28 July 2015

Technical and Adaptive Leadership

Tony's board work.
I began thinking about 'Technical' and 'Adaptive' challenges in a reflection last term.  Truth be told
though, I didn't really make the connection to leadership though until today during our session with Tony Burkin. I realised that part of being in a new school, much of the adaptive stuff we are doing requires a technical solution and I guess that defined for me why I have struggled with the move from pipeline 2 to pipeline 3 of leadership. 

Much of my previous work as an educator has been adaptive and built on iterative inquiries. While I am still adaptive in my role, much of my day is filled with drafting and implementing technical solutions. 

I believe my biggest area of growth so far this year has been in my ability to lead coaching conversations. I have also become far more comfortable with the unknown. How can I ensure that the people I am with feel similarly comfortable with the unknown? 

My main take-away from this part of our leadership day was that if the team is truly comfortable with the unknown, I need to ensure that I:

  • give voice which will subsequently lead to choice,
  • maintain a productive zone of disturbance, we're a new school - we need to work hard and smart but keeping focus is key.
  • maintain engagement with minimal distractions, our mentors just need to be able to teach, collaborate with each other.... they do not need to spend unnecessary time on administrative tasks... I need to buffer them from stuff that will actually distract them from doing the best job they can in the habitat.
  • develop a collective responsibility of our evolution - I do not profess to have the answers and it is important that we are able to look to each other to move forward..

23 July 2015

Drop the organisation and get educating!

I am really looking forward to the release of "Most Likely to Succeed" later this year... I believe it is the mantra that most of the Shotover team carry on a daily basis and sums up the vision they are trying to achieve...

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.
For more information, please visit: http://mltsfilm.org

19 July 2015


People who know me, know that I keep coming back to Michael Fullan's work. He's a bit of an inspiration and motivator in "these messy times". In his article "Visions That Blind" Fullan states the need to,  "Extend what you value". He focusses here on the need for school leaders to concentrate on building collaborative cultures rather than "charging in with heavy agendas for change". 
Melmak from Pixabay

The crucial question he challenges us with is "whose vision is it?" This is fantastic affirmation for our slow but steady journey into the establishment of a brand new school. We keep talking about the vision, our beliefs and our principles with regards to everything we do. If these are not collectively owned then the way forward will not be sustainable nor will it allow for organic growth within the school. 

I like that Fullan provokes our thinking around professional development. He suggests that the school vision needs to be central to any teacher PD both short and longterm. This approach will lead to a collective understanding of a school's learning vision. This kind of approach can come from collaborative teaching inquiries, reflective practice and increasing teachers' technical expertise. 

Fullan goes on to quote Shein, (1985) observation "The process of developing collaborative work cultures is complex. It requires great sophistication for school leaders: to express their own values without being imposing; to draw out other peoples values and concerns; to manage conflict and problem solving; to give direction and to be open at the same time".

This helps me to clarify my role a little bit more. It still feels like a role that is very much under construction and for that reason, I keep second guessing myself... But I think, the potential of this role is becoming clearer and the possibilities that can come from being one of two walking APs ...

While we are structured the way we are, my role allows for many possibilities including the development of my ability to lead professional learning and e-learning/ blended learning throughout the school. It allows for the possibility of effectively mapping professional learning, curriculum and ICT use in the school. 

Ben, I think I am getting it.... finally!!! 

16 July 2015

Supporting and leading change

I keep referring back to assumptions in my reflections and am doing so one more time as I think about my role as we move into term 3. This term I am going to be thinking about deliberate acts of leadership that support change and disrupt thinking. In an essence, my one sentence job description: "build capacity, provoke thinking and maximise potential in others".

At SLT last term, I asked the team what deliberate acts of leadership did we need to be clear on to ensure that we keep moving forward collectively. I put the question out to my PLN and enjoyed the feedback that came back.  

