Crisis…What Crisis?

Tuesday 30th April, 2019, 5am: “A coup is happening right now, switch on your TV” a parent informed me as I was getting ready for work. Indeed, an uprising by the Venezuelan opposition looked like it was taking place. “What do I need to do?”, “We have the IGCSE Mathematics exam today, does it go ahead?”, “Do we close school?” and many more questions needed answering, and needed to be answered quickly. Luckily, we were well prepared in managing crisis situations and were able to act, think and move ahead swiftly and effectively.

After seven years in Caracas, Venezuela, many have asked me to write a book about my time in what is probably the most volatile country in the world over the last decade. I was the school Headteacher/Principal for six years (2014-2020). This article is intended to discuss my experience of leading a school during what turned out to be, a constant crisis situation, through arguably the country’s most difficult period in its history. Maybe a book will follow one day… Please feel free to add comments, questions, suggestions or disagreements.

A school crisis is any traumatic event that seriously disrupts coping and problem-solving abilities of students and school staff. It is typically sudden, unexpected, dramatic and forceful and may even threaten survival. A crisis can cause a drastic and tragic change to the environment. This change is generally overwhelming and uncontrollable as well as unwanted and frightening. It may create a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and vulnerability combined with a loss of safety.

A 2009 research paper titled, ‘Crisis Management in Schools: Evidence-based Postvention’, talks about crisis as being, “Critical incidents in or involving schools include shootings, stabbings, other forms of homicide, terrorist activity, suicide, road traffic accidents, major fires and natural disasters, which result or might result in death and/or serious injury to students and staff.” The NEA describes a crisis in school as, “School crises can be on a large scale, such as severe violence, hostage situations, and natural disasters that require an emergency response from the community.
Or, they can be more individualized, such as a car accident or the unexpected death of a student.”

All of these are of course, valid definitions of the word ‘crisis’ and what constitutes a crisis, however, a few more examples can and should be added to the list (these are very much based on my own experience over the last seven years):

  • Major civil unrest (protests on the streets).
  • Kidnapping.
  • Robberies at gunpoint.
  • Hyperinflation.
  • Currency devaluation.
  • Food shortages.
  • Water shortages.
  • Water rationing.
  • Gas shortages.
  • Fuel shortages
  • Medicine shortages.
  • Power outages.
  • International Sanctions.
  • Issues with travel (both a reduction in flights and issues obtaining correct paperwork).
  • Security (Caracas is the ‘murder capital of the world’).
  • Political instability (e.g. attempted presidential coup, fraudulent elections, two presidents operating in parallel etc)
  • COVID-19.

Situations such as the above spring up on you quickly and how a leader manages the situation is key in moving forward productively, and indeed in many cases, vital for school survival. Much of what is in this article can be used in various scenarios.

I would like to begin by emphasising one of my favourite quotes, “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.” As with most things in life, a plan will go a long way when faced with difficult situations. Yes it may be that the plan has to be changed, often drastically, but a plan will nevertheless guide ones decisions. Secondly, the WHO recently stated that in a crisis situation you have to think and decide quickly – a quick decision is better than no decision. Take a decision now that you will no doubt have to make later. And finally, “where crisis management plans exist, they might be based on ‘common sense’ or clinical judgement, risking worsening rather than improving outcomes.” By preparation and planning, a leader could improve outcomes instead of thinking intuitively. Furthermore, it allows quick and effective decisions to be taken, another vital aspect of managing crisis situations.

Below are some pertinent and key points with respect to handling a crisis situation based on my own experience.

1.  Communication, communication and communication:  this is ever so important.  Your stakeholders (I include employees, schools, students and parents here) need to hear from YOU.  By writing YOU, I mean the leader – the person they trust the most.  Many messages that have been sent during the current COVID-19 crisis have been empathetic, lovely and assuring – that is the way to do it.  Regular messages are necessary to avoid double guessing. If possible, face-to-face, whether virtual or in person, is the best approach. Be open, transparent and exude confidence to others.

2.  Transparency:  maximum possible transparency is required. This will help avoid distrust, anger, theories, gossip and speculation. Be clear, succinct and any plans presented, should be easily understood.

3.  Sympathy and empathy: Everybody wants to be listened to, and understood. A huge amount of sympathy and empathy is required to all stakeholders, taking into consideration they will most likely have their own issues in their personal lives that they are dealing with. Avoid messages that come across dry and soulless. 

4.  Human beings v Policy: Policies are of course important, however, the human being matters much more.  In all communications there needs to be assurance that you are aware you are dealing with human beings, young people, anxious parents, worried staff who have been stressed for many months, for many years in some cases.  Policies are just policies – dry and black and white, not considering the subtleties nor the nuances of context. Every individual has a story that needs to be listened to and acknowledged. Encourage your leadership team to put aside administrative tasks and talk to the staff body.

5. The Leader Leads:  YOU are the key.  YOU have to stand up and be counted.  Every school, parent and student is relying on YOU. If needed, a constant review of the processes has to be undertaken in fine detail, maybe with some objective unbiased lens – including people with a different angle.  If necessary, changes can and must be made given the evidence of any review.  It takes a strong and humble person to admit ones faults but that is what one does if that is the case.  Keep asking yourself, “has my organisation kept to its vision, its mission, its values and have we role modelled these?”

It is worth noting that in any crisis situation, a team should be formed quickly that can help guide your school through. Carefully select members on this team and be aware that too many will prove counter-productive. However, the leader must lead and it is fair to say, long days working with little sleep is to be expected in such a situation. Rise up to the challenge!

On a personal note, despite the challenges, my seven years in Venezuela were wonderful and will forever be remembered with fond memories. The troubles and obstacles faced may have been difficult, but were a great life experience. Both my daughters are Venezuelan and the country will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Please feel free to add comments, questions, suggestions or disagreements.

