Different situations provide us the opportunity to stop and reflect on who we are as educators, what we believe in and what we want for our students.
This is what I believe in...
Positive Approaches to Leading
Cultivating a Community of Caring
Little moments make a difference. Simply put, it doesn't have to be the grand gestures that make people feel valued but rather the ongoing small positive actions that cultivate a culture of care.
Say Thank You
Educators put themselves fully into their roles. Whether it's spending long hours making lesson plans or preparing meetings, events and interviews, it is important to stop and acknowledge their great work. A quick thank you shows others you care and appreciate their efforts and the things they do to make your life easier or better. Hearing a thank you from someone helps you feel valued within the school community and you are more likely to offer your assitance again. Say thank you to those who hold the door for you or take on an extra yard duty when someone is sick or share a great idea or book with you. Expressing gratitude shows appreciation towards others and returns their kindness back to them.
Send a Card
One of the things I have done this year is ensure I send a birthday card to each staff member. I add all birthdays into my calendar at the start of each year to ensure I don't miss anyone and then each week spend a few minutes hand-writing a note wishing my colleagues a wonderful year ahead on their birthday. It is something I picked up from a previous principal who used to message staff on their birthdays. It always meant a lot to me that he had taken the time to send a greeting.
We've also distributed cards (and a little treat) to wish our teaching staff good luck at the start of the year. By starting the year on with a positive note (literally and figuratively), it can help to shape the direction of the culture of care.
Get Personal, Ask & Listen
Communities are built on relationships. The stronger the rapport, the strong the relationships. In our professional lives, we need to make time for the 'personal' and remember the human element within our roles. Spend time asking colleagues about their weekends, their children and their interests. Remember to stop and truly engage in the converations by listening rather than feeling obliged to return with an answer. Rather, just listen and appreciate your colleague sharing with you.
Acknowledge a Job Well Done
Whether it's telling someone they've presented an amazing assembly to congratulating someone on completing a c,ourse, telling someone their accomplishments are visible and recognised provides them with the acknowledgement and reassurance of their work. An authentic and honest compliment can go a long way to build rapport and community.
"Use your smile to change the world. Don't let the world change your smile"
A smile is contagious. When others see you smile, it is hard to resist smiling back. The more you smile, the more others around you smile. A smile and a positive attitude can leave a lasting impact on others. It also positively impacts your own life by boosting your mood and reducing stress levels.
Make Things Fun
Just because it's called 'work' doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while doing it. Find little moments in the day to excite youself amongst the marking and paperwork. Stop and chat to children on the playground and hear about the world through their eyes, visit the early year classes and get down to their levels or find a way to express yourself creatively through an artistic medium.
Explore ways to make certain parts of your job more enjoyable. One way we've done this with our staff meetings is by beginning with five minutes of fun - some kind of simple, yet fun activity to bring laughter and smiles across the room before getting ibto the operational components of the meeting.
Find the Good
Above all, find the positive in every situation. Explore ways to learn and grow. Laugh at your mistakes. Challenge your thinking and celebrate the small wins along the way. Being positive can have a profound impact on those around you. Not every day is going to be perfect, but it positivity can be present.
Think about the titles that are used in your current workplace to describe formal leadership roles.
What practices do such titles privilege and value?
Job labels help to support an understanding of role responsibility and provide clarity for the community (Gunter, 2004, p. 21). The higher your label, the more leadership responsibilities you are known to have. Formal leadership labels often provide a clear identity to a person in the role. Many of the more formal leadership labels are actually more managerial responsibilities associated with them. The labels of roles denote a sense of where a person lies within the school hierarchy. In my current setting, the hierarchy begins with the Head of School, the Head of Primary/Secondary, Assistant Heads, Division Coordinators, Year Level Coordinators, Teachers, Teaching Assistants. This seems like much quite a distance from the top to the bottom at times.
Which practices are marginalised or less valued by these titles?
Teaching Assistants are often seen as ‘less valued’ in the Asian context as there is a large ‘helper’ culture. I don’t believe this is seen by the teachers or even the school. However, students and parents can expect the TAs to ‘pick up after their child’ more.
