Teachers need reflective leaders

Teachers need reflective leaders

Carey Nieuwhof has written interesting articles in his blog about insecure leaders. A week ago I had a great conversation about this subject. We were talking about how insecure leaders don’t realize how deeply their personal insecurities play role into their managerial styles, and how habitual these behaviors can become if left unchecked. In Finland we have a saying: ”I must have all the yarns in my hands”. For a good leader that is impossible.  Leaders with low self-awareness frequently take the impact of personal challenges, and project those issues onto employees, which is the ultimate outcome of not taking ownership of their insecurities. A leader who is being insecure in their personal life might find it very rewarding to be able to control everything, having all the yarns in their hands.

Learning organization ideology, that we highly admire in Icebath, doesn’t approve leaders who control everything.  In educational world it is very important to have leaders who have people-centered approaches to leading. People-centered approaches mean relinquishing control to others and trusting that employees will not abuse that responsibility. To be able to do this a leader must have very good self-awareness and they must be very confident and comfortable in their role to pull it off. To get the best out of students requires it teachers who have people-centered approach to teaching, coaching, leading their team, a group of students.

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Nieuwof writes that one of the most glorious answers a leader can give is “I don’t know.” Admitting that you don’t know and you want to hear your employees point of view, is a wise thing to do and even an insecure leader knows that. They do respect other opinions, they do want to hear them out and maybe to use them later as their own opinions. The biggest fear of an insecure leader is a fear of losing control. Losing control and switching to a people-centered approach is the most difficult thing to do.

During the reform in Finnish educational system, in this changing world in teaching teachers might have doubts how they will retain their authority, their expertness if they change their role from all knowing teachers to a questioner coaches. How the teachers are lead equals how they will teach, coach, lead their teams.

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To be able to lose control, insecure leaders and teachers must concentrate their own personal growth. To be able to grow you must start to think you can grow in every conversation, you can learn from everybody you meet and out of everything you experience. Realizing that you are not the center of the universe, all knowing miracle you can find out that wisdom can be found around you and there are people who know more than you and work better than you. They just need a good leader who supports them to get the best out of themselves.

There are so many leaders who try to control everything schedules, time in the office, output, budget etc.  At the same time they are trying to control everything they can, they say they want employees to be creative and innovative and make the best out of themselves and the company. The problem is that people who are controlled won’t be creative, innovative, and responsive. People won’t stay in their jobs, if they don´t feel respected and trusted. If they are forced they stay, but act like marionettes. We  don’t want our future employees to be marionettes. We want them to be inspired, with good self-awareness and confidence  in their role, what ever it will be,  to pull it off.

Instead of packing your insecurities into a briefcase every day and bringing them with you to work and projecting them onto employees or students,  leaders  and teachers should come to work without a briefcase at all! Tough challenge!

To be a good leader or teachers you don´t have to know everything, because that is impossible, but to be a good leader or teacher  you must be able to grow, learn and develop yourself every day in a reflection with your employees, co-workers, students and people around you.

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Reflection in a relationship and in a leadership has been described as a process that helps turn experience into knowledge. To be able to be a reflective person who creates reflective conversation is not something we are born with, it is a learnable ability and it develops on discussions with other more advanced minds. Low levels of reflective ability have been associated with insensitive and emotionally unresponsive behaviors (e.g., withdrawal, hostility, intrusiveness, and distorted perceptions of affective communication). Reflective ability is a mental process thought to be invoked in the interpretation of human action (i.e., the attribution of personal meaning and intention to others’ behavior). Reflective ability helps individuals to understand that emotions influence interactions. Ability of thinking reflectively helps to clarify the cause and effect relations between underlying emotions and interpersonal behavior.

What then is the purposes of good reflecting leadership ability?

A reflective leader allows employees to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel, they encourage employees to a conversation that leads to brainstorming and changing ideas, growing.

Reflective leader shows the employees that they are trying to perceive the world as employees sees it and that they are doing their best to understand their messages. They are not afraid of their employee’s wisdom and knowledge vice versa they celebrate the brains that they have in their company, they also give the credit for the ones it belongs to.

Reflecting does not involve asking questions, introducing a new topic or leading the conversation in another direction.  Leaders help employees through reflecting as it not only allows them to feel understood, but it also gives them the opportunity to focus on their ideas.  This in turn helps them to direct their thoughts and further encourages them to continue speaking and that way learning.

