Friday, July 11, 2014

Leading At The Edge of Chaos

My colleague, Claire Amos, wrote in a recent post about Teaching on the Edge of Chaos a concept that we both heard Sugata Mitra talk about at the recent EduTech Conference in Brisbane. It appears to have resonated with her and it certainly has with me. At the same conference, Ewan McIntosh also introduced me to the concept of agile leadership.

I have come to think of these two concepts as the two sides of a coin or weights on a balance keeping everything in synch. When I think about being on the edge of chaos the only way to survive and develop is by being agile. I reckon agility is an important trait for a leader in a future-focused school not only because it makes dealing with uncertainty and rapid change more likely to be successful but also because it puts the leader in the position of role modelling this trait, not only for all members of the teams, but more importantly for our students whose world is going to require them to be very agile.

One of my personal goals against Principal Professional Standards in the area of Community and Networks is to not only blog my personal leadership journey but also to get out of my comfort zone and present or run workshops to a wide range of audiences. While there has been a bit of a break since my last blog (largely because a lot of my time has recently been focused on the presenting aspect for the last few weeks) I reckon I'm posting more than the average bear (in this case secondary school principals).

In the last few weeks I have been ale to present/workshop at a ChallengEd day in Auckland, 2 Emerging Leaders Conferences (Christchurch and Auckland), a Restorative Practices workshop in Auckland, the Wellington Secondary Schools Principals Association, the Central North Island DP Association in Taupo and had the privilege of spending a day workshopping with staff and students from Lincoln High School in Christchurch.
Selfie with Yr 9 students from Lincoln
Looking back over the themes of these workshops the common theme seems to have been convincing others that we are on the edge of chaos and that strong, agile leadership is required to navigate in this environment.

What do we mean by the edge of chaos?
Surely this description is a huge exaggeration. Some of us don't think so.

In the 1970s our employers expected our graduates to be strong in the three R's of Reading, Riting and Rithmetic and schools concentrated on these. There was, therefore, a close alignment between employer expectations and school delivery. I was a secondary school student in the 1970s and certainly felt as if I was being prepared for the world I was about to move into.

What about now? The three key skills employers want now are team work, problem-solving and inter-personal skills. The question we have to ask is does the alignment exist. My argument that schools still concentrate their teaching, assessment and reporting on the original 3 R's and do little about the 3 21st Century skills identified above. That could lead to a bit of chaos!

As well, employment opportunities are also changing rapidly. We have already seen agriculture plummet from 40% of the employment market to less than 2% and we're fully aware of the decline in employment in the range of manufacturing and processing industries. Even the service industries which have resisted the downward trend, but even that is now starting to occur. It is the creative sector which is on the rise, currently at 35% across the developed world and likely to be at 50% by 2018. Are schools positioning themselves for this employment environment or are they, as many of us suspect, reducing concentration on the creative learning areas to maintain a firm concentration on the 3 's and STEM subjects (all of which have their place, but not to the exclusion of the creative sector). This could be chaos, especially when linked to the bit of chaos above!

Let's not forget Moore's Law. With the power of the computer chip doubling every year and the price halving every year it means that by 2022 the equivalent of today's mobile device will hold the total sum of all human knowledge retrievable in a few seconds and will only cost a few dollars.

I see this as hugely exciting for the human race. In a few short years, for the first time in our history every citizen on the earth will have full access to all knowledge. This is true liberation as we wont be held ransom to those who control knowledge and it's sharing out.

But it will contribute to the sense of chaos for schools if we don't reposition ourselves in this environment. Schools and teachers have been key players in rationing knowledge (because you are this age we're going to share this bit with you) and preventing access to knowledge (high fees, exclusions, narrow curricula). We will no longer be required if we merely dispense knowledge.

If we wish to remain on the edge of chaos (more comfortable than up to our knees in it!) we need to be the place where we assist young people to search discernibly for knowledge, critically analyse this knowledge and then use this knowledge, wisely, to solve our big problems and to improve our world. Employers, and wider society, will want people who know how to use knowledge.

The MOE 2012 Report on Future Focused Education recognises the misalignment that now exists and ERO has pointed out in it's 2012 Report on Priority Learners that schools have to be more agile......

If we think about the changing employment environment, the impact of Moore's Law and the urgings from MOE and ERO how should leaders in schools respond?

I have found comfort in Dweck's work on Mindset and have come to believe that what is required is not a skill set but more of a mind set.

To support my ability to lead at the edge of chaos I keep reflecting where I am on a continuum in relation to each of the 5 aspects identified above. I encourage others to include some aspect of growth mindset within their own teaching or learning inquiry.

My own leadership inquiry, which is also central within my performance appraisal, is concentrating on getting the right balance between Warm and Demanding which is a construct many of us at HPSS are exploring when we think about teaching, learning, leading and schooling.

 I have begun to determine what makes up aspects of being Warm and Demanding, firstly as a teacher

and then as a leader......

I'm keen to develop this a lot further and also do some thinking in relation to what do we mean by Warm and Demanding Learning and what it means to be a Warm and Demanding School. I'm going to try to think how I might do this in a way which draws on the knowledge and experience that exists with you.


Karyn Gray said...

As always, a thought provoking excellent commentary on where you are and where to next Maurie. Always love reading your blog.

Ros MacEachern said...

This is really interesting (and inspiring, of course!) Maurie and I want to make lots of suggestions about warm/demanding descriptors (something more explicit about demanding teachers have high expectations?)

I also want to know even more about what the students and parents had to say in the surveys you did - and what your next steps are - could you write another post about that aspect of your inquiry? You merely whet the appetite in our Friday PD world cafe session.

melulater said...

I like the slides about being warm and demanding. The warm aspect is especially important. It validates people, makes them feel valued. People work/learn better when they know they're appreciated as people. Then they want to achieve the high standards demanded.

Leigh Hynes said...

You are one in a million, Maurie!

Mandy Heim said...

Such an insightful post! Thank you for allowing us to ". Read" the mind of a principled leader. The tension between meeting high achievement targets, as needed in final NCEA exams, and implementing challenging, innovative ( is that really possible? ) programs to senior and junior classes alike is one we are all part of. Although I don't necessarily support a top down leadership approach, it is most encouraging to have a top down excitement and aggitation about learning and pushing the frontiers. If our core business in schools is learning and discovering then that is what we all must be immersed in.All the time. Learning and journeying together. Perhaps the word teacher is now old school and we are all 'learning leaders' ... #notjustaword