About Dr Deborah M. Netolicky

I am an Australian educator and PhD with 20 years of experience in teaching and school leadership in Australia and England. I am the author of 'Transformational Professional Learning: Making a Difference in Schools' and co-Editor of 'Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education'. My 'the édu flâneuse' blog narrates my thinking around education, coaching, professional learning, writing, research, travel, and identity. Photographs are usually mine.

Another review of Australian initial teacher education

A review of Australian initial teacher education (ITE) has been launched today by Education Minister Alan Tudge (the sixth review since 2014). The Minister tweeted that this review “is the most critical element of our target to return Australia to the top group of education nations globally by 2030”, but with about 300,000 Australian teachers currently teaching in Australian schools, this move looks like a political distraction designed to provide a seemingly simplistic solution to ‘fix’ an apparent education problem in which Australian education is described as ‘falling behind’ with ‘standards slipping’.

The quality of teaching is cited in the Minister’s media release as “the most critical element towards lifting standards” and “the most important in-school factor influencing student achievement”. The important part of this statement is that the quality of teaching is generally accepted as the most important SCHOOL-BASED factor influencing student learning and achievement, but is eclipsed by social, cultural and economic factors outside a school’s control.

What is needed is to provide teachers with trust, support, resourcing, time and professional learning. The Gonski 2.0 report, the Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, the Gallop Inquiry, and Monash University’s Social Cohesion in Victorian Schools Report, all point to teacher and school leader workload intensification, increasing complexity of roles and the work of schools, erosion of wellbeing, and the need for time for meaningful collaboration, planning, assessment, and monitoring of student progress. The pandemic has revealed that what is needed in our schools and school systems is addressing of systemic inequities, and a considered focus on and investment in wellbeing of students, teachers and school leaders, alongside a focus on learning for all.

While it is a longer and more difficult game to address systemic inequities and the work of the teaching profession (than to form a panel of four people to provide recommendations on teacher training), it is work that needs to be done. If the government wants the ‘best and brightest’ in the teaching profession, then the profession itself needs to be trusted, valued, and attractive to those entering ITE.

Deepening the discussion of pracademia in education

I have previously asked whether pracademia is worth exploring, and it is a discussion into which I find myself repeatedly drawn. At last year’s (in person!) International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) conference, I was part of a symposium on pracademia with Trista Hollweck, Paul Campbell, Leyton Schnellert, and Danette Parsley. That symposium resulted in plenty of stories shared from individuals, and ongoing discussions about the what, how, and why of pracademia. This year, during the 2021 ICSEI virtual conference, I was part of another symposium on pracademia with Trista Hollweck, Paul Campbell, Sharon Friesen, Rania Sawalhi, and Carol Campbell.

In our symposium presentation–‘Pracademia in education: Identity, community and engagement’–Trista Hollweck, Paul Campbell, and I explored some of our thinking around the notion of pracademia. You can watch the 14 minute video of our single presentation above. We begin with Derek Walker’s (2010) definition of pracademics as “boundary spanners who live in the thinking world of observing, reflection, questioning, criticism, and seeking clarity while also living in the action world of pragmatic practice, doing, experiencing, and coping”, and go on to articulate our own definition of pracademia as space between and across practice and academia. A pracademic is someone simultaneously active in the worlds of practice (e.g. work in schools or policy making) and the academy (e.g. university membership and active scholarship).

During the symposium, Hannah Bidjlsma  asked where pracademics are employed (or as Trista paraphrased: ‘Where do pracademics live?’). Often the pracademic has their primary employment in one of these spaces, and either works voluntarily or in a smaller-scale capacity in the other space. For example, Trista, Paul, and I are active in school, university, and advisory board spaces, but much of our boundary spanning work is unpaid work that we do because we are driven by moral purpose, professional meaning, and our sense of belongingness and community. To explain what this can look and feel like, in my speech at the 2020 ICSEI conference, I said:

My voice comes from within the education system, yet as a pracademic, I am bestride both the practitioner world of schools, and the scholarly world of research. Alongside my full-time school day job, I am an adjunct at a university. My dual roles inform one another and give me a perspective quite different from those who advise from the sidelines. I am firmly embedded in what it feels like to be a cog in the school reform wheel. What I do every day in my lessons, meetings, professional conversations, and operational and strategic work, influences how I interpret education research. And the research I read and undertake influences my understanding of my daily work at school. In these ways I operate as a bridge betwixt and between research and practice.

