Creating coherence across your school

Monday 23 October 2017

How do you, as a school leader, develop high levels of coherence across all sections of your school?

This is a pertinent issue for IB schools that run a single IB programme alongside other national and international curriculum programmes.  It can also be an issue for schools that could be referred to as initiative rich. How does a school blend the different curriculum programmes and initiatives to create a coherent whole?

I have just returned from presenting at the annual NESA Fall Leadership Conference, this year in Abu Dhabi. I facilitated two workshops in which we explored how school leaders can create this coherence. The first workshop explored the school leaders' role as the chief story teller, embodying the school mission, purpose and vision. The second workshop explored the school leaders' role as the chief architect of the school culture, embodying high levels of relational intelligence founded on explcit values.

Leader as Chief Story Teller

  

Notes

Title page – Coherence: How do you, as a school leader, develop high levels of coherence across all sections of your school? This is a pertinent issue for IB schools that run a single IB programme alongside other national and international curriculum programmes.  It can also be an issue for schools that could be referred to as initiative rich. How does a school blend the different curriculum programmes and initiatives to create a coherent whole?

Coherence – introductions: An opportunity for colleagues to identify what coherence means for them, where it exists within the school, but also to identify the gaps where there is a lack of coherence (i.e. between programmes or initiatives).

Schools as systems: Schools are systems. We use a quote about system thinking to reflect on the nature of schools as systems. This quote is taken from the article ‘Basic principles of system thinking as applied to management and leadership’. Click HERE to access the full article.

System failure: This quote is taken from the same article. It allows colleagues to identify where schools as systems sometimes fail the people who work within them. International school leadership research has shown that “variation in performance within schools is four times as great as variation in performance between schools (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Such inconsistency and lack of coherence within the school system has a direct result on student outcomes. If you would like to explore the evidence for this research you may like to read the think piece ‘The importance of teaching – securing consistency’ which reviews the evidence around the problem of in-school variation and inconsistency. Click HERE to access the full thinkpiece.

Leaders are a schools’ Chief Story Teller: The focus of this workshop is to explore what it means for the school leader to be the schools’ Chief Story Teller – the person who embodies and consistently articulates the meta-narrative of the school. It is the school leader who should embody the school mission, purpose and vision and ensure alignment of all parts of the school system to this mission, purpose and vision. Through this means they create coherence and consistency.This workshop will give you, as a school leader, reflection time to re-consider your chief story: how do you define the purpose of schooling, and how do you embed this in the intricate life of your school? To what extent is your mission compelling to all stakeholders? How do we lead with a passionate sense of vision?

Chief Story Teller: What does it mean to be a Chief Story Teller? Read this description and identify the key functions of a school leader as the Chief Story Teller.

Without a shared vision … This illustration articulates the potential dangers of a school not having a clear over-riding chief story to which all align their work. As we saw in the description of system failure “Whole system failure may co-exist alongside functional success. The leadership of silos may individually be successful but not be sufficiently integrated into the whole system owing to a shortcoming of systems design, management or understanding.” Within any school there may be many silos of great practice – sections, departments, subjects – but it can happen that they are all pulling in slightly differently ways, with slightly different agendas, thus not using their greatness to maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Why do we need a story? Professor John West-Burnham describes the importance of the school leader being the Chief Story Teller since they should be “reservoirs of hope” which brings unity and purpose to the school, especially at times of change.  It is their chief overriding story which keeps the school on course.

The Big Picture describes the agenda for this short workshop. Part 1 (Identity – Who are we?) explores on both an individual school leadership level and on an organisational level the purpose of schooling. Part 2 (Mission – What is our compelling idea about schools?) explores how we can articulate our school mission in attractive and compelling ways in order to bring about clear alignment to it and coherence through all that we do. Part 3 (Culture – How do we systemically embed our mission?) provides tools to start embedding our mission in all that we do.

