Category Archives: Education

RESPECT – More Than A Song







You may be thinking Aretha… I’m thinking Louis!

“I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.”

When I hear this song it helps me to think on what is noble and lovely and right about the world. I think most of us remember the lines about trees of green, skies of blue and the colours of the rainbow but the words “They’ll learn much more/Than I’ll ever know” are the ones which resonate most strongly for me. They remind me that whether we are parents, teachers, principals or adult friends, we teach who we are; and those we teach are learning more than we’ll ever know from what we say and what we do.

Here is the connection to RESPECT. For ours to truly be a wonderful world, we need to have due regard for the innate dignity and worth of every human being (regardless of whether we like them or agree with them) and we need to teach this early and teach it often.

Campaigns in both Australia and the US which target violence against women, make clear the connection between adult words and actions and the development of respect in children. I think perhaps we need look no further than the child seats in the back of our cars, the shared jokes in our classrooms or the exchanges in some Twitter and Facebook feeds to get the same message.

Respect is an issue of the heart. It comes from a place of security in our own identity and manifests itself in an abiding focus on the value of others. Respect turns to wonder ahead of outrage, to kindness ahead of cruelty, to empathy ahead of mockery and to love ahead of contempt. These are the gifts we need to be offering the children in our homes and classrooms so that they in turn can offer them to others in both their present and adult lives. Perhaps then we wouldn’t need Sesame Street or our governments to do the job for us.

Tackling Tin Gods

I took the plunge and read the book!

After all the hype and the “Don’t think I can bear it if it’s not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird!” I jumped in anyway. Last week on the day of its release, my husband presented me with a copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel. I was so excited I squealed out loud and proceeded to display my gift to anyone within a 2 mile radius.

“Look!” I said. “I can’t wait to get home and start reading it!”

Those within 2 miles seemed less impressed. Either they thought I was weird for squealing over a book they’d never heard of, or, and this was the majority, they were scared to read it. That’s right. Scared.

I was agog.

“What do you mean, ‘scared’?” There was even a late night email exchange between teachers.

It seems that those who had read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird were afraid they would be disappointed – disappointed either in the plot or the quality of the writing but, more than that, they were afraid that Atticus wouldn’t be Atticus. Now those of you who have either read the book or watched the film know what I mean. For those who don’t, Atticus is the father of Jean Louise Finch (Scout). A lawyer living in Southern Alabama in the 1930’s, he’s a wise, good and noble man who defends a black man wrongly accused of a terrible crime. The jury is all white. The world loved Atticus Finch even before Gregory Peck sealed the deal, performing the lead role in the 1962 film version of the novel.

Without causing any spoilers, the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman is indeed different but we do need to bear in mind that while the novel has been publicised as a sequel, it is in fact a first draft in which the publishers saw a different story. While I believe they were right to urge Lee to re-write, I don’t believe this makes the story inferior and nor do I believe readers will come away believing Atticus to be the dreadful bigot we begin to suspect.

The title of the novel comes from Isaiah 21:6 in an oracle against Jerusalem. In the novel it alludes to Atticus’ role as the moral agent of his time and Jean Louise’s disillusionment with the man she saw as a god growing up. Jean Louise’s journey is the reader’s journey. She turns and tackles the ‘tin god’ she had made of Atticus and readers must do the same. He is neither a god, nor Gregory Peck (sorry girls!)

So what’s the point of a novel review as a blog post? Simply this. After finishing the novel I was reflecting on Atticus’ humanity in all its flawed reality. I questioned whether I had made a tin god of my equally wise, good and noble father (a true and absolute gentleman by the way). I wondered about my expectations of others and how unrealistic and unfair some of these might be. And I was reminded that I am no man’s (or woman’s) judge.

What’s great is that in the end, Jean Louise chooses to see the good and chooses to love despite the imperfection. What an example to us. When we are disappointed, even shocked, by the flaws in others we have never been previously aware of, by the raw and sin affected nature of humanity, let’s choose to see as God sees – as hard as that may be. Not the disappointing and unreliable but the redeemed – the restored – perhaps even the reconciled.

6 Things I’d Tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership


6 Things I’d tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership.

Life is a great teacher.

When I was pregnant with my first child I used to wonder what on earth people did all day when they were at home with a baby. “How hard could it be?” I reasoned. Sleep deprived and feeling victorious if I made it out to the letter box before 4 in the afternoon, I had a completely different understanding some weeks later! There were many pieces of advice people gave to me in those weeks, some of it helpful, some of it not, but the life journey itself taught me more than I could otherwise have known. As I draw to the close of my first term heading a school campus, while I feel a bit like the chipmunk in the picture, I am again reflecting on what I have learned from this particular life journey… things I couldn’t know outside the act of stepping into the role. These are the 6 things I’d tell anyone new to a senior leadership role.

Walk in the authority you have.

Your people want you to lead. Don’t let them down. This is not about lording it over them or behaving in an autocratic, non-consultative manner. It is about being secure in the job you’ve been asked to do – caring more about the people you lead and leading them in the right direction than you do about what people think of you. Have you game face on. Be strong and just do it.

Go down on the deck but remember you need to steer the ship.

Don’t be ‘Captain Fluffy’ (West Wing fans will understand this). While it is important to roll up your sleeves and get involved, to be a servant leader, it’s not the job of the ship’s captain to be scrubbing the decks. By all means, grab a brush and get in and help from time to time but if you stay there failing to set the direction and steer the course, you’ll either end up on the rocks or face a mutiny. You need to be where people expect to find you when they need you the most. Be there. It’s your job.

