Leadership Reflection: Being Teachable. How do you rate?

Once upon a time the leader had to know everything.

As our society has shifted in the last couple of decades, one of the crucial areas in leading today is being teachable. In this era of accessible knowledge and collaborative problem solving, leadership has become open – open to the ideas of others and open to embracing change, rather than maintaining the status quo. The current thinking that knowledge is shared, our skills complement one another and one person doesn’t need to know everything, challenges the notion of the stereotypical boss, the solo operator, secreted away in the corner office.

Post-war President of the USA, Harry S Truman, famously had the sign on his desk “The Buck Stops Here”.

buckstopshere

The President made the decisions and accepted the ultimate responsibility for those decisions. While a principal, CEO and even President still carries the weight of responsibility for decisions and subsequent actions, effective people-centred leadership in the 21st century is less autocratic and unilateral. Change, decision-making and development can be stalled, as one person becomes a bottleneck through which all activity must pass.

Putting aside our own agendas and being open to learn from others is challenging at first, but is ultimately freeing. Being teachable is essential to being an open leader. Without this as a key value leaders can default to “The Buck Stops Here” mentality and all the baggage it may carry.

For those of us in the business of education the shoe is often on the other foot, we are the teachers. Shifting that mindset to being a learner, deliberately becoming teachable. This ultimately breaks habits that can hinder growth potential.

What does it mean to be teachable?

1. I need to recognise that I am constantly growing
Not: “I’ve got it all sorted”
What new skills have you learnt in the past 12 months?
Have you put yourself into a challenging situation?
Do you allow yourself to fail?

2. I am willing to change
Not: “I’m comfortable here”
How often are your colleagues revisiting the same things with you?
Do you keep defaulting to past behaviours?
Do you find yourself longing for the good old days?
Are you defensive when someone makes a suggestion?

3. I must listen, no, really listen
Not: “I’ll tell you what I think”
Do you listen to people, no, really listen?
Are you able to give yourself completely to another’s perspective or idea?
Can you listen without considering a response?

4. I accept that others can teach me
Not: “I have all the resources I need”
How self-aware are you? Do you know your gaps?
Are you able to identify areas of growth?
Are you open to put aside your tried and true methodology?

5. I am comfortable with uncertainty
Not: “Everything is in its place”
Can you cope with the messiness of change?
Are you able to push out into uncharted waters?
How does disruption affect you?

Slide1

All of us need to work hard at remaining teachable. . As leaders we set the culture and this is a culture that I would like to see flourish in my world.

@anneknock

Cutting through the edu-jargon: What does it mean to be a ‘coach’? 5 attributes of great coaches

Just like the term ‘facilitator’, the ‘coach’ is often used to describe the role of the educator and leader. When used, heads nod in agreement, and then what? Do we assume that we either know what it means, or are actually doing it?  ‘The Coach’ is quite a defined role and it is worth looking at the attributes of great coaching to see how they can apply to the education sector.

I came across a post on the Melbourne Sports Institute website: “Defining and Explaining Great Coaching”. The original study by Andrea Becker in International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching broke down more than 60 attributes that emerged from athlete questionnaires of great coaching. In education, either as a leader or teacher, successful coaching provides an effective approach to developing skills, establishing culture and creating an encouraging and goal-focused learning environment.

For each area below analyse yourself as an effective coach.

1. Personal attributes of the coach

As with any leadership role, the internal qualities of the leader are what shines the loudest. In sport, great coaches display certain attributes. They have a passion for the game and are experts, always learning, always updating their knowledge. It is crucial that coaches see potential in the people they lead.

Introspectively, great coaches are real people who make mistakes and admit mistakes. They are emotionally stable, genuine, loyal and honest. Character matters and modelling behaviours such as commitment, discipline and being organised.

Coach’s Checklist:

  • Passionate about what makes a great teacher or leader
  • Ongoing learning and development
  • See potential and growth in others
  • Admit mistakes
  • Emotionally stable
  • Real and genuine
  • Consistently model desired behaviours

2. Culture of the learning environment

In sport, the coach creates an athlete-centred environment, focusing on individual growth is essential to the success of the team. This then leads to a team-centred approach, collectively creating the culture of achieving what is best collectively. Coaches are accessible, approachable and good listeners, creating an atmosphere for the athlete to flourish. The practice environment is well-planned, highly structured and game-like, it replicates the authentic purpose.

