Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waikato Principals' Conference

Taupiri the mountain; Waikato the river.

Last week I was invited to present at the Waikato Principals' 2009 Conference.

It is important for leaders to keep alert to ideas on the horizon but it more important to return to school and to put some of them into action. It seems too many Waikato Principals didn't bother to attend. What does this tell us?

Such conferences provide an opportunity for both affirmation and challenge.

Whatever, on return, rhetoric needs to be translated into action.

Dr Stuart Middleton started the ball roiling by stating that education is a 'social promise' of a future for all students and then provided data to show that this promise was far from being realized. He wondered if current schools 'balkanised' structures were counter to the goals of the NZC. He showed that at a very young age student make a decision to take the high road leading to school success or the low road of school failure.

What we are doing isn't working. 'If schools are the answer', he asked, 'what was the question'
? Currently there are approximately 20000 young people who leave with little to show for their time and who take up neither work nor training! This, he said, is hugely damaging to themselves and to society.

Education is a 'tough nut to crack' and many curriculum initiatives suffer from 'death by embrace.' School also suffer from having the faulty expectation that all students need to be seen as normal - 'one size fits all'. School are dedicated to 'riding dead horses when it is better they get off and try something new'.

What would it mean , said Stuart, if all students were to leave 'confident, connected, life long learners'? We need to think hard about the purpose of learning in the 21stC.

Leaders he concluded:

1 Need to challenge the process
2 Inspire a worthwhile vision.
3 Enable other to act
4 Model the way
5 Encourage the heart

Next up was Professor Geoff Southworth retired director of the UK Leadership Centre.

He told the story of a professor who visited a successful school and when asked what he thought of it just said 'very interesting'. When pressed for further comment he said he would have to return to the University to work out if it would work in theory!

Professor Southworth said there is strong agreement on a few things.

leadership matters; 'learning centred' leadership.

Perception matters - it is 110% the issue!

It is how principals respond that matters. The core tasks of a principal are: the need to build a compelling vision to set a strong sense of direction ( where and why); to develop people; to keep adjusting to circumstances; to manage teaching and learning; and to have a set of positive personal qualities -'unwarranted' optimism, an improvement orientation, and to ensure all involved gain 'meaning, recognition, and a life'.

Another thing that matters is that the 'quality of the school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers'. Unfortunately, he commented, many schools get distracted from their 'core business' of ensuring student learning.

Successful principals generate and sustain discussions about teaching and learning and do not leave anything to chance. They continually share, spread and move positive ideas around making it clear what the school stands for.

Successful principals distribute leadership ; 'the Lone Ranger is dead'.In some cases the 'best teacher' is the best leader.

The question , he asked,was how do we use our 'principal influence' get a whole school approach? Effective leaders work hard on indirect leadership qualities: they 'walk the talk'; they use gentle persuasion relentlessly; and they model, monitor and become involve in dialogue.

Modeling is vital. As Albert Schweitzer said 'Example is not the main thing , it is the only thing'. What three things do the staff know you are paying attention to? Two things Southworth said : 'he has never found a teacher who has nothing to say about the Principal and when they talk it is not about what they say it is about what they do! The modeling and monitoring is all about pedagogy.

The task of learning centred dialogue is to improve the quality of teaching in the school. Three high quality teacher in row can raise student performance dramatically and, conversely, three low quality teachers in a row depress learning. Monitoring is required to identify teachers' pedagogical strengths and developmental needs so as to improve their repertoire of teaching strategies.

Questions to ask are;

1 How is teachers craft knowledge shared?
2 How might this be strengthened?
3 What are the obstacles in the way?
4 Which of these can you do something about and will you.

Sharing this craft knowledge is 'professional capital' of your school. Such knowledge needs to be described, analysed, reflected on, and articulated.

Such 'learning conversations' are the 'heart of the constructivist approach. 'The key is, through articulation, to make thinking visible'.

The second day started with Dr Kevin Knight who leads a private teacher training organisation. He asked, 'what is the state of teacher training in NZ' and answered his own question with 'not flash'.

The trouble is that current teacher training operates on a 'one size fits all mentality' when what it needs is 'differentiating'.

Dr Knight believes there is a leadership vacuum in New Zealand about what the purpose of teaching is all about. As for the Teaching Standards they are are unhelpful and lack any real detail. The new 'draft' Standards are only marginally better. Schools need to define their own indicators.

As for teacher appraisals they are , he believes, 'cop out' appraisals. They only work if there are clear images of teaching and learning.

Teacher appraisals should centre on the fundamental purpose of school - to cause learning. We need systems that tell how good teachers are. Dr Knight's organisation has developed an appraisal system that ensures all student teachers acquire the necessary learning; no one graduates until a suitable level of competence is gained.

Each dimension of teaching has five descriptors each with five further definitions. Professional development focuses on identified areas of need.

Dr Knight had also developed a differentiated professional appraisal system with six levels of competence.

1 Survival Level - where controlling students is an issue. For such teachers this is where assistance needs to be focused.
2 Environmental Level - 'loose' teaching.
3 Learning - where it 'feels good' and students are on task.
4 Advanced - where teachers can articulate literacy and numeracy but do not apply this to other areas.
5 Leadership Level - this is beyond literacy and numeracy.This is the 'total package'.

To get teachers to change you have to know what to change.

1 Step one is to articulate a vision.
2 Live and monitor the vision
3 Principals have to create time to make it happen.
4 Specific targets identified for coaching/ training.

The second to last speaker, Professor Bronwyn Cowie, reported on the finding from 'early adopters' of the NZC. 'It is what happens when teachers and students meet'. Often there is gap between the 'official' , the 'planned', the 'taught', and what is 'learnt'.

Professors Cowies findings were 'all good stuff'. Implementing the NZC takes time and requires schools take necessary risks which will require leadership courage.

'Change is a complex, non linear, frequently arbitrary and highly political' she said quoting Fullan. All change involves creative tension between independence and autonomy. It will involve making mistakes. The key element is to ask what do we think about learning and what do we think about teaching?

The challenge is to 'connect' vision to practice.

Questions to ask are: Does the curriculum fit with us? And how do we fit with the curriculum?

Schools are currently 're visioning' their schools.It is important in this process to learn to say no and, the professor said, it will require 'hard conversations in safe places'.

I was the last speaker and I didn't take notes!!

It always amazes me how a group of speakers , without collaborating, end up all contributing, or better still, developing in the process, a common theme.

It was well worthwhile attending. Those principals who didn't take the opportunity missed out on some valuable insights.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great conference - would've liked read what you said!

Charlie Roy said...

Sounds like a great conference. Maybe I can get my boss to spring for some international travel next year. I think we all agree leadership is essential is schools are going to become the places they need to be. So much of school leadership is unfortunately tied to mundane tasks and shuffling paper. It would be nice for schools to recognize this and liberate the leader to do the important work that only he / she can do.

Bruce said...

Greetings Charlie

Where are you writing from ?You would be most welcome if you did come!

Leadership is about creating the conditions for the 'liberation' of creative teachers and, in turn, creative teachers liberating the creativity of their students.

Great to hear from you.

Rikki Sheterline said...

Hi Bruce.
It was an enjoyable and challenging couple of days. Thansk for your company and session. Maybe you could "come chat" in Taumarunui some time!

Bruce said...

Kia ora Rikki

You ask - I will come. Maybe I could do a day for the local principals?

I thought the conference was good value. Off to do a day for Dave McN this Thursday.

Ka kite ano

Bruce