Principal Pipelines

Principal Office Sign

In schools Principals matter – they matter a lot. Some research has suggested that in immediate terms, their impact on student learning is second only to quality of teachers. However, I would suggest that in the longer term the quality of school Heads matters way more. For one thing, it will be very hard for a school to have high quality teachers doing their best work if there is poor leadership of the school.

Those of us heavily involved with private schools education have seen too many examples of good or great schools reduced to pale shadows of what they have been by the wrong leadership. Thankfully, we’ve also seen instances of the mediocre, ‘nothing special’ schools transformed in to great schools by the arrival of inspirational and impactful leadership. In all of this, the worry is that schools are clearly very vulnerable and sensitive on this issue of who leads.

It’s therefore a worry that insufficient long term attention is given to who will lead. I’ve even, sadly, seen instances of schools doing great work where the future looks vulnerable because all (including the great leadership people themselves) are behaving as though all the good will just keep rolling on in to the future looking after itself.

Good leaders aren’t always good at looking at the future of their organisation after they’ve moved on. I will never forget a discussion with the prominent Head of a highly reputed boarding school in England. That school is over 400 years old. He told me that when you lead in such circumstances you are always made mindful that the role, and the school, are never really yours, but rather you are a custodian within the limits of your time in service. He went on to express the view that in such circumstances the Head owes an enormous duty of care – not only to all the existing pupils, parents and teachers, but also to all those who went before and all those who will come in the future. This makes the leader continually mindful of the school as a long term continuous entity on its own foundations independent from the leaders who come and go.

In industry and business, lots of attention is paid to leadership pipelines – ensuring that not only are there good leaders in position today, but also that there is a better chance to have great leaders for the future (who are trained, motivated and ready to step in to roles with all the required skills and competencies, and rough edges smoothed off.)

This is much more achievable in large organisations with big, diverse workforce. When I worked for a bank in the UK there was an elaborate process for this. To be honest, at times that process was too dogmatic and rigid and would struggle in today’s fast paced, rapidly changing business environment. However, some system and process is certainly better than nothing at all. In the bank all who were deemed to have some senior leadership role in the future were sent on a one week Assessment Centre. This was an incredibly intense experience – 12 faculty and a head faculty with twelve individuals undergoing assessment at any time. On the final afternoon you would get a feedback discussion session that went on for 2-3 hours. Then, the following week, the faculty would submit a report that placed a letter on your personnel file. You were not allowed to know this letter, but it spelled out whether you were deemed to be long time mega-high, moderately high or medium high flyer. This served to enable the HR department to figure out what development  opportunities you needed along the way, which training programmes and postings to ensure that when you arrived where you were going you had all the skills and experience needed to be ready for your roles. it also enabled manpower planning to predict what manpower or resources at senior levels might need to be brought from outside to fulfil needs and avoid compromises with candidates deemed weak. Theoretically, the letter on the file wasn’t cast in stone, but in all reality, that was generally what happened, so I did have concerns about the rigidity built in to the system.  It also assumed a stable and predictable world and business environment within which to plan.

Today, it’s much harder for businesses to make predictions on manpower requirements for different calibres and skills requirements in to the future. Nevertheless, schools should be able to make reasonable predictions as their world and leadership requirement changes are far less volatile or market dependent. Yet, it doesn’t happen nearly often enough, with the result that when critical needs arise owners are left fishing desperately in the open market, their schools left vulnerable with all the implications for all stakeholders.

