Showing posts with label organisational leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organisational leadership. Show all posts

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Term blues

I try not to take a term for granted.  Teaching children is a privilege I may not always be capable of delivering to the level required.  13 years of each term - am I going to make it to the next term - am I good enough to do this well?  Should I hand it over to someone more capable?  At the end of each term, a sense of relief, but we can feel tired and a bit jaded.  The first week of a break is recovery and recharging the battery during the second week starts the readiness process for the following term.

Ego usually kicks in and says "yes I am more than good enough/ready", but not always.  It only takes a bad result or a poorly handled situation to start that internal conversation of have I been promoted beyond my ability and I should I step aside for someone that has more natural ability and doesn't have to work as hard to get similar results. 

It's a rare term when I return after a break and think - I'm ready and let's get into it.  It's usually a mix of trepidation, knowledge of what needs to be done and concern about what could arise as we enter the door.  This can reduce the enthusiasm that needs to be present at the start of each term after a break.  I'm mindful of the blues as it can infect a team with negativity and reduce it's ability to be flexible and agile but this anxiety is also what leads to high performance!

Term 3 is a pressure cooker and week 8 is the most difficult week of the year - a time when the pressure is at its worst - ATAR, grumpy kids, assessment due.  Teachers start thinking that being promoted or seeking greener pastures is preferable to increasing demands and behavioural concerns.  The silly season starts with a merry go round of teachers changing between roles and schools.  With these changes comes more pressure on leaders to keep teachers in front of classrooms and maintaining delivery standards.  It's no wonder that leaders at the start of the term can have a few more wrinkles than before the holidays.

The main message here is that even the most outwardly confident leaders have doubts about the direction they are taking, can lack confidence and are constantly reviewing how they should deliver.  As much as they are trying to support you, they need to know that you believe in what they are trying to achieve and require this belief to make things happen.  This is true from mentoring a peer all the way up to the Principal.

Any change a leader does is bound to upset someone - getting everyone to agree is a difficult/pointless task as it often leads to "good enough solutions" rather than optimal ones, the compromises required to make everyone happy negate the benefits sought (and the change is often better abandoned than pursued).  The pursuit of a goal can stress the belief in a leader when the status quo requires less work than the improvement sought, a status quo likely gained as it made life easier for teachers but is not in the best interest of students.

Thank goodness that HOLAs still teach - without the positive feedback from students it is sometimes a  thankless task.  

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Deflating enthusiasm and complaints management

It's easy to deflate someones enthusiasm.  As a HOLA you are on the end of every complaint and every perceived inequity in your department.  I don't always deal with them in the moment as well as I could without other things on my mind.  I try and create a shared vision with everyone along for the ride but it's possible to deflate my enthusiasm for the vision and have conflict derail the shared vision when those you are working are fixated on minor resolvable issues and ignoring the big picture of improvement both in conditions and achievement.

Being mindful of the following can give some insight into the issues faced by HOLAs and Administration in complaint management and resolution.

Here are some things to think about before making a complaint.


If someone gets something that you do not, that does not make it unfair.  Believing this makes you sound entitled.  If someone gets more help, it might be because they need it.  If someone gets less help it may be because they are being given an opportunity to show what they can do.  If someone gets more help it may just be because a series of events have lead to this with no ill intent to anyone.  A big goal is not able to be achieved in one step with everyone contributing equally and it may take time to reach everyone or for everyone to see the benefits - for a period you may be required to do more until resources are available for everyone. Waiting for everyone to complete the same amount of work would make the task take infinitely longer where reluctant, incapable, obstructive, lacking experience, with personal issues, or have conflicting/higher priorities are involved.

Is my situation better than it was?

If I look backwards has someone made my situation better overall than it would have been otherwise?  Putting this one incident aside, consistently has an effort been made to improve my situation by them?  How much goodwill will I lose from making this complaint and how much does it have the potential to impact on future opportunities. Is it worth making a scene and what will it accomplish?

Is this my job?

If at the end of the day you are asking to do a basic task of a teacher:

  • plan for a class
  • assess ability of a student
  • teach the class
  • cater to student individual needs
  • identify resources for students

then being resentful for having not having someone to do any of this work for you can lead to inferences of laziness or incompetence.  At the end of the day, others can prepare and assist you by passing on resources to you for you to use in your class, but you will still have to evaluate them and ensure they are suitable.  If you require someone else to do your work for you, you are expecting them to do your duties of teaching your class, a role you are being paid to do. 

What do I want from this?

If you do not realise what you want from a complaint, it's a whinge.  A complaint needs to lead to an outcome that will improve student outcomes.  Have a very clear idea about what you want, and consider the previous point whether it is a desire or something that is actually a part of your regular duties.

