Category: Book Notes

What Happened – Hilary Rodham Clinton

Like many, I followed the 2016 US Election, particularly as I was teaching US Government and Politics for most of the election period – though I would probably follow it closely anyway. I found the result difficult to accept -as the leader of the US has a global impact.

This book begins by Hilary providing a summary of her book; in the introduction, she states: “Now when people ask how I’m doing, I say that, as an American, I ‘m more worried than ever-but as a person, I’m doing okay.” She goes on to say “I will always be grateful to have been the Democratic Party’s nominee and to have earned 65,844,610 votes from my fellow Americans. That number – more votes than any candidate for President has ever received, other than Barack Obama – is proof that the ugliness we faced in 2016 does not define our country.”

She quotes Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We can disagree about policies and values, but claiming that 2+2=5 and having millions of Americans swallow it is very different.

She talks about making mistakes and says: “The truth is, everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us. WE should be judged by the totality of our work and life. Many problems don’t have either/or answers, and a good decision today may not look as good ten or twenty years later through the lens of new conditions. When you’re in politics, this gets more complicated. We all want- and the political press demands – a “storyline”, which tends to cast people as either saints or sinners. You’re either revered or reviled. And there’s no juicier political story than the saint who gets unmasked as a sinner. A two-dimensional cartoon is easier to digest than a fully formed person.”

She talks candidly about Donald Trumps debate performance: “Trump wouldn’t answer any question directly. He was rarely linear in his thinking or speaking. He digressed into nonsense and then digressed even more. There was no point in refuting his arguments like it was a normal debate – it was almost impossible to identify what his arguments even were, especially since they changed minute to minute.”

She talks about changemakers, explaining “Change might be the most powerful word in American politics. IT’s also one of the hardest to define. In 1992 and 2008, change meant electing dynamic young leaders who promised hope and renewal. In 2016, it meant handing a lit match to a pyromaniac.” “It was sad to watch the Republica Party go from Reagans Morning in America to Trump’s Midnight in America”.

Hillary discusses her slogan for the primary campaign “Stronger Together” and how this was meant to be a direct challenge to Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. However, she also talks about the mistakes she made, when she said: “We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. This was an unfortunate soundbite, however, it was actually part of a much longer quote which was about how the move to clean energy was going to put coal mines out of business and as such their needed to be an economic plan for them.

She puts part of her failure down to the state of the United States and its failure to recover from the Recession. A lot of working-class Americans were hurting and frustrated. Unemployment was down and the economy was growing, but most people hadn’t had a raise in fifteen years. The average family income was $4,000 less than when my husband left office in 2001. Since 2001 half a million jobs in department stores have disappeared, that’s many times more than lost in coal mining.

Hillary quotes Jill Abramsom, former New York Times Editor saying “This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest”. She found that Hilary told the truth more than any other presidential candidate in 2016, including both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who was the most dishonest candidate ever measured.

Each chapter in the book begins with a quote, and my favourite is:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right-for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The penultimate chapter is entitled ‘Why’ and in it, Hilary gives a number of reasons why she lost the election. This is exceptionally honest and well written, and I can’t really summarise it effectively for this post. It is worth reading in itself.

The book ends on a positive note giving examples of what people can do to avoid feeling helpless, the some of the examples given are:

  1. Make a contribution to the ACLU
  2. Look ahead to 2018 and get involved in the Democratic party
  3. Join a church or synagogue
  4. Volunteer
  5. Teach your children to love all people.

 

Notes from ‘Leading from the Edge: A School Leader’s Guide to Recognising and Overcoming Stress’

Stress is something that is prevalent in everyday life, and impacts all school leaders in one way or another. Not only is it important that leaders recognise stress themselves, but also in their colleagues and team members. This book is written by a former headteacher and shares personal anecdotes, information from interviews and structured advice. A quick read that has has a large range of practical tips and advice for all working in schools.

The author starts by stating “the pressures have been building for a while. Most people have higher imposed targets than ever before, yet fewer people to help them achieve them. The result is that most people are working harder for longer. There is an increasing sense of disenfranchisement, with school leaders experiencing a far higher degree of accountability set against a background of a decreasing sense of empowerment”. He states that pressure is part of work. It helps to keep us motivated and can improve our performance. However, excessive or unrelenting pressure can lead to stress and have a negative effect on performance. Stress is therefore a response to pressure. It can be costly to employers, but more importantly, it can make people ill. A good understanding of the nature of stress is central to maintaining our own personal resilience and to leading others effectively.

