Wednesday, 30 December 2020

A Work In Progress

In 2013, I began posting my blogs and initially, two close friends reviewed the first few before I hit publish. While not concerned with number of views, I simply wrote to unload my thoughts. Recently I was asked to reflect upon a prior event and provide a response to suggested questions. Memories were triggered and I found myself reviewing previous blogposts. The benefits of having this collection of my thoughts was highlighted. Like diaries or journals, these posts captured moments in time that reflected my professional direction, portrayed my headspace and documented my current thinking. Events, thoughts, experiences all detailed with words, diagrams, gifs, and photographs. While appreciative of any comments, I simply wrote for me. It was at this recent review of my blogposts that I noticed I haven’t posted in 12 months. I was astounded to learn that I have written 92 blogposts that have been viewed 141,115 times. 

Capturing my momentary thoughts, each entry evolved from an article, a book, an event, or even a simple tweet. Sometimes, I write to get things off my chest, in the hope of letting go. Recently, I read Phosphorescence (Julia Baird) and Emotional Agility (Susan David), which has generated many wonderings. I wonder how to work on self-care without becoming self-obsessed; becoming confident while staying humble; staying curious while having an opinion. Should we focus more on others than ourselves? Do we become paralysed when we overanalyse? If action is a reaction to the thought, how do we alter our thoughts to change our actions? Are we thinking too much or not enough? This entry selects and reflects on 4 quotes from each book that generated deeper thought. 

Part of validating your own story is finding your voice and claiming your authority, especially for the women & introverts. And a crucial part of all of this is the need to accept your imperfections ... (p.86).     
                                                                                                           
Finding your voice is important, as Russ Quaglia states in his book, Teacher voice: amplifying success (2017), when teachers have a voice, they are three times more likely to value setting and reaching goals through hard work. As a research student, I’m in the process of finding my voice in a new context. Your voice may waiver or even quiver at times depending on the context. When it comes to voice, strong does not equate to loud; less is sometimes more; being pretentious does not denote confidence. Baird includes claiming authority, which is often defined as a person or organisation having political or administrative power and control. As an educator, I struggle with the term authority. To me, authority aligns more with a power from outside, in which I have no control. From my teaching perspective, I prefer agency and autonomy, which are viewed as power from within, facilitated in a supportive environment. However, since writing this piece, I learnt about Palmer's definition. Rather than following a scripted role, authority is afforded to those who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives (1998, p.33). Evidently, the meaning of a word is influenced by contexts and lived experiences but can be broadened with new learning.  

Sharing your lived experiences and the importance of telling your own story isn’t lost on me. Preferring to organise public events and presentations than to be a public presenter, a few years ago, Briony Scott enlightened me. "No one knows your story better than you. It’s a safe space and a great place to start and build your confidence." I accepted my imperfections, stepped out of the shadows and became braver by telling my story. I realise not everyone gets a stage, but everyone has a story. I remember one person who had known me for a few years, expressed that she never knew anything about me. It’s essential to accept that if you want to build a genuine relationship, investing in knowing someone’s story is essential. As a coach, questioning helps reveal coachee’s story. As a primary teacher, writing uncovers a student’s story. As an educator/coach, I tell my story through blogging. As a friend, do we make the time and effort to listen and learn, so others can tell their story? 

 “I meet people and they become chapters in my stories.” ― Avijeet Das

Meeting wonderful people is luck; keeping them in your life takes thought, care, forgiveness & devotion. Friendship is an art & a gift, and some people are brilliant at it (p. 154).

So true! One element I would add is effort. The year of 2020 has provided the opportunity to strengthen wonderful friendships, ignite those just forming, and develop new ones. Whether through a brief text, a phone call, a Bitmoji message, or a parcel sent overseas, friendship requires effort. Baird suggests to be purposeful regarding friendships. Acquaintances becomes friends with consistent effort and care. Value your friendships, irrespective of the effort being reciprocated. Meeting, conversing and connecting with people, simply fills my bucket. An introvert, I am not.

