Enjoy - hope someone finds this mildly amusing. The Michael Bolton reference is a bit of an in-joke that contrasts my wife's musical tastes with my own. For the record, I did take Joanne to see Michael Bolton in concert a few years back, and he was very entertaining. I'm finding that the drawing part of trying to do a comic strip is the easy part - coming up with a story or anecdote or observation is definitely the hard part.
This link popped up via Ewan McIntosh in my Feedly reader today, and reading the article sent me back in time to 1995, when I started teaching at Flagstaff Hill Primary School in southern suburban Adelaide. The whole premise of the Washington Post piece is that open space work environments as apparently championed by Google are not really working that well, and that the drawbacks are outweighing the anticipated benefits. What surprises me (as it will many educators) is that the open space concept is supposedly new, and this analysis had me thinking back to my first experiences in an open space work environment.
Flagstaff Hill was built in the early eighties when the open space concept was really taking off. Two of the larger buildings had this design, while the other major in the primary section was a double storey block with more separate, privatised classrooms. I was a young teacher straight in from country service and I arrived ready to teach a Year 4/5 composite class - the principal told me that I would be in Blue Unit, one of the open space buildings, built to accommodate six classes with minimal shoulder height dividers between teaching spaces. There were four smaller withdrawal spaces that could be used for working in smaller groups and in the centre of it all was a "well" a recessed section where a class could sit on the ground in a rectangle pattern with their feet in the depression - conceived as a common meeting space.
The coveted class areas were in the four corners of the building where teachers could lay claim to two solid brick walls, while in the centre were two class sections where the front wall where the whiteboards were mounted being the only solid part of that classroom space. It was to this space that I was directed. I met the vacating teacher who gleefully told me she was getting out of Blue, and heading over to Orange building where she would have her own room and not "have to share" any more. I guess she had decided that "open space" classrooms were not for her.
I was lucky that I lobbed next door to a teacher who would become my closest friend in education, and we used the openness to dabble in team teaching, and to explore progressive teaching methodologies over the next eight years (although not without shifting around the Blue Building, and then eventually into the vacated library). So, I think that we were able to make the open space environment work but it does take a certain mindset and there are a lot of differences when compared to a traditional classroom where the door can be shut and the rest of the world kept out.
Noise and visual distraction were a factor in open space classrooms for sure. I recall agreements around times of the day when things were asked to be a bit quieter and everyone was always mindful of the effect their learning activity was having on their neighbours. In that way, because in a few steps you could see what every class in the unit was up to, that mindfulness tended to work favourably. Until .... you got a colleague who didn't want to embrace that ideal.
I remember one teacher, in our building for the year, who didn't concern himself with anyone but his own classroom. He loved doing construction stuff with his students and we used to joke that it sounded like the scene from the beginning of the Flintstones where the whistle blows in the construction yard and Fred just abandons his work and heads for the door. He also used to have a tradition of the "tray tip". If he found a student's tray of belongings to be in a less than stellar way, he would hold the tray aloft over the child's desk and ask the class loudly (and of course, the whole unit heard the whole thing) if he should tip out the contents forcing a clean up by the culprit. This was then followed by a whole class chant of "Tip, Tip, Tip!!" until it reached a crescendo and the tray was upended in front of the helpless offender. The practice was extremely popular with the Year Three kids in his classroom until one day he grabbed a tray of a student who had unfortunately left an unfinished flavoured milk carton in amongst the crumpled up worksheets and pencil shavings. The carton had been in there for several weeks, brewing beneath its folded in spout. So when the "Tip, Tip!" chant started, the student was powerless to warn the unsuspecting teacher about the contents in the tray. The tray was tipped, the carton exploded all over the desk, the odour was over powering, and to top it off, the student then threw up all over the contents. The stench was such that all five classes were vacated for the clean up (and the shared air conditioning system made sure that his error in judgement haunted us all for quite a while).
