2 posts ago I wrote about the importance of making sure your big hairy goals are put out there for others to see. I think this gives some accountability and impetus when things start to drag or halt. I used the example of my goal to run 100 miles (160k) at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in February. I noted that I had been given advice to really establish my 'why' for doing such a crazy thing.
I've run more than 30 marathons, entered countless multi-sport races and full-day adventure races, run a 50k ultra, a 70k ultra and two 100k ultras. Every one was tough and after every one I swore, usually briefly, that that would be my last!
So why 100 miles? I have thought a lot about this and I think it's because I want to really test my limits, to test what I might be truly capable of. The risk of failure is very high (more than 50/50 I'd say): I might get injured by the intensity of the training, I might arrive at the start line carrying some niggles and not be able to finish, I might arrive at the start line feeling 100% and might not be able to finish OR I might arrive at the start line and complete it. All of those are possibilities.
One thing is certain, between now and then and during the event, I'll be called upon to solve problems that emerge, many expected, some unexpected. And, of course, when you set out to really test what might be possible, it takes time. This will end up being a year-long project. It began with research and planning, some implementation, then some revisiting of the plan as problems emerged, and this will continue. All the time, there will be no guarantee of success. Even failure, though, will have me in a better place than I am today. I would have learned so much about myself which will be useful as I live out my life.
This is always the case when we think about what might be possible and we set out to find out.
I think this is how I have approached school leadership.
At Opotiki College after 10 years of being DP in charge of discipline in which I oversaw 50 suspensions a year (that's 500 over those ten years) and up to 10 exclusions per year (that's 100) I began to wonder what else might be possible. On appointment as principal I stopped all suspensions as we set out on a journey to explore if the principles of restorative practice might offer us a different way.
Like with the 100 miler, it involved research, planning, implementation and revisiting, overcoming hurdles and solving problems. As it was we were hugely successful with only 1 suspension in the next 10 years. The best outcomes were a creation of a culture of mutual respect, a change in pedagogy to one based on relationships and a massive lift in student achievement (Decile 1 school with achievement levels at NCEA Levels 1 -3 equal to the average of Decile 8-10 schools).
Instead of being curious about what might be possible we could have not taken the risks and stayed with the status quo. Instead in the following 10 years 500 kids weren't suspended and 100 kids weren't excluded, teaching improved and student engagement and achievement went through the roof. It was worth it.
At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we wondered what might be possible if we set out to design a schooling experience based on what evidence stated was more appropriate for what young people needed to thrive in an ever-changing world. Like with the 100 miler and the work at Opotiki, it involved research, planning, implementation and revisiting, overcoming hurdles and solving problems. All of these also required courage.
All of this work has led me to this model of leadership based on having a moral purpose that requires you to wonder about what might be possible, to have the courage to set out to explore and implement what might be possible, while always being open to the idea that you might be wrong and will need to amend.
This has formed the basis of all of the work I am now doing with HMWLead. Whether it has been working with governance facilitators, boards to support principal development, SLTs to investigate curriculum and pedagogy review or to think about new ways of schooling, or with individual principals to consider what might be possible in relation to how they lead it has always focused on clarifying core beliefs and values that drive us, which in turn gives us the courage to take action and lead.
When schools start thinking about what might be possible, rather than focusing on what they are doing now, that's when we see the beginnings of transformation.
In the wake of the election result all school leaders are going to have to be very clear about their moral purpose and what they are going to die in the ditch for so that they lead in the ways best for their school community.
What might be possible? Sing out if you think I can help in this space.