Sources:

Crisis Management in Schools: Evidence-based Postvention 2009: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251442974_Crisis_Management_in_Schools_Evidence-based_Postvention

NEA School Crisis Guide: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA%20School%20Crisis%20Guide%202018.pdf

International Teaching: Decisions, Decisions…

It is natural to feel anxious, even extreme anxiety when looking to work internationally. This can be the first time looking for a position abroad or even the fifth. After all, what do we really know about these schools and places? The online world only goes so far, inspection reports often give a snapshot at that particular inspection date, accreditation bodies are the same and leaders at schools no doubt paint a rosy picture.

This post proposes that there are simply three key factors to consider:

  1. Finances: Does it make sense for you on a financial level? What will your ‘take-home’ pay be? Take into consideration cost of living (various websites can help with this), benefit package (e.g. housing, flights home, insurance etc) and not just the salary. Does the currency of payment fluctuate with respect to your ‘home’ currency?
  2. School: Look at inspection reports, reviews online, speak with teachers and triangulate all that information to make an informed decision about whether you would ‘fit’ in that school.
  3. Location: What are your hobbies and will you be able to pursue them? Or pick up new ones? Is it safe? And if not, how secure will you be? Travel options, things to do, weather and safety are all considerations to be taken into account.

Finally, one strong, and probably the most important tip is to communicate with existing staff at the school. This will allow for a true opinion of the school, finances and location. Open (and quality?) schools would share all staff email addresses. Some would be selective but be very wary of the schools that do not share any. Why not? What is there to hide?

Communicating with staff currently at the school will give you a lot of information about the school, location and finances; The 3 key factors!

If anybody hits all three, please share!

Happy hunting!

Yasir Patel

Followership: Quality Teachers

Followership refers to a role held by certain individuals in an organization, team, or group. Specifically, it is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader.  Followership is the reciprocal social process of leadership.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Followership).  A note here that Followership was the theme of my dissertation for my MSc in Educational Leadership.  A simple overview can be seen HERE. A previous post (https://yasirpatel.com/2017/01/28/followership-a-new-stream-of-leadership/) expands on the notion of Followership in more detail.   (For the full dissertation with references shown, please contact me.)

This is not a post about entirely about Followership, although it uses many of its key features.  The intention within this article is to focus on the concept of quality teachers within schools (in Followership, this could be referred to as Exemplary staff), in particular, measuring ‘quality‘.

Is it even possible to measure it?  What cannot be counted/measured?  Or how do we count what can be counted?  How much weight do we give to each factor?  This post is a culmination of thoughts, a mix of research, experience and intuition.  Any comments, questions, thoughts, doubts etc are more than welcome to enhance the dialogue.

Educators are aware that teaching staff are multifaceted and various aspects make up the ‘quality’ teacher or the teacher we wish to have in our schools.  What are these precise factors?  It is hard to argue against the fact that the quality of teaching and learning is the key trait.  However, think of that teacher who was (or is) brilliant in the classroom, yet something or many things just stopped him/her fitting in to that school.  Why is this so?

Quality Teachers:  It must be possible to structure our thinking into a more scientific and logical manner so that decisions to be taken have justification, beyond just ‘gut feeling’ or as often happens, a surface level discussion.

Proposition:  A Scientific and Measurable Approach

In order of importance, the five criteria listed below are proposed as the key factors when defining quality teaching staff, in order of importance with a suggested Scoring Key after each one.  The terms used within the Scoring Keys would need to be agreed upon as they can be subjective if not discussed and maybe they even need expanding further.

1. Quality of Teaching and Learning:  Without doubt, the vital ingredient.  Within this, a school must define what it means by Quality Teaching and Learning.  Some examples are:

  • ‘Sensibility and doing the hard intellectual yards are what makes a teacher great – and memorable’ (Pringle, 2002)
  • ‘Quality of teaching is its fitness for the purpose of promoting learning.’ (Ellis, 1993)
  • Quality teaching is doing whatever it takes, ethically and responsibly, to ensure that your students learn and that they leave your unit with a passion for learning.
  • Significant progress made by each student in every lesson‘ (TBSC)

Within these definitions and big-picture statements, schools may have rubrics that break down teaching into various areas (e.g. behaviour, assessment, instruction etc).  A clear, open, well understood (by everyone) definition and structure is key here.

Scoring Key:  Excellent = 10, Very Good = 7, Good = 4, Satisfactory = 1,  Poor = -2, Very Poor = -5, Unacceptable= -8.

2.  Impact on School Culture and Morale:   Organisational culture is defined as the collection of day-to-day habits.  This is the ‘feel’ of a school when you walk through it and a culture that all staff should fit into (in the ideal world).  Teachers that do not fit in, often affect the morale of the school negatively.  This can be difficult to manage and its effect on the teaching body could be irreversible, if not addressed.  However, often, listening and professional development does close the gap.

Think about the culture a school has or wishes to obtain.  Then reflect upon how particular teachers fit into this and thus, the impact on the general morale of the teaching body.  Are they positive to this culture or the worse-case scenario, are they toxic to staff morale and school culture?  This also includes professionalism outside school.

Scoring Key:  Exemplary Follower = 8, Positive = 5, Neutral = 2, Negative = -2, Toxic = -5.

3.  Input and effect upon School Improvement:  Initiatives rolled out should generally (and once again, ideally) be well-thought out, discussed with various teaching groups and implemented with a lot of time.  Often though, ideas need to be implemented quickly and without the desired checks and balances.  How does a particular teacher react to change and new initiatives?  “Yes let’s do it and give it a chance” is the answer you wish to hear.  “Here we go again, what a waste of time” is not what one wants to listen to.  Obstacles, constant rejection, argumentative, resistance to change etc result in a low score here.

