Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Transforming Managers into Coaches

Have just listened to this webinar I booked into but ended up with the recording.

Thanks for registering for our webinar on "Transforming Managers into Effective Coaches." I know things come up and you can't always make it for the live session.

Below is the recording of the webinar and resources to help with your continued learning.

You can watch the recording of the webinar by clicking the button below.

Link to my notes

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Research: How the Best School Leaders Create Enduring Change

Research: How the Best School Leaders Create Enduring Change

Transforming a school is a long, hard, and often lonely task. Some people want change, others don’t, and some simply aren’t prepared to wait for results to show. As a school leader sets off on this journey, how do they know what to do, when to do it, who to listen to, and how to manage critics along the way?
Our study of the actions and impact of 411 leaders of UK academies found that only 62 of them managed their turnaround successfully and sustainably transformed their school. While other leaders managed to create a school that looked good while they were there, but then went backwards, these 62 leaders built a school that continued to improve long after they’d left. We call them Architects, because they systematically redesign the school and transform the community it serves.
We studied them over eight years, using 64 investment and 24 performance variables to identify what they did, when they did it, and the impact they had. We visited the schools to see first-hand their actions and results. And we interviewed the leaders and their teams to understand the challenges they faced, when they occurred, and how they overcame them.
We found the Architects sustainably transformed a school by challenging how it operated, engaging its community, and improving its teaching. They took nine key steps over three years, in a particular order. Each step represented a different building block in the school performance pyramid. But it was a bumpy ride, with 90% almost fired at the end of their second year. Here’s what they did, and how they did it.

