Learning from my nine-year old self

When I was a little girl I wanted to be the Prime Minister when I grew up. My goal was to be the first female PM of Australia. I had this dream for a number of years but it started to wane as I went through my teen years. Why? Because I saw that to be a politician you had to be willing to have people dislike you. A lot. My teen self, still coming to terms with my identity and struggling with self-esteem issues, could not fathom being in a position where I would be constantly judged and criticised. Flash forward to 2015 and now I am not so sensitive nor naive. That’s not to say that I am not ever intimidated, as the people pleaser in me still wants to be liked and to be seen to do the right thing. The difference is that age and experience has given me knowledge and a resilience that my younger self could not fathom.
This week being a leader has meant taking criticism and facing it head-on. It has meant being willing to be brave and have challenging conversations. It has meant calling others on mistakes they have made and it has meant that I have made mistakes which I have learnt from, that I don’t intend to make again. A colleague has said that one of my great qualities is my ability to learn from my mistakes, that I only make them once. I hope so but I think I am also mature enough to know that nothing is ever that simple. That sometimes when things are not so black and white, and you are dealing with the complexities of peoples’ personalities and egos, there are many components to take into consideration. Nine year old Tamara still had that to learn when she saw early visions of a Julia Gillard-esque future.

Dealing with the fall-out surrounding a decision this week had me reflecting on how it should have unfolded. Knowing the right questions to ask and knowing when and how to ask them is a skill any good leader needs to possess. It can be difficult if you don’t know the questions to ask in the first place, if you are not in a position of knowledge so that you can see all facets. However, that doesn’t make you wrong either. This is where it is important to be a part of a strong team of individuals who can help each other to ask the right questions, collaboratively. What I was reminded of this week is that it will take time to build our team. That we are still learning from and about each other. Our team has been forced to face it’s first big change head-on, much earlier than we should have had to, but it has certainly clarified that the team is in its fledgling stage. We now have an opportunity to move forward based on what we’ve learned.

I am quickly collecting examples of what I don’t want to happen. Sometimes that is a much easier way to clarify what you want – by basing it on what you don’t want to see occur. So here is what I don’t want to see happening as part of our leadership team:

1. We are unwilling to be open and frank in our conversations;

2. We care more about our own agenda than serving others;

3. We don’t look equally at the big picture and the smaller details;

4. We are too bogged down in the operational to get to the strategic;

5. We undermine the collective by not presenting a united front; and

6. We shy away from the tough conversations.

My older self can now see that dealing with the challenges and having the brave, risky conversations keeps us accountable. Interestingly, it also affirms our vision. For if you are truly dealing with people in a just, honest way, there will always be a need to address issues. That’s human nature. I hold out high hopes that is what is occurring at all levels of leadership, especially those who govern our country. Who knows, maybe in a few years, I’ll be ready for a career change?

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Always look on the bright side of life

I never thought I was Little Miss Sunshine but apparently I am a very positive person (my husband may chortle at this one). Like all of us, I have my moments of negativity and, being quite an intuitive person, I know I can be very easily influenced by the emotions of others around me. However, I have never really seen myself as particularly optimistic. A couple of years ago I worked with a fantastically positive person who really inspired me to look on the bright side and not dwell like a negatively Nellie. Since then, I have made a concerted effort to be a positive influence on others and actively look at my own moods. That said, I still hadn’t picked myself as a Pollyanna playing the glad game.

This week I had two of my peers comment on, and joke about, my ability to see the positives in others. It made me realise that yes, my default position is to see the good in others and assume good intentions. I don’t quite know if I can go through life otherwise! However, it would be remiss of me not to consider that this trait can also be a weakness. That is why I work with one colleague in particular who is like the yin to my yang. His default position is not to be disappointed by others. Believe it or not, I find this refreshing. I like that we complement each other and it has led me to reflect on the importance of having a diverse and complementary team. It has been said that all of us should work with others whose strengths are our weaknesses. It’s not always an easy task to admit our weaknesses, but in doing so, we release ourselves from the burden of being perfect, or trying to be everything to everyone. While my colleague’s more cynical outlook can be a weakness too, he balances this with a refreshingly honesty and candid way of speaking which I value highly.

