Sunday, 9 September 2012

Leadership and followership?

Leadership is about POWER.


How it is exercised and used, what relationships it creates and how people feel in positions of “followership” is what distinguishes great leaders from others.

There are a number of different types of power. I will talk about two.

Positional power is that associated with a position, often in an organisation, society or other situation where people fill a created a position. A good example includes, in schools, Principals. We are in positions of Positional Power. The very fact we occupy the position of Principal gives us Leadership positional power. This can be ineffectual at times, in fact I would argue most of the time. We may remember situations where we might reluctantly do things “just because the Principal says so, [not because we want to]”. Positional power is often about coercion. An example of the worst of Positional Power could be Adolf Hitler. He occupied a Position of Power and was a Leader of an enormously powerful organization. He was not a great leader. More recently we can dwell on Idi Amin, Slobadon Milosevic, and others.

Positional Power used negatively is often about what I call Power Over. Power over is about disempowerment. Hitler was an expert at Power Over, totally. The school bully is an expert at power over. They disempowered people; they “colonize” people with their own beliefs and values, often violently. They take away the rights and dignity of people. They often take away that fundamental right to feel safe, valued and valuable.

Empowerment, which is what leadership is about, is the outcome from Great Leadership. It is about allowing people to take control of their lives and situations. It grows from respect for self and others and focuses on peoples’ strengths. Empowerment happens when Leaders, people, exercise power with, NOT power over, others.

Empowerment is founded on  among other things,

q  Respect for the dignity and uniqueness of the individual, families, groups or communities (you can see how Hitler does not fit the description of being a Great leader as he had none of these traits or abilities).

q  A fundamental belief in the positive potential of people and an emphasis on their strengths and capacities.

q  A Deep commitment to peoples’ right to self-determination.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Adolescent Behaviour

There’s one thing that teachers, parents and teenagers agree on: year nine is the worst year in school. Teachers tell us that the students at this age are the naughtiest and most disruptive in class. Parents suggest that their children at this age are the rudest and most disrespectful and treat them with a kind of disdain. How adults could be as dumb as my parents at this age, teenagers ask me. And the teenagers themselves tell us that school is least interesting, teachers are most boring and the curriculum is totally disengaging at this age. They call it the “sea of blah”.....”blah blah blah”...

How can it be that when we all agree on this we seem unable to do anything about it?

School systems, teachers and parents have tended to treat this age group of students, the teenage years, as an age that somehow needs to be “fixed up”. This is the mistake.

Teenagers, when they display all the naughtiness, disrespect, emotional responses, anger, mood swings, disconnect and so on are actually doing “normal behaviour”. They don’t actually need fixing up. True, we do not tolerate the behaviour and need to make it clear to them what it is they are doing and the effects the behaviour is having, but it is not done deliberately.

Adolescent developmental psychologists can describe clearly the developmental stages in an adolescent brain that causes these behaviours. Neuroscientists can now actually identify the locations and centres in the brain that triggers behaviour or suppresses others. In an adolescent, all this is still developing. The connections and functions in their brain is still a work in progress, connections and wrong numbers are frequent and the result is behaviour that, well we can see and describe so clearly.  

So given we cannot “fix” this neurodevelopment, what do we need to fix? We need to change the way we do school at this age group. We have tried and there are a number of great programs in existence, including the school I conduct. We have found measureable outcomes, the stuff teenagers tell us that is good, that has surprised us all. To do this, we had to change the way we conducted the school, the content that was taught and refocus the centre of control of the school.

What we do know is that students, adolescents learn usually in social settings. The main reason they go to school at all at this age is to be with friends. It is not because the maths that day is going to be really good fun. Sorry to the maths teachers, we just know that for a fact from the research and attitudinal feedback we have! So we needed to create a school that focussed on the strengths that teenagers have rather than focus on the “fix” us as adults thought we needed to do to them.