The school performance pyramid

Building Block 1—Challenge the system: stay for at least 5 years. The first step is to develop a 10-year plan, clearly showing how you aim to transform the school and the community it serves. This shows everyone you’re committed to the long haul — like your students and their families — and are prepared to make tough decisions and manage their consequences. As one Architect said, “No one trusts you at the beginning. They’ve been let down too many times by too many people. That’s why I moved to the local area — to show I was committed to the school, the community and to making it work. I wasn’t going to walk away halfway through, like the other Heads before me.” In our study, it took at least five years to engage a school’s community, change its culture and improve its teaching. The most successful leaders stayed for the whole of this journey, and often longer, with test scores increasing by an impressive 45-50 percentage points in the first eight years after they took over. This doubled, or even tripled, the number of students graduating with five or more grade Cs, increasing their projected lifetime earnings by £140,000.
Building Block 2—Teach everyone: expel less than 3% of students. Once you’ve committed to the journey, then you need to commit to the community. You can’t just kick kids out to improve test scores. You need to show parents and students you want to help them. Show you want to fix the problem, not give it to someone else.
This doesn’t mean you can ignore poor behavior, be nice to everyone, and expect them to like you. But you should only expel students as a last resort — when everything else has failed. In our study, the most successful leaders suspended 10-15% students in the first three years after they arrived, but expelled less than 3%. As one Architect told us, “If you start kicking kids out as soon as you arrive, then your community wonders if you’re trying to help or get rid of them. Instead of expelling students and passing the problem to someone else, we created multiple pathways inside our school — so we could manage and improve behavior ourselves.”
Building Block 3—Teach for longer: from ages 5 to 18. Of all the changes made by the leaders in our study, teaching kids for longer was the one with the most consistent impact. It took five years to see results, but test scores then suddenly jumped by nine percentage points and continued to improve by five percentage points each year after that.
Teaching kids from a younger age meant the schools could embed the right behaviors earlier on, teach the kids in a consistent way for longer (for 13 years, rather than 5) and create valuable resources (as revenues increased by 30-40%). And teaching them up to age 18 gave the younger kids something to aim for. As another Architect explained, “Setting up a sixth form was one of the best things we did — even though it still loses money! Last year, 51% of our sixth formers went to university — compared with only 27% four years ago. This sends a great message to our younger students, and we use the older ones to mentor them as they progress through the school.” (In the UK, “sixth form” is a final, sometimes optional phase of secondary education in which students prepare for college entry exams.)
Building block 4—Challenge the staff: change 30-50%.  Now it’s time to start changing how the school works. That usually means changing staff. “Too many Heads duck the issue of firing poor teachers,” one Architect told us. “But you have to ask yourself: who are you here to help — the students or the teachers? I believe you let down 30 students a year by protecting one incompetent teacher. Once you start thinking like that, the tough decisions become easier to take.”
In our study, the most successful leaders changed 30-50% of staff in the first 3 years by clarifying teaching and marking targets, displaying real-time performance (such as attendance, behavior and test scores) on video screens in corridors and staff rooms, and managing out poor performers. Typically, a half of this change came from recruiting new staff to resource growth, a quarter from reducing the number of supply teachers and a quarter from managing out poor performers. Leaders who changed less than 30% of staff had little impact, while more than 50% created too much disruption. As another Architect told us, “The culture in the school suddenly tipped when we had 30% new staff, people who were serious about trying to transform the school and the community it serves.”
Building block 5 — Engage students: keep 95% in class. It’s pretty simple really. You can’t teach your kids if they’re not there — or don’t care. However, it’s easier said than done. As one Architect explained, “Half our students live in poverty, in communities that have been let down by their schools for generations. That’s their starting point, so you can see why they’re not interested. But, after two years of hard work, things suddenly started to change. They started believing in themselves – and that we could help them. Instead of saying ‘there’s no point’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’, they’re now saying ‘I aced that test’ or ‘I’m going to be a doctor’.”
The turning point in the schools we studied occurred when at least 95% students attended all their classes. And the most successful leaders achieved this in the first 3 years—by bringing in external speakers to inspire students, asking students to evaluate teachers, so they felt part of the process, and getting older students mentor the younger ones, so they had someone to look up to.
Building Block 6 — Challenge the board: manage 30-60% of them. It doesn’t matter what your governors say, they all want test scores to improve as quickly as possible. (In the UK system, “governors” are the school’s board of directors.) They’ll give you one year’s grace, but then they want some hard evidence that the school is improving. If you can’t do this, then you’re often out of a job. But the most effective, most sustainable actions take three years to show results. So, how can you show you’re on the right track when test scores are still the same?
In our study, the best early signs of sustained improvement were teaching students from ages 5 to 18, having 95% of students in class, 50% of parents at parents’ evenings and 70% of staff with no absence. Leaders who achieved all this in the first three years subsequently improved test scores by 45-50% in the following six years. However, 90% of them were almost fired at the end of the second year, as test scores hadn’t improved fast enough. They survived this challenge by moving the discussion away from this year’s test scores to the progression of students aged 11 to 13.
Architect leaders can also emphasize other metrics, such as more students attending classes, more parents coming to parents’ evenings, and fewer staff member absences. As one Architect told us, “Too many boards simply fire their Heads when there’s a problem. Instead, they need to make sure the Head is around long enough to have an impact and help them make the right decisions along the way.” A strong, healthy board was critical to the success of all the schools in our study, with the best leaders challenged by 30-60% of governors on key decisions in their first three years. Poor decisions were made if the challenge was less than 30%, and the leader lost control of the school if the challenge was greater than 60%.
It’s important to take time to get to know your governors, build relationships with them and understand their needs—so they trust you and understand why you’re not focusing on this year’s test scores. Their concerns are legitimate and need to be managed. Use their challenge to help improve decision making—to better explain why decisions are made and the impact they’ll have.
Building Block 7 — Engage parents: have 50% at parents’ evenings. You need to start engaging your parents right from the start, but it can take a while to happen. This is particularly true in rural or coastal schools in the UK, where people are less mobile and parents and grandparents may have attended the same school. As one Architect explained, “Our parents and grandparents had very strong views about the school based on what it did for them. It took a long time to change these views. But, if we hadn’t, then all our hard work would have disappeared when our students went home.”
Attendance at parents’ night was as low as 10% when many leaders first arrived — but the most successful ones increased it to more than 50% by the end of the third year. They did this by making it a social event with food, drink, and student performances, offering education and support services such as IT skills and career advice, and providing similar services at home through outreach programs.
Building block 8 — Engage staff: 70% with no absence. Engaging your staff also takes time. “You walk into a very stressful environment,” one Architect explained. “Your staff have just been told they’ve failed and you’re here to sort them out. You need to convince them that you’re here to help. That their jobs will get easier and become more fulfilling if they work with you, rather than against you. In the year before I took over, we had 14 staff on long-term sick leave and only 20% of staff with no absence. Now it’s up at 90% — that’s a big shift in three years!”
In our study, the most successful schools had more than 70% staff with no absence by the end of the third year. They did this by reducing the number of supply teachers, asking teachers to evaluate each other (through informal observations), team teaching, visiting other schools (to see how they worked) and simplifying processes to reduce administration and paperwork.
Building Block 9 — Teach better: 100% capable staff. Anyone can fire staff. The real question is: How do you replace them? “Good teachers don’t apply to work in failing schools in deprived areas,” one Architect told us. “They want to work in good schools with engaged students. So we contacted the good schools near us who’d recently advertised jobs and had more applicants than places. We asked them who else they’d employ, if they could. We then contacted these teachers and asked them to join us! We got some of our best teachers this way. Teachers who didn’t apply to work with us, but love being part of what we’re doing.” The most successful schools in our study all had 100% capable staff by the end of the third year. They achieved this by recruiting capable teachers, increasing informal teaching observations (through mentoring programs within and across subjects), and sharing best practices within and across schools. As another Architect said, “Too many poor teachers are simply moved from one school to another. We need to develop them, rather than simply passing them on to someone else.”

