If you are a school leader or teacher, please read this! And if you aren’t, pass it on through your networks. It introduces a programme to help manage uncertainty which could potentially make a significant …
Completely by chance – really! – I found myself on Saturday morning in a roomful of students from the University of Edinburgh, listening to Kate Ho speaking about her career in technology, as part of …
I have just been reading The Resilience Dynamic by the clear-sighted, relentlessly focused and uplifting Jenny Campbell, and what a useful and grounding experience this has been! I almost hesitate to describe it as a …
I went out for a walk this morning, in the full knowledge that this was a privilege. It was my mandated single excursion for the day, and I won’t be going out again today, because I absolutely believe in following the rules, but I know that people around the world – including in my own street – cannot even go outside for several weeks. As I write, the UAE is in the middle of a 3 day complete lockdown with no outside access at all, in order to sterilise the streets; China has tightened its quarantine and self-isolation regulations; and colleagues and friends almost everywhere in the world are in self-isolation, having shown cold or flu-like symptoms. Going out for a walk this morning was not an activity I took for granted.
So I concentrated more carefully as I walked. I watched my
shadow undulate along the walls as I felt the tickle of the sun on my cheeks. I
heard my heartbeat shift up a gear as I walked more purposefully up a hill, and
I sniffed out the aroma of wild garlic on the side of an old railway embankment.
Above all, I heard the birdsong – louder, more insistent than I have ever heard
it before … more joyous, perhaps, or perhaps just perplexed at the sudden
absence of people and their vehicles. In any case, a symphony of tones punctuated
my walk and lifted my spirits. One of my challenges this week to several of the
leaders I coach and mentor has to been to slow down and notice – notice the
world around them – because by doing so, their breath slows and their tension
subsides, and they begin to look after themselves in a way which many of them
have neglected to do over the past few weeks. Hearing the birdsong … a new
metaphor for self-care.
And then there was the dance around other citizens out for a walk, a cycle or a run – a dance I call ‘pavement waltzing’. This – like any new dance – requires some attention, if the steps are to flow smoothly. When the shape of a person appears on the horizon, walking closer, one of us must choose to cross the road or move into the road; when one makes the first move, the other inclines their head gracefully in acknowledgement. Sometimes, especially on blind corners, two walkers may meet in surprise, and then must stop short, before either backing up or sidling cautiously past one another with an awkward smile but the satisfaction of knowing that we have successfully navigated the manoeuvre and maintained our distance. When a dog walker, cyclist and jogger enter the dance together, they circle one another in a complex chassé from which they contrive to extract themselves smoothly and with the appearance of confidence that this was exactly how the movement should have unfolded.
Pavement-waltzing to the sound of birdsong: a beautiful but
bittersweet dance of our times. Let us learn the dance, and appreciate our good
fortune at being able to engage in it.
If you are a school leader or teacher, please read this! And if you aren’t, pass it on through your networks. It introduces a programme to help manage uncertainty which could potentially make a significant difference for your students – and you!
Uncertainty is the watchword of our times. People talk about
anxiety, but actually, anxiety often arises powerfully from uncertainty, and we
can’t just tackle much of the anxiety around without understanding and learning
how to manage uncertainty. Over the past two weeks – in between supporting
leaders in schools practically everywhere in the world – I have been working
intensively with an amazing clinical psychologist (who I am proud to call a
friend), Dr Danielle Einstein and her team. She is an Adjunct Fellow at
Macquarie University and Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney, and
her speciality expertise is in managing uncertainty; moreover – and very importantly
– over the past 8 years she has developed detailed and in-depth programs for
several schools in Australia to help their students learn how to deal with the
unknowns in their life.
Dr Einstein is one of the world’s foremost experts in school
interventions to manage uncertainty. Writing about her, Dr Warren Mansell (a
Clinical Psychologist and Reader in Psychology at the University of Manchester
in the UK) says that “Dr Danielle Einstein is a world leader in school
interventions to address anxiety though building tolerance of uncertainty.
