Reflecting on the school leader

The bad leader is he who the people despise; the good leader is he who the people praise; the great leader is he who the people say, “We did it ourselves”. ~ Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Part of my PhD literature review encompassed what makes effective school leadership, and effective leadership of change or reform in schools. If you don’t fancy savouring all 300 odd pages of my dissertation, the summary of my literature search determined that effective school leaders:

  • Develop shared vision;
  • Have high expectations and clear accountabilities;
  • Develop an environment of trust;
  • Empower others and allow them autonomy, space, and support to lead;
  • Solve complex problems;
  • Engage with the wider community; act as storyteller and sense-maker; and
  • Balance instructional and transformational leadership.

Many of these points are reflected in the Australian Professional Standards for Principals, which break school leadership down into the following components:

  • Leading teaching and learning;
  • Developing self and others;
  • Leading improvement, innovation, and change;
  • Leading the management of the school; and
  • Engaging and working with the community.

Both of these lists cross over one another, and each seems simple in its short-list nature (5 dot points! How hard can it be?), but looking closely at many of these aspects of school leadership quickly reveals the complexity of the mandate. On top of that, school leadership teams are under pressure from constant measures of their performance. Leadership itself becomes a quantified, evaluated performance. Meanwhile, on a daily basis leaders constantly code-switch as they move from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the parents’ committee, to the community event, to the performance management conversation, to the staff member or student who needs support.

My PhD study found that school leaders are constantly navigating internal, relational, and organisational identities. These complex and sometimes competing identities affect leaders’ experiences and decision making. The leaders in my study were moving, often deliberately and relentlessly, between leadership modes that were directive and empowering, hero and servant, visible and invisible.

Leading is a constant state of becoming and of identity work. Peter Gronn, in his 2003 book The new work of educational leaders: Changing leadership practice in an era of school reform, reminds us that leaders’ senses of who they are, and who they aspire to be, play a pivotal role in their engagement with their work. Having multiple leadership roles in my current school has meant that it is not only me who has had to shift my self-perceptions or identity enactments, but also my colleagues who have had to see me in new ways across my time at the school. Additionally, I have multiple, competing identities that exist simultaneously with my school identity; as parent, spouse, sibling, daughter, researcher. Boundary spanner and pracademic. Identities like plates precariously spinning atop spidery poles.

While Gronn suggests that individuals rework their perspectives in relation to their contexts, my PhD found that, while context does shape professional identity, individuals also choose their contexts to fit their own identities. My leader participants indicated that they stayed in schools that resonated with their senses of professional self, and left schools in which they did not feel aligned with organisational purpose and action. That is, school contexts shape leaders, and leaders shape their contexts. Leaders can and do choose schools with which they feel an identity fit, and leave schools in which they feel they do not fit.

Wellbeing is a real issue in school leadership, as reflected in the results of the longitudinal Riley study, which has found that Australian principals score lower than the general population on positive measures of wellbeing, quality of life, and mental health; but higher on negative measures such as stress, depression and sleeping trouble. Leaders need formal and informal support, as well as their own strategies for self-care and renewal. It might be that school leadership can be summarised in a series of dot points, but it is contextual, complex, and lonely. It is challenging and rewarding, exhausting and exhilarating.

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Personal and organisational vision

vision

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. ~ Helen Keller

A key theme in literature about school change is the need for compelling, coherent, and shared vision. See, for instance, Hargreaves and Shirley’s 2009 The fourth way, Senge’s 2012 The fifth discipline, Fullan’s 2001 Leading in a culture of change or Fullan and Quinn’s 2016 Coherence. For Peter Senge, shared vision is one part of nurturing a ‘fearless and open community inquiry’. For Michael Fullan, not only is shared understanding and purpose of members of an organisation important, but any new initiative must be coherently connected with the culture, mission, and moral imperative of the school in order for the change to be sustained over time.

So vision is important, but in order to propel a school forward it must be shared. While the individual teacher is sometimes the focus of school reform (improve the quality of each teacher’s teaching!), it is collective expertise–in teams, schools and the profession–that can shift beliefs, practices and narratives in education.

We need to constantly consider the symbiosis between individual and group, teacher and school, person and system.

