Posts Tagged ‘high performance schools’

a-belief-is-not-merely-an-idea-the-mind-possessesHow much change has been occurring in your school of late? What is your experience of the change?

If we asked those questions of teachers in your school what do you think their responses might indicate? Would they respond in a joyful and empowered way or perhaps respond “yep yet another change”? I suspect for many teachers and leaders in schools there always seem to be some change initiative or another going on. Education appears to be undergoing a period of constant change, as it has for many years, and I don’t believe that this is going to be different for many years yet to come.

Given the constant changes occurring in our schools – whether they are driven by political, curriculum or pedagogical drivers – it is surprising to me that we consistently find that one of the biggest areas that schools seem to struggle with is managing the change that is occurring. Most school reforms or change initiatives fail because we don’t examine the underlying context or beliefs that exist within a school.

Let me give you some examples from our experience:

  1. A school has experienced a high turnover of senior leadership members in the past five years and have experienced “micromanagement from above”. The staff teachers indicate they have “change fatigue” and have little faith or trust in leadership at this point. Embedding new initiatives to improve student learning outcomes has been extraordinarily slow.
  2. A school has recently changed its senior leadership after a long period of stability and the new team wants to bring in a raft of much needed curricula and pedagogical change given the significant drop in student numbers at the school. However, there is a lot of “baggage” and resistance due to the “wrongs of the past”. Unless staff members have the opportunity to address and complete past issues again change will be slow.
  3. A school has a large number of teachers who have been at the school, and only that school, for decades. Whilst many of them are good to excellent teachers they aren’t necessarily interested in changing the way they teach or assess.

I could go on with a variety of examples but my point is that each and every school has individual challenges that need to be addressed to empower and enable positive change to occur. Some schools occur as fortresses against change, others are beginning to take down their walls, and others are flowing rivers where change has teachers meander from one initiative to the next and nothing gets embedded.

There is a wonderful old Sufi tale that tells of a man whose neighbors come upon him on his hands and knees under a street lamp. The man explains that he is searching for his lost keys. The neighbors immediately join in the search, but without success. When they ask the man if he’s sure this is where he lost the keys, he replies, “No. I lost them outside my door—but there’s more light here!”

Schools need to stop looking where the light is and start strategically searching in the most likely areas. They must uncover the invisible actors at play within a school – whether they are school structures, policies, past practices, teacher beliefs, parental beliefs, student beliefs, etc.  What are the causes of the way things are? What are the teacher beliefs about their students? What are the parental beliefs about their children? What are the staff beliefs about leadership? The more a school makes visible the underlying beliefs and context the more it can actually enact change appropriately within the school.

Case in point, Judith Lloyd Yeo in her book “Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education” pointed out the following specifically about teacher beliefs:

  • Teacher’s beliefs profoundly influence their understanding of attempted reforms
  • The same words or phrases might signal quite different things to different teachers
  • Each teacher operates from a set of unexamined beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning, about knowledge, and about the purpose of education itself.
  • Teachers base their thinking and behaviour on unconscious values – personal, professional and those of the culture in which they live and were raised. Often personal values conflict with values of the school, school leadership, and even with a teacher’s own values regarding students.
  • Some practices never take root or cannot be sustained because the underlying beliefs have not changed.

For those of you who have worked with us before this is why we often start our professional learning workshops with inquiries that unpack teacher beliefs and habits. If you are interested in further reading here are some great articles for you to explore!

Cultivating Teachers’ Beliefs, Knowledge and Skills for Leading Change in Schools

Teacher Beliefs

How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education

Teaching Practices, Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes

The Beliefs-Behavior Connection: Leading Teachers Toward Change

Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail

It has been a couple of months since I last wrote in the blog but that is mainly because I have been sooooo busy. Much of the work I have been involved with recently revolves around working with a number of schools to take them from being ‘Good” schools to be “Great’ schools.

If you were on the journey of supporting a school going from ‘Good to Great’ where would you begin?