Scoring Key:  Positive and willing to help in order to move school forward = 8, Positive = 5, Neutral/Passive = 2, Negative = -2, Negative, not willing to try, resistant and can result in negative school improvement = -5

4. Relationship with Parents:  Maintaining a pleasant and positive relationship with parents is important.  However, it has to be within school policies and guidelines.  This is an important trait that can affect the day-to-day operations if not taken into account.

Scoring Key:  Excellent = 4, Very Good = 3, Good = 2, Satisfactory = 1,  Poor = -1, Very Poor = -2, Unacceptable= -3.

5. Time Served:  In line with professional development, the above should be worked upon before a tough decision is taken.  For example, it is different to obtain a low final total score in the first year of service than in the fifth year.  Leadership has a professional obligation to work and develop staff, give them the time to improve and help all teachers fit in to the school.

Scoring Key:  1st year at school = 10, 2nd year = 5, 3rd year onwards = 0.

Add up the points.  Suggested final score and interpretation of the results:

  • <6 (RED) = Not the right fit for the school/Time to move on/Do not renew contract.
  • 6-10 (PINK) = Serious consideration to be given not to renew contract/Advise to look elsewhere/Not a good fit for school.
  • 11-15 (YELLOW) =  Serious discussion as to whether the school is for them/Consider not renewing contract.
  • 16-20 (Dark Green) = Can develop further/Worth retaining for now.
  • 21-25 (Green) = Retain and renew/A good fit to the school.
  • >25 (Light Green) = Retain and renew at all costs/Perfect fit for the school.

Try the above with a fictional (or real) personality.

To make life slightly more difficult for school leaders, they also need to ensure their recruitment policy and procedures pick up greens at the point of hire (again this is idealistic!), or staff are hired that will be give the correct professional development to guide them towards green (of course, a strong Retention Policy also comes in to play).  Recruitment is tough, getting harder by the day and needs a lot of thought.  See the post on recruitment for further details (https://yasirpatel.com/2016/11/19/recruiting-against-the-odds/).

Comments?  Amendments?  Questions?  Will this approach work for other organisations, outside of education?  What tweaks would be needed?  What is missing?  Ideas and opinions welcome.

Yasir Patel

A day in the life of…Yasir Patel

A recent article from TES, pasted in its entirety below.

https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/a-day-life-ofyasir-patel

Running a high-quality school while managing the huge uncertainty that exists in Venezuela is extremely challenging. I have taught at The British School in Caracas for five years, and things have sadly deteriorated – for pupils and staff – since I started.

Caracas is the murder capital of Venezuela, and the school has had to increase security significantly in recent years: we provide any international visitors and our expat staff with transportation to and from the airport, a night-driver service and regular security advice. The dangerous environment has seen swarms of local people leave the country for a better life: pupil numbers have decreased and budgets are being used to increase admissions.

Funding can be a problem, especially when the income is the local currency, which is losing its value. What was once was a US$2,000 (£1,530) salary is now US$50. This, of course, reduces spending power and saving potential, and the school has to be creative when it comes to helping our local staff.

We provide them with lunches, increased health insurance, and pay them in foreign currencies wherever possible. Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world (estimated at 28,000 per cent): imagine a bottle of milk going from £1 to £2 to £10 all within a week. That’s a common occurrence here – all products normally have a 12- to 24-hour quotation period.

Such a turbulent culture leads to a lot of anger. In 2017, we had more than 100 days of protesting from April to July. We have policies to deal with such events, but it’s particularly tough to deal with during exam season.

Our dedication to ensuring that both pupils and staff have a safe and consistent environment to come to every day is reflected in our staff turnover. In the past two years, we have had an all-time low of 20 per cent, which is amazing given the difficult and challenging political, economic and social times facing all residents of Venezuela.

It is not a great education that is rare here, but any education at all, so teachers are really respected.

Local schools may be suffering with lack of funding, poor teacher training and little resources (some schools don’t have enough desks, chairs or books for all of the children), but education is truly seen positively and isn’t taken for granted.

I arrive for school at 6am. The students arrive an hour later; school starts at 7.30am and ends at 2.45pm. Our primary students have 25-minute lessons and secondary students have 45-minute lessons. We follow the English national curriculum throughout school, mixing it with the international primary curriculum for the younger students. We offer IGCSE in Years 10 and 11 and the International Baccalaureate diploma programme in Years 12 and 13.

I wish that I could ease the worries that my students, staff and parents face. The events that happen outside of our schools’ walls range from disturbing to absolutely horrifying, and the anxiety that this brings affects the day-to-day activities in school. If peace was established, I could see Venezuela once more becoming a powerful and attractive country for all.

Yasir Patel is the head of school at the British School Caracas

 

Blame the Teacher

Recently, England released its league tables for schools based on its new system of measuring ‘successful schools’. These focus on the results of a pupil’s best eight GCSE results including English and Mathematics alongside a raft of data from the Department for Education to evaluate how well pupils progress in a school. This is not unique to England with various countries (For example, USA, India) and organisations (PISA) now relying solely on exam results to measure success. A pertinent question to ask here is, is the data being used, valid (and reliable) evidence in order to judge the performance of a school (and even an individual teacher)? When one remembers that a school is much more than the exam results it produces and research consistently showing that various other factors play a role upon student results, a slight skepticism is only fair.

There is in fact little evidence to suggest we can link the performance of a teacher to exam results, and vice versa. However, there exists plenty of evidence to suggest hereditary and environmental factors have the dominant impact. Evidence that seems to be conveniently ignored. In a recent and extensive study by researchers at Kings College in London, they concluded that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment.  In a sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, they found that heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58 per cent) as well as for each of them individually: English (52 per cent), mathematics (55 per cent) and science (58 per cent).

