source new information (twitter, social media platforms, blogs, research) and interact with others to learn new things?
How do I keep up to date on current pedagogies?

5. Inquiry: 

Teacher as Inquiry should be a core part of being an educator - investigating into practice is always going to result in better practice.   Try things out, experiment and reflect on what you do.

Ask yourself:

How do I inquire into my own practice?
What resources and evidence will I need to ensure my inquiry will result in improved outcomes?
Who is the inquiry for?
How often do I ask 'why' about my practice?
Do I really understand why something is successful or not?
What do my students say about our classroom -how much voice, choice and agency is there?

6. Observe others: 

Getting outside of our own classroom or office to observe what and how others do things is important.

Ask yourself:

How does my practice improve by observing others?
Why does the teacher/leader I am observing do things that way, how might I learn from this?
What did I notice?
Do I understand what effective practice is - how?

                                                          ...........................................................

Tapping into your educators intuition is a key tool in your tool kit.  Because my own intuition arises from the intentional growing and modifying of the above attributes, it is something I rely on every single day - not just in my leadership but in my life.  I am now left wondering how I might help my own team sharpen and strengthen their own intuitive practice because the more I reflect on it, the more certain I am that it is in this intuitive practice where we find where the real magic lives!  Think about it - who are the best teachers and leaders you know?  For me, the more I think about it, it is the teachers and leaders who know how to tap into this intuitive resource that are the most successful.

How is your own intuitive educative ability?


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Quality of the Noise


Several weeks ago I attended an ACEL (Australian Council of Education Leadership) conference.  Dr Tim Watterson, who is the Director-General of Education and Training for Queensland, delivered the opening keynote.   I confess that my initial ‘judging a book by its cover’ reaction was not particularly complimentary, and I did wonder how I, as a Kiwi Leader, might relate to an Aussie Director-General.   I do however; stand to be corrected, because in actual fact, it was ok.   It was more than ok it was actually very ok.  

There were two key takeouts for me, this post is about the first one. 

Noise: 


I was particularly taken with one of his opening comments, about how the quality of the noise in your classrooms, playground or staffroom is what gives away the quality of your school. 

Let that sink in for a moment, as it has for me over the last few weeks.

THE QUALITY OF THE NOISE IN YOUR CLASSROOMS, PLAYGROUND, MEETINGS OR STAFFROOM IS WHAT GIVES AWAY THE QUALITY OF YOUR SCHOOL.


I have always been a firm believer that you can ‘feel’ a school from the moment you walk into it.  The same goes for any classroom or any staffroom.  In a high functioning school here is a hum about the place, a sense of purpose and a welcoming atmosphere.

There are many examples of when the ‘noise’ reflects a less than high quality school.  Some of us have had the misfortune of walking into ‘that’ staffroom where seats are allocated to a particular person or group, and woes betide anyone who tries to sit there.   

Sometimes the conversations in the staffroom involve unprofessional discussions of students.  You know they are unprofessional because they make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable, and you would never allow someone to speak that way about your own child.  

Or perhaps you have walked into a schools front reception office, only to be briskly dismissed by an unfriendly grimace, or been completely ignored while the people behind the counter continue with their own conversation.  

Perhaps you have sat in a meeting where people are disinterested, talking over each other being rude and disrespectful. 

Or maybe you have been in a classroom where the tensions are high and the feeling of disorganized chaos reigns supreme. 

The above examples are not indicators of a quality school but of one where the school culture needs some work. 

I have been reflecting on what our noise is at our place, and as a result I have pinned down some of the key things that I think indicate what a ‘quality noise’ might be. 

Characteristics of Quality Noise


People respect each other. 
You can hear it in the day-to-day interactions, in the playground and during meetings.  Teachers respect students and students respect other students and teachers.  Parents are a valued resource not a pesky nuisance.

Questions are more important than answers. 
You can hear questions being used all the time by teachers and learners.   A sense of curiosity exists.  Voice and agency is fostered for both students and teachers. 

Ideas and Wonderings are welcomed.
People are allowed to challenge/question the status quo, and ideas like AMOS are welcomed and encouraged because the sum of all of us is better than the one.   Students and teachers have ownership of what is happening in the school and you can tell because they can talk about what is important to them. 

Learning is not a one size fits all.
Teachers are free to explore pedagogy and learning processes that respond to the needs of their classroom.  Differentiation and personalization is encouraged and evident for both student and teacher learning.  Teaching programmes are creative and not mandated.  Leaders trust their teams to innovate and explore the best ways to support learner diversity in their classrooms, and do not micro manage this. 

Teaching as Inquiry is evident.
Teachers are keen to inquire into what is happening in classrooms and you can hear teachers sharing best practice with colleagues.  The notion of deprivatised practice is lived and there is a collective efficacy in place.  Teachers know that what they do impacts on the next class, and it is not a matter of ‘my children’ but ‘our children’. 

The school is inclusive.
Everyone is welcome and feels a part of the school.  Cultural competencies are lived, and students and teachers feel a sense of belonging. 

Self-Review informs practice and decisions.
People delve into what it is they do, and find out if it is working, and if not, why not, and where to next.  Data, soft and hard, assists this process and the soft data is valued highly.  Discussions around the school about evidence are used to check that what we say we are doing is what we are doing, and support growth and capacity building. 

....................................

These are just a few of the characteristics I have been reflecting on.  I would like to say we are all these things all of the time, but I am not so confident.   Sometimes I am sure we slip, and sometimes I am sure (in fact I know) we do not always get it right for everyone.  The real treasure is found when you know, through your self review and feedback processes, that things need to be improved, and you put in place a plan to address any areas that are lacking.

In case you are wondering, like I have, what the noise of your school is and if it is a true indication of the quality of your school, perhaps these questions might be of assistance. 

Questions to assist Self Review: 


What language do you notice people using in meetings and in the staffroom?  Is it strength based, positive and professional? 

What things do the professionals in the school talk about?

How do your teachers share practice?  Do teachers visit each others classroom?

What are teachers inquiring into?

Are relationships respectful?  How do you know – what does the evidence look like?

Do people feel welcomed at your place?  How do you know?

How do you use data and self review to improve?  Which data do you value and how do you talk about it?

Can students talk about their learning? Do they own their goals and do they know where they are going? 

What does student and teacher voice and agency look like at your place? 


Is there a culture of ongoing improvement and how do you know there is?

How does leadership support teachers?