Through my work with Dr Einstein, I have recognised that she acutely
understands and contributes to the fundamental psychological theory
underpinning this work. In particular, she recognises that any intervention needs
to be co-designed with students and focused on their life goals, sense of
purpose, and management of conflicting priorities at this sensitive age.”
Clearly, this is exactly what students all over the
world need at the moment, from Australia to the UK, Europe, Africa and the US,
and so my task this past week was to help her in refining a blended online learning
programme for immediate release, designed to support teenagers through the massive
shifts and changes in their life and work at this current time in our history. It
is an immensely practical programme – 5+ hours of material, spread over 5 days
– ideal for schools who are in the throes of moving to online learning, and
might need an anchor for their work for the first week or two. It contains
exercises, key messages, reflections, guided meditations and videos … and it
really is very simple to use, for any teacher regardless of their background
After a supreme effort to get this programme up and ready, it is now online and available through this website – www.covid19chilledandconsiderate.com – please, please look at it, because I really, really recommend it for your students, wherever you are in the world at the moment.
The cost of the programme has been kept as low as possible, to
cover development costs, and as you will see, the programme contains huge
value in its content. I am hoping to support Danielle in providing a series of
additional materials and Zoom calls for teachers – so watch this space. Sign up
We are all in this together – let us join together in
sharing what we have, and make a real commitment to find ways to help all of
our young people through this time.
School leadership is incredibly complex at the best of times; Covid-19 has upped the stakes a hundred-fold, though. If I had had a stress-o-meter to use on many of the leaders I have spoken to over the past 2 weeks, in different parts of the world, it would have shown readings off the chart – shifting sands are really hard to manage, after all. These are not flaky leaders – they are robust, strong, intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, astute, determined … they are impressive individuals, who may doubt themselves at times, but who by all external standards are actually quite brilliant. Yet the psychological pressure of the uncertainty surrounding this virus – when will there be school closures, quarantines of students or staff, self-isolation, and so on? – is having an impact on these leaders, and school boards should sit up and pay attention to this.
School leaders are responsible for managing and interacting with immense and far-reaching communities – not just the children, but their parents, grandparents, other relatives, staff, staff families, suppliers, tradespeople, neighbours, regulatory bodies, universities, other schools … you name someone, and school leaders will have something to do with them. School leaders are also subject to an enormous weight of external rules and expectations, from parents to politicians. Balancing all of these relationships is, on any ‘normal’ day, complicated; faced with an invisible virus whose progress through the population needs to be checked – delayed, if not contained – the task becomes incredibly, incredibly hard.
Covid-19 is having an unprecedented impact. Even in China,
where leaders in schools have successfully navigated several weeks of school
closures, and online learning, and are now potentially on the brink of
returning, they are entering a ‘new normal’ – life in school will NOT be the
same as it was before this public health crisis, and school leaders will have
to manage this. During this time, coaching and mentoring from a confidential,
experienced, external source can make the most enormous difference to how
school leaders are able to cope and to do their work. It is not expensive and
more than repays its value. Most importantly, school leaders absolutely deserve
School boards, take note – investing in your Head of School
or Principal at this time could be one of the most sensible decisions you make.
Completely by chance – really! – I found myself on Saturday morning in a roomful of students from the University of Edinburgh, listening to Kate Ho speaking about her career in technology, as part of the university’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Kate – a former Edinburgh undergraduate, with a subsequent career in games design, software development and digital user interfaces, and now at Skyscanner – was one of the founders of the university’s ‘Hoppers’ society, a student-run university society for women in technology, named after the great pioneer of computer programming, Grace Hopper, and it was a joy to listen to her.
