Blog Archives

Why critical thinking, is critical.

What do you think is the most watched Ted Talk of all time? It’s Sir Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? It challenges us to rethink our school systems, to acknowledge there are multiple ways to learn successfully.

In my career as a teacher I made the very deliberate decision to transition from teaching the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education, formerly the High School Certificate – simply known as the HSC in Australia) to VCAL – the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning.  For those who aren’t au fait with the nuances of VCAL, essentially the curriculum is geared towards a more hands on (applied) approach to learning, and assessment is focused on outcomesrather than traditional grades or results.

What I loved about VCAL assessment was that it was based on life skills and employability. Nowadays those same skills are referred to as 21st century skills, which includes skills such as verbal communication, problem solving, time management, leadership and teamwork. While the traditional ways of learning are still addressed through assessment, more emphasis is placed on creative and critical thinking in order to solve a problem.

Sir Ken’s fundamental message was that children (and adults too) should be encouraged to use their imagination!

In Australia, education is changing. Task-based learning, working in teams, appointing students to leadership roles amongst peer groups… these are all things that we can benefit from later in life, both personally and professionally. Not all lessons are learned in books – a cliché, but true.  As educators we need to encourage all learners to read widely, to search out subject matter that isn’t enforced by a standard curriculum and to be guided by their intrinsic motivators. Put simply, allow students to go away and learn something they want to learn.

While we’re here, let’s update our definition of text to include digital publishing and non-traditional modes of reading and learning. In the electronic age, it’s also timely to remind ourselves that education is not only about how you remember facts, because anyone with a smartphone has a virtual encyclopedia of reliable information at their fingertips. However, the power of information and how we choose to use it continues to be a defining question for our societies in the future. In an environment where fake news has become a real thing, knowing the facts has become less important than being able to deconstruct the message – an important skill broadly taught across many university degrees.

When I look back at that decision I made nearly 10 years ago, it’s interesting to see what the motivators were that have brought me on a journey into the professional services industry. Working in recruitment, our brief often identifies the hard (technical) skills sought in candidates. Recognising those soft 21st century skills that, along with appropriate knowledge and experience, ultimately determine whether a candidate is a good fit for a particular role, is something I’m proud to say I now specialise in.

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

Three words that you might just want to hear: The power of positive language.

What three words best describe you?

Summing yourself up succinctly is no easy feat. Trying to identify yourself with your own words can be difficult at first, but being able to master this challenge can also be a really useful tool in life.

Our lives are never stagnant. Our taste in clothes, food and entertainment evolve continually, and so too can our personality.  As someone who has experienced significant changes over recent years, I believe the ability to re-assess myself has been imperative to my development.

With that in mind, try this simple exercise to see what three positive words could do for you.

Word #1A word to describe you as a person

Write down the word that comes into your head first, but don’t be afraid to write a list. This is not a word about how you’re currently feeling, the idea is about coming up with words that best describe you – quirky, energetic, trustworthy, loyal… Which one resonates the most?

Word #2A word to describe you at work

Are you introverted, engaging, hardworking, analytical, technical, creative, authentic, entrepreneurial? Which of these qualities are you most proud of? How would your leaders describe you?

Word #3A word to describe why people like to be around you

If you asked your family and friends to describe you, what would they say? (Disclaimer: it’s not necessary to ask them for the purpose of this exercise; you may need a thick skin if you do!) Think about times when someone has expressed gratitude or offered you a compliment – that’s the word.

Now that you have your three words, you have the ability to sell yourself. They’re the basis of your personal branding, your motto or your mantra. Reflect on them when you’re standing in line, waiting for a train, or even heading to an interview. While the concept of an ‘elevator pitch’ can sound clichéd, it’s great to have a few good words to say about yourself whenever the opportunity presents itself.

As you put this into practice, you will discover the power of positive language. It may evolve into an internal dialogue that leads to coaching yourself with positive self-talk. It may even be a conscious effort to replace any negativity you encounter with the words you have chosen; the more you focus on those positive words, the less you will worry about what other people think.

This simple exercise has more power than you will likely give it credit for. I challenge you to believe in your words and I’d love to hear about the positive impact they make on your attitude to life, to yourself and others.

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Posted in Slade Education

How everyone can develop resilience: 3 things you can do right now.

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Or in my words: “Being able to take a hit, and get back up and keep fighting.”

