Being Likable

If you bring together two of my current favourite writers for a discussion, you’re going to have my immediate attention.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, came to my attention first for articles and a subsequent book on the personal benefits of being a ‘go-giver’. He’s followed up with work related to creativity, success and most recently has published a book with Sheryl Sandberg about how to bounce back when things go wrong. She, of course, was uniquely placed to co-write that particular book having lost her husband very suddenly and publicly, leaving her with young children and a high pressure silicon valley career to manage. That book sits on my shelf as a recent acquisition waiting to be read.

Like many people, I first came across Simon Sinek because of his famous TED talk (still well worth a view, whether you’ve seen it before or not). Then I followed his work talking about millennials, especially how best to lead them, manage them in the workplace and even inspire them to be engaged, committed and passionate employees who do meaningful work. As far as his books, I’ve gone the wrong way round. I’ve recently finished reading ‘Leaders Eat last’ – his most recent book and have waiting on the shelf still to be read his earlier – Start With Why.

The discussion went on for about an hour, led by Katie Couric, the international journalist. It took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival – and it’s a real gem. You could just read the article, but i’d really recommend the video embedded on the page as worth an hour of anyone’s time.

During the discussion there are some interesting insights in to types of popularity and the risks of ‘the wrong type’. They talk about the perils of device and social media addiction and the need for occasional detoxes. There’s an interesting discussion of the skills needed to be likable and the risks in society because people are not getting as many opportunities to practice those skills. The comments about how willpower is an inadequate tool to overcome addiction, or addictive behaviour was a useful reminder.

So, here’s the link:

Heleo – Conversation – How to be likable – no Facebook Required

If you open the page, you’ll see the video some way down the page. I really recommend that it’s worth the time to listen to the whole thing. For educators, or parents, there’s much to ponder on here about how we work most effectively with young people today.

Bold Leadership

Of all industries, education needs bold leadership.

Of all industries, education has lacked bold leadership in the past. Where will the bold leadership come from if there is inadequate attention to leadership in the profession. Education is no more guilty than many other professions that it takes some of its best practitioners (teachers) and promotes them in to roles that require a completely different set of skills and competencies – with no certainty that they have those skills and competencies, are ready and able to develop them or real, cohesive support to acquire them.

The last point may be the real issue. In the same way that there is all too often a hangover from past views of collegiality that suggest that how a teacher taught was his/ her own business, so the prevalence of idiosyncratic leadership styles and methods is almost part of the folklore in the education profession. If we are really serious about change in education, then we have to pay serious attention to the leadership skills of our leaders at all levels in our schools.

Here is a really interesting webinar recording from Zenger Folkman. They have a history of gathering vast amounts of data and evidence through 360 degree feedback processes and then analysing it for the lessons that can be drawn about all aspects of what makes leadership most effective – and especially what leaders need to do more of/ less of;

Zenger Folkman – Webinar – Bold Leadership

As well as the webinar, the page also has a number of other links to very useful and worthwhile materials.

Until we really address these issues of leadership, we are going to see schools vulnerable too often to issues in the leadership. This is especially important in the light of some research I saw a few years ago that suggested that, by some margin, the impact of good or great leadership in schools was of greater significance than differences in leadership in other types of organisation or company. In other words, when our leaders lack some of the fundamental skills of leadership the negative impact is greater.

And yet, as a profession, do we really pay adequate attention to the development of leadership skills. In my experience, when you look at the professional development made available for educational leaders, too much of it is focused on educational pedagogy and practices than on their leadership skills, reflective awareness and continuous development in this area.

Maybe one good piece of news coming out of the Zenger Folkman research is that women in leadership score higher on key aspects of bold leadership than men, considering the educational field has a higher than normal level of females in leadership. However, this is still leaving way too much to chance.

One of the issues that I see standing out way too often is the ‘one size fits all’ approaches to leadership – Principals and senior school leaders who have a limited range of responses to situations that they wheel out in response to all the situations they deal with. Schools are busy and hectic places and when things are happening rapidly leaders often don’t have much time in the moment to stop and reflect. therefore, they ‘act’ often very intuitively. This is not a problem if, at other times, the habits have been built to have a broader variety of tools in the toolkit. Then, intuition leads to the selection of the right tools to fit the situation more often.

