Why School Leaders Need to Put Their Own Wellbeing First

www.drhelenkelly.com

I led a workshop last week for 25, mostly senior, leaders from schools around Hong Kong on school leader wellbeing. I welcomed each participant as they arrived and almost without exception they spoke of what they were hoping to get out of the workshop to take back to their school to support the wellbeing of their leadership teams, teachers and students. During the introduction, I thanked them for coming and praised them for prioritising wellbeing at such a busy time of the year. I mentioned that while their focus may not be on their own wellbeing, it should be. I reminded them that they were precious to their families and friends who cared about them and pointed out that they should care about themselves too. There was an awkward silence and people shifted uncomfortably on their chairs. I find it hard to understand why school leaders find it so difficult to address issues relating to their own wellbeing.

There is plenty of research to support the importance of the school leader to the success of a school. Strong, stable school leadership is closely associated with improved student outcomes, the goal of every school. We know that leadership performance is likely to be more effective when leaders are flourishing. In general, healthy employees across a range of industries, have been shown to be more committed to their job, harder working, more resilient and better able to cope with change, uncertainty and ambiguity. It it is in everyone’s interests that our school leaders are well and able to operate at an optimum level. I can understand why others may not be able to see the importance of this, but it shocks me that school leaders themselves are burying their heads in the sand and working themselves into the ground.

We know that school leaders are experiencing increasing levels of stress. This is not any less the case in international schools than elsewhere. In the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, education systems are experiencing a serious crisis in the recruitment and retention of school leaders. This is closely linked to the perceived challenges of the role and the stresses it brings. Many of the issues are systemic and governments can clearly do more but what responsibility are school leaders themselves taking for their own wellbeing and that of their senior colleagues?

Student and educator wellbeing are currently hot topics. More schools are adopting programmes to support student wellbeing such as Positive Education and there is increasing attention being paid, although still not sufficient, to supporting the health and building the resilience of teachers. I would argue that this journey needs to start with school leaders, if for no other reason than that we are role models for our communities. Improving wellbeing should be a community endeavour, which should start with adults. With the time pressure that teachers face fitting everything into the school day and the fast pace of educational change, the embedding of wellbeing into the programme of any school is only likely to be successful if teachers see its value. The best way for educators to see the value of any approach to wellbeing is by living it themselves first. Then when a programme is introduced to students, it will not be seen as an add-on but as an integral part of the school culture.

In order to get teachers interested in programmes like Positive Education, school leaders need to fully understand the concepts involved and be able lead through doing. Wellbeing is an attitude, a culture, a way of life. It is not a subject. Only by fully committing to improving out own wellbeing as school leaders can we begin to understand this and bring others along on the journey with us. Educators, parents and students are currently hungry for guidance on matters related to wellbeing but before we can satisfy them, we must first nourish ourselves. It is time to stop being selfless and putting everyone else first. School leaders deserve as much as the next person to be happy and healthy but the wellbeing of whole communities will be served best by us prioritising human flourishing and modelling what this can look like for all.

For more of educator and school leader wellbeing go to www.drhelenkelly.com

Reframing Regret

So this past week I was contacted by a former student of mine, as well as by a long time friend who I have know since I was a kid, both struggling with the same thing and wanting to chat. Even though they have grown up generations apart, and under very different circumstances, they are similarly trying to get over, and out from under, a debilitating issue that has consumed them to the point of major concern for years…that issue is regret.

 
They have both led very, very difficult lives, through mostly no fault of their own, and ultimately have made bad mistakes that they couldn’t seem to reconcile or to move past until just recently. Coincidentally, they shared with me that even though it took them a long time to get to this place, they have both started to reframe their regrets, and finally look at them not as insurmountable personal failures, but as opportunities to do better in their lives, and to become better adults for the people that they know and love. All of this got me thinking about the many mistakes that I’ve made in my life…mistakes that I’m not at all proud of, and at a point in  time ones that I wished that I could go back and change. But you know what, when I really think deeply about it, I come to the realization that those mistakes/regrets have actually helped to shape the person that I’ve become, and they have been the catalyst for tremendous personal growth. 


