Wednesday, 16 October 2019

What's Happening in the World of Wellbeing

This week, I had the opportunity to connect and grow at a wellness conference. The focus was ‘wellness at work’ and featured a plethora of presenters sharing their wellness journeys and tips. It was inspiring to hear of all that’s occurring around New Zealand workplaces and the implications this has for our future. It is also heartening to see a nation with strong desires to see it’s people be well. Here is a summary of ideas that appeared time and again across the different presentations:

Remove barriers so that we can talk about our wellbeing
This idea, focused primarily on our mental health. In essence, employers are aware that an individual needs to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. This includes potential facets that people fear will deter their progression or highlight them in a negative way. Ensuring that people can talk freely and truly bring all of who they are will go a long way to improving our wellbeing.

The use of technology in supporting people to engage with wellbeing practices
There were several cases of organisations who have begun tapping into their technological resources in order to distribute (knowledge), track and improve wellbeing. There were some innovative ideas of how the masses can be reached and educated, as well as incentivised. If you’re looking for a small step: podcasts and webinars are great tools to share ideas that need to be widespread.
Having wellness first aiders, people who have skills and tools to address different facets of wellbeing 
This idea centred around equipping those in the workplace to support one another. A first aider volunteered for this role and was upskilled with the tools and knowledge needed to help those they work with. This took shape in different ways, such as a wellness window, a wellness first aid kit and a centralised place to share information about practices and events. Essentially, it is the next step after forming a wellness committee.

Ikigai: supporting people to find meaning and purpose in their work
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that looks at aligning the challenges and needs of the world, with passion, values, skillsets with remuneration. A quick google image search will display an organiser that shows the relationship between four aspects. If all of these aspects can be met, then purpose and meaning can be achieved, impacting positively on the wellbeing of an individual.

The tension of wellness being a tick box/another thing to do vs. being authentic
With wellbeing making a mainstream appearance, it can be difficult to purposefully and sincerely introduce practices and incentives in the workplace. It can quickly become another thing we need to do or appear as though boxes are trying to be ticked. A word to the wise suggested that weaving initiatives and ideas into the existing fabric and organisation of a company is the best way to ensure that practices are authentic.

Te Whare Tapa Wha: a model of holistic wellness
This model was mentioned several times and for good reason. The focus on ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ within workplaces has evolved throughout the past three decades, eventually settling on a holistic approach. This model captures the essence of holistic wellbeing, using the model of a whare (house) to describe how the different aspects of an individual relate to one another.

People drive, leadership supported
Like a double-edged sword, if wellbeing is to be achieved, there needs to be an alignment between leadership and its people. Effectively, ideas need to arise from within an organisation, validating the voices of those whose wellbeing we’re trying to improve. If leadership are able to support ideas that resonate with our schools, then we have a higher chance of success. 

Understanding the language people use to describe their challenges/pressures and responding appropriatelyThis one also focused primarily on mental health and suggested that the way in which we discuss this aspect of our lives doesn’t use words you may expect, given the connotations attached to them. To use the term ‘anxiety’ to describe your feelings towards elements of your job may not come naturally, but people will attempt to capture this idea using more work-friendly terms. Understanding what these phrases are and responding with care, concern and grace is essential.
Reframing stress and pressure in the workplace through language to improve the culture
The excellent presentation discussed the nuances between conscious and subconscious brains. He discussed how stress arises and how your body and mind respond to certain cues, as well as ways to reframe this. A memorable example suggested substituting the word frustrating for fascinating can do wonders for dealing with more challenging situations and people.

Data-driven and evidence based
This may seem rather obvious but centred primarily around the idea that it’s difficult to quantify something as complex as wellbeing. While no answers were reached, this is an excellent question to consider when trying to improve the wellness of your colleagues: how can we continue to measure success and know we’re doing better than previous years?

Don’t reinvent the wheel
There are a myriad of organisations, toolkits, ideas, initiatives, practices and resources available to us. It is easy to try and recreate the aforementioned, but where you can, use what’s already available.

Centralise our documentation and policies to ensure that wellness know-how is readily accessible and available
While this idea applied more so for larger organisations and corporations, it is still essential. The reality is, this is a call to the ministry of education to provide every school in our nation with what they need to improve the wellness of every person who serves our young people.

As you can see, we are well on our way to ensuring our lives have more purpose, more joy and more health. What do you think?

