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A thought provoking poem

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In these times of focus on grades and in particular grade thresholds, some children get left out.  This poem by Mike Buscemi is food for thought;

average child900Average Child

I don’t cause teachers trouble;
My grades have been okay.
I listen in my classes.
I’m in school every day.

My teachers think I’m average;
My parents think so too.
I wish I didn’t know that, though;
There’s lots I’d like to do.

I’d like to build a rocket;
I read a book on how.
Or start a stamp collection…
But no use trying now.

’Cause, since I found I’m average,
I’m smart enough you see
To know there’s nothing special
I should expect of me.

I’m part of that majority,
That hump part of the bell,
Who spends his life unnoticed
In an average kind of hell.

A tail of perceptions – A Christmas Gift

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As a kid I remember Christmas being a time of sitting around an open fire, listening to stories, especially told by relatives and the stories so often conjured up thought-provoking ideas and reflections. I liked the subtle play on the three wise men of the Christmas story and this wonderful prose from Rudyard Kipling. Here’s a charming short story that just might find a place into your classroom or your holiday time.

Wishing you a very merry winter holiday from The Vision Journal.

elephant-1057465_600 469

 

The wise men and the elephant

Six wise men of India

An elephant did find

And carefully they felt its shape (For all of them were blind).

The first he felt towards the tusk, ‘It does to me appear. This marvel of an elephant

Is very like a spear’.

The second sensed the creature’s side

Extended flat and tall,
‘Ahah!’ he cried and did conclude,

‘This animal’s a wall’.

The third had reached towards a leg And said, ‘It’s clear to me

What we should all have instead This creature’s like a tree’.

The fourth had come upon the trunk

Which he did seize and shake, Quoth he,

‘This so-called elephant
s really just a snake’.

The fifth had felt the creature’s ear

And fingers o’er it ran,
‘I have the answer, never fear,

The creature’s like a fan!’

The sixth had come upon the tail

As blindly he did grope,

‘Let my conviction now prevail

This creature’s like a rope’.

And so these men of missing sight

Each argued loud and long

Though each was partly in the right

They all were in the wrong.

Rudyard Kipling

 

Reflections on the story:

 

  1. What events this term have left you thinking about the differences in perception that others have compared to you? How has this impacted on you?
  2. What might be alternative perceptions you can bring to that difference of view or opinion?
  3. Who might benefit from hearing this Elephant story? And what might the reflective questions be to accompany it?

 

Difficult People

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In our series of articles about managing difficult conversations we’ve explored the aggressive challenger and this time we look at the conscious and unconscious clandestine resistor.

The conscious clandestine resists by appearing open with you, exploring issues and identifying actions. This resistor will often score very highly when you check commitment agreed actions. They will not, however, carry out the actions in full and usually appear vague when probed for more detail. They want to please when with you but find it difficult to carry through actions. Often these resistors appear to make immense progress in coaching sessions but little between sessions. They are aware that they are resisting change, but tell you what you want to hear.

This kind of behaviour is difficult to spot and may only present itself after a pattern of not carrying out agreed actions.

Do not try to distinguish between unconscious and conscious clandestine individuals.
Wait – there will be beliefs underlying the behaviour that over time will manifest
themselves

The unconscious clandestine appears to go along with the process of coaching, however, usually appears unmotivated by the process. They may find it difficult to access their creativity in the ideas phase of STRIDE. Such resistors may agree actions, but tone of voice might suggest a lack of commitment or interest. They appear to make little progress in coaching sessions and carry out few of the agreed actions. They are not aware that they are resisting change.

To some extent everyone belongs to this category.
We all have beliefs – and behaviours that stem from them – of which we are not consciously aware. Coaching can help us to learn more about these beliefs and in some cases adapt them.
We should not be judged for what we do not know about and we must always remember that coaching is a process that respects this.

With this kind of resistance it’s important to try to understand the reason behind it. All behaviour (according to Jung) has a positive purpose. In other words there is a need lying behind the behaviour. Seeking to discover the person’s needs is very helpful in this situation.

A helpful process:
• Ask what they need
• Repeat back the needs they state
• Ask them why that is important to them ( to get at the values behind the need)
• Present your situation and repeat theirs and ask how we can both get what we both need or close to that.

For more support with challenging conversations, consider attending our Level 2 Advanced Coaching Course. Email us at info@visionforlearning.co.uk for details of the next available course.

Stop Rescuing, Start Coaching

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All too often, when someone in the workplace says “I can’t do this”, the response from a well meaning other is to say, “Of course you can” or “It’s easy, I’ll show you how”. The response comes from a well-intentioned place, but the helper hasn’t really understood what is preventing the individual from being able to do this thing. For example, “I can’t write this report”.

