I think the only way we can improve teacher quality is to create a culture of continuous improvement. It involves professionals to understand how they use their knowledge in practical situations and how they combine action to learn in a more effective way. John Dewey states that “we do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience”. The notion of self-awareness and reflection are so widely associated with change process that they can almost be considered truism. In fact one leader told me that they mother drummed this in their childhood “I wish the lord the gift he gee (give) us, to see ourselves as others see us”. Leaders that practice discipline reflection create impact that is more in line with their leadership vision. I liken this to a movie were there are multiple elements that go in to create a film in line with one’s vision. The first element is that of acting, in particular the notion that the outset of their journeys leaders are acting in a repetitive movie.
A bit like Bill Murray’s movie ‘Groundhog Day’ at 6 am every morning Murray’s character wakes up to that same song on the radio and the dreaded realisation that his doomed to repeat the same day over and over again and his trapped in Groundhog’s Day. Like Murray in the early part of their leadership journeys leaders tend to re-live a similar reality day after day. One leader I work with woke up and prepared himself for battle in the school public services like a Special Forces quadrant commander. While another leader woke up with the dreaded feeling that no matter what they tried the day would be a struggle. Like Murray leaders did not comprehend that they are perpetuating their groundhog day through their own actions and impact on others. This is because they lack the time, the space and the reflective capability to effectively plot an escape.
This leads me to the second application of the movie metaphor, the notion of the editing suite. To describe the manner in which leaders become more aware of their impact through discipline reflection. One leader observes that it was very powerful to stand outside myself and look back as though I was seen myself replayed on video. This enabled me to see how I was actually working against my vision of effective leadership. This is what the scholar Donald Schön refers to as “reflection on action”. The key mechanisms for taking leaders into the editing suite is through regular one on one couching sessions. One leader commented that these sessions help double my reflection, understand myself better and eliminate my blind spots. Beyond these one on ones there are times when the entire leadership teams come into the editing suite as a group. These sessions involve each leader reflecting on their journey to date, prepare a formal progress report and receiving feedback and reflection from their peers. Overtime leaders would take themselves to the editing suite without any outside intervention at all.
As leaders reflective practices become a habit, they make many visits to the editing suite they become more and more proficient at the third element of the movie metaphor. That is directing their own movies in real time. This is what Schön calls “reflection in action”. One leader recalled a memorable example saying “I realised half way through a team meeting that I was actually facilitating competitive behaviour among two of my direct reports. I caught myself and corrected the behaviour both of them were quite amazed at how I did that and it became a powerful learning experience to me and the whole team and we still talk about it today”. My key learning here is through their high reflective capabilities what leaders effectively learn to do is to slow their movie right down. They are then able to draw upon their learning and their ever expanding repertoire of tools and strategies to direct the movie that is right in line with their leadership vision.
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