Beauty is warmth, conversation, intelligence and a certain grace or magnetism too. Our social media imprints have narrowed the definition of beauty to what can be photographed, filtered & posted (p.117).  

Regarding social media, I never warmed to Instagram. I don’t use filters but admit to selecting and posting my most flattering photos. Beauty, according to Baird, is a mixture of personal traits, not simply intelligence or charisma. I have heard and viewed polished presenters and read well written journal articles or books, only to be somewhat disappointed when I met in person. To extend the concept of magnetism, I searched for a word/s that refers to when one makes others feel positive in their presence. When they actively listen to you and you leave the conversation feeling better and brighter. Do you have people in your circle who make you feel good just by being in their presence? Positive affective presence appears to embody this quality. Recently, I told Ellie Drago-Severson that every time we chat, or I receive an email from her, my mood is uplifted. Drawing on Maya Angelou's famous quote, "People don't forget how you made them feel". For me, beauty includes having a positive affective presence.

So much of what is broadly called wellness now involves an expensive kind of burrowing into our selves, wobbling on the plank between self-care and self-obsession (p. 276).

I remember going to a presentation where I was advised to focus on me and put myself first. Wonderful in theory but waking 2 hours earlier or going to the gym before work as suggested was not practical nor possible. If we aren’t careful, sometimes self-care can create more anxiety or stress. Currently, teacher wellbeing isn't a focus, although Karen Edge and I recently made it the focus of our #CuriousConvos chat. I worry how teacher wellbeing will be implemented to ‘help’ teachers. I’m reminded of the concept of a growth mindset and mindfulness, which became the new shiny thing to implement into your classroom. Another top-down initiative that became a buzzword and lost its power and effectiveness. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in education. David explains that mindfulness became ‘overdone’ and that… 

…mindfulness is about more than knowing “I’m hearing something,” or being aware “I’m seeing something,” or even noticing “I’m having a feeling.” It’s about doing all this with balance and equanimity, openness and curiosity, and without judgment. It also allows us to create new, fluid categories. As a result, the mental state of mindfulness lets us see the world through multiple perspectives and go forward with higher levels of self-acceptance, tolerance, and self-kindness (p. 100). 

One outcome of coaching is developing awareness and through coaching, one may develop a broader perspective. The intercept between coaching and mindfulness is apparent. The concept of noticing resonates with me (see van Nieuwerburgh, 2020). As a coach, I work hard at noticing what I’m thinking, doing, saying, feeling and projecting, both verbally and non-verbally. I am cognisant that words need to be chosen thoughtfully and carefully. Noticing my coachee’s response through words and nonverbal cues is essential. Tone, expression and even silence speaks volumes. While in other contexts, silence may represent a lack of interest, in coaching it often reflects deep thinking. Coaching requires effort and skills like noticing, while staying curious and without judgement.

When we make quick judgments, we often overvalue the information that is readily available and undervalue subtleties that might take a while to dig out (p. 31). In general, experts—or people who are highly regarded in any field—are often hooked on their own self-importance (p. 34). 

Noticing and valuing subtleties can reflect and unlock one’s thoughts. Spending time building a trusting relationship’s by digging into one’s story or thinking is the foundation of coaching and strong friendships. However, when your expertise or your advice is drawn upon too early, you diminish their potential, instead of unlocking it (Bungay-Stanier, 2020). Generally, teachers around the world are not highly regarded as professionals. They have to continually prove and defend themselves as education professionals. Teachers are required to demonstrate their expertise and make decisions based on their judgment. Often leaders and coaches are selected due to their expertise. Teachers can also be members of the feel-good rescue team. After judging the situation, the rescuer appears, often because the situation is viewed as needing control or time is limited. Have you heard yourself say, it's just quicker if I do it! Please don't interpret this to mean that you must withhold your expertise, not at all. But withhold judgement and stay curious longer. Identifying when and actually ‘letting go’ of your expertise, the judgy advice monster or the feel-good rescuer is the quandary.