But when all teachers were on the same page, the environment worked quite well. Swapping groups for lessons was easy because one can see if the other class is ready. A teacher could work with a group in a withdrawal room knowing that other teachers in the building could "keep an eye" on the remaining students working independently. It forced inventiveness when it came to displaying student work. I hung netting from the ceiling and used paper clips to hold art work in place. Collegial consultation was the norm, rather than the exception.
I know that when I moved to my next school and had to return to a closed in classroom with only a door connecting me to my next door colleague, I felt boxed in and less inspired. It was harder to see what my colleagues were up to but then again, it probably spawned the next productive phase of my teaching journey where my colleagues and I moved to an online environment (using a wiki and Skype) in order to grab back the natural collaboration that I feel is possible in an open space environment.
Really, teachers have to make do with the spaces they are given. There are plenty more sixties style prefab box classrooms out there as there are eighties style open spaces. My teachers at Woodville Gardens probably have the best of both worlds in their more modern concept classrooms that open onto a shared common area, but that is not to say that they one day might end up in a heritage listed building (like my wife taught in at Lockleys Primary) where thick brick walls and concepts of learning from a century ago influenced the architecture. Teachers and learners don't really need seclusion - the concept of breaking down the classroom walls is clearly not a new one!
Sport in general has always been a paradoxical attraction for me. I grew up on a farm where my father didn't believe in the value of sport - it was more important to be watching the sheep on a Saturday or chopping weeds in the back paddock or collecting the eggs than to be hitting a tennis ball back and forth, or chasing a red leather ball around the local oval. To be honest, I didn't even really know that orgnaised sports even existed until I was about eight or so. I went up to stay with my aunty up at the nearby town of Booleroo Centre, where my much older cousins played Aussie Rules for the Roosters. I remember her taking me to see the games on a Saturday afternoon. My memory is hazy but I think my older cousin Andrew played for the Seniors while my younger mid teen cousin, Timothy was playing Junior Colts. My aunty also told me that the A grade team used a brand new ball for every game. I couldn't believe that!
"What do they do with the ball after each game if they get a new one next week?" I asked in my isolated naivety.
"They use them for training or the B grade games, and sometimes they give the old training balls out to young kids if they want one," was her reply from memory. "I'll get Timothy to get you one."
She was as good as her word. I got a well used football and it was the first one that I had ever owned. The hide got roughened up pretty quickly in those days so the trick was to give it a coat of brown shoe polish to restore the leather back to a better feel.
I went to a small parish school for the first four years of primary school where the numbers peaked at about a dozen kids and dwindled down to six before it was decided that it needed to be closed. The school was run by an old fashioned disciplinarian who also was in on the traditional Lutheran headset that sport wasn't worth the bother. We won a brand new football when I was in Grade Three from the Savings Bank of South Australia for being the best small school in school banking participation or something like that, but we never got to play with it. No, it stood proudly (and pristinely) on display in all its red leather glory as a testament to our savings discipline. When the school's imminent closure was announced, the teacher relented and actually let me and other remaining boy in the school take it out for a kick.
So, the school closed and my sister and I then went to a new school in the nearby town of Appila. This school was not much bigger than the first and had thirteen students. I was the only Grade Five in the whole school but I did become friends with the local builder's son who asked me for the first time in my life, "Who do you barrack for?"
I didn't know what he meant but he patiently explained about the SANFL and how if you liked footy then you had to barrack for one of the big teams in Adelaide. My sister and I talked about this serious decision, and in the end I decided I would be a Port Adelaide Magpies supporter just like my friend. It turned out that he played mini-league for the local Jamestown-Appila Magpies who wore the same black and white prison bar jumpers as their elite counterparts in the big city. That's how he had made his choice. My sister, for reasons known only to her, chose Sturt, the Double Blues who were another popular team of the mid seventies era.
I still didn't get to play any organised sport right up until I was sent off to boarding school in Adelaide at the age of twelve. That was an intimidating experience and funnily enough when I got there, I was told that all boarding students were expected to participate in sport! What should have been a dream come true wasn't quite so easy though. I had acquired glasses and my parents had told me that playing football was too dangerous and besides, your glasses might get broken. So I opted for the less perilous choices of tennis in the summer and squash in the winter. My oldest son has had issues with low muscle tone and I suspect that I may have had undiagnosed issues like that growing up because I never really got the hang of doing sporty stuff. Probably not playing any organised sports growing up was another contributing factor.