While reading about leadership recently I read about Martin Luther King and I was astounded to learn that he achieved what he did in only 10 short years. It blows my mind to think that he changed the cultural and political  landscape in the way he did at such a young age and in such a short time frame. Luther King was surrounded by many limiting beliefs, he heard so many negative voices yet, he stayed true to his values and the liberating truths he held so dear. He preached that we need to live hopeful lives of creative action as we have the right tools to create the kind of change the world needs. King’s own example shows us that. “There is no deficit in human resources,” he once said; “the deficit is in human will.”

Limiting ourselves by dwelling on the negative is an easy path to go down. Instead we have to actively choose how we perceive our day. Another colleague of mind has two mantras: “make the magic happen” and “not a problem”. His deliberate choice to be open to possibility frames his interactions with his colleagues every day. Besides being an incredibly effective worker, he is also a valued team member due to his positive mindset.

What I have noticed about positivity is that being deliberately positive towards others and putting what’s troubling me deliberately to the back of my mind, I actually change my own mood. I feel better after my positive interactions with others and it helps to put things into perspective. For, in serving others, we too gain.

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With great power comes….

The responsibility that comes with leadership has been a common theme for me over the past two weeks. At its most basic level, the amount of tasks I am required to do, know about and understand has increased. I am, simply by the nature of my role, responsible for overseeing and managing a portfolio of tasks that has overwhelmed me many times. I feel as if I am on a roller coaster of highs and lows, doubt and uncertainty, yet also excitement and challenge.

I have been challenged to keep my head when it feels like it cannot take any more information. I have learnt that time management is a skill I am yet to master. The challenge of working smarter and not harder is one I am facing head-on. I can see how easy it is for one in my position to simply role model working harder without questioning whether that is right. To just get in and do it has been a characteristic I have valued in myself. However, I am learning that this is not necessarily a skill you need in a leader. Delegating tasks, allocating time to important tasks, shutting the door to get things done and asking the right questions are all strategies I will be employing regularly. Otherwise, I am not role modelling what I expect in others.

The responsibility of serving others sits well with me. However, The emotional component of it has not been easy this week. I am, to quote a good friend, an “emotional sponge”. I can very easily take on board the feelings and problems of others. This same good friend gave me a great metaphor to take with me into this next week. She told me I need to put on my metaphorical raincoat, it can get as wet and messy as it needs to, and then each day I need to take it back off again. I will try it and see how it goes. It is all too easy to slip into the role of fixer and to be everywhere for everybody. However, this effectively leads to the disempowerment of my colleagues and creates a cycle of dependency, rather than initiative and problem solving. The delicate balance between serving others to their detriment and serving others to develop them, is a fine one.

I was reminded of this by my Principal last Thursday when he mentioned that he was trying very hard not to micro-manage. This hit home to me as I have been guilty of this in the past. My perfectionist tendencies and need for control have too often meant that I need to know what is happening and feel that I must be over all components. This is simply not possible now. There are not enough hours in one day. Already I am seeing how often I am putting tasks to the side as I prioritise, I have a list that will be effectively ongoing and I need to learn to live with that. Easier said than done! Reflecting on the problems of micro-managing led me to think about how vital it is to step back and distribute the leadership amongst others. I can already see in some small pockets of my institution, people are ready and willing to assume this. That is true empowerment and true service leadership – letting others shine.

As I get better at managing this blog, I will share some links. I was inspired by the idea of distributed leadership as it is a model I am looking to implement as part of our College Performance Development Program. I will add this here as my tech know-how improves.