Teenagers enjoy collaboration: unfortunately in schools this has usually been seen as cheating! So team work and team development are crucial. They love to belong, this almost primitive tribal instinct. That’s why we see them hanging out at the mall or shops, so they can identify with a group, wear the uniform of the club: no different to the adults we see wearing the uniform of their craft, maybe a suit and tie, overalls (blue or brown depending on the trade) and so on. Theirs is the cap, the grunge pants with designer underpants visible!

Teens want desperately to know about themselves, who they are, what they think about important stuff like the world, what is going to happen to it. They are concerned about the future and their place in it, the environment and how we are affecting their future world. They are aware and informed people. They are the most instantly connected generation ever. They know who is thinking something somewhere in a nanosecond and will msg or txt that information to their network. Most of all, they want to have a future and be an active part of it and make a difference. They want, like adults, to be seen doing the stuff they are good at and receive the acclaim and recognition they deserve for doing it. They want to make a difference.

Schools need to capitalise on these motivations and use them as the content and pedagogy, the stuff we learn and the way we learn it. Teachers have spent two hundred years asking questions they know the answers to. It is time for a fundamental change in how we conduct school especially at year nine.

In our school we have a focus on what we call community learning projects or social enterprise development or sometimes known as service-learning. The curriculum focuses deliberately on the stuff teens do well and the way they prefer to learn. I realise critics will say we need to individualise learning, and true I am generalising here. However there are certain approaches and contents that engage teens and help them do learning really well.

With that approach to learning and content, the outcomes are amazing. So amazing that when I first showed an education minister the attitudinal results, so far above the means and above the 95th percentile in most areas, the result was the government agreeing to build two more schools in the same model. Hence, we now conduct three schools like this.

Notice how often I use the term “doing” when referring to adolescents and teenagers? They actually want to be active participants in the world and their learning.  They secretly don’t want to be in a “sustainable” world. What you might ask? Everyone wants sustainability! Sustain-ability has a sinister undercurrent of “stasis” or staying the same. Teens actually know they are in the most dynamic time in world development and want to be a part of that continuous change. They want to be and make that change and make a difference; they want to “thrive” in the future, their future.

So everyone who has a connection with teenagers can and must do things differently because is not the teenagers who need “fixing-up”. It is all the stuff around our teens that needs fixing. School systems, teaching approaches, parent relationships, curriculum content...and for goodness sake let’s stop measuring them with standardised test!

Sunday, 27 May 2012


My grandfather was a wanderer and the society of his time condoned and indeed encouraged it. As one of five boys, to stay at home was an unlikely situation. They were relatively poor railway people in southern UK. The duration of being a teen was as short as possible: unlike today where teenagers linger for years and being a teenager can last more than a decade! My ancestors could not afford to have a dependent young adult hanging on their coat tail. At the opportunity to become a £5 pom, he did, travelling to Australia in 1909 and working in Cranbourne as a farm labourer. Subsequently he joined the AIF in 1915 and served in Ypres area, and was one of the lucky few to survive. Well, just. He was severely wounded and suffered PTS for the rest of his life.
My father, too, was a teen traveller: growing up in depression Brunswick, he described to me hi travels by bike on Sundays as far as his Aunty Agatha in the Gully (Ferntree Gully) and up to Craigieburn to go rabbiting. Then in my teen years in the 1970s, I rode my bike everywhere, to and from school, my paper round in the morning and afternoon. It seemed the norm to allow kids to traverse the country and maybe world relatively unescorted in those far off days. It seemed a safer place, didn’t it. The reality is that there is no real evidence to suggest the world is less safe today, but is that because our kids do not wander and traverse the suburbs and world and hence less exposed? Or do they wander and are they exposed?