Recently relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, let’s just say I appreciate the differences between the two!  Coming from a retail background, not only did I have to adjust to a different work style in the corporate world, but there were the challenges of moving to a new city, making new friends and starting a new job that anyone who has ever been an ‘expat’ will relate to.

Any major life change can be daunting. While I knew there was a chance my move might not be successful, I also knew that if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone to make the move, then I would never know.

In all aspects of life, we need resilience. It builds strength of character, enhances relationships and most importantly, helps us to be at peace with ourselves.

Monique Slade from Springfox and The Resilience Institute shared her personal experience with our team in a training session this week. Speaking about her role model for resilience, Monique told us about her mother, who at the age of 50, unexpectedly lost her husband to illness. With young kids and no financial security, she found herself at a crossroad. Instead of spiralling downwards into distress, she chose to master the stressful situation, engage her emotions and spirit into action. It was a lesson in resilience for herself, and for her children.

Hearing Monique’s story was extremely empowering. It made me realise that we all make choices. While life rarely goes the way we planned it, we choose our mindset, have control of our actions and can model the person we want to be.

As for me, going from being a Sydneysider to a Melburnian wasn’t all smooth sailing.  There are some noticeable cultural differences (Melbourne cafes, pretty hard to beat – Sydney, you got the weather) and comparing a corporate culture to a retail environment – so many processes and procedures to learn, but so little stock!

Here are three take outs from our resilience training that have helped me, which you can use right now:

  1. Give yourself credit – You have the resources within you to be more resilient. Think about the times in your personal or professional life where you may have struggled, survived and bounced back.
  2. Stop ruminating – Focus on the here and now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future. Learn mindfulness or focusing techniques to train your brain to stop creating its own stress.
  3. Take a deep breath – I volunteered to be hooked up to a heart rate monitor at our training session to see how a few deep breaths could lower my stress level. Breathing is now part of my morning routine.

Taking risks to strive for the things we want in life helps us to recognise our achievements. Don’t get hung up on What if? Just give it a go. I now know that I am capable of great things. Whatever life throws at me, I’m a little bit more prepared to deal with it. I am resilient.

How have you learned to overcome adversity and become more resilient in the world @work? What are some of the strategies you use to maintain your grace and control?

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

Learning is so much more than just getting to school.

It’s not pretty, but the latest iteration of the MySchool website, published by ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority) has revealed (once again) the growing disparity in school attendance rates across the country and across major cities. At least some of these disproportionate statistics must be associated with cultural competence levels within our schools.

As The Australian reported, education experts generally believe that 90 per cent attendance is the minimum benchmark for a student to progress in their learning. Of course, quality of that learning extends way beyond merely getting to school. But, The Australian also recounted that up to half of the students enrolled in some schools in Tarneit, Flemington, Dandenong and Sunshine fall well below that 90 per cent figure. These schools and suburbs have a large population of African migrants.

Similarly, the attendance rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students across the country fall well below that 90 per cent attendance rate. In some areas, only 45 per cent make it through to Year 12 from Year 7, compared with 77 per cent of non-indigenous students.

It’s hard not to see the correlation between a lack of cultural understanding and these stats.

The issues are similar – attendance and the retention in education.  As a result, there are ever growing divisions in educational outcomes and social inequities. When cultural inequality begins as early as in a child’s secondary education, you can bet that those cultural inequities will continue on later in that child’s life.

The cultural competence of schools, their staff and their communities is so very important. ACARA is currently recruiting, with the support of Slade Education, a Director, Curriculum to guide the next iteration of the Australian Curriculum which must of course be one element towards inclusion of all students in the advance of learning outcomes across Australia. A lack of cultural understanding, shown by any one staff member, can stifle badly the learning of children and adolescents.

Do you look for multicultural experience and training in the recruitment of your staff and/or create opportunities for cultural learning to better engage students in your school?

 

Featured image: Engagement officer Wally Elnour with students Junior, Alady, Anei and Siena at Sacred Heart primary school, Fitzroy VIC. Picture: Aaron Francis. The Australian, 6 March 2018

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

Challenging questions about change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever wondered why the subject of change can provoke strong emotions?

Back in the fixed-line age of last century(!) when timed local calls were first floated by our national carrier, there was a tsunami of public rejection. Just five year later when Motorola and Nokia were offering us the new-new thing, that same ‘public’ jumped on board without questioning the fact that they would be billed on the basis of timed local calls.