But probably because of my lack of aptitude for sport, my interest and love of sport grew. I watched the school's footy games on Saturday mornings and went to some SANFL games with my fellow boarders. I really liked watching televised footy matches as well - the VFL Winners show was great on a late Saturday afternoon as they broadcasted the last quarter of the Game of the Day from Melbourne and showed highlights from the other games. Dr Geoffrey Edelestein had bought the South Melbourne Swans and moved them to Sydney and every second Sunday afternoon, the boarders could sit down in their common room and watch the onfield exploits of Mark Browning, Silvio Foschini and Paul Morwood.
When I was in Year 11 and 12, I volunteered to be the runner for the school's B Grade senior team. I had a few mates on the team, and the coach needed someone to run the water bottle and the messages out to the players. I felt important and close to the action. In an era where all of the best SANFL footballers ended up heading over to play with the best in the VFL, a friend wrote in my Year 12 Yearbook a message that gave me pride - "Weg, champion footy runner. Will he go to Vic. next year?"
I went off to teachers college and sport took a back seat to socialising and going out to live music venues instead of footy games. But a mate of mine had his own set of golf clubs and we would occasionally head out to North Adelaide public links for a hit instead of going to lectures. I bought a starter set so I wouldn't have to pay for hire clubs each time and I was hooked. Golf was a game where anyone could participate - you didn't need a team, there was no organised practice and no opponent except for the course. I remember going out with my friend one day and having the course to ourselves while the Australian Grand Prix (still in Adelaide in the mid-eighties) could be heard buzzing in the background. Golf then helped me break into the community when I got my first teaching contracts. I played at Port Broughton and got my first handicap of 36.
Then I got sent out to a little town on the Eyre Peninsula called Wirrulla and my sporting involvement bloomed to my greatest involvement ever. I played football for the first time ever (without my glasses) in the B grade because being involved was important, not if you were any good - they needed the numbers. I played golf, became club treasurer and kept a plastic bucket of change under my bed until I could get to the bank during the week. I played darts during the week, had a go at asphalt basketball in the summer, and played No 5 in the Wirrulla tennis team.
In 1990, I was given my first permanent job at Port Augusta, right at the top point of the Spencer Gulf. As well as getting heavily involved in the local golf club, I had a go at social volleyball and social basketball. One of the teachers at my school and our Aboriginal Education Worker were right into basketball and tuned me into checking out the NBA, which had games and highlight packages on late night ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). It was right in the middle of the Michael Jordan era and the Chicago Bulls were the team that everyone wanted to watch. I remember the New York Knicks being a pretty cool team and I liked watching John Starks, a no nonsense player whose style of play appealed to me. The basketball card craze hit Port Augusta schools pretty hard, and every upper primary kid had their big 3 ring folders with plastic card sleeves with their collection of cards. I had one child who was a particularly hard case in my class, who the police were constantly picking up in the streets late at night or finding him shoplifting down at Woolworths. He was hard to engage in class, and would just leave the school if it looked like I was going to pressure him into doing the learning that the rest of the class was doing. But he had a massive basketball card collection, and although I'd like to say it was a bridge for him to engaging with our learning, he would at least be content to thumb his way through his collection without doing a runner.
The ABC also featured a weekly American Football show hosted by an Australian TV icon, Don Lane. His American accent was just perfect to host this show which showed highlights from three games each week and showed the last quarter of the best one. He explained the important concepts to the curious Australian audience, and I loved it. He would have weekly prize giveaways - a Giants cap, a Raiders hoodie - all showcased with his catchphrase, "Who wouldn't want one of these?" He promoted a book called The Australian Guide To American Football which I bought along with the follow up book The Other Side Of American Football. Now I knew what a blitz was and that a tight end wasn't a bowel problem. I bought a Los Angeles Raider pennant as the team that I decided I liked but my girlfriend (now my wife) bought me a 49ers Starter cap which was pretty cool as well.