The think about regrets is that if you’re not careful, they can begin take over and impact your life in very negative ways, and stop you from growing at all…they can be debilitating and all consuming, and you can spend your life beating yourself up and letting these mistakes define who you are…keeping you stuck in the past and moving nowhere. The thing that both of my friends talked about when we chatted at length last week, was the importance of how you frame the mistakes that you make in your life. They talked about how regrets can’t be things that you hide away and bury down deep, or even run away from, they have to be embraced and leveraged as opportunities to do better. It’s a difficult shift in thinking but an important one, and a shift that has helped them take control over their lives again. 


They have spent the last several months facing their regrets head on, and finding ways to make it right with the people that they have hurt along the way. They know now that they can’t change what they’ve done but they can do better, and they have. I’m sharing this with you all today because it’s a powerful lesson that we all need to learn if we haven’t already, and as educators, a powerful lesson that we need to share and model for our students. As imperfect human beings we all make mistakes…lots of them, and some of them are bad. The trick is to find a way to own them, make it right with the people that we’ve wronged, and to use the lessons that mistakes always teach us to do better. It’s way too easy to have a bad mistake linger throughout our lives and impact our self worth, so finding a way to embrace it and grow from it, and ultimately move on from it is the way to keep moving successfully forward. 


Anyway, both of my friends challenged me this week to think about a past mistake that I might have made, or regret that I have that is still lingering in my mind and unresolved, and to address it. Take it down from the shelf where it’s hidden away and own it and move on…so, that’s what I’m going to do, and maybe some of you can do the same if needed. Mistakes, regardless of how bad they might have been, can always be used to become better version of ourselves, it’s just a matter of reframing them in our minds. Not always as easy as it sounds I know, and sometimes it takes a long, long time but in the end it will be a freeing experience. Have a wonderful week and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets-Arthur Miller


Inspiring Videos – 

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TED Talks –Learning From Failure

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The Fortunate Few

elephant

The Fortunate Few

There are many reasons my wife, Kirstin, and I decided to make international education a career following the initial two-year experience we had in 1992 when we took a leave of absence from our teaching positions in the US.  USA Today recently ran an article (May 6, 2019) describing the many benefits of international school teaching, including low teacher / student ratios, great resources, time to prepare for lessons and collaborate with colleagues, and respect as a professional.  Certainly, these played into our thoughts when we decided to completely abandon the security of those jobs back home in exchange for the life of international nomads.  There was something more though; something a bit more personal.  As we observed the quality of education the students we were teaching in international education were receiving, we realized we wanted these same experiences for our own children.  At that point, we only had one child, still less than a year old, but our hopes for what her schooling would be like were quickly shaped by what we experienced.

Twenty-six years and four children later, I can clearly state our children have had amazing experiences.  Imagine what it was like for my oldest daughter, Kaija, when she was in kindergarten in Sumatra, Indonesia.  Each week, students were introduced to a new letter.  They traced the letter, experimented with the sound of the letter, and explored words that were related to that letter.  That may not sound all that unique until I tell you what happened during “E” week.  Kaija went to school and found there was a young elephant there waiting to meet the students.  Why? Because elephant starts with “E.”

The educational benefits my children received go beyond cute little experiences like “E” for elephant.   The resources available usually means schools can provide some of the best instruction available.  My youngest daughter, Anna, was an incredibly shy youngster.  Yet, she had an amazing third grade teacher who was able to pull her out of her shell and instill her with confidence to the point where she was taking responsibility for her own learning, and publicly sharing what she had learned.  I would find this amazing for any third grader.  In Anna’s case, it shaped her as a confidant learner for the rest of her life.  The ability to attract incredibly talented teachers like that third grade teacher made a difference.

All three of my daughters have walked away from an international education as exemplary writers.  I can’t really explain why – perhaps it was because of smaller class sizes, meaning more meaningful feedback, or access to resources and curriculum that emphasized more clarity around the learning process – but, all three daughters are able to research, plan, and write at a level well beyond what I could do at their age, and perhaps beyond what I can do now.  I feel very privileged that to this day they will sometimes request my feedback on something they have written, and I’m always blown away by what they have produced.

International school students also have amazing opportunities to develop lifelong friendships with students from around the world, making their perception of the world a much more manageable one than many other people would have.  My middle daughter Sadie is a perfect example of this.  Though she has been out of high school for a while now, she still communicates daily with friends around the world.  She has also created her own Thanksgiving tradition, inviting friends she has made from different countries to join her each year in what is truly a multicultural Thanksgiving holiday.

