Tag: professionalism

How to Lead: Being Professional

how_to_leadThis is the last in a short series of posts looking at the ‘foundations of leadership’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. My previous two posts can be found here:

  1. How to Lead: Focusing on People
  2. How to Lead: Being Positive

The third chapter of Owen’s book, and the last in the ‘foundations of leadership’ section is entitled Being Professional. Owen explains what he means by professionalism as follows:

Professionalism encompasses the core skills and values that define the character and potential of the organisation and the individual. It is central to the success of leadership.

He adds that professionalism should never be taken for granted and that it comprises four main elements:

  1. Learning to learn leadership
  2. Learning the local rules of the game: understanding professionalism in the context of the organisation
  3. Learning some universal lessons of professionalism
  4. Learning business survival etiquette.

The rest of this post uses these elements as section headings.

Learning to learn leadership

Formal education systems, says Owen, teaches people exactly the wrong lessons about leadership. In fact, this is probably why Richard Branson and Bill Gates – both ‘drop-outs’ of formal education systems – have prospered. Formal education teaches people to work in highly structured environments in an individual way looking for logical answers. Instead, it is the ‘tacit’ knowledge that is important, embodied in Japanese education and culture, for example.

According to Owen, leaders develop their capabilities in ‘two and a half ways’:

  1. Learning from role models
  2. Learning from experience
  3. Learning from structured observation and discussion (sometimes)

If you want to accelerate your path to leadership, the two best ways of doing so are:

  • Set up your own organization. You will have to learn very quickly and even if it fails you will learn a lot.
  • Structured observation and discovery – actively looking, listening and learning.

Owen suggests creating your own worksheets for reflection using headings such as ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘management skills’, ‘personal behaviours’ and ‘commuication skills.’

Learning the local rules of the game

Dress codes are a trivial but higly visible sign of the local rules of the game. They can fluctutate and be highly political. You need to learn the local rules fast, but no-one will tell you and will look at you as if you have asked a weird question if you ask. Instead, you need to pick up clues and hints. The most direct question you could ask to get a useful question would be How could I really mess up?

Learning some universal lessons of professionalism

When Owen interviewed 700 top leaders and asked them about their expectations of emerging leaders, the following came out top:

  1. Loyalty
  2. Honesty
  3. Reliability
  4. Solutions
  5. Energy (incorporating stamina, commitment, resilience, optimism, etc.)

These are all closely linked traits and tend to go together in people.

Turning to the most common complaints co-workers make about their colleagues in 360° feedback, Owen lists them as being:

  • not communicating
  • public, not private, arguments
  • game playing and politicking
  • bullying
  • bad habits (turning up late, poor dress, etc.)
  • personalising feedback and comments

Finally for this part, Owen makes the Prisoners’ Dilemma relevant to business. If you’re not familiar with this, read about it at Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or play the Open University’s game. It turns out that tit-for-tat teaches people a lesson. If they offer conflict, offer conflict back, but always then go back to an ‘offering cooperation’ model. This teaches them appropriate behaviours. :-p

Learning business survival etiquette

Owen begins the section by stressing the importance of etiquette and what it means in practice:

Etiquette is fundamentally about putting the other person at ease and making them feel valued, respected and important.

Basic etiquette therefore involves

  1. Promptness – respecting the other person’s time (you don’t lose friends or clients by arriving early!)
  2. Focus – good leaders have the habit of making you feel like you are the most important thing in their lives at that moment. How?
    • no interruptions from calls
    • mobile phone off
    • no playing with PDAs in meeting
  3. Courtesy – say ‘thank you’ a lot. And smile. :-
  4. Responsiveness – things like answering the phone within three rings, replying to email quickly and following up on commitments promptly shows you are in control and minimises effort.
  5. The Personal Touch – for example:
    • escorting people out yourself (perfect for that Columbo ‘one more question’ moment)
    • handwritten notes (valuable in an email culture)
    • learning names and using them.

Conclusion

I thought that the most valuable insights for this section were ‘learning the local rules of the game’ and the important of ‘the personal touch’. Of course, in a new Academy, the ‘local rules of the game’ will be in flux and it will be up to me, in part, to help set them! 😉

My response to the GTC’s proposed ‘code of conduct’ for teachers in England.

GTCAs I’ve mentioned once or twice before, teaching is only a ‘profession’ in the loosest sense of the term. Teachers don’t get paid as much or enjoy the same sort of status as, say, doctors and lawyers, yet our job combines very difficult elements: social worker, instructor, mentor, teamworker, and role model, to name but a few.

The General Teaching Council for England have proposed a new ‘code of conduct’ for teachers. See the BBC News article here for an overview. I was against the establishment of this regulatory body as it seems (and has proved) to be an example of needless bureaucracy and red tape.