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Leadership Change: From What You Do to Who You Are

On Thursday, the 5th of September, many members of ACCoS met to engage in two presentations by John Peachey and Chris Bradbeer, respectively, who invited us to reflect on the way we perceive and apply leadership and collaboration in our roles. I believe it is fair to say on behalf of all who attended that we were left challenged to consider how we conduct ourselves as professionals and gained a deeper understanding of the sort of mentality we should strive for concerning these areas.

In the first lecture, titled “We Are Sherpa”, John Peachey took a narrative approach, describing the life and challenges faced by many climbers who have attempted Mount Everest (successfully and not). The ambitions and risk-taking mindsets of these people were inspiring in their own right, as they pushed their physical and psychological boundaries with the full understanding that there would be no help if the slightest mistake lead to their downfall. The success of NZ mountaineer, Edmund Hillary was also explored; not only was his work ethic discussed, but the effective way he used the platform his success placed him on. His leadership in the community parallels with the rules of climbing a mountain: just making it to the top doesn’t count as success. You make it as a team, and the climb doesn’t count unless you make it back down. 

Even with the schools he opened, the people he inspired, and other positive outcomes that form his legacy, the key point of Peachey’s message was none of these would have happened if not for his Sherpa, Tenzing. Sherpa are the spiritual keepers of the mountain. Their job is to put their lives on the line so that others can have a moment of glory on the summit. They know the mountains better than anyone else and use their knowledge and ability to lift others into places they can succeed without the spotlight that the hero gets. While there are different leadership styles, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with having your moment on the summit, as leaders, John’s encouragement is that we seek to be like the Sherpa: humble. Asking ‘how can I help you get there rather than ‘let me show you how it’s done’. A trusted guide.     
In a similar vein, Chris Bradbeer discussed the meaning and application of collaboration in the context of education and its significance to leaders. When involving ourselves in projects and initiatives, there are many blockers to successful collaboration, from differing opinions as to what constitutes as progress to the risk of escalated tension. Collectively, we defined collaboration with ideas such as appreciation for others, sharing ownership of ideas, and taking part in discussions. In order for any of these descriptions to be successful in action, the driving component is building trust among those involved; among other ways of building this, they can be well summed up by ensuring there is consistent and effective communication from leaders. This promotes strengthened relationships, which leads to more honest feedback, which results in better decisions made. In order to carry out effective collaboration, it isn’t so much an imperative that everyone agrees; but by taking these measures, you progress in creating an environment where there is an active willingness to support the group’s direction.

While these two seminars were conducted in different styles and focused around different topics, there was a complimentary quality in the way Peachey and Bradbeer encouraged us to be the most effective kind of leader. People lead in different ways, but the tools they presented had a common emphasis on the importance of empowering those that you interact with. By doing so, leadership changes from what you do to who you are.  

By Tim Bartja, In-School Leader, ANI

Monday, 16 September 2019

Complex Times: More than just a leader with Tom Hoerr

Keynote 1: Tom Hoerr 

On August 20th, Learning Network NZ put on a conference for middle leaders entitled “Complex times: More than just a leader. Tom Hoerr was the first keynote speaker, and below is a summary of his presentation with 5 key take-away lessons. 

At the outset, Tom made it clear as to his “biases” as he called them. Tom believes that:
  • Teachers make the school
  • A leaders job is to facilitate and support everyone's growth in the school
  • A leaders job is not to make teachers happy, but to make teachers grow
  • Leaders are change agents

Tom then asked the audience: “What if staff meetings were voluntary”?
Who would attend? Why would they be there? Who wouldn't and why not? How can this type of thinking influence leadership within our schools?

Using French and Raven’s 5 forms of power framework as a basis, Tom added a 6th and very important source of power, relationship power (also referred to elsewhere as relational trust).

Social Power
People do our bidding in response to various forms of social power:|
  • Reward power (diminishes over time)
  • Coercive power (diminishes over time)
  • Legitimate power (ie by position such as principal or DP)
  • Referent power - (ie charisma)
  • Expert power (ie expertise)
  • Relationship power
Tom then systematically went through 5 key lessons: 

1. Focus on the positive (Rule of 5)

Based on the work of the Gottman Institute, there is evidence to suggest a “magic ratio” of positive to negative comments to build and maintain relationships. This ratio is 5 compliments to 1 criticism. That 1 criticism however also covers neutral comments and missed opportunities. For example, if a principal walks into a classroom where a teacher is leading an amazing lesson or trying something new or challenging and the principal fails to comment on it, that missed opportunity is effectively the same as a criticism. Maintaining a 5:1 ratio is essential for all positive relationships - whether they are personal or professional. 