Research conducted by the American Statistical Association (2014) concluded that only 1-14 per cent of educational outcomes can be attributed to the “teacher factor”. Then even within that 1-14 per cent, there are plenty more factors outside of the individual teacher’s control to take into account, such as class size, available teaching resources and budgets. The Coleman study on educational equality found that the remaining 86 per cent can be put down to “out of school” factors. This explains the findings from Cambridge Assessment last year: “It is normal for schools’ results to change – even when teaching practices stay the same.” Yes, this is because, for the most part, results will vary depending on the children and parents, rather than the teachers.  The counter-argument, although arguably weak are the cases of schools, many in deprived areas, that achieve outstanding results.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, recently stated that the tables revealed only a limited amount about the true quality of a school. After all, how do we measure whether a child has become more polite? More respectful? More of a critical thinker?  The list is endless.  Furthermore, Professor Gorard from the University of Birmingham, stresses that attempts to measure pupil progress while at secondary school are doomed to failure due to a lack of reliable data.  Professor Gorard’s findings suggest that it does not matter what type of school a pupil attends – academy, grammar, private, specialist or faith school – as the institution itself will have little impact on student attainment.  Why then is there so much coverage on results? More cynicism could point to it being an easy political pawn for political parties. Some may say that is a simplistic viewpoint, but others may say it is entirely true. Unfortunately, the impact is felt strongly and most intensely with the students, and the teachers.  Students are unnecessarily stressed, resulting in demotivation and losing the love for many subjects, often learning itself. Many teachers are leaving the profession or moving abroad as a result of the unrealistic expectations with its inevitable stress-related consequences.

The current state of affairs has been foreseen and forewarned. In 1979, the psychologist Donald Campbell theorised that, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” He also wrote: “Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” Quite simply, when the measure becomes the objective/goal, and when people are punished or rewarded for meeting or not meeting this aim, the measure is corrupted.

In a 2008 research paper, Holding Accountability to Account, Richard Rothstein points out that accountability and performance incentive plans in education are compromised by goal distortion, gaming, and corruption.  Tying high stakes to measurable goals affects behaviour in negative ways in every field, not just education.  Education policy makers who design such plans have paid insufficient attention to similar experiences in other fields.  He does feel accountability measures work but not the current ones in place as they are prone to corruption.  Instead, he advises more open-ended and subjective measures to be implemented.  The lesson of Campbell’s law: Do not attach high stakes to evaluations, or both the measure and the outcome will become fraudulent.  Daniel Koretz, author of The Testing Charade: Pretending to make schools better concluded that the reform movement in USA failed badly because of its devotion to high-stakes testing as the one and only measure of educational quality.

Despite the clear failure of test-based accountability, which Koretz amply documents, policymakers cling stubbornly to this corrosive doctrine.  Testing taps into peoples’ love of competition, incentives, and scores.  It makes perfect sense to rank football players and sports teams by their wins and losses, but it does not transfer to children or schools. Children may be talented in the drama or sports or other areas, and it will not show on the tests.  Education is a developmental process, a deliberate cultivation of knowledge and skills, a recognition of each child’s unique talents, not a race.

Sadly and finally, it seems that Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”, has not been heeded by the various governments and organisations.  Instead, we seem to have a system whereby gaining immediate and quick approval, via so-called tangible results, is the norm.  A perfect example here is George Bush Junior’s educational reform in 2002 based on so-called success in his method in Texas.  It is quite baffling how our educated and high-profile leaders resort to leaning towards such weak ‘evidence’ and worryingly allow it to dictate wholesale policies.  The result is what we see now – overemphasis on testing, teachers fired (or leaving) based on this measure and no real educational improvement.  This rash, uneducated and ill-informed approach appeals to the masses but is affecting our children.  It must stop, but who will be brave enough to say enough is enough?

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/thousands-teachers-are-long-term-stress-leave-new-figures-reveal

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/teachers-can-only-ever-have-a-small-impact-their-students-results

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42366024

https://newrepublic.com/article/145935/settling-scores

https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/

https://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/league-tables-flawed-ignored.htm

Be Nice and Care

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

– IBO Mission Statement –

In an increasingly uncertain world, we should aim to connect, not divide.  We should be promoting love, not hate.  Different cultures and traditions should be celebrated, not criticised (also not simply tolerated).  Our differences and personal identities should unite us.  At the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, civil rights activist and the Representative of Georgia, John Lewis gave a speech where he emphasised that, ‘love is a better way, the way of peace is a better way.’  Recent events have seen people of different backgrounds, religions, races and nationalities uniting with each other against injustice, and maybe that shows that we should never lose faith, that there is always hope in humanity.

The president of Harvard University pointed out a few weeks ago that ‘internationalism is a paramount source of our university’s strength.’  Drew Faust also highlighted the fact that half of their deans are immigrants and thousands attend their university every year.  “In times of unsettling change, we look toward our deepest values and ideals,” Faust wrote. “Among them is the recognition that drawing people together from across the nation and around the world is a paramount source of our university’s strength.”

A recent article by Headteacher Neil Bunting emphasises the need to embrace global citizenship and internationalism, now, more than ever.  Despite much education, he points out it is unfathomable that in the 21st century we continue to see events that shock and distress us.  We teach our young people to be tolerant, forward-thinking and lifelong learners, yet it seems to contradict with the global trend.  Without meaning to go political, Neil writes clearly and concisely.  Many may disagree with aspects of his writing but the overall message is hard to argue against;  many barbaric and uneducated choices are being made by world leaders, both in the so-called developed world as well as developing world, that seem to be catering to xenophobia, prejudice, stupidity and cultural intolerance and in turn, also promoting them.