Building the pyramid in practice

Pick six building blocks out of nine: the 90/60 principle. We found it wasn’t always possible to put all nine building blocks in place in the first three years, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes, the board won’t support you, parents won’t engage with you, or you can’t find the right teachers. The good news is our research clearly shows there’s a tipping point in each transformation when six of the building blocks are in place — not all nine. The last three blocks help to sustain the transformation, but there are diminishing returns. Leaders who put all nine blocks in place in three years increased test scores by 50 percentage points in the following five years. But leaders who put in six blocks increased results by 45 percentage points. In other words, test scores increased by seven percentage points for each of the first six blocks put in place, but only by one percentage point for the three after that.
So, ask yourself: which are the six easiest, or most urgent, blocks to put in place first? And which can wait until later? If you can’t engage parents, then engage students. If you can’t engage students, then teach the ones you can, better and for longer. Find the right pattern of actions for your school; see the pyramid as a menu, rather than a recipe. Select, mix, and match the ingredients that work best for you.
Take your time. School leaders are often under huge pressure to turn the school around quickly, but sustainable transformation takes time. In our study, the schools that improved the most in the long term didn’t see test score improvements until year three, and continued to get better through year five and beyond. You need to explain this to your board, so you don’t get fired along the way. Fast improvements can only be achieved by expelling poor performing students or attracting better ones from other schools. And neither solution benefits the community in the long run. Instead, try to put 6 of the 9 blocks in place in the first three years. But, don’t worry if it takes longer — the improvement won’t be as fast, but it will happen. And it will be sustainable. 
No single action or combination of actions is more significant than any other. Eighty percent of the best leaders stayed at the school for more than five years – but not all of them. And all the best schools taught kids from ages 5 to 18 – but so did 40% of the poor ones. Rather than searching for a silver bullet, put as many blocks in place as you can. Remember, the number is more important than the type.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Confidence to say and do what is right.

Image may contain: text

5 Reasons Your Teaching Team May Be Dysfunctional


5 Reasons Your Teaching Team May Be Dysfunctional

There is an old saying among educators that, "Elementary teachers love their students, high school teachers love their subject and college professors love themselves." I'm not sure where the quotation originated but I have heard several teachers, administrators and thought leaders use the quotation in conversations or presentations (no mention of middle school teachers, which means they might just be perfect).
I do not believe it is completely accurate, but it does help articulate the idea that there are teachers who get into teaching because of the children, others because they have a passion for a subject, and those who have a passion for hearing themselves. I don't necessarily think it can be separated fairly by the level one teaches.
The reality is that we all entered the teaching profession for a reason, which fall somewhere between personal and professional reasons. Some of us felt we found our calling, while others found their passion in education after first pursuing another profession. I just wonder, however, if we got into the profession fully understanding that the job entails more than just entering a classroom, knowing your content and pedagogy, and closing the door behind us.
Education, along with being a member of a school community, entails a great deal more than what just happens between the sounds of the morning and afternoon bells. Part of the job entails understanding district initiatives and how we, as school staff, fit into those initiatives...both negatively and positively.
There are plenty of teachers and leaders who may not believe in the initiative that their district is diving into, and that's where the dysfunction begins.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a TeamWhen you leave your house and forget to bring the book you're presently reading doesn't seem like a crisis, but when you travel a lot, it can be a minor catastrophe...or a 1st world problem. Luckily, as I walked in circles at the isolated terminal during my connection at the Newark International Airport on the way to South Carolina, I happened upon a bookstore selling The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
It's not that I wanted to impulsively buy another book that I wouldn't read fully, but something about the title intrigued me, so I decided to go ahead with the purchase. I'm glad I did because I read it within the flights that took me to South Carolina and back to Albany, NY.
In the book, Lencioni eloquently uses a fable to illustrate how a team can dysfunction. Although the story was set in the tech world, there are many correlations within the winding story that can be used in the world of education. Personalities, egos, the need to be right, or wanting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves isn't isolated to the world of technology.
If you can imagine Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, then you can see these 5 dysfunctions starting from the bottom and working their way up. And each one has a lot to do with the dysfunction that comes next.
The five dysfunctions that Lencioni illustrates are:Absence of Trust - Not shocking. The absence of trust happens when people don't fully want to make themselves vulnerable to the group. When individuals in a group don't feel that they can fully trust those around them, the group is not really whole. There will be a major fracture in how the group moves forward, and may prevent the group from moving forward at all.
Fear of Conflict - This is a huge issue for many groups. There are members of stakeholder groups who do not like conflict, and they do everything they can to avoid it. This also happens when they don't trust that their input will be taken seriously. Stakeholder groups may see this in teachers who feel a low level of self-efficacy (Bandura), which may be very well be the reason that they were asked to be a part of the group because the leader who chose them knows that individual will go along with whatever the leader decides. Unfortunately, when we avoid conflict, we are at a greater risk of being part of a consensus, which means we may have given up on the idea of giving our input about the initiative being implemented, and are no longer fully engaged in the process.
Lack of Commitment - Lencioni writes that, "Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings." If the initiative fails, they may be the ones who begin saying they never wanted it in the first place, although they never spoke up.
Avoidance of Accountability - It's not that all members of the group don't take accountability, although some may not, but this also means that groups members never feel comfortable "calling each other out" if those members are not fully engaged in the process. People stay in the "Land of nice" even though deep inside they may want to scream. Therefore, the work starts to fall on the shoulders of a small number within the group.
Inattention to Results - This happens when team members put their own ego, needs or career development before the focus of the team. Remembering that all of these go up a scale like Maslow's Hierarchy, it's easy to understand how someone gets to this point because their input was either ignored, or they never offered it in the first place because they lack trust. It also helps to illustrate that the focus that a team decides on really has to be strong, and there had to be open and honest dialogue on getting there.
In the EndAlthough Lencioni was writing about the business world, there are clearly many implications for the world of education. Districts often go after initiatives, and not everyone on the leadership team may believe in that initiative. If those on the leadership team don't believe in it, they can't possibly go back to their own building community and carry the initiative forward in a positive way.
District initiatives need to encompass the thoughts of a diverse group, and not just someone who negotiates their way around to build consensus because they believe they have a better idea than anyone else.
Candidates apply for jobs at particular businesses because they like what the company stands for, but in education many teachers and leaders are solely focused on students rather than the idea that a district may go in a direction those individuals don't believe in. What happens then?
Perhaps the most important thing we can take away from Lencioni's fable of dysfunctions, is that district leaders need to understand that pushback on the part of team members will hopefully result in making the initiative stronger, instead of trying to silence them because they don't like what the other member of the team has to say. However, the other side of the coin is that if a member of a team doesn't agree with the direction a whole group decides to go in, perhaps that district is no longer the place for them.
All of this helps us to understand how very important Lencioni's 5 dysfunctions are to the way a team operates.
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the forthcoming Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press. Foreword by John Hattie). Connect with Peter on Twitter.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Geralt.