One of the areas I have begun exploring with a number of schools is the area of building a culture of learning that is palpable within the school. But what does that look like? In a series of inquiries with staff across a number of schools the key elements the staff identified included:

  • Partnership: role-modelling, preparedness to learn from each other (teachers and students as well as teachers together)
  • Shared vision with clear understanding
  • Trust – knowing that you can mistakes
  • People playing their role effectively
  • Strong communication – speaking and listening effectively
  • Respect/relationship building
  • Openness to learning is imperative – ‘risk-taking, mistake-making’ culture
  • Visible Learning – supports the notion of a learning partnership
  • Listening to kids/each other in decision-making
  • Resilience – being able a cope with professional feedback without feeling defensive due to highly critical self-perception

The essence of the feedback and research is that to build a culture of learning requires the building of a trusting community that involves learning partnerships and a powerful relationship to ‘failure’ and development.

I have previous written about the contextual shift required for the staff and students but that discussion did not consider HOW to build a developmental mindset in the learning community.

What we have begun to investigate at one high school is how we could develop structures to build resilience and intrinsic motivation as part of the everyday learning environment. The intention of the work we are doing together is to bring in structures, language, practices and conversations that will gradually support the development of resilience and intrinsic motivation in students, staff, parents and all those associated with the learning of an individual. This will take a few years to embed in the way the school operates but we believe it is one of the key planks of a culture of learning.

I have attached some articles and research below that links to this topic. How do you coherently and consistently develop resilience and intrinsic motivation in your school?

While you are at it, check out my Scoop.It page around High Performance Learning



For those of you who are new to this blog, we spend a lot of time working with teachers and schools at  the fore-front of shifting their school learning culture and their pedagogy. This week we had an revealing experience with one of the schools we are working with. It is early days in this school and the individual is receiving push back by internal (students, certain staff, etc) and external forces (e.g. parents). By the way this is normal as schools’ shift their practice and habits. I thought I’d post the reply by one of our consultants to the individual who is responsible for being the beacon of change within the school.


Hi X,

I experienced the same reactions (the whole range!) at the two schools at which I worked to implement Inquiry programs. Some of the students were very threatened by having to move outside their comfort zones – they had been very comfortable and used to the idea of the teacher doing all the work (in terms of the thinking) and them being positioned as recipients of information in the traditional classroom. They were very concerned about potential impact of ‘taking time’ away from traditional, discipline-based learning to develop the skills and competencies of inquiry. At one stage (I think I may have shared this story with you early in our planning last year) we invited parents and students to an evening meeting at the school to give us feedback about the Project – and it was very mixed, with strong opinions on both sides (and of course many who kept quiet on the issue). The bottom line was that, whilst we in no way minimised the students’ fears, we understood that we were the ones who had developed the understanding of the pedagogical principles underpinning the program – the students believed they knew what would serve them best in the ‘real’ world because that was their dominant experience of learning up until that point. You could say the same of many of the parents. We know what the research, the data and the experts say. Introducing Inquiry IS challenging, and I know, first-hand the feelings of stress, pressure and concern that teachers can feel during the process (particularly in the early stages of implementation).

The fact that some students are feeling uncomfortable is a good sign – it means that we have created something that is genuinely different and that there is obviously a need for, as the students must develop their awareness and competency in the skills needed for the twenty-first century world – skills and competencies that the VCE alone cannot provide. My understanding of the structure of the curriculum at your school was that the Inquiry Projects run separately from key disciplines like English and Maths so the students can be reassured that they will get their discipline-based, traditional preparation for the VCE in those subjects. What inquiry will do for them is develop the independent learning and coping skills that they will need to effectively deal with the stressors of experiences like VCE, university, living independently and later, to navigate the unpredictable and ever-changing jobs-market that they’ll be entering.

Without question, as part of my learning curve as I developed Inquiry in schools, the most important skill that I developed (out of absolute necessity!) was resilience. I had to look to collegiate support – particularly through those who shared my beliefs and an excellent mentor – to the research, to the work the students began to produce over time and to my own conviction that the work we were doing to transform learning into an active, thinking partnership was not only valid, but critical. On the odd evening, I would even watch video clips in the mould of Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ to remind me of our purpose and reasons for working to transform the student experience.