An interesting development has recently been that two of we presenters have recently won awards for our scholarship, despite our primary roles being in schools. Paul won the 2021 Innovation Award (International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement and the Journal of Professional Capital and Community) for his study ‘Reconceptualising Collaboration in the context of Crisis Response and Systemic Improvement’. I won the 2021 American Educational Research Association Educational Change Emerging Scholar Award and the 2021 Michael Fullan Emerging Scholar in Professional Capital and Community Award. These awards indicate that those who work between and across the fields of practice and academia can potentially have meaningful impact on and across spaces.

Identity is as a key part of considering pracademia. During our recent symposium, Sharon Friesen talked about the pracademic as estranged ‘trickster’ who operates in the liminal space, between scholarship and practice, and who also questions and challenges both spaces. Rania Sawalhi shared in her presentation that her research found pracademics saw themselves as the ‘missing link’ between practice and scholarship. In our symposium presentation, Trista, Paul, and I explore pracademia as bridge, as mobius strip, and as the process of ‘breaking the wheel’. These metaphors reflect a few emerging themes – that pracademia is a complex space of the transitional, the chameleonic, the in-between, and the critical. Words that continue to emerge for me are duality, multiplicity, fluidity, and liminality.

In our paper for the Special Issue that Trista, Paul, and I are editing for the Journal of Professional Capital and Community—‘Pracademia: Exploring the possibilities, power and politics of boundary-spanners straddling the worlds of practice and scholarship’—we develop our thinking further as we conceptualise pracademia, especially for the field of education. The more we explore it ourselves, and the more people reach out to us to talk about their own experiences, thinking, and research data, the more I see pracademia is as an emerging concept, space, and identity in education, with the potential to knit together the varied values, languages, reward systems, identities, and work of educators in policy, in schools, in universities, and across systems and spaces.

Flipping the system – Where are we now?

Recently I had the pleasure of collaborating with interstate colleagues Cameron Paterson and Jon Andrews in a webinar for the Australian Curriculum Studies Association (ACSA), in which we explored the notion of flipping the education system.

‘Flip the System’ is part of a movement, as Cameron would say, and of a series of books, including the following.

  • Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up (Evers & Kneyber, 2016);
  • Flip the System: Förändra Skolan från Grunden (Kornhall, Evers, & Kneyber, 2017);
  • Flip the System UK: A Teachers’ Manifesto, (Rycroft-Smith & Dutaut, 2018);
  • Our book Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education (Netolicky, Andrews, & Paterson, 2019); and most recently
  • Flip the System US: How Teachers Can Transform Education and Save Democracy (Soskil, 2021).

The books deal with issues around teacher agency, voice and professionalism; and democratising education and addressing inequity.

During the ACSA webinar in February, we editors of the Australian book reflected on how our thinking around flipping the system has changed or stayed the same in the last couple of years, especially in light of recent contextual factors such as the global COVID-19 pandemic and the NSW Gallop Inquiry into the work of teachers and principals and how it has changed since 2004.

In my ‘presentation’ piece during the webinar (from minutes 34-43), I reflected on the neoliberal education agenda to which we were responding as we worked on the Australian book in 2017 and 2018. We were writing and editing the book amidst the rise of the idea of ‘teacher quality’ and (often dubious, quantitative and punitive) ways of attempting to measure that nebulous ‘quality’. The education discourse was rife with talk and policy around school effectiveness, improvement, standards, accountabilities, surveillance, competition, and standardised testing. Teachers were teaching and school leaders were leading amidst a culture of audit and measurement, a distrust of teachers and schools, and an obsession with ‘what works’ (usually without any nuance around what might work where, for whom, and under what conditions). Simplistic, seductive ‘silver bullet’ solutions and hierarchical league tables (of teaching strategies or of schools or school systems) were all the rage in education. My chapter in the book was on teacher identity and teacher voice. It argued for elevating the professional identities and voices of teachers and school leaders in educational research, practice, and policymaking.

Fast forward to 2021, and the pandemic is disrupting education along with lives, families, societies, economies, and industries. Citizens have submitted to increasing government control. From policymaking to educating, we’ve been building the plane while flying it. Sometimes governments and education leaders have got it right, and sometimes not. Some challenges have arisen in education and some issues have come into sharper relief.

There are also opportunities emerging, such as strengthened global networks of educators working and learning together. Since we edited Flip the System Australia some ideas are becoming more prominent in education, as well as in other fields: identity, wellbeing integrated with learning, and belonging.

Some ideas around the essence of flipping the education system remain the same. We should continue to focus on what matters over what works, on the greater good over individual good, on strengthening teacher voice and agency, and on democracy and equity. We should continue to engage with education as a human endeavour.

You can view my slides above and watch the video via this link.

