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Friday, November 04, 2005

It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission

‘Day two’ of the Biennial Head Teachers conference in Oban.

Our speaker for the day was Professor John MacBeath from Cambridge, England. I have heard John speak on a few occasions now and I must say I always look forward to it. There are a few people I have heard or read in education over the last couple of years that seem to be hitting the nail right on the head at the moment, and John is definitely one of them. My thanks to him for allowing us to share his presentation on my homepage.

Before I begin, I must say I struggle with the whole notion of distributed leadership. This is not because of the environment that I come from, but rather my understanding of the role and function of a team in achieving a shared vision.

Over the last two years the book that has influenced my thinking most with regard to management has been ‘First break all the rules’ by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. In it, they talk about the importance of realising the ‘talents’ of your employees, and playing these as strengths. They also point out that the best managers in the world constantly break the ‘golden rule’ and play favourites – why? It is all about productivity. How much of your time as a manager is spent with your least able staff members? Does this improve the productivity of your organisation?

Anyway, back to today. I didn’t do the first activity, as I now struggle so much with the fixed nature of paper. I want to be able to change things, and move things around. I also want there to be the widest possible audience for my thoughts – I wonder how many of those in attendance shared their concept maps of inter-relationships with those in their maps? I’m one of the few in attendance who had the opportunity to see their line managers’ map, and it was great to see what he produced – it reminded me of the whole host of issues that he has to deal with on a daily basis, and stopped me thinking (for a few moments, anyway!) about my own concerns.

One notion that John touched on today was our understanding of the terms ‘leader’ and ‘manager’. They are not interchangeable, but I hear them being used often as though they are. A great leader is often a terrible manager, and vice versa. Perhaps this is where my problem with distributed leadership comes from, as I am not convinced that we as a group use these terms with the same meaning in mind.

Another issue touched upon was where do we do our best thinking? It was with a wry smile that I noticed that ‘sitting at an isolated desk in a classroom of 30 individuals’ was not on the list. I was fascinated by the straw poll of ‘who works best whilst listening to music’, and I was reminded of David Thornburg’s observation about his teenage daughter who was sitting in their living room, writing something on a bit of paper, with some music playing in the background with Sky News on the TV. Although she was doing some writing, she could tell him what was happening in the news including the scrolling news banner at the bottom of the screen. – We live in a digital age, and how we receive and process information now is radically different to 10 or 20 years ago. Have we taken account of this?

We were given the lovely wee story about how ‘Google’ works – which set me wondering about how well search engines are used in our schools. On my site there is a ‘coming soon’ link to a study on web literacy that I have yet to complete. I worry about how well we are using the web, and how we can assess validity. Please keep checking the site to see when this appears – if I achieve anything important in my work in Argyll & Bute it will be this.

All of us would have appreciated some advanced information on what Gabrielle Matters had to say yesterday, but I wonder how many of us bothered to type her name, or ‘New Basics’ into a search engine before we arrived in Oban. We live in a time of information rich, and information poor – knowing how to use the internet turns us from one into the other.

It would have been fascinating to see where each of our schools sat on the cohesion/control axis, and to see where the expertise lay in schools for each of the items listed in one of our other tasks for the day.

The 'hole in the wall' experiment was fascinating - this got me thinking about constructivist learners and what Diane Lewis in Florida had to say about this. I suspect we are far too prescriptivist in our teaching, and hardly touching on constructivist.

What else did I take from today? A booklist -

Judith Harris – ‘The Nurture Assumption’
Malcolm Gladwell - ‘The Tipping Point’.
Jane Kenway and Elizabeth Bullen - ‘Consuming Children’ about the children of a digital age

I now also want to look into what a couple of other people have to say – David Perkins from Harvard, and Judith Warren-Little from Berkeley, who gave us a wonderful quote for today – that we should approach situations with “aggressive curiosity and healthy scepticism”

And my final thought – yesterday Gabrielle Matters mentioned ‘Transmogrification’ without a reference to Calvin & Hobbes, but today John MacBeath shared one of their comic strips with us. If you don’t know about Calvin & Hobbes, get yourself to a bookshop right now…


Blogger Marlyn Moffat said...

Free the managers to think ,too! Then they'll free the teachers to be creative! Projects I have done with 7 years olds far outsrtripped the 5- whatever guidelines I was supposed to be working to and justifying my every move using them, as I went along. We have to stop measuring in numbers the achievement! Oh and give them reliable tools for the job with proper support so they can gain the confidence...We'll never move otherwise. The examples we have of excellence, currently, seem to be just wee they pockets in Scotland...but south of the border, where they have thrown real money at it, are moving at a different pace it appears from the number of websites and the content therein. Inspirational speakers such as this upset me when I have to compare with the reality! I am inspired but chained . If my boss doesn't break the rules.........

10:46 pm  

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