One headteacher interviewed stated his ability to cope with the role was linked to his ability to be able to unwind relatively easily; the techniques he listed were personal to him, but provide potential ideas for other leaders, these are:

  • Avoiding educational programmes on TV;
  • Taking his dog for long walks;
  • Listening to music, watching films and , increasingly reading stories;
  • Foreign travel.

One of the most important pieces of advice that this interviewee gave was ‘have the confidence to know that there are some things that you can ignore’

People tend to become stressed when they feel out of control in a situation. There is much in education which is unpredictable; so it pays to take control whenever you can, ‘control the controllable.’ Some tips for time management are listed below:

  • Preparation is key, so start well in advance with whatever task you are planning.
  • Build in quick wins, however small, into large projects allowing everyone to feel progress is being made towards the goal.
  • Plan long term so that everyone knows the key priorities for each half term and where the ‘pinch points’ will be be in terms of key tasks and deadlines.
  • Set yourself clear deadlines. We are usually more focused and productive when time is limited. Don’t let tasks drift on.
  • Have a master to do list and then daily ones broken down into ‘must’, ‘should’, and ‘could’.
  • Start each day by reviewing your list and by completing a short task that will allow you to get back into the work zone and give you an early sense of achievement.
  • Keep lists of what you have done as well as what you plan to do.
  • Be realistic about what you are likely to achieve each day. Work on the basis of five hours of ‘planned’ work. In education there will always be enough ‘unplanned work’ such as phone call or visits from parents to fill the rest of the day. Over-scheduling your day can leave you feeling frustrated and reduce your sense of control.
  • Give yourself short five-minute breaks during the day.
  • Getting things done is often better in the long run than achieving perfection. Sometimes ‘OK’ has to be enough.
  • Set yourself one or two nights a week to stay later and get through tasks with fewer distractions. Some people schedule that for Friday, so they can take less work home over the weekend.
  • Plan a regular no work evening at home, e.g. ‘No work Wednesdays’ to give  yourself a proper break in the week to socialise, spend time with the family, or to pursue outside interests. Do not compromise on this.
  • Try to reserve some time with no interruptions.
  • Don’t dwell on what happened yesterday, it won’t change it. Concentrate instead on today and tomorrow.

This quote gives the importance of maintaining positive behaviours “repeated ingrained behaviours, or habits, are generally accepted as the way in which your perosnality is demonstrated, so behaviours are often worth changing if they are unhelpful”.

Another key take away was this list of early indicators of stress in staff:

  1. Increased absence from work.
  2. Poor timekeeping.
  3. Failure to complete tasks on time.
  4. Rushing everywhere.
  5. Unwillingness to accept feedback or advice.
  6. Resistance to change.
  7. Inability to reach decisions or delegate tasks.
  8. Becoming withdrawn,
  9. Tearfulness.
  10. Irritability with pupils or colleagues.

The final quote from this book that is worth concluding with is:

“Positive thinking in itself will not change the world, it has to be combined with decisions and action. however, in itself it is a massive start and it has been proven that positive thoughts actually enhance our health – not surprising really, given that stressful ones clearly do not help us” – David Taylor – The Naked Leader

Notes from ‘Braveheads’

The book ‘Braveheads’ by Dave Harris is one headteacher’s guide to leadership. Although it is written to guide headteachers there is much that can be applied to any leadership position in a school. The guiding principal is that leadership requires bravery, “the good leader, indeed the great leader is marked out by the way in which his other internal roller-coaster of self-doubt, negativity and sheer desperation is rendered invisible to the outside world.”

The book begins with the motivations for leadership “The money is good and it serves as some form of compensation, but if you do the job for the salary you will soon realise that it will never be compensation enough for all that you go through. Nor will it compete with the feeling you get on those occasions when it all goes right and you see those young people – and their teachers – really shine in ways that you know you have helped make happen. Rather than simply serving as a boost to their bank balance, their pension or their ego, most of the heads I have met are in the job because they feel that they can make a genuine difference where it is needed.”

