Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Seth Godin – Linchpins.
I recently submitted my evidence for the NPQML qualification and thought it may be useful to share my experience. The qualification is a middle leaders qualification which looks at the challenges of being a middle leader from a variety of perspectives.
The qualification requires participants to undertake a school based project. I was already involved in a number of whole school projects so decided to use something that I was already doing and felt passionately about. My project looked at creating more opportunities for staff to engage with effective, meaningful CPD across the school. For me I don’t see this as work but as something I really enjoy doing – finding innovative and creative ways to engage staff with CPD with intent of improving experiences for students beyond just those that I teach. This is my art.
My project had a clear trajectory.
- Assemble a group of great teachers.
- Plan and deliver a 50 minute CPD marketplace session.
- Plan and deliver a school INSET day (each member of the team would deliver a workshop).
- Plan and deliver a TeachMeet.
I collected evidence as I went along with some of the highlights below:
The one key element that made the project worthwhile were the people. The group of teachers I managed to get together and work with were (and still are) truly remarkable people – doing everything in their power to help young people. It was a real inspiration for me to work with this group and made me want to work even harder and take on more challenges. The people I met at the away days during the course were also a great source of inspiration and challenge. One of the best parts of the course was meeting people outside of my school and talking about teaching, learning and the challenges of middle leadership. Teachers talking about teaching.
My advice to people interested in enrolling on the course – find something you are truly passionate about that will make a positive change and then make it happen. If you can’t get on the course do it anyway. Don’t do the course for the sake of getting a certificate – do it because you want to make a difference. Find you art and make it happen.
About 18 months ago I had a moment of clarity and made a decision that I wanted to become a head teacher. Why wouldn’t I? It makes sense to me. I want to make a positive difference to as many young people that I can and allow as many colleagues to flourish as possible. I thrive on challenge both professionally and as a hobby.
Since making that decision I have been busy learning and taking action. I decided not to wait for permission to lead but to start leading. Leading with a clear moral purpose. Leading by example. Leading with a sense of urgency but also on the side of caution. Leading to improve.
Fully support by the SLT, I decided to set up a group of ‘Pedagogy leaders’ (original idea from Kev Bartle) with the aim of improving awareness of great teaching and learning. This led to delivering a number of CPD sessions, teacher briefings, workshops on INSET days and a teachmeet under the guise of #NeverStopLearning. Inspired by Seth Godin’s idea of the ‘Linchpin’ I sort out other opportunities like coaching and helping to set up a link with a school in China. I joined teams working on whole school initiatives like IT refresh and improving provision of CPD. All whilst teaching a (nearly) full time table and maintaining excellent standards in the classroom. Teaching is the guide rails I will cling to as I move towards headship. As John Tomsett (I think?!) put it, “The headteacher should be the head teacher.”
It has been an extremely busy 18 months but equally rewarding. As a result I will join my schools leadership team in an extended leadership role responsible for teaching and learning CPD from September. I owe a lot to the inspiring colleagues I have the honour of working with but also to the extensive list of leadership books that I have ploughed through. They have given me lots of ideas to think about in terms of leading teams and implementing change. Increasing my knowledge through reading has also allowed me to spot ideas from books in a school context (usually school improvement) and give me a deeper understanding of how ideas from books can be implemented in a school setting.
Following on from my post on Reading for CPD, the following is a list of books to get you started on (or to add to) your leadership journey. The list is by no means comprehensive (and is in no particular order). It is a mixture of my own reading list and contributions from people on Twitter. Please add more titles in the comments section at the end of the post.
More to explore – thank you Twitter!
Ever felt like giving up on something? A project, a run, a blog post, organising an event, revising for an exam? If the answer to this question is ‘No’ I applaud you. You are either an extremely ‘GRIT-y’ person or perhaps you haven’t found a real challenge yet. If you answered ‘Yes’ then you have experienced the ‘Dip.’ In this, the first in a series of posts that explore motivation, GRIT, character strengths & growth mindset, I’m hoping to summarise what I have discovered from reading a series of books on these areas and what potential impact I believe it could have in the classroom. This first post looks at the bigger picture and addresses the general myth that successful people ‘never give up.’ In Seth Godin’s short book ‘The Dip’ he looks at why some businesses, organisations and people are successful and why some are not. Over the timeline of any successful project he argues that more often than not there is a ‘Dip’ where things get hard, more effort is required and the honeymoon period of the initial idea ends. The dip looks something like this:
The Dip is the point in a project whereby people leading make a decision. Is the outcome worth the extra effort and resources? Successful people are able to make the tough decision to either persevere because the outcome is worth the extra effort and resources or quit and invest their time, effort and resources into something that will be truly remarkable instead. Being able to successful make that decision at the point of the dip is tricky, risky and requires some experience, clear bigger picture thinking and the confidence to quit. Godin suggests the ‘Dip’ is the secret to success…
…the Dip is the secret to your success. The people who set out to make it through the Dip – the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they’ve got, they embrace the challenge. For whatever reason they refuse to abandon the quest and they push through the Dip all the way to the next year.