Coach’s Checklist:

  • Ensure a learner or team centred environment
  • Clear about the desired culture for success
  • Accessible
  • Good listener
  • Well-planned and executed coaching structure
  • Authentic outputs for the team/individual

3. Coaching relationships

The relationship with the team or individual extends beyond achieving the task itself. The quality of the relationship matters.

The personal attributes of the coach are the grounding for creating the relationships that underpin the success of the athlete. These relationships are both professional and personal, strong and lasting. They are built on a foundation of trust, confidence and respect. The coach takes responsibility for the team or individual performance when things go bad.

Athletes are provided care and respect and they know that the coach believes in them. Players are empowered because they are included in the decision-making.

Coach’s Checklist:

  • Believe the best for the team
  • Put relationship first
  • Trustworthy
  • Respectful
  • Caring
  • Humility
  • Empowering of the team/individual

4. Behaviours of a great coach

These behaviours extend beyond the particular focus of the players and extends to life skills. Coaches help players achieve high expectations and these qualities are very consistent with great teaching, using a variety of instructional methods and pacing the coaching according to learner need

High level coaches prepare meticulously, they are focussed on the details. Coaching is not random. Great coaches create great systems. They also own the systems and believe they are essential for success.

Most importantly is the impact of effective communication. Great coaches remain confident, calm and emotionally stable under pressure. Communication needs to be clear, consistent and honest. It is well-timed, motivating and positive.

Coach’s Checklist:

  • Whole person focus, not just task completion
  • Teach identified and essential skills
  • Vary instruction methods
  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
  • Implement a system for coaching
  • Effective communicator
  • Stable under pressure

The role of coach in both professional development and student learning is a broad and encompassing role. After reading this, I have come to the conclusion that it is also an essential role in any workplace or school. There are, however, a discrete set of skills to enable the team or individual success. It is easy to say “the teacher’s role is now more like a coach” and leave it there, how often have you heard that?

What if we committed to a coaching culture? This means at a school staff level, coaching becomes a significant approach to professional development, that is then embedded in the school culture and becomes a model for student learning.

@anneknock

 

Teacher as “facilitator” cutting through the jargon. Try this quick quiz.

We’ve all heard it teachers are coach, the ‘guide on the side not sage on the stage’ and facilitator. These words are easy to say, but what do they actually mean?

Slide14Last week we had a great group from Melbourne come to NBCS for an Immersion Day. These are opportunities beyond Edu-tourism, to drill down, gain clarity in priorities and identify next steps. I really enjoy working with these groups. Facilitating is not telling people what they should do, but providing the conditions for the group to learn through input – knowledge and experience – and then provide time and space for them to process and develop their own outcomes, for their own school.

facilitate (v) to make easy
1610s, from Fr. faciliter “to render easy”

There are a few key elements of effective facilitation:

  • Leading people through a process of agreed objectives
  • Encouraging participation, ownership and productivity
  • Creating conditions where participants feel safe
  • Ensuring that the group is the star
  • Achieving their outcomes

Probably, the most important point is that a facilitator recognises that the answer is ‘within’ the individual or group, they have the capacity to find a solution. The facilitator guides the process and allows the group to draw their own conclusions. They empower the group and then step back.

The art of facilitating has four priorities:

Clarity of the task: what needs to be completed

Facilitator, know thyself: impact of the facilitator on the process

Empower the group or individual: Channeling the energy and understanding the group dynamics

Enable the process:  Create the right environment to get the work done

2013-09-05 04.19.01Allowing for the process doesn’t mean operating without structure. The best facilitators implement a structure that feels organic and fluid to the participant, yet it is well-thought through and meticulously planned. It is much easier to be a controlling content knowledge specialist than an effective facilitator. Facilitators work in-the-moment – they are ‘present’ with the group. This is their highest priority as a practitioner.

It’s not always easy to take that step back and allow the group to own the process and outcomes. Human nature wants to take control. When we consider teachers as facilitators the responsibility for learning is the students’.

