Everything worthwhile I’ve ever tried has involved an element of struggle and I suppose I must have had a few failures along the way. Academically I wouldn’t have been identified as a more able pupil when I was at school and university; I learned to read late (according to my teachers), I struggled with ‘O’ Level Maths, wrestled manfully with Statistics at ‘A’ Level and just about survived my first year at uni, though admittedly that was largely down to my developing investigation into the properties of alcohol and a healthy interest in sport rather than lack of ability. I was deemed a risky pass when I attended the Army’s Regular Commissioning Board and to cap it all I’ve even taught the odd lesson that might have been a little shy of outstanding. But I don’t enjoy getting things wrong, or even readily admit that I have – ask my wife – and consequently I do sometimes take the easy option. But…..I do know that if you want to improve you have to be prepared to experiment and consequently there are going to be some mistakes. I am a curious person, I enjoy a challenge and I don’t give up until I’ve made some improvement. So I guess I’m a lover of learning.
My name is Richard Miller. I am currently an Assistant Headteacher (Personal Development) at a secondary school in Suffolk, UK. I teach history, citizenship, sociology and cultural capital for pupils aged 11-18. I am particularly interested in teaching more able pupils and looking for innovative and creative approaches to learning and teaching. I use the blog as my reflective journal - the views I share are 'work in progress'!
Mind the gap!
That there are strong practical and moral arguments for addressing gaps in educational attainment is easy to accept. In ‘The Light is Worth the Candle’ Professor Denis Mongon writes that closing these gaps “is a contribution to three distinct though overlapping ambitions that any society should expect of its education service:
- private returns, the personal benefits to individuals, often expressed in terms of income, occupation, wellbeing and health
- social returns, often expressed as improvements in general health, social participation and social cohesion
- economic returns, generally thought of as increases in employment and labour productivity (Blundell, Dearden & Sianesi, 2001, quoted in Owens, 2004)”
“Closing the gap is about identifying those groups of students who are least successful in a school or network of schools, reflecting on the causes and taking action to raise the students’ outcomes closer to the averages in that context and therefore closer to or, in high-attaining contexts, even further beyond, national averages.” (Leadership for closing the gap and reducing variation in outcomes: developing a framework for action Mongon, D. & Chapman, C. National College for School Leadership, 2011)
Closing the gaps is not sufficient however. Getting closer to the average is short sighted. What is required is a paradigm shift not a series of incremental improvements. In my opinion this could be achieved by shifting our attention to the front of the curve rather than focusing on the middle or tail.
A House Divided
I didn’t share any thoughts pre-referendum but my voting intention was clear. In the days following the vote for ‘Brexit’ there have been thousands of articles written, millions of tweets posted and hours of TV/radio programmes all reflecting on what’s happened and why.
Neither the result nor the subsequent analysis has changed my mind.
There is now talk of the need to ‘move forward’, to ‘work together’, to ‘believe we can make everything better’. The sub-text being that to do otherwise is to ignore the will of the people, to act against the best interests of the country, to be unpatriotic. I consider myself to be a patriot and want every person in the UK to be safe and prosper but I will never share the views of many of the 17,410,742 who voted for, amongst other things, leaving the EU. I cannot in conscience work together with them or move forward on their agenda. The country is split and anyone who really thought the Referendum was going to achieve anything else was naive. I was not alone in being worried before the vote about the direction the debates were taking and the deep divisions within our society they revealed. For either side to claim that it was just a passionate debate between leaders who were respectful of each other or between well informed citizens acting in a rational way and also to say they expected that they would all be able to get on just fine afterwards was foolish. Quite apart from the fact that the many politicians simply inflamed the situation the discussions at every level were often far from rational and never solely about EU membership.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s worth looking at the longer biblical text from which he drew inspiration: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Had the result been for Remain I would have been just as concerned as I am now about the deep divisions that so clearly exist within the UK. My mind has not been put at ease by the post vote comments of the current party leaders, leaders in waiting and other ‘wannabes. I am deeply cynical about the motives of all involved and I remain worried for the future of our country.
Timothy Garton Ash quotes Poland’s interwar independence hero Józef Piłsudski “to be defeated and not give up, that is victory……to be victorious and rest on your laurels, that is defeat.”
He goes on to say “We English Europeans must acknowledge that we have suffered a defeat, but we will not give up. After all, 48% of the people who voted in this referendum were with us.”
‘The People Have Spoken’
It’s easy to appreciate the strength of feeling on both sides of the EU referendum. After all this is, in a way, much more important than any General Election. It’s an issue that will affect our lives not just for the next five years but over the course of our lifetimes. As it happens it seems it’s probably going to be more significant than even the most well informed political observers had imagined and I think we haven’t begun to fully grasp what the future holds for post Brexit generations. But let’s be clear, the results of the June Referendum must stand.
