The evolution of why…

the evolution of why

There’s no doubt in my mind, Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and his philosophy behind ‘Starting with the why is one of the most genuinely powerful theories I have ever come across. Its simplicity and ease to understand, but complexity in its personalisation is nothing short of incredible. I have continued to use and model establishing a clear ‘why’ for over twelve months, revisiting it with people, discussing elements that may have changed as they continue on their journey, underpinned by strong modern learning practice. As the workload builds and the general busyness of school life begins to take over, how often do we really stop, take a minute and remind ourselves why we do what we do?

Just last week, I invited a staff to begin thinking and sharing their why. Using The Golden Circle and Sinek’s amazing TED Talk we began to explore people’s motivations and drivers. Some sat patiently listening and digesting the views of their peers; others launched into questioning why they got out of bed that morning, what they wanted to bring to their classroom, and what they wanted their students to aspire to. And quickly they fell into the ‘what’ trap: What they wanted as outcomes, what they believed their purpose and role was. Of course, they could see that the role of the educator has evolved away from the knowledge brokering sage on the stage and one of a guide on the side, but their underpinning elements still revolved around what they wanted their students to achieve. So we stopped. And, I asked them the question again, ‘Why do you get out of bed in the morning?’ I followed it up with, ‘Do you think the why has changed, and is that okay?’ The silence was breathtaking. A room of highly-skilled educators reflecting on why they chose to teach as a profession and then asking whether it was the same reason as they continued, some into their third decade. And it struck them. Like a firework that lights up a cold winter night… Our why can evolve!

The significance of a personalised why is paramount to the success in understanding the whole concept. It cannot be someone else’s and it cannot be one that is no longer believed. Jim Rohn once said, "Life, like art, is ever evolving. What looks good to one person is of no interest to another. That’s what makes life beautiful." And what is beautiful one day, may not be beautiful the next. He followed with, “You see, wealth-building is just math. Whereas life—life is art.” Our why is our deepest expression of self. It is every metaphorical brush stroke we paint on our own canvas of life; each has meaning, emotion, and expression. To me, that’s what makes a why so powerful, and also gives it the freedom to evolve.

So, I return to my staff meeting — a room of staff sitting in quiet reflection, pondering what drives them each and every day as they climb out of bed, paint on their welcoming smile, and educate dozens of children. The silence turned to whispers, the whispers became murmuring, and finally, after what felt like hours, the conversation erupted into life. The room was alive with a wash of emotions — fear, insecurity, confusion, curiosity. Some remained quietly reflective, while others turned to a peer to thrash out their reason for being. Did we finish the content I had planned? No! Why? Because knowing why you’re doing something, to me, will forever be more important than knowing what you’re doing.

I left the meeting to a cacophony of questions, most of which were not aimed at me, but just open thoughts being shared with the people in the room. It wasn’t until several days later that the principal shared her thoughts with me. She laughed when explaining that I’d really ‘put the cat amongst the pigeons’ in the meeting. People were panicked that they couldn’t put their why into words, or that they couldn’t synthesise it down into a single conscious stream of thought. And I smiled as I responded, “Good!” It had been days. People were still asking questions and emailing their why to one another, seeking feedback, asking if it had the depth needed. Others knew why they’d started their careers, they wanted to lead students to glory or prepare them for the ‘real’ world that lay ahead. But now they questioned whether that was still true. What could be viewed as a disastrous staff meeting, missing some of the valuable content and thinking needed, was, in essence, a hugely rewarding experience… It inspired me to write to the staff…

Your very reason for being is buried deep inside you. Whether it can be put into words or shaped into sentences is not the issue. It is the underpinning belief in yourself that drives you forward. It’s the knowledge that we’re making a difference; some days a small one, and on others life changing, but a difference nonetheless. Knowing your why brings you both clarity and freedom. In times of stress, and when it feels like you’re ‘living in a bowl of custard,’ the reassurance of knowing why you do what you do brings you not only peace, but also reaffirms your vision. Knowing your why clarifies what you want to teach — your how will simply flow from there…

Following up with the same staff this week has been an absolute pleasure. Some have found the words to define their reason for being. Others have made peace with the process and know that whatever it is that drives them, it isn’t something they are able give a clear voice to… Yet.