With this in mind, I was reminded, this weekend, by the values of the Ken Blanchard Situational leadership model, as a result of seeing this excellent webinar recording;

Ken Blanchard Companies – Webinar – Creating an Effective Leadership Development Curriculum

Education has an inclination to be summative – to focus on the outcomes that we want (exam results, how students turn out etc.) Along the way, we need to put far more emphasis on the processes by which goals are achieved. This is where leadership development becomes so very critical. We need to be sure that leadership will happen in ways that are most effective to deal with any particular set of circumstances. We need to put considerable stress on developing good coaching and mentoring skills, whilst acknowledging that this is not simply meant to replace one always used leadership style with another. There are times when it’s right and times when it’s wrong to coach.

Better leadership leads to more engaged employees, which leads to better learning experiences for children and better parent relationships. These, ultimately, are the best ways to ensure long term and consistent achievement of strong student learning outcomes, development of strong and enduring school cultures and schools that learn and enable learning.

Appreciating Teachers

A client walks in to a lawyer’s office, approaching the receptionist’s desk, “I’ve come to bring a gift for Ms X, my lawyer.”

It doesn’t happen. So, why do teachers think that they’re a different profession worthy of receiving gifts in gratitude? In my view there’s only one real significant benefit in giving a gift to a teacher – and that is as part of a family educating their children about giving, gifting and appreciation as part of development of values.

In other words, it’s really about the benefit to the giver rather than the recipient.

many years ago i worked in private banking. over a couple of years, we placed a big emphasis on raising our levels of customer service, sensitivity to the needs of our customers and empathy skills. The training included, among other things, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). There were many bi-products. Attrition/ turnover of clients dropped significantly. Clients spent more money with us, placing a bigger proportion of their investable assets in our care. As a result, our profits went up appreciably and we were well rewarded in salary increases and bonuses. But, we started to run up against an interesting problem. More and more elderly clients were leaving legacies to their account officers in their wills. Mostly, they were token amounts, but i had one client who was adamant that she was going to leave me over 10,000 pounds (a lot of money back then!). maybe it was for the best that she passed away the day before she was due to meet the lawyer to revise her will. Because, the truth was I was uncomfortable with her leaving me money for what I had done. My belief was I’d done my job and been a decent human being in my relationships with her and other clients.

In all my years as an educator I also feel I would have felt genuinely uncomfortable if a parent had ever given me a gift of any value. I also often felt uncomfortable when students gave all the praise for their examination achievements to the teachers, parents and tutors – as though they had simply made themselves passive recipients of knowledge and allowed the gurus to put the learning in to them. To be a true lifelong learner, the individual must see their educators as mere facilitators who assist them to acquire the skills to learn, lead them to the sources of knowledge and support them on the initial stages of the journey.

I loved receiving cards, drawings or letters from students and have often kept these as special memories. They frequently represented very spontaneous and open heartfelt messages from children. If parents were appreciative or thankful for how the school ran, face to face or through emails and cards – that was more than enough thanks. In the same way that one doesn’t give to receive, I believe true educators don’t give of themselves, their professional skills and efforts in the expectation of receiving something back other than the knowledge and evidence that children have been given the opportunities to begin their journey enthusiastically and with solid foundations as lifelong learners.

The Guardian – Secret Teacher – We Don’t Need Gifts – A Thank You Will do

Theory of Mind and Other People’s Shoes

Compassion is a key part of empathy. I believe any person’s ability to be compassionate or to practice empathy is completely dependent on one’s ability to step in to another’s shoes, or even beyond. In a lot of communication training, especially associated with Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), this is translated in to first, second and third positions adopted. First position is where I see a situation or perceive through my own eyes, my own experience and beliefs. Second position entails the ability to put myself in to the other person’s shoes – for example in an argument or disagreement. Third position goes even further and entails the ability to float above the situation and both me and you’ to see the situation, to hear the communication and perceive the surface and deep level emotions on all sides from the position of a third party – a person who can see the situation without direct emotions related to it, the archetypal fly on the wall’.