The referendum was entirely legitimate, we knew well in advance that it was going to happen, had the chance to read up and inform ourselves of the facts and make up our minds about which camp we were going to support. There was a good turnout (relatively speaking) and very few ballots were discounted. Putting the quality of the campaign and integrity of the chief protagonists aside the whole process worked just as intended. So, the results must stand.
However let us also be clear about a couple of things. Firstly the result was far from the overwhelming victory that is now claimed by some campaigners and suggested by careless journalists. Claims that the ‘people have spoken’, that ‘52% of the population voted out’ and that this in some way means we must expedite the result without further debate is perhaps the most un-British approach possible.
Only some of the British people have expressed an opinion. The number of people registered to vote by June 2016 was 46,501,241 (BBC figures), an increase on the ONS figure for 2015 of 44,722,000. Turnout for the Referendum was 71.8% (33,551,983) and the Leave vote secured 51.9% (17,410,742) of the ballots cast. The difference between leave and remain was 1,269,501 votes. But lets remember that the population of the UK is approximately 63 million and all of them will be affected by the eventual decision regarding Britain’s future position in the European Union. So whichever way you cut it it’s difficult to see how the ‘British people have spoken’ or indeed that ‘52% of the population have voted out’.
But I grant you 17,410,742 people together represent a sizeable slice of the British pie and their collective howl against the EU was deafening. The political elite were immediately falling over themselves to say they recognized the need to listen to the people only to withdraw very hastily into their Westminster bubble to plan/plot their next move and simply reinforce the view that there is a fundamental disconnect between the people and their representatives. And this is the second point, they are our representatives.
The British political system is not without its faults. Nevertheless we are fortunate indeed to have a system of representative democracy not pure direct democracy. Our system is not based on the principle that the loudest voice must be listened to without question while the quiet folk or those without a voice are ignored. We elect MPs to make decisions in the best interests of all their constituents (the ones who voted for them, against them or not at all) and, more importantly in the best interests of the nation as a whole. Some MPs clearly take their responsibilities very seriously working tirelessly to help the people in their communities and voting intelligently on matters of national importance. OK, at the moment they need to sort out which unfortunate is going to take the helm next but as the blood letting, resignations and petty partisan manoeuvring continues, the markets seethe and the big property funds draw the deadbolts across their king sized piggy banks I’m growing increasingly worried that they’ve forgotten what they’re paid to do. Her Majesty’s Government and Opposition should govern in the best interests of the nation; how can they claim to do this without fully debating the most pressing issue of the day in light of the referendum results and subsequent turmoil?
We all voted with the very best of intentions in June. We were all thinking of our families, our communities, our regions and our countries when we placed our cross on our ballot paper. But we are not paid to make choices that will affect the lives of millions of people across the length and breadth of the British Isles. We have not been elected and are not directly responsible for the future of Great Britain. That is the heavy burden shouldered by the 650 Members of Parliament who represent every last citizen in the United Kingdom.
It’s ironic that we all listened so closely to arguments about the danger posed by the EU to the sovereignty of Parliament but today we’re about to allow just 149,000 members of the Conservative Party to elect a Prime Minister who may seal the fate of our nation without consulting Parliament. When tough decisions about the fate of my nation need addressing I’d prefer as many MPs as possible to have the opportunity to represent the views of all their constituents. I’d be worried if the loudest voice drowned out everything else or the executive acted alone. There’s a reason we have a Parliament. There’s a reason why our elected representatives usually debate key decisions. When Parliament is bypassed trouble follows. There must at the very least be further Parliamentary debate about our future in Europe and ideally a General Election shortly after.
The paper ‘Surfing, sinking and swimming’ outlines the differences between surfing, swimming and sinking.
- Surfing (Coming Alive), Sinking (Surviving), Swimming (Coping)
Does this resonate with your own experience?
“…leadership does not happen evenly or consistently. Leaders will have periods when they feel they are surfing, others when they seem to be sinking and periods when they are swimming along fine. The idea that they can be competent, unfailing and effective all the time is another idealistic and burdensome fantasy. It is normal as a leader to have periods when you think you are sinking and others when you are just getting by; it is an inherent part of leading.”
Binney, G, Wilke, G & Williams, C, 2005, Living Leadership A Practical Guide For Ordinary Heroes, Harlow, Prentice Hall.
Phew! For a moment there I thought I’d better come clean, admit I was a fraud, and quietly exit the NPQSL course. If you’ve had a week like mine then you’ll probably have cycled through all three of these feelings every day and possibly even within one lesson. In fact Wednesday was particularly tough so I’d chalked up all three by break time! And it turns out that this is fine…..result.
There are any number of reasons why we might be finding it difficult to get into that surfing/flow state but let’s just focus on one culprit for a little while. There is simply too much to do! Or to look at it another way we’re trying to do too much….on our own.