Rest assured that what you are all experiencing is very ‘normal’ and I have been there myself. We are already experiencing success because we are challenging staff and students.


If you are a teacher or in the leadership team at a school who is out to shift the learning culture at your school – then expect the push back! You ARE pushing people out of their comfort zones and challenging their thinking. Unless the school  is aiming for excellence and being extraordinary then the school will naturally devolve into mediocrity. It is your job to keep the vision alive.  It is also the making of you as a leader of developing exceptional learning. It is not easy. It is not simple. You have to have the determination and the vision to be the one causing the shift. The results and difference for everyone  is profound in the end.

Until next time!

As long time readers of our blog will know I am working with a number of schools to support them in creating a culture of high performance learning. If you read back through the blogs you’ll find some of the earlier discussions we have had around becoming clearer about what was their actual vision for the school and what that would look like.

We are now moving from the WHAT to the HOW. This requires us to explore WHO we need to enrol in the new vision and also addressing some of the barriers that can slow down the building of the culture.

Just as a reference for this blog, the school is “deeply passionate about developing passionate, inspirational and exceptional people” and be best in the world at “Building Learning Teams” which for the leadership group means “Groups of people with a common goal / vision, working collaboratively (learning from and together), removing mediocrity, developing 21st century social competencies, inspiring passionate and exceptional people”.

1. What are the groups you need to enrol and what is the access?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight the accesses and people the school would need to address if it was going to create an environment where everyone was on board with developing passionate, inspired and exceptional people. Every communication with these groups would have to be designed with a clear message and from the intention of developing the school’s passion. Any inconsistency of message will slow the process down. The aim is to ingrain a “way of being” into all the stakeholders of the school.

People come to the school with their own mindset and point of view about learning, what education is and should be, how to do things, how to communicate with one another, expectations about the students and the staff, and hundreds of opinions and thoughts. There is nothing wrong with that but they may be inconsistent with what the school is building. We certainly don’t want everyone thinking the same way … what we want is that there is clarity in what the school is building and that there is disciplined thinking, action and practice inside of that framework. A Cathedral takes time and effort to build.

Group Access
Leadership Team & Year Level Leaders Leader meetings, emails
Teachers Staff meetings, Professional Learning Teams, emails, Professional Development (PD)
Aides Aide Meetings
Parents Information nights, parent-teacher meetings, newsletters, expo nights, open days, breakfasts, community events, Parents & Friends discussion groups
Students Assembly, daily bulletin, class meetings, curriculum, student leadership teams, Student School Council, in-school TV, class practices, Ultranet, staff practices, student restorative practices,
Community Work experience, Kindergarten newsletter, School newsletters, community radio station, newspaper, school website, local schools, word of mouth, School fete, school concerts, choir, excursions, Human Powered Vehicle, Aerobics / Dance Competitions, Out-of-School Care, Student Tours, Student Teachers
School Council Council Meetings, Minutes, Community Dinner
District Level
Word of mouth, PDs, workshops, Principal Coaching program


2. What will be the potential barriers and how will we overcome them?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight some of the barriers that normally exist to change in a school. Many of these barriers exist in all schools in one form or another. Quite often when we look at the barriers we have our opinions about why they are but the idea underlying this conversation was to actually look at what could be some of the possible causes to progress and explore what actions the leadership team could implement to address and overcome the barriers.

Issue Possible Causes Path Forward
Teacher Not Interested Don’t want to changeMediocrity

Loss of passion

Threatened by change

Don’t feel they are up to it (self-doubt)

Time Poor

Challenge themSupport the teachers to find their passion again

Educate them in the world of fixed vs growth mindset

Show them how (give them access to moving forward and changing)

Support them with a learning buddy

Educate them

Time Poor Work-life balance is poorDon’t have effective habits

School structures (very little time outside of student contact)

Ineffective habits with corrections, planning, meetings, etc.