There can be a range of reasons why someone feels unable to write a report. Those reasons might link to:
• a broken laptop (which relates to an environmental factor)
• it is the first time they have ever attempted such a report (they don’t have the strategy or skills needed)
• they doubt they have the ability to do so and lack confidence (it’s a belief issue)
• they don’t want to drop colleagues in the ‘proverbial’ because the report will contain damning evidence (in which case it’s a moral dilemma and is therefore about values)
Understanding the level at which a blockage is happening is crucial to coaching them through it without rescuing them and therefore disempowering them.

Here are the two magic questions to use:

1. What specifically can’t you do?
2. What is stopping you?
The responses to these questions will determine the level at which the problem is operating, ie is it:

Environmental eg their PC doesn’t work
Strategy eg they need help with a process or structure to the report
Beliefs eg they have a lack of confidence in their ability to write reports
Values eg they need to explore the moral dilemmas before they can write the report.

If you would like to explore more approaches to coaching your team, we are running our prestigious Level 2 Advanced Coaching Skills Programme soon. Email us for details at info@visionforlearning.co.uk

Thanks go to Vicky Ross of www.vickyross.com for her references in this article.

Qi Gong, Changing Habits and Building your Energy Levels

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Qigong is an ancient Chinese healthcare approach that combines physical postures, breathing techniques and focussed mindful attention. It also assists you to build regular habits that bring you a feeling of vitality and energy. The word Qigong (Chi Kung) is made up of two Chinese words. Qi is pronounced chee and is usually translated to mean the life force or vital-energy that flows through all things in the universe.

The Gong relates to regular practices. One interpretation of Gong refers to a 100 days of continuous practice of something. Eg 100 days of eating breakfast in the morning. Or 100 days of sitting still for 5 minutes with a cup of tea at the start of the day. 100 days of meditating for 20 minutes. The practice demands that if you break the habit before the 100 days, you begin the one hundred days all over again.

This of course is a semantic, because you are trying to achieve a long term habit, at the end for the 100 days, or series of broken patterns of 100 days the likelihood is that whatever you decided to do, you want to do everyday for the rest of your life anyway!

Qi Gong asserts that it is discipline that helps us build the long term habits that free us.

When we have begun a new term, we have such great intentions. The pressures and the busy-ness of the start of term, can sometimes seem to steal away those great intentions and break habits. What would you like to develop and sustain? What would bring more life force and vitality to you if you did it every single day?

If you would like to learn more about building your vitality, mindfulness and greater life balance, we are running a one day retreat entitled “Still Conscious” Email us for details at info@visionforlearning.co.uk

Time for You – Time for Change

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Even if you have kids and they’re running around your feet in the summer holiday period, there is still a lovely freedom to the month of August. Come the autumn term though, finding time for you, when the pressure is on at school can be a real challenge. More than that, maybe 2015/16 is the year you’ve decided there is something you’ve been putting off. Something in your life you want to grow and nurture, or something you wish to stop and move on from.

If you find that that you get momentum from others, and in particular from working with others in a situation where you are away from all that is familiar. A space where you can think clearly and be with like minded people, then you might consider taking a retreat.

There are all manner of retreats available these days. “The Good Retreat Guide” is a great book with all manner of spiritual retreats. These are often held in silence, to allow you to be with yourself fully.

However for some of us, a retreat which provides a variety of stimuli and the chance to learn some new skills at the same time might be exactly what you are seeking. Particularly if you have rare occasions where people will really listen to your challenges or your great ideas.

This academic year (dates to be confirmed) I am running a series of retreats in a beautiful location in Worcestershire, at a converted Mill, set in acres of unspoiled countryside, with alpaca in the fields and with stunning accommodation and food.

Each retreat weekend will be based around a proven framework for evaluating your life and involve learning new skills, including deepening your mindfulness practice, learning Emotional Freedom Technique and using creative media to understand and formulate your ideas for a development or change you would like to make in your life.

It’s also a brilliant way to heal and recover from a period of change that has perhaps left you a little bit bruised.

There are no more than six people on each course and you will get to explore whatever you need to look at, well away from the pressures of your everyday life. You’ll do this in a beautiful haven, with lovely people, and a highly experienced coach to support your journey.

If you think you might be interested to attend one of these retreats, please let me know by sending me an email: info@visionforlearning.co.uk

Balancing Change – A great tool for balanced decisions

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I don’t know about you, but the holiday period often liberates a kind of utopian view of the up-coming school term for me. I find myself saying that I will change X or Y and expect that as a result this will lead to some glorious utopia that will mean I avoid an issue I had last year.

Sometimes this approach pays off and it’s how I’ve grown my skills and learned new things over the years.

