Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's just another day (Paul and Linda McCartney)

 I’ve just discovered Gervase Phinn. More accurately – having bought the book months ago from Magrudy’s Bookshop in Bawadi Mall – I have just rediscovered it on my bookshelf at home and started reading it.

It’s a non-fiction, funny as heckfire, account of his time as a school inspector in the Yorkshire dales. The book is called The Other Side of the Dale and the blurb on the cover is spot on:

The James Herriot of schools…Gervase Phinn writes warmly and with great wit.

I loved the meeting he had with the Headteacher at a remote primary school.

Gervase is new to the job and goes to Backwatersthwaite School. He meets the Headteacher (Mr Lapping) and asks if he might see the School Development Plan.

Mr Lapping says, “My what?” and then reveals that he hasn’t got one after Mr Phinn explains what it is. More than that Mr Lapping provides a wonderful reply:

You know, Mr Phinn, I’ve been a teacher in this school for near on forty years. I came here as a boy, taught all the children’s parents and went to school with most of their grandparents. This school is a part of me. I live and breathe it. Look around. Outside is one of the most magnificent views in the world. Inside is a richness and a range and quality of work which speaks for itself. Every child in this school can read and write well, every child knows his or her tables, can paint and dance and sing and they all get on as you’ll see on your next visit. I would never leave this place. When I visit the town I see all the people rushing about, with appointments to keep, no time to stop for a moment, to see the hills rising around them or the colours in the sky. You town dwellers have a lot to learn about us country folk. It’s a different way of life. It took fifty years for the Reformation to reach us up here in the Dale, Mr Phinn. I’ll do my best of course, but I reckon it’ll be a while before you get your School Development Plan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I started looking and the bubble burst (Coldplay)

Lord knows I am no mathematician (my brother inherited the paternal science genes, not me). Shock horror revelation.

But it is hard not to be amazed by this guy. I guess there's a trick to how he does it (as he says it's partly magic which implies it's a trick) but it remains a great exhibition of numerical dexterity.

The bad news for me is that I can no longer even entertain the notion that I will attain any maths skills.

According to the Guardian - scientists in the UK have done research that shows we all lose cognitive skills from the age of 45 onwards (not from our 60's as previously thought - obviously by people over 45).

They found that over the 45-49 decade there was a 3.6% decline in the mental reasoning of men and women.

Men aged 65 - 70 have a decline of 9.6% while women fared a little better with a 7.4% decline.

So halas to mathematics for this guy who has lost about 5% of my reasoning skills by now, I guess. At least I think I have - maybe it's more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I hear the sound of a gentle word, on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air (Beach Boys)

I know I posted comments about the teacher evaluation process a while ago. It feels like months ago actually, and we are nowhere near finished.

We have now entered the final stage though, having observed all the teachers, held our Evaluation Team meetings and come up with our judgments.

The next bit is meeting with the individual teachers and giving them the draft forms for their comment. If they disagree that's no problem - they just have to produce evidence to back up their belief that the judgment is too low.

We can probably fit three of these meetings in a day but it's complicated by the fact my subject advisors are only at school two days a week.

The deadline imposed on us (February 15) to have everything completed and loaded on the ADEC portal is looming!

This has all been time consuming but worthwhile. And it's why sometimes  we've been doing little else for the last few months.

Of course there are many other things that have been going on.

One is the data analysis of Trimester One results. I was thrilled to see the huge improvement in Arabic Reading which has been a major part of the School Improvement Plan for Arabic Studies this year.

Last year the boys did superbly in Arabic Writing but Arabic Reading was poor by comparison.

The reading results from last year show the boys are now out performing the writing sections. Wooaahh!! Great stuff. Especially given how reading in any form is not a big part of the Arabic culture. It's much more aural in nature.

Now - if we can only get through these interviews and get back to normal and continue these improvements!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Honey, you're the reason I can't sleep at night (The Blue Ridge Rangers)

All up - a crappy week.

This doesn't happen often. In fact I can't remember when I last had one - probably when I was a Principal actually when an event would turn into quicksand. The more you struggle to get out of it the deeper you get.

This week had a variety of off putting moments capped off with the theft of 15,000 dirhams from my cashbox (see for the whole sorry saga).

The problem with a doozy like that is that it stays in your brain for ages and it doesn't go away unless (like in quicksand) you remain calm and wait for the cavalry to arrive.

So in an attempt to retrieve the week somewhat - I'm aiming to end it on a positive calm note.

I went to for some NZ news to cheer myself up with. Doh - earthquakes, road carnage and holiday beach disaster were all on offer.

But then a headline caught my eye - I beg your pardon...Nuckin' Futs??

A snack maker, marketing its product to pubs, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, is calling its snack Nuckin Futs, after getting the green light from Australian regulators.

The Trade Marks Examiner initially decided Nuckin Futs was scandalous and inappropriate and rejected a trademark application.

The company's lawyers had argued the four-letter word implied in the product name by juxtaposing the words' initials, is a normal part of Australian speech and therefore not offensive.

The trademark was eventually allowed on condition the Queensland owner does not market the product to children.

The edible snack, which contains nuts, will only be sold in pubs, nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

Thank God for mad Australians!! A normal part of aussie speak eh?

I've always felt they were nukin' futs! I feel better already!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Purple words on a grey background (Neil Young)

The teachers at school are being appraised at the moment, except that they aren’t.

The appraisal word has been banned. That was so last year.