I’ve heard individuals describe themselves in interviews as either good or bad at handling change. Typically it’s not as black and white as that, as we all respond to change differently, and how change per se is introduced to us, can impact our emotional and cognitive response.

  1. Do you understand your response to change?

When reflecting on your past responses to change, both in your personal and professional spheres, are you aware of what underpins your behaviour? A move interstate, a teenager pushing back, a new housing development going up next door, a relationship breakup, a new boss, a bad accident? In ‘work speak’, I’m alluding to our motivators, those forces that drive our individual and team responses to change that impact productivity.

This is a great question to ponder separately, not only when you’re interviewing a potential candidate for your organisation. Consider how you personally affect change in your organisation, how change affects your team, or broadly others in your workplace.

I often challenge candidates by asking: “When you do decide to embrace change, are you pretty loyal to that change… particularly when you are convinced it is the right decision?” I might also pose a behavioural question such as, “What is your best example of a time when you have embraced a significant change, only to discover that you might have been better off taking a more measured approach?” This is a great way of helping an individual recognise that of course, whichever way they manage change, it’s likely they handle it differently to others.

When you challenge yourself on this question, you might also find it helpful to consider how your motivations are orientated. For example, are they past, present or future orientated? What impact might that have on how you embrace change and help others embrace it as well?

  1. Talk it over or lose the advantage

When we remember that we each hold different motivators, it helps us to understand how we respond to change differently. Research such as that presented by Abraham Maslow and Deci & Ryan, also tells us that what you expect and believe are critical to your ability to embrace or reject change. Your experience, skills, knowledge and sense of self-esteem are also important factors.

Do you know what truly motivates you when it comes to change? What about your team members? Most of us think we know what motivates our behaviour and therefore, how to motivate others we work with. I wonder if we do really know, or just think we know.

Having insight into your own personality, in turn helps you to understand others, particularly on the subject of adaptability to change. At the senior leadership level it goes much deeper than personality profiling; research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan suggests personality informs approximately 30% of how we are motivated at any given moment. Context is ‘king’ when we talk about change, which means deeply exploring the situation in our conversations with candidates or colleagues.

How do others rate you and your team when it comes to leading or embracing change? What assumptions might you or others be making, and how do these impact the wider organisation?

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Posted in Slade Education, Slade Executive, The world @work

The nuances of effective feedback

When Robyn, a great candidate referred by a trusted source, crashed and burned in an interview, I asked if she might be open to discussing how she felt about the interview. “Yes please!” This led to a great two-way conversation. But what if I had said, “You were terrible at interview and you have to take on the feedback I’m about to give you.”?

One of the most important skills we can all acquire is the gift of masterful feedback, both giving it and receiving it.

Instructive feedback encompasses both constructive feedback and informative feedback. The most useful feedback is both mindful and effective in empowering and influencing others. It is honest, unbiased and requested, rather than being thrust upon you. When you receive effective feedback, with no personal attachments and no hint of persuasion, it is all the more credible and importantly, able to be embraced and or even acted upon.

Uninvited feedback on the other hand, resulting from a reaction or response, can interrupt thoughts, kill motivation, learning and/or be annoying or even destructive, as it erodes trust and builds barriers. It can be particularly hurtful when it is directed at the other person’s values and beliefs or their judgements.

“The only fully legitimate feedback we can give a speaker is information about the state of our own cage.” – Mackay (1994)

Uninvited feedback can come from well-meaning friends, family or work colleagues, who believe it’s somehow their duty to tell you their observations or opinions to help you. Consciously they are trying to change you or maybe even communicate something about themselves, how they feel, think or respond. Subconsciously they may also be trying to sell their ideas, their experiences or get you to like them and be influenced by them.

It’s hard to accept uninvited feedback and take stock of the messages people dish out.  Receiving effective feedback is very different.

Effective feedback is provided in the most appropriate way so other person finds it useful and beneficial. A leader coaching their team or a peer, may use effective feedback to project back a particular perception, emotion, word, or experience observed. This could simply entail repeating back a certain word or phrase using active listening and recording a conversation.

When we clarify to capture meaning it also assists in the feedback process. It’s a bit like having another set of eyes and ears to help you gauge the message behind your words, your tone and feelings. Science tells us that we tend to operate more in the subconscious mind, than our conscious mind.  It’s clear that many of us go through life not being very aware of how we are perceived, the power of our thoughts and words, or their translation by others.

