Carol Dweck applies Growth Mindset to Issues of Growth Mindset

I’m never quite sure if it’s exclusive to the education field, or more extreme, but there is a very bad habit of latching on to ‘the latest new thing,’ demanding that it represents a magical simple wand to change the profession. Then, when simplistic representations of the concept or idea don’t deliver instant, easy payoff there’s a backlash and attention switches to attempts to tear down any validity in the idea or concept.

In recent years we’ve seen this happen with differentiation, at times with the emphasis on formative assessment, with the concepts related to Grit (Angela Duckworth) and very strongly in relation to Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset.

So it’s very refreshing to hear this interview with carol Dweck, conducted by Times Education Supplement;

TES – Carol Dweck – On Growth Mindset Theory

To my mind, the real value that comes out of the interview is that Dweck’s work has caused masses of teachers to focus on the issues of student motivation and its impact on learning outcomes to an extent far greater than ever before. I believe it’s also lead to a far greater level of attention to the fact that what has to matter more is learning rather than teaching and that teaching is nothing if not evaluated on the basis of its impact on learning and the fulfillment of potential on the part of learners.

As educators, we work with the human mind. This is incredibly complex and will never lend itself to simplistic prescriptions. The nearest comparison is to look for a desire that simple formulaic approaches to leadership can create highly effective organisations. The human mind, human motivations and the dynamics of human interaction are incredibly complex. Therefore, it will always require maximum flexibility, conscious reflection and ability to calibrate responses. It is vital to be open and receptive to all evidence of what’s working and how and ready to continuously build a flexible tool kit that offers increasing levels of responses and refinements.

For any of us whose work involves working with other human beings, we can never get good enough. We have to relish the process of continually learning more, refining our skills and adding more skills to our ‘toolkit’ in order to give us more refined choices for the decisions we take when dealing with others. I believe Carol Dweck’s work is just such a new tool that is thoroughly worth having in the toolkit. It’s not a panacea, a magic bullet and we need to rebuff those who seek to write it off because it didn’t deliver instant gratification.

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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.

The Gentle Leader

Why do organisations exist? What is their purpose? What should be the ‘status’, roles and rights of different stakeholders? In the total history of mankind, the modern day organisation is still something very new, so to a large extent, we’re still engaged in a process of figuring out the answers to these questions.

The earliest organisations were tribes of hunter-gatherers where people came together out of mutual benefit. To serve one’s personal best interest entailed contributing your best to the group. Where necessary, there were traditions and norms in the group that enabled cohesion and a sense of duty and loyalty. leadership was often determined by lineage, sometimes by strength, size and simple power.

The industrial revolution brought very different kinds of organisations – far larger, more complex and with many more artificial processes to create the sense of belonging, commitment and common interest. There are plenty who are willing to say that the primary role of such organisations is to maximise value for the owners – everything else is peripheral. If this is true, then the duty of leaders is to organise all resources and stakeholders in the best possible way to achieve this aim of owner value growth. And further, those who are best at achieving this rise to the top and become the leaders.

We know that these things called organisations can cause some very odd human behaviour. For one, isn’t it pretty odd when we think about it that in organisations where only 13% of employees say they are engaged, all the employees turn up daily, on time and do the work they’re told to do, at least in principle. Further, we know from the work of experts like Stanley Milgram (famous obedience experiments) that the authority, status and title of being a leader can enable us to hold enormous and powerful sway over others. For those unfamiliar with Milgram’s experiments, he took subjects in to a lab situation where fake other subjects were required to learn and memorise random pairs of information. When they made mistakes the subject was required to administer an electric shock to them. If they showed disquiet about doing this they were instructed to continue by an official, lab-coated technician who clearly held authority in the lab. Shockingly (pun intended), almost all subjects in this situation continued to administer ever stronger levels of shocks to the person in the other room, even when they were screaming for mercy or even appeared to have passed out due to the extreme pain. They may have shown stress and anxiety in what they were doing, but all the time the authority figure told them to carry on doing it, they continued.

