I don’t have time to talk about the environment in my class!

Then don’t plan separate activities, simply make sustainability a common thread in your lessons, says Anick Chouinard, Program Convenor (and green warrior) at Griffith College in Queensland.

You know your values, but what about the people you work with?

Values are a very personal, important thing to a lot of us. Ensuring that we both know our values, and are true to them, is incredibly important- particularly for leaders who are aiming to be authentic.However, how do you know that your values are coming through in your actions and are demonstrable to the people you lead? It can be hard to step out of your own actions, thoughts and feelings and instead think about how others perceive you. One of the ways we tackle this in our leadership programs at WLA is to look at the front and the back of our T-Shirt.The premise of the model is that you take the front of your T shirt, and write your values down. They might be things like honestly, equality, trust, calmness, fairness- the list goes on. Then you think about your actions, and HOW you lead. What actions do you take, what response do you give, what is your tone of voice, your body language? And then you ask the question; what would the people I lead, see on the back of my T shirt?As you walk away from these interactions, if the people you lead had the opportunity to guess your values and put them on the back of your T Shirt, what would they write? Would they match the front of your T Shirt? Would some of them match? None of them?Of course, you can never really know. But it is a useful lens to view your past actions through, and also an impactful tool for planning actions, decisions and interactions that come up during the day. Activities like open ended ‘walk and talk’ sessions with people you work with can also help you to find out how your actions are perceived, if you create a space where you are comfortable to ask the question and your colleague or friend is comfortable to give a truthful answer.Being an authentic leader is so important. Authentic, consistent leaders create a culture of trust, honesty and openness, leading to increased team cohesion and better wellbeing for your team members. Taking the time to ensure that your actions match the front of your t-shirt gives you and your team confidence that you lead with integrity.

Books

Wellbeing tips for leaders

Wellbeing was already a big challenge for teachers before 2020. And when a pandemic hit, the entire profession for thrown into further disarray.Now, education has become a push and pull issue between economists, epidemiologists and politicians, as they try to find a compromise between safety, economic security getting kids back into the classroom as quickly as possible.The pressures on teachers have been magnified 1000x times and seeking help is more complicated than ever. The feedback we are getting from teachers and school leaders in our programs is that there is pressure from all sides. It’s exhausting, frankly. These wellbeing tips are designed to be a bridging solution for until things settle down.1. Establish a sleep routine. We know this seems basic, but in the midst of a pandemic, all sense of time and place seems to have more or less gone out the window. If you have slipped into some unhelpful sleeping patterns, or simply disposed of routine all together, try your hand at getting into a good one.According to sleep experts, adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Things like limiting screen time before bed, turning the lights down and reading something that isn’t backlit or work related is a good way to encourage your body to start producing melatonin.2. Speaking of tech, turn off your emails We all have that one parent who thinks they can email at all hours of the night and expects a response asap. Update your email signature with your work hours and once those have passed, turn off your work email notifications and screen parent calls. You aren’t getting paid to mediate homework issues at 8 pm at night, so don’t.3. During the day, reconnect with your purpose We all know that one of the rewards of being a leader is seeing great outcomes for your students. Not only academic outcomes but also seeing them enjoy their learning. Try to find an opportunity each day to do an activity that you know they will really enjoy- it will be good for you and them.4. Connect with your peers It can be hard to explain to someone who isn’t a teacher, the challenges that come with it. Find 20 minutes one night a week to jump on a zoom with a few peers from other schools. Share your best and worst of the week, toss around some ideas and have a general chat. Not only is this connection good for you socially, but it can be comforting to know that other people are having similar challenges to you. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to help and support other leaders as well.5. Build up your emotional resilienceBeing proactive about looking after your physical and mental health can increase your resilience in tough times. Free yoga classes and meditation programs are rife at the moment. If you are in Victoria, you can also access up to 20 sessions with a registered counsellor or psychologist under temporary changes to the mental health care plans.Putting aside time on the weekend to do something you really enjoy is a good way to make sure you have something to look forward to. Sometimes, it’s the little things that help. 