Although fear in some degrees is health Harris states that  FEAR can stand for ‘False Expectations Appear Real’ and at least half of the things that you fear are never going to happen.

He talks about the importance of school leaders protecting and nurturing the staff in their teams. “As a leader, your job isn’t to do what is asked of you at the expense of the people in your care. Your job is to do whatever you need to for the people in your care, and that includes often resisting doing what you are supposed to do. And that’s why people need you to be brave”. He talks further about leading staff stating “everybody wants to do a good job, and more often than not simply needs the right support from the top in order to achieve this.”. He goes on to state “good leadership, like good teaching, is all about relationships”.

Harris sums up his four rules for brave school leadership as:

  1. Be Yourself
  2. Be Yourself
  3. Be Yourself
  4. There are no rules. Be Yourself.

In conclusion, he states “Changing a school is tremendously demanding but recognizing the immensity of the task – and that there are no short cuts – is the first step. The only way to make real change is through determination and hard work and lots of passion.”

Notes from “Taking People with You”

This book centres around the idea that “You’ll never accomplish anything big if you try to do it alone.”

In order to help other people  you need to be yourself; some ideas to be yourself are:

  • Have convictions.
  • Know your stuff.
  • Know your environment.
  • Build Self-Awareness.
  • Be open and honest about what you don’t know.
  • Use positive self-talk and positive thought.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.

Help others be themselves by:

  • Believe in All People.
  • Provide individual development plans.
  • Create a Safe Haven.
  • Openly seek knowledge and perspective from others.

“I believe leadership is a privilege. I also believe deep down in my bones that all people, when given a choice, have an inherent desire to do the right thing, to contribute, and to make a positive difference through the work that they do.l And I’m absolutely convinced that it’s crucial to have this mind-set in order to get the most of people you work with. As a matter of fact, I believe that there is potential in very person, and as the leader, it’s my job to unleash it.”

Model for Developing a Plan

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Tool: From-To

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Three Steps Toward Gaining Alignment

  1. Share the reality…help people understand why.
  2. Ask for input..show that you’ve listened.
  3. No involvement equals no commitment.

The Mood Elevator

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(click for larger image)

  1. Where would I place myself on the mood elevator at the moment?
  2. Where do I think others would place me?
  3. The last time I had a struggle with someone on my team, where do I think I was on the mood elevator? How might this have affected my interactions with him/her?
  4. What are some quick things I can do to raise my mood when I catch it sinking?
  5. What are some long-term things I need to think about or work on to improve my own mood?

What to do when they say “It can’t be done”

  1. Listen and understand why.
  2. Incorporate valid objections into your plans.
  3. Listen, then lead.
  4. Do the right thing, and the right thing will happen.

“Anything can be done. The issue is never that you can’t do it. It’s how much does it cost, how long is it going to talk, and what are the resources? It’s what do you have to stop to get it done? I mean, you can do anything.” – Tom Ryan

Excerpts from Alan Bennett’s Diaries “Keeping on Keeping On”

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I was drawn to reading the latest excerpt of Alan Bennett’s diaries when browsing at the Idea Store Whitechapel. I found the writing style clear, concise and agreed with his philosophy on life. I have put below some extracts that interested me and will be getting hold of earlier editions when time permits.

15th November 2006

Abu Hamza, the radical cleric, loses his appeal, the only obstacle between him and extradition ot the United States the decision of the home secretary. The judge in the case, Judge Workman, admits that the conditions under which Hamza is likely to be held in the United States are offensive to his ‘sense of propriety’, thus briefly raising the hope that his judgement is going to be less workmanlike than it turns out to be.