Putting on lenses: As a starter consider what it means to put on new lenses. What is it like to see with new lenses? What do you notice? What did the lens provide? Note than lenses do not create the environment, but instead, they help us to see what is there anew. This short workshop asks colleagues to put on new lenses so that we can all see more clearly what our school culture is and how we describe it to others.

Take-aways: Collaborative tools: This workshop is practical. It uses a number of activities as collaborative tools for all staff to explore the issue of school culture. The tools mentioned on this slide are all described in detailed in the Leadership Toolkit.

1. Identity – Who are we?

Coherence in our story: This section of the workshop provides an opportunity to reflect on our personal purpose as school leaders and then onto the purpose of our schools. Exploring both of these will allow us to review the extent to which there is alignment to these stories within our own school.

Make a difference: As we start to explore our own story as school leaders it is useful to reflect on the fact that a large number of people come into the teaching profession in order to make a difference. (see Teaching – Making a difference). As school leaders and teachers try to articulate succinctly what this difference is.

What drives you? In her contribution to ‘Schools for Human Flourishing’ Dame Julia Cleverdon writes of the time when she had to question where she was going in life: “My first marriage collapsed in a welter of recrimination – ‘Julia lives to work – I work to live’. My intelligent and sorrowing godmother – composer Liz Poston – said wisely that I must sort out the answers to two questions before I went much further in my life.” What drives you on? Who are you dancing for?  These were great questions for me but also for schools.

The purpose of schools: In Passionate Leadership in Education Brent Davies makes a similar point.  By telling and retelling the school’s chief story the school leader aligns teachers’ desire to make a difference with the schools’ big story of how they are making a difference.

The purpose of schools - quilt of quotes: This activity provides participants an opportunity to reflect and discern the big purposes about schools. By providing them with a Quilt of Quotes on big purposes – which can be stuck along the walls of the room (staffroom) you are using – colleagues can reflect on the visions about schooling that inspire them. The protocol can be found at Quotes that speak to me.

The nature of successful schools: Having looked at big visions which could inform your own, we now reflect on a piece of research into the passion behind successful schools. It is an opportunity to reflect on your own strengths as a school and to identify where further work lies for you.

Elevator Pitch: Now try and write your personal Elevator Pitch on the purpose of your school – the big story that you are living out. It will inform presentations to key stakeholder groups: new staff, beginning of year to parents etc.

2. Mission - What is our compelling idea?

What's your compelling idea? So how do you promote or 'market' your mission in a way that is compelling? 'Marketing Darwinism' is a term Robert Fletcher uses to describe his approach to promoting the particular mission of an organization. Read Marketing Darwinism over the next few slides and then try to complete the following boxes for your own school. How compelling is your idea? How does it differentiate you from other schools? Does it adequately capture the heart of your educational philosophy and moral purpose?

IB's compelling idea: Having looked at how individual schools have succinctly articulated their compelling idea we now look at the compelling idea behind the IB.

3. Culture - Embedding our chief story into systems: In the previous two parts of this workshop we have looked at (a) the chief story behind the school – as often articulated by the school leader, and (b) how the key idea can be ‘branded’ and communicated in a compelling way. In this last part of the workshop we reflect on how to embed this chief story into the day to day actions of teachers.

What do we believe about teaching? The next three slides allow us to make connections between our chief story, our mission and our day to day activities. Consider the following description of passionate and outstanding teaching. How do our beliefs about teaching connect with our chief story (about the purpose of schools) our mission as described in our compelling idea?

Leader as Chief Architect of School Culture

  

Notes

Title page – Coherence: How do you, as a school leader, develop high levels of coherence across all sections of your school? This is a pertinent issue for IB schools that run a single IB programme alongside other national and international curriculum programmes.  It can also be an issue for schools that could be referred to as initiative rich. How does a school blend the different curriculum programmes and initiatives to create a coherent whole?

Leaders as architects of culture: School leaders are responsible for being the architects and sustainers of the school culture. They are also often the chief communicator of the school culture to external people – be they candidates for teaching positions, the parent body or the myriad networks that they belong to.