Challenge is a choice: IWD 2021

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day (IWD) and this year’s theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’, focused on calling out gender bias and celebrating women’s achievements. It is about both speaking up when things are not ok, and seeking out a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, especially those often marginalised, ignored, or unrecognised.

In Australia, activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year in January. Yet the days leading up to IWD 2021 have been filled with despair and controversy around continuing cultures of misogyny and violence against women. Two Australian cabinet ministers are currently facing allegations of sexual assault, and a petition calling for earlier sexual consent education in schools led to thousands of testimonials of teenage experiences of sexual assault.

I continue to be surprised when panels continue to feature groups of mostly-male, mostly-white speakers, thereby excluding the voices of those less prominent and less privileged. The teaching and school leadership professions in Australia remain far from representative of our population’s gender and cultural diversity. Indigenous Australians are particularly under-represented and Indigenous students are especially disadvantaged by our systems and structures.

How do we ensure that diverse voices, and voices of those not in positions of power, are heard and listened to? How can we each be a part of a world where equity, diversity and inclusion are the norm rather than the exception?

Women authors in Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership

One thing we can do is to work towards diverse representation. The upcoming book I have had the absolute pleasure of editing – Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Democracy – includes 15 exceptional chapter contributions from 25 authors from the UK, USA, South America, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. 19 of those 25 authors are women. This IWD I’d like to celebrate and acknowledge those women: Pat Thomson, Christine Grice, Claire Golledge, Cecilia Azorín, Alma Harris, Michelle Jones, Asmaa Al-Fadala, Suraiya Hameed, Marnee Shay, Jodie Miller, Vivienne Porritt, Karen Edge, Carol Campbell, Eugenie Samier, Liliana Mularczyk, Annie Kidder, Eloise Tan, and Christine Corso. I am incredibly proud to have worked alongside all of the book’s authors. The book’s representation isn’t perfect or comprehensive, but it is part of the ‘working towards’.

In Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education, Jon Andrews, Cameron Paterson and I wrote in the conclusion that “flipping the education system is a vision for … a world in which the privileged few do not eclipse or speak for those pushed to the margins.” We asserted the following.

“Ultimately, education is a political act. We are all activists. We have no other choice. With this comes a responsibility to ensure that we are fairly representing the views, needs and aspirations of our communities rather than the prolific and vociferous few having their views exposed to politicians, sculpting the debate that may well be at odds with those who need representation the most.”

Actually, our every micro action and inaction is a political act. We decide when we look and when we look away. Who we invite. To whom we listen. Whose voices we amplify. Who we ignore. Who we cite. Who we celebrate. Who we oppose. Who we select. Who we defy. When we choose to speak or and when we decide to stay silent.

Choosing to challenge means challenging ourselves as well as others. It is on each and every one of us to choose to think deliberately, thoughtfully, and self-critically about how we can contribute to a world that is equitable for all, and in which a diverse range of voices are heard, even and especially if those voices are different to our own.

NEW BOOK KLAXON: Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership

“The work of an educator has never been challenged the way it is today. Leadership in education during current political turmoil, economic uncertainty, and global health crisis may sound like a mission impossible. But wait, this future-focused volume comes to the rescue for educational leaders from classrooms to ministerial cabinets. It is a must-read for anyone hoping to understand what it is to be a leader in the post-pandemic world.”

Pasi Sahlberg – Professor of Education Policy, The University of New South Wales and author of Finnish Lessons 3.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland

I am beyond thrilled to announce the soon-to-be-released book Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Democracy, an exciting edited collection of contributions by outstanding authors in the field of educational leadership.

As its title suggests, this book presents future alternatives in the educational leadership space. Its contributions consider the history of the field of educational leadership, what the reality of educational leadership is right now, and importantly, what is needed in educational leadership next.

This book offers provocations for what’s now and what’s next in educational leadership, simultaneously bringing the field both back to its basics—of equity, democracy, humanity, and education for all—and forward to productive, innovative, and necessary possibilities. Written during the pandemic reality of 2020, this collection shares the global voices and expertise of prominent and emerging leaders, scholars, and practitioners in education from the UK, USA, South America, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Authors engage with the complexities and uncertainties of leading in education. They examine research, reflections, and real stories from which school leaders, education system leaders, policymakers, and researchers in the field of educational leadership, can learn, and in which they will find honesty, authority, and inspiration to guide the future of the field. The new perspectives and hopeful alternatives presented in this outstanding book are essential to researchers, school leaders, policymakers, and are key to advancing education into positive and democratic futures.