I have a few recommendations;

a) The first for groups with multiple schools – strategic plans will indicate the intended numbers of schools in future years. With this information, along with turnover data, the organisation should be able to predict future leadership requirements. Some form of appraisal that brings strong talent to the attention at Group level should aim to identify early those with future potential. Then, structure current roles, special project leadership opportunities and training (internal and/ or external) to ensure that they get to expand their leadership skills before they are called in to more senior roles,

b) Examine the culture of the group. If there has been a tendency for each school Principal to see their own school as an independent ’empire’ within the group, work gradually to develop more cross-group vision. Only in this way will people understand when small local inconveniences are created in favour of the bigger group wide benefits of promoting someone strong in to a leadership role elsewhere.
Groups where the Heads put their individual school’s interests ahead of those of the group will fail to realise the benefits of being a broader group. It needs to be understood that the owners/ CEO/ Director may need to move individuals for the good of the Group (and because failure to satisfy their career ambitions will probably see their services lost from the Group quite soon anyway).

c) When recruiting, especially for junior leadership and supervisory roles, keep in mind the future potential of candidates to meet more senior organisational roles and requirements,

d) Consider something that we were able to do very successfully when I was in Delhi – making at least one mid-level supervisory role (academic coordinators) in the group non-permanent. We gave people two year contracts in these roles. the thinking was that;
(i) If they had potential for higher leadership they would move on to new roles within the two years,
(ii) if they were unwilling or unable to step up to more senior roles, then it would be understood they would return to the teaching ranks after the two years. This also had the added advantage that people didn’t get ‘power crazy’ in these roles, knowing that in time the person they were leading would be their leader!
(iii) This had the advantage of avoiding ‘dead man’s shoes.’ Those with leadership aspirations among the teachers knew that within a relatively short time they would get opportunities to build their skills and prove their abilities in a supervisory role,
(iv) Structure more leadership development and training for those in these roles across the group,
(v) Only in exceptional circumstances would a person serve two terms in such a role,
(vi) The role carried an earned allowance, rather than a higher salary,
(vii) Group level leadership took personal and active interest in this cohort, so being more aware of how they could potentially fulfil roles right across the group. Being seen as ‘supernumerary’  their current leaders always knew that they were not part of the permanent local leadership structure.

e) This is a slightly tough one, but i believe if great leadership candidates for the future come across the radar, either through general interactions or recruitment, groups should be willing to consider taking them on board occasionally when available, even if a role requirement isn’t there immediately. In the short term this entails carrying a modest amount of extra cost, but can help ease pipeline in the future and can offer senior level staff to take on one off projects to advance the group.
However,  there’s a continuous need to not less this get out of control and to be clear about when and why it’s done.

f) For stand alone individual schools, this is much harder. They can’t afford the cost burden of carrying extra surplus leadership staff and it’s also undesirable as they’re liable to tread on each others’ toes.
In International Schools there is an acceptance of fairly frequent turnover, as most individuals prefer not to stay in one location for too long. There is a lot of research evidence that the optimum ‘sweet spot’ for school heads is around 3-5 years from taking up their role. So, history of movement and likely future plans should be a part of the recruitment process and thinking. In my experience, Heads with school going children tend to stay longer in one place.
In other respects, schools should build some strengths based on an expectation of turnover and less dependence on any one individual. A strongly team-based leadership approach and acccessibility of all the leadership team to parents can help to ease transitions when they do occur.

g) International schools that employ both expat and local employees should establish longer term plans to bring some strong locals through in to the leadership teams. This sends a strong message on career prospects to ambitious local teachers (both current and future recruits) and enables these leaders to provide continuity when expat leaders change. They are likely to serve for much longer time in each school.

h) Over time,  for this and other reasons many international schools stand to gain far more than they lose by building collaborative open trust relationships with other schools in the city/ country/ region. This entails breaking out of narrow competitive mindsets. As well as enabling schools to share training costs and resources at times, provide joint liaison with Ministries and local policymakers, it can also enable schools to support each others’ leadership needs for the longer term.
I won’t pretend this is easy. It takes time and personal investment to build the trust and it can be fragile if there’s a hint of poaching or otherwise undermining each other.  However, owners/ Directors shouldn’t underestimate the harm done to all international schools if any in the geographical vicinity fall on hard times as it makes all parents doubt the sector.