Monday, 8 April 2019

How to Move From Digital Substitution to ‘Deeper Learning’

This article is part of the guide The EdSurge On Air Podcast.
Replacing VHS tapes with YouTube clips is probably not the ideal version of moving a classroom into the 21st century.
While that type of digital substitution may tick the boxes of education technology frameworks like SAMR, it doesn’t always provide an opportunity for deep thinking and real-world learning.
So how do teachers actually create meaningful work and allow students real agency in a 21st century classroom?
EdSurge talked with Scott McLeod, associate professor of education leadership at the University of Colorado in Denver. He’s the author of “Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning,” which explores how his “four shifts” protocol can help educators test whether their practices and pedagogies support the goals of learning in the digital age.
Listen to the discussion on this week’s EdSurge On Air podcast. You can follow the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen.
The highlights below have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity (the best experience is the audio, so subscribe to the EdSurge On Air podcast wherever you listen).

EdSurge: Why did you write this book, and what did you learn from it?

McLeod: One of the things we’re seeing is that a number of school systems now have these lofty 21st-century learning mission and vision statements and initiatives. They want their students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers,communicators, collaborators and globally fluent.
And then we start mixing in some of the social and emotional learning and all kinds of newer conversations and desired outcomes. The challenge is translating that into day-to-day practice. So I do a lot of work with schools all around the world and I see numerous places where they have these wonderful, visionary, forward-thinking mission statements and visions and then you walk in the classroom and it looks pretty much like it did 15, 20, 30 or 40 years ago.
Take me into a school that you’ve seen and describe that distance—between what leaders hope to do, and what the practice actually is.
We still see a lot of traditional practice. You’re walking down the halls of the school, and you’ll see a lot of teacher up front driving the learning, rather than student-directed learning. There might be teacher lecture, might be textbook-driven work. We do a lot of digital substitutions, so a lot of schools think they are doing more future-ready work simply because they insert technology into their process, but it’s basically just the digital counterparts to the analog work. So the teacher used to lecture up front with a chalkboard; now it happens with a $3,000 interactive whiteboard. You used to hand out a paper worksheet; now you’re downloading a document in Google docs and typing into it and submitting it back to your teacher in Google Classroom.
We used to watch VHS tapes on the television. Now we are watching a YouTube video, so the pedagogy hasn’t changed that much. The technologies that we see taking off in most schools are the ones that closely replicate traditional institutional practice because they are the ones we can latch on to the most easily. They are the ones that disrupt our teaching and learning the least.
So there’s this theory called SAMR, which is substitution, augmentation, modification and then finally redefinition.
Basically replication and transformation.
There is this idea that we have to climb up a scale. But isn’t it hard to climb up that scale? Do people know how to move from, “Okay, I’m using my whiteboard just like that chalkboard” to being more thoughtful about what this means?
Well the challenge with SAMR, which is sort of the dominant framework for K-12 schools right now, is that it’s a technology continuum, not a learning continuum.
In other words, the highest level of SAMR means that you’re using technology to do things you couldn’t otherwise do before. But you can do that, and it’d still be low-level learning. So take an activity like Mystery Skype for example. Mystery Skype is an activity where two classrooms try to guess each others’ location within 20 questions. So that’s actually not very deep learning.
It’s fun, and it’s engaging, and the technology allows you to connect to that other classroom somewhere else in real-time, which you couldn’t do before. So it’s high on the SAMR. But ultimately you just spent 50 minutes and you spent 50 to 60 kids’ time guessing each other’s location.
So let’s take that activity. Can we make that activity a deeper learning experience, or is that one a bit of a dead end?
No, we can. That’s what the book is all about. So the book introduces our “four shifts” protocol, and the idea is that if you want deeper learning to happen, if you want student agency to happen, if you want authentic work to happen, and if you want rich technology and infusion to happen as a lever to make those first three things occur, then the protocol can maybe help us accomplish that.
So we would take the Mystery Skype, for example, and we would look at the deeper-learning section, and we would ask the questions as diagnostics and we would say, for example, what evidence do we have? We always focus on claims and evidence. So if you’re going to say critical thinking is present in this activity, where is it? If you’re going to say that metacognition is present in this activity, where is it?
So the deeper learning section of the protocol has a collection of questions that you can ask yourself as diagnostics and then say, if we’re trying to make deeper learning happen in this activity, where is it? And if it’s not there, can we start redesigning toward those?