Another area of labelling that has seen a change is our single subject teachers. Previously they were labelled as ‘specialist teachers’ in Primary. While they have expertise in one area compared to the homeroom teacher who does general subjects, the label of ‘specialist’ was having a negative connotation. Therefore the change to single subject allowed for a more specific label to accurately reflect their roles.
What sorts of identities are produced by these labels as ‘manager’, versus ‘leader’ versus ‘principal/head teacher/ director’ etcetera?
We don’t use the word ‘manager’ except in the business office suggesting a more business approach to the school’s resources and finances. ‘Leader’ suggests much more of an inspiring approach to change rather than a ‘manager’ as the person who implements clear tasks and paperwork.
The word Principal to me suggests the person with ultimate responsibility for the school. This person is responsible for outlining the school’s vision and finding effective ways of implementing positive change within the school. They also have a number of managerial tasks to do on a day-to-day basis. It can be hard to not get ‘bogged down’ with these tasks instead of being visible in the school at times which can affect the subordinates as followers.
At times labels may be oppressive to the person in how they want to be viewed within an orgnisation.
What are the political/economic/local conditions that may have led to these labels being adopted in preference to others?
The local community often reinforces these labels even more so than the educators within the systems. Parents and other community members have their own ideas of what these roles mean based on their experiences in their own workplace. The labels will likely continue to change to reflect the image and ideals the school wants to project to the community.
What are the ethical implications of these kinds of labels being adopted in preference to others?
There can be some tension between the idea of what your label is and what your role is.
In an international setting, culture plays a large role in the implications of labels (Gunter, 2004, p. 34). Each culture may have a different interpretation of the label. This can cause tension between schools and parent/ student communities. Culture may also reinforce hierarchies within the school.
Gunter, H. (2004). Labels and labelling in the field of educational leadership. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 25(1), 21-41.
Both articles are critical of the impact that some of these changes have had on education and training. Consider how market ideologies and notions of accountability, have impacted upon your workplaces and by implication, on the work of administrators and managers in these settings.
As an international school in Singapore, families have a number of schools to choose from when they arrive on the island. Thus, we need to market our school as a unique experience compared to other schools to attract clients. The school has even hired a marketing department this year in preparation of expanding the school and the need to attract more families to our school. It is evident that more time, energy and finances are being funnelled into the marketing department to enhance the image of the school and promote it in the international market (Apple, 2001, p. 187).
When I first arrived at the school, there was not a lot of accountability to parents in terms of standardised ways of assessments nor accountability of staff to leaders. This has been a huge improvement of our school over the last four years moving slightly towards the other end of the pendulum. With more reporting per year to parents, there has been an increase in teacher workload to ensure that parents continuous are getting feedback about their child.
The school has also increased accountability through internal and external assessments. Measures of Academic Progress (MAPs) testing is now done twice a year by all students year four and above to ensure that the school is compared using a standardised test to other international schools. The school has also increased the number of standardised internal assessments within the primary school to create more trackable data of student across the years.
The school is a profit school and therefore has many key aspects of a business approach to education compared to a government-funded school. One of the things that can be hard is the need to measure all key performance indicators. Our school’s key performance indicators are directly linked to our staff work plans and appraisals even when at times, some of the KPIs we do not have control over.
As I begin to prepare myself to transfer to the Australian school systems in August, I will be interested to see how the different market ideologies and notions of accountability differ in the Australian setting.
Apple, M. W. (2001). ‘Markets, standards, teaching and teacher education.’
Note your observations in your blog about Bolman & Deal.
This has been probably the most valuable of all readings so far. Two separate educators from other international schools happened to bring up this reading and engage in conversation about the article at a conference I was at this past week suggesting that it is extremely relevant and widely referred to by educators.
The article begins with an overview of leadership to distinguish Leadership from management where leaders are focusing their energies on the purpose (mission/vision/values of the organisation) and management is much more about getting things done from planning to effective implementation (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 343). They continue to suggest leadership is not a solo act but rather it requires followers who support the idea of the leader.
