What I’ve Learnt About Leadership

A number of weeks ago now I presented at a local Women in Educational Leadership meeting. I was asked to present on what leadership means to me. I’ve been meaning to share my presentation. Here it is. I guess I just wanted to let readers know that I’m alive. Just swamped with work at this point of the term and have had to neglect the blog somewhat. Hoping to get back to it soon. Thanks for sticking with me.

Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Karla and I am the Drama Teacher at SCHS. I am here this afternoon, along with my other esteemed female colleagues to share with you my leadership journey.

I’d like to speak simply and honestly with you today. I originally had written this convoluted, metaphoric, aspirational and let’s be honest, wanky speech about pyjamas weirdly enough. I even considered wearing a pair but the more I attempted to turn this metaphor into something meaningful the more it strayed from what I felt the speech was supposed to be about and I guess, what I’m about.

My leadership journey has been one of discovery. I have made the realisation in the last year that I am a leader. I have potential to do great things as a leader. That being a leader is a huge responsibility. I’ve learnt that leaders are strong, resilient, passionate with strong convictions, determined, unfazed. They are humble, self-critical, perfectionists. They often stand alone. They take risks. They fail. They aren’t always recognised. They are brave.

Teachers are all those things. Teachers are leaders. You are a leader. You stand in front of a class every day, with those big, innocent (and maybe not so innocent) eyes staring back at you, waiting for you to tell them what to do. You are the only person in the room so who else is going to take the lead? You lead unknowingly because you would have never considered defining yourself as a leader.

In the past year I’ve dared to believe that I am a leader not just a teacher and now I am here saying it to you aloud. This is a big step in my leadership journey. Just believing that has changed my approach to teaching enormously.

Leadership to me, right now, is about self-belief because my biggest battle has always been with myself. I struggle with my confidence.

I came to SCHS in 2007 fresh out of university. It’s my first school and I’ve now been there for six years.  I remember I was naïve, inexperienced but enthusiastic. I saw potential for Drama to grow. I attempted to expand its profile in the school with public performances, excursions to the Sydney Theatre Company and The Belvoir. I gave it the love and attention that I felt it deserved.

Those initial years of establishing yourself as a teacher are really hard. Your confidence and self-esteem take a battering, your personal integrity is challenged, and your beliefs are changed. I thought I had to know it all and do it all on my own. I felt isolated and unsupported yet I wouldn’t ask for help because I didn’t have the confidence to ask. I felt like I thought people would think I was stupid. There was however, to my amazement in retrospect, a never ceasing ability to get up in the morning and go to work because deep down inside the passion and desire I had (have) for bringing drama into the lives of my students was (is) so important to me. Looking back, there was something there inside me it just needed the right outlet to blossom. Standing proud within your own integrity, following your passion, relentlessly and with resilience is a fundamental quality in a leader. I couldn’t articulate it then but I can articulate it now and I know you all do this every day.

I believe “There is always time to be what you might be.” I owe a significant amount of my understanding of leadership to my Principal. He is a huge advocate for Professional Learning and each year we hold a Leadership Conference in Week 6 of Term 2. We stay at a hotel somewhere, get satchels with notes and get the usual conference spread of coffee, tea, lunch and those fabulous mini mentos in a bowl. He believes in making us think of ourselves as professionals. That we are more than just 9-3 with a highly challenging and deeply intellectual profession. It is through his leadership that I have dared to believe that I am a leader and that I have a greater responsibility to lead my students and other staff in all that I do but even more so as an advocate for Drama. He’s helped me to articulate my potential and place greater value on the influence that my colleagues can have on my teaching.

It’s this understanding of myself as a person, as a leader and this belief that I have something to offer that has pushed me to make greater connections. To move beyond my classroom and share my knowledge to support others. “Man is not an island” and as such I have moved to make connections with other drama teachers worldwide through blogging and with other teachers through professional learning networks such as Twitter. Thus how I met many of the ladies up on stage with me this afternoon and graciously accepted the opportunity to speak to you today. The amount of support and encouragement received from these women and others has given me greater courage to exceed my own expectations and be more than I am because we can always “Dare to be more.” Why I lived in isolation for so long is beyond me.