The more reflective a leader can be, more reflective will their employees, teachers be and their reflective ability reflects to the people around them. The more reflective a leader can be the more they can learn from their employees, because they know they can trust their employees reflections! Reflective leaders spread life skills around.

Be brave to let go of the yarns in your hands, someone else knows better how to create a woolen sock out of them!

Written by Annele Heikkilä

Teach them to know WHO YOU ARE

Teach them to know WHO YOU ARE

I deliberitely start with coaching though I´ve been a teacher now for 18,5 years. I am a economics, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial methods teacher/lecturer at secondary level Vocational Business School in Finland, Kokkola. As a background information to let you know that I´ve been coaching and instructing aerobics and other gymnastic groups since 1992. I have various kind of experience about coaching versus teaching. All my life I´ve been a coaching teacher and luckily it`s highly recommended today.

What a cliche? Coaching versus teaching. Very much discussed topic in the Finnish educational system lately. Something that Finland is worldwide known for, is the high level education and the whole educational system in general is very much admired. I won´t get into that now but maybe later. But change is constant. In my opinion we people in general need to have the ability to adapt in changing situations. Teachers are under such a hard pressure at the moment because of the huge changes. The whole world, surrounding society, working life, tasks and skills are changing. Life skills and work life competences are highly demanded skills. How to teach them? On the other hand how to learn them if you don´t know who you are, what you can and what you should be better at?

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The starting point for any human being to be educated should be to know yourself, who am I?  Who I am, what do I know, what are my strengths and in what skills would I like to develop? What are my own goals in whatever I do. The ownership of my own life skills, learning skills and doings are mine. No one elses but mine!

Coaching will turn into teaching with the methods used. It is a mixture of coaching and teaching. In my opinion the mixture is very challenging but interesting and giving. Coaching is challenging in a different way compared to teaching. It is much more personal way of having a contact with the students. Not through an assignment or a mark but straight to the person in an authentic situation. You yourself as coach need to know your own skills and abilities to be able to coach students in changing situations and environments. Many unexpeted things and questions can appear. Are you redy?

They will forget what you said
They will forget what you did
They will remember how you made them feel
YOU can succeed if YOU know who YOU are and what YOU want

Written by Natascha Skog

Teach them life skills! 

Teach them life skills! 

According to Finnish workplace employers, student coordinators and other workers teachers in vocational education should focus on teaching life skills and skills the future employees need in work life, work life competences. Finnish vocational education aims to fulfill the need for skills in working life, hence it´s development education attentively together with education providers and working life representatives. Working life representatives express their opinions on the future trained workforce needs, while the education administration actively supports work on anticipating skill needs.

Critical thinking is skill that we all need to survive in this changing world. Todays and futures students need to be able to make clear, reasoned and well thought out judgements.

Teachers create learning opportunities for students. It is very important that the learning enviroment is surrounded positive and permissive atmosphere. To be able to practice critical thinking students need trust and belief in themselves. Teachers can make students understand the importance of having a positive attitude towards life and viewing all situations as learning opportunities. It must be emphasized that having developed reasoning skills and critical ability is what makes on successful in life.

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Students with good basic trust are more likely to think optimistic. Basic trust is build in early interaction with a child and their care giver. It is an implicit trust that what is optimal will happen and a person believes whatever happens will ultimately be fine. It is the confidence that reality is ultimate good, and all that exists, are by their very nature trustworthy. Basic trust gives an implicit orientation toward all circumstances and that allows students to relax and see situations as learning opportunities.

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As well as teachers creates optimistic learning atmosphere, they have huge impact on developing a basic trust if it´s needed. Basic trust can be developed in trustfull and respectfull relationship. Teachers can reflect security, build trust and create permissive learning atmosphere where students can relax, learn to act and be in securely attached in ways that are needed in life. The more teachers create basic trust, optimism in students lives, the more process of transforming and realizing and becoming flows more smoothly. Building the basic trust can lead students to feel that they are good, valuable, worthwhile and lovable. Quite powerful!

As well as basic trust can be developed, optimistic thinking is learnable. Teachers can develope optimism in students bahaviour by their own example. Motivate and spread optimism!