You can read the proposed code of conduct here. I would suggest that you do so before reading any more of this post… :-p

Here’s the key parts as far as I’m concerned:

Of course, the values and practices set out in the Code are already evident in classrooms and schools across England. The purpose of the Code is to set down in one place some clear statements about teacher professionalism which apply to all teachers, no matter what subject or age of children they teach, their role or level of experience, or the context in which they work. (p.3)

If the system’s already working, why do we need legislation?

As the professional regulatory body for teaching, the GTCE also has a key role in strengthening teacher professionalism.(p.3)

The GTCE is unelected and unwanted by most teachers, who resent the levied fee (even if we do get it back if we’re in full-time employment). It’s also a barrier to good teachers moving between countries. For example, if I wanted to apply for a job in Scotland, I’d have to pay c.£50 to join the General Teaching Council for Scotland first! (and vice-versa)

Reflecting changes in the policy environment and in legislation, the revised Code places greater emphasis on safe-guarding children and young people and promoting and protecting their rights, and on equalities. (p.4)

What about the teachers’ human rights and right to a private life?

The Code focuses on behaviours and the way in which teachers conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. However, because behaviours arise from values, beliefs and attitudes, the document begins with a statement of the core values that underpin teacher professionalism. (p.5)

So you have to have particular beliefs and values to be a teacher? What about diversity?

‘Core values’ of the teaching profession in GTCE document:

• Excellence and continual development
• Commitment and empathy
• Reflection and self-regulation
• Honesty and integrity
• Respect, equality, diversity and inclusion
• Involvement and empowerment
• Collegiality and cooperation
• Responsiveness to change (p.6)

How can the code legislate for ‘reflection’, ’empathy’ and real ‘responsiveness to change’. It’s a farce.

The proposed ‘eight principles of conduct and practice’:

  1. Place the wellbeing, development and progress of children and young people at the heart of their professional practice
  2. Reflect on their own teaching to ensure that it meets the high professional standards required to help children and young people achieve their full potential
  3. Strive to awaken a passion for learning and achievement among children and young people and equip them with the skills to become lifelong learners
  4. Promote equality and value diversity
  5. Take proactive steps to establish partnerships with parents
  6. Work as part of a whole-school team
  7. Cooperate with other professional colleagues who have a role in enabling
    children and young people to thrive and succeed
  8. Demonstrate high standards of honesty and integrity and uphold public trust
    and confidence in the teaching profession (p.7)

This already happens. No argument here. The document then goes into more depth on these eight points. Most of it had me nodding my head in agreement, apart from the first bullet point of eighth principle, which reads:

Uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour both inside and outside school that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession. (p.22)

This is worded very ambiguously. For example, until a couple of months ago I had 6 points on my license due to two separate incidents of minor speeding infractions. Are they relevant? A couple of members of staff get drunk at a Christmas party and dance on the tables. Is that relevant? Who decides – the unelected GTC?

I’m all for greater professionalism within education. What I’m against is administration and bureaucracy for the sake of it. I’m absolutely for easier ways to get rid of poor teachers. But I’m absolutely against imprecisely-worded ‘principles’ that have been drafted by an unelected and unwanted body.

And then, hidden away in the appendix:

Examples of failures in this category have included: bullying or harassing staff; working while on sick leave; being under the influence of alcohol while at school; accessing the internet for personal use while supervising children during timetabled lessons

I’m obviously a terrible teacher as I’ve done two of these on more than one occasion. No, not alcohol or bullying! I’ve been too ill to work at school before – in terms of standing up in front of a class, but have been able to use my laptop to earn money from ongoing work I do for a publishing company. Additionally, when I’ve covered classes who are working away quietly and independently, I’ve taken some marking to do. When that’s finished I’ve written the occasional blog post, checked eBay auctions, etc. whilst supervising a class.

I don’t think these two things make me a terrible teacher at all or morally reprehensible – do you? It’s the ambiguity of the statements that gets me.

What are YOUR thoughts?

Censorship and the Personal/Professional divide

In May 2008 I wrote a post entitled What is a VLE? In it, I discussed the ins and outs of various VLEs and linked it to an EdTechRoundup podcast in which I was a participant. I made a passing comment that compared one type of VLE to another. The company whose VLE product I did’t rate very well threatened me (via my school) with legal proceedings. 😮

The upshot was that I felt it was in my best interests to remove the ‘offending’ paragraph so as to not cause difficulties within my school. I replaced it with one that, in my eyes, was more damaging to the VLE vendor: that they’d almost forced me to remove any criticism (however slight) by referring to ‘legal proceedings’ in their communication with my school.

I’ve now added a disclaimer to my blog, saying that my opinions are not that of my employer (school or Local Authority). It does, however, bring up the issue of where the personal ends and the professional begins – and vice-versa…

Have you any experience of this? What was the outcome?

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