Letting go is difficult. I have reflected on situations where my emotions and thoughts took over. I’m sure most have experienced situations such as, receiving feedback that landed harshly or the offhanded comment that shattered you. Trying to stay present while being curious about my emotions, I continue to work on avoiding the bottling or brooding of my emotions. David states it succinctly, “Thoughts and emotions contain information, not directions" (p. 105).  One chooses how to react to the information and the direction you take depends on your emotional agility. Developing my emotional agility is yet another work in progress.

So I wondered about the balance of self-care with self-obsession, confidence with humility, curiosity with opinion, amongst other personal traits. These nuanced concepts that are contextually influenced, are simply more than antonyms. It is not one over the other; it is not black or white. It is grey, balanced and ever-changing and as a consequence, a continuous work in progress. Through blogging, I create meaning of author’s words and stories by connecting the text with my life experiences. Intending to write more in 2021, these women inspired me to write this, so thank you Julia and Susan.   

The learning continues...

@stringer_andrea 


References

Baird, J. (2020). Phosphorescence: on awe, wonder and things that sustain you. HarperCollinsPublisher

Bungay Stanier, M. (2020). The advice trap: Be humble, stay curious & change the way you lead forever, Box of Crayons Press.

David, S. (2017). Emotional agility: Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life, Penguin.

Palmer, P. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life (10th ed.). Jossey Bass.

Quaglia, R. & Lande, L. (2017). Teacher voice: Amplifying success. Corwin.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2020). An introduction to coaching Skills: A practical guide (3rd ed), Sage Publications Ltd.



Saturday, 18 January 2020

Solo Adventures


2015
My Harvard Team
I attended Harvard’s The Art of School Leadership course that fuelled my passion for teaching, education and coaching. I blogged throughout my travels that included ISTE in Philadelphia, visits to schools and universities, and a podcast at University of Pennsylvania created with Joe Mazza about professional learning. This experience sparked conversation, connections and convictions about coaching and provided the opportunity to listen and converse with others. I heard how coaching had been hijacked by policy makers and administrators and used for teacher accountability and performance management. This US learning journey was a life-altering experience, both professionally and personally and started me on my doctoral journey.

By applying for the Harvard course, the Wenona Fellowship and planning my 5-week trip, I learnt to how to make a case for my own professional learning, and how to plan, budget and be flexible. What I gained from the process and travelling solo was immeasurable. Every day was an adventure. I made mistakes, took calculated risks and lived in the moment. Walking in the wrong direction for an hour, booking the incorrect date for train trip and even getting lost, created the opportunity to learn. My independence, confidence and self-efficacy soared.

1st ICSEI in Singapore
2018
I attended ICSEI in Singapore and added a few days either side to explore Singapore solo. While I loved my time with colleagues and new friends at the ICSEI conference, I really enjoyed being independent and adventurous. When I travel on my own, I feel a sense of excitement, peppered with little apprehension. However, I see the benefit of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and when I travel on my own, it’s just me. Being responsible for and relying on myself, in this place of independence, I flourish.


2020
Dubai camel riding
I’m currently in Marrakech ready for the ICSEI conference to start in a few days. I broke up the long-haul flight to Morocco with 4 days in Dubai. There, I walked the streets, took the metro, booked tours, met people and kept myself company. With only hotel wifi (unsecured) and Dubai barriers with voice messages, I felt cut-off from my regular routine and missed speaking with my husband and children. When I arrived in Casablanca, I found challenges and this experience has highlighted how accustomed I am to my comforts. The comfort of predictability, being connected and effortless communication.