One of the things that has been clear from research for some time is that not every person grows up with the same levels of empathy. Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence that empathy can be taught and a belief that ultimately we will prepare people for a better future (and maybe even contribute to a better world for all). I find that, all too often, one meets leaders (let alone others) who lack the ability to move to second position, let alone third position. Some may have lost the ability out of habit and some might never have really had it. Some seem to fear that taking anything other than first position will lead to them being perceived as weak, vulnerable in their leadership. The truth is really quite the reverse. The most effective leader is a listener, has the humility to admit when wrong and to adopt another’s position. Also, if we are unable or unwilling to step in to second position we will always struggle to understand the acceptability or otherwise of decisions we make.

As I’ve touched on in a number of other articles, we’ve seen some fascinating and intriguing discoveries over the last few years as a result of MRI scanning technology and the ability to understand what is happening in the developing human brain. As the following article explains, we now know what is happening in the brain of a young child at the time that they are developing a sense of ‘other-ness’, the sense that leads to the ability to see the perspective of others and to empathise. In time, I hope that this will lead to greater refinement of our understanding about how and when to teach empathy, to increase the level of social emotional skills of more children. However, I also believe that we will likely learn in time that there are some negative impacts and influences to be avoided or minimised, as well as positive habits and skills to be taught if we are to enhance the empathy levels of children.

Greater Good – Berkeley – What Happens in a Child’s Brain When They Learn to Empathize?

This is certainly a fascinating field of study to be followed in the future.

Understanding Differentness

This is a superb video that very sensitively helps children (and others) to gain insights in to autism, its impacts on those who have it and in a broader sense helps them to develop their sense of otherness, differentness and empathy. it's only as we develop the ability to step in to another's shoes that we truly can be empathic and welcome differentness.

More on Fake News & Digital Literacy

Following the blog post I wrote earlier, I came across this article just today from the US National Public Radio (NPR).

It introduces a game that’s been designed to help students and others discern the difference between real and fake news.

NPR Ed – To Test Your Fake News Judgement, Play This Game

An excellent idea – and not just for children!

Digital Literacy

Digital and media literacy are not just ‘nice to have’ add-ons in today’s education. They are real essentials as part of a balanced education that focuses on the development of the skills of a lifelong learner.

It has a number of different aspects to it, but at the deepest, most philosophical level, it begins with developing an understanding of what knowledge is, what learning is, truth, facts, reality and the due respect for one’s own and others’ knowledge, opinions and expertise.

When the internet spews out copious quantities of material it’s potentially all too easy to be slack, lazy and passive towards knowledge and facts. This leads to a lack of discernment and becoming easy to manipulate with false, misleading information that pursues a particular agenda. It can also lead students (and others) to fall easily in to the temptation to simply take the work of others and pass it off as their own.

The international Baccalaureate organisation sees plagiarism and ‘passing off’ as such a serious issue that it insists on the use of software like ‘Turn it in’ to check and verify that students’ written work is their own and genuine. They advocate that every school should have an academic honesty policy. In my experience, this is as important for educators as it is for students – we must lead by example. That means, we need to look at children of different ages, figure out what they need and what can be expected of them and then set out very clear expectations. So, at class 3-4 level, we might accept students copying and pasting lines from websites – preferring to focus on their skills of finding that information. as they get to class 6-7 we are likely to expect them to have mastered the skills of precising and taking that original material and putting it in to their own words. By the higher classes we should expect that they not only write in their own voice, but attribute the sources from which they have drawn in their research.

‘Fake news’ – the spreading and sharing of questionable factual information to pursue particular political agendas is worrying many, but especially educators, as evidenced by this recent article about the debates and discussions at the leading US IT in education conference. The article carries details of some new resources that are beginning to be developed to help teachers address these issues with students:

The Journal – ISTE Participants Respond to Spike in Fake News Websites