I have edited this outstanding volume and am incredible grateful to the book’s contributors for their thought-provoking, important chapters, written during the tumult of 2020, often during rolling lockdowns, university and school closures and reopenings, remote teaching, educational upheaval, fast policy, anxiety, uncertainty, and crises.

Thank you to Beatriz Pont for writing the Foreword and to Professors Yong Zhao, Jane Wilkinson, Pasi Sahlberg and Ellie Drago-Severson for their endorsements of the book. Yong Zhao describes it as “a fantastic collection of brilliant voicesa much-needed hopeful volume“. Jane Wilkinson calls it a “timely and important book” providing “a rich and diverse set of insights into the past, present, and potential future of educational leadership“. Ellie Drago-Severson says it is “a treasure trove of insights and wisdom to help shift paradigms in educational leadership“. Pasi Sahlberg asserts that the book is a “future-focused volume” that “comes to the rescue for educational leaders from classrooms to ministerial cabinets” and “a must-read for anyone hoping to understand what it is to be a leader in the post-pandemic world.

I can’t wait until the book is published. In the meantime, check the link to the book (currently available for pre-order and on sale) and the Table of Contents below for more details.

Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Table of Contents

  • Foreword. Beatriz Pont
  • Introduction: What’s now and what’s next in educational leadership. Deborah M. Netolicky

Section I: Knowledge and Theory of Educational Leadership

1. Back to the future: Recuperating educational administration? Pat Thomson

2. Leading forward by salvaging for the future. Christine Grice

3. Wayfinding: Navigating complexity for sustainable school leadership. Deborah M. Netolicky and Claire Golledge

4. Leading in context: Lessons from Nuance. Michael Fullan

5. Distributed leadership and networking: Exploring the evidence base. Cecilia Azorín, Alma Harris, and Michelle Jones

Section 2: Diversity and Inclusion in Educational Leadership

6. Multilevel distributed leadership: From why to how. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Richard Paquin Morel, and James Spillane

7. “Deadly leadership” in the pursuit of Indigenous education excellence. Suraiya Hameed, Marnee Shay, and Jodie Miller

8. Leadership, identity, and intersectionality. Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley

9. Women as leaders in education: What works and what must we improve? Vivienne Porritt

10. A tale of two leaders: Reflecting on senior co-leadership in higher education. Karen Edge

Section 3: Systems and Structures for Educational Leadership

11. Leading large-scale educational change in the 21st Century: Educational leadership pre-, during, and post-pandemic. Carol Campbell

12. Educational administration’s Paradises Lost: A flâneur/se stroll through the futures past. Eugenie A. Samier

13. Schools as ecosystems of leadership: Leading by all and for all. Liliana Mularczyk

14. Leading to liberate learning: Educational change meets social movements. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo

15. What could education leadership look like outside the system? Annie Kidder, Eloise Tan, and Christine Corso

  • Conclusion: Educational leadership for all. Deborah M. Netolicky
Authors of Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership

Staff wellbeing: Time and money

source: @nikkotations at unsplash.com

In 2019 I blogged about the increasing concerns about teacher and school leader wellbeing. I’ve lately been thinking a lot about wellbeing in education. It was brought into stark focus during the pandemic reality of 2020. I wrote in this journal 2020 article in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community that:

At this time more than ever, we must consider humans before outcomes, students before results and wellbeing before learning.

I discussed wellbeing in this 2020 contribution for the special edition e-book Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined: Responses from education’s frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, published by the World Innovation Summit for Education, Salzburg Global Seminar and the Diplomatic Courier. In it, I stated the following.

We need to put safety, health, and wellbeing before formal education, curriculum, pedagogy, and especially assessment. Community, connectedness and relationships need to be at the forefront of education decisions and practices. This is a time to focus first on the humanity in education, from a position of seeking to understand and accommodate for the complex circumstances of those in our communities.

Wellbeing continues to become a hotter and hotter topic in education.

Wellbeing is noted as part of a ‘right driver’ in Michael Fullan’s new paper ‘The right drivers for whole system success’ in which he argues that wellbeing and learning are inextricably integrated into a foundation based on equity, knowledge, engagement and connection to the world. The Association of Independent Schools of NSW has just launched a 12-18 month program on navigating whole school wellbeing. This week the Gallop Inquiry released its findings around the complexity and workload intensification of teaching, and the need for teachers to have more time to plan, collaborate, and monitor student learning. Ask any teacher what they need more of and the answer will be: time!

