Difficult conversations

In my 2nd Bastow workshop, the theme was “Leading Teams”. During the two days we learnt that it is important to communicate well with our colleagues. I learnt that whilst certain conversations might be difficult, it is imperative that we have them in order to avoid negativity.

Over the past few months, I have encountered more difficult conversations then in previous years of teaching. The increase has resulted due me becoming the English Learning Leader. The issue for me is that “tough talks” are not easy and this is the way most people would probably feel. I find it especially difficult, because all my life I have been raised to “let it go”, to just walk away from a situation where I’m unhappy and avoid addressing the issue. It was a way of letting the issue just fade away, but it would fester within me. It got to a point that I would always walk away feeling stressed, knowing the situation was unresolved. As a leader, it is something I can’t avoid- I need to tackle it head on.

I teach in a team – each member has a different teaching style and a way of working.Ideally in a team teaching situation each member’s abilities should add to the team’s capabilities and strengths but I find that this is often not the case. If one member struggles with time and student management, this can often impact the other members and their work. They can be forced to carry the team, doubling their own workload and can find themselves doing most of the work. I have often found myself in this situation many times and as I can’t communicate my frustrations very well, this often has an impact on the team relationship. I try to hide my feelings and hope the situation goes away so that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the students . It doesn’t. Students are very quick in picking up tension between teachers and it can affect the harmony in the classroom.

At the workshop, I had to identify a person at work that I needed to have a difficult conversation. In our groups we did role-playing so that we could think about what we would say to the person we needed to have a tough conversation with. For me it was difficult because this has been an ongoing issue, one that I have tried to broach several times over the last 2 years with no change. However I knew I had to keep trying, not so much because it was affecting the way I worked, but because it was having a negative impact on my students.

Communication

During the role-play I realised a few things:

  • I was unable to identify reasons why my team member was not contributing to our planning sessions
  • I was constantly projecting my own assumptions on the situation without taking the time to find out the real reasons
  • I wasn’t approaching the situation with a clear mind- so I wouldn’t be open to what was happening
  • I wasn’t really prepared to listen actively

As a result, I am trying to make sure that the next time I begin this conversation, I am in the right frame of mind. It’s not fair to the other person that I’m coming into the meeting with pre-conceived ideas and judgments. In order to understand their point-of-view, I need to ensure the meeting takes place when I’m in the right head-space, so that it is a proper conversation.

I have a lot to learn about difficult conversations, but I know that I need to be prepared to actively listen to their point-of-view and to understand that they might be at a point when there are many things happening in the background that I am not aware of. By going in with an open mind, we might be able to work together to come up with a solution that can be implemented in order to ensure the smooth running of our classroom.

What motivates learning?

Learning is has been part of my life’s journey- I have been learning since the day I was born. Often I didn’t even realise that I was learning because I equated learning mostly with school. Until I started thinking about this topic, I wasn’t conscious about how much I have learnt and continue to learn on a daily basis.

I wanted to be independent so I learnt:

  • to drive a car
  • how to teach, so I could get a job and earn a living
  • how to use the Melbourne transport system (in case my car breaks down or I need to go to the city)
  • how to pay bills and manage my money when I moved out of home.

I became a technology leader and I didn’t know how to use it effectively, so I:

  • attended technology conferences
  • learnt how to use Twitter to talk to other educators about technology in the classroom
  • participated in Twitter chats to learn about how technology is breaking down classroom walls
  • participated in an Edmodo course to learn how to get connected and try out new online resources
  • read blogs, websites like Edutopia to learn how to improve my use of ICT in the classroom

There are many other reasons I learn:

  • I’m interested in giving my students a voice in the classroom- so I read anything I can on that topic.
  • I’ve become the English Learning Leader so I’m constantly learning on the job and finding PD to help me.
  • I’m doing a year long Leadership course because I want to be an effective leader.
  • My students love sharing information about themselves and what they read which allows me to learn more about them.
  • I love dancing so I took ballroom dance lessons and learnt new dances.

At times throughout my life, I was learning just to get by. However I’ve realised that when I’m passionate about something, that’s when my learning is the strongest. It’s been years since I was a student myself, but as a teacher I’ve realised that in some ways I’m still a learner. Every day I learn something new and often don’t realise it. Whether it is learning to dance or learning about my students, if I’m passionate about something then I will learn. I don’t want to stop this learning journey because there is still so much I want to know and do.