It often feels like I’m dragging myself through mud. I work in a theatrically illiterate, low-socio economic community. The Arts is not valued. All the more reason to make it valued. For many of my students Drama in high school may be the only opportunity they get to experience the Arts in their lives and that is my driving ambition with which to become a better leader, a better teacher.

For me, leadership is about passion, potential and progress. None of which would exist without self-belief. Every day you lead your students to learn the wonders of your subject. Nobody else, in any other profession has that privilege and it is a privilege. Teach honestly and with passion. Don’t just teach. Lead.

Tell me about your leadership journey? What does it mean to you?


When Did You “Get” Teaching?

A couple of weeks back I went on another of my school’s weekend conferences. I’ve talked about this initiative that my principal has introduced into our school in a previous post.

Essentially, whoever is interested comes away to a hotel and we spend two days looking at leadership and learning. We are treated like serious professionals (I mean, how many of you go to teaching conferences where your room and food is paid for once a term? It’s unheard of except for business people, doctors etc.) They are deliberately scheduled for about Week 6 of a 10 week term. The time when you’re starting to get tired and wishing the holidays would just hurry up. The idea being that hopefully, whilst you are still tired, mentally you are in a positive frame of mind.

I really enjoy these conferences because a) it’s a chance to get away and b) it’s a chance to reflect on your knowledge and learning and to learn something new. I’m a big believer in not thinking that I know everything and being open to learning and doing something new.

This recent conference was used as a way to prepare for the rewriting of our next three year School Plan. For those unacquainted with the School Plan it’s essentially a document outlining the goals to be achieved by the school in the next three years.

Early on in the conference we were looking at the question: “How did we get to where we are?”

In the exercise we were given some time to identify five defining moments in our lives that got us to where we are now as teachers. It was a private, reflective time because many people would have had some very private moments that they wouldn’t want to share with anyone else.

I’m going to share mine with you and would ask you to share yours in the comments. Before I do however, I wanted to preface by saying that this exercise really cemented a feeling I’ve had for most of this year. That of actually “getting” teaching. Of realising, it’s not so hard, it’s not rocket science anymore and most importantly, the belief that I can teach and that I can be an even better teacher. As a beginning teacher (not so much anymore) teaching can feel overwhelming and incredibly difficult. Well, that’s how I felt. It is certainly a relief to feel a little more in control and a little more confident in my abilities.

  1. Changing High Schools – In Year 8 I moved from a public high school to a private one. Now, I believe in both education systems. I like both and I think they both have their pro’s and their con’s. I teach in the public system and I love it. Unfortunately, at the time, this particular public high school let me down. In my learning and in the provision of opportunities. When I went to my new school I was given endless opportunities. It was here that I discovered Drama which my other school didn’t offer. It was here that I built confidence and considered all possibilities.
  2. Year 12 Drama – By now I’d been involved with Drama for five years. I desperately wanted to be an actor. In my final year we learnt about a practitioner called Augusto Boal. I learnt that drama and theatre could be used for change and to help others. I felt inspired. I wanted to be an actor even more. Looking back now I could see the complexity of drama as a way to connect with feelings and thoughts. I think I felt that then but I couldn’t articulate it.
  3. University – This was a time when reality was setting in. I’d received entry into a course that I was aboslutely fixated on getting into. It was my first time living away from home and it was a time when I was meeting a whole range of new and different people. The course and the realities of the theatre industry were not sitting well with me. I was hating what I was studying and I didn’t see the point of any of it. However, I don’t quit. Well, for some reason I didn’t want to quit this. Perhaps because I could still focus on what I was working towards. Similarly when I went to do my teaching Diploma I was frustrated to no end when I found out it would take me two years instead of one to complete my degree. I felt like I was treading water but I was determined to swim to the shore.
  4. My First Teaching Job – My first (and current) school was a huge culture shock for me. Here I was, an idealistic graduate hoping to change the world and inspire everyone to love Drama. Ha! How wrong I was. My beliefs were challenged, my motivation and confidence were seriously challenged. Yet, I was determined and incredibly resilient knowing that I needed to stand proud with integrity knowing I could be the best teacher I could be for my kids. I don’t do anything by halves. I strive to be the best within myself.
  5. Leaving a Relationship – Here it gets quite personal but I am prepared to share. Unfortunately, and with incredibly deep sadness my long term relationship ended last year. Your focus shifts at these times and I have since had a little more time to focus on my career, rediscover my confidence and to fully believe in the goals I’ve always had for myself, deep inside, for a long time. I finally let myself believe in myself and in doignt that I finally “get” teaching.

