Two years spent putting my own advice into action.

It has been a long time since I have had the time to write about shaping places where we work, live and learn. Why the long silence? The very simple answer is that I accepted a job as principal of a P-12 school and this school was in need of a significant amount of “placeshaping”. The brief was to refresh, refurbish, replace, revitalise and thereby stimulate growth.

Now that I am three years into the job, a reasonable amount of that task has been completed and I return to this blog armed with new insights and experiences. I have strived to put my own advice into action – making the school a place for community, a place for work, a place for learning and most importantly, a place where people want to return to every day.

The first tip I can share about being an effective leader faced with a big challenge is simply “get started on something” and that something should have immediate positive impact on as many people as possible. This something should focus on the core purpose of a school – that is, providing all students with quality opportunities to learn. The results of your first significant action will give you keen insight into the existing culture of change and how enthusiastically new ideas are embraced.

How did I select that first, significant action? Firstly, before the staff and students returned for the new year, I spent two weeks completing a series of audits and inventories. I looked at the main processes, procedures and policies already in place for managing the organisation. I inspected every inch of the property. I made lists, took photographs, made notes and talked to people. I was actually conducting field research in my own school. (A Mind the Gap note: This was also particularly important for me since I knew the school well, having been the deputy for many years. I needed to see the school with fresh eyes and from a different angle as principal.)

I then looked at the school from multiple perspectives – what was the experience of a student each day? What was the experience of a teacher? What was the experience of the parent? What does each of them need to make their specific role in the learning process successful? Did we currently provide them with resources to meet those needs?

When you do this type of research, trends begin to emerge. You notice positives, strengths, resources that will support change, things that are urgent and things that will be challenges. A SWOT analysis is a good way to process this new information. The amount of information that you can generate this way needs to be managed, otherwise the enormity of the tasks before you will discourage the selection of that first significant, high impact action (or series of related actions, depending on the organisation’s capacity).

Next post, I will explore my choice of the first significant action.

Time wasters and workspaces – things that drive teachers crazy.

Where do the teachers carry their most common work activities?

The survey indicated the most common places for carrying out the top three work activities were the classroom, home and private office, if the teacher had access to an office (but this was rare for the classroom teacher). Discipline and welfare was dealt with in either the classroom or in more public areas outside, if an office was not available to the teacher. The most common places to think creatively were: personal classroom (when empty after hours), home or private office (usually after hours). There were differences between the places named by teachers and executives (with no or small teaching loads). Overwhelmingly, teachers named the classroom as the location for carrying out the most common tasks. Executives named an office or a staffroom.

What emerged was a preference for working alone and away from distractions or interruptions. This is challenging for designing workspaces given the emphasis placed upon collaboration and team meetings in many pedagogies. The survey also highlighted the difficulty a classroom teacher faces when trying to locate a suitable location to conduct a confidential or disciplinary conversation.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

What are the time-wasting factors in a teacher’s workday?

Most adult workplace surveys ask about factors that reduce productivity. Less than 10% of the teachers said they experienced any downtime. After talking with some of the respondents after they had completed the survey, I wish I could have measured the intensity of the key strikes when teachers were ticking off the time wasting factors during their workday!

In my survey, respondents were asked to tick up to five factors that they considered are the most likely to waste their time in any given week. The top time wasting factors were:

timewasters

The link between reliable information technology and productivity should come as no surprise but it is important to note two of the top time wasting factors did specifically relate to technology. It is also of note that loss of work time was linked to the actions of repeating, correcting and enduring delays – this is not dissimilar to findings in other workplaces. After the top four factors shown above, the next most common factors linked to downtime were walking to get information or a resource and searching for paperwork.

A Mind the Gap reflection on my results  –IMG_0451  Until we have an understanding of what constitutes a teacher’s workload, designing the ideal workplace may fall short of what is required. I believe future designs for work places and loads will need to place a high value on providing access to both people and locations, as well as a focus on human-scale solutions that promote an inclusive and democratic approach to the dispersal of resources. If we consider the issues raised by these teachers in the light of the looming deadline for universal registration of teachers in Australia and the introduction of the professional development framework, we have less time than we think to tackle the question of workloads and the type of workplace each school can offer its teachers.