So what motivates me to learn? Being passionate about something.

So my question to you is “What motivates you to learn?”

#YourEduStory Week 17

My ideal conference

There are many different styles of conferences that are run nationally and globally. Most are carefully organised and structured to suit those in charge. A timetable is created. The day begins with a keynote address after the welcome. Then depending on how big the conference is, educators and other stakeholders will decide which sessions to attend.

Edcamps are an alternative to conferences. They are an “un-conference” whereby there is no organised schedule or keynote speakers. Participants on the day decide what they want to learn or talk about, thereby creating sessions based on preference. Workshops are facilitated by interested educators.

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So what would be my ideal conference?

Firstly I would prefer an un-conference like Edcamp. Whilst I’m yet to attend one, I would prefer to have the sessions chosen by the participants. I want to see how other teachers use technology in their classroom, or implement different teaching pedagogies in their schools. To me, Edcamps seem to be more personal and hands-on. It allows teachers to actively participate in the sessions.

Other suggestions for my ideal conference:

  1. A conference run only by teachers – not consultants who don’t know what is happening in the classroom. This allows educators to demonstrate what they are doing in their classrooms and other teachers can see the how it can fit into their own classrooms.
  2. Students are involved in the conference. Since the focus is on giving students a voice in the classroom to direct their own learning- why shouldn’t they also be given a voice at a teachers’ conference? Together with teachers, they can help to design learning programs that can be implemented in the classroom. The conference will allow them to tell teachers what they want and how they learn. Teachers and students can work together to create engaging units of work as well as learning environments that can be adapted to different learning styles.
  3. One where participants attend in school teams- each team is represented members of the principal class, the leadership team (e.g subject leaders/technology leaders), classroom teachers, students and parents. This allows all stakeholders to have a say in how students learn and what support is needed. Parents will also have a better understanding on changing teaching practices and how they can provide their children with the necessary support at home. The teams will then be responsible with sharing the learning with others at the school.
  4. Sessions at the conference are streamed via Google Hangouts or another platform. This will allow for a wider audience, especially since it is not possible for everyone to attend. Those who watch online can tweet their own questions/comments (with the conference hashtag) allowing them to contribute as well.

 

YourEduStory Week 14: Describe your ideal conference: What is covered? Who is present?

Being an Emerging Leader

In February I finally began my Bastow Emerging Leaders’ Program. Ever since I started seeking my own avenues of learning, I realised that I had to find a face-to-face learning environment that was actually interesting and engaging as well as relevant to me. Whilst I enjoy learning online, it can sometimes feel as if I’m missing out on the in-depth conversations. Twitter is great for micro chats, but having the time and unlimited word count can result in a conversation that is not constricted by 140 characters.

The Bastow course aims to provide teachers with the skills necessary to be an effective leader in their schools. Whilst some teachers in the course have been in positions of responsibility for a couple of years, others like me are just starting out. Everyone is there for the same reason- they all want to be the best leaders and to improve their leadership abilities. The 1st  two workshops allowed the teachers to question themselves and 4 key questions were raised:

Leaders

In the 2 day residential workshops, I felt as if I was stripped bare. There was nowhere to hide- and for once I didn’t feel as if I wanted to run away. I wanted to face my fears and know what I needed to do to become a better leader. I was open about what I needed to work on. My leadership journey is just beginning and I know (at least I think I know) my own strengths and weaknesses. The emotional intelligence test, that all participants had to complete, produced results that weren’t a surprise. Instead of the results making me feel discouraged, they worked to make me more determined about the skills I needed to work on. I wanted to be here- now I was going to have to find the steps that would allow me to go forward.

In the Genos Emotional Intelligence test that I completed, as a requirement for the Bastow course, it identified 4 emotional skills that are important in shaping workplace behaviours. These skills are acquired over time and can help shape and strengthen a leader’s capabilities. The effectiveness of a leader depends not only on their actions but how they react in a variety of situations. The aim of this test was to help participants understand that as leaders they needed to cognizant of that fact.