Personal vision, that of the individual, is sometimes overlooked in the conceptualisation of vision in education. Yet educators’ identities, emotions, lived experiences and visions (for the kind teachers and leaders we aspire to be, for the influences we aspire to have on our students and school communities) are an important ingredient in the educational landscape. In her 2006 book Seeing through teachers’ eyes, Karen Hammerness longitudinally explored four teachers’ visions, and how these evolved and were enacted over time. She found that teachers were continually searching for a place that aligned with their visions for their students and their classrooms; they were always looking for a match between their identity and their context.

So schools seek to develop commonality of vision and purpose, while individuals seek to align with their contexts in terms of their own beliefs, identities and the purpose that propels them in their work.

Schools are more than workplaces; they are organismic settings for learning, collaboration and transformation. At worst, they can be ill-fitting contexts or pits of anxiety. How we feel and fit in our context influences our work and our community, and the experiences of our students.

I’ve written before about Costa and Garmston’s notion of holonomy (see Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools), which draws together the individual and the larger system, whether that be team, organisation, profession or system. Costa and Garmston base their conception of holonomy on Arthur Koestler’s work around the word “holon” as something which operates simultaneously as a part and a whole. The holon is independent and interdependent, disparate and united. Koestler combines the Greek word “holos” meaning whole, and the suffix “on,” which indicates a particle or part, in order to conceive of the holon as a part-whole.

Each person is both independent agent and interdependent part of the group, responsive to the larger system. Holonomous individuals, according to Costa and Garmston, possess the capabilities to maintain self-directedness while acting independently and interdependently; they are simultaneously self-regulating, responsive to the organisation and able to influence those around them. They are flexible and efficacious, simultaneously part and whole.

As I work in my own school in the arenas of professional growth and performance review, we are working towards, not just a shared vision, but also processes, practices and structures that are connected with the through-lines of our personal and organisational visioning, our shared beliefs, values and purpose.

Aligning what schools do with shared vision and purpose can be challenging work, requiring constant focus and attention to the relationship between intent and enaction. There are tensions to navigate if a school’s vision is at odds with external measures and expectations. Or if a school’s vision is at odds with those of its individuals.

How might schools find ways to address tensions between their contextual purpose, and an educational system that might rub against their grain? How might schools draw individuals into personal and organisational visioning? How might we each continue to kindle our internal purpose, that of our colleagues and that of our profession? I have some answers for my own context, but am continually asking these kinds of questions.

Schools can lead and generate research #AHISA16

Rottnest rainbow, by Deborah Netolicky

This week I’m attending the AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia) conference, which brings school leaders from around Australia together for a few days of visiting schools, conferencing, and networking. In my daily life, conversing with educators, many of whom I’ve never met, in other spaces and places tends to happen through social media (Twitter, blogging, Voxer). This week, however, via the AHISA conference, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with those I have met and know well: my first principal and a variety of leaders with whom I have worked in Perth, Melbourne, and London. As someone who has worked in independent schools in Australia and the UK (for over 16 years, except for 6 months at a London comprehensive) this conference visit has been in some ways like watching my career flash before my eyes, as I’ve reconnected with various colleagues I’ve worked with at various times and places across the last decade and a half. It’s a reunion and a catch up with those I’ve worked over the years, a chance to talk with current colleagues about how the conference relates to our current work, and a place to make new connections with school leaders from around the nation.

In the conference sessions, I’ve been following a thread that is important for my own current work: professional learning for teachers and leaders, especially that emerging deliberately out of specific contexts. These sessions are relevant to me and my school because I have led a whole-school, evidence-based strategic intervention: a coaching-for-professional-growth model. This role has involved, since 2012, canvassing research literatures, writing papers, presenting to the school Board each year, and leading teams of teachers to prototype and iterate a context-specific model to support teacher and leader growth. This intervention was top-down (driven by the school’s strategic vision) as well as middle-out and bottom-up (developed by teams of teachers, led by me and overseen by the school Executive). It has meant generating data around the impacts of our work and tracing the influence of the model on teaching, learning, leading, school culture and the organisational language of professional conversation.

At the AHISA conference, the best workshop presentations for me have been those that have outlined how a school or system has applied systematic, research-informed, evidence-generating methodologies, with a clear aim.

Dr Gary Jones (2016) points out that schools can use evidence to make better decisions. He elevates the following from Barends, Rousseau and Briner (2014) as a frame for evidence-informed decision making in education:

  • Asking: translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question;
  • Acquiring: systematically searching for and retrieving the evidence;
  • Appraising: critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence;
  • Aggregating: weighing and pulling together the evidence;
  • Applying: incorporating the evidence into the decision making process; and
  • Assessing: evaluating the outcome of the decision taken.