Eventually, the ABC took these shows off the air, I got married and moved back to Adelaide, and I lost my keenness for American sport. I still loved to watch Aussie Rules and as the VFL had become the AFL, started following the progress of first decent non-Victorian football team, the West Coast Eagles. I tried to like the new Adelaide team, the Crows, but there was something not quite right about them. When Port Adelaide finally got the chance to field an AFL team in 1997 as the Power, it was time to switch my loyalties full circle back to the team that answered that question back in primary school, "Who do you barrack for?"
Professional sport is a strange sort of beast. As a society, and generally as a worldwide phenomena, humans place sporting expertise on a very high pedestal and disproportionally reward these individuals. And when I decide to spend my time watching a team of multimillionaires play a game, or buy a team product like a cap or t-shirt, then I'm helping to bankroll the whole sideshow. Yet, does professional sport really contribute that much to the betterment of human existence on Earth? The flip side of that is that humans like entertainment (those of us in the luxurious position of being able to, as so many people on our planet are starving, living in poverty or facing a dire future. Why would they give a toss about Lebron James' latest colorway on his signature basketball shoe?) and professional sport is entertainment in a very primeval form. A pro athlete is only as good as his or her last game, one injury could end it all, and we so often see that total life dedication to becoming elite in sport leaves some unable to do anything else when it comes to life beyond their sporting expertise. There's certainly elements of gladiatorial Rome in any sporting arena.
It's also a form of classic escapism. Pretending for an hour that the next goal is the most important thing in the world and that your loud cheers (even from the edge of your lounge chair) could be the thing that pushes your team or favourite player to victory. Sports journalism has perfected the art of using an athlete's life journey as a metaphor for humankind's struggle for purpose, for redemption, for meaning.
So, me, I like sport. Having my youngest son play basketball has re-connected me to watching more of that on TV, and reading about it and caring about what is happening in that disconnected_from_everyday_humdrum_life. Getting pay TV last year has me watching NFL and NBA again even though I can't take to baseball or soccer. And now thanks to videogames, I'm enjoying watching the NHL which could turn out to be the most compelling one of them all for me. So the irony is that I am one of the least talented sports person around, but it doesn't take talent to appreciate the pure escapism and spectacle of sport at its highest level.
During Ewan McIntosh's keynote on Wednesday, I posted the following reaction to Twitter:
For me, the theme of #EduTECH is tensions - between pedagogies, between possibilities and constraints, between curriculum and creativity...
I've thought about tensions in education before in the past. But Ewan's discussion about tensions and contradictions, followed by Tom Barrett's presentation on creativity which also talked about tensions, started some contemplation within my own mind about how I go about my own learning and then transferring that to my professional life as an educator and leader. This post will be an attempt to sort some of that out and to address some of my past frustrations in a new, more informed light. I don't want to rehash Ewan's address here but this great visual presentation from Cathy Hunt aka @art_cathyhunt sums up the key ideas.
I've been looking back at the almost three years that I've been at WGS with a feeling of frustration in a number of areas. I know that the school is immensely complex and challenging, and I have been on a steep learning curve since arriving. However, there are a lot of times when I feel like I haven't made that much of a difference to the place, or that the school hasn't moved to places that it should have under my guidance. I remember applying for the job and talking to another ICT peer here in Adelaide about the opportunity. He suggested that the position would be ideal - a brand new school, no previous incumbent or set ICT directions, a blank canvas, so to speak professional opportunity wise. I had visions of heading up a drive of innovation where technology would be embedded in rich and meaningful ways, where connected staff planned and provided leading edge learning for their students and there would be outside recognition of these programs.
