Friday, 20 March 2009

Dealing with Challenging People

What's the starting point for this?

My assertiveness? My experiences? A definition of challenging? An analysis of what I'm challenged by?

Teaching is by it's very nature 'dealing with challenging people'. Every interaction we make is a challenge of some kind. Analysis of what a teacher does, with over 1000 interactions per hour, indicates that teaching is comparable with Air Traffic control. Most of these interactions are well within our comfort zone - our training and our experiences mean that the nature of the challenges we deal with are generally not too stressful, usually because most of the interactions are with children. But there can come a point when the nature of the challenges, or the sheer quantity of them, can be overwhelming, leading to stress or even illness.

I remember in my second year of teaching when I was really struggling with a year 6 class in an extremely deprived area of Birmingham, one colleague gave me the advice: "Just focus on having one good lesson a day." That helped. I learned what good interactions looked like without beating myself up about the failure of my other lessons and soon I was able to transfer those good interactions to the entire day. It was a starting point. A way in.

But of course the "people" in 'Dealing with Challenging People' are not children, they're adults. And I presume because the context of this skills day is a course within Leadership Pathways, that the people will be colleagues. People I manage and people who manage me.

My presumption is interesting in itself, because when I asked my DHT she said 'challenging people' would be the press and Ofsted. A colleague who was already completed the course and reflected on it on Talk2Learn admitted that he had thought challenging people would be parents.

So we all have a different perception of who challenging people are.

In an ideal world, I woul have all the answers, everyone would read my mind and work with me to achieve the goals that I think are important. It's a good job it's not an ideal world.

I think my point is that I like things to go along swimmingly. I don't like challenges. I don't always know what to do when they happen. I sometimes realise I've been manipulated a few days or weeks after it has happened. Sometimes when I'm challenged I give in too easily, I question my values, or I get defensive and blurt out something blunt or inappropriate that I shouldn't have said. Then I need to apologise.

I'd love to be calm and confident. I'd love to always respond positively to any challenging interactions, in a way that builds up the challenger and at the same time brings them back on track to the school development goals.

This year has been challenging for me in this respect. Being non-class based for the first time means that most of my interactions are with adults, not children, so I've sometimes been a long way out of my comfort zone. It's just past the midpoint of the year now - so of my goals have been accomplished, some haven't and won't, but the most frustrating are those that have drifted. And why have they have drifted? Because I haven't dealt with the people who can drive them forward. I haven't dealt with those challenging people. The successes have been accomplished where my interactions have been effective.

Maybe I should listen to that advice from when I first started teaching - just have one good lesson a day. Except I need to transfer that to a different scale. Just deal with one challenge a day.

Here's the Wordle for this article:

Wordle: Dealing with Challenging People

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Only a short one.

Have you ever tried using Wordle on your blog?

I thought it looked quite interesting...

Wordle: My Blog

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

It's been a while since my last entry and I don't really have any excuses. Still I've had some thoughts today and thought I'd better write them down...

Following the Birmingham South Area Network G&T meeting today, I have reflected on our current practice and what changes we should make to improve it. My first point is that, in our school, ‘Gifted and Talented’ should be a term that makes us think of pedagogy, not assessment. It is easy to get hung up on the debate on who exactly is gifted and talented, what % of the school may be gifted, what talents exist and the like. But for us we have rigorous assessment procedures, we know confidently where the children are in English and have greater confidence this year in maths. In addition, as INCERTS (our assessment system) becomes embedded, we will know with increasing confidence where the children are in all subjects.

So for us the key questions are: ‘what pedagogies do we need to extend the more able children?’ and secondly to that, ‘what impact will these strategies have on the on track and SEN children who are already making good progress?’

I would also suggest that we stop using the phrase ‘gifted an talented’ at Paganel for internal use, as it misleadingly takes us away from the fact that we need to use a range of pedagogies to engage our learners. The phrase ‘gifted and talented’ takes ownership away from the class teacher, when we need to be doing the very opposite. While we still need to be able to talk about ‘gifted and talented’ to external agencies, within Paganel we need to discuss the kind of pedagogies that are specifically designed to motivate and engage the higher achievers whilst at the same time including the rest of the children.

The classroom quality standards exemplify excellent classroom practice that I think would benefit all learners, not just the higher achievers – it would be interesting to see any research that shows the affect on lower and average achievers of taking an approach geared towards ‘gifted and talented’. My suspicions are that all benefit when the pedagogies used are in balance. I can imagine that children on the autistic spectrum would not benefit from having day after day of Bloom’s taxonomy higher order thinking thrust at them. (my colleague’s SEN group in Year 6 do not want to be evaluating and analyzing all day…).

From a leadership point of view the questions becomes: “How can we skill up teachers so that all groups are making good progress?” and “at what point do we need to intervene to make sure that all groups are making progress?”

Early days yet - we need to think on...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Core Day One - Satisfaction

Am I dissatisfied?

Well, am I?

If I'm not then I can't learn profoundly. Or that's what Tony claimed today on Core Day 1. To be fair, he did explain himself that a more technical word would be 'discontinuity' instead of 'dissatisfaction', as he tried to bring Boyatzis theory of self-directed learning down to a level where us proto-leaders could understand it.

One of the participants in the room challenged Tony on his use of the word and I have to admit I felt a certain unease with it. Dissatisfied. It sounds so... unsatisfactory - a word that sends fear shivering down the spine of every teacher I know. Dissatisfied. It's only two steps from incompetent.