Evidence might include: published academic research that quantitatively or qualitatively analyses empirical data; data, facts, and figures gathered from the school; specialised professional experience and judgements of relevant practitioners; and values, views, and concerns of relevant stakeholders. Schools can value and consider a range of research, as well as tacit knowledge and the richness of their own context.

As Dylan Wiliam points out in his 2016 book Leadership for Teacher Learning (and elsewhere), research cannot tell teachers and schools what to do, but can inform their decision making and their efforts. We can look to research for likely-to-be-productive avenues in education, rather than for recipes or silver bullet solutions to be unquestioningly followed.

In fact, schools can lead research, not just follow it. They can generate research, not only consume it. School leaders and teachers can be researchers, can apply research thinking, and can be critical questioners of research literature. They can challenge each other, participate in respectful debate, investigate contradictory positions, or consider multiple possibilities. They can pilot, prototype, and iterate new ways of doing things, while collecting data on the progress and impacts of interventions.

It has been great this week to connect with past, current, and future colleagues at the AHISA Leading, Learning, and Caring conference. It has been even more pleasing to see the work of some educators and schools in applying evidence-informed and data-generating design thinking to their complex work. Still, there are those who could more rigorously interrogate their assumptions, practices, and uses of research literature. There are those from whom others would benefit if they contributed their thoughts to edu-dialogues. Many of us would benefit from listening more closely to others. Whether affirming, querying, or dissenting, it is a range of thoughtful voices from multiple perspectives that together can shift the narrative, practice, and evidenced understanding of education.

Implementing a coaching model: One school’s approach

If threat, fear, pain even in the most minute portions are perceived, neurological and chemical processes occur which prepare the system for survival, not reflection. ~ Costa and Garmston

tulips in Monet’s Giverny garden: a beautiful example of individual and collective growth

Coaching has contested definitions and a range of models which include instructional coaching, peer coaching, literacy coaching, GROW coaching, Growth Coaching and Cognitive Coaching. In education, schools and systems have a variety of approaches to adopting and rolling out coaching models. In the lead up to Saturday’s #satchatoc Twitter chat on coaching, I thought I would write this post to outline some of my views. I know they are hard to articulate in 140 characters!

This post is based in my research and experience, and are of course coloured by these. Bear in mind when reading that I am one person, in one context, with one set of experiences, conducting one study. It’s one perspective of many. I enjoy being part of a wider conversation around coaching.

My coaching training is in Cognitive Coaching (I have done the Foundation course three times now in three consecutive years), in which I have experience as a coach and coachee. My PhD and school-based research has familiarised me with other models of coaching, with my thesis reference list running to almost 8000 words, with a portion of that around coaching research, as part of my focus on transformational professional learning. I also continue to work with a number of classroom consultants who have observed my lessons and worked with me to improve my classroom practice in a variety of ways from more to less directive. (While some might call this ‘coaching’, in a Cognitive Coaching sense, having a pedagogical expert giving you advice on your practice is called ‘consulting’.)

This post looks to outline my school’s particular approach to developing our coaching model, our guiding principles and the emerging practices, in order to share them and open up a conversation around others’ coaching principles and practices.

Start with context and vision.

The most important thing for me is this: start with and work from your school’s context. There is not a one-size-fits-all model, but rather each school should consider their values, vision, mission, current work going on and where the academic staff and professional growth processes are at. Where is your starting point? What do you want your end point to be?

When I was charged with researching, piloting and implementing a growth-based professional learning model at my school the principal said, “What I want is for this to grow the vibrant professional learning culture of our school.” Our model emerged from this aim and the school’s strategic intents. It aligned with work already being done, rather than being a tacked-on innovation. This reflects work from those such as Fullan and Senge on cohesive shared vision and aligned practice.

These were our aims:

'Take one' (or take all!) for your school

‘Take one’ (or take all!) for your school

Go slow to go fast. School change is an evolution not a revolution.

