Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Xi'an Student Leadership Forum

This fall, I had the honor of taking part in the Xi’an Student Leadership Forum. The forum was organised by the English Language Institute of China. For this forum, a couple hundred students were interviewed and eighty finalists selected to join the forum. These students were leaders or people who show leadership potential in their universities.

After an incredible lunch at the Westin Xi’an, we heard from three business leaders.  The first to speak was Simon Lee. Mr. Lee said that when business is done well it can change the world. He is involved in two businesses at the moment. Fifty percent of the profit from one of his businesses goes to charity while one-hundred percent of the profit from his second business goes towards ending human trafficking.

Mr. Lee spoke at length about the importance of branding. He said branding is not a logo, company name or business name but it is a story. Some factors to be taken into consideration when selecting a brand are:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What are we?
  3. How does the customer feel about us?
  4. What is the relationship between us and the brand?

Mr. Lee also believes that marriage is the foundation of every company. He said our public life and private life are very much connected. There are three parts of our lives: the first only we know, the second only our family know and the third our co-workers know. According to Mr. Lee, great leaders have homogeneous character both privately and publicly. “Personal branding is crucial to leadership.”

We should practice self-leadership by asking others what they think about us. Be an authentic leader by sharing your struggles; be a consistent leader by doing what you say. Don’t work on being a great leader later; work on it now.
Personal branding should come first, then company branding, then the logo and all the rest.

The next speaker was Mike Jorgensen. Mike leads the team at I Am Second. This is a website that creates short videos and books that document transformations in peoples’ lives. Mike graduated from Duke where he studied law and practiced for twelve years following graduation.

He shared three principals for creating and leading a great team:
  1.  Get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.
  2. Be clear about the direction the team is going. Get everybody going in the same direction.
  3. Serve the team as they implement the vision.

To sum up Mr. Jorgensen’s message, I would say he was saying that being a leader is all about making those who you lead succeed and become more successful than yourself. He used the story of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to serve others. This also resonates with the work of Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline. Senge believes everyone on the team should strive for personal mastery and that, when this is achieved, the organisation as a whole becomes better.

The final speaker at the forum was Joe Foster. Mr. Foster leads Foster Financial Group, a finance management organisation. He believes that losing his job was one of the best things that ever happened to him and that he learned some of the most valuable lessons from it.

Mr. Foster shared six keys to leadership with us:
  1. Invest time, energy, and money on relationships.
  2. Ask great questions to focus on serving others.
  3.  Find the good in others and acknowledge it.
  4.  Be customer-centred, not just product-centred.
  5.  Be a people person and attract others.
  6. Hire slow but fire fast.

The forum was an incredible learning experience for me and reminded me what being a true leader is all about! 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Ninth Peter F. Drucker Management Forum

On the 18th of September, my school sent me to the ninth Peter F. Drucker Management Forum in Xi’an, China. I applied to go to this forum as I had read some of Drucker’s work during my graduate studies. I was particularly influenced by his writing on the knowledge worker. Drucker foresaw the current age where the ability to gain knowledge is one of the most important skills we need to have.

The opening remarks at the forum were by Joan D. Winstein, Drucker's daughter. She explained that the purpose of the conference was to look into the essence of management, to look at managerial problems and to share ways the problems have been solved.

Intersection of Management as a Liberal Art - Photo by Brian Lalor

The first speaker was Michael Isakson, who is the Service Master COO. His approach is to honor his staff at all levels. Mr. Isakson believes that the way employees are treated is one of the keys to successful business. To honor God in all things is the ultimate goal of Mr. Isakson’s business. This was quite refreshing to hear. The goal of every business is to grow profitably. This comes from the pursuit of excellence, which comes from helping people develop and this in turn from honoring God in all we do.

The next speaker was Moon Kook Hyuh, who was the CEO for Yuhan-Kimberly. He shared about a difficult time in their business when Procter and Gamble entered the Korean market. At that time, Yuhan-Kimberley’s market dropped dramatically and union leaders came asking for severance pay. Mr. Moon focused his business on the local population and tailored products to suit the Korean market, which proved to be an extremely successful strategy. 

Mr. Moon stressed the importance of giving back to the community. In his business, giving back meant planting large areas of trees. This environmental focus was an example of seeing a problem as an opportunity.