A high-interest area of the article was the idea of gender and leadership with the ceiling effect for women in leadership. Unfortunately, I feel I am becoming more aware of the differences as I try to navigate a move in countries and seek more leadership opportunities. It is interesting how my current organisation and prospective schools feel as I begin to transition. This is also an area of interest as a group of international educators met in Hong Kong last month at the 21st Century Learning Conference with a session to discuss our ideas of #lead our initiative of supporting, discussing and sharing ideas about gender equality in education and leadership. I encourage anyone interested to please reach out or find us on Twitter or join our Facebook group as we begin to develop this idea.
I don’t believe there is one best way to be a good leader as I have had a few inspirational leaders that have led, motivated and inspired staff in very different ways. I know that I find certain aspects of the way leaders lead better for my style of learning and following but this may not be ‘better’ for everyone. I do believe the idea of leadership being somewhat situational. While leaders are more likely to have one approach to rely on most of the time, a good leader should be able to adapt to the needs of the situation and those involved to best support all participants.
The idea of the 4 frames of leadership are as follows:
1. Structural Frame (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 356)
This type of leadership frame focused heavily on implementation with an effective leader designing approach choices for planning for implementation whereas an ineffective leader would be much more bureaucratic in their approach. Unfortunately, the structural framework often does not allow for anticipating resistance to change and misreading cues.
2. Human Resource Frame (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 361)
Human resources frame focuses on the leader as a facilitator for change, a change agent. They have a very open approach as they support, coach and empower their followers through strong communication. There is a clear sense of people being put first through a partnership of all working towards goals.
3. Political Frame (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 364)
The political frame approach is much more about being real with clarity. These types of leaders think about the different stakeholders and what their power and interests are and work towards building valuable relationships. Power is used to persuade, negotiate and coerce.
4. Symbolic Frame (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 366)
The symbolic frame approaches leadership through leading by example and looking for symbols to highlight a need for change. There is a clear vision with the focus on reaching the values level of the subordinates as they approach concerns with a bidirectional approach to leadership.
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2008). Reframing Leadership. In Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (4th ed., pp. 341-372). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
How relevant is the trait theory to your workplace?
When I was reading this article, it made me think of the IB Learner Profile and transdisciplinary skills to some degree. The learner profile attributes are ten qualities as teachers we try to instil in our students to help them be successful beyond our school. It is difficult to measure these attributes (How do you measuring caring vs very caring vs exceptionally caring objectively?).
In the workplace, qualities are used as identifiers in appraisals and are outlined in job descriptions. Again though, it can be difficult to objectively measure and provide evidence for any of these qualities except for observations, anecdotes and perhaps comparisons between people. Often a person with certain characteristics is encouraged to apply for certain jobs. However, while the person may have certain qualities, they still have to use them effectively in the given context to hold any value for the organisation. It is also important to remember that with subjectivity can come different perspectives. A strong driven leader may also be seen as too pushy with their agendas.
Strengths of Trait Theory of Leadership
Weaknesses of Trait Theory of Leadership
Does your nation or province have a framework which lists the capabilities or competencies of educational leadership?
Working in an international private school in Singapore, I am not aware of a framework of capabilities or competencies of educational leadership. It has been interesting to read about the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) in others’ blogs.
Watkins, P. (1986). The trait approach. In A critical review of leadership concepts and research: The implications for educational administration (pp. 11-13, 21-25, 28),
While I believe that non-white male leaders are becoming more prevalent, there is still a lack of equality. As a female in the international teaching setting in Asia, it is very rare to find female heads of school or even female Heads of Secondary/Primary. In my current organisation, our senior leadership team consists of 5 administrators (head of schools, head of secondary, head of primary, head of student services and director of education technology). Of those five, only the head of student services is female.
It is also challenging in Asian countries with the stereotypes of our parent community expecting a male to be the dominant leaders in the schools. I have been in many meetings where a parent from an Asian country continuously looks to my male counterpart to answer, even when I have already provided him with the answer. There is definitely a need to break down gender stereotypes and support equality.