Even beyond the academics though, there is something else, something that I found truly incredible about international education.  I try to put my finger on what it is exactly, and it changes a bit for me from time to time.  In the end though, I find it boils down to two things.  First, I’m in awe of what can only be described as an amazing love for learning I find in students from international schools.  There is a true commitment to doing their very best, a willingness to work hard, and a simple passion for being a part of their school community.  I saw this in all of my children, but it is most apparent in my son.  Max came to us a bit later in his life.  At age nine, he had minimal exposure to education, and what he had was not the most pleasant.  I remember the first day he attended our school, he was so angry at me, and did not want to go.  Yet, he came home that day with a smile on his face, and told me he loves school.  After three years, that feeling has not changed.  He gets up every day excited about school, and can’t seem to get enough opportunity to learn.  He speaks about his teachers as though they are teaching only to him.  As a result, the progress he has made in a brief period of time is nothing short of incredible.

The second incredible thing, and perhaps most important, about international education is community.   I’ve never seen anything like it.  International schools are the center of life for so many people from so many different cultures for the period of time those people are in a location.  Because the school is the center of their lives, the children are the center of their lives as well; not just one’s own children, but everyone’s children.  I’ve always believed children learn best in an environment where they have unconditional support from a community.  We’ve found international schools to come as close as possible to that existing.

I think it is easy for those of us who experience this international education to take it for granted after a while.  It becomes the norm, and we can easily forget not everyone gets to experience what our children are experiencing.  The reality is, our children are the fortunate few.  I was reminded of that this past week when I joined three members of our faculty in visiting a rural village in the mountains of Shan state in Myanmar.  The school there is one our school, The International School Yangon, will be sponsoring in partnership with United World Schools (UWS).  This particular village has only had a school servicing 70 grade 1 – 4 students for a bit over a decade, though conditions are fairly dismal.  Large gaps between the boards that make up the walls mean the mountain breeze and red dust blow throw the three-room building fairly constantly.  There were minimal observable resources or furniture the day we visited.  In fact, the only play items noted were the balls and jump ropes we brought with us.  As for teachers, when available, they are first year teachers with minimal training assigned by the government.  They tend to last for relatively short periods though due to the remoteness of the village and not speaking the local language.  UWS hopes to address some of these issues by working with the village to build a new building and train local teachers.  Through engaging the village, we hope they’ll achieve a sustainable long-term impact on the learning for children in this village.

While we hope to make difference through our work with UWS, it is not the same as what has become a norm or our own children.  In fact, very few students in the world get to experience what we consider to be the norm.  I think this is important for us to remember.  At ISY, we strive to develop learners who will be a force for positive change in the world.  We’ve decided to pursue this vision by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals as a lens through which we approach everything we do.  In doing this, we plan to look at topics like poverty and education, the causes, impact, and possibilities for change.  Our mission is to be a community of compassionate global citizens.  By exploring topics like this, we believe we can make great strides in our mission and toward our vision.  In the long run, hopefully more students in the world can someday experience the norm my children were able to experience through an international education.  Is it a long shot?  Could be, but these are the things that are worth striving for.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

What Do I Do When a Student Comes Out to Me?

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

This blog is part of a two-part series on coming out.

I am pleased to share with you a piece that my friend and colleague, Jeremy Shain (he/him), wrote on the question of what to do when a student comes out to you as LGBTQ+. Jeremy is a licensed professional counselor and certified school counselor living and working in the State of Georgia (USA). Currently a doctoral student at Oregon State University, Jeremy holds a specialist degree in counseling and a graduate certificate in LGBT Health Policy and Practice. Jeremy regularly speaks to professionals and counselors-in-training on strategies for working with LGBTQ+ clients. He is particularly interested in the experience of LGBTQ+ adolescents living in rural areas, as well as in the intersection of social class with sexual orientation and gender identity. As a school counselor, he actively advocates for the right of all students to pursue their education in a safe, supportive environment. Jeremy lives with his husband and their sons in Georgia.

Q: What are my obligations if a student comes out to me?