And hopefully with some colleagues, or an instructional coach, principal or tech integrationist, or somebody who can bounce some ideas around. So the idea is that we run down this set of questions in the deeper-learning section about Mystery Skype and see that most of our questions are answered “no.”
What if we want a couple of those answers to be yes? How can we redesign this activity to get there? So now all of a sudden, we’d do things like, instead of them asking each other yes or no questions, we would maybe have them collaborate on shared issues in their communities. So now all of a sudden they’re doing collaborative problem solving rather than merely guessing each others’ location.
So, in other words where Mystery Skype is entirely focused on yes-or-no questions, I might be asking a series of questions, maybe around, what’s the water like in your community?
No, so we would actually have an authentic, meaningful dialogue with the other class. Instead of asking just yes-or-no questions, and we would identify some shared problems that both of our communities have and then we would get to work on those. Maybe collaborative work teams that spanned both classrooms. So now I’ve got two kids in classroom A working with two kids in classroom B and they’re working on, say, how can we address water quality issues in our community? And then two other kids in classroom A are working with three other kids in classroom B and their issue is, how do we decrease the number of people who are hungry in our community. It’s meaningful work.
So the transformation, in this example, would not be just guess your location. Let’s actually work together on meaningful work. So we transform the task to something that’s more authentic.
You said there were four shifts. Can you tell us quickly what those shifts are?
Yes, so one of them is the shift from recall and regurgitation to deeper learning or higher-level learning.
So that’s what we were just talking about.
Yeah. The second shift would be the shift from teacher- and system-directed work to more student agency, where students have the opportunity to have more control and ownership of their own learning path so they really become those lifelong learners we say we want.
The third shift is around authenticity of the work, so that instead of being isolated, disconnected classrooms, how do we connect kids to the real world around them—locally, globally, digitally—so that they stop asking us why they need to know things and why they need to care about things that we ask them to do. Because now they see those connections, meaning and relevance.
Then the fourth shift is the shift from analog to digital, and that’s important because the information landscape is so different these days. But it’s also important because you can do deeper and more authentic work and give kids agency with tech in ways that you simply can’t with analog spaces.
You’ve developed these ideas through your work with schools. How many schools have you been in?
Hundreds, thousands.
Tell me one story that you’ve seen, perhaps one school that you’ve worked with that has made this journey. What were they like and where did they go?
So one of my favorite schools is called Iowa Big. It’s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Students spend half their day at Iowa Big and half the day at their mothership high school. When they’re at Iowa Big, they’re working on projects that come from their community, such as local nonprofits, government agencies or local companies that basically say, we have things that we want to get done. Projects that we want to accomplish. They then put some high school youth on these tasks. . And it’s in this amazing place where kids are redesigning schools with local architects. They’re building aquatic drones. They’re creating utensils for amputees. They’re creating the community’s first entrepreneurship conference for girls and women. I mean, just all these sorts of authentic community projects where the kids get a chance to do real-world work, side by side, with people in the community, as a complement to their more ordinary school experiences at their mothership high school.
Last question: How does this work from a teacher’s point of view? We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about there are teachers that jump into this and they can’t wait to do this. Then there are teachers who think, “Oh, my God. This is a lot of work. I’m changing all my practices. Do I really need to go down this path?” Tell me a little bit about the spectrum of teachers.
I think we always have a few teachers who are ready to jump in immediately and go. I think you have that next group of teachers who might be interested but doesn’t know how. And of course you have the small group of skeptics who aren’t very interested at all.
The biggest challenge for teachers is really around the dynamics of agency. More than anything else, that seems to be the sticking point—whether or not we want to give up control and hand it over to our students. It’s sort of about control and ownership and agency over what you do, and we violate that on an hourly basis in every school, everywhere. And so it’s about this idea that we have to turn things over to kids and let them drive their learning and make mistakes because it’s part of the process, instead of controlling everything so tightly [because] we just have these freakish control needs where we’re unwilling to let our students actually drive their own learning process.
But when we do, it’s always, always amazing.


Find links to Trudacot

Read this first!
Other stuff
In an effort to acknowledge and combat the Edtech Hype Cycle, let’s talk about the learning first, while realizing technology is a part of our lives and is here to stay (and will always be evolving!).