If something is worth doing then it will probably involve a Dip. But not always. How do we know it’s time to quit something? Have a look at the curves below:
Godin talks about knowing when to quit if the project curve looks like a ‘Cliff’ or ‘cul-de-sac.’ The cul-de-sac is described as…
…a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing changes. It doesn’t get a lot better. it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.
Godin describes the ‘Cliff” as…
…a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.
The main problem is knowing when you are on either of these two paths. It would be quite easy to mistake the Dip for the ‘Cliff” for example. Having a clear goal, starting with the end in mind will help you determine what path you are on. Revisiting the purpose regularly, reflecting and being brutally honest with yourself will also help – sometimes it may be easier to continue a project (even if you suspect a ‘cul-de-sac’) then quit and devote your time and resources to something will make a bigger dent in the universe.
I experienced the Dip recently whilst organising a teach-meet. After the initial buzz of announcing that I was going to host a teach meet for 200 teachers I was hit by the never-ending list of things that needed to happen in order for the event to be a success. Coupled with a full teaching timetable and responsibilities within my department – there was a point (if I’m being honest) where the thought of quitting crossed my mind. My goal was to put on a truly remarkable event and if I didn’t have the time and resources to do that, perhaps I should focus my time and resources into something else. However the end of goal was too important and I instead decided to lean into the Dip and persevere (something I’ve learned from ultra running). Having attended other teach meets I knew how inspirational these events can be and how much they make teachers think, re-focus and offer opportunities for teachers to take ideas that can have a positive impact on students.
Links to teaching.
As a teacher I’ve certainly had many moments where I’ve felt like quitting something because the outcome didn’t seem worth the time and effort. There have been times when I’ve powered through the Dip and had some truly amazing lessons, CPD sessions, e.t.c. There have also been other times where in hindsight I would have been better off quitting earlier and re-focusing my time and effort. But still I learnt from those experiences so all is not lost. From reading Godin’s work I will definitely be thinking of the curves mentioned earlier in this post when planning new department and school wide projects. It has also made me think about planning lessons. In a lesson or scheme of work when will students experience the Dip? What will students be thinking during the Dip? What action should I take? I believe this is where GRIT, character strengths and the growth mindset model fit in. These habits can be used to help navigate through the Dip. In my next post I’ll be exploring these habits and how they can positively influence learning.
Inspired by Zoe Elder’s post – ‘Why we continue to accept the challenge’ and Mark Anderson’s post ‘Be happy,’ here is a quick post with the start of a new term in mind.
2013 was a remarkable year. 2014 will be better. It’s time to shift gears.
Four tips to help you make this year even better:
1. Keep exploring.
2. Connect with others.
3. Share your discoveries.
4. Deepen your understanding.
Remember, you’re only human but you make an incredible difference.
Safe is risky. Very good is bad. We must be remarkable. Our students deserve nothing less.
Whatever your line of work it’s not enough to just follow instructions and be a cog in a bigger machine. As Godin points out in ‘The Icarus Deception’ and ‘Linchpin’, the industrial complex is dying and we are now living in a connected economy where it pays to give.
Let me explain a bit further.
Safe is risky. Playing safe will not enable you to grow. It’s only by taking measured risks that we learn and grow.
Very good is bad. This is a phrase we use when people do what we expect of them. The industrial age taught us that the reward for producing lots of ‘work’ is being given more work to do. So we tend to hold back. The trick here is to find your art, the meaningful work you do that doesn’t really feel like work at all. You will have a much greater chance of feeling a sense of fulfilment and viewing the fruit of your labour as meaningful.
We must be remarkable. Do remarkable things. Don’t settle for ‘very good,’ attempt the unexpected. Become a ‘linchpin’ (an indispensable member of your community) of your organisation.
Schools now more then ever need teachers who don’t see teaching as a job but an art form. Our lessons are our art (the work we attribute meaning to). We seek to challenge the status quo of how a lesson has traditionally been taught. We need to encourage students to think. When its work we try to do less. When its art we try to do more.
In order to be remarkable in the classroom we need to take risks and challenge ourselves as teachers, just as we encourage our students to. As soon as you embrace failure as part of the journey to success, the more likely you’ll learn, develop and improve. When I started teaching I saw pedagogy as a ladder to climb but I now view it as a jungle gym to explore.
I’m currently using the following cycle to take measured (and some not so measured!) risks in the classroom:
1. Keep exploring. I’ve made a pledge to myself and to my students to never stop learning. This is my art. I enjoy doing this, it doesn’t feel like work to me. I read lots, blog and engage with Twitter to explore pedagogy and leadership.