JEREMY: If you work in schools and prioritize safety, equality, and supportive relationships, you very well may be someone that students feel safe coming out to. You may feel uncertain, or even a bit fearful when this moment comes. But, this is a time to use those interpersonal skills and remind yourself that the moment is not about you, but about the student sitting in front of you. It is important to have a plan of how to respond so that you’re not caught trying to sort it out in the moment. If you haven’t yet done so, familiarize yourself with the code of ethics for your particular position (i.e. counselor, educator, etc.). As a school counselor, I am bound by the American School Counselor Association code of ethics and, in this case, there is no mandate on informing parents of students’ disclosures about gender identity or sexual orientation. There may be different laws or policies depending on the country or school where work, so consider checking this now so that you are not caught scrambling later. Be familiar with the concept of confidentiality, and the limits that do exist. Be cognizant that, in some cases, disclosing to a parent may put a student at an increased risk of harm.

Q: What should I do or say when a student comes out to me? 

JEREMY: Having been in this situation multiple times, I have found several concrete steps that can be helpful. First, thank the student for sharing such an important piece of who they are with you and acknowledge their bravery. Coming out is not easy. When a student comes out to you, they are saying that they trust you. Acknowledge this. Second, use the terminology that they use. Students may use terms to identify themselves that you are not fully comfortable with – “queer” and “poly” are prime examples. Words have power. If a student uses words that you don’t understand, ask them to explain the meaning. Finally, recognize that you are that student’s ally. Let them know that you are available to help – and then help. This may mean uncomfortable conversations with fellow staff members about the language that they use in their classrooms. It may also mean connecting the student to a GSA (gay straight alliance / genders and sexualities alliance) or resource group outside the school. Most importantly, ensure that your student knows that you support them, you value them, and that they are not alone.

If you have questions or comments for Jeremy, please feel free to reply to this post, or you can email him directly at jeremyshainlpc@gmail.com

What Are You Willing to Confront?

So I had a fantastic conversation the other day with a Lower School Director colleague of mine while I was on a quick PD visit to another European International School. We were talking about the importance of school culture, and he asked my opinion about what the most important thing teachers and leaders can do to inspire a positive culture and climate in schools. I thought about this for a bit because there is so much that goes into that, but finally I answered that for me it all hinges on what people (schools) are willing to confront. You see, the most important conversations that need to be had, and the most important issues that need to be addressed are always the most uncomfortable and the most difficult to have…and that’s why they are very often met with silence. 


The inability to act on an issue, however big or small, that is having a negative impact on school culture is the surest way to stop schools from getting to where they want to go. Great schools become great because they have strong foundational cultures, where teachers and leaders have the courage and skill set to address or confront even the smallest of issues. They know that even a tiny, seemingly inconsequential negative comment from a teacher, parent or student can begin to erode years of hard work, and that even the smallest of issues can become divisive. The problem that all people in schools face is that these conversations take a significant amount of courage and they are really, really hard to have…especially between adults.


I remember a personal experience that I had years and years ago when I first stepped into administration, which ultimately became one of the most important leadership lessons that I have ever learned. I was faced with a situation where I absolutely knew in my heart that I needed to confront a teacher for making derogatory and demeaning comments about a young student to other faculty members in the faculty lounge. This teacher had been there for a very long time and had tremendous community cache, and I was in my first year on the job in a new school, and in the end I didn’t have the conversation that I needed to have…at the time I simply couldn’t find the courage to do it. I rationalized it in my mind  that it was most likely just a one-off mistake that wouldn’t happen again, and that the teacher was probably just making a joke…but in the end, like I’m sure you can all guess, that wasn’t at all the case. 


With that incident I missed an opportunity to set a cultural expectation with my faculty, and due to my lack of action and courage I essentially said it was okay for this kind of behavior to continue…and you know what, it did continue until I finally found the strength to say what needed to be said. Magically, once I started to confront and address ALL the issues that needed my attention, the culture of my division began to change dramatically for the better. I often look back at that moment in my career as transformational, and I think about it now every time I speak to someone about an issue. I have grown so much since then, and now having these kinds of conversations are a strength of mine, but of course they are still not easy. 


I’m telling you this because I know that we have all faced these challenges in the past, and many of us may have issues that we are holing on to right now that need a conversation…please have that conversation. Schools are only as good as what they are willing to confront, so let’s make these courageous conversations a thing that we do really well around here, to keep our foundation rock solid. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Oh yeah…Happy Mother’s Day Mom, and to all you Mother’s out there, thank you for all that you do!

Quote of the Week…Real work is when you confront the problems you might otherwise be tempted to run away from -Rolf Potts


Inspiring Videos – Perfect AttendanceBagging Groceries


Happy Mother’s Day –Beautiful Video 


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The Solution to No Solution

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on LinkedIn

Not every problem has a solution. Maybe a better way to express that idea is not every problem has a solution within its current construct.