Well, WGS is innovative and doing a great job catering for the needs of its students and I am privileged to be part of a large progressive leadership team, but it is my own contribution that caused me frustration. Everyone else seemed to have their act together and knew what they were doing while I (in my mind) struggled to be clear about directions, about making the right decisions and most of all, about getting teacher buy in for the essential role of technology in re-imagining learning for our students. Maybe it is part of the reason I started to retreat from participation in educational social media - I felt like I didn't have successes to highlight, that every connection seemed to be on track with their professional programs but me. The evidence was in front of me - educators who used to be just like me when I was a coordinator / classroom teacher were heading up important leadership roles, being headhunted to showcase their answers at conferences and being referenced as thought leaders in publications and books. Not that I wanted any of that - but I didn't want to feel like the only one who feels like they don't know what they are doing.
There are two Hugh MacLeod cartoons that speak to me above all others. One is aspirational:
And the other is to help me feel good:
So, to to hear Ewan and Tom talk about tensions made me reflect about the tensions I experience in my daily professional life. There are plenty of them. There is the tension between ensuring that there are enough devices available for use and the fact that any devices can be used to enable student learning at a deep level. There is tension between dealing with urgent behaviour management issues at the expense of more big picture planning - the former robs the latter of time, but leaving the former means that extra thought for the latter could well be wasted. Tensions exist across the school - teachers are encouraged to use structure to keep students on task and because looseness can descend into chaos within a minute, but over-structure promotes disengagement and constrains freedom of choice for learners. I personalise learning for teachers at PD sessions but it is difficult when the range stretches from Twitter enthusiasts to teachers who struggle to sign up for an online account - mirroring the broad range of our students.
I have probably achieved a lot more in my role at this school than I am prepared to give myself credit for. But I don't like to use valid reasons as excuses, so I need to open up myself to more sharing, more consultation with my colleagues and making networked learning a key part of a leadership and role resurgence that is necessary for both the school, my colleagues and myself.
During Term of 2014, I applied for and was appointed to the acting position of the acting Head of School (Deputy Principal) here at my school, after our previous HOS took up a new appointment as a principal at the end of last year. I thought it would be good experience, although I felt quite daunted by the role, which was very different from my usual role of Assistant Principal. The areas of responsibility were different, the line management was different and the way my week unfolded was a big departure from my regular work patterns. As an acting position, my principal did not give me the full blown role, hanging onto some components that he felt he could manage, and likewise, I kept some aspects of my regular position instead of handing it all onto the colleague who also "acted up" into my role for the term.
About a month into this change of responsibilities, I knew that I wouldn't be amongst the applicants to take on this role more permanently. I learned a lot in my term, but the role really felt daunting to me at times so deep down, I knew that at this time of my life, I wasn't ready professionally to make the big "jump up" beyond this acting stint. But I learned a lot during my tenure, and I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on that time before my memory becomes foggy, and familiarity with my current role becomes engrained again.
Being a Head of School meant that colleagues did treat me differently. Some came by to talk to me and feel me out to see if I would be an ally in their part of the school picture or whether I would be someone to bypass. Instead of being a person to help pitch and help out with behaviour management, more serious issues were brought to me to deal with. I signed my first suspension letters in this role. It meant that I had to be ready to have hard conversations with colleagues about their work, and that I would provide them with what they needed to turn things around or to mend bridges.
I really found that this is a big people role, while my AP position focusses more on programs and resources. My AP role is about influencing classroom practice, while the Deputy role was more about driving school priorities, and in some ways, there was more of making colleagues accountable. Being a Deputy was definitely more about people looking to me to make decisions that they couldn't or didn't want to, while I do some of that deferring up or across in my current role. I had to draw a lot more on my skills of diplomacy both with colleagues and parents, and the role brought more in contact with our more challenging students. I also had to let go of some aspects of my AP work that are driven by my own innovation, and trust that the acting person would be fine without my direction.
Frank, my boss, invited me in for a chat on my last day in the role and asked me straight out what was the best part of being a Head of School at our school. I really had to stop and reflect because it had felt so much like putting one foot in front of the other that I wasn't sure how to separate out various parts from each other. But then I recalled the weekly senior leadership meeting where it would be just the principal, the other permanent Head of School (Early Years) and I gathering to align diaries, make plans and decide on solutions and directions for the school. I said that while I thought it might sound silly, it felt good to feel important and that my input at that level was important, and that I was making a difference. Frank graciously said that no, it wasn't silly and thanked me for my efforts and contributions.