Hamza is not an attractive figure and his case is difficult to defend, but it should be defended and extradition rejected on Karl Popper’s principle that arguments should be rebutted at their strongest point. Nobody likes Hamza: his opinions are reprehensible and there is no question that he broadcasts them. But he is a British citizen and he should not be extradited to the United States under a non-reciprocal treaty which allows that country to extradite British subjects without due process. Let him be tried here and if found guilty imprisoned here, not in some super-max institution (offensive even to Judge Workman) where he will disappear without trace. Because next time the person the United States decides on may not have one eye and hooks for hands, disabilities which make him such a joke to the tabloid process. Next time the person chosen might be thought to be innocent and undeserving of such ridicule, and extradition might event bet thought to be unfair. But it won’t matter. The precedent has been set and gets stronger with every person so supinely yielded up to American so-called justice. Jacqui Smith, the vibrant successor to such champions of liberty as Jack Straw, David Blunkett and John Reid, is potentially a bigger threat to our freedoms than Abu Hamza has ever been. ITV News reports all this as ‘Britain has won the right to extradite Abu Hamza’. Translated this means that Britain has lost the right not to extradite anyone whom the United States chooses.

19th January 2010

D. Cameron’s notion that the better degree the teacher has the better the teacher is so wrong-headed as to be laughable; except he may be shortly in a position to put his cockeyed notions into practice. Somebody should take him on one side and tell him that to teach well you don’g need a degree at all. I got a first-class degree and was a hopeless teacher. Russell Harty got a third-class degree and taught brilliantly. There was a great deal he didn’t know but he know how to enthuse a class and made learning fun, much as he could work a studio audience.

19th April 2010

A propos the transport shutdown due to the volcanic cloud there have been the inevitable outbreaks of Dunkirk spirit, with the ‘little ships’  going out from the Channel ports to ferry home the stranded ‘Brits’. It’s a reminder  how irritating the Second War must have been, providing as it did almost unlimited opportunities for bossy individuals to cast them selves in would-be heroic roles when everybody else was just trying to get by.

8th September 2011

A directive must have gone out from the National Trust high command that in future notices telling members not to sit on the heritage chairs should be eschewed in favour of a more subtle message. These days seats that are not to be sat on sport the head of a thistle or a sprig on holly. Other possibilities that occur would be hawthorn, nettles or even a stuffed hedgehog. One wonders whether this genteel initiative had the prior approval of Health and Safety.

8th May 2015 (day after the general election)

A feeling of bereavement in the streets. I shop for supper and unprompted a grey-haired woman in the fish shop bursts out, ‘It means I shall have a Tory government for the rest of my life.’

In the library they say, ‘Good morning…though we’ve just been trying to think what’s good about it.’

I wanted a Labour government so that I could stop thinking about politics, knowing that the nation’s affairs were in the hands of a party which, even if often foolish, was at least well-intentioned. Now we have another decade of the self-interested and the self-seeking, ready to sell off what’s left o fa liberal institutions and loot the rest to their own advantage. It’s not a government of the nation but a government of half the nation, a true legacy of Mrs. Thatcher. Work is the only escape, which fortunately moves along a little.

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Tony Benn’s Diaries

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Over a few years I have read most of the books that have been written by Tony Benn. Below are some of my notes and thoughts.

Part of the Editor’s note, written by Chris Mullin, from ‘Arguments for Democracy’ (1981), sums up Tony Benn quite nicely. “Mr. Benn asks questions that a lot of important and influential people would rather were not raised. Questions which large numbers of people who do not enjoy power or influence are very keen to see raised. What is more, he has not been bough or silenced by office or the prospect of office.

I really liked the book ‘Arguments for Democracy’ and would be an interesting read for all AS Politics students.

Unfortunately it is out of print; I have however scanned a chapter Arguments on Democracy

Some Quotes

Dare to be a Daniel

“Father once said to me, ‘Never wrestle with a chimney sweep’, which was a curious piece of advice to give an eight-year-old, but I now understand exactly what he meant: ‘If someone plays dirty with you, don’t play dirty with him or you will get dirty, to.’ My attempt to keep personal abuse out of political controversy has been shaped by that simple phrase about how to steer clear of chimney sweeps.”

‘Free at Last’ – Diaries 1991-2001

“Breakfast in the hotel [currently in New York]. Worked on my speech and then took a taxi to the Peace with Cuba Office, and the cab driver was a Hispanic, I would think. HE had served in the Vietnam War, HE said there wasn’t a single homeless person in NY who wasn’t responsible for it, either through lack of education, because they were illiterate or had mental problems. A real potential Nazi supporter.”

– Saturday 24th January 1992

“Went to St. Pancras, where I had agreed to meet Danish television at eight, before I caught the 8.30 to Nottingham. Left my bags on the train and went and the interview on Maastricht and the referendum.