It has been something that has kept running through my mind since. I think the biggest factor in supporting first and second order change is that as a leader, it is essential not to assume that the change is experienced by everyone in the same way you see it. I associate these changes to the adaptive challenges which I reflected on last month and I guess these could be classified as a kind of response to change. Response to first order change would generally require technical challenges while second order change would need adaptive challenges. It is important to take time to find out how each person is experiencing the change by talking about the change with them and to identify with them whether it is first order change or second order change

In my role, I think I need to then ensure I offer the right kind of "just in time support":

  • For people experiencing the change as first order change; I need to support with advice, experts, cheat sheets, manuals, visits, etc.
  • For people experiencing change as second order change I need to acknowledge that their responses could be primarily feelings based. 

I'd like to think that we can now embrace second order change and respond to it transparently. This kind of change will often take us into the pit and requires us to become the learners, to think deeply about our practice and to adopt/adapt to new and challenging ideas about our roles as mentors and educators.

"The single biggest failure of leadership is 
to treat adaptive challenges like technical challenges"
Ron Heifetz


7 July 2015

Reflecting: 6 Months Down

We are at the end of the second term of our first year. It's a good time to do some thinking and reflecting in our teams, with the children and with the community. I decided to try to capture the real richness of what we've been doing while we have been focussed on the building of the foundation of our school.

It's a privilege to be working with such an amazing team in such a wonderful place!

1 July 2015

Leadership Reflection

There has been nothing in all of my time in teaching like finding myself in a brand new school with the unique opportunity to lead from a blank canvas. 6 months into our first year, it's fair to say that there have been times that this has felt somewhat overwhelming.  But, it is also a huge, huge privilege.  

It seems that education has been on a fast/slow journey over the past two decades that I have been teaching and most of the change has happened by osmosis... We have been teaching ourselves and sometimes we have not always got it right but it's felt right because no one else has done it better.... yet!

In the school setting, I have previously felt like I was often on a treadmill... repeating the systems and programmes put in place by those who had gone before us. Being in a new school has given us licence to go slow and to keep continually asking 'Why?' and being entirely clear on that before anything needs to happen. 

Work that we have done with Julia Atkin has helped me to continually focus on the development of our shared beliefs. It has taken time to develop these but it has been important to go slow and build a solid foundation at our school. We have unpacked the principles of our beliefs together and again, this has taken time but has been key to every conversation, decision and purchase we make. 

The measure of these beliefs and principles are the emerging practices that can be seen when you walk around the school.  Practices that are not in line with our collective beliefs just 'feel wrong' and give cause for powerful conversations and reflection. 

I have found the shift from pipeline 2 leadership to pipeline 3 exceptionally challenging. There have been times that the 'pit' has felt like an all too familiar place but I have found myself developing greater resilience and a genuine enjoyment of the new learning in this role. The climate of possibilities that come from the 'blank canvas' was once overwhelming but I am genuinely excited by it now. 

Reflecting half way through our first year, I thought we would be further on than where we actually are. I was not ready for the time that was needed for building relationships. (Needless to say, this was a complete oversight on my part. A brand new team coming together, for goodness sake!)  I am very aware that the biggest investment we have made so far is in the development of relationships. Karen Seashore Louis (2007) showed that school leaders must conceptualise "...trust as the bridge that reform must be carried over, but rather than being solid, that bridge is built on changing emotions". Karen goes on to suggest that without a strong focus on developing or strengthening trusting relationships the reality will be that little change will occur. She also suggests that the absence of trust works to the detriment of the children who need newer pedagogies to thrive. 

I have also learnt that it is key to really understand where people have come from and what they bring to the team. This is their threshold and knowing more about the schools that they have come from could help eliminate so many assumptions about people, their beliefs and their practices.

Tonight, I read a post about leading through change. I need to delve through this a bit more
 but I was quite taken by Rob Willis' link to organisational change management. I could see how this fits with our thinking but also keeps me focussed in my leadership role... I have transferred his notes onto the concentric circle model that we have been working with this past year. 

What it reinforces to me is that it is essential that everything we do and the culture that we establish is centralised by our vision and our beliefs. My role as a leader is to focus on the people, the thresholds that they come from and to make no assumptions about their beliefs, principles or practices. All stakeholders need to feel enabled to take a lead in developing our culture and that their leadership ensures that the school reaches its potential/ vision over time.