  1. Awareness (perceiving and understanding your own and others emotions)
  2. Expression (effectively expressing your own emotions)
  3. Reasoning (using emotional information in combination with other data when making decisions)
  4. Management (maintaining positive moods, dealing effectively with with stress and reacting positively in a controlled manner)

In my report, it showed my results for each skill and listed suggestions on how I could improve in each area. I’ve decided that for this year, I will focus on 4 suggestions (1 for each area) in order to further develop my leadership skills. To me, they are my biggest weaknesses which have the major impact on how I react to events that take place around me.

  1. Being aware of how my feelings influence the way I interact with people (awareness)
  2. Expressing how I feel to the right people (expression)
  3. Asking people how they feel about different solutions when solving problems (reasoning)
  4. Handling stressful situations effectively (management)

During the workshop, I questioned myself and my abilities several times. I framed several questions that are important to me on this year long course. I don’t need to have them answered by the end of the year, but they will help me learn and understand more about how I lead.

Do I encourage others to build up their skills?
Do I motivate them to be better?
How do other leaders make me feel? Do I feel daunted or inferior? Or do they make me want to do better? Do they encourage me?
Where am I heading as a leader?
What are the values that shape me as a leader?

[This post was started a week after the workshops but due to a busy schedule, it is only now during the 1st term break that I was able to complete it.]

Am I an Effective Leader?

“What makes a good leader? Am I a Leader? What are the qualities of a leader? How do you lead change in a school? How do you get other teachers to include and experiment with new ideas in their classroom? Why do others see me as a Leader?”

These are just just some of the questions that have been swirling around in my head. I want to be able to answer these questions to enable me to understand what I need to do to be a leader. I have the title “Domain Technology Leader” at my school, yet I don’t feel like an effective leader. This is an ongoing conversation in my head as well as with other teachers and one that I still have yet to make sense of.

So what makes a good leader in my opinion?

 

A leader is a person who is confident in speaking in front of others- when I stand in front of my domain teachers, my mouth refuses to open or I constantly stumble over my words. I can’t get my message across. I find it difficult to talk to a group of my peers because sometimes I’m afraid of how they will react.

A leader can initiate change: To me a leader is someone who identifies changes that can be made and finds a way to implement them, not just in their classroom but at a school level. This is a skill I struggle with especially when it relates to whole-school implementation. I’m comfortable with trying new ideas in my class but when it comes to sharing the benefits and the results it’s not easy to do. Knowing that many staff are not receptive of new ideas, makes me hesitant in sharing to all. I try to share my ideas with staff I talk to on a regular basis, with the idea that if I start small, it might make a difference.

A leader models change:  With the increased use of technology in Education, new teaching practices that teach key 21st century skills to students, leaders are those who are open-minded. They are willing to try new ideas and experiment with them to improve student engagement and ownership in their learning.

A leader is open to change: Schools establish and maintain their visions and values so that students, staff and the wider community are aware of the expectations. Bringing in change can often be met with resistance from members of the school community. A leader is aware of the status quo, yet is open to accepting changes in teaching pedagogies. A leader may not initiate the change, but they listen to others opinions and support teaching and learning initiatives. With the aim of ensuring that students’ different learning abilities shape the teaching, they understand the use of technology within the classroom. One of the reasons I chose to become a Domain technology leader was to understand how technology can support the learning in my classroom as well as in the school. It allows teachers to extend the students’ capabilities and to equip them with skills they need as they move into the workforce.

A good leader is approachable and supportive: One of the qualities I admire in my immediate leaders is their ability to support the staff. Whenever I go to them for advice, they first listen and then they actively work with me to help me resolve an issue or come up with a solution. They don’t resolve the issue themselves, they help me develop the skills I need to implement the solution. This is something I need to develop myself as a leader.

A good leader knows their staff and their abilities: One of the skills I am interested in developing is the ability to recognise what the staff need to know when implementing new teaching practices. During my first years, I just went about my daily duties without quite understanding what I was doing. Having had that experience, I want to ensure that other staff understand the reasoning behind why new pedagogies like “PBL” are being implemented. I want to run PD that helps them gain an understanding of not just what is new but also the reasons why they can be effective.

This post is written as part of the #blogsync challenge for Connected Educator month. It has also been shaped by conversations with other staff as well as some Year 9 students. I was interested in these conversations as they helped me understand how I can be a better leader.