Here’s the paradox: Facilitator is a leadership role where the power resides in the group.

Teacher as facilitator: What does it mean?

Being substantively neutral
Not the only source of knowledge and expertise

Create a climate of collaboration
Not command and control

Provide a range of tools and resources to help the group find their answers
Not one way is the only way

Being a content knowledge expert is challenging in the era of teacher as facilitator. Where once you were a teacher because of what you knew, now, the role is more about what the student needs to know to achieve their own learning goals. Handing over the responsibility of learning to the student is not abandoning the job of the teacher. Content matters. As with the group from Melbourne coming to our school. I presented input and knowledge from our experience, but then provided the conditions for them to set priorities and next steps.

Try this quick quiz. Do you:

  1. Need to be the focus of every session with your students?
  2. Know what it means to be ‘present’?
  3. Embrace the notion of making the way for learning *easy?
  4. Have a toolkit of ideas and resources to employ as needed?
  5. Commit to seeking the needs of the group or individual, not your own?
  6. Believe that collaboration plays a significant role in learning today?
  7. Allow the students to plan and drive their learning?

This is what a facilitator does.

@anneknock

* easy is a challenging word here. It is not used in the sense that there is no rigour, but that the teacher’s role makes the path clearer.

The Listening Leader: Collaboration is critical to innovation and opening possibilities #Level4Listener

ChurchillLast week I attended a facilitator training workshop at Centre for Continuing Education at Sydney University. These two days were probably among the my most valuable learning experiences, ever.

To facilitate means to ‘draw out’ and the create hospitable settings for conversation and dialogue. (Lord & Hutchison, 2007)

Facilitation is a leadership role in which decision-making power resides in the members of the group. This frees the facilitator to focus on creating a climate of collaboration and provides the group with the structure it needs to be effective. (Bens, 2012)

I had expected to spend two days assiduously taking notes about being a facilitator, when in reality our ‘facilitator’ led the process of learning by immersing us in the ‘doing’. He modelled everything, from the room set up, the culture of the group and communication.

Of all the many things we processed and experienced, one thing shouted out loud to me:

LEADERS LISTEN.Covey
Facilitating is a leadership skill, essential for those who are professionals in the field and valuable to those who move people, from A to B and implement strategies. Listening matters. But it is not “just’ listening – but how to listen. Listening recognises that I cannot know everything, but collectively we can make a difference.

Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. (Scharmer, www.theoryu.com)

In Theory U, C. Otto Scharmer identifies four different types of listening. He talks about the inner world of the leader and that successful leadership depends on the attention and intention that the leader brings to a situation. This is similar to self leadership or personal leadership, looking inward before leading others.

The listening leader makes a difference. In the past great leaders have been orators, ideas-generators and trail blazers. They moved ahead, often with others scrambling to keep up. Listening may not have been a key skill as these leaders seem to already know the answers. However, in the complexity of the knowledge age, when information can be easily accessed and people readily mobilised to action, a new type of leader is required.

As leaders today, listening is a critical skill for us.  How do we need to listen?

Level 1. Downloading: Hears what is already known. Re-confirms

Level 2. Factual: Pays attention to facts and focuses on what differs from that which is already known. New Knowledge

Level 3. Empathic: Sees through the eyes of another. Redirected

Level 4. Generative: An open heart and open will, listens from the emerging field of possibility. Changed

(Scharmer, paraphrased)

Level 4 builds on the previous levels and is essential in leading innovation, being open and listening for possibilities, from wherever they may emerge. It changes us.

Level 4 Listening: How to be a Generative Listener

Listen to:

  • Yourself, first, to what life calls you to do.
  • The others, those that may be related to that call.
  • That which emerges from the collective you convene

The journey of innovation starts with embracing the incompleteness of self and that of the challenge ahead. As the leader, listening to our own sense or calling and purpose is the starting point and cannot be ignored.

Other people are the essential contributors to the journey, not just the partakers of the end-product. This puts collaboration front and centre of innovation, not just an add-on process.  As Scharmer puts it, this involves leading with an open heart and open will. Grounded in the purpose and then listening with wholeness.

Leadership is so much more that taking people on a mystery tour toward change.