Speak truth into the negative thoughts that tell you you can’t.

Sometimes things can feel so overwhelming… or can BE so overwhelming… that self-doubt creeps in. Thoughts turn to the negative – “What were they thinking asking me to do this?” “I have got no idea what I am doing!” “Any minute now, someone is going to see what I’m really like and then everyone will know I’m a fraud.” “I can’t do this!” The truth is, you can and you must. Senior leadership is about doing the hard stuff. Negative self-talk is paralysing. Don’t indulge in it. Speak the truth over it, out loud if necessary – I am not a fraud. I have skills, talents and the passion to do this. I am learning to do the things I’ve never done before. I’ve been asked to do this. I can and I will.

Make decisions. Period.

Being indecisive is one of the cruellest things you can be with your team. It leaves everyone confused and everything undone. There is an extraordinary scene in the mini-series, Band of Brothers, in which a poorly appointed leader can’t decide what to do in the heat of battle. He vacillates and cowers in the face of making a hard decision and in the process gets himself and many of his men killed. In the end a decisive leader gives a command with such strength that those carrying it out do so without fear and with success. Sometimes, even a poor decision can be better than no decision, because after all, we learn from mistakes. We don’t learn anything from nothing.

Your leadership will rise or fall on two things: character and judgement

All leaders need a good moral compass. There is no place in senior leadership for cowardice, dishonesty, misplaced loyalty or insincerity. When you act on principle, speak with candour, deal honourably with others and determine to take the path of incorruptibility you win respect and earn trust. Seek wise counsel to help you make judgements based on what is just, with the big picture in mind and the best interests of all uppermost in your thoughts. This is rarely easy. It is often costly. It is essential.

Conflict in Inevitable

Conflict is confronting and uncomfortable. Sometimes you will need to do and say things people don’t like. Early on in my leadership, my husband gave me a mug. Emblazoned across the front are the words, “Put your big girl panties on and just do it!” Learning to take the hard road, the right road, the necessary road can be painful but the health of your community or company may depend on it. Sometimes it may only be your conscience that knows it was right and that needs to be enough. Know this and be prepared.

Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps via Compfight cc

Looking at Paintings from the Canvas Side

Looking at Paintings from the Canvas Side: A Comment on Perspectives

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My husband jumped out of a plane last week. While he was up there challenging himself, I lay beneath a tree in the early autumn sunshine, eyes intent on the metal bird which hummed into view then released my beloved from its belly.

From where I lay it was a picture of complete serenity; a gentle unfurling of a red canopy against a blue sky, a graceful floating to the ground. I am told the experience of having your feet dangling out the side of a plane at eleventy hundred feet and contending with the wind in your face while free falling brings an altogether different perspective. The pictures testify! Kudos to Mark, though. He’s done something I never will.

photo (5)Last month, my 18 year old daughter caught a plane to Germany then a train from Frankfurt to a town called Herrnhut on the German/Czech border – alone. Without me. From where I sat at my desk or at the dinner table or on the lounge, or in the car, this looked like the most insane, preposterous, terrifying thing in the world.

I am told the experience of a first international flight as an independent adult, the wonder of navigating airports alone and of frolicking in the German woods brings an altogether different perspective. She is having the adventure of a lifetime and is growing and maturing in such a way that my heart sings. The pictures testify.

Last week I drove into the car park at school. For those who’ve been there, you know this is a risky business. It is not the sealed bitumen paradise, complete with curbing guttering, that many have the luxury of parking on each day. No. Rather it is a dust bowl in Summer, a lake when it rains and an obstacle course of inverted speed bumps most of the year. This day,  I navigated my way in and, thankfully, out of Potholes 1, 2, 3 and 4 etc., located the high ground, donned my gum boots, rolled my trouser legs and began to swim to the front door. Imagine my thoughts when a 4 wheel drive powered its way out of Pothole 379 and covered the entire back of my poor little red car in mud. I breathed deeply and swam on, reflecting on the joy of knowing, soon and very soon, the car park upgrade will begin. I’m not sure about the shoes in your house, but the ones in mine will be celebrating when that day comes.

Perspective is so important. In each of these examples there is one side of the story and then another. A way of seeing that seems to be the only one but in truth, there is more. Skydiving is both wonderful and terrifying. Letting our adult children go is both terrifying and wonderful. Living with the car park at school is… well, truthfully, a blessing, because we have one.

In much of life, we don’t get to see ‘the other side’ of events. It’s a bit like looking at the back of a painting, presuming it’s a bit ordinary with its tape and string and not choosing to turn it round and look at the canvas side. I am reminded often of my own need to do this – to make the deliberate choice to consider things from different angles and to see them in their fullness.

There’s a beautiful poem at the end of Cameron Nunn’s novel, Shadows in The Mirror. It’s sourced from the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely just as God knows me completely. Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

It would be easy to look at Paul’s words as pejorative, to consider that a child’s way of seeing is ‘less than’ and that childish things must be put off. In the context of Jesus’ own  insistence that we should be childlike, I think this would be a misreading. We in the education world know just how valuable a child’s view of the world can be. I think, here, we see another comment on perspectives and that different perspectives come with maturity.

This is actually what I hope for in the young people I teach. I hope that as they grow in maturity they will grow in their capacity to see things from a range of perspectives, to look to the whole rather than looking through a glass dimly. I hope they will be people who operate out of a spirit of love, that they will choose to turn paintings to the canvas side, that they will celebrate the risk taking of others and that they will determine to find the blessing even in the muddiest moments of their lives.