I work at a very complex, quite challenging school where something is always happening. We have a new Head of School now, and luckily, it is a colleague that I knew previously through ICT networking connections and who I respect enormously. Our school has a large leadership team, far from the norm in South Australian schools, and each member brings a unique skillset and perspective to the running of the school. My principal has to delegate a lot - micromanagement just wouldn't work in our school situation - and he has to trust that the leadership team he has constructed is in unison with the school's chosen directions and that we present a united front to our even larger team of teachers and support staff. I am proud to be part of that team and happy that I got to "test drive" a more senior role within that team for the term. For now, I can go back to my weekly blend of Learning Technologies, Admin and Data with a better idea of what happens when I pass an issue up the chain of command.
It is just after 2 pm here in Adelaide and the temperature is currently 41 degrees Celsius (105 F). We are having a short heatwave following a longer one two weeks ago that saw the temperature here get to 44.5 deg. C (112 F) on Wednesday, January 15. My youngest son's basketball game was cancelled for this morning and all around Adelaide, air conditioners are on the go, providing cool refuge from the dry heat.
Heat is often a factor in the start of the school year here in South Australia. It cranked up to 43 deg C (109 F) on Tuesday for the first day of the 2014 school year. At my school, we have fully air conditioned buildings and a policy that restricts outside play for students beyond a prescribed temperature. But kids need that chance to run around and be active and this restriction to the indoors produces students who can become ratty and disruptive when "cooped up inside". I remember a record fortnight of 40 deg C + temperatures in 2009, and I still feel that my class were never as settled as they could have been because of that start, and their enforced indoor play breaks. Break time also means a break from personalities that can rub up against each other, and combine that with a tendency for some kids to break their boredom with some less than appropriate or sensible behavioural choices and hot weather can be a testing time for a teacher trying to establish group norms of a learning community.
Hot weather can be extremely risky here in South Australia, with a constant threat of bushfires. One broke out at Bangor in the state's mid-north, and came within 2 kilometres of my parents' house in Wirrabara. It is still burning two weeks later and of course, extreme heat this weekend threatens to revive it as a threat to people living in the area.
I don't really like summer. Given a choice between summer or winter, I prefer the latter. Of course, I am talking about the days of extreme heat that really are not much fun for anyone. But I won't let tomorrow's forecast of 43 deg C put my off my regular game of golf. I just need a 2 litre water bottle half frozen overnight then topped up, a Powerade or 2 from the vending machine at the halfway point and light coloured shirt and shorts, and I should be fine.
I got my credit card bill the other day. As usual around this time of year, an automated amount is charged to me from Edublogs. This small investment keeps this blog alive and visible on the web. But it takes more than that payment to keep this place alive. It needs me.
I have found it hard to get back into the writing groove. Purpose has been missing. But little habits that would feed this beast have contributed to the downturn. I used to scroll through Google Reader over breakfast and tag items of interest into possible future posts, make mental notes to engage with certain personalities over issues of interest and so on. But not having a decent replacement has meant that I have let a lot of that go. I've been conscious that in my current role, that most things of interest from a writing perspective involve delving too closely into personal observations of colleagues and I have wanted to respect their right to not have their professional interactions microscoped in a public forum by someone who is meant to be leading in the ethical and powerful use of technology for learning. I've often felt out of touch with things. I've had some extended family distractions that have dulled my enthusiasm for blogging - for a while, these issues were ruining my golf as well which is not a good thing. I also felt that I have nothing really to write about and deep down, my ego tells me that no one is probably reading any more, either.
I can remember the enthusiasm and passion when I started putting my ideas and thoughts here. I can only admire those bloggers who were blogging regularly then and are still doing so now. Alan Levine, Stephen Downes, Brian Lamb, Tom Hoffmann, Doug Johnson, Wesley Fryer, Miguel Guhlin and Tom Woodward just to name a few. But quite a few super talented writers that I loved reading - Christian Long, Doug Noon, Ken Rodoff, Jennifer Jones, Alex Hayes - no longer do so. Their reasons are their own but it shows that purpose is a big part of chosing this public digital place as a repository for half-baked, embryonic, still fermenting concepts and realisations.