The current term is an unequivocal ‘Evaluation’. I think there would be an uproar if my company used the term ‘evaluation’, and yet that is the term the Abu Dhabi Education Counsel (ADEC) has refreshingly used. Refreshingly? You betcha!

It’s interesting that the current term used by Cognition, ‘Performance and Development’, tries to have the traditional bob each way.

Am I being evaluated on my (past) performance? Well yes, I am.

Am I a work in progress that needs some (future) help to develop? Yes - that too (except I have no future beyond my contract end date of July with my employing company so it’s really just an evaluation but it’s not called that).  

The perennial attempts at making employees accountable have always tied the two things together and the ampersand has thus become invisible.

As F.R Levin (Boston College, Faculty of Education) says,
The problem is that this melding of "development" and "evaluation" has gone on for so long that it has become "devaluation". In many places, neither the development nor the assessment is being done with much success. Development has become a list of issues that the developer/knower thinks they know more about than the developee/knowee. The problem here is that in many cases they don't.   
His advice is to ‘separate out the roles of development and accountability…We have to stop pretending that they are the same thing’.

Well someone in ADEC must have been listening.

The next month will be a busy time as interim app…sorry – evaluation forms are filled out and discussions take place with the teachers about their ratings.

There are four standards: The Profession; The Curriculum; The Classroom; The Community.

Each standard has a number of components that are rated on a five point scale from Pre-Foundation to Accomplished.

Gentleman – start your engines!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Don't let the loving go cold (Exponents)

I read an interesting article recently in the McKinsey Quarterly called How Leaders Kill Meaning At Work. I offer the salient points here without an editorial comment.

Even incremental steps forward—small wins—boost what we call “inner work life”: the constant flow of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that constitute a person’s reactions to the events of the work day. Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, inner work life affects the bottom line. People are more creative, productive, committed, and collegial in their jobs when they have positive inner work lives. But it’s not just any sort of progress in work that matters. The first, and fundamental, requirement is that the work be meaningful to the people doing it.

In our book and a recent Harvard Business Review article, we argue that managers at all levels routinely—and unwittingly—undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct subordinates through everyday words and actions. These include dismissing the importance of subordinates’ work or ideas, destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalized, shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day, and neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.
The authors of the article cite four traps
  1. Mediocrity signals (inadvertently signaling the opposite through words and actions)
  2. Strategic ‘attention deficit disorder’ (not allowing sufficient time to discover whether initiatives are working, and communicating insufficient rationales to their employees when they make strategic shifts)
  3. Corporate Keystone Kops (When coordination and support are absent within an organization, people stop believing that they can produce something of high quality. This makes it extremely difficult to maintain a sense of purpose.)
  4. Misbegotten ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’ (goals can become grandiose, containing little relevance or meaning for people in the trenches. They can be so extreme as to seem unattainable and so vague as to seem empty. The result is a meaning vacuum. Cynicism rises and drive plummets).
The best executives we studied internalize their early experiences and use them as reference points for gauging the signals that their own behavior will send to the troops. “Try hard to remember when you were working in the trenches,” Hamilton says. “If somebody asked you to do a bunch of work on something they hadn’t thought through, how meaningful could it be for you? How committed could you be?”
Interesting comments aren't they? Rhetorical question!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Those were our young years, our wings were drying in the sun (Dragon)

Mention of Dr. Neil Hawkes in my previous post reminded me about a great definition he made when asked, “What is education?”

His response:
Education is a conversation between generations on matters of importance; it’s about the flourishing of humanity.
I love this!

I often thought about this definition when faced with difficult situations when I was a Principal.

Education is not, of course, limited to the younger of the two generations. I often felt that the student was much more prescient, wiser and more mature generation, and the other one (the generation who thought they were in power) was the immature, petulant, and narrow minded one.

I recently had a conversation with a former student when I was visiting a shop in New Plymouth (NZ). He was doing well and thriving in his dreams to be an internationally renowned free runner. He enthusiastically told me of his progress and his plans.

During the conversation he remarked to me that many of his teachers and the school as a whole frowned on his exploits and dreams. When I said to him, “But I didn’t”. he agreed with me.

Too often we limit the conversation and misread what is important. I would much rather that Daniel had his dream and worked towards it, and it think it’s important that we supported his flourishing, rather than impose our own limits on him.

Go hard Daniel. Kia kaha!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

State of love and trust as I busted down the pretext (Pearl Jam)

We’re back!

Holiday breaks are great but it always takes a little while for my brain to re-engage with school routines.

Things that happened three weeks ago, before the holiday break, have been consigned to the back lots of my brain and it always takes me a while to dredge up names and details.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

I was amazed this morning at the first taboor of Trimester Two how happy all the staff looked to be back at school. Genuinely happy.

The rituals of Arabic greetings are especially present after an extended period of being away from each other. Each culture has some slight variations on the greeting ritual too. Jordanians do something slightly different to Egyptians and so on. But, as in Maori culture, everyone greets everyone else.

I often think back to something Dr. Neil Hawkes said at a Principals’ conference I attended in 2008: It was a while ago and I need to paraphrse but in essence he said, In a good school there may be a hierarchy of roles but there is no hierarchy of relationships.

This is very true of Ali bin Abi Taleb School and I was mindful of this as I watched the advisory staff and the school staff (leaders, teachers and support people) exchanging greetings this morning. It was wonderful to see and be a part of again.