I was inspired to write this piece by a few articles etc. that i read in recent weeks about some research from the US, by Rand Corporation, involving the Wallace Foundation and some experimentation in Principal Pipeline management. I was surprised that the suggestion was that this was so very radical, or that it carried benefits for students and schools.
The following links provide more information for those interested:
The Hechinger Report – Study Examines Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Project
ASCD Webinar – Principal Pipeline
Wallace Foundation Videos – Principal Preparation

Leadership matters and recruitment in the open market will always be a hit and miss affair, not an exact science. Schools have a long term presence that requires long term thinking, planning and vision to ensure that present or near term success can all come tumbling down through latent fragility. Schools are ‘people businesses’ and these people issues require significant investment of time, effort and creativity.

 

 

Teacher Classroom Language

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In my experience, the vast majority of teachers want to be the very best they can be in their roles and to reach every student to the best of their ability. In my experience, as a result, teachers spend lots of time exploring their subject and ideas on the best teaching methodologies in relation to the content of that subject. They pay lots of attention to classroom management, maybe also to child psychology, how to motivate students, effects of discipline methods and pedagogy.

But, in my experience, not much time or attention goes in to aspects related to the teacher as a communicator. To my mind this is a major shortcoming when we consider that teaching is so dependent upon communication, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes there is attention paid to the language of the subject, to aspects of correctness of use of the language that is the medium of instruction (e.g. English, especially when not the mother tongue of the teachers or students). However, not much professional development training goes in to aspects of body language, use of semiotics (use of signs and symbols), use of voice or how language is used.

In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there is a well known pre supposition that states – “You cannot not communicate.” In other words, we’re all communicating, all the time. Even not communicating communicates. We’ve all seen that a teacher can often get a much quicker response from an unruly, noisy or excitable class of pupils by standing silently with a particular facial expression than by shouting, remonstrating, cajoling or even threatening.

Teachers want to impact students when they communicate with them. I remember years ago (I think the first time was when undergoing sales training) learning that when we communicate our impact is made up of:

  • 55% what we do with our body, physically (including the face)
  • 38% what we do with our voice (tone, speed, volume, timbre etc)
  • 7% the words we use

Seeing these figures it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking that as a result words don’t really matter very much. They’re not very significant. However, I believe this is a very grave mistake, especially when we take in to account that whilst using the right words we also have the opportunity to use our voice in the most effective ways for a combined 45% of the total impact.

So, for many teachers there’s an area here where they can bring about significant and valuable improvements, if they pay attention. However, one of the biggest challenges with language and communication is that most of what we do and say is automatic and unconscious. In order to question and challenge our own communication we have to bring it in to conscious awareness. This isn’t always a comfortable process, but i believe the benefits make it worthwhile.

The ASCD (the biggest US organisation for teacher and educator professional development) holds periodic webinars. Some of these are exclusively for members. However, today I want to share information on an excellent webinar that is free for all to see – you don’t need to be a member to log in to watch the replay of this one.

Mike Anderson is a US elementary teacher who has published a few books. I read his earlier book, “Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn” which was very good. This webinar was to introduce the core ideas behind his latest book, “What we say and how we say it matter: teacher talk that improves student learning and behavior.”

In the webinar he shares masses of really good material and I’m sure teachers will benefit from giving this a little time. To watch the replay of the webinar, click on the link below. When the page opens, click where it says “Watch now”.

ASCD – Professional Development – What We Say – Webinar

Enjoy, and please share your feedback and thoughts on the content here.

 

Why Do I Lead?

Why Do I Lead?

This is probably the single most important question that a school principal must ask themselves – and keep asking themselves. When the answers come back with clarity, then all is pointing in the right direction. When the answers are harder to come by, that’s when the leader needs to look inside to discover what’s out of alignment.

Questions are powerful and educators have long known this. Teachers spend a lot of time asking questions. Modern, effective teachers spend more time helping children to ask great questions, having recognised that this leads to greater quality learning. Likewise, the best school leaders know that asking themselves the right, best questions and reflecting on the answers is a key part of achieving and being successful.

So, this is why I’ve added a new book to my ‘To Read’ list. It’s a new book out through ASCD, from a New Jersey, USA school leader named Baruti Kafele entitled, “The Principal 50:Critical Leadership Questions For Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence”

Here’s a page that carries a brief overview about the book, a short video presentation by the author, and five visuals of the basic 50 questions which are elaborated on in the book. Personally, I don’t intend to wait to get and read the book, but intend to start challenging myself to reflect on some of these questions as I move forward in the coming weeks.

ASCD – Book Overview – The Principal 50

Already, as I studied the 50 questions, the strongest thought running through my mind is that as critical as reflection on the questions is, they are really worth very little and will bring scant benefits within schools unless they are followed up with time committed to communication with others and action. Without performance and action, these questions would be largely a self indulgent exercise in navel gazing.

The Motivated Brain

Sometimes, teachers indicate that it’s a bit bewildering and overwhelming to be faced with all the pressures to change the way they teach; to differentiate, to personalise learning, to take on board all the neuroscience findings, to develop a growth mindset, to support the holistic learning of each child, to take in to account children’s motivation to learn etc.

So, today, I want to share a book that I’ve read recently that does a really good job of putting all this new knowledge in to context and shares a lot of simple ideas for how these would actually look when implemented in the classroom.

It’s ‘The Motivated Brain: Improving Student Attention, Engagement and Perseverance’ by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt. You can buy the book online (or the ebook) from the following links:

ASCD – The Motivated Brain
Amazon – The Motivated Brain

A book like this has to go in to some of the hard science of the newer discoveries, but it does a good job of remaining practical, hands on and relevant for teachers. It avoids getting too jargon heavy or technical and is very readable.

Many teachers will ind that it take learning they’ve had exposure to in bits and pieces and bring them together in to a cohesive whole centred around the key needs of the student for motivation and engagement.

Well worth the investment of money and time.

Social and Emotional Learning

When the UNESCO Delors Committee identified the various types of learning that are important during a child’s school life, one that they saw as critical was ‘Learning to Be’. At times it can seem that there’s so much pressure to focus upon ‘Learning to Know’ and ‘Learning to Do’ that this critical area gets squeezed out, or is treated as merely an add-on activity (especially with outliers where there are discernible behavioural challenges which are making the teacher’s job harder.

A few thoughts come to mind. Firstly, if we’re not giving due attention to SEL skills and competencies, can we really say that education today is child-centric or learner-centric? Aren’t we still in a situation where we’re treating the “stuff” to be learned as more important than the learners? Aren’t we then still processing children through and array of knowledge, content and material, testing to see who it stuck to and simply operating an adapted model of the factory based approach to education?

When a young person has low levels of social and emotional skills, how effective can they ever really be as learners? Further, how effective will they be in the wider world after school? If we ‘don’t have time’ to address these needs, are we setting them up for likely failure in pretty much everything else they do? Should we still be debating whether or not it’s appropriate to endeavour to ‘teach the whole child’?

Then, I start to wonder – are there a lot of teachers who shy away from SEL because it’s uncomfortable ground for them personally? Especially when we’re confronted with the kind of evidence highlighted in the headline of the following article – research that suggests SEL skills levels are a better predictor of future success than IQ.

Virgin – Unite – Ashoka – Why Teachers Need Social and Emotional Learning Too

I can understand the reservations of teachers when it’s suggested that the solution to developing higher levels of SEL for pupils is ‘bolt on’ programmes touted by independent companies. I believe that these skills are far better developed through integrated, organically developed efforts within a school, unique to the needs of the pupils, not attempting to administer an add-on programme as another block of learning.

One of the keys, in my view, is teachers who are attuned to the learnable moments for SEL as they arise throughout the school day. When positive or negative incidents and events happen in children’s interrelations the opportunities arise to address them, reflect on them and to capture the learning.