Schermerhorn et al (2005) suggest eight reasons that people may have for resisting change:
- fear of the unknown
- lack of good information
- fear of loss of security
- no reasons to change
- fear of loss of power
- lack of resources
- bad timing
and propose that to overcome resistance certain criteria need to be met:
- Benefit: whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as ‘a better way’;
- Compatability: the change should be as compatible as possible with existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change;
- Complexity: the change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use;
- Triability: the change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.
It strikes me that reasons 1-6 may be founded on the belief of the resisting individual/group that the change is being imposed on them. It is also quite common to encounter challenge/blocking, or passivity/neutrality because of a view that “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders”. I’m not altogether convinced that some of the criteria are always appropriate; after all if the established habit, values and experience of an organisation are the reason it’s in a pickle then you’d be ill advised to pander to them.
John Kotter’s eight phases of change model is shown below:
It’s clear that the ‘creating the climate for change’ and the ‘engaging and enabling the whole organisation’ phases should be powerful agents in overcoming the view that change is being imposed. The article I’ve just read actually points out that inexperienced leaders often jump to the last few steps without having prepared the ground and consequently face resistance. It also seems reasonable to assume that many of the barriers identified by Schermerhorn would also be addressed by the Kotter Model.
But what about the “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders” type line? I’m not sure that just looking at the model or even reading the text version in my materials really helps me to sort that out. It all sounds a bit sterile and pseudo-management gobbledygook. When I see the phrase “communicate for buy-in” or even the slightly less hackneyed “share the vision” I start to feel a touch uncomfortable. But…. I think that when you listen to him talk about the process it begins to make a lot more sense. Have a look at the clip of video:
Win the hearts and minds. Effective change is founded on an effort based on a 60/40 split between the two. Ok, so how does that help me? To me this means it’s not just about getting people to ‘like the plan’ or even for them to ‘buy-in’ to the task or change being proposed. For really effective teams there has to be something more. Let me turn briefly to my past experience.
The materials included in the section draw on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and I was immediately drawn to them as I was at least familiar with the idea. I first came across the concept of flow whilst participating in adventure sports like climbing or skiing. Flow is described as “a time when we are totally focused, happy and totally engaged in whatever we are doing” and Csikszentmihalyi talks about this as “essentia
lly stepping into an alternative reality”. I’m was intrigued to learn how as a senior leader one might attain this almost ecstatic state.
Csikszentmihalyi suggests that this can only happen when someone has been very well trained and developed technique but that flow is achievable by everybody because it is essentially about balancing levels of challenge and skill. He develops the idea further by identifying the flow channel as being the essential basis for continued personal improvement. He introduces several other states: apathy, boredom, relaxation, control and arousal which essentially form a continuum with the flow channel being between control and arousal. Clearly if you’re at the one end of this you’re neither inspiring yourself or capable of leading others. We need to be operating at the optimal level. Being in control is a comfortable place to be but its not exciting. If you want to enter flow from control you have to up the level of challenge Moving from the flow channel to arousal (pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone) and back again to flow is where you develop higher skills. If you judge this process of flexing from one state to another and back again you should raise the flow threshold and in so doing increase your capacity for further development. I kind of imagine it a little like building strength in a muscle.
As the introductory ‘thinkpiece’ to the module suggests the key skill therefore is a commitment to self-learning and ‘stretch’. It is clear how Kolb’s Learning Cycle in tandem with Boyatzis’s ideas on Self Directed Learning and the use a solid coaching model can help anyone accurately evaluate their current level of skill, identify suitably challenging targets and so more routinely operate in the flow channel.
But what about creating conditions not just for an individual to achieve flow state but also a group or organisational to do the same? This has to be the ultimate aim in order to create “networked, self-organising and self-managing institutions, which support the development of a rich leadership capacity at all levels within the school.” A leader will not only attend to their own personal and professional growth but also pay close attention to the people within the team……it’s not rocket science really and John Adair‘s model of task, team, individual is just as useful.
We’re always explaining to pupils that they need to be good listeners but do we always model that good behaviour ourselves? Although we all like to think we’re good at listening to other people it’s interesting how sometimes other people don’t feel as though they’re being listened to. Developing this skill allows us to understand the needs of others, adapt our approach accordingly and so influence others in a more considered manner. Indeed getting better at seeing ourselves as others see us is an essential leadership quality. Accurately gauging the impact you have on other people is essential in forming and developing effective teams whose goal is continuous improvement.
So where to start? Some obvious ways of getting feedback to help become more self aware already include:
- Whole School Level: whole school Pupil Perception Surveys;
- Department Level: getting pupils to provide feedback about their attitudes to particular subjects;
- Personal Level: lesson observations, video analysis and annual Performance Management evaluations;
Of course there are limitations to using these sources exclusively. The school and department feedback is by its nature general and requires you to draw inferences which may or may not be valid to a particular teacher. In the PM process we’re reflecting on our our own performance generally using statistical measures to help us set new targets; there is little in the way of objective qualitative feedback.