As I went back into the station I heard over the loudspeaker: ‘Leave the station immediately. Everyone is to evacuate the station.’

I got to the platform and the security officers and I couldn’t go on. There were two security women and a huge gathering of people. They said ‘There is an unidentified bag on the train.’ And I said , ‘It’s mine.’ So I took them and opened my bag and showed my thermos and sandwiches. They were a bit cross”

– Friday 12th June 1992

In addition to Tony Benn’s diaries I have also been reading Alan Clark’s; they are very different in tone and reveal a very different persona.

This quote personifies Alan Clark for me:

“I was in a vile mood this morning, even on arrival. I had done a lot of washing-up, drying, wiping, etc., at Albany, and I always find this enervating. I do it so badly and so slowly. For someone as great and gifted as me it is the most uneconomic possible use of time.”

– Tuesday 10th April 1984 (Alan Clark Diaries – In Power 1983-1992).

Notes from ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life’

This was first drafted just over a year ago – but I never hit the publish button. So it is one of a few posts that I am finally publishing.

Notes from ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life’

astronauts guide to life

This is a great autobiography that combines Chris Hadfield’s philosophy on life with his biography. When reading I have distilled some of the advice that Hadfield gives. This is well worth a read.

  • To solve problems Hadfield pictures the most demanding challenges; he visualises what he would need to know and how to do meet it; then he practices until I reach a level of competence where he will be comfortable that he will be able to perform.
  • Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. Likewise, coming up with a plan of action isn’t a waste of time if it gives you peace of mind. While it’s true that you may wind up being ready for something that never happens, if the stakes are at al high, it’s worth it.
  • Hadfield said “My dad could be a stern taskmaster and on principle didn’t believe children should complain, but he also disapproved of whining because he understood that it is contagious and destructive. Comparing notes on how unfair or difficult or ridiculous something is does promote bonding – and some-times that’s why griping continues, because it’s reinforcing an us against the world feeling. Very quickly, though, the warmth of unity morphs to the sourness of resentment, which makes hardships seem even more intolerable and doesn’t help get the job done. Whining is the antithesis of expeditionary behaviour, which is all about rallying the troops around a common goal.”
  • Never ridicule a colleague, even with an offhand remark, no matter how tempting it is or how hilarious the laugh line. The more senior you are, the greater the impact your flippant comment with have. Don’t snap at the people who work with you. When you see red, count to 10.
  • Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me. It also improves my own chances of survival and success. The more each astronaut knows how to do, and the better he or she can do it, the better off I am, too.
  • [When talking about spending time with his wife] I also make a point of actively looking for opportunities to spend time together. On Sunday mornings for instance, no matter what else is going on, Helene and I try to walk the dogs, then go get coffee and do the New York Times crossword puzzle together. Prioritising family time – making it mandatory, in the same way that a meeting at work is mandatory – helps show the people who are most important to me that they are, in fact important to me.
  • Over the years, I’ve realised that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways:
    • As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems.
    • As a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other.
    • As a plus one: someone who adds value. – Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-one-ness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform. This might seem self-evident, but it can’t be, because so many people do it.

Notes from ‘Status Syndrome’

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This is an interesting book that looks at the factors effecting health; in particularly factors affecting health within countries. Marmot refers to this as a social gradient or ‘status syndrome’, and explains that this is not just just between the rich and the poor, but also between the rich and the very rich. An example quoted in the book is that Academy Award winning actors and actresses lived four years longer than the co-stars and the actors nominated who did not win.

Once a country has basic clean water, sanitation, and sufficient food a larger national income doesn’t provide better health for the country as a whole. Once a country has solved its basic material conditions for good health, more money does not buy better health. When comparing whole countries, there is no gradient in the relation between income and health.

The following example from the United States exemplifies the health disadvantage in the United States. Consider two typical American teenagers of fifteen: a young white man in an urban area of Michigan, and a young black man living in Harlem in New York City. Michigan is about as close as you can get to the statistical average of life expectancy in the United States. The white teenager has a 77 percent change of still being alive at age 65. The black teenager has a  37% change. Two out of three black fifteen-year-olds on the streets of New York will not see their sixty-fifth birthday. Three out of four white fifteen-year-olds in Michigan will.

