To the principals: keep having those ‘hard’ conversations

As the academic year gets under way we’re at the point where professional work plans and goals are being set for the year ahead.

This means a meeting with a professional leader where you lay out your learning for the year. Laying out your strengths and weaknesses isn’t a fun process. It often involved hearing things about your teaching practice you don’t want to or aren’t ready to hear.

Like other teachers, I found the process of writing some vague SMART target which then gets filed away didn’t really stretch my learning in any meaningful way.

I started in January with a Kath Murdoch idea of having one word goal:

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The word is a reflection of my propensity to wander off the track and is both a strength and a weakness. The units I teach have a strong context for learning. However, in my quest for relevance I sometimes stray a little too far from the enduring understanding. Not every teachable moment needs to be followed down the rabbit hole.

In July, my involvement in Project Zero classroom prompted me to think more about ‘taming the wild.’ Yes, gnarly problems and authentic problems are important, but without scaffolds the ability of learners to construct meaning is limited.

What could help me focus on that deep learning?

To see the deeper picture?

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My project zero study group had a number of principals and school leaders. One of the interesting parts of taking part in the development of ‘what we’re bringing home’ was the difference in agendas. While I was thinking about what I was doing to develop myself, the common thread amongst principals in the group was looking at the challenge of how to shift practice in the teachers in their school.

And then it hit me.

Those annual conversations about strengths and weaknesses weren’t hard for the teacher – they were also hard for the professional leader.

At the risk of sounding completely self-centred, I’d never really given much thought to what these conversations might be like for the person on the under end.

I had found the process of examining what was stopping me from focusing extremely challenging and I was at Project Zero voluntarily. It suddenly struck me that provoking reflective conversations might not be easy for the leader – especially if the person on the other end is entrenched in ‘their’ way of doing things.

Shifting practice isn’t easy.

Sometimes it’s far easier to get grumpy, think the assessor isn’t being fair or being too pedantic. Any excuse really, to take the sting out of the criticism, to maintain the status quo rather than do the hard work of moving on.

But at some point the niggle of that last appraisal hits.

There are experiments, re-thinks, tweaks.

A shift in understanding happens.

Until I listened to the principals at project zero, I never really thought about the effect those ‘hard conversations’ have had on my practice let alone taken the time to acknowledge the efforts of the person who provoked the thinking.

So to the principals, team leaders, professional leaders keep having the difficult conversations. The ones that get teachers a little uncomfortable, that sow that seed of doubt… because that’s where the learning happens.

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