An outline of our model’s development goes something like this:

In 2012 I wrote a research and recommendation paper which took into account the school’s context, the strategic plan and current research on teacher quality, professional learning and school reform. In 2013 I worked with a team of teachers to pilot the recommended model and develop it for our context. We decided that after that initial pilot year, the model wasn’t yet ready, so I worked with another team of teachers in 2014 to continue the pilot. In the second pilot year we refined our model. Each year we collected data from the coaches and coached teachers through online surveys, online discussions, and focus groups. Each year I reported to the school board and principal who provided strategic feedback. In 2015 we have been rolling out the model at a whole school level, with teachers across the school. Each year we have used a Schooling by Design (Wiggins & McTighe) template to backwards plan our work with our goals in mind, aligned with deliberate action.

This is a very condensed run-down but it shows that we chose to go slow. We wanted the process to be owned and driven by teachers. We did not have a performativity and accountability agenda, but were interested in increasing the capacity and efficacy of teachers, in helping them on their own trajectories of growth. As I explained in this post, our model is about helping teachers open their doors from the inside.

Buy-in was key, and the decision to have teachers lead the development of our model, guided by research, the strategic plan and data we collected on our impacts, was very deliberate.

Believe in the capacity of all individuals to solve their own problems, do their own thinking and drive their own learning.

This belief has been the foundation of our use of Cognitive Coaching as the coaching model: everyone is coachable. I was initially skeptical of Cognitive Coaching. It seemed like common sense: build trust, listen actively, pause, paraphrase. Well, duh. And what about if people don’t have the capacity to do their own reflection? What if they need my expertise, for me to help them become their better selves? These were my reservations.

But what I love about the Cognitive Coaching course (remember: I’ve done it three times!) is that it is saturated with research and the why. Like the coaching model itself, it is about changing thinking in order to change practice.

Examples of research that shaped my thinking are: Costa and Garmston’s 2003 paper which points out on page 5 that “if threat, fear, pain even in the most minute portions are perceived, neurological and chemical processes occur which prepare the system for survival, not reflection”; and another study by Boyatzis and Jack (2010) which looked at brain imaging during coaching and found that “by spending 30 minutes talking about a person’s desired, personal vision, we could light up (activate) the parts of the brain 5-7 days later that are associated with cognitive, perceptual and emotional openness and better functioning.”

I realised that being helpful to coachees (and don’t we all want to be helpful and have a positive impact?) was helping them do their own thinking, their own reflecting.

In my consequent experiences as coach and coachee, I have found that people have the capacity to be highly self-aware, if given the opportunity.

The best feeling as a coach is when a coachee experiences what Cognitive Coaching calls ‘cognitive shift’, a moment of new previously-untapped realisation.

As I develop my own coaching practice I have realised how many layers of expertise and deceptively simple skill a coach requires. Incorporating the Five States of Mind, tracking eye movement, paraphrasing of non-verbal as well as verbal language, and artful asking of the right question for the right person at the right moment, are skills I continue to develop. As a coach it is like being a duck who appears to glide across the pond whilst its legs are madly paddling under water. There is a lot going on in the coaching brain! While I think everyone is coachable, I am not sure everyone can be a coach.

by @debsnet

Impacts

As a coach this year in our now-rolled-out model, my belief in the power of Cognitive Coaching continues to be affirmed. The approach has been well-received by teachers who are realising that this process is not about evaluation or accountability, but about their growth and authored by them. The other aspects of our model are also working. Lesson data is proving to be potentially transformational in its own right (that is another post for another time). The Danielson Framework for Teaching is enhancing teachers’ precision of reflection and goal setting around their practice.

We continue to collect data from a number of sources to continue to iterate the model. This includes external student achievement data, internal perception surveys and focus groups.

I want to leave you with this quote from Andy Hargreaves and Jane Skelton (2012), which really sums up for me what coaching should be about (my emphasis):

In some of its earliest origins, coaching is a learning journey undertaken willingly by travellers together. However, in the context of large-scale systematic reform, coaching has too often turned into enforced transportations from boardrooms into classrooms of unreflective practices based on inflexible ideologies or exaggerated sources of evidence.