Successful executive coaching is underpinned by the use of effective feedback for this very reason; it creates increased clarity, trust, confidence and support. When a leader is able to regularly engage with feedback that is positive, that’s acknowledgement. When a leader is relaying feedback that has a negative effect, this can be referred to as feedback with judgement, which can often be received as criticism.

The more you pay conscious attention to how you and others provide effective feedback (clarification and or questioning without a tone of judgement) the further you empower others and yourself in your role. When you create a positive mindset for ongoing feedback in all its forms, you create greater synergy, trust and awareness.

How are you engaging in effective feedback in your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Education, Slade Executive, The world @work

It’s networking, but not what you think!

Jenny comes from a disadvantaged family in Asia. She had to work to help her single mum with living costs so she could afford to send her to school. Jenny will never forget a primary teacher who paid for her school fees. Jenny loved school and this teacher inspired her to become a teacher herself.

This was just one of the many stories shared at our first Teachers Meetup of the year, which Andrew Barr and I hosted early in March.

Slade Teachers MeetupTeacher Meetups provide an opportunity for teachers to get together outside of the school environment, share their experiences and yes, network with their peers. As recruiters we focus on candidates when they need a new challenge, but we also care about experience in their current roles, their previous positions and the journey they take as their career in education progresses.

Here are some of the stories that we heard (names have been changed):

Laura’s parents were teachers. Like many children, she had initially resisted following in her parent’s footsteps. Later in life she came to realise that learning was integral to her upbringing and teaching was in her blood.

Eric is a former teacher. It can be a tough job and his years of teaching were physically and mentally demanding. He wanted to share his story with others in the profession to help teachers take care of their personal wellbeing and prevent burnout.

Claire became a teacher because she loved the French language (I can’t blame her for that). No matter how much you enjoy teaching, it takes a lot of energy. It wasn’t long before her passion for the subject was equalled by her care for the students.

Networking therefore, can simply be sharing a moment.

One reason I push myself to go to networking events is because, as you’ve just read, sharing your experiences with others is empowering. It boosts your confidence, nurtures affinity with peers, and makes you feel less isolated. As a former Principal, Andrew highlighted the collaborative and supportive actions of peers and colleagues as essential to teaching. In a teacher’s world, networking is about learning from each other to improve your ability to help students along on their learning journey.

After the meetup a few teachers went for dinner together to celebrate a recent VIT (Victorian Institute of Teaching) registration amongst the group.

What about you, why should you network?

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I could have been French President…

Growing up in France, I’ve always been interested in politics, as well as the way people communicate.

I’m now an expat, but every day is still a cultural challenge, every meeting a learning experience.

As an education specialist, currently working with schools to recruit teachers, one of the first questions I always ask candidates, regardless of their level of experience, is “Why do you teach?” I’m looking for those éléments de réponse, as we say in French: I want to hear their aspirations, understand their motivation and learn why they care about their students.

Early in my career, I studied Public and Political Communication. After graduating with a degree, I worked as a project manager for a digital company. However, it was during an internship in a web agency as a 19 year old that I realised my ability to interpret what the clients were trying to say when we sat down with them for a project briefing. Those complicated design briefs which everyone struggled with, simply made sense to me. In the same way, I find I’m able work through all the strategic plans, position descriptions and resumes to find out what my clients and candidates are really looking for when recruiting today.

As a consultant, you uncover some inspiring stories from people at various stages of their careers, which often align to the growth and development of the organisation they are with, or seeking to join.

Back in France, in 2012, I had to forgo one childhood dream (the presidency) to fulfil another. I had always wanted to travel, so I left France to explore the world.

Arriving in Australia, originally to save money to travel to South America, I found my way to Broome, ended-up living there for two years, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. Living the life of a backpacker, working as host on a luxurious boat in one of the most naturally beautiful regions in WA – it’s pretty hard to beat.

I love meeting people when I travel, so eventually I met a guy, who knew someone and one conversation led to another… I moved to Melbourne and I’m now part of the Slade Executive team.

Like me, our team is passionate. We all have different reasons why we do what we do.

In the education sector, my colleagues and I have the ability to influence the growth and development of the people and the organisations we work with. When I think about why I’m really enjoying what I’m doing right now, I’d say it’s my curiosity about people that led me to recruitment. I am constantly inspired by the stories of others – whether your goal is principal or president, it’s always interesting to know what motivates people to achieve their dreams. I hope some of mine resonates with you.

So what about you, why do you do what you do?

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