The Technology Integration Indicators

Sunday, 7 April 2019

From Storming to High-Performing: The Meeting That Saved Our Team

From Storming to High-Performing: The Meeting That Saved Our Team

From Storming to High-Performing: The Meeting That Saved Our Team

Written by Alison Robins, Illustrated by Simon Lavallée-Fortier
March 15, 2019
We’ve all read articles on the “Top 10 Ways” to improve as a manager or the “5 Must Dos” to be a better leader, but we want to try something different this time.
We’re going to share a difficult experience that we had on our real life team, and the medley of solutions we used to overcome it. It worked for us, and we hope you find something in our method that works for you and your team, too.
Vulnerability is key, right? And we feel that as an organization steadfast on putting people at the center of things, it’s our responsibility to share our learnings with you. And oh, there are many.

So, what happened?

Well, what happens on every team?
Human conflict.
Conflict between colleagues, new employees with new ways of working, fast-paced growth, communication woes, power struggles—the whole shabang—all topped with the bitter-sweet cherry of human complexity.
As a manager, you probably already know that this conflict, the infamous “storming phase,” is an inevitability. It is not a sign that you’re failing as a manager; on the contrary, it’s a normal part of team performance and a consequential time for personal growth and development.

This is us

Officevibe Marketing Team
Team: The Marketing Team at Officevibe
Marketing Director: Marie-Christine Côté (MC)
Languages: 2 (English and French)
Number of Employees: We grew from 5 to 15 employees (& counting) in 1 year

First… The four stages of team development

Take a minute to understand what the phases of development actually look like and reflect on where you think your team is currently at.
Illustrated Stages of Team Development


  • A team is built, people are getting to know their roles and colleagues
  • Team members are polite and focused on their individual tasks
Proactive Tip: Managers should facilitate relationship building and ensure roles, responsibilities, and expectations are clear during this stage


  • People get more comfortable and start pushing boundaries
  • Symptoms like competition and lack of trust lead to negative attitudes and resistance to working together
These factors could result in conflict. Don’t worry, it’s normal, and if we pushed through it, you can, too!


  • Differences begin to resolve with the right tools and clarity, and team members learn to work together and appreciate one another’s strengths
  • Communication improves, feedback can be given and challenges can be made safely and without animosity
Things are running pretty smoothly—but there’s always potential to go from good to great.


  • Strategies are in place for resolving conflict, and there’s a sense of safety, loyalty and support on the team
  • People work more autonomously with clarity of roles, a shared vision, and shared goals
This is where you want to be; your workplace utopia

T’was a dark & storming month for our high-performing team

The tension on our team was palpable; you could cut it clean with a bread knife. From the outside, everything seemed normal; we all showed up to work, went through the motions, attended our meetings. But, if you looked closely enough you could see—feel—that something wasn’t quite right.
One employee recounts being in the eye of the storm: We were no longer in sync. Our team was growing quickly and we experienced the typical growing pains that come with that reality. Swim lanes were blurred, processes were challenged and accountability was unclear. Lack of clarity and communication resulted in frustration, but the frank conversations needed to fix this weren’t being had. It was just too uncomfortable.”

The tangible giveaway was that nothing was being delivered.

Our team effectiveness was in the gutter. We were like dogs chasing their tails; we discussed and challenged ideas in circles, but never found the confidence as a team to make any decisions. Who had the final say anyway? No one was entirely sure at this point, and that was a big problem.
Without trust at the base of things, we tend to process and perceive feedback and questions with a much more skeptical lens; one without positive intent.
We were intelligent individuals working toward the same goals and objectives (often arguing the same points), but emotions can act as blinders to the facts.
Radio microphone on air

Our manager weathers the storm: “It wasn’t easy…”

Here, we ask our manager, MC, how she felt during this time, what she noticed on our team, and how she planned to help us fix it.

How did you know that your team was in the storming phase?

The team’s non-verbal communication was terrible, and there was a lot of tension in meetings, which prevented things from moving forward.
Then I heard about conflicts from individual employees, so I felt like there was a lot on my shoulders, which I knew was not sustainable. If we want to build leaderful teams* (where leadership is shared), people need to be able to talk to each other.
*Leaderful Teams are teams that don’t rely solely on the manager for leadership and direction, and don’t need to. On a leaderful team, everyone takes collective and individual ownership for overcoming challenges, implementing solutions, and achieving goals.
Thankfully, I also had hints in the weekly Officevibe feedback, so I knew how my team was really feeling. And our engagement metric for “Relationship with Peers” was low, which is one of the biggest triggers you can have. The team didn’t feel good with each other. On the other hand, the “Relationship with Manager” metric was high, which is good because people felt they could talk to me. But a manager should never be a bottleneck, they should be an enabler.
Learn more about how to track these metrics on your team using Officevibe here
Graph of the Relationship with Peers' Score
Here you can see the drop in our “Relationship with Peers” metric, and the steady incline since then. Notice the similarity between this graph and the forming, storming, norming, and performing one?

Why do you think the relationship between peers is so important?