Filling in a gap – factors that have an impact on young people’s aspirations

IMG_0451  On March 30th I posted a “mind the gap” item reflecting on the assumption that students connect with the school to university to career pathway. I came across a recent report from  LSAY (Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth) that examined factors that influence young people’s plans and ambitions for the first twelve years after completing school in Year 12. The results filled in a little of gap between the assumption that being at school will lead you through to tertiary education and then onto a career path and the patterns I had observed.

In the survey, predicted youth transition factors appeared in the initial analysis, such as socio-economic status, gender and peer influences. However, in terms of importance, the survey found academic achievement in Stage 5 of school (15 years of age) was the most important predictor of Year 12 (Stage 6) completion. This factor was followed by parental influence. The most important influencers on students’ decision to go on to university were parents and peers. The most important factors influencing the achievement of expected work goals (occupational status) by age 30 are the influence of parents and academic achievement at age 15.

The take-away point is, as the survey phrases it, “just how critical parental influences are in driving young people’s educational and occupational aspirations”. I would also add, how critical the middle years of secondary schooling are for setting students up for achievement and for launching their life after school. Sadly, these are the very school years when many students are less focused, drift or disengage and are, therefore, less driven to achieve. School is often perceived as dull, pointless, less urgent and the end still seems a long way off – plenty of time to start working when we hit senior school. This survey suggests the impact of a negative performance at 15 years of age can have long-term impact, especially if this attitude to the importance of school performance is not challenged by parents at this point.

Ref: Gemici, Bednarz, Karmel, Lim. 4/2014. “The factors affecting the educational and occupational aspirations of young Australians”, LSAY, Research Report no.66.

Designing Spaces for Flipped Learning

Flipped learning is more than swapping around the work that is traditionally allocated for inside and outside of the classroom. Flipped learning goes beyond setting homework such as reading texts, watching an instructional video clip and completing background research in preparation for a lesson. It is not a way of delivering “catch up” or revision lessons, even though many of the strategies for delivering lesson material, such as curating and creating relevant or differentiated content, will enhance a standard programme. Flipped learning is not a work-around for limited access to technology or unreliable internet access.

Flipped learning will not thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

Flipped learning will not thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

According to the Flipped Learning Network, flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning spaces to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where students apply concepts and engage creatively with the subject matter (www.flippedlearning.org/definition – FLN, 2014).

If you adopt a flipped learning approach, the physical learning environment at school will

Surfaces for display.

Surfaces for display.

need to change. Swapping when and where group instruction occurs does not mean a classroom can remain in conventional rows of desks. There is no avoiding the need for spaces and time frames that support both group and independent work activities. Students will need access to a range of physical resources – technology, flexible furniture, sufficient space within the classroom to create spaces for team activities, places for independent tasks and surfaces on which to display or plan.

Flexible furniture and configuration of space will support Flipped Learning.

Flexible furniture and configuration of space will support Flipped Learning.

Basically, Flipped Learning demands the same redesign of the physical classroom as any other collaborative, learning community or challenge-based approach requires.

Space and choice.

Space and choice.

The Social Progress Index – how do we measure the quality of life and design better solutions to social issues?

A global think-tank has released its latest measure of social progress. The index ranks nations’ development according to their economic prosperity and social progress by using a range of social, economic and environmental measures. The index compromised three components: ability to provide basic human needs; provision of foundations of well-being and opportunity. Currently, the top three countries are New Zealand, Switzerland and Iceland. Australia is in the top ten nations along with the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Canada. Therefore, according to this index Australia has significant capacity to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

But what is the purpose of the index? One aim is to measure a nation’s capacity to meet the needs of its citizens but another significant aim is to indicate the nation’s capacity for social enterprise, philanthropy and development programmes. If a nation is providing effectively for its own citizens, then people will look for business models that are more environmentally and socially responsible. Prospering nations will be more capable of starting enterprises that are focused on projects that have larger positive impact upon society than just financial gain.