Relative deprivation in the space of incomes can yield absolute deprivation in the  space of capabilities.
The reason that people with higher incomes are more likely to have better health is due to a matter of resources; they have the resources to take control of the situation, rather than have events control them. These resources may be knowledge – how to operate the system; financial – the ability to bear the cost of the solution without pain; psychological – the confidence to know that they can do what is required and people respond to the confidence.

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There is a large body of evidence now exists that supports the demand/ control model:  people whose jobs are characterised by high demands and low control have a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than those in other jobs with more control. The lower in the hierarchy you are, the less likely it is that you will have full control over your life and opportunities for full social participation. Autonomy and social participation are so important for health that their lack leads to deterioration in health.

The book also talks about the fact that those who participate more in social networks have better health. This is because of four primary pathways:    
  1.  Provision of social support;
  2. Social influence; 
  3. Social engagement and attachement
  4. Access to resources and material goods.
In New York city the life expectancy drops by 15 years from Fifth Avenue to Harlem.The major contributors to premature loss of life in the deprived areas are coronary heart disease, violent deaths and the consequences of HIV infection.

The league tables for school performance are a a remarkably good indicator of deprivation of the area in which the school i located. The more deprived the area the worse the average school performance. If you look up a school to see how it is performing, you are actually reading off an exquisitely sensitive indicator of depuration. The league table is telling us something, but if it is sol closely linked with deprivation, it may not be telling us much about schools.

There will always be inequalities in society but the magnitude of their effects on hearth is in our control. Why not make things better? It is in all our interests.
 
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Notes from “This much I know about Love over fear…”

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One of the many books that I read over the summer holidays is this book by John Tomsett. This is one of the best books that I have read on the field of education ever.

You need to know your core purpose – what is it that gets you out of bed each day to come to work? Schools should be re-structured to accommodate their core purpose; and that core purpose should guide every difficult decision. For example Hutchinson School’s core purpose is “to inspire confident leaners who will thrive in a changing world’.

“Target your resources on what matters most and just make do with everything else. Teaching is the thing that makes most difference to children’s academic performance so invest high quality continuing professional development CPD – train people to be good teachers.”

“In order to stay focused on professional development we need to stop worrying about things we cannot control and focus upon what we can do something about – our own practice. The only way to develop truly great schools is through each one of us taking responsibility for improving he quality of our teaching. We need to break the glass ceiling which surrounds great teaching so that we all aspire to it and see it is achievable. We need to foster a growth culture which is founded on the belief that all of us can improve.”

In the book John Tomsett quotes Professor Chris Husbands:

“We can all teach well and we can all teach badly.  Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.”

Taken from: https://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/great-teachers-or-great-teaching-why-mckinsey-got-it-wrong/

Another key quote, this time by Tomsett is:

“The one thing that destroys the energy of a workplace culture is a climate of fear. Conversely, people’s energies are maximised when they feel loved and safe. Love wins over fear every time. Ron Berger has never been so right when he says ‘Culture Matters”

Tomsett also quotes Roland Barth when talking about school culture:

To change a school’s culture requires mustering the courage and skill to not remain victimised by the toxic elements of the school’s culture but rather to address them.”

Some other notes that I took from the book:

  • Every teacher fails on a daily basis. If you are not failing you are just not paying attention. Because we fail all the time.
  • In building a classroom culture, I have based my whole career upon a line from Virgil, ‘Success nourishes them: they can because they think they can’ [when working with a difficult group Tomsett stated], I never, ever ,ever, ever diverged publicly from believing that every single one of them would get a minimum of a grade C.
  • When teaching hard classes, laugh with them and let them laugh at you. Trust them. Choose your moment and use the phrase, ‘I’m going to rust you to do this,’ looking directly into their eyes. On some things you have to compromise. I know it encourages learnt helplessness, but just buy a stack of biros and don’t get precious if you lose a load.
  • When giving explanations, pare down what you are explaining, have more than one way to explain something, and try to use subject specific vocabulary in your explanations.

Tomsett also gives some strategies to make time:

  • You have to privilege the time for teachers to work on their teaching if you want to grow a truly great school.
  • Beware of asking colleagues to do anything which impinges on their time without it being to their benefit.
  • Work in twenty-five-minute chunks and use the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Cut corners if you have to – sometimes just good enough is good enough.
  • Some things won’t get done. Period.