There is a perception today that the world is less safe and we need to convey our children everywhere and accompany them, chaperone them to ensure their apparent safety. Their days are programmed and planned to the last minute detail. Many contemporary authorities, American author Richard Louv being one, suggest that managed life and the subsequent disconnect from the natural world, the real world, is doing our kids real harm. It is manifest in the rise in the likes of ADD and other learning-related conditions. It is currently described rather charmingly as Nature deficit Disorder, or NDD.
Children and boys in particular are wired to wander, take risks and in past times this is how they made their social connections and tested their mettle in the world. Moreover, if we are to create responsible adults, we need to create responsibilities for our teenagers to practice on.  You might see where this is going. Today, with the physical limitations placed on our kids by perceptions of the need to keep them safe and escorted, chaperoned and programmed, they have found the ideal place to wander and socialise: social media. It is beyond the apparent control of parents and safe in the cloister of their room or smart-phone.  And, for the most part it is no bad thing. well, actually it is nearly the only this they are "free" to do!

Some might argue that contemporary social media is merely a tool for the commodification of acquaintances. To some extent this is true. It is not unusual for our students to admit they have 600 or more FB friends at year nine. Initially, this seems ludicrous to those of us from a previous century! My 100 or so friends is the source of much ridicule. But consider that in our adult world of wanderings, my contacts list or indeed my dear mums old ratty “Teledex” might have listed several hundred friends, family or acquaintances. We would have a hierarchy of contacts in there, from close family and friends to those people who live rounds about the small suburb or town of our influence. We would not necessarily know personally everyone in that list, or be close to the people on the periphery, but we could contact them if required or have the number of that person who lives in that house at the way end of town.
The same is true of our current generation of kids and their social network, dictated by the realm of their cyber wandering. They too have a hierarchy of FB friends in their social media connections. They bump into various people often, are familiar with some and can recognise most. They do not necessarily have deep meaningful conversations with every one of the 600 friends, just as I would not with every one of the several hundred real world people I might connect with in my town or region. But I would say “hi” or “hello” to most and our kids do, too, within the wall or message section of their social media.
The way they meet and greet is also in a subcultural-language that is not that different to the conventions we older folk adopt. The banal “good morning how are you” we trot out to most people is not really seeking deep insight into the wellbeing of the other person. It is a convention. Kids use their own conventions to meet and greet. The sophistication of what we call code-switching to adapt to different social settings and interaction is the job of us as educators to teach. Many adults do not fully understand this, and most kids do it pretty well. The point is the nature of conversations and their level of sophistication in their place of wandering mimics that of adults in ours. We adults even abbreviate in our own way, too. Thanks Luv. LOL!

So our kids today are merely wandering their contemporary world much as our forefathers and mothers did, collecting and accumulating acquaintances along the way and managing a contemporary “Teledex”! The conversations and chats along the way are sometimes a useful and meaningful, sometimes as banal and trite, as those of adults in the passage of their physical wanderings. The real danger I see in the limitation we place on kid’s unfetted meanderings and wandering is not the predatory potential of cyber stalkers but that created form the disconnection from the real world. That disconnection will make it harder for kids in future to have a real and personal connection with the natural world and value it and make good decisions for it as custodians and stewards, the future leaders.

The reality is that contemporary kids wander the world as much if not more than my grandfather did and accumulate friends and are exposed to risks in a similar way: they may be even safer. Hopefully they won’t be called to the fields of Ypres for anything other than to pay homage to their fallen ancestors. So, when are we going to give them real responsibilities?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Why Year Nine is boring!

