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

Excuse me, Change Agent, what’s your strategy? How-to guide for educators.

I am on the board of Halogen Foundation. This is a wonderful opportunity to make a contribution to the leadership development for a generation. Halogen runs the hugely popular National Young Leaders Day across Australia and exists to:

“to inspire and influence a generation of young people to lead themselves and others well”

I really enjoy the board meetings and they are also a great learning experience for me, as we collaboratively develop strategy to guide the future direction of the organisation. Working with the fellow board members and the CEO we focus on the big picture. This is what strategy is all about.

A strategy is how we turn ideas into action.

An idea alone doesn’t change anything. Actions in isolation may either help or hinder. Articulating a strategy provides a plan. Yet, as the board chair at Halogen remarked at a recent board meeting, “a strategy is just a hypothesis”.

What is strategy?

Put simply, it relates to plans and actions that will help you to achieve goals. Blue sky thinking is really important in the early stage, but if we just stay there we will achieve little and just ‘do stuff’. There comes a time when strategy and discipline needs to be applied for change to become reality.

Many of us have learnt this along the way, yet as we face a society of fast-paced change, the skills and process of working strategically have become more critical. If we are working in teams on projects, then adopting a strategic approach facilitates progress.

Change AgentThis applies at every level of responsibility in a school, not just the executive team, remember:

  • Change agents are leaders
  • Leaders can be anywhere in an organisation

 

How do we develop strategy to meet our goals, however large or small?

If you have accepted the role of Change Agent, then growing the skills of strategic planning is an important step.

Developing goals and implementing a plan is a process available to anyone. No longer just the domain of the board or Senior Leadership Team.

Strategy involved three elements

Goals: Identifying what do you want to do

People: Deciding who is going to do it with you

Activity: Planning what things are you going to do (and by when)

Where do you start?

Strategic planning is a process that starts with a floodlight and
narrows into a laser beam.

The Floodlight

Your team: __________________________

Who is with you on this process? It is important that you are working collaboratively on the strategy. Educators are no longer lone rangers and need to work in teams.

Your goal: __________________________

Goals that are clear and well-articulated will guide process. It needs to be:

  • Relevant and add value to the school
  • Consistent with the school’s vision/mission/values
  • Completed by…
  • Measured
  • Achieve something purposeful and meaningful
  • Worth all the effort

Predict the Future: 

What will it look like when we have achieved our goal? Draw, make, creatively express the future. Have some fun in this stage. There needs to be a good reason why you have your goal. Leaders change things for the better. So, what is “the better”?

Understand the Now:

A realistic assessment of Where am I? is essential and a SWOT Analysis is a good place to gather information.

SWOT

What is the Big Opportunity?

The goal is important as the basis of the strategic plan, but may not be exciting enough to “sell” your idea to the team. Reframing your goal as a Big Opportunity makes the task ahead something that engages and excites people.

The Big Opportunity

Narrowing the beam

The next step is taking the broad information and start to focus the light on your goal. It’s time to put pen to paper on your idea. Spending time working on planning documents is essential and develops accountability. This involves articulating your goal in a way that creates a plan of action.

Start answering these big questions.

The next step

Narrowing your ideas even further involves making decisions and these decisions are commit to action. One of the most difficult thing is committing to a time frame.

The plan is your road map.

The plan

Strategic planning is a discipline. It’s not set in stone, you can deviate from the path as time progresses, but it provides the essential point for implementing ideas, guiding your team and leading change.

@anneknock

Change Agents are Leaders: Are these roadblocks preventing change for your team? #fourtransitions

The essence of leadership is change. Change unsettles people and obstacles emerge.

Of course, there are those of us that are quick to leap at something new, the ones who normally lead the way. These people, I know from personal experience, are excited by the vision for change and can see potential in the ‘new’ but can be frustrated by those that can’t easily embrace change.

At these times I am reminded of one of Covey’s Seven Habits - #5

Seek first to understand, then be understood.

If our role as leaders is to take people through change, it is helpful to consider the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, first developed in 1962 by Everitt Rogers, a professor of rural sociology.