Yesterday, a UK educator tweeted about the use of school funds to send care packages to staff while they are in lockdown and working from home. A long thread of replies ensued, with a range of responses from ‘school leadership do/should pay for gifts and wellbeing initiatives for staff out of their own pockets’ to ‘this is improper use of school funds’ and ‘staff wellbeing is more than buying treats’. Many tweeters invoked the Nolan Principles, suggesting that buying food or paying for things that might be considered wellbeing initiatives for staff constituted unethical or dishonest use of school funds, or that every dollar or pound spent in a school needs to have a direct impact on student outcomes.

In my view (although it is something most of us do or have done), teachers shouldn’t be expected to buy classroom materials out of their wages, nor should school leaders have to provide staff wellbeing initiatives out of their own salaries. Teaching is a caring profession, but the trope of the hero teacher who sacrifices their own needs, money and health for the good of their students is unhelpful. Educators need to give themselves permission to fit their own oxygen masks first, so that they can serve others. Schools should be able to consider ways in which they can take care of their staff, appropriate to their own budget and context. Looking after staff takes time and money. A school leader’s time spent checking in with a staff member; a thank you card; tea and coffee in the staff room; providing relief cover for a teacher’s lesson so they can collaborate with colleagues, attend a course or address a personal matter; a morning tea; the flu (or coronavirus!) vaccine; investing in professional learning. At what point does spending money on staff and on developing the wider culture of a school, become controversial?

Wellbeing is one of the pillars of my school’s new strategic plan, so we are having robust discussions about how to support the wellbeing of all in our community, and about what being well really means. Our discussions are about culture, feel, belonging, workload, teamness, a sense of purpose and togetherness. Wellbeing and learning are the foundation of my school’s framework for our K-12 learners to explicitly engage with those attributes found to be those of people who continue to learn and engage in meaningful work throughout their lives.

Wellbeing (as well as learning and teaching) is at the heart of our new staff development suite, which is based in Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework, as a way to support staff’s (P) positive emotions, (E) engagement in valuable work, (R) rewarding relationships, (M) meaning in their work, and (A) achievement and feeling of accomplishment. The suite of staff development options is based not on evaluation and surveillance, but on a sense of belonging, authentic connectedness, vibrant professional community, purposeful collaboration, central purpose, and meaningful feedback. It is focused on the voice, choice, ownership and agency of staff. It takes time and investment in people. Professional learning, too, costs money, and is part of improving student outcomes and teacher expertise, but also about wellbeing through valuing and growing staff, and supporting them to reach their goals.

When it comes to staff wellbeing, as I noted in the above recent blog post,

Staff wellbeing is more than free food and fitness classes, although these can be nice to have. Nurturing staff wellbeing might take various forms, such as providing initiatives that support staff health, modelling sustainable work-life behaviours, maintaining predictable timelines, ensuring clear policies and procedures, streamlining communication, considering workload issues, ensuring a range of internal and external support mechanisms are available for staff, recognising staff efforts, celebrating staff achievements, leading with empathy, and making decisions with the needs of staff in mind.

Trust, too, is key to the wellbeing of the teaching profession. Schools need to cultivate cultures of trust. Teachers need to be trusted by parents, the media, and government. Trusting teachers to be the professional experts they are allows teachers to focus on their core business of teaching and supporting the students in their care. Looking after staff is key to retaining them within positive cultures of people working together for the good of their community. Nuanced attention to staff wellbeing takes intentionality, thoughtfulness, a framework for decision making, time, and often money.

Distance Learning Round 3: Applying what we’ve learned

Screenshot from today’s video lesson.

In Western Australia we have been lucky that our periods of COVID-19-related lockdown or distance learning have been counted in weeks, not months. In fact, until the weekend, we had gone almost ten months with no community transmission of coronavirus.

Monday was to be the first day of the academic year for most students in Western Australia, but as 2020 taught us, COVID-19 disruption can strike at any time and change circumstances. One hotel quarantine case of the B117 variant of the novel coronavirus, and Perth was put into a five-day lockdown at 6pm on Sunday night, hours before the first day of school was due to begin. The Premier’s announcement came at lunchtime Sunday, giving school leaders just enough time to meet to plan the response, organise communications, and open schools so that staff could drop in before lockdown commenced to collect anything they might need for remote teaching.

Luckily, this was unlike the announcement in April last year that pressured schools and teachers with significant extra work to begin a hybrid learning environment with students learning from home and from school, simultaneously. Rather, what was announced was a one-week extension of the school holidays. Schools did not need to open for essential workers, nor did they have to provide resources for learning from home. Many independent schools had, however, already started their school years, so student lockers were filled with books and boarders had arrived at boarding houses. Other schools, having not started the school year, had IT devices and books not yet distributed to students.

