Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What are your need-meeting channels?

My last blog post about Needs-Finding Mindsets triggered lots of comments. In this post I am continuing the theme around "Needs Finding" but reframing it from meeting the needs of others to getting our own needs met.

Working in education is an amazing and at the same time tough/daunting/challenging (add your own adjective) job. For sanity's sake educators need places they can go, and people they can talk to, in order to gain perspective and preserve their sanity. Educators are not lucky enough to get 'professional supervision' like other emotionally-charged occupations such as counsellors and police. Instead we turn on our colleagues, relatives and close friends to get these needs met. And there are right ways and wrong ways to do this.

So let's start with the right 'need-meeting' channels. Coming in equal at No 1, are work colleagues and your nearest and dearest. Work colleagues because they have the clearest understanding of the context in which you work including 'how things work around here'. And your nearest and dearest because they have the clearest understanding of how you work - both your strengths and your weaknesses. If possible stick to conversations because these are less prone to being misunderstood than written communications.

At times we are in situations when we can't go to our work colleagues or we are facing something our nearest and dearest has no experience in and this is where organisations such as unions and professional associations are a great help. If you have questions about your employment conditions ring the union. If you don't understand your payslip talk to the person responsible for payroll. If you are unhappy about something that is happening in your school talk to a trusted senior leader. My general rule of thumb is to go to the person most qualified to meet your need.

So what are the wrong 'need-meeting; channels? Answer - anywhere that you do not have control over what happens next with what you divulge. The most powerful way I have seen this explained is to get people to imagine a conversation is like an egg. Once an egg has been cracked open (e.g. you've said or written something) you cannot put the egg back into its shell.

In the physical world most people seem cognisance that it is unprofessional, in social situations to share work stories that divulge personal details. Stories can and do travel fast especially in a small country. People however do not always apply the same caution to online social spaces.

I love social websites such as Facebook. I love that I can keep up with the coming and goings of family and friends. I love that I can share my life experiences. I love sharing great articles and blog posts. I love being able to share in life's celebration and to be able to offer support in times of grief. And all of this 'love' lulls me into a false sense of security.

For many, Facebook and other similar sites, have become integral parts of our lives to the point that we forget that when we hit the 'Post' button we no longer control what happens next. We post to closed groups forgetting that  a closed group only remains closed if every member of the group holds fast to the confidentiality of the group. We forget that a screenshot can be grabbed in an instant and used in multiple (and not always good) ways. We also forget that content posted to sites such as Facebook cedes license to the hosting platform.

In recent years I have witnessed a surge of online communities in which teachers and other professionals share ideas and support each other. Most of this is awesome. I also think it is only a matter of time (if it hasn't happened already) when something posted in a "closed" group becomes part of an employment dispute or ends up in the front page of a national news service. We need to be very protective of our online selves.

Working in education can and does have its challenges. People who commit their lives to serving the future generation often have compelling and urgent needs. There are also lots of channels through which educators can get these needs met. We just need to ensure we use the right ones.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Needs-Finding Mindsets

This week, through the NZ Primary Teachers' Facebook group I was reminded of my teaching days in "Open Plan". It was the 80's and I was a young 2nd year teacher 'placed' in an Open Plan School. It was in a new subdivision in a lower socio-economic area of Christchurch. And it was the hardest teaching of my career.

No-one had a clue what you were supposed to do in a school that had 'spaces' instead of classrooms and 'spaces' without walls. And so in the absence of any professional development or guidance we all continued to teach as though we were in single cell classrooms. I still feel pity for the colleagues who got to teach alongside me as I distracted their classes with my drama, guitar playing, all singing, energy boosting curriculum delivery!

As it became obvious that in most places 'Open Plan' wasn't working, school communities began to 'fill' in the walls between the spaces. As I reflect on this and how we are now investing millions in once again creating open learning spaces all I can see is missed opportunities and wasted resources. In the 80s it wasn't the walls that were missing in the teaching spaces, it was the knowledge, professional learning and leadership required to teach in this new and IMHO a much more effective way. People jumped to SOLVE the problem (the classroom is missing its walls) instead of discovering the NEED (teachers don't know how to teach in collaborative spaces) and filling that.