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We know that the mind can be trained into new habits of thoughts and that those who learn optimism can obtain all of the benefits associated with that attribution style. In order to cultivate an optimistic thinking habit, a person must work to change their pessimistic explanatory style to a more optimistic one.

Critical thinking is a process of skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing, evaluating and applying information gathered from, or generated by, experience, communication or reasoning (criticalthinking.org). The student with a good basic trust and optimistic thinking has disposition towards critical thinking. Student who have a high critical thinking ability and are encouraged to learn, to make mistakes create new skills and knowledge. They are more prepared to the life and their professions. Today it is important that we teach more life skills, increase basic trust and optimistic thinking. The optimistic thinking will encourage students to see learning task and work lives challenges now and in the future in a positive light.

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Experiencing basic trust and optimistic thinking does not imply that students don´t struggle with their circumstances. But it means they don´t have to struggle internally with themselves. It means accepting and allowing, learning that life is manageable and workable. They can relax and just let it be, learn.

Written by Annele Heikkilä
Photos Lia Heikkilä

Inhale coaching, exhale teaching

Inhale coaching, exhale teaching

Exhaling teaching, thinking outside the box does not mean we have to abandon all the pros of teaching. Successful coaches are tremendous motivators, they are determined and want athletes do to their best. Coaches generate enthusiasm for their sport and this enthusiasm is contagious because motivated people influence those with whom they are contacted with. Coaches have their hearts in their work. Positive atmosphere will generate more learning.

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Coaching is also influenced by success. Success, learning new things, can be linked to increasing self-satisfaction. Athletes, students  know they did their best to become what they are capable of becoming. If they fail, there needs to be a reflective discussion.

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Let me tell you, I know what I’m talking when I’m talking about coaching. Coaching has been part of my life almost 2 decades. I`m married to a coach. I think that is a achievement to mention and competence very much gained by the experience!

The European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training, ECVET, is a framework for the transfer, recognition and (where appropriate) accumulation of individuals’ learning outcomes with a view to achieving a qualification. ECVET was developed to enable people to build on what they have learnt in the past when wishing to achieve a qualification. It offers people the opportunities to get recognition for learning outcomes they achieved through life long learning and supports the transparency and recognition of knowledge, skills, and competences. (ecvet-toolkit.eu)

Being a coach’s wife is maybe not enough to acknowledge to recognize my coaching skills, but if you dig a little deeper you realize that maybe I have been coached as a wife for 20 years now. You get what you give. You use the methods that you have noticed to be effective. He has coached me to get the best out of myself. What you put into things is what you get out of them. Coaching helps you of what you’d like to receive.

I must say that I’m relieved that he is not coaching athletes at the moment (can´t say anymore, because I know his coaching heart). Oh boy! how dedicated a coach can be. It can be a bit too much for the wife, family and people who are closest with. Coaching though is still a huge part of his life and it always will be, because he is so excellent and talented with that. He is the one who has actually gained real competencies and skills by the experience. He successfully coaches his employees nowadays.

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Teaching could it be coaching has been very important question for us for several years now. Teachers don’t have to sell their souls to be effective, they don´t have to give their hearts to be motivating and enthusiastic. You can be dedicated in many ways and still have balance between your work and free time (and loved ones!). Coaching in teaching is a one-to-one learning and development intervention that is based on a collaborative, reflective, goal-focused relationship to achieve professional outcomes that are valued by the  student (Smither, 2011). The coaching relationship  is  that the student has a specific need or  purpose to fulfill their development objectives. The teacher is their coach and is willing to ask right questions and lead them to the right knowledge.

To be honest, teaching, can not be replaced by coaching. Coaching can be used as a very effective method in teaching. Teaching is far more wider concept than coaching.

Inhale knowledge, exhale wisdom.

Written by Annele Heikkilä

Mentors, trailblazers in the reform of finnish vocational education

Mentors, trailblazers in the reform of finnish vocational education

Reform in Finnish vocational education is inviting teachers in Finland to a change. As we have mentioned earlier in Icebath people with growth mindset find success in learning and improving. The more they can do that the more rewarding the change will be for them and people around them. People with growth mindsets will lead Finnish vocational education trough the reform that it´s about to go trough. People with growth mindset can be the mentors for people who are afraid or other ways refuses the change.