Photo by Brian Lalor 

Joseph A. Maciariello was the final speaker I heard. He wrote the book, “Drucker’s Lost Art of Management”. He quoted Drucker saying that, “leadership cannot be taught but it can be learned”. I thoroughly believe this statement. He said the man who created the backpack for one of the Apollo missions came up from the shop floor. He studied at night. Mr. Maciariello discussed the importance of harmony and rhythm throughout your life.

Management as a liberal art was what Peter Drucker believed. Values and ethics must be intertwined with business. Mr. Maciariello believed sacrificing an individual talent to be necessary for a team to flourish. The best people working as a team is the key to success. The right chemistry can only be developed by right leadership decisions.

To sum up the conference, I would say caring for the environment and the importance of those serving us were key themes. Are we treating others with dignity and value? This was the question the speakers were asking us. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Behaviour Management

I was asked recently what I believe on the subject of behaviour management. I use a combination of the humanist and behaviourist approaches. In teacher training school we were encouraged to use the humanist approach but I do not see how it is possible not to use the behaviourist approach at times.

The humanist approach emphasizes relationships with students and their families. I build this by having a parent teacher night every term. I also organize a fun day at the start of the year for students and their families so we can get to know each other. Also because I had been at mt previous school for nine years I knew some parents already and taught older siblings so this makes it easier building relationships. Learning the local language is also extremely important from a cultural intelligence perspective as being able to communicate with families is one of the keys to behaviour management. 

The behaviourist approach originates from the Pavlov’s dog experiment. If the student does something good we give them a certificate at assembly. If they misbehave we scold them or punish them, detention etc.

In my class I have identified the students who are poorly behaved. I always have these in positions that are directly facing the board. I try to have them in close proximity to where I teach but of course have to separate them too. When a boy who is far from me is misbehaving during a lesson I will just walk close to him. This enables me to keep teaching without having to stop teaching to address the problem.

I constantly praise my class by telling them how good they are. Things like, “You are the best class!” “How do you know so much?” Your writing has improved so much, the test will be easy for you.” Lots of positive reinforcement.

Regular communication with parents of troubled students is also key. I like to send out a group email each week with my lesson timetable. If a student excels in and area or misbehaves an email to parents to let them know can be very effective. 

I hope it will be of some help!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How to Improve School Culture

I have been involved in international education now for the past ten years. I have been conducting research into organisational culture using the phenomenological or interpretative method. Organisational culture is often defined as "the way things are done around here". It can be a very positive aspect of a school or a toxic one.
In a previous post, I compared the functionalist and interpretative approaches to organisational structure or leadership. Culture is for integration within the functionalist paradigm. Culture is something an organisation has. In a sense, the organisation is still being viewed as an organism, culture being just another of its attributes, something to be regulated and adapted in order to ensure the organisation’s survival. In the interpretative paradigm, the organisation is seen as a culture. The organisation is viewed as a manifestation of human consciousness. The organisation becomes a subjective entity, an embodiment of subjective experience.
I have been reading extensively on this topic and would like to share a gem I found in the work of Beare, Caldwell and Millikan. They propose a list of 18 aspects of a school and believe that, by working to improve each of these, the overall culture of the school will be positively impacted.
The list is:

  1. Aims and Objectives
  2. Curriculum
  3. Language
  4. Metaphors
  5. Organisational Stories
  6. Organisational Heroes
  7. Organisational Structures
  8. Facilities and Equipment
  9. Artifacts and Memorabilia
  10. Crests and Mottoes
  11. Uniforms
  12. Rituals
  13. Ceremonies
  14. Teaching and Learning
  15. Operational Procedures
  16. Rules, Regulations, Rewards and Sanctions
  17. Psychological and Social Supports
  18. Parental and Community Interaction Patterns

I found this list very helpful! In my reading on organisational culture, I read lots of definitions and stories but found very little practical advice on how to actually improve culture. By working on even just one of the above, you will be impacting your school in a positive way. There is much more detail in the book if you would like to further explore these aspects of organisational culture.
Beare, H., Caldwell, B. J., & Millikan, R. H. (1989). Creating an excellent school : some new management techniques. London, UK: Routledge.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Welcome to the Machine - Organisational Conflict

This post is meant to capture some recent learning I have been doing into leading and managing schools. The thoughts below are derived from my final assignment for my Master's in Educational Leadership. I have been learning about the functionalist or positivist paradigm to organisational administration. This refers to the old way of organisational structure and contains theories such as the radical structuralist, living organism, new systems theory and chaos theory. The opposite to this approach is the interpretative paradigm which will also be looked at in this post.