Modern society has many ways, right from when we’re very small, of drilling in to us the importance of compliance with authority. Whether it’s parents or teachers in school, so much of what goes on is about obedience, compliance and rewards and punishments are used continually to reinforce the ‘correct’ behaviours. To my mind, this raises some critical questions that i believe we’re not asking enough and where we shy away from the very difficult discussions we need to have;

a) As parents and educators, we need to challenge ourselves in critical ways as to our role and duties when dealing with children. Is our primary duty to teach them how to comply? When schools put ‘citizenry’ on the syllabus is this about performing a role for society that will make people do what they’re told, when they’re told, how they’re told?

b) As parents and educators do we inadvertently find ourselves acting as the agents for compliance with the small minority who wield the real power in our society, whether those are politicians or big businesses? Do we see frequent examples in our school activities and the syllabus that are actually about reinforcing, for example, beliefs that consumerism is a good, healthy and positive way to exist in the modern world? Do we, consciously or unconsciously, teach children that having things, acquiring things and joining in the pursuit of the latest shiny objects is a positive, healthy way to live in the world – almost that it’s our duty? The reality is that whether we like it or not we live in a modern society where if a sufficient number of us switched to consuming more for our need rather than our wants, modern consumerist, production based economies would hit crisis very quickly.

c) As educators, especially in the private sector, we’re fond of selling our credentials on the basis of our inclination to develop young people who will be leaders tomorrow. However, do our actions match our words? If we teach children in elementary classes that blind obedience is the only way to comfortably succeed in our classrooms, are we actually producing tomorrow’s compliant followers and obedient grunts, rather than true leaders? Worse, are we, at times, producing those who will be very good at ‘kissing up and kicking down’ who will form the vital middle layer that enables the vast majority to be controlled by the tiny minority?

d) Further, are those of us engaged in International education in developing countries part of an inadvertent process where we trade off access to greater worldly knowledge and exposure for the efficiency of compliance that will ensure that those countries don’t rise to preeminence at the expense of our own ‘Western’ countries current superiority?

e) If we are leaders in the educational domain, why do our schools need ‘anti-bullying’ policies? Is bullying such a ubiquitous and natural activity that we need a deliberate policy against it? Or, is that we create such awful artificially competitive environments in our schools that children’s behaviour is steered towards acts of physical violence towards each other as an unfortunate byproduct?

f) If we are leaders in the educational domain, how should we lead if we wish to have schools/ organisations that are sensitive to the needs of all stakeholders and produce a caring culture that provides the right environment for children to grow and develop naturally?

g) What, if anything, can educational leaders already teach leaders in other types of organisations? It already seems to me that there’s ample evidence that old style leadership ways of manipulation, sticks and carrots and force/ pressure are not producing the outcomes that the organisations seek for the longer term. I personally know that I had been trained in many ways in the traditional and conventional late Twentieth Century leadership approaches and style during my time working for a major UK bank.

As I transitioned in to the education sector, especially in Asia, I realised that I had to un-learn so much of what i took for granted. If I had lead in education the way I had lead in banking I would have achieved very poor results. In my early career I often had bosses who would ‘provoke and cajole’ me to be very task oriented. People issues certainly came second. Even as I was later encouraged to shift my position, it was conveyed that you needed to give people a higher priority (after making sure that you make all the top-down targets that are set). So, you get the classic middle-manager stress – you’re told to be a people person and to carry people with you, whilst being managed from on high in a thoroughly task oriented manner. The result, for many is phony people orientation that is actually more manipulative than caring.

So, having been thinking about these things (what else do you do with a four day Chinese New Year break from the office?) I was stimulated to write this piece when i read this article from Greg Thompson of Bluepoint Leadership Development.

Bluepoint Leadership – The Gentle Leader

In the article, Greg makes the case that the time of the ‘wolves’ is over – leaders who use good, bad, honest and dishonest means to achieve their goals and to meet the simple ends of maximising owner value at any cost in organisations. Instead, he advocates for a form of leadership that is far more akin to Servant Leadership. Some make the mistake of interpreting servant leadership as the leaders making themselves martyrs to organisation and people, everyone’s whipping boys to be used and abused. I don’t interpret it that way. For one, in the pursuit of the best interest of the most, there are times when a servant leader is duty bound to get tough with individuals who put their self-interest ahead of the collective needs. Also, the leader has a duty to lead the debate around vision and the fundamental purpose of the organisation. They then owe it to the collective group to address issues of individuals whose ideology or actions are incompatible with that agreed vision. However, when they have to deal with such situations, they must maintain the dignity of the individual and deal with circumstances with compassion. people need to be given reasonable chance to align, but the key is alignment to a commonly agreed and shared set of goals, rather than something artificially imposed from the top.

The rewards for getting leadership right in this age are more motivated and engaged employees, the fish shoal swimming in a common direction, less worthless conflict, lower employee turnover and a greater ability to attract highly motivated, talented employees in to the organisation.