Darcy Norman is still one of those original "edubloggers" that I started reading when I first started this blog. Now that Google Reader is dead, I found this post from him while sifting through Feedly (the new but not as enticing aggregator I now use) that rings pretty true to me.
We’re living in a time when it’s never been easier to share what we do, at little or no cost, and people get hung up on how they will need to squeeze their creations through a press to extract every last drop of monetization out of it. That’s not the point. Create because you are creative. Share because you give a shit. Or don’t.
I don’t generate a profit from anything I do outside of my Day Job™. At least, not directly. But being creative and sharing makes me better at my Day Job™, so has likely made me “profit” indirectly. How do you calculate that? Easy. You don’t. Well, I don’t.
I think some of the most fun I've had blogging was when I came up with some cartoon, or played around with words. This place needs to get back to being more enticing than the next game of NBA 2K14 or the next episode of "Game of Thrones" - making my own art, in other words.
We implement a student wellbeing program across our school titled "Play Is The Way" and one of the concepts (common in many of the best social emotional skills programs available in schools) is a focus on making conscious choices when confronted with an issue. In simple words, the challenge to any person who is simmering when things haven't gone their way or feeling like control is slipping away is "Who was in charge of your thinking? Your brain or your feelings?" A recent PD session I attended talked about where your choices are on a five point emotional scale ranging from logical, weigh it all up before acting to reaction, letting the heart rule the way and emotions becoming magnified. I had a timely reminder last week that educators need to ensure that they too have similar control of their emotions.
I came into a building after lunch and saw a child who had been pushing the boundaries all day sitting on top of a set of portable bag lockers, playing with a basketball. Calmly, I ask the child to put the ball down, come down from the lockers and return to the classroom - it is learning time. The child ignores me and I feel invisible. I step closer and ask again, a little more demanding tone as a deliberate choice. Again, I am ignored but there is acknowledgement of my presence as the child spins on their bottom and presents their back to me. Now, I am feeling quite ineffectual now and decide to up the stakes.
"Give me the ball."
No response, so I reach for it to take it myself. The student is too quick and rolls it out of my reach, rolling off the lockers and into a sink that is directly behind. Now my feelings make their surge for attention. I am not going to raise my voice but this child is not having that ball, dammit! I reach over the lockers towards the sink and realise that it really is just beyond my reach. But now I am determined and figure that with a little more stretch I can take the ball for good. I stretch a bit more and lean my mid chest into the top edge of the lockers.
Then I feel it - a sharp stabbing pain in my lowest right hand rib. My lunge is successful, the ball comes away in my hand but immediately I feel winded and hurt. I turn, clutching the painful spot and with as much dignity as I cam muster, take the ball and retreat to the sanctuary of my office. I need to sit down, take deep breaths and work out whether I have damaged myself too much. A trip to the doctor later that week confirms that I have cracked the cartilage in my lower rib and have ruled myself out of playing golf for the next fortnight.
I let my feelings overrule my common sense. In determining that the student would not win that battle of wills, I ended hurting myself in the most literal sense. A painful reminder that teachers must model their own emotional control in all situations if we expect our students to be able to use these strategies for their own wellbeing and future life choices.
I've now been in my Assistant Principal role for just over two years now. It is a complex position in a complex school but I have enjoyed the challenge and change of responsibilities. There are several different components to the job and a lot of the time, it really feels like they are competing against each other for priority ranking in my working day. I think educators everywhere complain about not having time to get everything done but in a leadership role, it really feels magnified. And there have been times where the contending demands have reached a what-seems-to-me overwhelming level. When that happens, the telltale signs are (in Stephen Covey terms) when the urgent starts to take priority over the important at almost every turn. This also tends to sneak up on me until I realise that things are out of sync.