What forum can I use to address this issue?

Is this about power and embarrassment or about change for the good of students?  If I make this complaint public (in the staffroom, to the Principal or Deputy, by discussing it with others in the faculty) will it alter the relationship I have with this person and limit future opportunities? How long will it take to rectify it if things go wrong?  Is the timing right for discussing it?  What frame of mind am I in?  Would it be better to send an email or have a private discussion? 

I suggest strongly resisting complaining publicly as is not a good way to make a name for yourself.  People will respond differently if you make a complaint in front of others than if you do it privately and seek a conversation (either through responding to an email or in person).  If you have had ample time to use different means to state your concern and choose to do it in public, it says something about you and the relationship you have within the hierarchy.  Nobody wants public conflict - ensure you have exhausted all other avenues before using this path.

How can I ensure that what I am asking for is reasonable?

Be very careful about issuing demands is my best piece of advice.  A demand infers entitlement - if you are not entitled to the demand, by definition you are behaving in an entitled way and this will be judged by your peers and your HOLA.  When working in a hierarchy (which most schools are), my suggestion is to ask "up", and the times that you can tell "down" to someone below you in the hierarchy is very limited (generally for compliance issues only such as SCSA, Dept Policy or Business Plan objective requirements).  Resist telling "up", it is out of place and shows a lack of respect and understanding of leadership which has the potential to be detrimental to your future self and will take considerable time to repair leading to blaming others for lack of progress that you have had a part in.

Being a negative bystander

If you see someone in a situation that has the potential to end poorly, don't let them self destruct. Point out that what they are doing is not productive and seek ways to remedy the situation.  At a minimum don't inflame it - if you do then you are a part of the problem.  Often a person will calm down and reconsider their position if they are not encouraged by those with an agenda of derailing the vision.  People that seek to undermine a shared vision are noticed and will be overlooked or be counselled if it is overt enough. Those that are seen as being productive, cooperative, capable and willing to contribute will be rewarded first - this is the basis of merit, the ability to contribute towards organisational goals - note that I did not say personal goals (these are irrelevant if they do not align with organisational goals that you are paid to follow!).  It makes sense to promote those seeking to work within the system and makes no sense to reward those that actively seek to disrupt it.

Leaders have to make best efforts to bring everyone with them.  This means that, on occasion, people will not come along, leading to inequity of effort or may have competing priorities that lead to some things not happening.  It's not always personal, it's not necessarily laziness, it may just be circumstance.  We need to be reasonable about what we demand, and work in an adult environment where requests are made and not have a public "tantrum" or play "no speakies" in the hope we will get our own way.  As term progresses and pressures rise, conflict can occur.  The trick is how to deal with it and I am by no means an expert - it is wise to observe those that handle and navigate conflict well and learn from their successes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Job Application technique

I had the pleasure of being involved in an interview panel for the first time and realised that interviews in the dept. had much to do with items outside of the classroom.  I have some advice for people doing interviews.

1) Selection criteria

Address the selection criteria in your cover letter.  If your cover letter does not address the selection criteria, you will not get an interview - each application is graded, if your application does not get a good grade it's tough luck.  Get your CV and cover letter proofed by someone that has successfully navigated the interview process recently.  Briefly mention critical documents for schools (AITSL's Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, DET's Focus 202x, Classroom First, ACARA's Australian Curriculum documents and objectives, the School's Annual report) but importantly only mention it if associated to teaching practices. Omit overly technical and scholarly diatribes unless requested, focus on what you have done and how it has impacted on student learning.  If you have taught specialist or stage 3 subjects state how many times and when.  Describe successes in these classes.

2) References

References are checked BEFORE interviews.  This is odd compared to private enterprise but is a valuable process in selecting interviewees.  Ensure that your reference is willing to give you a positive review.  If they are not, nurture someone that is willing to GLOW about you.

3)  RTFQ

Read the question.  Answer the question.  The application process is heavily weighted to the interview process.  Use the preparation time well to structure an answer.  If you don't actually answer the question you will not be employed.

4) Relax, be interesting and be confident

Look keen, but control your nerves and don't ramble.  Take a deep breath and use the water on the table to gather your thoughts.   This is a presentation, you cannot be monotone.  Especially in hard to staff schools, monotone teachers will not survive, monotone interviewees are unlikely to be selected.  There is a difference between putting a panel to sleep and carefully considering a question before answering.  If you have trouble thinking on your feet, prepare some situations beforehand that answer high criteria of Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.  Have a lesson prepared that you are proud of, that met learning outcomes and that you can clearly describe (don't use busy work!).  You need to wow the interviewers to gain a position.  They are looking for outstanding candidates.   Practice with a spouse or peer.