2. Mistakes can be good

Making a mistake is not always a bad thing. In fact, some mistakes are to be encouraged! Imagine this for example: A moderately sized school where Senior Leadership observe every staff member teaching as part of their appraisal process, leaders already know they are going to see high quality teaching and learning when they walk into certain classrooms. Those top 20% of teachers however are the ones most at risk of stagnating. What if the senior leaders said to them in advance, “I want to come and see you make a mistake” - what message does that convey to those teachers? It has been said that if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. Isn't that what we tell our kids? Growth without mistakes is somewhat limited. There are three types of mistakes we can make as teaching professionals - which ones are you making?

Kinds of mistakes
What they mean
What they are
OLD mistakes
Repeat errors. Lack of learning
NO mistakes
Error free - but no learning
Not smart
NEW mistakes
Trying new ideas
Brave and wise

3. Decision Making

Think of a decision that “inflamed” staff at your school - that caused friction. How much of the upset was about the decision itself, and how much was about HOW that decision was handled and communicated? Often leaders put a lot of thought into WHAT is decided, whereas in actual fact it is often more important to consider the HOW of decision making. Decisions can empower or reduce people and it is human nature that we implement best that which we helped to frame. Good decision-making is done with intent and transparency. If school leaders have decisions to make, what sort of decisions are they? Are they your decisions, my decisions or our decisions? Ensuring clarity around who decides can avoid unnecessary conflict amongst staff.

4. Drop your Tools

This lesson centered around the true story group of “smoke jumpers” (highly trained parachuting firefighters) in Mann Gulch, USA, in 1949. A large forest fire broke out, and a newly assembled team of professionals were flown in to control the blaze. They jumped from a higher altitude than usual to avoid turbulent winds and high levels of smoke. The radio was damaged in the drop, so they lost communications from the outset. Additional to this, the fire separated the men. Each firefighter was carrying their usual equipment set, weighing in at just over 20kg worth. They initially thought the fire was relatively easily controllable, but later found it was anything but. 

High winds meant that the fire was advancing at a rate of 200 meters per minute and the flame front was over 10m tall. It soon became obvious that these men were in a race for their lives. The leader made the call “drop tools and run for your lives!” Sadly, the first part of that message was lost, and all bar 2 attempted to outrun the fire still carrying all their equipment. “Drop tools” was not a command or strategy they were familiar with - it was not an instruction they had trained for. All except 2 of those smoke jumpers perished in the fire as they were unable to move quickly enough through the long slippery grass while still carrying 20kg worth of kit. 

What lessons can we take from this?
Firstly, these highly trained professionals relied on their tools to perform their jobs and indeed to save lives. There was no shared understanding of the problem and the response that it required. As it turned out, most of the crew didn't even recognise the problem until it was too late, and they paid the ultimate price. Additional to the lack of shared understanding, there was also unclear communication. The firefighters became separated by the blaze, and this separation, the damaged radio equipment, and the noise and pressure of the situation meant that the “drop tools” message was not clearly and adequately communicated. Lastly, the “drop your tools” order was counter-intuitive. “Which tools? Why? Where do I drop them.” 

So to bring this back to a teaching and leading context:
1. What are the implications for leaders of schools?
2. What are our tools? (as middle leaders)
3. What are their tools? (as teachers

5. Excellence vs Perfection

The final lesson was entitled “excellence or perfection” and it centered around a school cafeteria. At this school, the principal was having problems getting the students to stack their food trays after lunch. Approximately 95% of students did do the right thing and tidy up after themselves, however the remaining 5% left a mess and additional work for the cafeteria staff. As annoying as this, the question becomes, what lengths do you need to go to in order to achieve perfection - the full 100%? Would getting total compliance mean that school leaders had to be punitive to the detriment of the 95% who were already compliant? So this begs the question - when is excellent enough. When can we forgo the ideal of perfection and settle for excellent? This is a question that applies to teachers and educational leaders alike, the world over.

Want to read more by Tom Hoerr? Try these two texts:

Alaric Nicholls
Across Schools Leader
September 2019