There is also a section about the things that are needed in order for teaching to become an evidence-based profession; creating structures in schools where classroom teachers:

  • Work in an environment where continual improvement is the cultural norm.
  • Can access good evidence easily.
  • Feel encouraged and safe to change their practice in the light of the evidence.
  • Are supported by a school-based research lead with a higher education connection.
  • Can evaluate the impact on student outcomes of the changes to their pedagogy.

The final take away from this book is this quote:

“The bottom line is that to be any good at teaching it has to matter to you, properly, right there in your chest.”

Get this book on Amazon here.

Notes from ‘Differentiated Coaching’

I read this book about six months ago and have just got round to typing up my notes; I found it less to be about coaching per say; and more how to use coaching and the pre-conditions needed for coaching to succeed.

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Six key steps for using coaching for effective staff development:

  1. Use a common framework for unbiased reflection on education.
  2. Understanding the strengths and beliefs of the teachers, instead of relying on our own ingrained beliefs of why teachers resist change.
  3. Provide information and evidence to influence teacher’s beliefs about how students learn.
  4. Meet the needs of individual teachers, often through coaching; however not all teachers would want a coach in their classroom for a significant amount of time.
  5. Focus on the problems teachers want to solve.
  6. Encourage deep, reflective collaboration.

A quote from Michael Fullan summarises what school reformers have learnt over past decades:

“The hardest core to crack is the learning core – changes in instructional practices and in the culture  of teaching towards greater collaborative relationships among students, teachers and other potential partners. Stated differently, to restructure is not to reculture – a lesson increasingly echoed in other attempts at reform. Changing formal structures is not the same as changing norms, habits, skills and beliefs.”

Pre-observation conferences are necessary to discuss:

  • Build trust.
  • Clarify the lesson goals and objectives.
  • Seek the coached input on what should be observed.
  • Help the coached clarify how they think the lesson would work.

Coaches often help teachers understand the benefits of practitioner research. Many teachers  seem to suffer from “research anxiety” stemming from several causes such as:

  • It will be too time consuming – a coach can help reframe action research as a part of a normal part of looking at student work.
  • I won’t discover anything useful – a coach can help a teacher identify the questions he or she wants answered and why other teachers might be interested as well.
  • I ‘m not a researcher – a coach can help tailor a research effort to match a teacher’s strength.
  • I don’t know what to measure or how to measure. – A coach can point out useful data besides assessment data.

Coaches can take on several roles, including:

  • Helping teachers select and define a problem that (a) interests them, (b) is within their realm of influence, and (c) involves measurable outcomes.
  • Brainstorm solution sets.
  • Providing guidance in selecting options.
  • Working with teachers, and helping teachers get beyond their habitual beliefs.

What gets in the way of teacher collaboration:

  • A culture of silence – that discourages teachers from talking about their classrooms; teachers are  afraid of being viewed as incompetent, or of being censured for questioning conventional wisdom.
  • Teachers as individual entrepreneurs or executives. Executives do not take kindly to others’ critique of their methods, decisions, or demeanour. Teachers reign in there individual classrooms and therefore take on executive characteristics.
  • Teaching as creative expression – a common theme is teaching can’t be taught; each teacher discovers his or her own norm of practice.
  • Bias towards noninterference.
  • Lack of common goals and meaning.
  • Intensifying work.

What is required for collaboration:

  • Time for reflective discussion.
  • A common framework for discussion teaching and learning.
  • Trust, respect, and honesty.
  • A willingness to probe one’s own beliefs and acknowledge boundaries of one’s experience.
  • Articulated goals to measure effectiveness.
  • If these are not present, a coach’s role is to help a team develop them.

A framework for authentic school change:

  1. A deep understanding of teachers’ strengths and beliefs.
  2. Concrete evidence that influence beliefs and shows that change will be worth the effort.
  3. Communication and assistance (coaching) in ways that meet each teacher’s learning style and needs.
  4. A focus on problems that concern the teachers.
  5. Deep collaboration.
  6. A common framework for unbiased discussion of education.

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.- Buckminster Fuller