Some fear that gentler, more collaborative and open leadership leads to harm to the interests of the organisation. Plainly, if a company has the scope to introduce technology that will significantly reduce costs compared to competitors, but at the expense of 30% of employees losing their roles, it requires a very mature level of understanding throughout the organisation to engage employees in a debate that sees them put the organisation’s needs ahead of their own short term self-interest. However, if employees in that scenario knew that the alternative was loss of competitive position and maybe even the complete failure of the organisation, they may see and understand the need. The compassionate and gently lead organisation provides support and help for retraining and job alternatives for those impacted and the level of trust is such that they understand what needs to happen.

Community in organisations and trust isn’t necessarily built in those challenging times. Rather, it’s built over the long time whether things are going well or poorly, so that there is a surplus of trust to be drawn upon in those challenging times.

In conclusion, school and educational leadership comes in all sorts of shades and levels of quality. However, I believe we’re now in a time where the best of schools leadership offers lessons and guidance to the leadership of many more types of organisations about what it means to build community, to lead with caring and compassion and to give a genuine voice to all stakeholders whilst leading towards a vision which is truly inspirational for all stakeholders.

Coach John Wooden

John Wooden was a phenomenally successful basketball coach who, over the years, was responsible for developing some of the greatest talents in American basketball and coached highly successful teams to great success. However, more than all of that, he was renowned in many ways for his wisdom and insightful observations on how to coach and how to lead people in ways that bring out their success.

So, I was really delighted to find these two audios that amount to almost two hours of Tony Robbins interviews with John Wooden. Both the recordings are packed with insights, evidence of John Wooden’s phenomenal integrity and the evidence of how genuinely he cared for and loved those he led. Within the two podcasts there are so many thought-provoking ideas and observations that they justify listening to a few times over.

Tony Robbins – Podcasts – The Great John Wooden

Whilst sharing the podcasts, I also thought it useful to share one of the things for which Coach Wooden has been most renowned over the years – his Pyramid of Success. This may have been developed 60 years ago, but is still highly relevant for leading, working for success in life and being part of high achieving teams;

Coach John Wooden – Pyramid of Success

Toxic Staffrooms and The Courage To Lead

Great educators are by their nature reflective. They take time to ‘look inwards’, to reflect on their actions, their words and their impact on others. At times this can lead them to be quite ‘confessional’. However, such occasions do sometimes provide opportunities for introspection for their fellow educators.

Here’s an article from an American teacher that is almost confessional in nature, but that touches on something that too many teachers and leaders in schools all over the world have experienced – the potential toxicity of staffrooms. She also makes the valid point that it’s not limited or confined to a particular place or room, but manifests anywhere in a school where talk is overly negative, cynical or crosses the line to become gossip-laden.

Edweek – Why I Avoid The Teachers’ Lounge, And You Should Too

There are many factors that go in to making up the culture of a school. Among the most influential aspects that are all encompassed under ‘leadership’, I believe are;

a) Vision, Mission and values (V-M-V) that are clearly articulated, inspiring, exciting and it’s made clear that they are for every stakeholder in the organisation. It can be all too easy to see the articulation of V-M-V as a ‘one-off exercise’ – a quick inspiring talk to the staff at the beginning of the year and job done. V-M-V have to be made a living, dynamic part of every activity, every significant discussion and it has to be clear that they’re not a five minute wonder, but a fundamental part of the school for the longer term. It must also be very clear that they apply in all respects to all stakeholders; pupils, teachers, non-academic staff, parents and even outside vendors who support the school’s activities. They are not a menu to pick and choose from on a whim and, as adults, we have to be very clear that we are to model the values as consistently as we can for the children, holding ourselves accountable to the highest professional standards. We must walk our talk.

b) Accountability – In short, a leader can’t lack the courage or sense to lead and cannot be denied their right/ duty to do so. There can be times and occasions which are hard to deal with. Informal leaders can emerge who consciously or unconsciously espouse values and beliefs different to the organisation or who have bad habits (e.g. toxic gossiping) that are highly detrimental to the good of the institution. When the individual is a ‘good teacher’ in the classroom this can be especially tough. It is the leaders’ duty to guide and counsel the person, coach them, hold them accountable for the actions which are harming the organisation. Ultimately, despite the fact that they can deliver good work themselves, in the worst case scenario where they won’t or can’t change it can be right for the leaders to decide to part ways with the individual. Ultimately, permitting someone to exist in the organisation espousing or practicing incongruent values can be a worse failure of leadership than allowing someone who lacks skills or competence in their role.

