PG Cert AP: Day 15

The final taught day on the PG Cert was for the assessment module, EDPM06, and was about how assessment reflects and can influence pedagogy. We were advised to set assessments which are inclusive of all rather than targeting perceived needs of particular groups, but be ready and flexible enough to meet any specific needs which may emerge. This led to a discussion about equality, especially of access to HE, and social justice. Burke’s book, The Right to Higher Education, was recommended for follow up reading in this area.

Finally, there was some discussion and clarification on the assessments for this module itself. These are to write a reflective report showing how your practice has been influenced by what has been taught on this module, and to write two critiques of assessments which you have set or been given, again based on what you have been taught here.

PG Cert AP: Day 5

A very interesting morning session for the technology module, EDPM08, covering uses of technology to support self and peer assessment. The great thing about the tutor on this module is that they don’t just know their stuff, they back everything up with research proving that what they’re talking about works. That’s definitely something to keep in mind and aspire to in my own teaching.

First there was a discussion about peer marking, and research that shows that it only takes a surprisingly small number of peer grades to be averaged for it to approximate the grade of a tutor. That’s something that could prove very useful in the assessment for the ArtWorks MOOC that I’ve been assisting to develop. Then we covered the value of real-time formative feedback assisted by quiz tools such as Socrative and Poll Everywhere. And finally, not strictly supported by technology, there was a discussion about comparative marking, giving tutors two papers and deciding which of the two should get a higher mark, but without actually grading them. An interesting idea that I would like to look into further to find out more about how it works.

There was also a nice, almost throwaway remark about the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’, and anecdotal evidence that students learn more from bad lecturers as it makes them have to work harder to make sense of what is being taught. A kind of unintended experiential learning!

The afternoon session was back to the core module, EDPM05, and the use of reflection on teaching and learning. This was facilitated through an iterative exercise where we discussed where and how reflection takes place, wrote down ideas on sticky card and then worked the cards round on a board to reach some conclusions as a group.

Session 11: Leading High Performance Teams

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This session began with a reflective exercise on how you have changed since the start of the course and what you have learned which we then shared in small groups. For me, I’ve learned to be comfortable with the idea that leading is a skill that has to be learned and practiced just like any other, and therefore that it is something which can be developed and improved upon. More practically I’ve learned the value in finding solutions collaboratively, as a team, leading them to solutions rather than providing them.

For example, a little while ago I asked the team if they could clear out the backlog of emails in the team mail account, twice, and it didn’t happen. On the third occasion, using things I had learned on the coaching sessions of this course, I asked them how we could clear out the backlog, from which we agreed an approach, a time to do it was set aside, and this time it was done. On another occasion I used the presence of a work experience student to prompt one of my team into completing some administration tasks on one of our systems. I had in mind that that they would teach the work experience student to do the task, but actually, in thinking about how to do it, they ended up doing it themselves. Some long outstanding tasks were completed in a very short time and our work experience student was freed up for other tasks, a win for all. In our group discussion on this exercise I was pleasantly surprised to have fed back to me that my team has notably improved since I joined, that the office is a more pleasant and positive environment, and that the team are more visible and approachable.

The second part of the morning was built around Patrick Lencioni’s concept of the five dysfunctions of a team. This was introduced via a group exercise in which we were asked to work in pairs and come up with the five most important ingredients for success. My partner and I answered:

  1. A shared goal or objective to work towards;
  2. Impact – a clearly defined point to the objective that will deliver improvements;
  3. A contribution from everyone on the team;
  4. Best use of the strengths of everyone on the team;
  5. Time and commitment to meet the objective.

Wrapped around this we also mentioned the need for trust and respect, but Rob wouldn’t allow that! There is a correct answer to this exercise according to Lencioni, a reversal of his five dysfunctions:

  1. Trust;
  2. Willingness to embrace conflict;
  3. Accountability;
  4. Commitment;
  5. A focus on results.

The need for a leader to be trusted by their team and to be seen to be following through on what they have said they will do, is, I think, the most important thing that I’m going to take away from this exercise. I have a couple of difficult outstanding jobs to benefit the team that have been mentally parked for a while, I now realise that these need to be picked up and resolved soon.

In the afternoon we were tasked with three more reflective exercises relating to self-development. The first was about concentration, asking when we feel ‘most present’ and ‘most distracted’ at work. For me, I am most present when creating something, a presentation or a web page for example, that uses my technical and creative skills but pushes me a little further than I’ve gone before, so slightly outside of my comfort zone. When I’m most distracted it’s due to competing demands on my attention, having to juggle tasks or being distracted by phones, notifications or office bustle.

