For the first time, I attended the International Confederation of Principals’ International Convention held in Toronto this week and encountered 2000 school leaders not just from North America, but Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and many from Africa. It was fascinating to hear the stories at the lunch tables about how different cultures view education – critically important, yes – but providing the essential service in a wide variety of ways. Despite the differences in cultures and viewpoints however, the passion for attending to student success was the commonality we could identify easily. It was gratifying too to see how many of the delegates wanted to learn everything they could from the Ontario experience. Time and time again, we were told how well known we are across the world in our efforts to build excellence in our education. The workshops highlighting the Ontario experiences were always filled to capacity by leaders from elsewhere anxious to learn how we are making change happen.
My favourite sessions in any of the conferences I attend are those given by the keynote speakers – and these were exceptional – Stephen Lewis of course is powerful in his passionate plea for social justice in the world – and despite hearing Michael Fullen and Andy Hargreaves many times, they still bring new learning for me every time. This time there were three speakers that were new to me: Sir Michael Barber (although I am very familiar with his work, I have not heard him speak), Jennifer James (a cultural anthropologist from the Seattle) and Roger Martin (Dean of the Rotman School of Management). I’ll share some of the nuggets that caused me to explore their websites and hunt down their books for my professional reading:
Jennifer James brought cultural mythologies to my attention, as these hold us back from change, especially in times of stress and turmoil. She described the horrible conditions in the US political scene, as the Tea Party pulls their entire political landscape backwards – banning evolution in schools for example – because their mythology of the past gives them comfort in such economic chaotic times. Teachers struggle with change if they are stuck in their pasts and can’t imagine a new story. Fascinating viewpoint, and as anthropology is one of my key interests, I intend to read more of her lectures on her website.
Sir Michael Barber began his keynote with the topic of the importance of government and I wasn’t sure where he was going with this idea – I was worried that I was going to be spending a lot of time sitting through a lecture that wasn’t what I expected. But then he needed to start with this, as the rest of his lecture was about how we need to hold the government accountable by asking key questions (which are the same questions we should be asking ourselves whenever we implement any program in our schools). His book Deliverology101 (which I quickly scooped up at the vendor’s booth) provided all of his models of program delivery that he insists leads to success in any branch of government – education included.
Lastly, Roger Martin was another keynote that I found fascinating, although I initially wasn’t sure what a dean of a business school would have to offer us – but he shared his research on the success of several top CEOs and not what they did, but how they were thinking – what was different about their thinking that made their companies so successful. He called it Integrative Thinking and he showed us the steps in looking at opposing models of any implementation, and how to integrate them into something new. His book, the Opposable Mind is another of my must-haves after hearing how we can listen to several models of how system leaders are implementing teacher PD, and find a new solution through this integrative thinking.
Since I’ve been back at home, I find myself immersed in reading – online and in the books I purchased. That’s the sign of an amazing conference!
Next one is in 2013, in Cairns Australia……field trip??