Train staff to work smarter not harder (look at the major challenges and support the staff to shift habits)Share responsibility (perhaps with students and others?)

Shift teacher mindset

Training to have more effective meetings, planning, corrections (students self assessing more?, Feedback and Feed Forward strategies)

Workshops where teachers who have effective habits develop those who don’t

High Cost to Change Providing PDRelease for PD

Extra meetings
– people not listening or have opinions

–          Have no time to CHEW ideas therefore there is no transfer of practice

In-house PDsCreate developmental mindset

Have educational authorities come and work with the teachers in-house

Peer coaching to embed practice

Create learning resources

Intra-school videos: teachers make a video to share practice so teachers can look at in their own time or multiple times


Lack of Leadership Lack of planningLack of clarity in role description

Top-down driven (no what is in it for them)

Could also be a lack of trust

Sometimes teachers continue to do things that they no longer need to do

PrioritisingClear planning

Clear strategy and thinking

Educating the staff about what we are NOW doing and what will NOT do now (and what will STOP doing)

–          Now, Later, Never, NOT

–          Each is an opportunity to explore what they will do now, what they will leave to later, what they will never do (and maybe will have to have someone else do it), what they will not do (and have it done another way … perhaps by someone else)

Communication There seems to be many ways that communication is done within the school because people have different “learning styles” or pay attention to different things. Thus if you want to make sure that everyone knows about something then you have to send it out in multiple ways … and even then you aren’t guaranteed that people know.There is also no central hub for approved school wide communication


Need to develop simple habitual practices for communication – agree upon one form and have everyone do itHold people to account for reading material.

Develop a staff behavioural system (as you have in place for students). This will create accountability and habits. This is ultimately attached to their performance reviews.

Have clear lines of communication so there aren’t people dealing with communication that they don’t need to.

Give lots of positive feedback – acknowledge people!

Use 3 A’s to coach people

–          Awareness: listen first and uncover what the ACTUAL issue is

–          Access: give them access to changing their behaviour or taking action

–          Action: have them take an action in time and hold them to account for it.

When we began to explore all the potential barriers and what could be causing them it became apparent that there were many possible causes and also actions that could be implemented that would address many of the prime causes of the barrier.

One point I want to raise that I have found in a number of schools that we have worked with … many schools don’t appear to have a staff behavioural policy that holds staff to account for their jobs. Quite often they have a stepped behavioural plan for students when their behaviour is not acceptable but not for their staff. This is a big missing as most for-profit and not-for-profit organisations have these policies and they give the management a pathway for holding staff to account and for developing staff culture. People don’t always embrace change and you do need an accountability structure to ensure that staff are moving in the same direction as the school culture. The alternative is that when you are building a culture it will feel like you are herding cats!

Until next time!

In this week’s blog I am exploring two areas impacted by the shift into an era of rapid change

  1. How to have school leaders empower their staff
  2. How technologies will shape education in the near future

Whilst much of this blog is from other sources the highlights are mine. Those of you who have worked with myself and the Intuyu team will realise that many of the conversations we have with you about high performance cultures and learning environments reflect the principles addressed by Simon Bailey.


Thriving in a World of Rapid Change

Author Simon T. Bailey, in a recent presentiation, has some advice for how school leaders can thrive in an era marked by rapid change and disruptive technologies:

Focus on people, process, and problems.

Too often in times of rapid change, school leaders tend to focus on the rapid change in technologies that are causing disruption when they should be paying attention to their employees first and foremost. “We can’t forget people in the midst of a shift,” he said. “Organisations don’t have ideas—people do.”

People often feel overwhelmed by change because they are emotionally connected to the past and to the old way of doing things, Bailey said. To be a successful leader in times of change, you have to make sure your employees are working in an environment where they feel supported enough to be creative—and that means getting them comfortable with adapting to change.