Everyone is an expert on education because we have all had some. Depending on whom you are and what epoch one attended school, and indeed the school type and the experience of school good or bad, will taint one with the life-long brush of education. So here is the problem: every student I see today and in fact since 2010, in grade nine has only been to school in the 21st Century.
Every educator who teaches those students in our schools has only been to school in the 20th Century, and indeed from the median age data for our education system, is a baby-boomer. Baby-boomers teaching gen Y and gen z....and soon gen alpha!
And here is the scariest concept of all. When was our education system designed and developed and for whom, by whom and for what reason? Well, our education system was an outcome of the industrial revolution and the age of enlightenment. Yes, we are delivering 21st century learning in a system that was developed in the 18th Century for the needs of that epoch developed in an age of so called enlightenment.
The age of enlightenment was of course an era when class systems prevailed, hereditary peerage determined the ruling class and knowledge was created in a way that is quite different to our current era.
Imagine if we used 18th Century technology to communicate, to fly aircraft, to power our PCs and automobiles.....
That industrial era or epoch created an education system that mimicked the factory model of the day. Stuff was made in batches and stamped according to production date, sort of like the way we spit-out the class of 2011! Good year that one! The industrial model was applied to compartmentalization of learning, production models of teaching were applied and it was about standardization to ensure all was the same and that quality remained measurable and acceptable. It still happens, 200 years later. It’s happening to the class of 2011, the students who have only gone to school in the 21st century.
It even goes so far as to create the ringing sirens and bells of the shift changes in the factory, which still happens in schools. I have yet to meet a grade nine teenager who requires a bell to tell them when to meet a friend or to catch a bus to a movie or fast food outlet. And yet we send them every day to the learning factory and ring bells at them as if they are incapable of telling the time!
Our students live in the most inspiring epoch and age in human history, the “right now”. They are bombarded with information and technology at every corner, hundreds of TV stations, on-line games and connections to real and virtual communities, instant information about, well, just about everything. Flashing billboards, international travel, fast food, fast cars, fast everything. They can do dozens of things simultaneously, from skate to txt to video to call mum (or mom depending on where you are!) to order pizza to battle the infidels to learn to fly and that is on the way to school as they hold a conversation with their boy-girlfriend! 
And what do we get them to do when they arrive at school: well usually none of that I describe that they are really good at! We make them sit in compliant rows, listen to the sea of boring stuff delivered in usually boring ways from someone who went to school in another century! And we wonder why they are disruptive!!! They are amped up and raring to go and we tell them to sit down and be quiet to listen to my really important class! We need to do something and do it fast! Because they learn fast!
We talk about learning being engaging these days. We can measure engagement.  My research colleagues at Monash University, Gippsland Australia share my disdain for standardized testing and what it has and is doing to our content and approaches to education. We want to change the educational world by changing what we measure because that drives what is intended to be delivered to students in our schools.
When stuff is engaging to us, we are totally absorbed in the activity and moment. We can see that in kids in some learning activities. They describe time as flying, having no meaning because all that is important is the activity and what they are doing (and learning). Researchers and academics have used terms like “flow experience” and self actualization” to describe these behaviours and experiences. Casinos know how to do this to adults....engage them in handing over their money, for free with no effort! Gaming creators know how to do this and hence kids can be engaged in those activities for hours. In these experiences, we are completely connected in the aesthetic moment; we resound and resonate, connect and tune in our hearts and minds with the activity and the task.
Schools do the opposite. They are an anesthetic for our students. The stuff we do and how we do it is often numbing. And if the kids are too excited, we call it ADD or put them on a spectrum and drug them and anesthetize them some more with dangerous drugs.
So our kids today are coping with and learning in the most exciting era in the human history by being drugged.
The stuff we are teaching and the way we are teaching it is not engaging to contemporary students. There are bright sparks of light in the education system, individuals and some schools (our school I would argue is one of them). But generally, we deliver boring stuff to students in boring ways, especially at grade nine. If we taught engaging content to students because we were going to measure it, we know as researchers that this is the current best practice in predicting literacy numeracy and other desirable outcomes in schools. And if we did that, we would have to differentiate the teaching to suit the different students in the cohorts. And if we did that too, we would have to do it in a contemporary manner that reflects the generation that we are teaching to. That is, kids who have only been to school in the 21st Century.
This is not at all beyond us. We actually know how to do this and when. The place to start is year nine, our middle years of school. They deserve it because they want to thrive in their future.