The second exercise was about reflecting on where you were in life ten years ago, how you have developed since, and where you are going to be in ten years’ time. That was an enlightening one that made me think. Ten years ago I was a very different person, still trying to find a sense of self, lacking confidence and self-esteem, and still in the very early days of a nascent IT career. Ten years from now seems a very long way away, but well before then I’m going to need to decide on my next career move, whether I go into senior management or cross the academic divide. A doctorate is a distinct possibility having done so well with my master’s dissertation. Alternatively, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano but never had time, and to master a martial art. Both of which are objectives in progress.

The final exercise was designed to tie in self-reflection on personal development with that of team development by asking us to think about when we have felt most a part of a team, and most separate from a team. For me, the former was when I was in LTech at Northumbria University. There I felt particularly embedded within the team. We all had a common goal and knew what our purpose was, and we were led by a strong, very intelligent and knowledgeable leader who trusted us to get our work done. I can now see that he was using a devolved, coaching style with us. I won’t name the team where I didn’t fit. It was a team I didn’t chose to join, but was forced into by command from management who didn’t understand my skills and experience. Very much a square peg / round hole situation. I didn’t stay. Although I got on well with my other team members, I had no faith in the management of the department. Like research has shown, it was my managers and the poisonous organisational culture that I left, not the job.

Session 9: Coaching at Work, Part 3

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Coaching at work day 3 began with a recap of the coaching model and principles as explored over our first two days, and then some reflection on how we had used coaching in our own working environments. The example I gave was a discussion I had with a couple of academics about choosing an appropriate platform to host the participatory arts MOOC which is under development, where I used open coaching style questions to draw out the details of their desired delivery model in order to draw up a basic specification of requirements to work from.

This was followed by what was to be the main focus of the day, how to use coaching within teams. We began with an exercise called ‘Lost at Sea’ which asked us to rank the importance of 15 items for survival in a scenario where we have been cast adrift from a sinking ship. We did this as individuals, then we had to have a team discussion and agree a collective response in a short period of time. Our scores were then compared with what is regarded as the correct answers, as supplied by the US Navy where this exercise originated. My individual score was 61 points out from the Navy’s answers, which wasn’t bad, and the team’s collective score was 52 points out, better. No one person scored better than the team score; a typical outcome for this exercise according to Matt, who said that it was rare for anyone to outperform the group. That was lesson one from this exercise, that a collectively bargained and agreed team response is better than that which any one person can produce.

I think this may have been a little bit of a transformational moment for me, it’s certainly something that has stayed with me from this day, and one of the things from the course that I suspect is going to stay with me throughout my career. Writing this post retrospectively, I can already see that when there have been decisions which had to be made for the team as a whole I have tried to get the team to arrive at a consensus position instead of proposing what I think as the starting point for the discussion, for example when we agreed on a new rota for working the dreaded ITS call logging system.

Lesson two came out of what Matt was doing sneakily as we were having our discussion and coming to the team response – scoring us all against a rubric of communication styles. We all resorted to a very similar response pattern, with ‘Giving Information’ by far the most common method of communication. This was followed by ‘Shutting Out’, being used around half as much, then ‘Testing Understanding’, ‘Seeking Information’, ‘Bringing In’ and ‘Disagreeing’ with just a few ticks each. None of us used ‘Supporting’, ‘Summarising’, ‘Building’ or ‘Defend / Attack’. Again, very typical behaviour according to Matt, and which demonstrates that it is non-coaching styles of communication that we relapse to very easily under just a little pressure. The take-away from this is that using coaching styles of communication takes effort, it is something that you have to actively turn on.

Lesson three is to ask the obvious. None of us, at any point, asked if anyone in the group had any sailing or other pertinent experience. Again Matt said that was typical.

Out of interest, the US Navy’s accepted solution is based on their experience of successful rescues in shipwreck situations, which typically happen in the first 36 hours. Therefore prioritisation of items should be based on the possibility of imminent rescue, followed by short to medium term survival, and finally items that can be used for movement or navigation.

This exercise was followed by a discussion of some feedback models which can be enhanced with coaching techniques to help develop the person who are giving feedback to. First was the AID model – Action, Impact and Development – and then the STAR model which is depicted on this post. The STAR model – Situation / Task, Action, Result, Alternative Action, Alternative Result – is similar to the AID model but adds in an alternative course of action which you could propose to show how this could lead to an alternative, and better, result. Finally there was the SARAH model which shows how feedback is typically received – Shock, Anger, Rationalisation, Acceptance and Help. It is in the final two stages, but especially so in Help, where coaching techniques can be used to help develop the individual in question. A general rule we were given in relation to delivering feedback was to make sure it always relates to the task and to the performance of the task, it should never be personal.