@anneknock

Reference: Theory U: Addressing the Blind Spot of our Time

My top 10 challenges to become an innovative school #revisited

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about my top 10 ideas for an innovative school, its been the most viewed post.  Although it’s not definitive, it’s helpful to have a guide that can shape strategy. This time I’ve added a few challenges.

Revisiting the ideas, and updating for 2014:

1. A vision for learning is incessantly and clearly communicatedOrestad Gymnasium

  • What is your vision? Make sure you know where you are going.
  • Find ingenious and relentless ways to communicate it.

Who are the keepers of the vision?How do you empower the carriers of the vision?

2. Learning is future-focused

  • Shape the learning context for change
  • Observe the students, see how they work and communicate

How can you have less fixed and more flexible features?
What is happening in the world of work that can directly relate to school?

3. Culture takes time and persistence to embed

  • Once you have the vision – prioritise your steps. Change will take time and strategy
  • If you believe it, be resolute. Help those who are struggling to change, but stick to your guns.

Do you have a shared language?
What are the non-negotiables of culture?

4. Engaged and motivated students are the goal 2011-03-03_0088

  • Put current practices through the ‘learning’ filter – do they still belong?
  • Think about your own conditions for productivity and creativity, maybe it’s same for students

What strategies will make learning relevant and authentic?
What practices
disengage and de-motivate students?

5. Equipped and supported staff are essentialIMG_1218

  • Vision + ‘Learning’ Filter = Regular PD to support through change
  • We can’t change the way teachers teach until we change the way teachers learn

How much teacher-talk is OK?
What is the baseline expectation for IT proficiency?

6. Technology is an environment for learning, not the driver

  • This is not about who has the most bright shiny toys
  • Students live in a world of technology – the school-world needs be relevant

Is technology almost invisible?
Are you embracing the opportunities that the cloud opens?

7. Relationships matter

  • In the midst of all the learning, technology and activity nothing matters more than quality relationships
  • Students need to belong, be known, valued and accepted. This is only achieved through relationship

What activities deliberately get your teachers working (and playing) together?
Is relational learning seen to be important in your culture?

8. Learning is authenticNEMO

  • Set in a real-world context, skills will be learnt readily when there is purpose
  • Provide opportunities for students to be world-changers

Are your teachers passionate and infectious about their subject matter?
Does school feel like the real world or school-world?

9. Spaces for learning are welcoming and comfortable2012-10-03 13.27.20

  • This is not about bright shiny spaces and colourful furniture, it is about aesthetically pleasing environments where students (and teachers) will want to come to learn
  • Not all spaces (AKA classrooms) or furniture need to look the same

 

Have you visited a workplace that shows new ways of work?
Have you looked beyond the school furniture catalogue?

10. Creativity and innovation have expressionThe Zone

  • There will always be barriers to innovation, find ways to break or go around them.
  • Make this your culture, give it voice, take risks, embrace failure

 

 

 

What’s blocking innovation in your school?
What’s your next step?

@anneknock

Team Leadership Lessons: Confront the brutal facts. Now. How? #readon

Introduction

It was a sad photo in today’s morning daily.

The once proud former senior naval officer was walking away from court, his face stoney, his wife holding her hand up to shield the media’s glare, their son by alongside, his eyes down. The former head of one of our city’s transport authorities had been given a non-custodial sentence for “racking up $273,000 in personal expenses for things such as jewellery, holidays, alcohol, groceries and private school fees”.

He used his corporate credit card because “I was living beyond my means”, his wife had been unwell, coupled with finally being settled after life of dislocation in the military. In his mind the efficient solution was to misuse his employer’s (the state government) credit card. “I really had no choice” (Really?). For a range of unjustifiable reasons, he was unable to look ‘the present’ in the eye six years ago, and now ‘the future’ is not one that he had envisaged for this period of life.

OstrichOften, we talk about leadership in terms of vision, aspirations and great ideas, but unless we are real about today, we have the potential to undermine all the good work.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, identified the qualities of the Level 5 Leader, who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will and is able to look realistically at ‘the present’ and continually refine the path to greatness with the brutal facts of reality.

Confront the brutal facts.