A coach is a vehicle. But in education, it is not an inanimate one. Should a coach be a mere deliverer of other people’s goods and chattels? Or should the coach carry learners and learning along a self-chosen journey together? Are coaches providers of service learning, or vehicles that deliver people into bureaucratic servitude? Like life coaches, should educational coaches develop people’s own capacity to help themselves, or is their role to watch over teachers’ fidelity to or compliance with externally prescribed practice? …

It takes a big man or woman to step aside from surgery and actively help others take their place at the cutting edge of their profession. And it takes a great coach to stand up for the moral purpose of their work that is or should be at the core of all coaching – developing people, not implementing policies; building capacity rather than enforcing compliance; and giving colleagues a professional service rather than delivering them into ideological servitude.

by @debsnet

Everyone is coachable: we are all capable of change & growth

All who wish to continually improve their craft … never lose the need to be coached. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

dedicated to those who dream, by @debsnet

I was recently asked a question on Twitter: ‘Are some teachers un-mentorable?’ My response was along the lines of, ‘No-one is unmentorable or uncoachable; a person always has the capacity for growth.’ This belief underpins my ideas about school change and my school’s teacher growth model on which I presented at researchED conference in Sydney and ACEL in Melbourne.

In scholarly literatures, coaching (sometimes used interchangeable with the term ‘mentoring’, such as in the writings of Ellie Drago-Severson, who I talked with last year) seems to be divided into expert coaching and peer coaching.

Expert coaching involves an expert or master who provides guidance to a less-experienced apprentice. This includes Jim Knight’s instructional coaching in which the expert instructional coach provides judgements, feedback and suggestions, based on their expertise.

The other kind of coaching is peer or reciprocal coaching in which someone is paired with those of a similar level of expertise. These peers proceed to coach or mentor each other in a collaborative and non-hierarchical way. This approach, which is intended to develop a collaborative learning culture as well as the individual’s practice, includes models like instructional rounds, in which teachers form small professional learning groups which collectively work to enhance their practice.

Both coaching trends are based on use of data for growth (in a teaching sense, this would be some kind of classroom observation data) but are underpinned by different principles and beliefs. Expert coaching models assume that people learn best when someone with more knowledge and experience provides them with specific, targeted feedback for improvement, while the peer coaching models assumes that it is by working together that we can improve.

One form of coaching which can be conducted by a peer or an expert is Costa and Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching which is based in brain research like this which suggests that we are most likely to grow when we do thinking ourselves, rather than receive thoughts doled out by others. Cognitive Coaching focuses on developing individuals as self-directed learners who consciously reflect upon, conceptualise and apply understandings from one experience to the next. It is a data-based, non-judgemental, developmental and reflective model for conversations for planning, reflecting and problem resolving, as well as a tool for developing professional communities that value interdependence and individual capacity for self-directed learning.

The goal of Cognitive Coaching is the growth of individual and organisation through the development both of autonomy (of the individual) and interdependence (the development of a holonomous organisational culture in which individuals function as both autonomous, independent individuals and interdependent, responsive members of the larger system).

Unlike expert models of coaching which involve specific coach feedback, judgements and suggestions, Cognitive Coaching involves mediated processing. The Cognitive coach does not offer judgements, feedback or advice, but asks ‘artfully vague’ questions or presents impartial observational or other data, followed by silence, in order to encourage the cognitive and reflective processes of the teacher. There is certainly an art to the asking of well-crafted cognition-provoking questions, as I have found in my journey as a coach. This approach is intended to create personal change through new connections in the brain and reconstruct knowledge through a conscious, reflective approach to new experiences.

By avoiding positive and negative value judgements and opinion, by coaching ‘without manipulation,’ Cognitive Coaching aims to transform an individual’s beliefs about learning and refine their cognitive maps by encouraging them to talk and think about their decisions. In this way, talking aloud leads to examination and refinement of choices and behaviours.

The use of a Cognitive Coaching process for teacher learning and development is supported by Charlotte Danielson’s work (you can find my conversation with Charlotte here) in which she notes that mentors, supervisors, evaluators and colleagues should beware of imposing their own styles or preferences when observing. The question is not “Is this how I would do it?” but “Given the context, what is appropriate?” She also advises that classroom observations must be accompanied by conferences before and after observed lessons.

My own experiences as cognitive coach and coachee have shown me the power of this kind of coaching to allow people’s own internal resources to kick in to gear, their own passions and thinking to light up, and their confidence to solve their own problems and forge their own paths to soar. It has shown me the power of really being listened to and being given a safe, trusting place in which to verbally explore situations. It has also shown me that when you own your ‘a-ha’ moments, the learning sticks. Change happens. Practice shifts.