That’s the base…
From a business perspective, if you’re spending 80% of your capacity trying to understand people and how to properly interact with your peers, you only have 20% left for creativity. You have to create together, but if you can’t talk to one another openly, or listen to each other properly, then you’ll never bring ideas to the table.
From a personal perspective, we come to work to develop ourselves, exchange with people, and be a part of something bigger than us. If you’re not getting along with colleagues, it isn’t fun coming to work, and it definitely isn’t fun working for a team when nothing is being delivered. Ultimately, people want to have an impact.

How did all this affect you as a manager? As a person?

It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t sleep at night; it was a really stressful feeling that the team wasn’t engaged. We had very aggressive objectives, which is ok, but it’s so hard when the trouble is human problems; it’s difficult to have the conversations that need to be had.
I came to work early, read up on emotional intelligence, team performance, spoke to coaches within the organization, and my own manager, who prompted some good reflection.
My biggest fear was that my team would become cynical and that my manager would doubt me. I felt unequipped as this was something I hadn’t necessarily lived yet as a first-time manager. But I was learning along the way.

Where did you start to fix things?

My coach gave me the four stages of team performance to read, so I quickly realized that our team couldn’t perform like an all-star team if we didn’t go through all the four stages. It reassured me that it was normal for us to be here, and when I shared this with the team, it reassured them as well.
Then I worked with a few members of the team to plan an offsite where we could tackle the issues we were having, together.
A team successfully holding 100 tons of weight

Action time! The Meeting That Saved Our Team

The role of manager is tricky because there’s only so much they can actually do for their employees. What they can do is create an atmosphere that is enabling, safe and motivating for their employees to want to put in the work to solve it on their own.
Our manager nailed it. Below are the steps we took to exit the storming phase.

1. Get Out of the Office

We planned a full-day offsite. It was time to get away from the office, out of the bubble. Taking a proverbial step back while also stepping outside of the space of conflict and tension. Neutral territory, if you will.

2. Build Empathy and Inclusion

“You want to build lines of trust between people not just in relation to work, but based on personal experiences. If you know where someone is coming from you’ll be way more open to them.” – MC
On a timeline, we all started by sharing the year we were born, revealing the variation in ages we have on the team. Then we began to build up empathy. We were each asked to add three impactful life moments to the timeline.
The stories we heard were real and raw, some of personal experiences and losses, others that were professional in nature. We all became a little more enlightened about our colleagues that day.

3. Educate and Reflect

“Having an external reading allowed us to speak more openly about ourselves by looking at it in relation to another team at another company. It helped not make it too personal right away. We eased in.” – MC
Next, we read a portion from the book The Loyalist Team to learn about the different team types. By reading the case studies and scenarios presented in the book, we were able to reflect on the current state of our own team, and ourselves as contributors.
It gave us a good benchmark as to where we were at—and really shed light on the team that we weren’t.

4. Take a Team Assessment

If we weren’t yet a Loyalist team, what were we? To find out, we each took the assessment assigned by the book. The insights and introspection from this exercise really helped us have a more holistic view of where we were at, and kick off something we had all been avoiding for way too long: a real conversation.

5. Talk About It

We went around the table and shared our insights, which eased us in to what eventually became an open and honest discussion. Being able to reference the book instead of ourselves made it easier for people to talk about our situation.
“This exercise brought out frustrations, which is good. For example, the notion of ‘challenging ideas’ came up a lot. It made people feel they didn’t have credibility in their expertise, so we discussed how to challenge each other respectfully by seeking to understand someone’s perspective before giving your own. This turns it from questioning into affirming.” – MC

6. Create Team Norms

Just like most organizations have a culture fueled by a set of values, every team likewise has its own subculture. This means that teams need to create their own governing set of values unique to them.
“Without team norms, there is sure to be conflict. For example, I might think that arriving late to a meeting is unacceptable, but another person maybe doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. This means we are starting from bases of work that aren’t the same, with different triggers.” – MC
These norms, or “Team Principles,” are not for the manager to dictate, they’re for the team to build as a unit, so they can see themselves represented in them, creating a sense of shared accountability.
Example: 🐘 Call out the elephant in the room — Communicating challenges, issues and conflicts to one another is for the betterment of the team. Call out what’s causing discomfort, then and there.
Officevibe Marketing's Team Principles

The Calm After the Storm

“Not even a week after this meeting we began to see a difference. The impact it had was amazing.” – MC
Finally, we started to call out problems and discomfort on the spot instead of letting issues fester. The “Call out the elephant in the room” principle made it our shared responsibility to confront conflict head on. And so we did.
Working with this courage and transparency brought such great results it became addictive and palpable in the best way. Other teams in the company picked up on our vibe, and began to create their own principles.
Just like that, our team conflict became a success story.

How To Build Team Principles: A Manager’s Guide

  1. Give everyone time individually (to avoid groupthink) to reflect on what they feel the most important team norms should be.
  2. One by one, let everyone share what principles they believe should be implemented, and why.
  3. Create post-it clusters of recurring ideas to surface the pain points.
  4. Together, choose and agree on the principles that everyone feels best fit the current landscape of the team.
  5. Have a subgroup put them together in the team’s voice and tone with more descriptive action points. For example: Embrace the mindset of feedback as a conversation, not a confrontation.
  6. Finally, have them printed and hung up as a visual reminder.
  7. Explain the team principles at the onboarding stage for new employees.
  8. After a few months, check in with the team on whether they are still using the principles or if it’s time to revisit them. You can use a custom poll for individual feedback with Officevibe, or hold a group meeting.
  9. Repeat! As the team changes and the storm settles on the horizon, do the process again.