Leaders at all levels and in all spheres of life are responsible to create the culture where truth, however unpalatable, can have a voice. The SWAT analysis scans the present, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, usually at the beginning of the planning process, but this alone doesn’t make plain-speaking a culture.

demotivateCollins also argues that the purpose of leadership is not to motivate people, if they are the right people around the big opportunity they will be motivated. He writes, The key is not to de-motivate them. One of the primary ways to de-motivate people is the ignore the brutal facts of reality.
Being honest and open in a highly respectful and relational context can help create the optimal platform for progress.

 

Here are the four basic practices (ref: Collins) for a team that build a culture of truth and openness:

Lead with questions, not answers
Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
Conduct autopsies, without blame
Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored

What does it mean in the reality of our everyday working life for you and your team:

  1. Make time for real conversations about your team’s work – permission for honesty is healthy within a culture where relationships matter
  2. Measure progress – and be honest about the information, avoid glossing over the facts and trends and living in one-day-some-day-land
  3. Be solutions focussed – Finding someone to blame may give self-satisfaction (that it wasn’t your fault), but it doesn’t help
  4. Know the questions to ask, and ask them – there is a real temptation to think, if I don’t ask, I won’t know. This is an avoidance and self-preservation tactic.
  5. Take action – when you know, you are responsible to do.
  6. Care more about the people and the vision than your own career path and aspirations – if you can’t do this, you probably need to go somewhere else.

We can only imagine the difference in the circumstances for the ex-Naval officer if he had addressed the facts/data in front of him, spoken up, however difficult it may be, managed the tense relational context, looked for (legal) solutions and then taken action. In writing this I am also reflecting on a painful situation we faced and the need to make difficult decisions. It wasn’t easy, in some ways it still isn’t, but it was worth it.

@anneknock

The Curious Leader: The 4 zones of comfort that keep your team stuck

CuriousHow curious are you?

Leaders are curious people, seeking to explore possibilities. If you are like me, something will spark your imagination, you will see a new opportunity and then start to explore. Then your big job is to help your team to catch the idea and step out of their comfort zone.

 

Curious… It has the desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope is interesting. Leaders are curious because they can’t wait to find out what the group is going to do next. The changes in the tribe are interesting, and curiosity drives them.Tribes, Seth Godin

They [curious people] are the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide.

Once recognised, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. Ever. And perhaps it’s such curiosity  that will lead us to distinguish our own greatness from the mediocrity that stares us in the face.  

(Seth Godin, 2008, Tribes: We need you to lead us)

“Lead the masses stuck in the middle” this is the challenge for the majority of leaders. If we think about it statistically, most of us work under a leader’s vision, and are responsible to bring a range of people along. They invariably represent a variety of positions, often brainwashed… into thinking it’s safe to do nothing.

The curious leader looks beyond the present and has an eye on the next steps, drip feeding the future, while simultaneously shaking people from their comfort zone. After all, Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. (Godin, 2008)

Alice in Wonderland

Transition your team from the four comfort zones:

The Mind Zone: This is what I know. It’s how I’ve always worked, and now you’re telling me what?

Present the research, the wisdom and the opportunity that the new idea or project will bring. When people become mindfully engaged, they will step up. Describe the big opportunity and cast vision. Repeat.

The Culture Zone: This is the way we’ve always done it… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Addressing cultural issues is essential to effective leadership. These are usually deeply held views, evident in behaviour and conversation. This means that the desired mindsets, behaviours and language are consistently modelled and reinforced.

The Familiar Zone: I’ve got all my tools and resources. We’ve all worked together for years.

The right tools for the job and positive working relationships are important to productive and meaningful work. Leaving comfort zones may mean deploying new teams and operations. Your team needs time to process this and establish new relationships. They will need training and coaching.

The Safe Zone: If I stay safe I can’t fail. New ideas might not work and then what do we do?

We all agree that feeling safe is an important human conditions. Leaders are usually people who can live with a degree of risk. Taking your team into unchartered waters requires trust. They need to trust that you know where you are going and where you are taking them will be better.

As Alice said, I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole — and yet — and yet — it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!

This rather curious sort of life is the stuff of adventures worth having.

@anneknock