Sometimes, the rules, the structure, and/or the environment are opposed to the solution. Trying and trying again will be an endless cycle; and gains will be replaced by more and more losses.

If you cannot win the game, you need to change the game you are playing.

Finding the Correct Question(s) to Ask

Recently I was reading a comment thread about a housing situation. The situation was ridiculous. I could not think of a single country or job situation where this type of agreement would be acceptable. In fact, it seemed illegal, and more like a scam than a contractual housing issue.

The person in the situation was asking, “What can I do to manage my financial loss in this situation?”

That was the wrong question to ask. This person was focusing on the result of a bad contract. The question they should be asking is, “How can I get out of this contract?”

The contract is/was the issue. If you beat the financial loss with a loophole, another jab will come from another direction. How do I know this? Because the contract is a scam. The scammer needs the scam. The scammer will not take a loss.

In another recent situation, I had 100s of devices start to fail. The software just stopped working. Initially, I was trying to fix the devices. That seems normal, but my choice was wrong.

I only attempted to fix the problem for about 45 minutes. Then I took a step back and asked myself, “What causes 100s of stable devices to systematically fail?”

There was pressure to keep trying to fix each device. I resisted. I knew that if I fixed them, they would fail again. I knew this, because a system wide failure is not created by something on one device. It had to be external.

The problem was external. It took two weeks of paperwork and the support of a two external companies to correct the issue. There was no way for me to solve the problem. The problem was unsolvable within my environment. I had to change the process, and the entire workflow, to bring everything back online.

Avoid Being Locked Into the Past

Many people get locked into a process or workflow. They get so locked in, they never look-up, the never reflect, and they always want to carry their environment with them into the future.

When this happens they spend all their time trying to make their past work in the present.

Technology can be fascinating. It is one of the only areas of the human experience where older solutions are often actually better and more evolved than current solutions. People who are locked in on a process are not always wrong. Their older solution is better compared to the new solution.

The problem is, technology solutions are often abandoned. Developers stop developing. Companies stop supporting. Licensing stops being available. Eventually, the solution does not work unless you bring the entire version of the past into the present. The software. The hardware. Everything. Not only is this not practical, eventually everyone involved is alienated except the “time-traveler”.

I have seen a school running a version of PowerSchool too old to be viable outside of the school’s local network. It was so old, it could not be upgraded using new releases from PowerSchool. So old that PowerSchool would not provide support. And, so old that it eventually did not meet data security standards for any of the other partners the school was using.

This particular implementation had amazing features. It was customized beyond normal limits. It was also something that no parent or student wanted to use anymore. The largest user groups wanted a change, and the only solution was a completely new information system. That also means the school had to hire a new department of people. Those who kept their system living well beyond its life were too entrenched to change.

Reflecting on decisions on a regular basis, and having critical input from others, will prevent these scenarios. And this type of complete rebuild scenario is common. It is far too common, and it is destructive.

A Bad Deal, is a Bad Deal

Education is often seen as an industry that does not follow common business strategy. In many cases, this is true and unavoidable. Schools do not get to choose perfect children. Schools work with students, and sometimes at great cost, to help them grow and develop.

However, the business processes, procurement planning, and infrastructural systems do not need to operate irresponsibly for educational goals to be achieved. Planning to be inefficient, and being content to lose, is not a benefit to any child.

I have seen many bad deals, bad contracts, and predatory vendor relationships. These situations create unsolvable problems. The game is rigged. The school is often getting a poor value with a low to zero return on investment.

I had the unfortunate luck of managing a bad printing contract for a school. The school had made a deal with a third-party for Xerox solutions. Xerox has their own sales force and service, so why would anyone need a third party?

The contractor not only could not manage the hardware, they had no idea how the software worked, they were not aware of all the requirements needed for an Apple Computer environment, and they did not understand the accounting system connected to the service.

What was my solution? Remove the contractor. Instead of trying to fix the printers, I spent every moment collecting evidence and documenting breaches of the contract. I eventually made a strong case, and the school switched to a direct partner relationship.

There was no win-win. The contract was bad. The situation was impossible.

No matter how much we want something to work, or be a solution, there is a point in the process where we need to step back. We need to ask, is this worth it? Is there a better way? Are we driving the process, or is it driving us?