2. Connect with others. I understand that the network is far more powerful than the node. I make connecting with others a typicality of my time spent using twitter and blogging. I attend teach meets and visit other schools to make connections and pursue learning.
3. Share discoveries. I blog here and have started a brand #neverstoplearning that offers a platform for more discoveries to be shared #neverstoplearning actively encourages teachers to share their discoveries and experiences. It also offers a stepping stone for teachers new to blogging. I’ll work with teachers to develop their first post and then share it via #neverstoplearning
4. Deepen my understanding. The cumulative effect for me is that my understanding of pedagogy is deepening (i hope!). I regularly take measured (and sometimes not so measured) risks in my classroom with a goal of improving the experience and outcomes for the students I teach.
Do the students light up when they enter your classroom or when they leave?
What is your art?
In my short time as a teacher my formal leadership opportunities have been limited but that has not stopped me from leading. Leadership for me is not about a formal title but about building positive habits, inspiring others and leading by example. Leadership is about doing simple things that enrich people and organisations.
I try to make a positive contribution everyday I am in school, but for the purpose of this blog I will look at a recent example – coaching teachers. Working with colleagues and leading them through change to improve their practice can be daunting. Using the Heath brothers ‘Switch’ framework I was able to motivate colleagues by returning to our moral purpose, the students. Remembering that everything we do as teachers should be geared towards improving student outcomes. I was also able to set clear goals ‘not below a 2’ and then support colleagues to achieve that goal. To do this I shrank the change. If a colleague was struggling with several aspects of their lesson, reminding the, of that would not help. So we started by focusing on just the structure of a lesson. Letting the men-tee feel success and mastery of just one aspect before moving onto the next area of improvement. This extends the coaching cycle but makes for a greater chance of success.
I also used Seth Godin’s ‘purple cow’ analogy of trying to do remarkable things. Once a colleague had satisfied the ‘2’ criteria during a lesson observation I would encourage them to to take risks and be remarkable. Safe is risky. ‘Very good’ is bad. We must be remarkable! To help colleagues achieve this I invited them to observe my lessons and we would jointly observe other outstanding teachers in the school To get experience of what outstanding lessons look and feel like. Leading by example is a key element of leadership.
To to summarise I believe leadership is not a title or pay grade but a habit. My most positive contributions have come from influencing others through striving to be remarkable in everything I do.
I recently watched a video of Aral Balkan speaking about something he calls the ‘Superman effect’ which made me immediately think about lesson planning and designing remarkable experiences for the students I teach. If you haven’t seen it watch it now:
In the video @aral talks about something he calls the ‘Superman effect’ in design. How design is an art form that empowers, amuse and delights people. Great designers have the power to changes lives and give users exceptionally remarkable experiences that make them feel like a ‘superhero’ – the ‘Superman effect.’
Aral goes on to say…
Our lives are a string of experiences. Experiences with people and experiences with things. And we, as designers — as the people who craft experiences — we have a profound responsibility to make every experience as beautiful, as comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible.
Now read the quote again but replace the word ‘designers’ with ‘teachers.’ Perhaps as teachers we have a duty to make students uncomfortable and allow them to struggle in order to learn, but the rest of the quote really rings true with me. As teachers we have to recognise that every interaction we have with young people is an opportunity to have a positive impact upon them. Teachers are artists and lessons are our art. Being passionate about our subjects mixed with a continued desire to improve and develop our pedagogy is key to providing the ‘Superman effect’ for our students. How can we make students feel like super hero’s in our lessons? We need to make them feel more excited about entering our classrooms rather than leaving them. Next time you’re planning a lesson consider the ‘user experience’ and make it remarkable.
In Aral’s extended version of his talk (see below) he also talks about how design gets compromised when companies have misguided CEO’s who seek to dictate the journey to success and quite often get it wrong. How true is this in schools? How many times have SLT implemented policies / procedures with little or no consultation from staff (thankfully this doesn’t happen in my school, but I’m sure we’ve all heard a horror story in our time…)? The way to unleash potential is to ensure that leadership is distributed across the school and that power is dissolved to all staff. Let the people who are closet to the action have a say in the critical decisions, empower them to lead.
Seth Godin talks about being remarkable in his book ‘Purple Cow.’ He talks about truly remarkable products / ideas and people or as he calls them ‘Purple cows.’ I believe teachers have a responsibility to be remarkable and provide remarkable experiences for their students. ‘Good enough’ or ‘that’ll do’ or even ‘Very good’ is a one ticket to mediocrity. It’s not remarkable. You are an artist with talent waiting to be unleashed. Be creative. Safe is risky. Don’t be boring. Be remarkable in everything you do.