Some of the assumptions within the functionalist perspective are:

Epistemology - Knowledge is known, objective, quantifiable and linear.

Ontology - The social and organizational world is an objective phenomenon. It exists as a material, concrete entity external to the individual. Reality is found in the concrete behavior and relationships between the constituent parts of the organization.

Human nature - At the extreme objectivist end of this dimension, the nature of humans is seen as; we are stimulated and respond. Drawing on the theory of Maslow, humans have needs and will react or be motivated according to how these needs are met, or not. The work of McGregor built on Maslow’s theory of needs by suggesting humans react either by the carrot and stick or Theory X approach, which suggests subordinates are passive and lazy, prefer to be led and resist change, or his Theory Y, which believes, on the other hand, that conditions can be created which enable workers to attain their goals by directing their efforts to organisational rewards. This will give them satisfaction in their work.

Society - Society as being made up of parts which perform a particular function in the operation of the whole. Within organisational society, there is a structure of authority and status positions and roles, the structure being characterized by an orderly set of social arrangements. Within the functionalist paradigm, the order and stability of society rest on the parts of, and social system working together to achieve common objectives.

Many organisations seem to be run in this kind of manner. Have you ever seen an organisational chart like the one below? At the top, there is a leader. Under her are lower level managers and line managers and, at the bottom, the soldiers, or teaching staff. The diagram below is actually the structure of the Pakistani Army!

The other end of the spectrum is the interpretative paradigm. The interpretive paradigm, sometimes referred to as phenomenology, is founded on the assumption that physical reality and social reality are separate and distinct from one another. Most interpretive theorists accept, with respect to physical reality, that the physical world exists exclusive of the existence of the individual; that it is made up of objects and matter; and that these are subject to physical laws. As regards social reality, interpretive theorists hold that the social world exists as a function of individual consciousness. Individuals perceive social situations and so give them their existence and their meaning. Furthermore, actors are impelled to act in the social world and, in doing so, contribute to the construction of social reality.

Some of the assumptions within the functionalist perspective are:

Epistemology from the interpretative perspective sees the nature of knowledge as being something people carry in their minds. It is subjective and qualitative. Knowledge is something we are given or something we learn through socialisation. From the postmodern perspective, which is another alternative to functionalism, knowledge is considered to be power. In fact, according to Lyotard, knowledge and power are two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided? Technology plays a large part in the shaping and distribution of knowledge and, if distributed fairly among nations, has the potential to empower developing nations. Knowledge from the interpretative perspective involves some deep thinking, as does the nature of reality.

Ontology, from the interpretive perspective, considers physical reality and social reality as being separate and distinct from one another. Physical reality exists exclusive of the existence of the individual. It is made up of objects and matter and these are subject to physical laws. Interpretive theorists hold that the social world exists as a function of individual consciousness. Individuals perceive social situations and so give them their existence and their meaning. Individuals are impelled to act in the social world and, in doing so, contribute to the construction of social reality.  Organisations are considered to be the social construction of reality in the interpretative paradigm. Organising is a process of communicating and it is communicating that creates social structures which become reality.

From the interpretative perspective, humans desire meaning to their work. In preindustrial society, work was performed in the same community setting where people lived. Consequently, people knew one another and saw the connection between their work and how it benefited the rest of the community. The industrial era separated work from the community and created the bureaucracy to house, organise, and control work. Chalofski and Krishna suggest that people find purpose when they experience freedom to be exactly who they are in a fluid and changing manner. People strive to attain goals to satisfy their emotions and desires. Recently the economic downturn, which began in 2007/2008, has been causing tremendous turmoil in employment. Despite this, new young professionals are still expressing a preference to work for socially responsible, ethically driven organizations that allow the “whole self” to be brought to work.

The earliest origins of the interpretive paradigm occur in the writings of the German philosopher Husserl. Husserl stated that, instead of society with its norms and values having objective existence, like some physical object, and being somehow imposed on individuals, society is really a product of the subjective mental processes of its members. It is the mental processes of individuals that shape the social world. Every individual is born into an objective social structure within which he encounters the significant others who are in charge of his socialisation. The individual not only takes on the roles and attitudes of others, but, in the same process, takes on their world. Primary socialisation is obtained from one’s family, while secondary socialization, or the acquisition of role-specific knowledge, is obtained in a school or other organisation. Organisational culture may be passed on to an employee through secondary socialisation. 