A more refined picture (provided you choose the respondents correctly) is produced by a 360º Diagnostic Report. But what about getting your classes to give specific feedback about your teaching? In his work on visible learning John Hattie devotes some time to student evaluations of teachers (SET) as ‘central to lasting school improvement’. Hattie, J (2012). Visible Learning For Teachers – Maximising Impact on Learning p.159
‘The lesson with the students is completed, but the story continues. So often, the plea now is for reflection – but this is not my message. Reflection quickly turns into post-hoc justification. I have watched so many teachers talk about their lessons or react to videos of their teaching, and they can certainly wax lyrical about what happened, why they did this rather than that – and when asked to consider how to do better, so often they focus on what they should do more in the future. When they watch the same class through the eyes of the student, they are much more silent!’ Hattie (2012) p.155
Hattie discusses the work of Irving whose SET was developed specifically to evaluate maths teaching but it could ‘form a set of prompts for teachers to evaluate their level of inspiration and passion’. Hattie (2012) p.160
So….my plan is to use a version of Irving’s SET (Irving Student Evaluation) using a Google Form with my teaching groups. I’d like to think that I:
- challenge my students to think through problems and solve them either on their own or as a group (before asking for help);
- encourage students to value history as a subject;
- help students to make sense of the concepts and skills in history;
- get students to think about the nature and quality of their work;
- develop students’ abilities to think and reason in a historical manner and to have a historical point of view;
- encourage students to try different techniques to answer historical questions;
- show students interesting and useful ways to solve problems;
Will my students see things in the same way I do?
I’ve just started on the NPQSL with Leadership East . The programme is licensed by the National College for Teaching and Leadership and involves a 12-18 month school improvement task based on action research with the central component lasting at least two terms. There are 3 learning areas:
- Educational Excellence;
- Strategic Leadership;
- Operational Management;
and these are further divided into 9 key leadership competencies.
Prior to attending the Introductory Day a ‘360º Diagnostic’ online self-review process was carried out to identify areas of strength and any competency areas requiring development. After completing the self assessment part of the process I asked a total of 8 colleagues to also answer the same questions independently. The final report was illuminating – a far more useful appraisal than any Performance Management (PM) process I have taken part in since its introduction. For one thing the other respondents don’t see either your own self assessment or each others so you get a ‘real’ set of answers. To gain the maximum benefit from the process you do have to choose your respondents carefully however; its no good just asking people who you think will give a ‘glowing report’. I selected an equal mix of male/female colleagues and made sure that the group had SLT, HoY, HoD, Learning Support and classroom teachers represented. I deliberately didn’t ask anyone from within my own faculty because I wanted as objective a view from outside looking in as I could manage. The respondents I selected were also representative of the colleagues I hope to work with most closely on the school improvement task. The process is a little uncomfortable but well worth it from a self awareness point of view. Completing the very detailed follow up Workbook really concentrated the mind. Of particular interest were:
- Known Development Needs (where both the respondents and I agreed on less well developed behaviours);
- Blind Spots (where respondents scored me lower than I scored myself);
These really flagged up some pretty important elements that I need to keep in mind and the final Summary Form and Action Plan have provided a very focussed baseline from which to move forward.
Talking to colleagues who have come to teaching after working in other fields, business etc. it seems that the 360º Diagnostic Model is quite a common tool. I think it would be useful to have a similar tool within the PM cycle and wonder if there are already schools who have adopted this model?
Three and a bit weeks into the new term and having ‘changed up through the gears’ I’m back into the swing of things again; seen all my classes, starting to match names to faces and just about got my head round the new timetable.
The start of the new academic year is obviously an important time for many reasons but amongst these is the fact that it is an absolutely crucial time for building what I think of as learning bridges. Alistair Smith’s work on accelerated learning describes this as connecting the learning and, after a long summer break, it makes perfect sense that pupils and teachers should invest time reviewing what was being covered in the previous academic year and how it fits together with what is to be covered in the coming year.
Our KS3 scheme of work is based around five themes: Ideas & Beliefs, Conflict, Empire, Ordinary life and Power. We return to these themes regularly over throughout KS3 with the aim that pupils will finish the KS with a big history firmly rooted in their heads. Where they often struggle however is in seeing the links between the different years of study; they seem to think that just because they are in Y8 they don’t have to think about what they studied in Y7. Well of course they get reminded of previous work as we chart our way through a new year but it’s as well to start as you mean to go on. So, with this in mind, I’ve spent a bit of time getting my classes to review their work from last year and note down the Big Points that they have remembered. Certainly not groundbreaking nor rocket science but hopefully a sound investment for the rest of the year.