Thursday, December 30, 2021

The system needs us, but it's trying to mislead us (Curtis Mayfield)

I'm off on my learning journey

Ten buzzwords to look out for and avoid like the, erm, covid-19 (courtesy of Dan Rockwell's blogpost):

  • New normal. (No comment.)
  • Synergy. If you plan to work together say, “We’re working together.
  • Circle back. The translation of, “Let’s circle back on this,” is, I don’t want to talk about this, and I don’t plan to.
  • Take this offline. Give me a break. We do everything online.  
  • Pivot. How important do we have to sound?Even Friends made fun of it! The word is 'change' or 'adjust'
  • Unprecedented. Nothing is unprecedented. Compared to the Spanish Flu, Covid is precedented.
  • Think outside the box. Anyone who says, “Think outside the box,” isn’t groovy.
  • Bandwidth. I don’t have enough bandwidth. You’d have more bandwidth if you stopped using stupid words.
  • Deep Dive. I’ve used several of the expressions on this list. Thankfully, I haven’t stooped so low as to take a Deep Dive into ridiculous buzzwords.
  • Thought leader. This one is a cousin to influencer.  
To his list of 10, I'd like to add another eight and a bonus ninth:
  • Game-changer - at the moment it's being applied to successive covid-19 variants - people getting sick and dying isn't a game.
  • Move the dial - the object is to improve, right?
  • Fake it till you make it and its cousin - build the plane while flying it - I'd rather not please - I'm a nervous flyer as it is. I want my pilot to be very skilled and experienced, and I want a plane that is fit for purpose.
  • Learning curve and learning journey - we're a bunch of new hobos getting on freight trains?
  • Rolling out - why? 'Implement' gets the job done.
  • Above my pay grade - cop out.
  • And a bonus one - a hardy perennial - Going forward - what are we? Sharks? Try 'in the future' or 'from now on' - same or fewer number of syllables.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

I walked out stunned and liberated, and so began my travels (Mike Scott)


Photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

Don't over-improve your weaknesses. If you're not good at something, work on it until it no longer prevents your progress, but the bulk of your time is better spent maximizing your strengths - James Clear

By now I have a pretty clear idea about my main weakness and, luckily for me, I'm in exactly the right school and position so that I don't have to improve my weakness.

For most teachers the route to Principalship is via two routes in schools - an academic pathway as I followed (assistant Head of Department to Head of Department to a senior leadership role) or a pastoral pathway (Dean of a Year, a House Leader to a senior leadership role).

Neither route is too concerned with finances. Oh sure, a department gets a budget to manage but it's small and finite. It didn't prepare me for tackling a school's entire finances, while managing staffing, property, teaching and learning, student discipline, the Ministry of Education, a Board of Trustees and so on.

Jolly hockey-sticks!! My current position has no financial responsibility/burden at all. It centres a lot on teaching and learning with most of the other bits (no MoE and very little student discipline).

So, all up, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, in summary, the bulk of my time is spent maximising my strengths.

Feels good.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

You did the right thing, believe me its true, and it can happen to you (Paul McCartney)

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

As I've said many times before, I feel very blessed to be working with so many outstanding people in my campuses. In my prize-giving speech I mentioned many of them.

And I've mentioned previously how rare this feeling has been in my career of nearly 40 years in the profession.

I think part of this is the process we go through with new hires to ensure they are talented, personable, of good character and a good fit for the culture.

Even though it's Christmas week, a few of my colleagues and I have still been going through the interviewing process for 2022 starting positions. Real dedication to get it right is the common theme for our process.

That swings both ways - I've always thought that I need to be right for the school I apply to, and the school has to be right for me.

To get that right fit, I like to have an informal meet and greet with each applicant (preferably in person rather than on zoom). That gives me and my trusty lieutenant(s) a chance to explain our context a little, get a feel for them as people, answer any questions they have, and show applicants around to get a feel for how they interact with students and any other staff we meet along the way.

For me, their soft skills, their attributes as a person, their potential fit within the existing team, their receptiveness to change trump their individual skill in the position.

I don't want a new person coming in to be brilliant at their job but have no ability to work well with other staff.

We short list from there for a formal interview with a wider panel that includes a Campus Administrator (a person like a Board Of Trustees member in the state system).

That bit is crucial because we all see applicants with a different lens.

This process needn't take long - during the last few weeks of the term we have secured five new staff across the Gisborne and Hastings' campuses, with one role still needing to be filled in the new year.

That's pretty stunning given the current job market where there are plenty of applicants, including tyre kickers, for each advertisement. 

Having gone through this hiring process this term, I feel very confident that we have new employees who match that aim - they are right for each campus, and the campus is right for them.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Let the hour be mine. Take the high road, take the low. Take any one you're on (Bob Dylan)

Photo by carolyn christine on Unsplash

In 2022 I have decided to get a grip of my schedule.