The need for tackling unconscious gender bias (in the technology field, but equally in others), was brought home when Kate reminded us of the Colombia University Business School study into how employers reacted differently to the same CV when the name Heidi was replaced with the name Howard. Quite apart from her reflections on the state of computer development (and women in tech) over the past 20 years, however, Kate was particularly insightful in her thoughts on how young people could develop their careers. She explained how she had been very deliberate about her career, making choices to engage in a number of different industries, and to build a number of different experiences, in which she learned and grew. She recommended a book: Designing Your Life (which I now have on order, but I am certain will be good). She also returned – frequently – to the theme of networking and mutual support. She emphasised that the students present were surrounded by their peers, who would go on to have interesting careers; who better to turn to for help in the future? Build these relationships now, was her message – and reach out and network more, participating in networking groups and events. One of the best time investments you can make, she told her audience.
loved hearing Kate speak – and it was all the more special because it was so
unexpected. In fact, a big shoutout to the young woman who spotted me waiting
for my tech-mad daughter to test some digital games as part of a research
project for some MSc students, and who invited me in – support and networking
in action (she now has my card, and I will willingly help her going forward).
My favourite sentence Kate said? This one, which made us all laugh:
is a little like going to the gym – once a year doesn’t help …’
message of the week, for #IWD2020, is ‘go network!’. Reach out, connect, give
as much as you receive, and be generous in giving back. Share your learning,
and we all grow.
I have just been reading The Resilience Dynamic by the clear-sighted, relentlessly focused and uplifting Jenny Campbell, and what a useful and grounding experience this has been! I almost hesitate to describe it as a book – although of course it is a book – because reading it is much more of an engaging, connected-up, cyclical process than a linear one. These past few days have been particularly testing of my personal resilience, as a whole host of events and circumstances have landed – wham, wham, wham! – in my lap, one after another … as my resilience threatened to pack its bags and depart, I turned to The Resilience Dynamic, which has been on my ‘to-read’ list for a number of weeks. I am so glad I did: opening its pages, I felt enveloped in knowledgeable, professional arms who I knew understood and would help me through.
Drawing on 10 years of research into the field of resilience, including tried and tested methods of developing resilience, captured in a carefully explained model across the various chapters, this book invites the reader to benefit from everything that the author and her team have ever learned about resilience, and although there is a focus on the benefit to organisations, the real usefulness lies in its impact on individuals (without whom, of course, no organisation would function anyway). Part 1 busts the myths of resilience, challenging the reader to rethink what resilience actually is; Part 2 provides eminently practical insights from research, including how resilience relates to stress. Resilience, as clearly understood throughout the book, is the capacity for change; the ‘Resilient Way’ is the path to follow. Case studies bring the model to life, and the signposting within the book – deliberately engineered, I would imagine, to provide greater security – is calmly and cleverly achieved.
Part 3 then looks at how people can support and develop their own resilience, drawing together all the learnings and exercises throughout the book; one of the commendable features of the book is that it constantly reinforces the ideas it explores and places them within manageable, actionable frameworks – I cannot imagine that it is possible to get to the end and not know what you need to do now. On a different day, were the reader to present with a different level of resilience, the book would offer alternative, equally effective, next steps (and I know, because I looked); there is a wealth of practical advice here on how to make resilience a true practice, not an achievement. My favourite learning was the notion of ‘adaptive capacity’ as the ‘fuel in the resilience tank, including seeking perspective, refreshing yourself, and pacing yourself, and the observation that “Those with the highest resilience invest … 35% of their time in their Adaptive Capacity” (p.63).
I appreciated the author’s permission, freely given, to read
this work ‘lightly’ if in need, and to return to it later … this was the right
book, and the right time, and it is now top of my ‘to read again’ list. For
now, I am enjoying practising moving from ‘Bounceback’ to ‘Whoosh’ … and if
that sounds cryptic, then you will just have to read it for yourself!
This is a guest blog written by Dr. Lijuan Du, Vice-Principal and
Co-Principal Elect of Dalton School Hong Kong – which, in common with all Hong
Kong Schools, is currently closed – with a call to us all to use the current
crisis to focus deeply on what education actually means.
An outbreak of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus came quietly and silently without any notice. When we were still immersed in the joy of welcoming the Year of the Rat, the school’s new semester start date has been pushed back again and again (and will not now be until 16 March at the earliest). What about student learning? How should schools respond to this sudden change? School education is facing an unprecedented dilemma and challenge!