Education is key; both in and outside schools, to help people understand the benefits of internationalism, connecting with others from different faiths and religions, and in order to separate fact from fiction (fake news is something we should debate in all classrooms, not just theory of knowledge).  History has a tendency to repeat itself – the use of propaganda for ill-intentions, manipulation of information and selfishly looking after number one.  More integration, not less, is a major part of the solution.  We all have a responsibility to help in this.  Connecting all the various and different parts of societies is another major factor.  The infamous 1%-99% divide must be bridged, bringing people together and understanding each other’s situation.  We should intensify the teaching of global citizenship, of being responsible, balanced and wise decision-making.

Let us promote sympathy and empathy, and condemn hate and terror.  Students (in fact, everybody) should have the opportunity to practise activities that foster respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and citizenship.  Students should also be given the chance to show kindness and develop their character, serving others whenever possible.  The importance of character, kindness and working as a team for an agreed shared goal, cannot be stated enough.  Schools should continue to work together with communities in order to enhance all childrens’ learning experience.

Nel Noddings, author of various books and articles that call for all schools to focus on ethic of care, argues that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making.  How does one become a caring person?   Noddings states that a caring person ‘is one who fairly regularly establishes caring relations and, when appropriate maintains them over time’.  Noddings identifies education (both in the traditional sense and the not so traditional, including at home) as central to a culture and creation of caring in society.  In fact, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for an adjustment of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognise just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.

We must encourage civil, harmonious and peaceful attitudes towards each other.  A critical mind is required in times like these; ask the Why? What? Maybe? questions, which may be tough and initially not seem harmonious and peaceful.  But honesty in asking them, with love for each other, seems a positive and genuine way forward.  We are fortunate that we now live in a world where many people have worked hard to allow people to travel freely, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.  Do we really want to go back to the narrow-minded mindsets where people are judges on their passport or worst still, on their religion?  Do we really want our young people to have obstacles when travelling as opposed to the freedom many of us have experienced, and the amazing benefits gained from sharing what we have seen and learned?

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime’

– Mark Twain –

A final word of warning; it is worth bearing in mind that the distinction between “us” and “them” is often just a step or two away from bigotry and chavinism.  It may seem that we are going backwards and reverting to stereotypes and prejudices we thought were long left in the past.  Yes it is depressing, but the answer is not to bury our heads in the sand, to give up or become apathetic.  We need to champion the values of global citizenship, intercultural understanding, cultural intelligence and open mindedness.  At the end of the day, we are one being on one planet.  Let’s work together and put our faith in humanity.

Yasir Patel

Followership: A new stream of leadership

Followership refers to a role held by certain individuals in an organization, team, or group. Specifically, it is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader.  Followership is the reciprocal social process of leadership.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Followership)

A recent Google search threw out millions of hits for ‘leadership’ yet significantly less for ‘followership’.  Considering the majority of employees (and one can effectively argue leaders too) are followers, you would expect it to be the other way around.  Furthermore, one could argue that in order to be an excellent leader and understand leadership, one must fully understand followership.  Some authors have gone further by stating that followership is as important as leadership, with a handful even claiming it is more important.  The concept came into the mainstream business community in 1960 and into educational research in 1984.

Before more is written, it is pertinent to point out that although the word itself, ‘followership’, may sound patronising, it is not intended to be at all.  For this article, it simply means somebody in a non-management position.  Other terms that have been used instead of followership are non-leaders, non-managers, subordinates, members, less-expert peers, observers, contributors, stewards, partners and servant-leaders (by Robert Greenleaf).

Robert Kelley breaks followers down into 5 typologies and dependent on two key areas; independent thinking and active engagement:

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  1. Exemplary (and Effective): Thinking independently, using their initiative and questioning professionally, exemplary followers are actively engaged in the group and for the organisation’s best interests.  How they engage in their tasks make them stand out from the others and their work adds value to the organisation.
  2. Alienated: They tend to think independently and critically but are not really engaged with the bigger picture.  The alienated follower will normally be disengaged from the group and will often see themselves as a victim and treated unfairly.
  3. Conformist: Staff that often say yes when they want to say no.  They like to take orders and please others.  An automatic belief exists that the leader’s position deserves obedience and questioning should be minimal.
  4. Pragmatist:  They stay in the middle of the road.  Although they question leaders’ decisions, it happens infrequently and not openly.  Rarely do more than needed but the tasks they do complete, are often well done.  “Better safe than sorry” describes them best.
  5. Passive:  Little independent thinking and would like the leader to tell them what to do.  Carry out their work with little enthusiasm, little responsibility and will need constant direction.

Robert Kelley’s questionnaire can identify each follower’s typology.  School leaders should want to minimise passive and alienated followers and maximise exemplary followers.  A healthy balance will also include conformist and pragmatist followers.  Staff can be developed and trained, but would need to firstly believe in the theory and secondly, want to change.  Furthermore, traits can be taught and developed within the correct environment.  This includes the aforementioned organisational culture and also the following leadership styles:

a) Transformational Leadership:   leadership that occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality.  This connects Followership Culture, with Learner-Centred schools (see below) and being aware of pathways (see below also) and follower types.

b) Distributed Leadership:  the expansion of leadership roles in schools, beyond those formal leadership or administrative posts.  These range from simple tasks (e.g. maintaining the kitchen) to complex (e.g. filtering CVs for recruitment).  This also requires leaders to ‘let go’ and have the confidence that the tasks can be done to an acceptable quality.

Both leadership styles promote positive relationships between staff within a listening culture.  Teachers are given trust and autonomy, with the responsibility to involve others when required.  Managers are open to feedback from staff (upward appraisal) and engage in constructive discussions.  Managers must also identify the pathways that their followers are on and be aware that they could very likely be on more than one.  These largely affect the staff member’s motivation levels.  These can be broken down into seven categories:

  1.  The Apprentice:  Staff who want to move up the ladder
  2. The Disciple: Staff who carry the school message, culture and vision.  They also promote the leader’s ideas.
  3. The Mentee: Staff who are looking to learn and improve.
  4. The Comrade: Staff who enjoy working together and forming relationships with others.
  5. The Loyalist:  Staff who are supportive and always loyal to the leader.
  6. The Dreamer:  Staff who ‘do their own thing’ and are ‘outside the box.’
  7. The Lifeway:  Staff who believe the route of service and helping others is the best and most satisfying way of living.  This links into servant-leadership.