So, returning to the question of the uncoachable or unmentorable teacher, I wonder about the intent of the coaching or mentoring.

Cognitive Coaching aims to ‘convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be.’ There are some important assumptions being made here. The person is valued. They are assumed to be motivated and capable of reflection and growth. And they are helped on their learning journey to a destination to which they aspire. This model of coaching is not a deficiency model based on where the manager wishes the person would go or what an expert has identified as an area of growth. It is about the person. And. Where. THEY. Want. To. Go.

Do I believe that absolutely any teacher, any person, can be coached or mentored into professional growth? Absolutely.

We believe that all human beings are capable of change, that we continue to grow cognitively throughout our lifetime and that we all possess a vast reservoir of untapped potential. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

buddha, by @debsnet

Teacher Growth: Helping teachers open their gates from the inside

This post on my Australian school’s teacher growth model was originally written as a guest post for Starr Sackstein, acclaimed educator, author and bloggess extraordinaire. It was inspired by a #sunchat Twitter chat moderated by Starr, which challenged me to talk more specifically about the professional learning and culture model I keep going on about …

~ ~ ~

No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal. ~ Marilyn Ferguson

open your gate from the inside

How do you help someone open their gate from the inside?

The global education community tends to agree that better teaching equals better student achievement. Schools, districts and nations have taken this notion and used it in attempts to improve the quality of teachers through professional development and teacher evaluation systems.

There is a long continuum of possibilities for developing teachers and teaching, but it seems that many systems sit solidly at the teacher-evaluation-for-improvement end. When I visited the USA I was surprised at the quantitative, and at times punitive, approaches being used to score and evaluate teachers. Eric Saibel’s recent post questions whether all the work and time put into teacher evaluation has made a difference to teaching or student learning. In this thoughtful video conversation Eric talks with Starr Sackstein about ideas for meaningful teacher feedback and growth.

As a teacher, school leader, researcher and parent, teacher growth and evaluation are areas of immersion and passion for me. My own ideas are based on my:

  • Experiences as a classroom teacher in Australia and the UK;
  • Experiences as Head of Faculty in Australian schools;
  • Recent visits to New York schools, researchers and edu-experts;
  • Current PhD research on what makes transformative professional learning and leadership; and
  • In-school strategic work on researching, piloting and developing a teacher growth model for my Australian school. We are at full implementation phase this calendar year.

To develop my school’s teacher growth model we have used a Schooling by Design backwards design approach to planning and implementation. This has allowed us to align our vision, purpose, evidence and action. This has centred us around our own context and our goals of improving the learning of our students and developing the professional culture of our school.

Our change management philosophies of ‘go slow to go fast’ and ‘evolution not revolution’ have given us permission and time to tailor the model to our context and nurture teacher buy-in. Adaptive Schools, which I have written about here, has influenced our work by providing us with models of collaborative strategically-aligned change.

Our model itself is based in a belief that schools are relational places where trust is key to risk taking, growth, willingness to be vulnerable, deprivatising classrooms and learning from, with and alongside each other. It involves teachers-trained-as-coaches (and, every few years, administrators) who help teachers to use non-judgemental lesson data (written scripting, video, audio) as the basis for reflection against the Danielson Framework for Teaching and teachers’ own goals. The Danielson Framework was chosen for its research-basis and specificity. We like that ‘distinguished’ teaching is all about what the students are doing.

As well as meeting with Charlotte Danielson in Melbourne and Princeton (where we spoke about the nature of coaching and my school’s use of her Framework), I heard her speak at the 2014 Australian Council for Educational Leaders Conference in which she explained the importance of a trust environment of challenge and support for teachers, and teaching frameworks as conduits for the thinking of the teacher, rather than telling by the administrator. Ellie Drago-Severson agrees that adult learning needs an environment of support and challenge. Her work on ‘holding environments’ and adult learning is based in trusting the capacity of adult learners. I spoke with her in October about her work with schools and the importance of starting slow and building momentum. We are similarly focused on self-directed teacher growth with a belief in the capacity of teachers to reflect, learn and grow.

As the cornerstone of our conversations, Cognitive Coaching places our emphasis heavily on the coach as non-threatening facilitator of teacher thinking, rather than feedback-giver and scorer. The coach focuses on facilitating the teacher’s thinking, not giving advice or solving problems. This approach is partly based on research like this which shows that what actually gets our brains to be open and changeable is compassionate, positive conversation which sparks our own thinking.