Other times the change has fallen flat on it’s face and I’ve ended up a little bit dispirited and perhaps a bit reluctant to try such changes in the future.

I’ve noticed something of a pattern to such change. And it’s formulated into a bit of tool for making changes work in my life. It’s something I’ve trialed with people I coach extensively now, and it seems to work really well.

It involves following the core questions through this grid below and recording your thinking along the way. It’s based on a simple checklist for change:

• Know the outcome,
• Make sure it lines up with your core purpose
• Ensure it’s emotional and practical impacts are considered
• Make a plan
• Know how you’ll evaluate it
• Crack on and do it

You might add other steps too, but I’d invite you to use this as a starter tool: Click here to view the ChangeMaker Tool

 

URGENT HELP NEEDED FOR SCHOOLS IN NEPAL

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The powerful earthquakes that affected Nepal in May this year have been a serious set-back for education in this poor Himalayan nation. But the good news is that your school can play its part in the recovery process that is now underway.

Many of you will know that Vision for Learning’s managing director Will Thomas is a trustee of the development and education charity Manisha UK. The charity works in Nepal to improve educational prospects for disadvantaged children and has already built or rebuilt several schools across the country, as well as carrying out a range of other projects.

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Two devastating earthquakes
Sadly, Nepal has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently due to the devastating earthquakes that hit the country in May, killing thousands of people and causing terrible damage to buildings and infrastructure in what is already a very poor country.

The Nepalese are a proud, resourceful and optimistic people and since the dreadful events of May Manisha UK has been working to support the recovering of the country by carrying out a lot of work to assess the extent and seriousness of the damage. The charity has also been helping to support its partners based in the country with their essential work.

It has emerged that six of the nine schools that are linked to Manisha UK were damaged in the earthquakes, with three needing urgent work before they can be used safely again.

This rebuilding work is currently on hold for three months, as the rainy season has just started in Nepal. This has allowed a period of intense fundraising to take place so that priority repairs can begin September.

In addition to the costs of rebuilding there are many other things that need to be done to help the thousands of families affected by the earthquake rebuild their lives.

Playing your part in the recovery
Manisha UK is a fantastic cause to support through fundraising activities in your school, and in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes a special initiative is being launched called ‘The Everest Challenge’.

The aim is to raise funds for the charity by carrying out an activity that is linked to the height of the world’s highest mountain, which stands at 8,848 metres. Examples of ventures that could be taken on by schools include:

Rowing the 8,848 metres in a gym on a rowing machine

Laying a line of 8,848 pennies (or 10p pieces!) on the school field

A sponsored walk, skip or jog involving 8,848 paces

A geography quiz for family teams, where the teams have to answer questions with a maximum points total of 8,848 available

A poetry workshop and performance where students are challenged to write a total of 8,848 lines of poetry and then perform a selection to a paying audience.

Remember that even comparatively small sums of money can make a big difference in Nepal, and the more schools that get involved the more the charity can do to improve the quality of people’s lives in Nepal and the education prospects of Nepalese children.

If you’d like to stage a fundraising event in your school and want to find out more about how the process works, please contact Sue Hearne, Fundraising Manager through the website below. She will be able to help you with further information and an idea of how money raised will be spent.

You can learn more about the work of Manisha UK here: www.manisha-uk.org.

MANAGING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS in a coaching context

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In the first of a regular series on how to manage difficult conversations we look at how to deal with Silent Challengers

Everybody who coaches others will at some point come across resistance from a coachee. It is important to recognise that managing resistance is really about managing change within individuals, and should be embraced as part of the coaching process.

Profile of woman writing in date book outdoors

You should assume that even very resistant people do want to change and that their resistance is most likely just an indication that they are working out how to do this. It can, of course, be very difficult to do this because change often sparks powerful emotions in people.
Five key categories of resistors have been identified:

The silent challenger (dealt with in this article)

The aggressive challenger

The conscious clandestine

The unconscious clandestine

The victim.

A silent challenger resists by quietly smouldering with emotions that are bubbling ferociously below the surface, betraying their presence through changes in body language and tone of voice. Silent resistors say very little, struggle to express their emotions and are often the most difficult people to challenge.

You can try to manage silent resistors in a couple of ways:

Where resistance is manifested through frustration, with little openness, you need to build rapport. This can be done through moving to more general discussions that focus on successes, or even moving away from school related discussions altogether until more rapport is built.