As a female aspiring to be in leadership, it is difficult to find female leaders and mentors to look up. It can be frustrating with education being a profession with a higher percentage of female educators, and yet, so few females reach the top of the leadership chain. I’ve recently received a copy of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and am looking forward to hearing her perspective on this topic.
Social constructivism is the idea that our understanding of the world is based on the shared ideas, concepts and expectations created through the interactions with others. Vygotsky has been a key theorist of social constructivism.
Socially constructed views of educational leadership change based on culture, history and context(Southworth, 2000). It is based on the current beliefs of educational leadership and what ‘good’ educational leadership is. This has continuously changed over time from where the role was more of a managerial role to now focused on more inspirational leadership while still requiring aspects of educational leaders as managers. Southworth suggests that social construction is the assumed norms, though we may not always be conscious of them.
Southworth, G. (2000). School leadership in English schools at the close of the 20th Century: Puzzles, problems and cultural insights, Paper presented at the meeting of the American Education Research Association Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA.
When you drop a pebble into the water, it ripples. A smile across the room. A door held open. A snicker in the corner. A hug to comfort a tear. Every action has a reaction. And yet, how often we don't think about the impact of our actions beyond the moment. Some actions have a greater impact. One simple action may conjure attitudes that last long after the action.
At some point in the day, I got a message from a good friend I hadn't talked to in a while who is an inspiring and amazing educator. No matter how long it's been, each conversation with her is filled with a positivity that leaves me buzzing. Genuine care, support and excitement are mutually shared. The result - new ideas, confidence to take on new challenges and invigorating motivation. My reaction to her positivity is to respond in the same manner, which is reciprocated back again. Her ripple lasts long beyond our conversation in my day, spreading into realms that are far removed from our friendship. When we speak next, I have no doubt the ripple will continue to grow again.
When we think of the hundreds of interactions we have each day with students, parents, colleagues and administrators, we are impacting our community at such a rapid rate but rarely see the end result of our ripples. A question asked in an accusatory tone may be the difference between a good and bad day for someone when it's the start of a series of incidents that spiral the day downwards. Or a compliment in the hallway may be what motivates them to make a different choice to launch their thoughts of positivity. So while most of our actions are unconscious, if we knew we could have a great influence on others, would you take the extra second to redirect your actions? Why would you waste valuable time and energy doing anything other than rippling positive intent in all directions?
When you get caught up in the paperwork, yard duties, assessments or general politics of a school, remember your ability to make an impact in someone's day or life. Choose to impact positively. Choose to stop and think. Choose to act in kindness expecting nothing in return.
How far has your ripple spread today?
At the start of a new school year, I remember being excited about showing my Year 5 students our new class website. I showed my students all the different components of the website and with great enthusiasm asked, “What do you think?” I was not expecting the rather honest response that I received. “Well Ms. Mac, it is kinda boring.” After accepting the initial shock, there were a few different ways I could approach it, but I felt it was best to ask the students for some feedback and suggestions.
Immediately, a flurry of ideas came bursting out of the mouths of students as we generated a list of possible ‘updates’ to our class site. From there, they started breaking off into teams to work on different aspects of the site from creating page banners to redesigning the resource buttons to creating an introduction video to the individuals in our class. The website came alive the moment the students began designing it to reflect who they were as a community.
The next day, the students wanted to brainstorm jobs they could have in the classroom and instantly the role of ‘techsperts’ was established. This role would be for two students each month who would provide support and be the first person of contact for students to seek out with their questions when it came to technology. No longer were students asking me ‘How do I….’, which allowed me to support other students in need. Together, the students would problem solve their technological issues, brainstorm creative ways to display their findings and provide constructive feedback to improve each other’s digital work. Digital peer coaching empowered the students to use their knowledge to help others while consolidating their own understanding of the knowledge and skills.