Diffusion of Innovation

This graph helps to explain what is happening internally when people are faced with change. Not everybody will immediately think your plans and ideas are their own next steps. However, as leaders we are in the business of change and movement, not status quo and standing still.

(Image from Sinek, Start With Why)

 

At each stage of the Four Transitions to Culture Change different roadblocks can hinder the process

Four transitions

Building Knowledge:
Complacency

Shifting Mindsets:
Fear and doubt

Forming New Habits:
Stuck

Changing Culture:
Uncertainty

 


Complacency: I don’t need to change anything

When people are complacent they see no sense of urgency. There is comfort in doing what they have always done.

Creating a sense of urgency for change, providing the right and timely information can shift people out of self-satisfaction. This needs to be a true sense of urgency.

The change agent’s role is to know your people and know that they have different motivators. This will help you to provide the right information, experiences and examples that provides the evidence that change is required.

Solution: Create a sense of urgency


Fear and doubt: Will it be better or worse for me?

Overcoming fear and doubt is as much about listening, as it is speaking. We need to stop and listen. Change agents and innovators are excitable individuals. All of our communication needs to appreciate where we are and how we got to be here, and then point to a better future.

Unless there is a sense of confidence in the future and in the leaders to take them there, the necessary changes in behaviour will not be lasting.

Solution: Give confidence


Stuck: I can’t change the way I do things

“If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and the odds of your success go up dramatically.” Duhigg (2012), The Power of Habit

Brain research has taught us about habits. According to Duhigg, habits occur when our brain is in automatic mode. A behavioural cue triggers the brain, a routine kicks in, and then there is a reward. Habits change when the routine changes. The cue and the reward can stay the same, yet behaviour is transformed.

Solution: Replace the routine


Uncertainty: Is anyone else doing this

Certainty is achieved when people realise they aren’t the only ones thinking this way. The key to shifting the thinking in the late majority is showing them that there is a growing school of thought by many, not just the whacky few.

Twitter has been an incredible phenomenon in education. Many of us for many years have longed for change in education, yet felt alone. Being part of a social media tribe, sharing ideas and resources has meant that others thinking the same things can create a movement for change. There is power when we realise we aren’t alone.

Solution: Create a movement. Grow a tribe


Leadership takes people on a journey to a better future.

“If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”
Afghan proverb

@anneknock

Change Agents are Leaders: The four transitions toward culture change in your school

Change, culture and leadership are concepts that are inseparable.

Achieving the desired culture for your team or school requires a process of change, and leadership is essential to make this happen. In my last post I encouraged you to consider leading change and taking on the role of  a change agent wherever you are in your school, organisation, or even your family.

What makes you a leader is that there is an idea or a vision for the future that you cannot shake, and you are compelled to do something about it. This idea will make life better for someone and your mantra needs to be “if not me, then who?”

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Transitions are the phases we work through on the way to changing culture. If  we can simplify this process, then change can be more achievable. It doesn’t mean that change is necessarily as quick and as simple as we would like it to be, but a clear process can help to track progress.

As I have thought about this, played around with ideas and read about culture change, I have identified four transitions to change culture. The change process begins inside, and then as it reaches a critical mass of people, culture change occurs.Four transitions

1. Building Knowledge

2. Shifting Mindsets

3. Forming New Habits

4. Changing Culture

How can you grow a culture of collaboration in your school?

1. Building KnowledgeBuilding knowledge

Many people facing change want to know the facts. What does research tell us? Are there case studies we can draw from? What are the pros and cons? Providing the right conditions, the fertile ground of knowledge and information is the first step. This includes preempting questions and concerns and having some answers ready will help facilitate this process.

 

2. Shifting MindsetsShifting midsets

At some point during the Building Knowledge phase, the seed of a changing mindset will start to germinate. This is when we begin to have a change in attitude. There is a lot of pondering and thinking through what the vision will look like in reality.

 

 

 

3. Forming New HabitsForming new habits

As mindsets and attitudes change, the seed has taken root, the plant starts to rise above the surface and changing behaviour is evident. This behaviour shows new habits that are consistent with the vision and the desired culture.