5) Be positive

If you put your negative points forward be sure to have a positive end to the story.  Don't give interviewers the opportunity to discount you for something that has been rectified.  A good application can be undone by continually discussing difficulties in the classroom.

6) Keep an eye on the time

Be aware that time is of the essence.  You need to be succinct and to the point to answer the interview questions.

7) Have some questions prepared for the end

If you end early, the panel will look to you for questions.  Have some prepared based on the context of the school.  It's probably a bad idea to ask about behaviour policies as that will indicate that you may have behaviour problems with your classes.

8) Theory
Know a little theory but use it sparingly.  Make your teaching look effortless not theoretical.

9) Include topical information
ICT, Australian curriculum, Professional Standards for Teachers and community involvement (grants obtained) are topics of today.  Have a case study of these prepared (but do not read directly from them in an interview).   Refer to notes to prompt your memory.

10) Motivation
Understand your motivation for applying for the role.  Ensure your answer is a win/win.  If it is not, suppress it and seek a win/win.

I think the applicant process has come a long way in identifying good applicants but has a long way to go to reach the easy manner in private schools and private enterprise.  The current process can be very formal, which (from experience) does not give a clear indication of the capabilities of teachers.  I would like to see the following:

a) Being clearly able to articulate requirements (eg 2 yrs stage 3 experience) in job advertisements to reduce the pool of applicants that will not reach interview
b) Reduced reliance on the formal interview process and more relaxed interviews
c) More focus on actual experience
d) Recognition that teachers are rarely in formal interviews and that good teachers are likely to interview and write applications poorly
e) A focus on whether a teacher can deliver a class rather than fluff associated with current fad practices.
f) Recognition that for some learning areas, "A type" personalities are not the only effective teachers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The vacuum left by the lack of strong leadership

The difficulty of generating genuine momentum in a school is often underestimated.  There are key events in a school year that can undermine any attempts at real change:

The start of the school year is a busy time, bedding down classes, getting courses started and finalised, organising small groups.
Identification and creation of semester one resources and assessment
By week four or five behaviour issues tend to arise as students become more confident with how far they can push boundaries and these boundaries need reset.
Mid term reports start about week 10.
Preparation for first semester exams, followed by exams
Semester 1 reporting
Reallocation of students failing subjects
Identification and creation of semester two resources and assessment
Senior School subject selection for year 10/11 and course counselling
Student references
Mock and ATAR exams
Semester two exams
Semester 2 reporting.

Any new projects need to have staff with capacity to commit to a new project.  IWB's don't get installed and implemented without leadership.  Laptops don't get used miraculously.  Tablets are just plastic without knowing how they can be used.  National curriculum doesn't just happen any more than NCOS was a cakewalk back during that implementation.  Kids don't turn up to after school classes for long without engaging materials and presenters.  EPW's don't get written, online tutorials and environments don't get made and students don't get the additional help that they need because taking people to task about their output is too hard and it's easier to load up those willing to have a go.

When leadership models fail, nobody knows who is doing what and what their load is - or worse still there is little care as long as "my" task is being done.  Flat management is prone to this - with everyone busy yet with little prioritisation being done at any level - there is no focus on schoolwide goals.  The loudest person gets their task done, anyone that raises a hand to say that there are higher priorities gets told it's the same for everyone - just get my task done.  At worst, the place just drifts along on platitudes and mediocrity.

I've come to the conclusion that the "it's the same for everyone" is garbage.  Poor management makes no attempt to rectify this.  They may make token attempts to acknowledge those working hard, but saying thanks does not make up for the extra hours required to "just keep things rolling along" and can take the gloss off a rewarding career.

This is where I am today, thinking.. well.. there's a lot that needs doing, yet the need to do them is not a priority by the school.  I'm not going to spend 10-15 hours each weekend indefinitely developing the math programme (five years is enough) without some compromise happening somewhere.  With a young baby and a three year old it is not sustainable any more.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Turning around struggling schools

I read this article with interest about schools being turned around.

"The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values."


To not provide strong behaviour models is to invite failure. The ethic that work = results = success is not inbred in these kids by their immediate environment. Developmental programmes for these kids are inappropriate as they do not have a drive to develop.. we must first create this drive.

"Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes."

I like that.. "no excuses".. and it is so applicable to our public schools. In our society, everyone gets to have their say, anything can be rationalised as true and the time wasted unpacking excuses is.. well.. inexcusable.

"They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused."

Under the guise of political correctness and multiculturalism we accept a range of behaviours that interpreted under this model is inappropriate. Whether this is right or not is not a question I can easily answer but as a nation we need to decide what is acceptable behaviour and then teach it. Teaching a class of thirty under this model would require some bending of cultural mores in order to encourage a class environment of like behaved students rather than a group of individuals. To drive these kids towards developing the rigour for higher education would be fantastic.

"Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school."

I love the idea that those behind have to work extra hours.. how obvious.. if you're behind you need to do extra work to catch up, unlike our current policy of teach what you can in the time allowed which results in students that need more time to learn each topic falling further behind each and every day.

The sad fact is that creating a no excuse environment would take much commitment/courage and would create much heartache within the school community. I don't know if it could be done within the Perth environment with our inclusiveness of multiple cultures. It would be a move back towards creating "Australians" rather than a nation of multiple cultures. I don't think as a nation we have been driven to this yet.

If we could decide on minimum standards (minimum attendance requirements, obedience to teachers, zero aggression, completion of homework, minimum expectations of results before progression) perhaps it would be a small step to replicating the results found in Harlem.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Driving school curriculum

The connection between middle school (yr 8-9) and senior school (yr 10-12) in the absence of a prescribed syllabus is cause for concern. When a teacher is limited by timetabling to only teach middle school classes they can lack the perspective gained by teaching senior school classes.

Similarly teachers only teaching in senior school that never teach lower school classes can lack an understanding of the difficulties in teaching younger students.

Where there are middle schooling practices, we have to be ever so careful to ensure that the "developmental" curriculum in middle school is dovetailed into the prescribed and effectively "streamed" curriculum of senior school... or else we end up with cream puffs with little resilience and disparate understanding/skills.. that when faced with pressure of performance they sadly crumble.

To not have cooperation between the middle and senior school is a real recipe for disaster. By not pushing hard enough in middle school, students find it difficult to adjust to the rigor of senior school. By pushing too hard, students become disengaged and arrive at senior school unable to enter effectively into more demanding subjects.

I believe that the only way forward is with strong leadership and it has to come from the staff that have taught and have an understanding of the needs of all five years. As staff with courses of study experience only exist in the senior school, under normal circumstances, this is where you would normally find that person. Typically they are well respected and driven individuals, although recently they may be feeling disempowered and ill used.

Once that person is identified they need to be empowered with the ability to make change such that the transition of students through middle to senior school promotes the highest outcomes from students. Being part of performance management and hiring processes for learning area staff may be a good idea.

Secondly they need to identify areas of intervention that will improve results across all five years at school, in assessment practices, student motivation, ICT implementation, curriculum development, statistical analysis of results and pedagogy ideas.

Thirdly they need to be a conduit to other learning areas to measure the amount of transference of information, examining opportunities for application of mathematical concepts effectively.

Lastly these leaders need to be recognised for their achievements and clear measurables need to be defined to show them any progress that is made. This needs to be a positive process with focus on success and examining failures for better ways to achieve desired outcomes.

With the dogs breakfast that currently exists with the lack of a current syllabus and the imminent failure of the development of a national curriculum, the opportunity exists to enhance state schools through effective identification of issues and the subsequent change management. State schools that face this challenge head on will avoid the catastrophe that is approaching post the disaster of the OBE implementation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The undeserved power of gossip in the staffroom

Gossip is one of those things that is rife in most staff rooms. It always makes me laugh how people assume something is true just because they heard it from someone or multiple people - especially from those in the know (wink... wink...).

I hate gossip. Most of the time it creates cliques where being in the know becomes an important part of the job and increases your status. The easiest way I've found to diffuse the power of gossip is to disseminate absolutely ridiculous gossip to all and sundry. It is hilarious to hear your own make believe come back as fact.

The most irritating type of gossip is the talk about such and such. Her clothes.. his hair.. his attitude to students... the voice.. what the students think.. what such and such said. Everyone has their own idea about the perfect teacher. A diverse culture is the best thing for students.. creating teachers in thy own image is not only short sighted but is detrimental to a school.. Type A personalities take note!

Discrediting gossip has three key effects.. firstly no-one believes any gossip that you have and stops commenting or asking your opinion on things that have little relevance to you.. secondly it makes people think twice before they believe any gossip going around.. and finally by laughing at how gullible people are with gossip, it reduces the ability of those "in the know" from influencing decisions by creating a ground swell of support via the silent network - especially prior to unpopular concepts being implemented or popular concepts being discontinued.

Avoiding staffroom gossip is usually quite simple - avoid the staffroom during lunchtime gossip sessions as much as possible and be known as a little preoccupied with your own learning area. Have interests outside of school to talk about. Most of the time gossip just creates angst, undue tension between staff members, can blow up otherwise controllable situations, creates conflict and is generally just unnecessary for the job.

Time is needed to develop, implement, analyse, continue or discontinue processes within an organisation. Anything that can undermine legitimate organisational processes and structures should be discouraged. Gossip as an undermining influence is number one on my hit list to be stopped wherever possible.