The diagram below explains the connections between each one.

2.png

Finally, the organisational culture of a school (defined as the collection of habits) is a vital component in attracting and developing exemplary followers.  One could argue it is the most important component.  Thus, this cannot be understated and takes time, effort and constant pushing.  The creation of a Followership Culture involves staff being able to take the initiative, act immediately when a situation arises, use their imagination (creativity), ask questions and disagree professionally, keeps others involved and informed and last but not least, integrity plays a key part.  These values can be explicit or implicit, depending on context but must be revisited constantly.

Linked to the culture is the idea of a learner-centred school.  Within our schools, all decisions taken should consider the student at the core.  This enables a learner-centred school to be cultivated.  It should be bottom-up in terms of decision making, taking into account all opinions and listening.  Leaders should steer away from controlling behaviours and connect with staff.  They should also realise that they too are on a spectrum that goes from leadership to followership on a daily basis.

Leaders must find a way to connect the various dots in order to create the Followership Culture.  It can be done by on the job training, followership education, implict and explicit training, shadowing and links to appraisal systems.  However, buy-in to learn from all is important, as is accountability.

Yasir Patel

Note:  Followership was the theme of my dissertation for my MSc in Educational Leadership.  A simple overview can be seen HERE.  For the full dissertation with references shown, please contact me.

 

 

Recruiting Against the Odds

Without doubt and with much research to back this claim, the key to a successful school is excellent teaching and great leadership (in that order).  In 2009 the OECD concluded that ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms’, echoing the MacKinsey report’s findings from 2007.  It is hard to disagree.  Thus, it goes without saying then that schools should place huge emphasis on their recruitment processes.  In international schools where it is often difficult to find replacements quickly, plus the normal practice of contract lengths being 2-3 years (mostly two), it means that hiring the right person is all the more important.

John Tomsett (https://johntomsett.com/) claims that despite what Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Schools in UK) might say, finding great teachers is not so simple, and that the UK is in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.  However, principals must aim to find the best of the best.  It is simply impossible to improve a school by hiring average people. Average is officially over.

Some claim that recruitment is mostly a matter of luck.  I disagree entirely and argue that it is largely scientific with a very small, possibly insignificant amount of luck.  Steps can be put into place, a well thought-out policy created and clear procedures followed.  If done properly and thoroughly, schools can maximise the chances of hiring the right person for their school.  It is pertinent here to highlight ‘their’, as all schools should be looking for the right ‘fit’ for their school and not just standalone excellent teachers.  An excellent teacher in a school that does not align with the teacher’s own philosophy will soon become demotivated, frustrated and even angry.

When conducting interviews, interviewers should keep questions simple and consistent.  Many studies have shown that interviews are generally conducted badly and some interviewers even make a subconscious judgement call within the first ten seconds of an interview!  The problem is, these predictions from the first 10 seconds are useless and worthless.  They create a situation where an interview is spent trying to confirm what we think of someone, rather than truly assessing them.  Psychologists call this confirmation bias, “the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritise information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.”  In other words, most interviews are a waste of time because 99.4 percent of the time is spent trying to confirm whatever impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds.  Why not rename the forum from interview to discussion?  After all, this is a meeting between two professional parties looking to find the right fit.

According to various studies (COBIS and ISC being a couple), the number of international schools opening worldwide is fast outpacing the number of teachers available.  The gulf between supply and demand of teachers is growing wider, quickly.  The consequences of this will be:

  • Schools recruiting teachers without following due diligence in line with a detailed policy, hoping for some ‘luck’ along the way instead.
  • Job openings advertised earlier and earlier.  A recent search showed many teaching positions being advertised twelve months in advance.  Do not be surprised if within the next five years, adverts for teaching positions are posted two years in advance of the actual start date.
  • Higher salaries for shortage subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences.
  • Higher salaries for teachers with excellent recommendations.  One prediction suggests the first $100,000 teacher by 2020.  This article suspects this will happen sooner than 2020.
  • Salary scales becoming less and less common, mainly related to the above two bullet points.
  • An increase in recruiting unqualified teachers.
  • An increase in Skype (or similar) interviews and big decrease in face to face interviews.
  • A multifaceted interview process (lessons observation, presentation, interview etc) will become less and less common.
  • An increase in the use of recruitment fairs (i.e. short interviews).
  • Schools suffering with respect to quality due to rushed recruitment processes.
  • Students will be affected negatively as a result of the demand for teachers and schools simply not following a thorough process.

So what can be done to ensure the right teachers are recruited, given the obvious challenges?  These challenges are tougher in countries going through difficult times.

Firstly, despite the challenges, no short-cuts should ever be taken.  If in doubt, just bear in mind that it is the students that will inevitably suffer.  Headteachers should follow develop complete policies, follow them to the tee and tick off every box.  I am also of the strong belief that the Head of School (Superintendent/Principal) should play a major part in recruiting and be the ultimate person responsible for hiring.  Yes it is very time consuming and yes it can be extremely mundane, but schools revolve around the right staff being recruited.  A success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of 85 years of research on how well recruitment assessments predict job performance.  They found that the best predictor of how somebody will perform in the job were:

  1. Word of mouth recommendation from trusted sources.
  2. On the job test (e.g. observing applicants teaching a lesson).
  3. A written intelligence (cognitive) test.
  4. A structured interview.

Ideally, a mixture of all the above should be aimed for.  This allows for triangulation of data leading to a much better informed decision.