 

 

 

4. Changing CultureChanging Culture

When there is a critical mass of changed behaviour, then the new culture can flourish. It’s not just one plant above the surface, but a landscaped garden begins to emerge.

 

 

 

Organisations everywhere are struggling to keep up with the pace of change – let alone get ahead of it.* This process is both continual and parallel. As leaders we need to accept the complexity and rate of change, because… If not you, then who?

@anneknock

*Accelerate, John P. Kotter, 2014

Position vacant – Change Agent: 6 characteristics required to lead change wherever you are.

Change AgentThis is an exciting time to be in education. There is a groundswell for change, that will eventually see governments and administrators stop and take notice. The innovation in school education that so many of us seek seems to be low on their policy agenda at the moment. So as a result leaders are emerging, individuals, groups and entire schools, are taking action and creating a movement.

 

The time for incremental, slow-moving change has passed, and now we need to step it up a pace. Leaders are restless people. They see and sense the need for change, but usually the biggest blocker is the culture that surrounds them. It can be conducive to change, or resistant. 

To change culture effectively we need to strategically position change agents in schools.

Position vacant: Change Agent

Thank you for applying to become a change agent. Before we go any further, you need to realise that being a change agent is synonymous with leadership. There are a plethora of change agent positions available. Here are a few things you need to know before applying:

Leaders change things.

Leaders are at all levels in an organisation.

Leaders are not content with the status quo

People are looking for leaders.

People will be poorly led, if that’s the only option available.

People often resist change.

Change is inspired by vision.

Change requires strategy

Change is effective when it disrupts the prevailing culture.

Change is a subject, an attitude or an environment that can polarise people. There are those who love it and those who are terrified by it and many in between who sit on a bell curve from acceptance to rejection.

Position Vacant: Change Agent

Essential Criteria for Change Agents

Only passionate, inspired and selfless individuals should apply. This is hard work, and in the initial phases, there may be little return for your effort. You will need to be:

Motivated by meaning and purpose: Being an effective change agent starts internally. You will not be successful if this is just your next step on the ladder of success. You want to do this because you know that change is essential to for growth, improvement and potential.

Positive outlook on life: You possess a can-do attitude that excites people and compels them to join you on the mission. You are known for being a glass-half-full kind of person.

Self awareness: Change agents are optimistic, but also have a good grasp on their own strengths and limitations. You need to build a team with complementary skills and talents. People with honest self-awareness attract great talent.

Courage to ask tough questions: This is not mutually exclusive with having a positive outlook. As a change agent you will not be a person who accepts the status quo. You will need to find alignment between roles and goals and develop a plan. This will mean shaking things up.

Warmth and good humour: Shaking things up and being courageous needs to be conveyed in such a way that relationships are not only maintained, but strengthened. Not everyone will accept your ideas, but that is a choice that they have made, so long as you have prioritised relationships along the way.

Authenticity: Maintaining trust and respect, through navigating difficult waters is essential. This is achieved by being real and responding in a way that models a healthy culture

Perks and conditions

Change agents can’t assume there will be any. You do it because you believe that students need an education that will better equip them for their future. You will, however, belong to a tribe of world-wide change agents.

There is no application process. Just get started and make a difference.

@anneknock


 

Ref: Dr Samual Chand - Ch 5: Change starts with me.

Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration

Charting a course for change: Is your culture the elephant in the room? (and other mixed metaphors)

Peter Drucker once famously said,  “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Culture: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society

How would you describe your school or organisation’s culture?

Positive, vibrant and exciting?

Demoralised, weary and fearful?

Or somewhere in between?

Leaders are in the process of continuous change, taking people on a journey.  As the leader you may have an inspiring strategic plan, clearly articulated mission and vision statements, and effective systems and processes in place, but unless the culture is assessed and addressed, these grand plans will come to nothing, by “breakfast”.

Your culture is the most powerful factor in change, it determines:

  • speed of change
  • receptivity for change
  • health of your people
  • impact of your vision and mission
  • effectiveness and influence in the long term

What’s floating your boat?

Sydney to HobartOne of my favourite places over summer is Nielsen Park on the harbour in Sydney. It is the vantage point for the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in December each year and I find it fascinating to watch the boats jostle for position, maintain speed and agility until the siren starts the race.