One way to do this is to listen instead of hear. “I know you’re busy, but take five minutes a day to really connect with someone on your staff,” Bailey said. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Ask employees about their concerns, and make sure they know you’re listening to them by repeating what they’ve said back to them. That will help them realize, “hey, he really gets me,” Bailey said. Also, don’t be sparing with praise. “Brilliance manifests itself when people are in an environment that celebrates them rather than tolerates them,” he said. Change is easier to accept when it’s something that we lead, instead if something that is done to us. So ask your employees for feedback, and empower your staff to make suggestions.

To inspire innovation, Bailey suggested a process known as “stop, start, continue.” In staff meetings, ask: What are the things we should continue to do? (These are the things you’re already doing well as an organization.) What are the things we should start doing that we haven’t done before? And finally, what are the things we should stop doing—things that no longer make good business sense? This process can help lead to a state of “vuja de”—a term that Bailey borrowed from the late comedian George Carlin, meaning the opposite of déjà vu. If déjà vu is the feeling of “been there, done that,” then vuja de is a feeling of “going there,  doing that,” Bailey said. In other words, it’s the ability to see what everyone else sees, but understand it differently— to experience the future in the present.

The innovation you bring about through this process should focus on meeting needs or solving problems that aren’t currently being addressed within your organisation or within education at large, Bailey said. “In the future, we will be paid for the problems we solve and the solutions we find, not just the products and services we provide,” he said, adding that most products and services ultimately can be outsourced. To focus on problem solving, ask these three questions, Bailey said: What’s the need? What’s the want? What’s your story? The answers to these questions will point to an end result that “brings about the shift that allows us to be relevant,” he said.


Technology trends and their impact on Education

As we head deeper into the Information Age and technology begins to shift the way that students and teachers collaborate, communicate, work and succeed, I thought I’d quickly outline some trends that will begin to impact the way we provide education.

1. Within the next year

Mobile Learning is already here and as the optic fibre is laid down around Australia and throughout the world the wireless ability of our mobile networks will increase and grow. How would the classroom and school look if lessons can be structured so students can immerse themselves in the topic of study at anytime and anywhere? What Apps exist that we can use to strengthen and differentiate the classroom? If there are gaps can we have students develop Learning Apps that will support their learning. They are digital natives and there some very clever kids out there (see 14 yr old boy who created a parking app for Sydney as is making a killing!).

Cloud Computing is only starting to happen, and there are many facets and evolutions to explore yet but the saying “the world is your oyster” fits the power of this shift. In recent blogs I showed some of the remarkable Cloud Computing websites which provide learning tools and virtual labs for all manner of areas. What would a school’s IT structure be if they no longer needed to buy the learning software but just access it in the cloud? Will there be a time where one of our tasks as educators is to pick and choose from the wealth of resources and relationships out their on the cloud and set up the virtual learning environment we need for this particular class or subject or unit?


2. Within 2 – 3 years

Game-based learning has had an infancy but in the next two to three years expect it to start to be adopted in greater numbers. We already have extrordinary games on the XBOX, Playstation, and so on that immerse you in a world and the player has to figure out puzzles, problem-solve, make decisions, and so on. With the Xbox Kinect we have the world first indicated in movies such as Minority Report and Avatar. You can expect that the world of game based learning will bloom. How will you use this to impact and enhance the learning environment?

Open Content is again in its infancy. With the trend to globalise information and make it instantly accessible to all, especially with Creative Commons licenses thriving and being used in all manner of ways, we will see organisations beyond Havard and MIT opening their doors. More and more organisations are in the midst of funding and creating open portals for the wider global public to enter.


3. Within 4-5 years

Learning Analytics – imagine if the system can analyse and measure the learning occuring in real-time and adjust itself to strecth and support the learning of the individual student.

Personal Learning Environments – in Orson Scott Card’s book “Ender’s Game”, Card created a world where six year olds had their own personal computing screens which they could interact with a personal avatar and world designed to enhance, support and train the students. Teachers and trainers would examine the student responses and support the computer programs work with the student. By the end of this decade the technology will exist for each student to have these learning environments. What will school become then? What will be our function?


What do you think?

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