As Dan Rockwell says:
A person who has a grip on their schedule has a grip on their life. Cramming more activities into less time is like walking on marbles. Running from one thing to the next means your life is frantic and shallow.

The secret to getting a grip on your schedule is serving the Big Rocks.

The first Big Rock is taking care of yourself. Take care of your body, soul, and spirit.

The second Big Rock is taking care of others.  

For the first time as a Principal I have decided to take my allocated release periods in 2022. Enough is enough. I'm done with covering everything that needs covering, being time poor and not looking after myself.

Every year as a Campus Principal I am allocated non-contact/release periods and Learning Centre supervision/coaching periods. In the past, like other Campus Principals I suspect, I've completely ignored those allocations and allocated myself none of the non-contacts. Actually that's not 100% accurate - I've allocated myself four and then allowed them to get swallowed up in 'needs must' scenarios.

Next year, I don't have a teaching allocation and our two distinct Learning Centres have merged into one by staff consensus. That expands our supervision and makes it a lot easier for me to take my release periods to do my job - which is to lead and manage the campus and look after my staff better - not by doing their job for them, but by being kind to myself.

I've had this aim for a number of years but this time - cards on the table - I told my staff about it. 

I'm determined to make this work in 2022.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A person's compassionate speech and actions are like sunshine, clean water, and flowers which bring brightness, purity and joy to the world - Hsing Yun.

From one of my students (name covered)

The Recognition of Excellence ceremonies happened on Friday, the last day for students and staff for the year (although staff will continue to come into the campus during the next week and I have plenty to occupy my mind before I'm done for the year).

I certainly feel appreciated in my job - there were loads of lovely comments from colleagues yesterday that I really felt humbled to receive.

During the day, two completely unsolicited moments deeply affected me.

The message written in Sharpie on a folded up piece of A4 paper by a Year 10 student (4th form for older readers) will go into my glory box of memories.

The student in question is quiet and unassuming - I initiate a hello to them every day (I won't identify their gender) and they say hello back. That's about the extent of our daily interaction as we both get on with our days.

I was genuinely surprised when I was handed a bag of presents. Later, when I got back home I saw the 'card' in the bag.

Thing is, they are in Year 10 (a year group that is not generally noted for its sentimentality) and the student didn't need to give me anything. Didn't need to write any message at all.  

But they did. They took a moment to send me that message which, little do they know, I will treasure forever.

The second came from a staff member who recently resigned from our campus and so I farewelled her during my speech.

Once the students had all left and we'd packed up, she came to say goodbye and said, "You're the best Principal I've ever worked for".

Woh. That was a lump in the throat moment.

Both of these unsolicited compassionate words were like sunshine - they brought joy to my world and I'll tuck them away into my purer mind (as Wordsworth calls it) and recall these 'little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love' when needed.

'Unremembered' by the sender over time, probably, but not by the receiver.

Tintern Abbey has often been a well spring for me and so I'm ending this post with some more lines from that poem, because Wordsworth sums things up better than anyone:

To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: - that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Use your best judgment (Seth Godin)

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

I have been wrestling with a systems problem at my Hastings' campus around where best to locate various senior year groups in 2022 - juggling spaces, numbers of students, and the need for supervision.

I've canvassed opinions, listened to alternative ideas, checked alternatives with my trustees and the big boss and mulled it all over for a few days.

I am now going to do a pros and cons chart for the two main ideas and then present this to my team to make a decision (best idea wins) because, as Seth says:

'Use Your Best Judgment. Don’t wait for someone else to take responsibility. Don’t wait for perfect. Don’t wait to find this exact situation in the manual or in history. Use Your Best Judgment.'

In this case, rather than me making a decision, I need a broad consensus of agreement. There are many moving parts and many important staff members who need to have buy in to make it work. 

Stop press - a decision has now been made with 100% consensus amongst 5 staff members. Although the thinking/deciding time was relatively short, I feel the process has been a good one and now we'll get on with communicating the decision carefully and gearing up for 2022's implementation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Come back again, it's almost easy (Avenged Sevenfold)

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

As promised, this post is the sequel to my meeting last week with fellow Hawke's Bay Principals.

I really enjoyed this chance to catch up with some former colleagues, some of whom have gone on to become Principals in a range of Hawke's Bay schools - Woodford House; Karamu; and Hastings' Girls.

It was also great to have a range of new acquaintances.

The agenda items were mostly irrelevant to my own context at OneSchool Global (a private school for Plymouth Brethren students) as they dealt with reforms in vocational education, what to do with bequests from alumni, external evaluation of schools (Ask Your Team*), and initiatives for Pasifika students.

But, it was fun listening to what is on top for my colleagues in the state system.

* Ask Your Team is a process for evaluation of programmes/ teachers by students/teachers' self review etc. It costs $10,000 but provides exhaustive analysis of survey responses. We use Dayforce at OSG to do similar things but without the analysis aspect. Interesting.