Government schools are honouring the Monday to Friday extension of the holiday break. Some independent schools launched into remote learning from Tuesday or Wednesday for all students K-12. At my school, we took a balanced approach. The academic year for our K-10 students was postponed for the week, with teachers spending their time at home preparing lessons for Week 2, possibly to be delivered using distance learning if the lockdown is extended due to testing or case numbers. After two days of teacher preparation (of remote lesson plans, instructional videos, Teams functionalities and resources), teaching of courses in Years 11 and 12 began today (Wednesday) via distance learning.

This lockdown and period of remote learning feels different to the scramble in March last year. Even then, we were considered and prepared in our approach. In 2020, in the most isolated city in the world, we had seen the virus coming across the globe like a tidal wave we knew would reach our shores. But it was still a case of building the plane while flying it, and finding ways to listen to our community to figure out what was working well and what could be improved. This time our plan had been refined by deep reflection on lessons learned from our last two rounds of distance learning, and we continued to base our decisions on the following key principles.

  • The wellbeing of all in our community, including students, families and staff. We did not want to rush into providing a home learning scenario for all students as families and teachers were busy preparing their households for the lockdown. Parents and teachers were organising to work from home, while having their children at home.
  • Clear and streamlined communication. Everyone was consuming and coming to terms with fast-changing news, a new suite of rules and restrictions. A bombardment of communication from the school, or from teachers about remote learning, was not what our community needed on top of the firehose of information they were processing. We ensured clear communication through a couple of key channels. Our All Staff Microsoft Team allowed for detailed, dynamic communication for and among staff.
  • Clarity of plan. In 2020, while learning in Western Australian schools returned to face to face, the leadership team continued to iterate and improve the distance learning model for what we thought might be a ‘next time’. That plan—what we called Distance Learning 3.0, as well as previous emergency response planning—made Sunday’s planning much easier. We knew what was likely to work, and we could swiftly tweak the plan for the current scenario and for what is most appropriate for our community, based on a range of previous feedback.
  • Collaboration. It has been heartening to see the collaboration between staff in our virtual spaces this week. Staff are creating how-to videos for one another, sharing resources, and reaching out. There is an incredible and uplifting sense of solidarity and staff community, even when a bushfire emergency was added to this week’s lockdown scenario.

In the last year, we’ve learned a lot in education about how to bring humanity together with precision of instruction and collaborative technologies so that remote learning is effective, reassuring and provides connectedness. Today, on our first day of distance learning with Year 11 and 12 students, there has been tremendous uptake and engagement by students. I have been buoyed by feedback from teachers, parents and students, and energised by interactions with my own class and their openness to beginning our course at a distance.

Going slowly, carefully, and with clarity in our response to the latest lockdown has allayed overwhelm and anxiety. It has given time, space and resources for teachers to design remote education for their students that is excellent, equitable and realistic for the context in which we find ourselves. Our approach balances best practice in remote teaching and learning with safeguarding the wellbeing of students, families and staff. We have been able to respond realistically, responsibly and with agility to changes in circumstance, and will continue to do so. With any luck, our five-day lockdown will end after five days.

Staff development and wellbeing

Source: @suju pixabay.com

Wellbeing is an area in schools that is becoming increasingly important, including the wellbeing of staff. Being well, and being an organisation that supports staff to be well, is complex. This is especially true in schools where work comes in intense, relentless waves, and caring for others can deplete staff resources for looking after themselves.

Staff wellbeing is more than free food and fitness classes, although these can be nice to have. Nurturing staff wellbeing might take various forms, such as providing initiatives that support staff health, modelling sustainable work-life behaviours, maintaining predictable timelines, ensuring clear policies and procedures, streamlining communication, considering workload issues, ensuring a range of internal and external support mechanisms are available for staff, recognising staff efforts, celebrating staff achievements, leading with empathy, and making decisions with the needs of staff in mind.

Meaningful work, a sense of community, shared values, and a feeling of ‘fit’, are also important. Investing in staff professional learning, valuing staff by supporting them in pursuing their own goals, and working to develop staff sense of belonging to community, are ways to foster staff wellbeing. We feel buoyed when we feel that through our work we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that we are making a positive difference beyond ourselves. We want to know that what we do matters. And we want to be able to contribute professionally without eroding our own wellbeing or burning out.

Collaborative, vibrant cultures of trust allow staff to flourish. I have often quoted an excerpt from Susan Rosenholtz’s 1991 book Teachers’ workplace: The social organisation of schools. She describes educators in effective schools as “clumped together in a critical mass, like uranium fuel rods in a reactor” (p. 208). I love to imagine a school’s staff as a mass of fuel rods, huddled together and buzzing with an energy that feeds the group, creating fission that results in a chain reaction of positive changes rippling through the organisation.