What moments in your teaching life have defined you as the teacher you are now?

Image Credits: Driving into the Andes, Stuck in Customs, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Perfect My Practice: Collaborative Problem Solving

I like this picture I found. Imagine you’re the rat. There’s a delicious piece of cheese (I’m privvy to a little camembert myself) waiting for you at the end of this very green maze. The smell, the curiosity is killing you (soon too, literally).  You really feel it will be worth it, so round and round you go until you finally reach your piece of cheese.

What happens next? We can only guess.

I think in a way this image sums up decision making. You feel like you’re on a clear path but then it starts to go round and round in circles. Your destination becomes unclear and perhaps the reward at the end isn’t so fantastic. Just a lot of sore heads and maybe some bruised egos.

This poor rat was on his own. What if he had a family of rats that needed the cheese? Do they all go down with the boat, sorry throat, or does the leader take one for the team and the others cut and run? Will the others be crushed after their leaders demise and their attempted escape from the clutches of the snake?

Have you ever felt like this during a team meeting? Leading a team meeting?

Last week at TLP we looked at collaborative problem solving.  Up until now in the TLP we’ve looked at what leadership is, how people in teams are all different, how that in turn effects team building and leading and managing change. It also effects how decisions are made.

Essentially the session was about what qualities are needed as leaders to facilitate change and what the process for decision making can be. It was also an opportunity for us to try out some different decision making techniques. These included:

I’ve linked to some information about each one if you’re interested in exploring more.

I think the one thing I got out of the session was that it was refreshing to try something new. I realised how complacent people can become if the only way they make decisions is to use the creative brainstorming technique. I liked that in the nominal group technique everybody had to have a say and they had to add something new each time. I love the 6 Thinking Hats because it forces you to think differently but at the same time you’re building upon the ideas presented and you really feel like you’re getting somewhere.

You’re less like a drowned rat and more like a hungry one who can get to the cheese and eat it too.

How do you make decisions in your school teams? What was the outcome? Do you know other decision making strategies that may be effective?

Image Credits:

Curiosity Killed The Rat, Tang Yau Hoong, Used Under Creative Commons.

Perfect My Practice: Leading and Managing Change

Our school recently started using an online roll marking system. Boy, did it create waves amongst the teachers. Just like the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. For many teachers it was huge, overwhelming, devastating and shocking. You mean we use a computer to mark the roll? I’m not intending to trivialise the terrible events in Japan however I think for many of them they just could not get their head around this idea. They didn’t trust it. They didn’t believe that anything could work any better than the tried and tested method of the paper roll.

Me, I wasn’t particularly fussed. A roll is a roll and as long as it’s marked that’s fine. I guess, being younger, I’m a little less afraid to try things on the computer.

Anyway, the reason I tell this story is because it hasn’t been going all that well. Not through any fault of the teachers but rather due to technical issues. It has certainly put everybody’s enthusiasm for the idea a little on the backburner. To counteract this there has been much from our leaders in the way of encouragement and “talking up” the whole process. It was this that made me think about what we were looking at in the Team Leadership Program a few weeks back:

How well do you lead and manage change?

In reflecting on this I have found that I am mostly a person who spends most of her time responding to change. In the work environment I tend to respond to change really well. In my personal life, not very well at all 🙂 Have I ever lead change? I don’t think so. Perhaps unknowingly. This is something I have come to realise could be true.

In the forefront of most teacher’s minds as being one of the biggest changes in the school environment is technology. With technology being so prevalent in the classroom and the speed at which it is changing so rapid, I wonder how we feel about our changing role as teachers with the pace at which we already work and the expectations being placed upon us.

I know that before I did the Edublogs Kick Start Your Blogging Challenge in January I felt completely overwhelmed by technology and the masses and masses of resources that were out there for me to use. I couldn’t grasp how they could be used in the classroom nor did I want to dedicate any time trying to work out how to. The challenge helped me harness all of that and see that technology doesn’t take away from the core business of teaching and what the student’s learn but that it really does just help engage kids differently. I guess “the penny dropped” for me as they say.

