Tuesday, August 31, 2021

So I turned myself to face me (David Bowie)

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Changes - Part 1.

Having just finished Mark Manson's book that presents his counterintuitive approach to living a good life, I've been reflecting on the metrics (his word) that drive me and govern my approach to life in Wozza's world as it relates to my work (the mahi).

Here's my initial instant thought - I'll be interested to see if it holds up after my next couple of posts where I intend to test this thought/metric/value statement to the max.

It is that I choose to work in education to serve others with integrity.

Full stop.

Except that it doesn't really tell you much.

So - let me take you on a journey through the next two posts while I discuss the last 38 years of my life: the mahi and the metrics.

Next up - background details. Then after that - the crux of the biscuit.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

In my mind I see a mirage on the wall, but unfortunately it's not there at all. (Iron Butterfly)

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Recently, I had occasion to reflect on my reflections on coaching (it's a room full of mirrors).

I've been posting on this blog since 2008 and in these last 13 years I've put up 16 posts on coaching. That's a fair amount.

I'm a solid believer in the idea that coaching happens in many different forums, mostly when I'm conversing with staff around the campus.

As a young teacher Colin Prentice had two coaching discussions with me as we walked around the Macleans College campus. I can't recall any kind of formal sit down with him but those two informal occasions changed my life. Yes, they did!

After that, as a middle and senior manager (starting as Head of English in 1990 at Waimea College and then as a senior manager in 1996 at MAGS) I have had many coaching and being coached sessions over the years.

As a professional development trainer and consultant in the Middle East (2009 to 2012) I led discussions of coaching with senior Qatari and Emerati school leaders.

Did I always get it right over those last 31 years? Do I know all there is to know about coaching? Ha ha. Of course not!

As Mark Manson says in his book (subtitled, a counterintuitive approach to living a good life):

Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new we don't go from 'wrong' to 'right'. Rather we go from wrong to slightly less wrong.

He goes on to say:

We shouldn't seek to find the ultimate 'right' answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways we're wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

It's in this spirit that I participate in coaching sessions in 2021 - still aiming to be a little less wrong as a coach.

Which brings me to the best coaching session I've had this year. It was with a colleague who I trust, having previously worked with her on professional development for staff in our organisation. She's a fellow Campus Principal so she knows the territory.

During the coaching session she asked excellent questions (we're following a GROWTH model this year) and it led to me making some interesting changes towards developing students as self-directed learners in my own campus.

It's like anything, a work in progress, but I feel like we're on the right path of being less wrong each time we discuss it as a staff.

And that concludes my 17th post on coaching since 2008.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

For all the shut-down strangers and hot rod angels (Bruce Springsteen)

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

The blurring of home and work is still a thing for me during New Zealand's second full lockdown to eliminate the Delta variant of Covid-19 from our shores.

So far, this time around doesn't seem as bad, however (this is Day 6 of a seven day lockdown).

There was a novelty value to the first one a year ago, as it was uncharted territory.

This time, we all know what to expect. Plus we all suspect it is not over yet (from 1 case, Delta has spread to 72 in two cities with around 10,000 close contacts being traced).

My zoom class, which I've had since the start of the year, is doing a research assignment which makes things a little easier. Plus all teachers and staff have the Dyknow programme on our devices. This allows me to look at the screens of any of my Year 9 to 13 students in Gisborne and Hastings, as well as my Year 10 English class who are spread over 5 different campuses.

Dyknow has some great features - I can send a custom made message to a student or students and I can block material and/or lock a device if I need to.

This remote facility is awesome as it keeps students focussed and on track. I can then relax somewhat knowing that for the huge majority of them (for the majority of the time) they are doing just that. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me. Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free (Aretha Franklin)

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

I'm almost through my current round of teacher observations.

They've been in the form of ten minute walk-throughs and I highly recommend that format. Less is more.

Ten minutes is tons of time to form some opinions around how the teacher and class are going.

Yes, it can be subjective at times but my favourite time in the ten minutes is asking a few students why they are learning what they are learning (be it subtraction, addition, how to make connections in texts, spelling, typing skills and so on).

In my experience, few teachers overtly explain why they are doing what they are doing, nonetheless students invariably understand why. I've had some great answers to that question in my observations so far this term.

One funny exception: I asked one girl in a junior class why she was learning how to type? She tilted her head up, looked at the ceiling and fully considered the question for thirty seconds (try counting to thirty - it's a long time) before saying, I'm not sure. 

Bam! Pure gold.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger (The Faces)


I was a first year teacher 38 years ago so it's been a while, but in many ways it's like yesterday.

Most, if not all of Stephanie's quote above doesn't relate to me, but I can see that it's valid for her and many others - that first year is really something. 

In some ways, I'd love to go back and do it again because I really had no real idea about teaching as a craft and so I just bumbled through it trying to impose myself on a bunch of boys at New Plymouth Boys' High School. But in other ways I wouldn't want to do over that first year. Let it be.

It was pretty cringey I suppose, but at the time it was just something to get through. I don't think I asked for much help in that first year but I was keen to learn and Terry Heaps (my first HOD) and Tom Ryder (my first Principal) were very good for me - straight talking, no nonsense and they gave great advice.

The thing of it is, you don't have the perspective of a 38 year vet in your first year. You have no perspective apart from your old school days and your teaching practicums (called sections in my day) so you make mistakes, you get knocked down, you pick yourself up, you lean on others in the same boat, you soak up advice from old hands but with a cocky - 'I won't do it that way' - attitude, you start learning stuff about yourself and about what works (like good relationships) and what doesn't (like raising your voice at students), you build resilience, and you get on with it.

You pin your ears back and you just get on with it.

If you can't, then maybe you are in the wrong job.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Hitch your wagon to a star (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Photo by Prado on Unsplash

This term I have the fantastic opportunity to visit all of my teachers and observe their unique classroom magic.

It is such a delight to visit them all because to a person they are an extraordinary bunch of educators. The visits are highlights of my week and I am very grateful to them.

That may sound a bit gushy and OTT but it's the truth. I've written before about how blessed I am to be surrounded by these teachers and support staff.

As chance would have it, George Couros had this on his recent post:

I'm very lucky !

My staff certainly inspire me, elevate me, and bring out the very best in me.

Thank you team!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering (Dalai Lama)

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

The top tips about staying mentally sharp at work are featured in this snappily titled article: The best tools to stay mentally sharp at work.

If you are at work right now and have just been distracted by this post, allow me to summarise for you.

Personal self-discipline (a.k.a. strong will power) is the common denominator to most of these suggestions: 

  • Take 'smart' breaks 
  • Wean yourself off your phone
  • Specific, challenging goals result in higher performance
  • Cultivate an interruption free environment
  • Minimise mental overload (brain dumps and offloading what you’re doing onto paper works for me)
  • Jam your quitting impulse
  • Be gentle with yourself (let the distractions come and go, without getting ruffled)

While other suggestions build on the free up your thinking principle:

  • Shift your thinking to the more abstract (get out of the rut and free up your thought processes)
  • Apply the Yerkes-Dodson Law (One implication is that you need to find the right degree of stimulation to keep you focused. If your attention keeps wandering off, you may work better in a noisier coffee shop than in the library. Conversely, if you’ve already had a third cup of coffee, the library may be better. Another implication is that more complex, creative work benefits more from a relaxed kind of focus. Even if you’re able to work through simple tasks while under a lot of pressure, lowering your anxiety and stress about a task, say through visualization or meditation, helps with high-performance work)

One final one is a life choice:

  • Get quality sleep (meditation and deliberate breathing techniques help)

There you go. Stay sharp!