Somehow, in 2020, in my teaching and learning portfolio at my school, we managed to review and redesign our student school reports, craft a Teaching and Learning Philosophy, and develop Learner Attributes that describe the qualities of lifelong learners that we aim to cultivate in our students. All while working with Executive and Council to finalise the school Strategic Plan. In addition, we managed to develop a refreshed staff development model, which I am thrilled to launch with staff this week as they return for the new academic year.

Importantly, the staff development model has emerged out of collaboration and consultation with staff in all areas of the school, in all sorts of roles (from teaching to administration), from multiple faculties and multiple year levels. The meetings I had last year with groups of staff passionate about the professional growth of themselves and others were always energising and left me filled with excitement for the possibilities. Emerging as it did from people within the school, I am pleased that the resulting model aligns with the best of what research says provides meaningful opportunities for professional learning, and with my own belief that staff development should be focused on growth and support, and on trusting and empowering staff to develop themselves in ways that are meaningful to them.

The staff development model builds on what has existed previously. Key features include:

  • Alignment with school strategy while honouring individual needs.
  • Opportunities for all staff, not only teaching staff. We are and educational organisation committed to the development of all our people, so staff development needs to reflect this.
  • A focus on staff individuality and agency. The COVA principles apply: choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity.
  • A range of development and review processes that include self-reflection against professional standards, goal setting, easy-to-generate feedback from appropriate stakeholders, and intentional, supportive conversation.
  • A suite of options from which staff can choose, with differentiation for career stage, professional interests, and vocational aspirations. These options were developed by a range of staff who know their colleagues and the school culture. I’m eager to see how they are received and taken up.

I look forward to building on the foundation of this model, and working iteratively with staff to improve it over time based on staff needs and feedback. Tomorrow, staff return and we will feel the buzz of the beginning of another year, grateful to be together (although at a physical distance appropriate for our COVID-19 times) and ready for what lies ahead.

EXCELSIOR: 2021 #oneword

Source: timetoclimb.com

After choosing #oneword to set my intentions for the year ahead for five years—CONQUER in 2015, MOMENTUM in 2016, NOURISH in 2017, METAMORPHOSIS in 2018, and LIGHT in 2019—I was so immersed in travel last January that I didn’t get around to choosing a word for 2020, though the year taught me plenty!

14 days into 2021 I haven’t yet been willing or able to set goals or intentions for the year ahead. The events and experiences of the last year, and current realities around the world, are playing on my mind. What word or individual targets could possibly do justice to what we all need to focus on now? Humanity. Equity. Celebration of diversity. Democracy. Unity. The goals seem too big and the destinations too far. What can one person focus on that might make a difference? How might we, individually and collectively, move onward and upward from here?

To move onward and upward is to move deliberately. It is not rudderless, purposeless movement, but purpose-full, advancing towards a destination, anchored by values and vision. Yet the moving forward happens one step at a time.

Perhaps, step by little step, we can edge towards the future we want to see. Lao Tzu is attributed as writing, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s 1991 protest song about Aboriginal land rights in Australia notes that “from little things big things grow”. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits writes “success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” Writing a PhD, and then a book, were examples of eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time. When I wrote my book Transformational Professional Learning, I had a visible reminder to myself that simply said: “Start now.” Write. Begin. Do. I stuck a word count list in 5K increments on the fridge, and crossed off each milestone as I passed it. Training in powerlifting also reminds me how small consistent effort can accumulate into big results. Chipping away. Being disciplined rather than motivated. Turning up regardless of how I feel and just doing the work (mostly this looks like arriving at the gym at 5.15am and doing what my coach tells me). In 2020 I hit some powerlifting personal bests: 112.5kg squat, 110.5kg sumo deadlift, 140kg trap bar deadlift, 67kg bench press. In 2021 these numbers will go higher, not because of any big move or lofty goal, but because of small regular actions that add up to progress over time.

And so, I have settled on a word to guide me in 2021: EXCELSIOR.

Excelsior is a Latin word meaning ‘ever upward’ or ‘still higher’. It is about striving for better. A catchphrase of Stan Lee and reminiscent of Michelle Obama’s famous motto, “When they go low, we go high”, excelsior is about aiming high, going high, being part of the world as we wish it to be.

This early in the year I am focusing on habits. What achievable micro actions can I implement, teeny step by teeny step, to make a positive difference for myself and my circle of influence? How might I fill my own cup, and pour into the cups of others? I am starting small. Very small. The first week of January had me focusing on quality sleep (via a regular sleep time) and increasing my water intake. Simple and achievable habits on which I can build.