A few weeks ago I attended a HotHouse event at the Powerhouse in Sydney. The evening focused on the question of space – can we develop more sustainable and globally responsible solutions to creating spaces where we work and live. Australia’s position on the Social Progress Index suggests we are well positioned to pursue this goal of seeking better solutions for ourselves and others.

This week in The Conversation (www.theconversation.com), an article raised the topic of the end of the Digital Education Revolution programme in Australian schools. The roll-out of laptops for secondary students has ended and we are now asking the obvious question – where to from here? The dilemma is two-fold: What do we do with ageing hardware sitting in schools or students’ homes without IT support to upgrade or repair it? How do we continue to provide equitable access to students? The problem involves issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility and equity. Now we are the end of the DER programme, the nation needs to approach this type of problem with creativity and the confidence that as a nation we really do have the resources to design solutions for problems such as these but perhaps by considering different values and tactics.

Ed Gardiner, of the Design Council in the UK, regularly writes about using behavioural design to bridge a gap between research and practice to “revolutionise how we tackle social issues” (14/4/14 designcouncil.org.uk). If we combine an understanding of human behaviour and sound design, we can innovate. Being mindful of human tendencies to make decisions intuitively and with little conscious awareness, steers us away from default solutions that “focus on information, skills or incentives”. Basically, behavioural design is aimed at helping people make better decisions. The Design Council’s approach is divided into four stages: discover the problem; define the cause; develop ideas and deliver what works. Last year, I had the opportunity of meeting Ed to discuss this behaviour design approach. Throughout our conversation, Ed emphasised the importance of asking the right questions when trying to understand issue. If the problem that is preventing the achievement of this goal is not identified, you cannot design a solution to achieve a certain goal. Even when the goal is clear, “the problem is often ill-defined and uncertain”, so “embrace this uncertainty by focusing on the people involved” (14/4/14, designcouncil.org.uk) and by defining the “what”, the “why” can be then understood.

Is the end of the Digital Education Revolution in Australian schools a social issue? Yes, it is. The DER funding went towards proliferating hardware and devices in secondary schools and provided unprecedented access to digital communication tools and information in the classroom. Pedagogy was reshaped around this new flow of digital information and availability of technology and continues to develop today. However, the DER programme was shaped around a 1:1 ratio, an unsustainable and possibly an undesirable or unnecessary model. With the government funding coming to an end, the debate surrounding access to technology, its role as a pedagogical tool and the link between students using the latest technology at school and preparation for the jobs of the future (the original aim of the Digital Education Revolution) will intensify as school and their families will need to budget for the technology. This is where it becomes a social issue. Before moving forward with ideas of simply sourcing replacement funds to continue the DER programme, we have the opportunity of designing a new solution for achieving the same goal or setting a new goal for technology in our schools.

A checklist for choosing a child’s school – why educators should pay attention.

David Gillespie’s new book, Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, is a valuable perspective on contemporary education from the parent’s point-of-view. Although Gillespie spent a great deal of time researching the current educational landscape, which the average parent might not necessarily do themselves, he maintains his parental perspective by focusing on what matters to a parent looking for the best schooling option for his children. SchoolIMG_0195 leaders are well advised to consider the book because Gillespie offers a systematic way for parents to evaluate and select a school for their child. It is supercharged advice from one parent to thousands of other parents and educators should take the opportunity of listening in on this conversation.

In Part 2 of his book, Gillespie articulates what matters and what does not matter when it comes to finding the right school for your child. The items that do not matter as much as parents might think are: gender-based schools; high fees; small classes and multi-age classes. While small classes obviously provide more opportunity for one-on-one time for each child, it does come at a financial cost. Single gender IMG_3245schools do not cause any significant academic advantages unless coupled with selective enrollments that target the most capable students and stream according to ability. The value added items a significant income can buy within a school (such as individual technology and impressive facilities) are recognised as making the task of learning and teaching more comfortable, varied and easier, but Gillespie says the research still points to the fact these items will not have the same impact on student achievement as effective teachers and principals will have.

IMG_0271

The book concludes the quality of teaching in the classroom and the leadership offered by the principal matter a great deal more than any other factors. However, there are eleven other things that matter, once you have established the school provides effective leadership and teaching (Gillespie, 2014, pages 165-6).