For me the defenses came down - I begin thinking to myself - I'm content. No. I am content. I have a great job, a great family. I'm happy in my faith and my life choices. I do have some regrets, but then, who doesn't - they help to bring life's achievements into sharper focus. My feedback report, which I wrote about previously was positive - my colleagues seem to think highly of me which is very affirming...

Dissatisfied? No not me. I can't be.

But maybe it's the connotations within the word that are me holding back. Dissatisfied is defined as being 'discontent' and even 'disgruntled' (which has to be said is one of the best words known to man). It's a word that speaks of the whole being - mind, body and soul. But we are complex beings - many-faceted even. Surely we can be mainly content but dissatisfied with one or two areas of our life - or even dissatisfied with a certain context or situation we find ourselves in.

As I've begun to realise that I 've begun to realise that maybe I am dissatisfied. And that's why I'm here on Leadership Pathways. Tony told his swimming story, and I guess we all have stories where we have profoundly learnt something as a result of a strong dissatisfaction with our current self. The one that comes to mind for me actually happened to my son a year or so ago.

In his reception year at school, still aged four, he hadn't shown much passion for writing, forming letters, colouring or even going near a writing implement for that matter. Then, on a weekend away with church, he was in a group of his peers who all happened to be girls and they laughed at his attempt to colour in Noah's Ark. One of them even told him it was so bad that she was going to throw it in the bin when he'd finished it. Upset, but now determined - he finished the colouring and did the best colouring in he'd ever done up to that point. Since then his writing has gone from strength to strength and he even takes time to colour things in every now and again.

So have I learnt something about learning? When I heard Tony use the word 'dissatisfaction', I was uneasy, discontented, disgruntled - dissatisfied even. Maybe I have learnt something after all.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Feedback Report

I was very pleased by my feedback report, and there's a trap in itself.

Firstly there were no units that I absolutely have to cover - a nice massage to my ego there.

Secondly the feedback from my raters was broadly the same as my own responses, with very few gaps between their opinions and mine. If anything my raters were more positive that I was - but I'd guess that would be the experience of most people who go through this process - teachers tend to be their own biggest critic.

Thirdly I'm exctited about the routemap to come - it's nice to be told what I need to learn.

However the trap is that the rating is just a snapshot of where I am at the moment. Within a small school, my colleagues (from whom I chose my raters) know me very well within our immediate context and their opinions will be coloured by the circumstances and conversations that took place last half term, just as mine will.

[It's interesting that one of the questions with the biggest difference in opinion was the one about whether I like to learn on my own. Answering that question on my own, as I did late at night on the computer and enjoying the process of rating myself 'on my own' of course I gave a more positive response than maybe I should have. My raters who can see me learning at school and never see my on my own (because otherwise I wouldn't be on my own) obviously rated me less highly - I wonder if other colleagues have experienced this anomaly with this or other questions.]

So the trap is to let yourself get pigeon-holed by the report. I must remember that humans are much bigger than any psychological profile or rating assessment.

Remember that there are more possible connections between synapses in the brain than there are atoms in the universe.

So the routemap must not become a railroad nor a strait-jacket. I must not limit my learning, but I must also be detremined to do the learning that is recommended, and not skim it or bypass it.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

My Leadership Influences

One person who has helped me most in my development...? That's hard.

I guess the question really means'development as a teacher' or maybe it means 'development as a school leader'...

Anyway before I started teaching, Gordon and Rosalyn discerned my desire to positively influence others and convinced me that I could have a greater impact on society by influencing a few people greatly as a teacher rather than many people a little bit as a pop star. Yes I did want to be a pop star.

Then in teaching, Robin gave me behaviour management skills and a better work ethic, Jo helped me understand the importance of PSHE to develop good learning behaviours and Carol showed me the importance of passion for what you believe in and the simple but much-overlooked skill of reading to stay up-to-date.

Chris taught me the importance of effective communication. From Yvonne I saw how vital it is to keep 'many plates spinning' and to see a job through (or 'complete the circle') as she would put it. From Penny I've gained a drive to reduce workload for colleagues, and from Martin I've learned the importance of efficient organisation and filing.

All of these qualities are great and if I could master them all and do them all as effectively as the people I've mentioned above I would become some kind of super-leader. However the person I hark back to the most is Jan who had a way of making people work for her that became them working for themselves. Of all the people I've worked under, she was the most positive - not some wishy-washy positivity with no impact, but a catching positivity that passed on infectiously from person to person raising levels of self-motivation in children, staff and parents.

So if I could get the best bits from everybody, I would, but if I had to pick one person to be like, it would be Jan.

What did she say?
she always turned a negative into a positive. She never spoke negatively about any children (she subscribed strongly to the ALPS approach and Daniel Goleman's emotional intelligence). She spoke with a smile and a gl;int in her eye, which meant to others that her words were genuine. Adults and children knew she cared and responded accordingly.

How did she behave?
She worked hard. As mentioned above her non-verbal communication spoke of an authenticity that I certainly have yet to achieve. She made the most of little interactions that happen. She lent me the book, 'The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell, which changed my life.

What was special about the person?
In terms of impact she transformed a one-form entry school with falling rolls and numbers of about 150 to rising rolls and numbers growing to 200 and beyond - full classes have a really positive impact on a school. She worked hard, got her team self-motivated working for her, themselves and the school, was authentic and cared passionately about her work.