In addition to the above, the following is a set of procedures that could (and arguably should) form a school recruitment policy:

  1. Intention Survey: Conducted early in the academic year.  This is not a formal resignation but should give the school an idea of who is staying and who is leaving.
  2. Follow up on Survey:  Staff leaning towards leaving should be given the opportunity to state their reasons.  The possibility of retaining this member of staff increases as a result of this conversation.
  3. Advertise:  Adverts can be pulled if any staff member decides not to leave the school.  Within the advert, describe your school, teacher profile and ask for a specific point within letters of application (e.g. describe your ideal school).  The latter point will allow you to separate generic applications from individualised ones.  Recruitment companies and agencies are expensive and this is a big hindrance for many schools.  An alternative opened recently is YKBEducation (www.ykbeducation.com) who allow schools to post job openings for free.
  4. Resignations:  Between the survey and actual job offers for new staff, a date must be set for resignation letters to come in.  This will avoid any confusion.
  5. Review applications:  In the ideal world, the letter of application should be personalised to your school and the cv/resume is concise.
  6. Reply to all applicants:  Although tedious, this can increase the school’s reputation in an industry which is small in reality and where word of mouth is vital.
  7. Set up interviews:  This should include a small lesson observation that can be uploaded online, a small task (e.g. a presentation about what the applicant likes about education or does not like!), structured interview (set generic questions for all – both behavioural and situational) and a clear success criteria linked to a school’s teacher profile and philosophy.
    • Note that a structured interview means the same questions for everybody.  Although tedious, this allows for a fair comparison between candidates.
    • Case interviews and brainteasers used by many firms are worthless.
    • Laszlo Bock writes that questions such as, “how many golf balls fit inside a 747?” are useless and performance on such questions are at best a discrete skill that can be improved upon through practice.  They do not assess the candidate’s suitability for the job.
  8. Interviewing:  Face to face is by far the best method.  Skype is increasingly common and will become more as demand increases.  Recruitment fairs are not ideal but again, schools are being left with little choice.  Interview in pairs (at least).  Although increasingly difficult, if possible, allow a student team to speak with the applicant also.
  9. School contacts:  Allow applicants you are interested in to contact any member of your staff body.  This may seem scary at first but it shows a level of transparency and trust that will benefit your school.  This will also allow potential new teachers to gauge their ability to fit into the school and location.
  10. Child protection:  All possible checks must be taken.  There are no excuses whatsoever for not doing so.
  11. References:  At least two references required and one from current (or most recent) Head of School.  Do not accept pre-written references, i.e. they must come from the school to you.  Call the current (or most recent) Head of School too.  There is an increasing reluctance to put things in black and white, thus the last step is important.
  12. Google the candidate:  Yes it matters!  Search the candidate online.  If you don’t, you can be guaranteed students and parents will.  Avoid an unpleasant surprise.  Can your social media postings also damage your chances of landing that dream job elsewhere?  Well, yes. Social media is now an integral part of the vetting process, whether companies admit it or not (BBC).   A study by recruiter, Robert Walters, found half of employers are prepared to research candidates using social media, whilst 63% have viewed a job seeker’s professional social network profile, e.g. social network LinkedIn.
  13. Decision time:  Take the decision to hire or not with at least one other colleague’s opinion.
  14. Feedback:  Do not let the process end with the decision.  Give feedback to unsuccessful candidates.  It is well worth personalising your feedback to applicants that you would be considering in the future.  This will maintain a positive professional relationship.

It is worth noting here that not all teachers need to fit one box.  Indeed, the theory of followership (a post will be written soon) allows for five different types of followers/staff (exemplary, pragmatic, passive, alienated, conformist) and a requirement for a balance between the five is needed.

Furthermore, and although beyond this post’s intention, schools should set up a Retention Policy.  Some key points could be:

  1. Feedback questions and discussions taking place early in the academic year.
  2. Head of School meets all staff informally for 5-10 minutes in Term/Semester 1.
  3. Head of School meets informally and voluntarily with all staff early in the academic year through Staff Reps system (or similar).
  4. Head of School discusses situation further with any staff member who may be indicating to leave, with the aim of honing in on any reasons, with the aim of holding on to key staff members.
  5. Traffic Light system for staff (red = leaving, yellow = maybe, green = staying).
  6. Intentions Survey as described above.

A word of caution for candidates.  If you are a candidate interviewing for a teaching position, this is what you are up against (or should be).  Schools conducting such thorough processes should augur well and be a school one would like to work in.  Great schools have principals who are looking for a candidate, who demonstrates a love for kids; who articulates a clear picture of what their classroom will look, sound, and feel like; who reveals incredible content knowledge; who takes ownership in their own professional learning; and the most important obstacle you are up against is this internal question, “Would I want my own child in this teacher’s classroom?” (Anonymous Headteacher).  Furthermore, Lyn Hilt states that teachers should possess passion:  “Passion is necessary.  Don’t make me request your emotions – provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.”

Finally, a lot of the above is easy to write down, but it is very difficult to do in practice. Managers and leaders hate the idea that they can not hire their own people.  Interviewers cannot stand being told that they have to follow a certain format for the interview or for their feedback.  People will disagree with data if it runs counter to their intuition and argue that the quality bar does not need to be so high for every job.  Heads/Principals do not like the time spent on recruitment.  However….