  1. Learning to learn is important;
  2. Extracurricular activities (especially music) should be on offer;
  3. Languages other than English should be part of the curriculum (especially for primary schools);
  4. Effective use of technology will make a difference;
  5. Effective behaviour management is important;
  6. Homework policy does not make a lot of difference;
  7. Effective communication with parents (about educational matters) matters a great deal;
  8. Avoid primary schools that do not use phonics to teach reading;
  9. Avoid schools that stream according to academic ability;
  10. Look for schools that accelerate gifted students (if your child is a genius);
  11. If your child has special needs, know exactly what resources are available.

Running through the list of eleven things that matter, in addition to the two non-negotiables of teacher effectiveness and principal leadership, you have a reasonable summary of what happens in schools. By the time I had finished reading the book, I was already running through the responses I would give parents who happened to use this list to test the quality and appropriateness of my school for their children. It would be a good exercise to consider the criteria Gillespie shares and test out what your school prioritises. If your list is different to this one, then you may still need to be ready to argue your case against this very persuasive book and parents who arrive at their interviews armed with this checklist.

Reference: David Gillespie: Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, MacMillan, 2014.

Can your “career orientations” influence your workspaces?

An article recently appeared on the HBR Blog Network (Know What Kind of Careerist You Are by B Groysbery & R Abrahams – 25 March 2014). The authors revisited the framework suggested by a management academic in the 1980s. C Brooklyn Deer proposed five career orientations that tend to shift over time and according to circumstances, and these orientations can be linked to satisfaction. Rather than locking people into one personality type, this framework recognises change and variation throughout a person’s career.

The five orientations are:

  • getting secure – seeking regularity and predictability by fitting in with workplace norms;
  • getting ahead – focused on promotions, increasing scope of their work and authority;
  • getting free – focused on autonomy and self-direction;
  • getting high – seeking work that provides greater stimulation, purpose and engagement;
  • getting balanced – desiring a bit of all the orientations and seeking both challenge and fulfillment without sacrificing a personal life. (While this is the most common orientation, Deer says only some people are genuinely motivated by this orientation.)

This framework challenges me to think about how could we design teacher workplaces to respond to these orientations. Can we rearrange the design of our physical workplace (commonly referred to as ‘the school”) to offer opportunities for staff to spend their day in ways that offer security, freedom, balance and stimulation. The work environment can also be designed to offer a “get ahead” orientation by keeping teachers and leaders in daily contact with one another and new opportunities.

Here are some suggestions for teacher workspaces and workplace practices:

Getting secure: allocated storage space and work areas for focused, individual work (can be shared but at least provide reserved zones); food preparation and eating areas sufficient for all staff to use in peak times; core classrooms; availability of all relevant policy documents; clear guidelines on procedure and process; structured communication network that is consistently maintained.

Getting ahead: avoid isolating faculties and departments through poor design; consider placing office space for executive teachers in different areas within the school; use shared or less formal spaces for meetings; create readily available spaces for co-operative and collaborative work; increase opportunities for teachers to see leadership at work; “advertise” opportunities for participation in new projects and roles in a systematic way.

Getting free and getting high: provide the teacher with the same space opportunities that you would for students – a mix of spaces where you can focus on work alone, work with others on a shared project and meet-up with others when seeking inspiration, assistance or resources for your individual projects; some flexibility with work hours or “coming into the office”; fast wireless connectivity; mobile technologies; robust IT network and access to support staff.

Getting balanced: All of the above, but to make balance achievable a few specific ways of doing things in the workplace would be helpful. Organise annual discussions that identify the current orientation and, if possible, translate it into the new year’s timetable, workload and general expectations. Systems for booking spaces and resources. Consistency in workplace processes and systems, including carefully managed and resourced IT. And lastly, communication that is democratic, timely and explicit.

You do not need to wait for a new building project before implementing some of these ideas. Most teacher workplaces have these spaces in some form and number, so leadership could start at any time to build these orientations into the workplace. The thing to remember is to be deliberate and purposeful in the allocation and use of those spaces.