There is much to ponder on …..

(Incidentally, there’s a link in the article that seems to be broken – for The Collaborative for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child. I found an alternative link here that has some links to videos and other resources:
The Collaborative for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child

There are also lots of resources in the ASCD ‘Whole Child’ Initiative Section of the ASCD website:
ASCD – Whole Child

MOOC’s for Teachers

For teachers time is a precious commodity. Add to that the fact that teachers and school Heads (if they’re honest) admit that most professional development in schools is pretty ineffective and we must all be open to new ideas and to experimentation. There is a saying that states, “Learning hasn’t taken place until behaviour has changed.” When applied to teacher training, way too much of it consists of teachers engaged either in passive listening, or discussing issues within their comfort zones. The net result is that, even where regular time is committed in schools to teacher PD, it doesn’t bring enough benefit to justify the inputs.

I came across the following article a couple of years ago;

KGED News – Mindshift – MOOCs for Teachers.

For those not familiar, MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. These are learning programmes offered over the internet, usually for adults that have been seen to have the potential to revolutionise the way adults learn and how they acquire new qualifications. They haven’t been without their challenges. For example, very high attrition rates during programmes/ low completion rates – it seems generations bred on spoon-fed education where their role was inherently passive struggle to marshal the intrinsic motivation to see such courses through.

I personally don’t believe that MOOCs will ever replace face to face PD for teachers. However, I believe that when the two are combined there are some very interesting possibilities for teachers to demonstrate their credentials as lifelong learners.

Teachers within a school with a particular interest area can pursue a MOOC, either alone or in a small group. Then, they can be given opportunities to carry out action research in their school to test and practice the new knowledge coming out of the course. Then, they are likely to be highly motivated to want to share their findings and experiences with their peers. This takes the MOOC and makes its content relevant and applicable in whatever local environment the teachers are experiencing.

This has a number of advantages. It exposes teachers, wherever in the world they’re based, to the latest cutting edge thinking and the leading thinkers and experts in the field without restraints of geography or cost. It opens up teachers’ minds to what teachers elsewhere are doing and begins to set them on a path towards taking those ideas and bringing them in to action in their own schools.

Already, I’m finding that there are growing numbers of teachers ready to tap in to online resources such as webinars, podcasts, articles and book sale sites to broaden the material they’re exposing themselves to. This can only benefit students over time.

Connectivity as a Force for Change

Nicholas Negroponte is a man who has never seemed afraid of those who were inclined to ridicule him. I well remember the early days of his MIT-based One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the massive waves of media and ‘pundit’ cynicism to what he was setting out to do. Even today there are plenty ready to remind him of the sheer size of the targets set for the project early on compared with what was actually achieved. However, to me, this looks like one of those classic cases of “shoot for the stars”. Whilst you don’t necessarily hit the massive goal, you certainly get a lot further out there than with incremental thinking.

Recently, Negroponte was akey note speaker at the ASCD Annual Conference in the US. Here’s a report of his presentation which makes interesting reading:

Nicholas Negroponte at ASCD National Conference

I enjoyed the story he tells about what happened when a set of laptops and a solar panel were dropped on the outskirts of an illiterate village in Ethiopia. Mind boggling and a reminder of the similar kinds of experience Sugata Mishra had in India with his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments.

Surely, nobody today can argue with Negroponte about the power of connectivity/ education and the potential for leveling the playing field for mankind through harnessing the access to knowledge that comes with IT and connectivity. When so much is possible it still leaves me marveling why at the other end of the scale carbon copy ‘straight from the box’ schools keep being erected and created on old paradigms and old thinking. Well, of course, the reality is – I know why that’s happening – it’s very profitable and so much less trouble than trying to do real, radical creative work in new education for new times.

The other part of the article on Negroponte’s talk that really got me thinking was the best explanation I’ve seen yet for why coding has a place in schools and should be part of the curriculum, even from quite a young age. That’s one i need to think about some more.

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