Students also wanted to make sure their parents knew what was going on in their class each week, but from their eyes and not just the teacher’s. To solve this problem, they created weekly slideshows called the 5EM Files that were embedded in the website, with each student having a slide to design in whatever way they wanted and to share their ideas, thoughts and opinions about the week. Every week, students created these slides without any support from me as the teacher, but yet the quality and enthusiasm for creating and sharing grew with each passing week.
As the year progressed, the students continued to push the boundaries of expectations by using technology as a means to express themselves and support each other. This happened daily in classes with students creating individual inquiry presentations to share, digital posters to advocate for a cause, developing their class assembly featuring a fully green-screened newscast with commercials and even students teaching lessons to the class. Technology was never the main learning intention, but through technology the students were empowered to show who they were and share their knowledge and abilities.
Role of the Teacher
In these moments, it was evident that I could not be the teacher I once was and needed to change the role I played in the class community to support the facilitation of learning and creating. As students worked, I moved around the room asking questions, acting as a soundboard and giving small suggestions where necessary. No longer was there one teacher, but a room full of learners and educators who were willing to share and build upon each other’s ideas. The biggest change in my role was to not say no when students had an idea, but rather ask them how they were going to do it and support them in the process from planning to executing.
The Importance of Student Voice
When students are given choices and have an opinion that matters, they are invested and engaged with what they are learning. By allowing my students to take the lead, through the use of technology, they began taking ownership and constructing an environment that was conducive to the collective community. Every student knows more about something than the teacher. Often, it is just a matter of tapping into the community of experts that will allow these students to shine. It has also been shown that encouraging student voice influences academic achievement. The use of technology helps students find the right medium to showcase their knowledge and share with others.
Developing student leaders with technology will not happen overnight. Rather, it is about developing a culture of collaboration and community in the classroom. Start by asking students what it is they want to do and what their opinions are about technology use and then, most importantly, actually listen.
Students are full of great ideas, so even just allowing them to explore the possibility of one idea might be the spark that brings out the digital leaders in a classroom. This could be as simple as asking them what resources they want to use to publish their writing or if an expert with website design would support another student who is just starting out.
By providing students opportunities for agency in their classroom, they will develop a multitude of transdisciplinary skills. Students may collaborate online through Google Docs or Padlets or design innovative projects requiring organisation, time management and problem solving. They often develop critical research skills as they navigate the digital world through the curation resources and notetaking. They might demonstrate their communication skills through developing a public service announcement video and publishing on YouTube or writing a blog together. These skills can be explored both digitally and by interacting with others in a learning space. Allowing them to explore which way works best for them will lead students towards a path of staying motivated to create and being curious.
Extending the Opportunities
As I transitioned to an education technology coach role and out of the classroom this year, it was important that I still found ways to support student leadership beyond the classroom setting. I had seen so much growth in the students’ technology skills as well as immense personal growth through encouraging them to take the lead that I wanted to find suitable avenues to continue to support them.
After talking to some students, a digital media team was developed in the primary school. While I had some ideas of things the students may want to do, I first asked them what they wanted this group to become. The students decided to create weekly webcasts featuring the news for the week, special features and upcoming events that they would plan, film and edit. The key to the success of this group was ensuring all students had a role that was valued and roles that they could rotate through so everyone could try every aspect of the team if they wanted to. From anchor to editor, videographer to director, everyone was valued in this inclusive community. They also filmed each primary school assembly to share with the parent community on the school website. Throughout the year, other projects have taken form, such as creating posters for school events, banners for exhibitions and photo slideshows that are played on screens around campus. When guest educators visited the school from overseas, it was powerful to give students the opportunity to share how technology impacts their educational experience. Their words from experience were far more meaningful than mine, as these students are the ones using the digital resources and tools every day to promote and explore their inquiries, learning from their mistakes, growing and ideating.
Technology continues to be an amazing tool for supporting student needs and bringing out the best in students. Student leaders can demonstrate confidence in developing who they are within a community and as individuals. With a little support from a teacher to encourage the exploration of innovative ideas, students can flourish as incredible student leaders.
*Originally published on Education Technology Solutions at :https://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2016/08/making-students-voices-heard-leadership-digital-age/