Coherence – introductions: An opportunity for colleagues to identify what coherence means for them, where it exists within the school, but also to identify the gaps where there is a lack of coherence (i.e. between programmes or initiatives).

Schools as systems: Schools are systems. We use a quote about system thinking to reflect on the nature of schools as systems. This quote is taken from the article ‘Basic principles of system thinking as applied to management and leadership’. Click HERE to access the full article.

System failure: This quote is taken from the same article. It allows colleagues to identify where schools as systems sometimes fail the people who work within them. International school leadership research has shown that “variation in performance within schools is four times as great as variation in performance between schools (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Such inconsistency and lack of coherence within the school system has a direct result on student outcomes. If you would like to explore the evidence for this research you may like to read the think piece ‘The importance of teaching – securing consistency’ which reviews the evidence around the problem of in-school variation and inconsistency. Click HERE to access the full thinkpiece.

The Big Picture describes the agenda for this short workshop. Part 1 (What is our culture?) provides a number of tools to use with staff so that together you can articulate what the culture of your school is. If we are to work towards coherence and consistency it is important that all are 'on the same sheet'. Part 2 (What do we value?) explores those intangible parts of our culture - the values we stand for and act out of. Part 3 (What are our single stories?) provides an opportunity to review what we have said about our culture from our individual perspectives, to check that we do have a consistent and coherent picture.

Putting on lenses:As a starter consider what it means to put on new lenses. What is it like to see with new lenses? What do you notice? What did the lens provide? Note than lenses do not create the environment, but instead, they help us to see what is there anew. This short workshop asks colleagues to put on new lenses so that we can all see more clearly what our school culture is and how we describe it to others.

Take-aways: Collaborative tools: This workshop is practical. It uses a number of activities as collaborative tools for all staff to explore the issue of school culture. The tools mentioned on this slide are all described in detailed in the Leadership Toolkit.

1. Culture - What is Culture? School culture affects the academic achievement of learners (Deal and Peterson,1999; van der Westhuizen et al). Another word for culture in relation to schools is ‘climate’. Research suggests that a positive school culture exercises an exceptionally positive influence on members of a school and is instrumental in directing the behavior of both students and staff and achieving the goals of the school. It suggests that there is a relationship between an effective school culture and greater learner and educator motivation; dedicated and disciplined behavior and good attendance; reduced failure and drop-out rates and involvement of the community and parents in supporting learning.

What is our culture? In this opening activity we have established a context: how would you describe the culture of your school system to staff you are considering recruiting into it? As school leaders we provide applications packs but how do we describe the culture of our school within these? Is our description accurate? What key messages does it provide?

Our culture - the way we do things around here: Another way of looking at school culture is to study fractals. A head of broccoli is an example of a fractal, where each floret is a miniature version of the whole. So also with the culture of the school where the values and beliefs of a school should form the patterns throughout the school.

Cultural iceberg: Edward T Hall created the cultural iceberg theory. Like an iceberg there are only some aspects of culture that are visible, or lie above the surface of the water. These are the explicit manifestations of culture. But according to Hall's theory these are only the tip of the iceberg. The majority of culture lies below the surface - they can include worldview, power-relationships, decision-making models, respect for authority, values etc. These are the implicit manifestations of culture and can assert a powerful influence on us. If you wish to explore this concept there is a short you tube video which explores the cultural iceberg models which can be found by clicking HERE. This activity encourages colleagues to (a) draw the outline of their iceberg, (b) articulate the tangible elements of the culture which all can see, and (c) articulate the implicit manifestations of the culture of the school.