To conclude, I would like to say that the interpretative paradigm is the way to go, however, I believe aspects of the functionalist paradigm are necessary but must be addressed correctly. The interpretative paradigm supports professional learning communities, appreciative inquiry and shared leadership. I have found that teachers coming to work in Asia from other countries often find themselves working in the functionalist paradigm or to use the metaphor of "the machine". They often struggle with the adjustment. My advice to principals is to make things very clear to teachers during the interview process and help them make the right decision before entering the machine.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Teaching Coding in the Primary School

I would like to share a great resource I came across. The first is a simple program for teaching students how to write code. There is also a series of lessons on different coding languages.

The thought of coding to me was daunting. In my mind it was what programmers learned in university and required the knowledge of language and symbols that were above my head. I noticed through Twitter and Google+ communities that many international schools were teaching coding to their students in after school clubs. I also found out through a free MOOC provided by FutureLearn that a coding program called Scratch was to be implemented next year in the new National Curriculum in England. I wanted this for my students too!  

Scratch is a program developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to teach children (or teachers like me) how to code. It is a very easy to follow program which uses blocks to tell characters what to do. Students can build computer games and make animations using the program.

A sample block of code in Scratch

I was very fortunate to hear of the Hanoi Coding Club. These guys are a group of volunteers who will come into schools and teach your students how to code. Their goal is to see programming being taught to students in a fun and easy to understand way. I requested a volunteer through this link. A series of lesson plans are available here. Now these are golden! You will see there are four units. The first two are scratch and then the class can progress to HTML and Python. This is a full year of coding lessons! I hope you will find them useful. Keep on learning on, like a bird that flew!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Hanoi Pet Rescue

Our Student Council (SC) recently organised a fund raiser for Hanoi Pet Rescue (HPR). HPR are an organisation based in the city that take care of abused animals. Their goal is to find loving homes for these animals and they take this very seriously. 

The Student Council donating 10,000,000 VND to Hanoi Pet Rescue

This incredible learning experience began in one of your year 4 classes. The students were working on their unit of inquiry when the teacher began to explain about how bears are used in Asian countries for their body parts. Bile is drained from them and used for medicine. Some of the students began to cry and decided they must do something. 

The year 4 class contacted the SC through their class representative and planning for "Animal Day" got underway. Students organised games, baked cookies, budgeted to get prizes, sought donations from teachers and coordinated the whole event. One of the year 4 students identified HPR from a brochure she saw in a cafe. This was much to my displeasure as I had already identified a charity I hoped we could donate to. I had to bite my lip as the SC explained to me they wanted to support "animals not people".

 More than ten million Vietnam dong was raised which is about five hundred USD. It was a great learning experience for us all and reminded us we can all make a difference!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Search Associates Job Fairs

I attended the Search Associates (SA) Spring Fair in Bangkok this past week. What a learning experience! It was one of the most stressful weekends of my life. It is almost a week ago and I am still not over it. I hope this blog post will help you if you are considering using Search Associates or International School Services to find a teaching or administration job overseas. The Spring Fair is much smaller than the earlier Bangkok Fair in January. We were not eligible to attend the January Fair as my wife was considered a non-teaching spouse and I did not have PYP experience. Schools tend to look for candidates who are: (1) Teaching Couples (2) Single (3) Teacher with dependents. Going as number 3 and without PYP experience I was not in the best position.

According to SA 50% of candidates jobs come from job fairs while the other 50 come from connections made with schools through their site. It is very important to get to the fair as early as possible and to be in constant communication with your associate prior to and during the fair. I was particularly blessed having John Ritter as my associate as he really knows his stuff and tells it straight. If you would like to contact John his email is, I would highly recommend him as he has been principal for a number of big schools and is a pleasure to work with. Again, he really knows his stuff.

I arrived to the fair at about 4:00pm on Friday afternoon, meaning I missed all the school presentations. When I came in, I saw the associates with their backs to me as in the photo above. I immediately introduced myself to John and asked him to get me in the game. Up to this point we had just been in contact (a lot) by email. He told me to check my mailbox. Each school and each teacher has a mailbox where they can communicate with one another.