The opening quote by Marilyn Ferguson reflects my thinking on teacher growth and evaluation: teachers need to be supported in opening their own gates from the inside. If, as David Rock and Dan Pink have explained, rewards and punishments don’t motivate, change behaviour or facilitate creativity, how can we encourage students and teachers to be intrinsically motivated, passion-driven, continuous learners who seek improvement through curiosity, reflection, collaboration and risk tasking?

Does your teacher growth or evaluation model encourage self-directed growth and a culture of professional learning? How might you build trust, apply a belief in the capacity of teachers, or develop collaboration in your own context?

it's all about the growth

it’s all about the growth

Powerful & unforseen consequences: our butterfly impacts

#leaningenvironments - evolution of a new edu-revolution?

#leaningenvironments – evolution of a new edu-revolution?

 A cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland—a small disturbance in the complex mechanism of life on the Earth—can bring to a standstill the aerial traffic over an entire continent. ~ Slavoj Žižek

With the start of the Australian school year almost here – a year in which I am working to implement the teacher-growth model on which I have been working for two and a half years – I have been thinking about what it is that makes a trusting, impassioned, vibrant community of continuous learners.

Ok, as both the subject of my work and of my PhD research, I have been doing more than thinking about this. I have read close to 300 references and written about 85,000 words around effective school change, what makes effective leadership and what kinds of learning teachers find transformational. I have blogged briefly about some key ideas to anchor school change, about the importance of embracing discomfort for growth and about my own learning environments.

Tonight I was participating in the #aussieED Twitter chat when Australian educator Adriano Di Prato tweeted that ‘developing a leaning environment that is welcoming, warm and safe is a fundamental aim of every classroom.’ Now, I knew that Adriano meant ‘learning environment’ when he typed ‘leaning environment’ in a fast-paced Twitter chat, but it got me thinking: How are schools ‘leaning environments’?

It reminded me of psychologist and professor Ellie Drago-Severson’s notion of ‘holding environments’ (which I wrote a bit about here) in which she asserts the importance of teachers feeling ‘held’ by their learning and working environments, especially if positive change is to take place.

It reminded me of Costa and Garmston’s notion of ‘holonomy’ (explained in the Cognitive Coaching course material) in which the parts (individuals) and whole (organisation) are interdependent.

It reminded me of this great moment last year when a group of commuters on an Australian train platform used their leaning-together momentum to tilt a train and free a man trapped between the train and the platform.

So I tweeted back about ‘leaning environments’, and all of a sudden we were back-and-forthing about how the word ‘lean’ might apply to school environments. Would it be about individuals ‘leaning in’ to the community, to opportunities, towards each other? Could it be about students, teachers, parents and leaders ‘leaning on’ or ‘leaning alongside’ or ‘leaning with’ each other? Might it be ‘leaning out’, away from those things which should matter less but sometimes drive schooling (high stakes testing, grades, league tables)?

the power of a Tweeted typo

the power of a Tweeted typo

Fellow edu-Tweeter Melissa Daniels noticed the banter and asked whether this could be “the education revolution that started with a typo?” leading to another discussion about innovation, revolution and the evolution of ideas, all in 140 character bites.

Tweet @debsnet @DiPrato @PensiveM

This was an invigorating discussion for me, not because I thought it was to be the next big thing in education, but because of the thrill of the unsurprising serendipitous connections, conversations, ideas, thinking and challenges that come out of conversations and connections with like-minded like-passioned others. Here was a vibrant online environment of trusting, holding, leaning (in, out, on, with, alongside), impassioned, creative, continuous learners.

It also reminded me of our unforseen impacts. We never know the impact of a conversation, a word, a decision, or a typo.

I have noticed this in my self, in conversations or moments which stay with me until an idea bubbles to the surface. I have noticed it in my work with teachers and students, who often take some time to realise what moments or relationships have shaped them. I have noticed it in my PhD research participants, many of whom told me that the very act of being interviewed for my research changed something for them, opened something up, surfaced a reflection or became a moment of learning.

So, don’t ignore life’s typos. Even the seemingly tiniest things can have powerful & unforseen consequences.

You never know when you might uncover the next revolution.

Small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy, can lead to massive alterations of your end result. ~ Kevin Michel

Montenegro by @debsnet