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.

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Presence, Sharing, Strength: 3 words for 2015

presence * sharing * strength ~ words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year's Day

presence * sharing * strength ~ my words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year’s Day

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ ~ Alfred Tennyson 

We have passed across the threshold of the year to come. The new year is upon us.

While I tend to reflect constantly and set small, achievable goals, it’s been a while since I have set a New Year’s resolution (and I don’t intend to start here; what follows is an alternative approach to finding focus at the inception of another trip around the sun). While I love a good list, and an inspiring goal, I also love a good vision. Like organisations, individuals function optimally when we align our words and actions with a clear, coherent sense of identity and vision. Chris Brogan advocates for a simple personal visioning exercise to develop our own personal vision for the year ahead: ‘3 words’. Interestingly, some people (like educator Kirsten Wilson here) use this approach intuitively.

This is my first year of utilising the 3 words approach, and here they are:

Presence

This is a year of being present for me; of hereness, mindfulness and breathing into each moment. Presence, as I wrote about here, is an ongoing daily focus for me. My life, like most lives, is filled with competing, overlapping commitments, including my family, teaching, leadership role, PhD research, wellbeing and relationships. I have written about how I approach doing a PhD and my thinking around finding work-family commitment. My intention is to commit to being absolutely present in each of these spaces. If I can minimise distractions and focus fully on experiencing the person or task at hand, I can be immersed, productive and joyful. I can nurture relationships and be effective in my work and writing. I don’t want to see 2015 as a mad juggle of life’s components, but as a kind of ecosystem of interconnected wonderfulness in which all elements can be honoured and enjoyed. In amongst the doing needs to be the being.

Sharing

Sharing is reciprocal and collaborative. I read what others share. I share my thoughts on social media and on this blog. I share the stories of others in my PhD (which uses narrative research to examine transformative adult learning and school change). This word could have been ‘connecting’, ‘storytelling’, ‘expression’, ‘conversation’, ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’ or ‘tribe’ but none of those capture quite what I mean by ‘sharing’. In 2015 I am sharing – hopes, dreams, stories, pedagogy, beliefs, leadership approaches, writing strategies – with my friends, family, PhD, supervisors, PLN, Twitterverse, blogosphere and hopefully even some thesis examiners (although that might not be until 2016). As I discussed in my post about writing dangerously, I will be writing various texts in various styles to be shared with various audiences. Sharing our own thinking makes connections, starts conversations and builds collaboration. Sharing is viral, organic and transformational.

Strength

In 2015 I want to be strong in body, convicted in belief, confident in voice and resilient in character. A strength regime therefore involves physical bodily exercise including strength training, development of writerly voice (especially important in the final stages of my PhD), honouring my deeply held beliefs, and confidence in sharing my thinking in blogs, at conferences and in academic articles. Strength in myself and my identity means being able to stand up for my ideas, believe in my approach and be accepting of my own idiosyncracies, my own creative ways of thinking, my own imperfections and my own brand of ‘lovably weird’.

If you are looking for more visioning inspiration, check out the 2015 #3words blog posts of C. C. Chapman, Joyce Sullivan and Sheree Martin. Educators, check out Dave Burgess’s Teach like a PIRATE: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & analyse, Transformation and Enthusiasm – kind of a vision and a list all rolled into one acronym. ‘Piracy’ would be a pretty good word.

What are your 3 words for 2015? I would love to hear them.

It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time. ~ Winston Churchill

into the future we go

into the future we go

Embrace your discomfort zone: bubbling in the crucible of growth

Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength. ~ Sigmund Freud

my scribblings: Comfort vs. Discomfort Zones

my scribblings: Comfort vs. Discomfort Zones

Scholarly literature and the blogosphere are saturated with thoughts around motivation, growth and what it means to learn, lead and be the best we each can be. Some of this is around what qualities, attitudes or behaviours we need in order to weather life’s difficulties while continuously growing our selves.

Skill sets & mindsets for discomfort and growth

Carol Dweck’s much-touted work on mindset argues that our self-conceptions frame our life paths. If we perceive ourselves as having fixed immovable traits, then we are less likely to be resilient and positive in the face of challenge. Those who perceive that their talents and abilities can be developed are more able to see setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth.

Art Costa and Bob Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching model would suggest that we need to help individuals to reflect upon their own goals and experiences, figuring out their own ways to get better while assuming that each individual has the capacity to do exactly that.

In their recent book Uplifting Leadership Andy Hargreaves, Alan Boyle and Alma Harris talk about a yin-yang balance between positive energised leadership and tenacious hard work. They talk about disciplined innovation and feet-on-the-ground (rather than pie-in-the-sky) creativity. “An uplifting mindset and skill set keeps your head up high while your feet stay firmly planted on the ground.” Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris articulate the need for leaders to have visions and dreams alongside the determination to struggle through hardship and adversity. They remind us that “without dreams, profound human and social change would scarcely be possible” but that we need inspiration that incites action, daring and doing. Leaders, then, are grounded visionaries whose diligent exertion drives imagination and change.

Environments of support and challenge: being held while being pushed

In her work on adult learning, Ellie Drago-Severson talks about organisations as ‘holding environments’, spaces in which adult learners feel ‘held’ and which provide both high support and high challenge. When I spoke with Ellie this year, she emphasised the need for schools to facilitate the development of self-authoring individuals, able to take charge of their own journeys of transformation.

Charlotte Danielson, too, talks about the need for support and challenge for teacher growth. Teachers need an environment of trust, she says, in which it is safe to take risks in the spirit of ongoing professional inquiry. As I explained previously in my reflections on hearing Charlotte speak at the Australian Council for Educational Leadership 2014 conference, the need for balance – between safety in which teachers feel supported and trusting, and enough discomfort to challenge practice and change thinking and behaviour – has been pivotal in my school’s work to provide a setting for the transformation of classroom teaching, professional conversation and collaborative culture.

Enter the discomfort zone, the birthplace of rainbow growth

So while we need to feel supported enough to take risks, we need to be daring enough to be vulnerable, uncomfortable and daring. Margie Warrell calls this the ‘Courage Zone’, the place beyond comfort (but before terror and paralysis) in which risk taking and growth happens.

In my own experiences I have found this discomfort zone to be a tipping point for my own growth. Often it is in the squirmiest spaces of discomfort that my breakdowns become my breakthroughs. As I illustrated (literally) in the drawing above, my discomfort zone is a place of dark messiness, but from which rainbow-like growth can emerge. The comfort zone might be all white fluffy clouds, affirmations and unicorn-blessed pixie dust, but it also tends to be a space of inertia.

My classroom is a place in which my experience and comfort level are best served by being challenged to try new things like a recent term without marks or grades. And while my online PLN and at-school professional friends provide me with support, it is getting out of the supportive echo chamber and into dissenting debate which pushes my thinking and incites my learning.

Some of the most uncomfortable moments of my growth this year have been in my PhD work which often involves wrestling with my thesis. Support and criticism from my supervisors help me to work tenaciously through difficult research and writing problems to find solutions and make progress. As an experienced educator but novice researcher, it is interesting negotiating a space in which my learning curve is dizzyingly exponential. The best thing about grappling with and through discomfort is the unrivalled feeling of satisfaction at solving, innovating or realising learning.

Who, where or what makes you feel ‘held’ and comfortable? How at ease are you in your discomfort zone? Is it a crucible of growth for you? What do you find when you stay there and thrash around for a while?

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching …. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape. ~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Mostar jumper: leap into discomfort

Mostar jumper: leap into discomfort