Books

How to stay above the line of choice

Have you ever heard of the line of choice? It’s a really impactful tool for leaders and organisations to measure both where you sit, and where your team and organisation sit in terms of accountability, ownership and teamwork.Below the line thinking usually manifests itself in organisations with cultural issues, where teams or individuals don’t feel comfortable, or don’t want, to accept shared or singular responsibility for the outcomes they produce. There is a lack of willingness to take personal responsibility. This is particularly true where the outcome is less than desirable. It is also really understandable; as Brene Brown explains in her Ted Talk, ‘blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain’ by putting it on to another person. On the flip side, individuals and teams who sit above the line are usually in an environment where they as a team and as individuals are happy to accept and be responsible for the outcomes they produce- not just the excellent ones, but the not so good ones as well. In these environments, colleagues usually experience a high level of psychological safety and are able to work collaboratively with each other. Antony Maxwell, Senior Leadership Facilitator at WLA, said of the model: “Staying above the line is actually really challenging for most individuals and teams. Personal responsibility can be really challenging. You also see different individuals, pairs and groups working above and below the line depending on the project and the interpersonal relationships at play. “For example, you might have two members of your team who work really well together and consistently operate above the line. But when those two individuals are part of a bigger group, they fall below the line due to the interpersonal relationships at play. “It is really important to acknowledge that everyone falls below the line, if not every day then certainly most days. It is about psychological safety, personal responsibility and a feeling of insecurity and inadequacy. Leading by example and actively reaching out to support team members who consistently display below the line behaviours can really help to bring the entire team above the line.”Recognising and addressing below the line behaviours: Below the line behaviours will fit into one of the following categories or personas; Defend, Blame, Justify, Quit, Victim, Deny. These can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are in a meeting with a member of your team and discussing a project that perhaps wasn’t managed as well as you would have liked, they might say ‘I could have managed it better except I didn’t get the support that I needed from (team member/department.)’ That’s an example of the employee making an excuse or justifying the outcome, and in the process, blaming the other person or department involved. In this example, you also need to see personal responsibility being taken by every member of the team in order for everyone to be working productively; both the team member who is tempted to blame another department and the department that they believe didn’t contribute to a good outcome. Some coaching questions can be helpful in this situation; countering that response with something along the lines of ‘Okay. What could you/we do differently next time to better manage that team so that you work better together?’ or ‘What are some things you could do to help them to be more involved or take more ownership of the project?’ Hopefully, this will encourage your team to take more ownership by empowering them to think about how they can take more personal responsibility for the outcome.Recognising and encouraging above the line behaviours: In terms of recognising above the line behaviour, it is summarised by the acronym OAR: Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. This can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are working with your colleagues on a project and someone in the team has not met a deadline, they will feel comfortable to put their hand up and say something along the lines of; ‘sorry, I didn’t get that done in time. I know this will have an adverse effect on the project. Once it is done I will try to support the team in other ways until we are all back on track.’ That’s an example of an employee feeling comfortable within their team and organisation to take personal responsibility for their actions and the compromised position they have put the team in.In order for the above to happen, your team has to feel supported and psychologically safe in the workplace. An employee or team who feels they are not valued, that they are in a precarious position in the workplace or that they are not well-liked by their team or manager is far less likely to feel able to take personal responsibility for their actions and the outcomes they produce. It has to be said that one of the most important things you can do as a leader to encourage above the line behaviour is to demonstrate it yourself. As good leaders we know that our employees aren’t perfect, and neither are we. We also know that at least once (probably more) we have been guilty of demonstrating that below the line behaviour. By demonstrating to your team your willingness to own your own mistakes and take responsibility for them, you create a culture that makes it easier to do the same. Identifying where you sit on the line of choice: Antony is a strong advocate for teams utilising ‘walk and talks’ to connect with their fellow colleagues and to identify where they are perceived to sit on the line. “I would recommend that you start with people you are close to and work your way out from there. People are far more open to receiving feedback from people that they have a close relationship with and feel psychologically safe around. Focus on identifying one thing you could work on in the next 30 days and then really actively focus on it.Over time, expand your conversations to other people that you work with, your supervisor and even people in other teams. Knowing where you are perceived to be is really important.”​

Three Recommended Leadership Books

Looking to be challenged, inspired or for a different perspective on things? Here are three recommended leadership books.

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I don’t have time to talk about the environment in my class!

Then don’t plan separate activities, simply make sustainability a common thread in your lessons, says Anick Chouinard, Program Convenor (and green warrior) at Griffith College in Queensland.

I teach Australian history (Intercultural Studies), and my Foundation Program students (99% international) create their own plan in class. From an Aboriginal elder guest speaker, they learn how the first people are connected to the land and how they used to take care of it. Then, through the politics of the last century, they explore how laws have influenced Australian land. In teams, they write on the walls (yes we put paper on it), creating their own time lines of decisive moments in Australian history and the dates of the policies that have impacted, and still impact, Australia today.

We consider the culture, economy and trends that explain how we got where we are today. Students then work in pairs, assigned a country (such as a classmate's country of birth) and research the environmental damage and policies of that location. They have to describe that country’s lifestyle and environmental challenges, and in comparing these with Australia, suddenly we are discussing cultural differences.

Using the tactic of incorporating sustainability students learn so much about climatic change, endangered species, rising ocean temperatures, extinction and so on, that we often need to address climate anxiety in the group. We begin by observing how to properly recycle EVERYTHING. We walk around the campus, and visit parks, cafés and other student hangouts, to look at the different bins and recycle stations, and what is on the ground.

Students bring to class their best rubbish finds, and we hold a contest for best-looking rubbish and we throw them into the correct bins; compost, landfill, mixed recycling and soft plastic recycling (students of any age love throwing stuff, try it!) Then in teams, students need to come up with a  plan for Australia’s future.

They draw up their plan on A3 sheets of paper, taking all their understanding from the past mistakes of the various countries and generating solutions for the present and future. It is about reducing consumption; it is about local actions that all Australians can take; which is really empowering. At this point, students have been working with so many environmental views, issues and solutions, that they are able to apply their knowledge to evaluate the best options and create viable solutions. They then present their ideas to the class. The class votes and all the best solutions are displayed at the College with descriptions of the old systems and what the action should be now.

Teaching English literacy? Pick an article on plastic pollution in the ocean. Teaching chemistry? Get students to discuss the effects of gas pollutants.

I want all students to feel they can get involved and change the course of history. I want them to feel believe they have the power to change and to change the world. As teachers, we don’t have to teach a social sciences program to be able to embed environmental awareness into a course. Even in mathematics, you could have your students calculate the numbers of harvests left on earth or the exponential rate of decline in the bee population. You never know, your students might be the ones who come up with the solutions that will turn the climate crisis around.