When the leadership has given the individual every chance to change, there is no failure in taking ultimate responsibility. However, we need to be aware – toxic staffroom people can be popular people at a personal level, especially if they satisfy a personal need of staff members to have an outlet for negative feelings!

c) MBWA – this was a wonderful acronym I learned from the business writer, Tom Peters, many years ago. It stands for Management By Walking About. In essence, it’s simple and clear – as leaders we’ve got to put ourselves out there, even if that requires some very rigid and forceful diary management and the strength to say ‘No’ at the right times. In my view, this is probably a more critical factor in schools than in any other kind of organisation. Schools are all about people. As a leader, if we choose to allow it, there will always be more than enough people who can create situations that seem to justify us spending our entire work day in our offices. However, we must never forget that sitting in our offices we receive only the information from the outside environment that others choose to send us/ bring us or lead us towards. When it comes to ‘Teachers’ lounge’ tendencies, this can actually risk leaders becoming part of the very issue that threatens the culture of their school or department. Then, we become reliant on only the perspectives of others about people, mood and ground realities – instead of going out and really feeling things for ourselves, hearing what everyone has to say (not just those who choose to bring us information). School leaders must ensure they carve out time to see things for themselves, to hear people and genuinely listen to all stakeholders and to get their own feel for what is happening in all areas of their school.

I once joined an organisation where I discovered that there was an accepted norm/ practice that required the Principal to knock and virtually ask for permission to enter the staff room! To me this was symptomatic of some past MBWA breakdown. What could staff possibly be doing, in the staffroom, in school, that the Principal didn’t have the right to know? After a few weeks we learned a great example of what was going on in that staffroom. New teachers would get cornered by ‘old’ established teachers and mocked for their hard work, attempts to innovate and compliance with requests/ directions from the school leadership. There was a kind of mafia of cynicism in that room that plainly was not in the best interests of the school and certainly not in the interests of children and their learning. New staff were stressed and hurt by the conflicts they were experiencing between the positive and inspiring words of the school leadership and this localised negativity. Situations like this are tricky to deal with. If you confront those concerned directly they may turn against those who they believe have ‘grassed on them’. It could have left a new teacher very vulnerable. Ultimately, we were able to find out from loyal committed longer term staff that this had happened multiple times. As a result, when the individuals concerned were confronted they had no one person they could target. Some immediately distanced themselves from the problem by staying in their classrooms during free periods. Ultimately, two who might have been considered ringleaders left and went elsewhere (where word reached us that at least one was doing the same thing!)

When we step up to be leaders it shouldn’t be for money, or for status or personal prestige. It really has to be because we want to make a positive difference in the education field. Our best opportunities to do that flow out of the extent to which the ‘butterflies fly in formation’ and that comes out of both words and practice aligned to common understanding of V-M-V.

A final word for teachers – in this time of school break and the opportunity to reflect on our practice – if you think that maybe, like the writer of the article, you’ve been inadvertently sucked in to being part of staffroom issues, now is the time to commit and pledge yourself to rise above them, to strengthen your commitment to the V-M-V of your school (and I stress, I’m talking here to all teachers everywhere). We can decide to be part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.

Charisma Is Not Leadership

For today, here’s a short video perspective from the great Jim Collins (Good to Great)

Charisma doesn't equal leadership. Rather, humility and commitment to something bigger than self mark out the greatest leaders. 'Burning compulsive ambition,' in Collins' words translated in to decisions and action.

Leaders For Education

Lots of research has suggested that when you look at the impact of leaders (i.e. their propensity to determine the difference between OK and great organisational outcomes), school leaders (Principals, Heads etc.) have a bigger impact than leaders of equivalent seniority in companies and commercial environments.

So, it has long been a concern of mine when we see education leadership development as such a weak area. I believe that there are underlying assumptions that are not helping. Perhaps the biggest is that if you take teachers who show good people skills, willingness to work longer and harder and teach them a few basic skills, they will be ready and able to step up to become leaders.

This US article shows that there are initiatives that acknowledge that more is needed;

Washington Post – Wallace Foundation To Invest $47 million In Redesigning Principal Preparation

This is positive, but worldwide there’s far more needed. This includes both on and off-job change. On the job, schools and school organisations need to learn far more from the commercial world about identifying future talent for development and how to support them outside the interests of their immediate leaders as ‘whole organisation’ long term assets.

In the long term, better prepared leaders will lead to better schools, to the benefit of all stakeholders.