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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?  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Leadership Roller Coaster



Forgive me dear reader, for I have been remiss. (If you are not a regular reader you may not have noticed, incidentally why are you not a regular reader?  Do be a dear and go sign up - somewhere on the sidebar there is an email link and then you won't miss out!)  Now the plugs out of the way, back to why I have been a little remiss.   It has been a little while since I last blogged.

In fairness, there has been a reason.   I have put myself into a digital time out.

I have purposely given myself a little bit of time away from Four Seasons - not because I do not want to blog anymore or because I have nothing to say (quite the contrary), but more because my life has been a little hectic and between the hectic moments I have been suffering a bit of an identify and self doubt rut.  In some respects, it is similar to being in a style rut but instead, it is more of an identify come professional rut.

Ironically, I have more partially written blog posts and ideas for posts, recorded in my notes app on my phone than you can shake a pen at, and I have written the best posts you will never read pretty much every night as I lie in bed seeking the solace of sleep.  Last night I 'ghost wrote' three fabulous and profound posts that alas have escaped me in the wake of a fast approaching day.  So, if thinking and crafting in my head was a paid job, I think I would be quite self sufficient.

It is not just one thing but a series of little things that have found themselves snowballing.  Life in the leadership fast lane can be fabulous, but it can also be an all consuming, draining and not always fun roller coaster of 'things'.  Somedays it feels like everyone wants a piece of you (not necessarily in a bad way) and finding the space to look outside your own reality to see the bigger picture can be a chore.  It is important to look beyond your own small seat on the roller coaster to survey the whole track, because the ability to do so gives you a perspective that is not found from a merely narrow place.  Term three felt a little bit like the roller coaster just kept on speeding up, and finding the time (actually, it is not time so much as space) to blog made it feel like an accelerant the roller coaster just did not need!  Blogging here is my way of debriefing, and making sense of the wonderings.  For the most part, it is my reflective space.  Writing the posts in my head whilst lying in bed, irrespective of how amazing I imagine them to be, is a little less helpful than actually writing them here!

I have found this term break to be one of much reflection.  In the first week I was fortunate to attend the ACEL (Australian Council for Educational Leaders) conference in Melbourne and I have come away from that with some big wonderings (I will blog about some of those in due course).  Being away from home and outside your own country, makes your realise a few things and it gives you a space to reflect on things that weigh you down as a leader.  There were several difficult leadership moments in term three that left me in a place of 'leadership self doubt'.

In times like that I try to remember my WHY.  I went into education wanting to make a difference, and I went into educational leadership in order to make a wider difference to that which is just within a class.  When you hit a bit of a professional rut you start to wondering about the why.  I have been wondering a lot about if I have been making a difference, and what more I need to do to ensure my leadership is effective, wondering if it is effective and how do I know it is.  At ACEL, John Hattie spoke about how teachers need to 'know thy influence' but I think it is the same for leaders.  Yes, I have my 360 appraisal process, but for me, its much deeper than that.  When you hear all the expectations leaders have on them (from academics presenting at conferences, Boards of Trustees, parents and teachers - heck - everyone has an opinion) you can feel a little overwhelmed.

With all these things adding to the roller coaster of leadership self doubt, a bit of a digital blogging time out seemed in order.  I am pleased I did.  I feel like I am heading into term four a little more grounded, with a roller coaster that has had the breaks applied.  I am looking forward to being open to  what opportunities term four brings with it, and I am looking at ways to ensure the roller coaster remains balanced so it does not derail itself.  In addition I am exploring a few options to expand my creative side.  When I started Four Seasons it was meant to be more lifestyle than Leadership focused, and I am at a bit of a cross roads regarding whether to merger Four Seasons into what it was intended for (because the creative side spins my personal wheels) or leave as is, and start a different one.  I imagine I will still be wrestling with this come Christmas - happy to have your thoughts.  (For example, I am pretty sure none of you who are reading this would be remotely interested in topics such as 'Parenting a Preteen - what not to do' or 'What I bought in Melbourne - the best leather shop ever').

In the meantime, if you find yourself in your own leadership self doubt rut, don't despair.  There is always light at the end of the murky tunnel.  Here are my top 4 tips.

1. Find your WHY.  Recall what it was that bought you into leadership, reach down deep and bring it back to the forefront.  It is the WHY that drives us, and sometimes in the midst of a self doubt moment we can forget it.  Don't let the roller coaster run over your WHY.  Let it be the driver. 

2. Find your TRIBE.  Leadership can be lonely but it doesn't have to be.  You can read more about that in my blog post "Leadership Loneliness'.   Talk to someone - a trusted colleague or your partner, and remember, you are not the only person who feels this way.  That is why there are multitudes of things written about this stuff.  All of us have felt it sometime - that is why your TRIBE is important. I have written before about how important my coffee sessions with my colleagues are.  They are essential.  Do it - you will not regret it.  

3. TRUST in yourself - you have this.  Yes, there are times when it is hard or the roller coaster is flying at top speed, but remember - you have got this!  Trust yourself, trust your moral compass and believe in yourself! 

4. Set some GOALS - chunk it down, set some goals and see number 3! I have always found a good list of proactive things to work on help me sort things into perspective.  

Have a great term everyone - heres hoping the roller coaster ride is a manageable one - and remember the only person who gets hurts on a roller coaster is the one who jumps off!

You have got this!