Mentoring relationship can provide important experiential and collaborative learning opportunities that support the development of a learning organization. Helping others to do better, to find out the best of each other is a key for a change in Finnish vocational education. This can be done trough mentoring. We need people who believe in change, who believe in reform. We need people who want to learn out of the process and become better, stronger and cleaver after it. We need mentors who are willing to be first movers.

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Mentoring should be a reciprocal and collaborative learning relationship that can lead people to career success, personal growth, leadership development, and increased productivity (Darwin, 2000). With successful mentoring people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire. During the reform we need mentors who invite teachers to expand their patterns of thinking. Good mentors can create atmosphere where  collective aspiration  has been set free and people are keen to learn from each other.

Mentoring functions in a learning organization include role modeling, exposure and visibility, protection, acceptance and affirmation, teaching, counseling, and friendship (Allen & Eby, 2007). Such mentoring provides numerous benefits to mentors, mentees, to the organizations and entire vocational education in Finland.

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Good, respectful relationship between mentor and mentee can engage teachers during the reform  in to expand their thinking, to increase knowledge what they might be lacking of and to find out the  best out of everyone. Mentoring partnerships are based on  reflection and rational discourse. Reflection that will be given needs to be gentle, kind and constructive. To be able to build an atmosphere of learning there must be absolute trust in workers. The teachers needs to have ownership on their knowledge and skills, they must have will power and believe in them selves and optimistic thinking wont do any harm!

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Trough good mentoring can good learning organization be created.
Good mentoring creates  teachers  who: are willing to apply new knowledge in daily tasks; individually and collaboratively analyzes problems and proposes solutions; evaluates new technologies or strategies and determinate their utility; create new  plans to improve the organization performance. (Carolyn M. Klinge, 2015.) That kind of teachers we need in the future, and hopefully we will have some already in January 2018!

Written by Annele Heikkilä

Growth mindset in a change of vocational education in Finland

Growth mindset in a change of vocational education in Finland

To have a growth mindset people need the belief in change. Vocational education in Finland is under big changes at the moment. People involved with vocational education are forced and invited to a change. People with growth mindset find success in learning and improving. The more they can do that the more rewarding the change will be for them and people around them

People with growth mindsets will lead Finnish vocational education trough
the reform that it´s about to go trough.

But not all people have growth mindset and they are against the change. Opposite of growth mindset is called fixed mindset. People with fixed mindset think the world needs change, not them. The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is based on judging. ”I think I´m a loser, I think I´m better than anybody else, I know my subject that I´m teaching, I´m the best in what I do…” People with fixed mindset deal with the information they are receiving. They put very strong evaluation on each and every piece of information. A good feedback leads to very strong positive label and bad feedback leads to very negative label.

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People with growth mindset monitor also constantly what´s going on, but their internal monologue is not about judging. Instead they try to find answers to questions What can I learn from this, How can I improve, How can I help my colleague do to better?
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Helping others to do better, to find out the best of each other is one key for a change in Finnish vocational education. We need people who believe in change, who believe in reform. We need people who want to learn out of the process and become better, stronger and cleaver after it.

To change a fixed mindset is gental work. Fixed mindset wants to leave gracefully. It will remind the people with very strong opinions ”You are nothing, you are fool…” By believing each other, by good feedback, by finding the best out of everyone and under trust and respect the fixed mindset has no power to stay. Fixed mindset might think they are not themselves if they change. They might think they`ll lose their professional skills if they change. They might think fixed mindset have them the ambition, the edge, their individualist. They might be afraid they´ll become a bland cog in the wheel just like everybody else. Ordinary. Or they might be afraid their knowledge will be revealed.

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The truth is, when a person with fixed mindset opens themselves up to a growth
makes  that them more themselves and they can be people in the full flower of
their individualist and potency. Knowledge of the teachers will be revealed, but it means there are no longer teachers who are specialists of subjects, there are people who want to find the right answers with their co-workers, co-workers that are called students so far.

Reform in Finnish vocational education offers us solid ground that can lead to big changes in the educational level and peoples perspective. It can change us as association and a nation.

Written by Annele Heikkilä
Based on Carol S. Dwecks book Mindset, changing the way you think to fullfil
your potential, 2017.