It was my initial response to technology, “I couldn’t grasp how they could be used in the classroom nor did I want to dedicate any time to work out how to” that made me realise I was also turning into one of these teachers who resist change. I couldn’t see its purpose. If I had kept this thinking up I would potentially have become the kind of teacher I never thought I could or would ever be! I can’t believe how many teachers think like that and how unwilling they are to try things.

One of my favourite mottos in life is “Act despite the fear.” My absolute mantra really. I feel that people are so restrained by their fears I wonder if they achieve anything that they desire sometimes or whether or not they just live with a whole heap of regret.

All of this made me think about how I would lead change. Rather than just write and complain about people’s lack of ability to engage with change on this blog 🙂

We’re leaders in our classrooms and we’re leaders in educating people about the importance of education. I get all ideological at this point and start imagining that if we all had some of the qualities of an effective leader we’d be onto a great thing.

What do you think are the qualities of an effective leader? How well do you respond to change in your school environment? How well do your colleagues respond? Have you lead change in your school? What was the experience like? How do you think teachers should respond to the changes facing us in our jobs?

Perfect My Practice: Learning and Behavioural Styles of Leaders

Perception is reality. Everyone’s perception is different. Thus everyone’s reality is different. What do we do when we’re in a team of ten at school working on a project about literacy and we’ve got ten different realities sitting around the desk?

I recently posted about the new professional learning course I’m attending this year entitled the Team Leadership Program being run through the NSW DET.

This week we looked at behavioural styles and learning styles. We looked at several models in which to better understand ourselves in terms of how we work in teams and learn new information. By understanding ourselves and who we are as people in our very nature as well as the way others learn and behave, we are better able to identify and then modify the way in which we interact with our colleagues and approach leadership situations with colleagues and when working in teams.

In terms of learning styles, we probably all studied Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s Taxonomy when we were at university. We’ve probably all in some way or another been applying these in the classroom for years. These relate much more to our classroom practice.

The idea of learning types, however, struck me as being quite different. It is much more intrinsic, genetic even. It seems to me that it reflects how you were made. Thanks Mum. Thanks Dad 🙂 I didn’t really know that we were defined in types. Broadly speaking of course.

There is a lot of research out there about this and there are a lot of different types of definitions of learning types. We looked in particular at David Kolb’s model. Kolb looked at the ways in which human’s take on experiences. He discussed the idea of an experiential learning process. However, before understanding that, it is important to know what kind of learner you are. From there you will be better able to understand the way in which you experience things and how you fit into the experiential learning cycle.

Before watching the following video, answer the following question in your head:

You’ve just brought home a do-it-yourself desk from IKEA. Do you:

a) Read the instructions because you’re afraid you’ll break the desk;

b) Read the instructions because you should always read instructions before putting something together;

c) Don’t read the instructions at all. Just see how things go. Trial and error.

d) It’s so awesome, but you’re bored of it before it’s even out of the box. You try a bit of trial and error but when that doesn’t work you leave it for awhile. Maybe you ask someone else to do it.

How you approached the desk question reflects your learning type. Depending on your type you like:

Diverger=exploring, using your imagination, understanding people, recognising problems, brainstorming.

Converger=decision-making, defining problems, deductive reasoning.

Accomodator= acting on things, leadership, risk taking.

Assimilator= creating models, defining problems, developing theories.

You can find more information on each type here.

Now for your behaviour style!

I found I was dominant in the “S” category but had touches of the “I” and “C” categories. It really helped me to define and clarify my behaviour in the classroom and with my colleagues and it certainly made me understand some of my colleagues a lot better.

Here is another good summary of the DISC model.

Do you think you work better with people who are similar in behaviour and learning style to you or do you prefer a diverse team of people to work with?

Why do you think teams should have a combination of types?

What are the advantage and disadvantages of both?

Image and Video Credits:

I’m Flexible, You’re Not, Will Lion, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Kolb Learning Styles by reyramit

DISC Model of Human Behavior – Quick Overview by Recovering Engineer