However, there are always huge opportunities in challenges! When real difficulties and problems are in front of us, the spirit of cooperation and innovation of educators is maximized. Dalton School Hong Kong quickly started distance learning and moved our traditional classrooms to the Internet. Principals and teachers meet via WeChat or Zoom to discuss teaching plans; teachers and parents maintain daily communication through email or Seesaw platforms; teachers and students share learning experiences through Seesaw and Zoom classrooms … People’s communication styles have been changed hugely.
unexpected storm not only challenged educators, but also showed everyone the advantages
of distance teaching. First, distance learning helps maximize the sharing of teaching
resources. For example, after the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a notice
of “Suspending schools without stopping learning”, our partner school
in Beijing – Tsinghua Affiliated Primary School – opened its online learning
resources to the society for free use during the postponed period for primary
school students across the country. The Tsinghua Internet School curriculum is
created by many subject leaders, teachers of core subjects and outstanding educators.
Such high-quality teaching resource sharing is achieved because of the needs of
online teaching, and these are not the resources that can be easily acquired in
traditional classrooms. Our students in Hong Kong also benefited from it.
distance learning maximizes the potential and creativity of teachers. In order
to make their classes lively and interesting, our teachers have been doing
everything they can: some have been online to find fun games and videos; some have
dressed up as characters in picture books and told stories to students in a
dreamy way; some have made professional art videos and have taught students how
to draw online … Teachers have experimented and innovated in areas they were
not familiar with. It seemed that overnight, teachers’ potential and creativity
have become unprecedented.
distance learning makes learning personalized, to the maximum extent possible.
Small group learning and one-on-one learning, which are not easily implemented
by teachers in traditional classrooms, can be performed perfectly through
online learning. For example, one of our teachers, Ms. Cecile, arranged several
small grouped math workshops, writing workshops and one-on-one reading support
in one day, so each student obtained learning that was suitable for his/her
level and ability.
In addition, after students uploaded their work online, teachers can provide targeted feedback as soon as possible. For example, after receiving a Chinese writing assignment uploaded by a second grader, another of our teachers, Ms. Nina, provided such feedback in time: “Thank you for completing the writing task quickly and well! I also like your word choice, e.g., “Sudden Enlightenment” and “Sullen”. Your storyline is also particularly reasonable. I wonder if you can add a little bit, such as if the tiger has learned a lesson afterwards, has he been deceived again? “In this example, Ms. Nina pointed out the strength of the student’s work in text form, and puts forward constructive suggestions to help the student make continuous progress from the first time.
example, after receiving a math assignment uploaded by a first grader, yet
another teacher, Ms. Zoe, provided following voice feedback first:
“Congratulations, you completed all of this correctly! And you also wrote
the fractions in simplified form. I would like to know how you learned to simplify
fractions. Can you share this with me?” Through this feedback, the student has
the opportunity to think further, and he has been encouraged to shift his focus
from learning results to learning process. This type of feedback can deepen student
learning anytime, anywhere, without being limited by time and region.
more example, our teacher, Ms. Mimi, provided timely feedback after receiving
an assignment uploaded by a first grader, Jessy. Jessy’s mom also participated
in the online communication. Here are their online conversations:
MsMimi: “You have done such a good job, Jessy! I really appreciate it that you tried to make as many words as possible. I especially like the word “lavender”. I haven’t thought of the word “lavender” for a long time, and I seemed to have smelled the pleasant scent of lavender already.”
Jessy’s mom: “I was also surprised when she wrote the word ‘lavender’. I asked her how she learned this word. She said a few days ago, her helper had helped her apply lavender oil to her doll.”
Ms Mimi: “Oh yes, we can learn from everywhere in real life. Jessy learned the word from her life and also used what she learned into learning. Very good!”
This dialogue demonstrates the importance of timely communication between parents and teachers. It not only makes parents and teachers have closer relationships, but also allows both parent and teacher to better understand the multiple pathways of children’s access to learning resources; perhaps from teachers, from helpers, and more importantly, children learn from real life!
course, distance learning also brings some technical or operational challenges,
such as the stability of the network, the selectivity of technology platforms,
the differences in the participation of students of different ages in online
learning, and the capacity of parents to support children’s learning at home.