What does sailing and culture have in common?

Your boat

There is an interconnection between each of these elements but the hull is what makes it a boat, and in the same way, it’s the culture that makes or breaks any organisation. None is culture-free. Without the hull, the other parts become the accessories.

Is this still a boat?

Dr Samuel Chand* identifies the types of cultures that define an organisation and impact the ability to progress.

How would you describe your culture?

Inspiring: Sleek, fast, regatta-winning boat with prevailing winds

Accepting: Potential to do well in the regatta.

Stagnant: Becalmed and not going anywhere

Discouraging: Not a very well-maintained boat

Toxic: The boat may look really good on the outside, but is not seaworthy and actually dangerous

What do you need to do?

If Drucker’s famous statement is true, then a leader cannot ignore the prevailing culture, despite how exciting and innovative the vision and mission may be.

The place to start is under the waterline – building an environment of trust, respect and authenticity.

@anneknock

*Ref: Dr Samual Chand, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration

Leadership again: “I’ve opened the space for learning, now what?” #thingsyoushouldneversay

Imagine if the story of the stork delivering the baby was true.

When I was young, kids’ TV shows didn’t dare mention, or even allude to, the real method of conception and delivery. Instead, we saw the image of a stork delivering a baby, perhaps unsuspectingly, to the happy couple.

The Stork

“The baby’s here, now what?” Imagine that.

Prior to the arrival of our first-born, by the conventional method of course, there was much preparation for this newest family member. We made initial plans and preparation for the responsibilities ahead – bought supplies, furniture and the enormous amount of equipment that the small person apparently required.

When he arrived we muddled our way through. As time went on we adjusted our plans and expectations, however, the months of preparation were essential. This baby was going to change our lives. It definitely wasn’t a matter of ‘business as usual’ once he arrived.

Open Space Learning: From conception to inceptionPArklands

Like any great idea, plan or endeavour there is a point of conception, when the idea was first formed. I have heard anecdotal accounts of teachers arriving for the new school year, finding walls down and shared learning spaces created. It didn’t end well.

Just like prior to the arrival of a baby, there are significant preparations to be made. The role of the team/school leader is to simultaneously listen and respond to concerns and to reinforce vision and direction.

At Northern Beaches Christian School shared spaces for learning are constantly being developed. In 2008 it started with Year 7 in the Global Learning Village, 2010 with The Zone for Stage 3 and Year 8 Quest for an integration of Science and Geography. Over the past few years the idea has spread across primary, to maths, design, technology and music.Rhythm & Blues

The development of each of these spaces requires constant attention, prior to staff and students using the open space, and then continued development, even after occupancy:

From conception – the germ of the idea

1. Reinforce a positive mindset, while considering every concern

If you truly believe that opening and sharing learning spaces are the right thing, then stick with it. Listen to concerns, respond to them, be empathic and supportive, while simultaneously resolute about the decision.

2. Design the space to achieve the vision The Zone

A sledgehammer to the walls is only the first step. Unless the physical environment is carefully crafted the space will more than likely default to a modified single cell use. Name and define zones within the open space.

3. Constantly communicate the desired culture (behaviour)

Be clear on how the space will be used. Communicate it and communicate it again. Share stories and paint pictures. Spark excitement and enthusiasm. The more that the leader talks about the changes the better.

To inception – the starting point

4. Be fluid and flexible Design Studio

Once staff and students start using the space adjustments will be made. This is normal. The vision remains clear, but execution needs to be tweaked. As a leader, be involved in all these discussions. It is important to keep the vision clear.

5. Take action to ensure that behaviours don’t default to old ways

Without reinforcing the vision, culture and desired behaviours old habits can creep in. Cupboards and bookcases can become walls spaces become delineated instead of fluid zones. Communicate vision and communicate it again

Opening spaces for learning is definitely not a ‘business as usual’ activity. Like the passing of time between conception and delivery of a baby, preparations for this ‘baby’ needs to commence as early as possible. School leaders not only need to fully own the decision, but give teachers the support and encouragement for the idea to grow and mature.

@anneknock