Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Statements of Duty don't really work

In order to achieve significant improvements in Tasmanian education, the Department of Education is in the process of rolling out new(?) Statements of Duty (SoDs) for its Principals. And the adherence to the SoDs will be overseen by newly appointed Network Leaders.

Sounds great!! But will it work? Statements of Duty are not exactly a recent invention. And when and where have they worked before? After almost 50 years in education I am personally hard pressed to recall any successful use of this approach.

There are some potential conflicts in this process
  • Improvements are achieved in context and contexts vary from place to place and moment to moment. Will the SoDs cover all possible contexts? From their initial responses, some Principals seem to have doubts.
  • Network Leaders are given the role associated with their position. But leadership is fundamentally a dynamic  aspect of (working) relationships. It is  rarely (if ever) one-sided within healthy productive relationships. No doubt some Network Leaders will understand this and act accordingly. Others may not. 
  • But perhaps the greatest potential conflict will be within the Principals who are subject to the SoDs. To be successful,  Principals need to ensure that the schools have a strong sense of life (energy and capacity) and purpose (important things to achieve). But will the "waters of life" for the school and its people be found in the SoDs?
By some accounts Carl Jung’s favourite story went something like this.

“A tribe sent seekers out into the desert searching for the Water of Life.  The Water showed itself in the world by bubbling forth from an artesian well. After a long journey the seekers came upon the well and drank from its invigorating waters. They felt life surge through them and were truly satisfied.

They sent for the tribe, which soon arrived. There were many people gathered around the spring, so a wall was built to protect the purity of its crystal water. As the people arrived shops and buildings sprang up. Roads were built. Eventually to organise access and pay for the necessary administrative costs a charge was made for drinking from the vitalising waters. Still the people came.

And then one day the people woke up and the Water of Life had gone. Water still flowed, but it was not the Water of Life.  People drank, but in time realised their loss. 

The people sent seekers out and the cycle began again.”

Sound familiar? Is there an alternative? One proven approach is to reach agreement that the everyone's "SoD" is to
  • Know what is happening,
  • Work with others to improve what is happening, 
  • Make it easier for the next person (and all of us) to do well

Friday, March 23, 2012

High challenge - high support for all

Helping staff move towards a more high challenge / high support (HC/HS) mode of working with students is fundamental to school improvement leading to success and well-Being for all.
Many staff experience this as an "either/or" dilemma because they see
  • (a) high challenge as working ON
  • (b) high support as working FOR
The resolution is to understand HC/HS as working WITH students. This means working with students on the basis of relationships (respectfully collaborating, sharing responsibility, values, purposes...) more than roles.But for some staff this seems to undermine their "role" (another either/or dilemma)
The resolution is to understand that
  • working on the basis of relationships is usually more productive and is therefore the preferred mode, but
  • when relationships are not productive, then the work continues on the basis of roles, at least in the interim
Staff development tends to focus on acquiring new pedagogical strategies and  needs to be undertaken using a HC/HS approach. That is, to resolve the above dilemmas,  staff need practical alternatives that are supported and endorsed by the school (and community) including:
  • curriculum developments that include SEL 
  • understanding the difference between change and improvement
  • solution focus
  • matching leadership, e.g., restorative leadership (an interesting recent development!!)
  • associated organisational developments, including the
  • development of some "universal" ways of doing things and solving problems
 At Riverside we developed some 'universals' that served us well, including