However, the impact of this pneumonia epidemic on education is not limited to
the field of distance learning only. It has also caused us to think deeply
about a series of education and life topics, such as: how can we be creative
and humane when the crisis suddenly comes? How should we solve problems in
difficult situations? How can we re-examine the importance of advocating nature
from the height of the community of human destiny, and rethink how to deal with
the relationship between man and nature and man-to-man? How can we redefine
success and happiness from a new lens? How can we cultivate outstanding
students with “native cultural rooted” and “global” perspectives? … all in
all, we need to rethink: what is the purpose of education?
hope that everyone is healthy and safe in this special period of time, and also
takes the time to think deeply about the education and future of children,
because this is related to the well-being of all humankind, as well as the
happiness of each child and each family!
Preparing all my notes to speak next week in Dubai about how schools can enable students to become globally competent, based on my latest book, ‘The Globally Competent School: a manual’, I am flexing my presentation muscles to take on the challenge of GESS BITES. This is a stream of talks at the GESS Dubai conference, which runs from Tuesday to Thursday next week (25 to 27 February) at the Sheik Saeed Halls in the World Trade Centre, Dubai, and it is a fast paced, ’10 slides in 10 minutes’, presentation … a challenge, when there is so much to say!
So … what will I say? Well, I will explain quickly that
global competence is fundamental to our young people’s futures, giving them an
array of choice in a connected world which is essential if they are to have
social mobility. I will explain the process that I outline in my book that
moves from inspiring staff and the wider school community (to which I give one
of my favourite words – “Catalysing”) right through to constructing practical
actions for schools. I will look at the 3 levels of school in the model I have
created, and set out what it will take to achieve Level 3. I will offer some
top tips. And I will speak very, very fast!
I do love a challenge … and I am looking forward to this
one. What drives me when I speak in public is the thought that if I can plant a
seed of possibility in the minds of those listening, or if I can inspire even
just one educator to head back to school and do something just a little (or a
lot) differently, so that young people benefit, then I will have had the impact
that I seek. I know – really, really know! – how vital it is for our next
generation of young adults to be globally aware, globally mobile and globally
competent, and anything I can do to help their leaders and schools, those great
engines of change, I will.
If you are in the area, do pop by – and I look forward to sharing with you!
Visiting one of my favourite state schools in Edinburgh on
Thursday, I came into the school reception to find the Headteacher rushing out
past me. ‘With you in a minute!’, she gasped energetically, with only a hint of
a sigh in her voice, ‘I’ve been told there is a poo in the playground …’. I
didn’t dare ask what kind of faecal matter she was talking about, and it didn’t
really seem appropriate to enquire afterwards how exactly she had resolved the
situation, but it did make me think one important thought …
And that is … here we have a highly qualified, highly experienced
professional, charged with arguably one of the most important tasks that
society requires of its citizens. She was not, however, spending time, for example,
challenging her teachers to draw on the latest research into effective learning
and knowledge transfer, or planning evidence-based interventions to support the
development of individual students, to ‘get it right for every child’, or
feeding into national and international policy through active action research –
all of which would have a powerful impact on the future of the young proto-citizens
within her sphere of influence.
No – she was dealing with an issue which any other CEO of a similar
sized organisation – particularly one with such a clear, strong, vision for
success and the public good – would find fairly unimaginable to have to manage,
not because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or because they would find it beneath them
(because every great CEO will always roll up their sleeves when the need arises),
but because they would have resources and a team on hand to support them in using
their time for what they only are best at, for the better functioning of the
organisation … and in case, the young people who will actually, literally, be
the future of the world.
When are we going to get this right? When are we, as a
society, going to realise that we have to invest in schools and their leaders,
and that we will get out of them much, much more when we liberate them from tasks
and expectations which hold them back from making the real difference in
children’s lives, and in the strategic direction of schools, of which they are
more, more than capable.
I encounter impressive, engaged, inquisitive, driven, determined,
focused and ambitious school leaders almost every single day in my work, and my
engagement with them motivates me to want to support them in their work. So … my question for today is this – how can we celebrate,
encourage and support them better?