There is a proverb, attributed to African culture, that states: "It takes a village to raise a child" and I whole-heartedly agree, The education of our future generation is too important to be just left to educators (don't hate me for saying this I am still a registered teacher and have worked in education all my life!). Educating the rising generation is the responsibility of everyone and what education needs is for those not at the 'chalkface' to come alongside with a needs-finding mindset.

A needs-finding mindset doesn't approach with a pre-prepared solution. A needs-finding mindset listens empathetically to those they wish to help and then in partnership designs solutions that will bring everyone closer to their preferred future.

Needs-finding mindsets are not just required by those working on the edges of education. They must also sit with those working in education. I think back to my time in schools and yes we did listen to student voice, but in my experience once we had listened to students it was the adults who went away and came up with the solutions which were then 'delivered' to the students. I know I never checked back with students about whether or not the 'solution' I had come up with actually meet their need. And I wonder what might have happened if after designing an intervention we had prototyped it with students for their feedback, tested it with a small group, and only scaled it if it worked. I'm guessing that if we had we would have come up with solutions that were more likely to meet students needs.

Education is a very complex activity and there are no easy fixes or silver bullets. Education is a human-centred activity and in my experience most successful when focussed on meeting needs rather than the delivery of solutions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Education in a time of exponential change

We stand at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution; a time when technology is advancing at an exponential rate; a time when technology will disrupt our every endeavour; a time when technology will impact every part of our lives; a time when education will need skilled leaders to successfully transition learning into the fourth age.
I was born at the dawn of the third industrial revolution, the digital age; the early 1960's, the time when computers changed from being people who spent their lives manually calculating, to machines (thanks Hidden Figures for teaching me this!); where the advances in telecommunications enabled greater connectedness between people, and social norms were challenged on every front - although I missed most of the latter as I was too busy attending primary school at the time!

So as we stand on the brink of this exponential change I put on my two favourite hats, education and leadership, and I begin to wonder. What does leadership look like as we transition into a time when we experience significant change in every area of our lives?

Dr Peter Cammock from the Leadership Lab at the University of Canterbury, is one of my favourite leadership gurus. In his book The Dance of Leadership he writes:

"When the ship is in a stable sea and plying a pre-arranged course, management works well enough. It is when a storm threatens, or icebergs clutter the sea-lanes, or when the traditional ports and sea-lanes are no longer available that management loses its functionality. At this point leadership is required."

I look at the world around me. I look at our schools and other institutions of learning and I see exponential change coming as a result of the rapid advances being made in technology. I go into classrooms that still look like traditional places of learning, but the students are connected to the world through their devices. I rely on Google maps to find me the fastest route to the airport and I use a robot at the supermarket to self-check my purchases (A robot you say? Surely not!? It is a self-checkout. Yes and no. It is a robot only we don't see it as such because it holds little resemblance to R2D2).

We are rapidly leaving behind our traditional ports and sea-lanes and we are entering a time of great change. Change will start to happen at a faster rate than we can manage and it is at this point that leadership not management comes to the fore.

So what does leadership look at times of exponential change?

  • It has a learner mindset; a passion to discover; an awareness of what is happening in the world around; It has a strong moral compass, as the known becomes unknown with that which matters most, standing strong at the core; 
  • It has a passion for people and discovering ways to empower leadership at all levels; whether it is leadership over self or leadership over many;
  • It is willing to embrace change, to intentionally move towards the new rather than hiding behind the old.
  • It is has a default setting of open, being willing to share insights and to support others along the journey.
  • It looks to industries other than its own to see what they are doing to prepare for and to manage change.
The fourth industrial revolution is beginning to gather momentum and as it begins to speed up it is wise and impactful leadership that will guide our world into the next stage of human evolution.