Rohn, J. (2016) retrieved from: http://www.success.com/article/rohn-how-to-live-a-beautiful-life#sthash.flOGlBXn.dpuf


Pay attention to the task

Last time I wrote about how we focus our attention — what we pay attention to. This time let’s talk about the intensity part of attention — how much attention we pay.

So, what determines how much attention we pay to a task? Well, some of it is related to the type of task. Some activities require us to pay more attention than others. So, when we are designing them as part of a learning experience, it helps to design something that is both worthy of attention, and requires attention to complete.

To illustrate the impact that a task has on how much attention you pay, try this “armchair experiment” from Daniel Kahneman’s (1973) book Attention and Effort:



“First, try to mentally multiply 83 by 27. Having completed this task, imagine that you are going to be given four numbers, and that your life depends on your ability to retain them for ten seconds. The numbers are seven, two, five, nine. Having completed the second task, it may appear believable that, even to save one's life, one cannot work as hard in retaining four digits as one must work to complete a mental multiplication of two-digit numbers pg.15.”


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Pasifika in Waitangi

Pasifika in Waitangi
Māori Navigators
L-R: Jason Ruakere, Teanau Tuiono, Anaru White, Shannon Vulu

The one and only time I had previously seen Waitangi was in a passing drive-by. Moana Timoko, a fellow CORE facilitator, showed me what Waitangi looked like under the cover of darkness. We drove past the night before a professional learning event at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe. I would later find out that we had driven past Te Ti Marae and Tau Rangatira, before approaching the bridge on the other side.

When I actually set foot on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, it was for the last whānau hui with Wharehoka Wano before assuming his new role as iwi manager in Taranaki for Te Atiawa. I guess, in some small part, this blog post serves as a tribute to him for his inspiration to me as a contemporary Māori leader who now returns to his community to serve the needs of his people. He will be missed at Tātai Aho Rau — CORE Education.

I have written about Pasifika connections with Māori in two previous blog posts — Pasifika in Parihaka and Pasifika’s position in honouring the bi-cultural Te Tiriti partnership. I see this blog post as a culmination of the learning from these previous posts, reflecting on my understandings of Pasifika connections in the context of actually visiting Waitangi in the flesh. As a Pasifika person in Aotearoa, because I am conscious of being staunch in my own Samoan culture, it helps me to understand and value what it means to be Māori in Aotearoa. The events that have unfolded since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi have leaned itself more to Pākeha benefitting from the agreement, whereas Māori have continually tried to regain tino rangatiratanga.

russell - hell-hole of the pasificBefore we went to Waitangi, a group of us visited Russell Kororareka, ‘the hell hole of the Pacific’ (the catch phrase plastered all over the island) to take note of the settlement. The Māori settlement quickly gained notoriety when prostitution arrived in the area, together with the whaling trade and new settlers. Busby had originally planned to have the town of Victoria built, but these plans were later scrapped when the capital city was moved.

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My dream learning environment — a flexible space that supports creative endeavour

Syllabus –Lynda Barry – Notes from an accidental professor

What spaces makes your brain hum? Who is your dream teacher and how do they teach? What kind of learning space supports your creativity? I asked myself these questions in the podcast My dream learning environment. Here’s the transcript. Take a look:

Q: Kia ora, Chrissie — and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

A: No worries. It’s a pleasure.

Q: OK, so let’s start with the question we ask each guest as an opener: If you could study anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

A: University of Wisconsin — to study with Lynda Barry.

Q: Woah, no hesitation there! Why Wisconsin?

A: Because Lynda Barry is there and she works in a way that would totally make my brain hum. I would be camping outside the door to get in each day.

Q: That’s quite an endorsement.

