Thursday, October 23, 2014

Feeling like a leader

***Although I wasn't part of the live feed, the impetus for this post came from a review of Thursday's #pypchat on Leadership in the PYP***

 This year is an interesting one for me professionally. It's the first year that I'm not either a classroom or specialist teacher and have taken on the role of PYP Co-ordinator/Deputy Head of Junior School. It's a fantastic opportunity for me and I'm currently on a very steep learning curve - but sometimes I find these to be the best.

Several of my colleagues have stepped into similar roles over the past few years and I've was eager to gather their perspectives prior to beginning of this year. Two of the most sticky pieces of advice I received were 'now your day is going to much less structured, but your work will also be much less visible - you need to make it visible' and 'I've found that teachers generally want to feel like you've got their back when it comes to teaching and learning'.

Now this is going to sound like an excuse, but I really have been super busy. Seriously. I've found myself doing much more of the admin/clerical side of things instead of the curriculum development that I was expecting. To use a PYP format, there's been.....

An increased emphasis on.....                              A decreased emphasis on.....
       Organising co-curricular lists and sign ups       Organising collaborative experiences for teachers
          Completing paperwork for the office                                  Co-teaching lessons
                      Writing emails to parents                                       Writing blog posts here
Engaging in discussions about students shifting grades    Engaging in discussions about inquiry

I could go on. And I will.....

An increased emphasis on.....                              A decreased emphasis on.....
Bus timetables                                                            Assessment
                 Duty schedules                                                 Innovative learning initiatives
                               Managing                                                                    Leading

It is is the last point that I'd like to speak to specifically. Firstly, I don't think you can be a good leader without also being a good manager. So I understand that some of these tasks are important. I also understand that my context dictates a hefty amount of my practice - and that this will change over time. But over the past couple of weeks I've made some specific changes to my schedule that I think have improved the way that I perform my role.

As the initial onslaught took hold my first move was to protect the time that I have with my family. I have two young daughters and, while I could easily be at work with plenty to do until after 7pm each night (as I'm sure any teacher would understand), no-one is giving these years back to me when I'm retired and my girls are only this age once. So I leave work 'early' in order to spend time with them before they go to bed and pick things up later on at night. This was my number one preference, but it didn't solve my admin/curriculum balance issues. Further adaptation was needed.

My second change began only two weeks ago. Because it is my first year as PYPC, and I know that I need to get my head around every UOI across the entire school in order to manage the vertical and horizontal articulation of the POI (and contribute to the development of each UOI), I meet with each grade and specialist weekly. Our previous PYPC met with each grade fortnightly and specialists less frequently (there were different times built into the yearly schedule for her to catch up with teams that don't exist this year). She was highly experienced and also had a greater understanding of the POI as she had played a major role in establishing it - so I figure she didn't need the regular catch ups that I do. This takes up quite a large portion of my week and I've been finding that the rest of my time is being spent organising things that I find less desirable (although acknowledge the importance of....).

In the week before break I cancelled all meetings with grades and specialists. Not only did it feel good to send out that email, but it provided me with a great opportunity to do more of what is important about my role - become visible and support teachers. Firstly, I was able to give time back to teachers - only 40mins but its better than nothing. Time is such a valuable commodity and any opportunity that I can provide to give it back to people is surely worthwhile. Secondly, the impact of my decision was limited because of the timing. I met with everyone during weeks 1, 2, 5 & 6 of each UOI. This means that I was a part of the reflection process as a UOI was winding up (although it is on-going throughout the UOI) and also helped to develop the next planner to implement. In weeks 3&4, the UOI is typically humming along so there is less need to meet with me. During these weeks I can use the free time to co-teach with grades, lead lessons so that class teachers can observe their students, assist teachers with provocations, assessments and documentation, and also be on hand to celebrate learning as it occurs. This is where my passion lies - being involved with the moments of learning.

This is also where I cross over the intersection of management and into leadership. Being able to observe behaviours and habits in students and teachers - to provide them with feedback on their learning and practice (and for them to return the favour). Being able to take part in exciting discussions and trials of innovation and creativity. Being able to capture the wonder on a child's face and build on it to create meaningful learning experiences. Being able to listen.

I've often felt like a leader throughout my career. But to be honest this year has felt the least leadershipesque of all. Sure, I get to talk to people and it feels like they value my advice - perhaps they see me as a leader, I don't know. But to me a leader is someone who is able to support and be a part of (when required) new ideas, someone that causes learning, someone that models, observes and shares great practice, someone that scouts talent (all forms) in students and teachers, and someone that turns challenges into opportunities. I feel like I was able to do more of this when I was a grade-level leader, now that my job title has changed the tide seems to have turned. I'm working on turning it back.