And I cannot really believe that this is through providing
them with guidance on how to deal with poo in a playground …
For a number of reasons, I’ve been reading an unusually high number of ‘codes of conduct’ recently – for executive coaches, for school staff, for Trustees and for other non-executive directors, and it was therefore fortuitous that last week’s Changing the Chemistry Graduate Group Meeting (for members who have one or more board roles), was focused on the ethical standards which Directors and Trustees in public bodies in Scotland are expected to uphold. The invited speaker was the Convenor of the Ethical Standards Commission for Scotland, Kevin Dunnion, and in a measured presentation, and a subsequent, thoughtful, guided conversation, he took us through the Ethical Standards themselves, the processes that exist to support these and manage breaches, and examples of what can go wrong, and how.
Planning how to avoid breaches of ethical standards was probably uppermost in my own, solutions-focused, mind; far better, it seems to me, to work out how to steer people in whichever field is under scrutiny (in my case, educational leadership, governance or coaching) to adhere to the straight and narrow path, rather than have to devote energy to manage painful forays off into the surrounding thorny thickets. Prevention, surely, is far more desirable than cure in this respect. With this in mind, reflecting on my learnings of the past couple of weeks, I thought it might be useful to draw up a little checklist to support ethical behaviours in practice:
Make an ethical standards framework visible to all Board members; use the Nolan Principles as a foundation guide, and spend time seeking out what others have put together – this framework does not have to be written from scratch, and if you are in a regulated industry, it will exist already.
Lead Board members through regular training on ethical behaviours; this is not a task just for induction or onboarding, and it certainly isn’t just a form to be signed and filed away.
Conduct a regular governance review; do you have in place all the possible processes you could employ to support ethical behaviours, and to provide checks and balances for the Board?
Engage in regular Board appraisal; think about using a Board coach to gain an external perspective.
Put ‘ethical behaviours’ on your Board meeting review form, so you reflect on them.
I like checklists, but I never accept them in their totality; invariably, I think of additional perspectives and other practical bullet points to add to them. This checklist, then, is an invitation to you – to reflect and work out what you would add. Do share, so I can add to my own list!
Travelling from Perth railway station to a Boarding Schools’ Association meeting at Strathallan School just outside the city of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Fair Maid’, I struck up a conversation with the taxi driver. Born in the 1950’s, and a denizen of these parts, he had inevitably seen much change over the past few decades, and our discussion ranged over politics past and present, the evolution of Scottish cities, and (you will not be surprised to hear) what young people in the region think and feel about their lives.
His take on young people was that they can now see, and want to be part of, a ‘greater panorama of choice’, and this phrase stuck with me. Exposed to the wider world through the digital medium, schools and travel, young people’s curiosity and interest is being stimulated, and they are looking up and beyond. Their choices are multiplying, although arguably a choice is only a choice if they have other alternatives, which puts an onus on their home city to provide attractive opportunities for them too – not to persuade or force them to remain, but to enable them genuinely to choose … a choice to stay is as much of a choice as a choice to move, as long as it is made with genuine and informed consideration for the alternatives. It was fascinating listening to this man’s considered, measured, informed take on the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this hitherto stranger.
And this, of course, is worth reflecting on … he was indeed a stranger when I met him, and would have remained a stranger, had I not taken the step of asking him, quite simply, as we were underway, about whether he had had a busy day so far. It is one of the questions I have learned to ask over the years of taxi drivers – sufficiently neutral so as not to probe, but sufficiently personal as to build a connection. If I didn’t talk to people I met on my travels, my life would be so much less rich. I could easily have enjoyed 20 minutes in peace as we drove through the beautiful countryside, and on another occasion I might have done exactly that, but by not being afraid to reach out and connect, I gained insights and heard perspectives that I found genuinely interesting, and that helped me to walk in his shoes.
Learning how to connect with people is a skill. In schools and at home, we rightly instil a note of caution in our children in their dealings with strangers, but we also need to teach them how to engage with them, and how to listen to and value their understandings, because this will enrich their own. Global competence does not have to start in some exotic location; it can start just round the corner from home. And yet through it, our worlds expand.