A previous version of this page was published on April 18, 2017.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Learner Agency, Fabulous Post for Core Education 2017

“Having agency as a learner is now becoming a default expectation”, to meet learning needs.  (21st Century Learning Reference Group [21st CLRG], 2014, p.36). 

What’s it about?

Learner agency is about having the power, combined with choices, to take meaningful action and see the results of your decisions. It can be thought of as a catalyst for change or transformation. Within a school context, Learner Agency is about shifting the ownership of learning from teachers to students, enabling students to have the understanding, ability, and opportunity to be part of the learning design and to take action to intervene in the learning process, to affect outcomes and become powerful lifelong learners.

What’s driving this?

Moral imperative — drivers for agency or agentic practices
Learner agency is not a new concept, but it is something that has come into the spotlight and quite rightly needs attention in our education system.
Agentic children turn into agentic adults. We have all heard the words “Successful people, act on their beliefs” and this is true in the light of agency. Therefore, the moral imperative lies not just in the social and emotional wellbeing — it is an innate characteristic that must be acknowledged and addressed.
As explored by Zhao (Zhao, 2015) the world is faced with two paradoxical crises: massive youth unemployment and equally massive talent shortage. These must not be allowed to continue — they are both dangerous. Massive youth unemployment leads to personal poverty, psychological trauma, plus social unrest. Inequality thrives as talent shortage drives up the incomes of highly talented workers, which in turn results in even bigger income gaps.
The traditional education model that prepared employment-minded job seekers does not address either of these paradoxical crises. In this fast-paced world of change, knowledge is now a central driving force, and agentic learners are critical for addressing talent shortages and massive youth unemployment.
Research shows that the more successful an educational system is in the traditional sense, the less likely it is to cultivate entrepreneurs. PISA scores, for example, have been found to be negatively correlated with nations’ entrepreneurial confidence and activities (Zhao, 2012). The new economy needs learners and entrepreneurs who have adaptive expertise to be innovative, flexible, and creative in a variety of contexts.

What examples of this can I see?

Embedding learner agency in school systems, curriculum
While it is innate for us to have agency, our current mental models of school systems often limit agentic practices. Developing agentic learners is more than offering a list of choices and seeking student voice. This is a tokenistic or watered down version of authentic agency.
To avoid tokenism and embed a culture of agency we must provide the conditions that shift the ownership of teaching and learning and place it in the hands of the learners themselves. This is also about involving students in the key aspects of decision making so they can fully experience the messiness of a real-world project, complete with the unexpected changes in direction, opportunities, and challenges that can arise.
It is an imperative that we move the level of engagement of learners from non-participation through tokenism to learner empowerment. Amplifying agentic practices gives permission to all learners, teachers, and students alike, to embrace new possibilities for learning and educational systems. If nothing else, children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals. Johnston (2004), pg. 29
A lead thinker in education noted that teachers do not create learning, learners create learning, and it is the teachers that create the conditions to promote learning (Wiliam, 2006). This is further empowered by parents and whānau who help to inspire and focus a sense of agency. As top rung of Arnstein’s ladder of participation states, agentic learners initiate agendas and are given responsibilities and power for the management of issues and to bring about change.
Technology enabling, enhancing, supporting these processes
Digital technologies have changed how teachers and students approach learning. Knowledge is no longer constrained by the physical boundaries of the traditional classroom. In today’s learning environments, access to limitless information rests at the fingertips of learners and their devices. Teachers can draw on these enabling technologies to move towards becoming a co-constructor of learning, who builds knowledge alongside their students. In this sense, everyone is a learner and has the power to act in the agentic classroom.
Digital technologies enable learners to connect with, interact with, and build on knowledge in ways otherwise not possible. When teachers scaffold, support, and guide students through their use of digital technologies, students are empowered to drive their own learning.
Learners can use digital technologies to:
  • transform information and make something new
  • recombine information to solve a problem
  • link information to show relationships
  • modify information for personal preferences
  • connect with others locally and globally
  • discover solutions collaboratively and independently
  • track, share, and reflect on their learning, for example through e-portfolios.

How might we respond?

Some questions to act as a stimulus with your colleagues include:
  1. How will you develop and deepen students’ engagement with and responsibility for their own learning?
  2. How will your school connect young people with peers, teachers, and other adults? How will they use technology to connect with the wider world around them?
  3. How can we support students to learn through authentic, relevant, real-world contexts, where their interests, skills, and the issues and opportunities within their own communities can form the basis for learning?
  4. How can we involve students in the key aspects of decision making so they can fully experience the messiness of a real-world project, complete with the unexpected changes in direction, opportunities, and challenges that can arise?