I had a timely conversation with my principal on Friday which helped me to step back from my role and see it all from a distance. This is really helpful in terms of seeing the competing demands as separate entities and how they can all assume urgency disguised as importance. Let me pick it apart here - for no one's benefit but my own. This post is a way of sorting out some of the entangled bits and making some conscious decisions about the varying tasks.
For most of my work life, I have been a classroom teacher. I believe I was reasonably good at that, and using technology was something that I picked up relatively easily and used a way of opening up learning possibilities for my students. The initiative and innovation that I showed from the mid-nineties onwards earned me the chance to become a Coordinator for over eight years, but even in taking that first step on the rung of official leadership, most of my work time was based in the classroom. Being a classroom teacher has a certain workflow predictability to it. The week is timetabled, the curriculum is there to be implemented, planning is done in the time away from the students and while there is no doubt that there is a lot that a modern teacher must juggle and achieve, the deadlines and priorities have always felt clear.
There is a lot more autonomy in my current position. I have a administrative component that involves the construction and management of rosters. This includes Yard Duties, Non Instructional Time and Traffic Monitors for aspects of school life that runs all year round. I also manage smaller events like school photos and swimming and aquatics. I am responsible for student assessment data management and for running staff meeting PD sessions across the year on school priorities. When a teacher goes on leave, it is me who has to swing the changes to cover the absence. When teachers miss deadlines to submit student assessment results, it is me that has to follow up to remind them of their professional responsibilities. This is not a complaint but merely a recognition that smaller tasks fan out from the main ones and they all require time and attention in order for things to run smoothly. That seems to be one of the main goals of administration - efficiency. But it should not be confused for leadership.
I am also a line manager for a building of teachers. I meet with them around their professional development, read and proof their reports and act as first base for issues within their classrooms. This can fold over into aspects of behaviour management or pedagogical advice and guidance. Without saying much more, this year has been a difficult year for teachers under my line management. Issues arising from this has also contributed a great deal to my role distortion and need for re-prioritising. Make no mistake, it is hugely important to spend time in this area and in a complex site like mine, I am unavoidably called away from the other parts of my job regularly.
I am also involved in the management of what my principal titled "e-tech". This involves the strategic purchases of technology equipment, the liaising with our tech support about issue prioritization and school goals, and the management of an important budget. There is a danger in spending too much time in this area as staff members can start to view me as part of the tech support team, there to help fix things or change password or to top up accounts.
I quite enjoy the parts of my job that I have mentioned so far. But to be honest, they are not the reason I am in this role. They are part of the role but we do have other leadership at my school that could take on these parts as well as me. Of course, the other leaders at my school are busy grappling with their own varying competing job pieces so this is just my share of what needs to be done.
But it is the innovative practice and change that I have the unique skill set for. It is the area where I am expected to lead out, but the area where I feel like things get squeezed out at the expense of the other. It is where my principal would like to see me involved in "coaching". I do this stuff but I feel like it could be delivered and organised a lot better. The goal is help influence staff to make changes in their classroom practice and take advantage of technology to improve learning outcomes for their students. This is the important stuff - so use of projects, testbed classrooms and other innovations are things I need to consciously program time and energy for.
Revisiting my weekly timetable, my ongoing tasks and adjusting priorities needs to happen from time to time. Like a garden, there are times to prune some overgrowth back in order to give some underdeveloped aspects of my job an opportunity to flourish.
When do I stop aspiring to be a leader, and just be one?
That question crossed my mind yesterday after a meeting at an eastern suburbs school, which is situated right next door to the Eastern Regional office where I was booked to attend an Aspiring Leaders Program today. I was chatting to the principal as I was departing, and she was listed to be a guest speaker at today's event, I remarked that I would be one of the participants listening to her speak. She looked at me, and said something along the lines of, "Haven't you been to this sort of thing before in the past? I remember seeing you at one of these type of events back in 2010."
It really made me think - I know that I am a leader at my school, and was one in the one before - but here I was still seeing myself as an aspiring leader, not just as a leader <full stop>. Maybe because I'm not the leader (i.e. a principal) that makes me assume that I still have to get more grounding, more knowledge, more experience, more everything (!!!) before I can offload the aspiring tag.