Do not give in to the pressure and fight for quality.  Think of your students and keep reminding yourself that the success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hire-like-google/

https://johntomsett.com/2016/07/24/this-much-i-know-about-how-we-are-on-our-own-when-it-comes-to-the-teacher-recruitment-crisis/

http://www.developer-tech.com/news/2015/aug/27/googles-recruitment-process-straight-ex-machina/

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160826-think-before-you-overshare-yes-it-can-get-you-fired

http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/12426

Book for recruiting:  https://books.google.co.ve/books/about/Work_Rules.html?id=M6idBAAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

Top Recruiting by Bradford D Smart

Excerpted from Work Rules: Insights from Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

 

Training Teachers

LouAnne (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Dangerous Minds and John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society would give one the impression that teachers are born, not made.  Both portray a natural, hidden talent and the ability to connect with their student;  abilities that surely cannot be taught or trained?  However, this is a myth (thankfully) and teachers can in fact be moulded, guided and supported to become better at their art.  After all, “Great teaching is an art.  Great art relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study.” (Doug Lemov:  Teach Like a Champion)

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has found that in a single year of teaching, the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do.  Similar results have been found in Britain and Ecuador.  Hanushek concludes his study by stating that “no other attribute of schools come close to having this much influence on student achievement.”  Furthermore, the respected educational researcher John Hattie conducted the biggest study of classroom practice incorporating thousands of teachers, students and lessons.  He discovered that all of the twenty most powerful ways identified by the study in order to improve school-time learning, depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.

Thus the situation we are faced with seems clear:  enhance our students learning through deployment of excellent teachers and training to better our schools.  Why is this not as easy as it sounds?  Some reasons include:

  • The IPPR opine that “our knowledge of what it takes to create great schools has outpaced our ability to train the expert teachers that great schools must have”
  • Poor design and delivery of training and development
  • Poor incentives for teachers to participate in training and development
  • Difficulty in creating professional development cultures within schools
  • The myth that teachers are born and not made
  • As Marie Hamer at ArK Initial teacher training points out, “too often teachers are told what to improve, but not given clear guidance on how to make that change”
  • The myth that if you know it then you must be able to teach it
  • The myth that teaching is easy

John Tomsett, an experienced headteacher from UK writes that it is vital that we prioritise continuous professional development and learning (CPDL).  He goes on to claim that teaching is the worst trained profession in United Kingdom and worryingly points out that in his twenty eight years of teaching, he can think of just three moments when his teaching practice has changed for the better as a direct consequence of training.

Schools need to make it very clear and prescriptive as to what they expect from their practitioners.  Work with staff to decide what constitutes a great lesson and an excellent teacher.  There are many different rubrics that can be used and must be used, but amended to one’s context.  Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 62 techniques that put students on the path to college is a useful book to help staff with day-to-day lesson practices.  All these ideas must then be complimented with strong support, mentoring and guidance from experts.  Headteachers have a duty to free up time for staff to improve their practice, whether that be through personal reflection, peer collaboration or looking over educational research.

The vast majority of educators will agree that research should be used to improve one’s practice, however, time is always a constraint.  There is an added problem with educational research.   More importantly the scholarly language used within studies often requires a translator!  Why not present an easy to understand, practical summary of findings?  Keith Turner, editor of the journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice and professor of science education at the University of Cambridge acknowledges that the professional pressures researchers face are related to their research output in high-impact journals. Researchers may want to do the full job, but they’re only being professionally evaluated on half of it.

Of course teaching is simply half the solution. School leadership is the other half.  Effective leadership combined with effective teaching is what makes a school great.  The quality of education at an institution  is simply the sum (and no more) of the quality of leadership and quality of teaching.  “Effective leadership and effective teaching are the two biggest factors in student learning and school improvement” (McRel, 2003)

A lot to consider but the simple truth to bear in mind is that we need to train our teachers in order to enhance our students’ learning.  No excuses!

Sources:

The Future

In many (maybe most) industries and countries, the most in-demand jobs or occupations did not even exist 10 years ago.  In fact, in some cases they did not exist just 5 years ago.  The pace of change is astonishing and one that will only continue to accelerate, and at a faster rate.  Looking ahead, predictions are that 65% of children entering Primary School today will eventually end up working in entirely new jobs – jobs that do not even exist currently.

So what can we do to counter such a fast and rapidly changing landscape?

Businesses and their current models are finding that they are faced with an immediate and simultaneous impact on employment and there exists a need for new skill sets to be created, developed and maintained.  These require an immediate and focussed effort in order to achieve the required change.

The ability to plan ahead, anticipate and prepare for future required skills, job content and the knock-on effect on employment, is required.  This is critical for governments, education, individuals and businesses.  Thus, predicting, anticipating and preparing for the new (and current) transition is vital.

Debate and discussions so far related to the transformation and transition is clearly polarised between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that foresee a massive dislocation of jobs.

Predicting the future

The growth in cheap computing power and ubiquity of mobile internet have already had widespread impact on existing business models and will continue to do so.  Computing and mathematically-intensive professions will experience a positive impact and result in very high growth.  Similarly, architecture and engineering will be affected positively.

However, there will be a declining demand for occupations related to manufacturing, production and construction.  The educational arena will need to adjust to the needs of the new-age student, who is reliant on technology.  The use of the internet, blended learning and mobile devices will need to be optimised.  The teacher will always be necessary but a newly trained, modern teacher will be required.

The World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report 2016 has concluded that “by 2020, critical thinking and complex problem solving will be the most vital set of skills in the global job market but the hardest to recruit for.”  Education should look at ‘investing in the mind‘.

Immediate focus needed and planning ahead:  Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

  • Change the 20th century viewpoint of Human Resources
  • Make heavy use of data and data analytics
  • Talent diversity:  Gone are the days when employees had the same job that required a limited skill pool
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Online talent platforms:  Educational organisations will need to look into how this can be utilised in their institutions with positively enhancing student learning
  • Rethink education systems:  Self explanatory.  Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look like
  • Incentivising lifelong learning:  A key skill and one worth pushing
  • Cross-industry and public-private collaboration

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://yasirpatel.com/2016/05/27/first-blog-post/

https://shifthappens.wikispaces.com/

Click to access WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf