A couple of years ago I enjoyed an hour long conversation via Skype with the brilliant Judith Glaser. I wanted to find out more about Judith’s pioneering work on Conversational Intelligence. A definition:
Conversational Intelligence is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow, and build partnerships with each other to create and transform our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations.
I noticed some time before Judith paused to ask me if I had, that throughout our conversation she stopped me often, asking, “What do you mean by that?” “What does that particular word mean to you?” and similar. Judith has dubbed that technique ‘double-clicking’.
This, in interview with Marshall Goldsmith:
MG: Judith, one phrase I’d never heard from anyone else with regards to communication and leadership is “double-clicking”. What is this and how can leaders and teams benefit by understanding and using this tool themselves?
JG: Double-clicking is one of our five top conversational essentials. I came up with this concept when I noticed what happened when people working on their computers double-clicked on a folder. When they double-clicked, all of these things were inside it that they hadn’t seen before or didn’t remember they’d saved. I wondered, “What if I teach leaders to follow up with questions (double-click) to confirm understanding?” This is crucial because often we assume everyone has the same understanding. Unless we double-click and confirm that we understand each other, we are just assuming that we understand and things can quickly go awry.
Soon afterwards, I had a Skype conference with Tracey Ezard and Sarah Martin (Founding Principal of the best and most innovative school on the planet; Stonefields School in Auckland, New Zealand). Tracey wanted the views of Sarah and I on what constitutes collaborative leadership. I learned that Tracey, too, had taken an interest in Judith Glaser’s work and had pursued that further. Tracey describes herself as a ‘Professional Triber’. In her work with big business and service providers in Australia, Tracey promotes the questioning of status quo, the challenging of assumptions, and the embracing of the unknown. She talks of the ‘learning intelligence’ of organisations, identifying 3 key strands: collaborative growth mindset; compelling environment; and authentic dialogue.
Tracey says about authentic dialogue:
It’s usually the dialogue (or lack of) that kills innovation and collaboration. Dynamic dialogue that builds connections and the ability to create an atmosphere of learning is required in the complexity of today’s world. We need more dialogue that empowers people to feel connected, valued and make the change and transformation required.
In July/August 2016 I made a long awaited and eagerly anticipated visit to Stonefields School. Having enjoyed and benefitted from many illuminating conversations on learning and leadership with Sarah (Founding Principal) over the past two years, I had some idea of just how beneficial this would be for me personally, and how my learning might impact on the way I lead and encourage others to lead. In writing this, I am reminded of a phrase central to an infographic Sarah shared with me some time ago, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I liked the infographic so much (and still do) I had it professionally reproduced and mounted on my office wall. I ask you to bear that phrase in mind as we move on.
I had set myself specific areas of focus. A focus I was able to pursue because of the generosity of spirit afforded me by Sarah and the Stonefields Team. I wanted to understand how leadership works at Stonefields; how it is layered, the nature of teacher leader interactions, and what defines contact time itself. Also, what does coaching and mentoring look like at Stonefields?
You don’t need me to tell you just what a privilege that is. I will forever be grateful to Sarah and colleagues for allowing me to be present at senior leadership meetings, leader of learning meetings, professional learning sessions, and learning hub meetings. That, and the significant amount of time Sarah afforded me on a 1:1 basis, whilst carrying out the day job.
Things started to fall in place after early conversations had with Sarah. For all that culture – ‘the way we do things around here’ – is valued, nurtured and protected at Stonefields, you would be wrong to see the place of strategy anywhere other than alongside culture, and definitely not on the plate at breakfast. At Stonefields, strategy is very clearly articulated. Strategic goals are a living, breathing thing. Sarah, as principal, brooks no deviation from those goals, warding off anything that distracts. Indeed, sees herself as guardian of those agreed goals. We had a truly fascinating discussion on just how strategy is formulated and how systems have been developed and refined over Stonefields’ growth years.
On culture, it immediately became apparent to me that Stonefields is a place defined by relational trust, scoring high on all four counts (Bryk and Schneider’s criteria – see Blog post I). Also, where relational power is seen as important, and a key driver. Not the least because Wellbeing is a current strategic goal, encouraged through attention to mindfulness. Staff are actively encouraged to share anxieties at all meetings. Should there be the slightest hint of reticence, then a senior leader would step forward to share a personal anxiety. ‘Sense making’ is a responsibility shared by all. If something doesn’t make sense, say so! I was beginning to understand the Stonefields proclaimed aim that staff be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I sat in on several meetings, never once sensing that things were left unsaid or that things said were received by all present with anything other than respect, empathy, and dealt with; elephant time on the agenda.
A crystal clear sense of collective responsibility runs through the organisation. Collection and interrogation of data is a collective enterprise. Successes are celebrated, concerns are addressed as a team. I sat in on a team meeting where newly identified target learners were considered and appropriate interventions identified and discussed. This included the identification of ‘anxious’ learners and what might be done to alleviate their anxieties. Lengthy discussions were had on strategies. Contributions were offered from left and right, more experienced and less experienced teachers. I was put in mind of Lipman’s ‘Norms for collaboration’: Equity of voice, Active listening, Respect for all perspectives. At the same meeting, discussion was had on alignment of teacher effectiveness goals to match learner needs. This was not the first and certainly not the last time I heard groups of teachers discussing with colleagues their own effectiveness and how that related to learner outcomes. They very much see themselves as change agents.
A key thing to note is the high level of focus upheld throughout all teacher contact time. Time for social interaction is prized, with all staff congregating for morning tea at 11 a.m., allowing time for staff briefing and keeping in touch. The room rings with laughter, the sharing of anecdotes and, not uncommonly, song. Team contact time, however, is serious business. As Michael Fullan would say (Secret 4 of 6), ‘Learning is the work’. I couldn’t help thinking of the number of meetings I have attended – still do attend – that degenerate into unproductive noise, skirting around issues rather than dealing with them. Senior leader meetings at Stonefields are governed by agenda, with the next meeting’s agenda addressed and set through its course. Efficiency and clarity underscore all interactions.
I visited another school in Auckland; Newmarket. I was delighted, therefore, to read Dr Wendy Kofoed’s comment posted in response to my last blog in this series. Wendy is Principal at Newmarket School. Wendy’s comment, in full:
Another great read Simon, and so relevant to building a strong and robust community. I certainly agree that encouraging and supporting our teachers and communities to transgress, is a key part of our leadership work.
A story … An example of a recent ‘pragmatic transgression’ or idea to action this year has been teachers’ ownership of meeting with parents and students to have learning conversations. Rather than the quite formal timetabled, bell-and-time-bound meetings with teacher voice dominating (aka parent interviews/student led conferences), this year each teacher schedules a time convenient to parents for a quality conversation (usually 2-3 times a year). Does not have to be at school. At this meeting as well as conversation, visible learning, and listening, the written report (we are required to do two per year in NZ) is co-constructed with the parent and student.
Feedback from parents and students has been positive on this gentle nudge to traditional reporting-to-parents.
Looking forward to your next blog post
Having had the privilege of visiting Newmarket School, as said, I recognise the value Wendy places in the nurturing and encouraging of transgression. The overriding memory I have of my visit to Newmarket is the comfort everyone clearly felt in one another’s company, through school, and in the staff room. I departed with Wendy saying, “Come again, you are now one of the Newmarket family.” And so, it comes as no surprise to me that Newmarket families are encouraged to fully participate in the ‘reporting’ process, as described.
Again, we see how importance is attached to authentic dialogue and sense making; “double clicking”.
What interests me, in particular, about the Newmarket approach, is the co-construction of a written report. The significance of this, I imagine, is that all participants (learner, parent(s) + teacher) move on with a full understanding of report content, and motivation for recording particular content. It is all too common, I think – although I hope things are changing – in the UK for reports on students to be issued in what, to most parents, would appear to be a foreign language.
I make no secret of the fact that I love the New Zealand way. More than anything, the inherent respect they have for community, culture, tradition and shared aspirations in their schools. I took a look at the New Zealand Ministry of Education website this afternoon. Community engagement features large. I suggest you take a look here . This from a section labelled ‘Reporting to parents and whānau’.
The table below summarises the key differences between one-way reporting and information sharing that informs student/ākonga learning across the curriculum.
|One-way reporting of achievement||Information sharing that informs learning|
|Teachers report to parents what their children have learnt or achieved.||Students/ākonga, parents, whānau, and teachers share and understand information about children’s progress and achievement.|
|Focused on describing successes and failures.||Focused on describing what learning and progress has occurred.|
|Accurate labelling is the key purpose.||Ongoing learning (by students/ākonga, parents and teachers) is the key purpose.|
|Once or twice a year only.||Continuous and timely with key times for more formal evaluation.|
|From school to parent.||Multi-layered and multi-directional with students/ākonga, parent, whānau, teacher, community.|
|Essentially a one-way message. Take it or leave it.||Collaborating and co-constructing meaning and the way forward.|
|Reports sent home on paper.||Technologies support two way information flows and the quality and the richness of the information.|
So much to learn from the other side of the world…
Ezard, T. (2015) The Buzz: Creating A Thriving and Collaborative Staff Learning Culture
Ezard, T. (2017) Glue: The Stuff That Binds Us Together to do Extraordinary Work
Glaser, J. (2016) Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results