It can be helpful to offer gently challenging questions or to feedback their behaviour to them verbally using so-called “I statements”: eg “I notice that we’ve been in this meeting for 5 minutes now and each time I ask you about the difficulties that senior colleagues have reported with your class, you fold your arms and look away. I’m feeling frustrated because I really want to help you get better and experience a more positive relationship with your groups, and I really would be able to do this better if you were to share with me what you need”

Anybody working in a coaching situation should always be on the lookout for signs which indicate that a coachee may be in need of some specialized therapeutic support. They could include:

Obsessive behaviour
Being treated for depression or another mental health condition
Failure to meet goals despite extensive support
Becoming intensely emotional in coaching sessions
Evidence that the coachee is in a negative state of mind for much of the time, both within and outside sessions
The disclosure of unresolved distressing experiences (e.g. bereavement, abuse, medical condition etc.)

Subsequent articles in this series will explore how to manage the other four types of resistors but if you have questions about this please e mail me at info@visionforlearning.co.uk.

SCHOOL CHALLENGES FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS – and some opportunities too

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Based on the recent Blog article and presentation by Robert Hill (Institute of Education, University of London)

As we write this the new government is settling into parliament and there looks set to be many challenges for school leaders over the next five years.

Much of the media focuses on the negative aspects of changes in education policy. We at Vision, don’t necessarily agree with the changes being made.
We do however recognize that the so-called Serenity questions apply here as much as anywhere:

1. What can we change?
2. What can we influence?
3. What might we need to accept?

Most of us have little potential to influence policy. Lying down and accepting the changes in many cases might feel lame and impotent. Another perspective might be to that we can look for the opportunity in the areas we cannot, at first sight change. This article challenges us to seek opportunity under the current government.

Depositphotos_22339083_originalOne might argue that under neo-liberal philosophy, there would appear to be a very deliberate intention to create tensions in the education system that will force change, and generate a new order. That for the time being at least is pure speculation.

Potentially one of the most important opportunities which might exist is greater collaboration within and between schools.

Collaboration may well be vital in the coming years because it will allow teachers and school leaders to do five things:

1. Remodel how teachers are trained.
There is a welcome opportunity to reimagine how initial teachers are trained. Instead of being crammed into a single year, training could be spread over three, which would allow a significant amount of on-the-job training for all. This would make it easier for teachers to acquire the wealth of knowledge, experience and skills that they are expected to develop these days before qualifying. A real opportunity to shape your own culture as teachers train and develop.

2. Redefine CPD for teachers after they have qualified.
The opportunity exists to re-conceptualise the CPD of teachers, once in post, to be something much more holistic and personalised than that which is currently offered. Vitally, this would include co-coaching and action research to help teachers optimise their learning. Within this new training framework, teachers within and across schools would collaborate to ensure best practice is shared most widely. The chance to redefine and re-engineer CPD away from single school, whole school and “one size fits all” towards a truly embedded and personalized culture of continuous learning might well be here. Even greater collaboration with other schools and commercial sector organizations could become an essential element of training forced by limited budgets.

3. Re-envisage leadership of learning.
In our most effective schools the headteacher is also the lead learner, but this must be embedded in every school and senior school leaders also need to take a very active role in coordinating learning cross groups of schools. School leaders ultimately need to be learning experts as well as leadership experts. This may give rise to a reinvigoration of the teaching headteacher/principal. Giving rise to more “in-touch” leadership in some schools. Indeed budget cuts may force senior leaders back to the chalk-face, to balance the books.

4. Build a leadership pipeline.
There is still a chronic shortage of school leaders with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to tackle the challenges in our schools. The more recent “hire and fire” culture in schools has potentially made the most senior leadership roles less attractive. In order to address this groups of schools may find themselves collaborating even more to provide opportunities for people who have shown they have the potential to be highly effective leaders to develop specific aspects of the role. This will require a more enlightened view from many people working in schools about the sharing of senior staff, and the need for targeted leadership placements. Outstanding home-grown CPD for leaders will be more in demand as schools push to develop and recruit the right middle and potential senior colleagues.

5. Use resources more effectively.
The new era of academies and other more autonomous schools provides the opportunity for collaboration within education in all sorts of ways that were not possible before. This includes the sharing of key staff, economies of scale in securing resources and multi-institution approaches to vital elements such as IT provision. All these elements could help schools to use their scarce resources more effectively at a time when budget cuts are threatening to compromise standards in schools.

Discussion points
You can use the above five points as a stimulus for discussion in a small group or whole staff meeting within your school. Here are some questions to consider:

Which of the factors mentioned are most relevant to our school?

Who are our most obvious partners, and who else might we work with to secure a brighter future for our students?

What are we already doing to address some of the factors mentioned?What should our first steps be in taking our work to the next level?

How does this all fit in with our vision and values?

This looks set to be both a difficult and a fascinating area for schools over the coming years, and we would be delighted to hear from you with details of how your school is managing to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

Send us an e mail to info@visionforlearning.co.uk