What I struggled with traveling solo
  • Language barriers
  • Connectivity (voice, data, etc)
  • Knowing the customs and trying to be respectful
  • Identification and denominations of money
  • Bartering for items, taxi fare, etc.
  • Tipping - how much, who?
  • Feeling uncomfortable-  constantly being asked, ‘you’re traveling on your own, or where's your husband?'
  • Being Uneasy - when walking in streets unknown (without GPS)
  • Stressed about time - On some tours, after venturing into unknown territory, you’re expected to be back at meeting point at a particular time. And yes, the tour left people to find their own way home after not arriving at the meeting point on time.
  • At times, I felt invisible and yet other times, I felt many eyes were on me. 

Circumstances did create other challenges but I've learnt to say, "It is what it is". You can't control everything and should never try. I assume being in a less familiar context, compared to my previous travel destinations, heightened my sense of awareness…constantly.

Trista, me & Maria
Days later…
It wasn’t until my friends, Trista and Maria joined me that I realise how taxing it is to be constantly in that heightened state of awareness. Being together, we were collectively responsible. This enabled me to be less guarded, resulting in more energy. And this was just what I needed to really enjoy the ICSEI Marrakech conference.



Thanks ICSEI Marrakech...see you at ICSEI New Zealand
Learning locally and globally,
@stringer_andrea



Sunday, 27 October 2019

Time & Trust

Coaching is not about telling teachers they need to improve or how to improve. Instead, it is the process of having one-to-one conversations that focus on developing the educator’s learning through increasing self-awareness. A coach, through questioning, actively listening and challenging the coachee in a supportive and encouraging environment, facilitates self-directed learning of the teacher (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012). For me, coaching is a belief and faith in another’s ability and capacity for growth. I view coaching as a process that provides autonomy, relatedness and competence.

Place your confidence and faith in someone and you expect honesty, integrity, loyalty, and respect in return. This is trust. Keeping promises and confidences is also vital. A wise educator told me that if you lose a teacher’s trust, it is nearly impossible to regain it. Without trust, a coach has very little influence over the professional growth of a teacher, and ultimately, student achievement. When a coach works alongside a teacher, it is because they care about the teacher, their practice and their students. As a coach, your intention should be to support and guide teachers to develop or sustain their expert skills in teaching. For a teacher, it takes courage to share their thoughts and beliefs about education, let alone invite a coach into their classroom to observe student learning. Being willing to receive feedback about their professional performance, confirms their desire to improve. This demonstration of vulnerability illustrates their trust in coaching and their coach.
Trust
Barrett, R., 2014. Using the trust matrix to build the seven levels of trust. 
This opt-in approach to professional learning, provides the opportunity to receive coaching and offers teachers to self-determine their learning. Coaches understand that teachers know their students best and work in partnership with the teachers to determine goals, actions needed and also celebrate successes. Coaches question to clarify the goals of the teacher while providing additional support if needed. Trying something new and taking risks is empowering and more likely when you are learning with someone you trust. When entering into a new coaching relationship, most are likely to be a little guarded, so patience is essential. When setting up the initial meeting, expectations should be established with confidentiality being addressed as it is imperative. When building trust, being reliable is also extremely important as educators value those who are dependable.

Without trust, you may have two educators that are wasting the valued time of both, by entering into a conversation that is not authentic. While some teachers may feel they don’t have time for coaching, coaches strive to build a culture where the coaching process and goals are highly valued. Coaches encourage and support teachers to develop new skills, knowledge and abilities to achieve their goals that is determined by the coachee. Establishing trust may take time, but when you are promoting growth and building teacher capacity, it is time well spent.
We need to create environments in which all teachers embrace the idea of continuous improvement. - Dylan Wiliam

@stringer_andrea


References

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (Ed.) (2012). Coaching in education: Getting better results for students, educators and parents. London: Karnac. 