My Artifact - Storytelling : This tool encourages story telling - individual or organizational stories. Storytelling is an ancient practice, helping us to share knowledge with context and emotion. It encourages us to share the tacit side of what we know. Storytelling encourages listeners to respond with their own stories, thus co-constructing and building new understanding. Stories capture and hold our attention, which increases the likelihood of hearing, listening and learning. Storytelling is very valuable in knowledge sharing. Ask members of your team or staff room to imagine they are an anthropologist and ask them to pick an artifact that represents the culture of your school. Which artefact would you choose? Ask each individual to explain to the group how their artefact illustrates the culture of the school. Encourage them to tell their personal story, why they have chosen that particular artefact. Listen to each others' stories. In plenary reflect how your personal artefacts illustrate the culture of your school.

Seeking coherence - essential agreements: These two slides on essential agreements need to be shown together. We use the tool of writing an essential agreement as one suggested method of bringing individual understandings of school culture together to agree how we are going to work together. The Year 8 Essential Agreement is an example from a school in Singapore - note how it is written to apply specifically to their situation - there are no platitudes.

2. Values - What do we value? The second part of the workshop aims to explore the bottom part of the 'cultural iceberg' by inquiring into what we value.

Go to the Heart of the Matter: This activity allows participants to inquire into the values they act out of. Which are the most important ones which should be placed at the heart of the diagram? How do we reconcile the incongruence between espoused and lived values? Click Heart of the Matter to find a description of the protocol. In the envelopes place a good selection of values for colleagues to discuss. You may also like to place some empty slips for them to write on the values they think are missing bot are important.

Think Piece: How do you lead staff from different cultures? What does it mean to lead school with culturally diverse staff?  In ‘Leading collective capacity in culturally diverse schools’, Allan Walker & Geoff Riordan discuss how to lead staff who come from different cultures and to develop a shared school culture. The purpose of the article is to encourage pragmatic discussion of what leadership may entail in schools with culturally diverse staff. Whilst recognizing the particular role that the Head of school plays in providing leadership Walker and Riordan point to the importance of building the capacity of the collective to make a difference. The leadership that is required, they argue, is essentially relational. Regardless of staff composition, leaders attempt to understand people as individuals and as members of collectives. Click HERE to access the outline of this thinkpiece. It raises issues surrounding how to create coherence in culturally diverse contexts (such as international schools). Whilst the full article cannot be accessed directly from the internet it is a good article whichyou may wish to purhase.

Applying our values: This is an opportunity for colleagues to explore values around a selected key issue. Use the Market Place protocol to share ideas. Ask a group to explore the diverse beliefs and values behind the topic they have chosen and to see it from the point of view of the range of stakeholders involved. For example, how might parents, students, teachers perceive success? Do they all share the same view or are there different perspectievs and values?

Leaders as architects of culture: discussion questions to bring to the surface similarities and diferences in national and international values, highlighting the role of the school leader in bringing about coherence amongst what at times might be dissonant voices.

Branding your values: I suggest you use a strategy such as the Six word memoir to encourage staff to clarify their thinking on a specific value or belief (part of the lower part of the cultural iceberg).

The Passionate Leader: a reflective quote.

3. Contect - What are our single stories

The danger of a single story: In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story in which she explored and exposed how each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity. This is a useful TED Talk to watch within the context of exploring coherence in our education system since in seeking coherence we sometimes run the risk of editing out the rich diversity of viewpoints. As colleagues watch the first part of this TED talk ask them to try and identify their own single stories. Click HERE to access the TED talk.

Emotional geographies of organization culture: There are many taxonomies and frameworks through which to explore school organization culture. Here I have presented one - Andy Hargreave's emotional geographies of teaching. If you wish to read more about this concept click HERE. A summary of the research and its purpose can be found HERE. You could use this framework here to explore and inquire into the single stories various stakeholder groups have about the various aspects of the educational landscape of a school from core values, professional practices and physical spaces and systems.

What are our single stories: You could then colleagues to record all their single stories on the bottom of the cultural iceberg they drew in the first part of this workshop.

Elevator Pitch : A plenary activity bringing all discussions together.

Closing reflections: An opportunity for colleagues in groups to commit themselves to the next adaptive steps they could take in creating greater consistency and coherence across the school system.


Tags: coherence, vision, culture


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