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A new adventure

My work life took a new direction throughout 2014 which changed the goals I had initially set for this blog and my teaching in that time. Now I am embarking on a new phase, a promotion and a set of challenges I hadn’t expected to be facing this time last year. Now I am a learning teacher leading other learning teachers.
One of my goals for this year is to journal my development as a leader and the story of my school. The fact that my promotion is internal means the chronicling of this story has a different perspective from that of an outsider. For this reason, I hope to also include the perspectives and feedback of others. One of those people will be our new Principal.
We’ve just finished a week of staff days and I needed the weekend to regroup and refresh. Immediately, I am living the challenges of a position of responsibility. My school is independent, co-educational, low-fee, Anglican and Preschool to Year 12. It has many facets that pull me in different directions.
What have I discovered or had clarified already?
➡️I will need to manage my ‘open door’ policy. I firmly believe I need to be accessible to staff and they need to feel that I am here to support them. However, in one week I have seen how what I need to get done takes a backseat to solving immediate problems. I need to strike a balance and to empower others to find solutions and lead by example.
➡️I need to give myself space to try and to fail. This is something I espouse in others, yet I can see that I am already putting too much pressure on myself to get it all right, all of the time. It’s an unrealistic goal. I am currently working with Executive with years of experience. I need to embrace my fresh eyes and do things my own way, one step at a time.
➡️It is a strange feeling to be yourself yet know that the role you have does define how others see you. I feel like me, I assume others see the ‘me’ my friends and family know but that is not the case. Bridging the gap and defining the gap is a challenge of leadership I intend to pursue day-to-day and in this journal. To be able to inspire others and facilitate opportunities is an important facet of my role but so too is the flip side. The status, or power, which comes with the privilege of my role can never be taken lightly. This probably explains why I am currently living in a state of permanent anxiety! I know this will settle as I get to live the role over time but I must never forget the feeling of these first days. I am excited and daunted simultaneously. Being daunted by my who I am in this role is something others live when I interact with them.
➡️My school is a new a phase. It is in its seventeenth year and its growth is exciting. Our new Principal has restructured the College Leadership Team to include my position. As Director of College Improvement, I have a wide range of responsibilities. The notion of improvement sits well with this new phase we are in. What are we doing well? What do we need to improve? What new ventures do we now need to undertake? What’s lacking? One of the areas we most need to work on is culture. This encompasses so much but I can already see week in, how vital this is and how big this task may be. One step at a time…
➡️Learning is at the heart of what I do every day. This week I have learnt about staff, their roles, their concerns and the challenges they face each day. I have learnt very quickly that there isn’t always a simple solution. The resilience of our staff has been affirmed for me. What I need to do as a leader is to keep celebrating traits such as this, yet also to find ways to ensure we evolve by reducing some of the issues that require resilience.
➡️Reflecting on what I have learnt about leadership from our new Principal, I see the value in a mantra – a clear, concise vision statement to enact everyday. We are using ‘On Track, On Time, On Task’. My fellow Deputy, Director of Academics, is using ‘Quality Teaching, Quality Planning, Quality Feedback’ with the academic staff. I have also learnt about the power of rhetoric and it’s potential to take others with you on the journey you have mapped. A statement which has resonated with me is to be a ‘Promoter of Possibility’. I love words and metaphor (I am an English and Drama teacher, after all) and I am looking forward to seeing how our rhetoric makes a difference. The challenge will be to execute it!
➡️Finally, what I have written about in this post is only the tip of the iceberg. It is a suitable metaphor for how I am feeling in my new role and for how my week has unfolded. I cannot possibly see the whole picture yet, nor articulate it in one piece of writing. What I shall endeavour to do is to find the time, drive and energy to chip away at the mass slowly but surely.

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Weekly Writing Challenge: Multimedia Storytelling

Weekly Writing Challenge: Multimedia Storytelling.

What a wonderful resource! This is exactly what I have been playing around with while programming for the new NSW 7-10 English Syllabus. Now to use it myself and challenge students with it too.

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Step 1: Start a blog

My first post to begin my navigation through the brave new world of the 21st Century educator. This year I set a professional goal to learn about new technology because, and I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, I am way behind the times. This year I have joined Twitter, learnt to use a Samsung tablet and an iPad, played with apps, been overwhelmed by said apps, started a blog, started a Weebly website as a project (with a tech savvy student), used Prezi, mastered PowerPoint, joined up to countless online sites and activities and even mastered the selfie!!! To be honest, I am proud of myself and happy my goal was open enough to achieve relatively easily. However, through all of this investigation and playing I found my anxiety levels rising. I felt the more I learned, the less I knew.

What to do?

Start a blog of course!

This blog is designed to keep track of my learning over the next year. My new goal is to blog about my professional and personal development as an educator today. My school is focused on making significant changes to the way we approach the curriculum and I am excited about it. I want to keep track of my part in that. While I am part of the Academic Team at my school, in no way way do I feel like an expert, sometimes I question my experience! Longevity as a teacher (17 year career and counting) does not necessarily amount to expertise. I don’t want to sell myself short, nor undermine my skills, but I see myself as student too. I believe all teachers need to be learners first and foremost. How can we teach otherwise?

In the interests of professional learning, I want to discuss, analyse, evaluate and reflect on my investigations, experimentations and navigations.

Step 1 is now complete.

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