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Climbing the Bridge




This week I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Professor Alma Harris. It appears to be developing into a tradition. In 2016, I climbed the bridge with my friend Peter DeWitt. With perfect weather, we even spotted dolphins in the harbour. Peter wrote about his adventures and shared how new learning can be intimidating, whether it takes place in a instant or over a long period of time

🎵  Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me   🎵
Earlier this year, Andy Hargreaves and I attempted to climb the bridge at night, only to experience a thunderstorm. Stuck in a holding pattern under the noisy road/train platform, with many we waited for the green light. This never eventuated. This was not what I had planned.
While I felt awful that Andy didn’t climb the bridge that night, lightning and the world’s largest steel arch bridge is not a good combination. It was more disappointing than frightening. Although Andy never ascended, we had a wonderful conversation over those hours of waiting; an opportunity few rarely get to experience.

Andy’s attempt must have inspired Alma. As Alma was keynoting at the ACEL conference, we booked our climb a few months back. All week I checked the weather and while the day started with sunshine and blue skies, it abruptly changed. We encountered strong winds, which at times were recorded around 48 km/h. The weather, while not perfect, did not take away from the scenic views and engaging conversation.

From various experiences, I always attempt to learn something new from the situation or learn from others. I’ve been thinking about people who face their fears and push themselves out of their comfort zone. At this time of year, many educators are considering new roles, new positions and new schools or organisations. While scary and also exciting, having a balance of both is ideal. How I'm feeling about my new role at Growth Coaching International has been been asked often this week. While I'm quite confident in my knowledge and experience, no one ever works in isolation. I am reminded of what Michael Fullan shared at the ACEL conference: “While you bring your expertise, in a new context you are also the apprentice”. Like everything in education, context and relationships are key! Your context consists of different people and personalities, a unique culture and community and most likely a comprehensive history. Without knowing the history, how can you impact the future?

While Alma and I ascended the bridge, our tour guide provided us with the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. While interesting, the part that resonated most with me was how the chief engineer of the bridge, JJC Bradfield had amazing foresight. After being inspired by Hell’s Gate Bridge in New York, Bradfield and his team designed and constructed the Bridge with 6 lanes of traffic (now 8), a railway, two tramlines (now none), a cycleway and a pedestrian walkway, in a city that was only populated by 1.2 million. Remember it opened in 1932 after 8 years of construction. This is truly remarkable. Bradfield planned so well for the future. I worry that politicians, policy makers and some in leadership positions are looking for short term benefits, and not focusing on the future. They want instant achievement, results and recognition. I read this article from Sydney Morning Herald and again, we are being told by experts how to ‘fix and improve teaching to lift student performance’.  A few brief points shared:
  • The expectations and responsibilities for teachers are ever increasing and no one seems to be addressing this issue.
  • More time, research and conversations need to be had with teachers, leaders and principals (not surveys but real discussions).
  • Less face to face teaching would allow time for teachers to reflect, research & refine their teaching.
  • School culture is also an important component. Programs don’t work without addressing the context. Similar to the accreditation process; your experience depends on your leaders, school, state & sector. 
  • While it may cost more initially, the long-term benefits of coaching and mentoring appear promising.
  • Once money and power are involved, more competition and less collaboration will result. Distribute the funding to all teachers, with the 'instructional leaders' having a significantly decreased teaching load. 
  • It’s important to note that the most effective teachers do not always result in the most effective coaches. Coaching is another skill required, in addition to teaching.
  • With some leaving the classroom, is it more expensive to train new teachers, or invest in the practising teachers?
  • Being paid more to go to rural schools is a short-term solution. Rural teachers need more money, more support & more resources, with online coaching being an option. Our students deserve more consistency in regard to teachers.
  • Teachers need to feel valued, supported and respected. 

Let's build bridges

I think the first 'easy' thing to do is to speak with the teachers, leaders and principals and visit classrooms. Listening to the student panel at ACEL conference reaffirmed my belief that student voice is essential. A better understanding is needed and this can only be developed with strong, authentic and inclusive conversations.


Always questioning and wondering...
@stringer_andrea

Comments welcome