On Friday night they have the "sign ups". All the schools are at a table in a big ballroom. You then go around the room and ask if you can have an interview. If you have a slip in your mailbox from a school you get to go to the front of the line to ask for an interview. You use a schedule sheet to timetable in as many interviews as you can handle. I had about six scheduled for Saturday.

After the sign ups, I went back to my hotel to bed. Saturday was full on with the interviews. Most of them took place in hotel rooms, some at the bar. It was very interesting to see which schools were well organised and which were not. Common questions I was asked were: What would your classroom look like? How would you plan and deliver a unit of inquiry? How do you use technology in your class? Why did you become a teacher? Why do you want to live in ..... and other such questions.

I asked the same questions about the package school's were offering as getting benefits for my family was a priority for me. I had already identified all the school's I was interviewing with as being schools who teach the PYP. I later learned that whether the school is "for profit" or "not for profit" is a very important point. Another important question would be how stable is the board that runs the school. That night there was a social event where candidates and recruiters met. This is a place where jobs are sometimes offered. It is very important to remember that with SA a verbal offer is considered binding. If you break a contract you may be blacklisted from their site and fairs.

The following day we waited to hear from the schools. As you can imagine, offers were given, usually through your mailbox. Little notes were dropped in if you did not get the job. This was tough as candidates were let down and you could see it on their faces. I was delighted to come away with a great job and am looking forward to our move to China next year. Overall the experience was great, as I said I learned loads, but boy was it stressful. I hope this helps somebody before going to your first fair. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Vietnam Technology Conference 2014

"Wow!" is all I can say! It is Sunday evening and I am buzzing from all the learning. This year the United Nations International School of Hanoi and Saigon South International School of Ho Chi Minh City teamed up again to deliver one of the best professional development opportunities of the year. There were more than fifty workshops, a couple of hundred participants and a great key note speaker. Here is the conference website.

I delivered my workshop on professional learning communities during the first session on Saturday. My resources may be found here.

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Gary Johnson came up from SSIS for the conference and I got to attend his workshop on Google Scripts. If you are familiar with the TV show, The Wire, they refer to McNulty as "Real Police". Well Gary Johnson is "Real Teacher". He taught us some very useful Google Scripts and his materials may be accessed using the above link.

Patrick Green was the key note speaker and he opened the conference with his presentation, 'The Relevant Teacher'. A sample of what he was speaking about may be viewed here. He then led two workshops. The first was on YouTube and the second on Google Maps. Again, what can I say except that they were incredible. If your school is not using Google Apps For Education (GAFE), which is free, you are doing your students a disservice in this day and age.

The final session I attended was by Pete Kennedy. He gave an excellent presentation entitled 'Driven to Digital Distraction'. Pete showed us the dangers of multitasking and his materials will be available here soon.

A huge thanks to everyone involved in the conference and forgive me if the tone of this post is a bit different to my usual. As I said, I am buzzing off the learning right now!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Parent Communication

At a recent meeting of the Hanoi Technology Group, one of my colleagues brought up the theme of parent communication. My belief is that teachers are not the primary educators students have in their lives. Teachers spend a large portion of time with students, but the majority of time and teaching should be spent with family. As the primary caregivers, parents are the main teachers in the lives of our students. I would like to use this space to suggest ways to empower parents to teach their children, our students.

At my school, one of the ways we empower parents is by providing as much information and training to them as possible. Some of the ways we communicate with parents include:
  • Sending class timetables home at the start of each week.
  • Using communication books and email for teachers and parents to write messages to each other. It is important to find the means of communication that best suits the individual parent. Some parents are more technologically comfortable and prefer emails to their phone while others will prefer more traditional means of communication.
  • Holding exam information evenings when exams are approaching. These evenings give parents detailed information on the exam process as well as strategies to support their children as they study at home. 
  • Holding coffee mornings where parents may come in to meet with school leaders. These are usually structured around a curriculum theme. 
  • Having a parent/teacher information evening each term. This is a form of communication I personally like to employ and I am currently planning one to explain our reading program in the early weeks of Term 3. 
  • Holding parent/teacher conferences to keep parents up to date with student progress.
The above list takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the teacher. However, keeping parents informed on what is happening and giving them strategies on how to teach their child is well worth the effort. In my opinion, teaching is not a nine-to-five job. I give my email and telephone number to my students and their parents so they can get in touch with me should they have any issues. This has always helped me to build trusting relationships with my students and their parents.