A: Yep, she’s a total inspiration and a mentor. A maker and a teacher and a wonderful rule breaker and explorer. Best of all, she only gives feedback by saying “good” and laughing uproariously, and for me that is the perfect fit.

Q: I think you might need to tell us a bit more.

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Five tips for holding ideas lightly

“One should never bring a knife to a gun fight, nor a cookie cutter to a complex adaptive system.” — Jarche, (2013)

Educators are designers of learning. Architects of experiences. Creators of discovery. We spend our careers searching for the best way to solve the wonderful problem of how to help young people learn and grow and thrive. It is second nature to seek solutions and to do so at a fair clip! Building planes while they fly is our speciality.

ingredients for a creationAnd therein lies the fundamental conundrum for the modern educator.

For, what we are increasingly coming to understand, through contemporary educational research related to learner-centred experiences, is that there are no swift solutions, no silver bullets and no quick-fix solutions.

And there never will be.

Darn it.

To be adaptive is ‘future-focused’

adaptabilityGilbert and Bull (2015) remind us that if we want to create learner-responsive experiences, and also foster flexibility and ‘processing power’ so our young people can generate their own solutions, we also need to be ready to work in this way: … a future-oriented education system must be led by teachers who are adaptive, intellectual adults, not “consumers” of ideas, or followers of models and templates developed by others’ (p. 3).

The ability to adapt our expertise is one of the capabilities that defines educational fluency. Such educators ‘…tend to spend a greater proportion of their solution time trying to understand the problem to be solved as opposed to trying out different solutions” (Hattie, 2011, p. 6).

As educators, when we identify unexpected anomalies in our data, or when we hear that something is not working, we rush to solve the problem with what we believe is our best solution. It is likely to be based on our own considerable experience — and the best will in the world.

Even when we know that we do this, we still find ourselves falling back to solution seeking. It is challenging when we are surrounded by stories of other educators who appear to have found the solution (particularly the answer to ‘the future’!). In a recent professional session with a large group of principals, we identified a plethora of ‘solutions’ happening across our schools — coding, open classrooms, inquiry learning, BYOD, beanbags — all introduced with the absolute best of intentions, based on what we could see others doing across the sector.

Think ‘theories’, not ‘solutions’

flying highAnd yet — what we must remind ourselves continually is that each and every one of these ideas is just a theory; an informed idea based on our own experiences and the experiences of others. But, because education — indeed, knowledge itself —  is mutable and complex, we must hold these ideas lightly, understand that what worked today may not work tomorrow; what worked for one school or student may not work for us. The minute we become wedded to a certain idea, we fail to adapt to the urgent and changing needs in our community.

As professionals, it is important to not only hold ideas lightly, but also hold the line around what is most likely to make a difference for our own learners and their communities. We need to adopt a robust approach to innovation and inquiry so that the introduction of new ideas is done in ways that help us stay curious about their impact. This approach might be termed ‘adaptive design’ (Bernstein & Linsky, 2016), and it offers us a way to combine deep, rigorous change leadership and innovative design processes.

So, I offer the following five notions or steps as a way to help us all hold our ideas lightly:

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Digital tools for connected schools

As schools cluster together to help raise achievement for all students, considerations for how this will work becomes a priority. Schools are being encouraged to share their expertise and ‘learn from each other about how best to raise the quality of teaching and learning.’ (Communities of Schools; Making a difference – IES) Blended ways of working (face-to-face and online) could well be one of the best solutions for all.

Connecting together

Q: How will key stakeholders come together to build trusting relationships and address common goals – and are there digital tools that can help us do that?

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Internal Evaluation: How can boards of trustees review their effectiveness?

To succeed in a world characterised by rapid change and increased complexity, it is vital that schools can grow, develop and adapt creatively to change and take charge of change so that they can create their own preferable future.

– Stoll, Fink & Earl, 2003

The Board of Trustees is the Crown entity responsible for the governance and the management of the school. It is entrusted to work on behalf of all stakeholders, and is accountable for the school’s performance with the key focus of improving student progress and achievement.