I was back at work today, so I am beginning to consider what kinds of habits I can integrate into my work day. Prioritising what matters over what consumes. Returning constantly to values, purpose and context. Continuing to listen widely and intently. Moving more. Engaging with positive and productive people and behaviours that will move our care for our students and our school forward. Baby steps to move us onward and upward in the direction of those things that will make a real difference for our community.

I’m wondering, to what might I contribute this year outside of work that can be part of nudging education ever upward, to a more equitable, democratic, human, humane place? I’ve been editing a book that I hope will make a positive difference in the education world. Little by little it moves forward. Soon it will be time for me to consider: What more? What else? What next?

To move ‘ever upward’ means to advance, to move in a positive direction, to be part of creating what’s good (as in the common good, the greater good, good for all). Excelsior speaks to being in motion while focusing on the next steps as well as the big goal or distant horizon. Those hopes and dreams are there, but it’s the actions we all regularly take that will add up to making our world a better place.

20 things I learned in 2020.

I have written less in 2020 on this blog than in any other year since starting it in 2014. Like many, I have been busy, shell shocked, wrung dry, and spread thin by the events (personal, local and global) of this year. Before this one there have been 20 blog posts in 2020. I almost didn’t want to ruin that symmetry by writing post #21, but here it is: a brief run down of those things that this year brought into sharp relief for me.

Of course, I learned plenty things this year, such as how to dress for video calls, that living in the world’s most isolated city is a blessing during a pandemic, and that full toilet paper shelves in supermarkets can be symbolic of a community’s sense of psychological safety. But these didn’t make my list of 20 things I ‘learned’. Perhaps I should have titled this blog post ‘20 things I already knew but learned for real in 2020’. The experiences of this year have helped me understand their significance beyond their aphoristic ‘truthiness’. And here they are:

  1. We need to listen to research and science, not opinion, misinformation, and social media noise. But research and science can’t tell us everything. Sometimes we don’t know, or we don’t know yet. We need to make the best decisions we can with the best information we have.
  2. The Western world moves at a cracking pace that isn’t healthy, sustainable, or good for the planet. We need to rethink the ways in which we live and work, but it’s difficult to change our norms, assumptions, and ingrained ways of behaving and being in the world.
  3. We don’t need to be in the office or workplace to be working. We can lead more flexible and integrated work-home lives.
  4. Our world is full of inequities that become starker and more sickening during a crisis.
  5. Health and wellbeing are paramount, and are the responsibility of everyone. To ensure the health of populations around the world, governance and leadership matter, but so do the actions of each individual.
  6. We are relational, interdependent, social organisms whose biology draws us to one another – physically, emotionally, and cognitively. When we are forced to distance from one another, it hurts.
  7. Among the most important things in life are our family and friends. We must live our lives as though being with those we love is one of our essential needs.
  8. Wellbeing is more than being physically well. Anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness, loss, and trauma can have wide ranging and unexpected impacts.
  9. Meaningful work is crucial to wellbeing.
  10. Technologies can help us to connect with one another, but do not replace face to face connection.
  11. Webinars and virtual conferences allow greater breadth of participation but do not allow the time and head space of a physical conference held away from home.
  12. There are many in our societies who are undervalued but whose work is essential and often invisible. Cleaners, grocery suppliers, delivery drivers, facilities managers, nurses, doctors, care workers, pharmacists, and teachers deserve ongoing professional trust and respect.
  13. Teachers can’t be replaced by technology, but technologies can enhance teaching and allow students to display independence, resilience, and autonomy in their learning.
  14. Remote teaching and learning (like any major undertaking) requires careful design and responsive implementation if it is to be successful.
  15. Schools are more than places of learning. They are sites of community, relationships, society, values, and care. They also serve the practical, economic function of looking after children while parents go to work.
  16. When leading during a crisis it is tempting to focus on the immediate, the problematic, and the measurable, but leaders must simultaneously consider the possible, the human, and the humane.
  17. Collaboration is key to a positive future: local, national, and global collaboration that is meaningful, transparent, and productive, and focused on the shared moral purpose of the greater good for all.
  18. It’s hard to support others when we are ourselves struggling. It’s hard for a community to support each other when many are struggling.
  19. Being kind to others means listening with empathy and taking positive action, sometimes without being asked.
  20. Being kind to ourselves means giving ourselves permission to say no, being present with our feelings and reactions, and prioritising what’s important to us.

As we near the end of 2020, I hope that, in amongst the challenges and difficulties this year, each of you experienced moments of hope, gratitude, and reflection.