The board’s role is to ensure that every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement. Therefore, it is also the board’s role to design, in consultation with the school community, the ‘preferable’ future that will best meet the needs of all learners. In this regard, the board emphasises strategic leadership, sets the vision for the school, and ensures the school complies with legal and policy requirements (policies are at governance level, and outline clear expectations to the principal). In doing this, it is important for the board to have an ongoing process of review — to critically reflect on their performance and the current reality, and to use this information to guide and determine sustainable school improvement.

How does the board do this? What evidence does, or can, the board gather to monitor and review their performance? How can the board know how it is performing in regard to its functions?

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Avoiding the snake oil

snake oil

I have written previous posts about how we collaborate, prioritise and ‘make and break’ decisions about school and organisational change. The decision-making process and how we seek different influences to inform it continue to fascinate me. There is no one answer or simple prescription that can be followed in these areas, and, consequently, one thing many schools struggle with is how to allocate the very scarce resources that they have. Each school has only a limited amount of ‘discretionary spend’ in financial terms or in the focus, time and attention of the staff. There are a lot of competing things we could focus on for our professional learning or spend our curriculum, property or staffing budgets on. The question is, how do we make sure we are getting the most positive outcomes possible?

When I was a principal, for example, much of the mail that came across my desk was offering deals on this product or that programme, and contained sometimes quite extravagant claims about the results that could be expected for our staff and students. You have to have a well-attuned filter at times. There are plenty of snake oil salesmen out there who will push hard for you to spend sometimes significant amounts of that discretionary spend on their products or services, when they may not align well with your articulated beliefs. So, how do we make the decision about which things are, in fact, the most important and influential levers for positive change in the outcomes for our students?

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Banish the gatekeepers and bring forth the creators

Have you ever found something from the Internet that could be a perfect resource (image, video, quiz, etc.,) for your class worksheet, website, or research and then spent hours trying to figure out the copyright issues with that resource? You couldn’t find any Terms of Use, and there was no author information, so you didn’t know whom to contact to get the permission?

Wouldn’t it have been nice if that resource somehow said, “I’m free to use, no strings attached, you don’t need to ask for my permission because it is already granted”?

Well guess what … Open Educational Resources (OER) are an answer to that need!

There are millions of educational resources out there that are available for others to freely use. There are all kinds: full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and many other tools, materials and techniques used to support access to knowledge. 1

Worldwide academics, politicians, teachers, scientists and everyday citizens are making and sharing what they’ve researched and created with as part of a worldwide OPEN movement.

Waving the flag high and shouting from the world’s rooftops are Creative Commons, who are passionate about constantly growing the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.

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A stranger in a strange land?

I recently read a blog post by Wharehoka Wano and watched Alex Hotere-Barnes on EDtalks. Both of these discussions centred on Māori/Pākehā dynamics within education settings. Reading Wharehoka’s blog and listening to Alex got me thinking about an experience I had a few weeks ago when I was in Whakatāne as part of the LEARNZ Waka Voyaging virtual field trip.

pohiri MoutahoraEnd of the pōhiri on Moutohorā

An honest appraisal

I don’t mind admitting that throughout the course of my life to date I have internalised some of those ‘white privilege’ examples that Wharehoka refers to in his blog. A lack of empathy and misunderstanding about Māori culture and its place in our society has surely led to a fair amount of ‘Pākehā paralysis’ on my part throughout my involvement in education.

On the other hand, I did go to a primary school that had a lot of Māori culture within its curriculum. We learned many waiata along with their actions, how to pronounce words properly, some vocabulary and phrases, different games, as well as incorporating Māori culture and history into artwork and so on. Although this was now many years ago, I can certainly credit those formal experiences with grounding me enough to at least reflect on and question my own beliefs and assumptions around issues of ‘privilege’.

What a pity this great start in Māori education didn’t extend beyond primary school!

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