Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

Do we really need more “Why Guys” (n’ Gals) in EDUcation?

In Classroom Teaching, News & Updates (from the CBO), Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 12/05/2012 at 11:02 am

When I first decided to take the leap into the blogosphere (16 months back), I read every single “top blog” on the web – 6 to 8 times…and then, again!

I was looking for the “secret”you know, that “magic ingredient”

I read pages and pages of the advice offered by the so-called social media gurus. Although a lot of this advice annoyed the hell out of me (“education” and “business” are not always the best of bed-fellows), all the best bloggers kept advising me to come back to the same point…what is the PURPOSE of your blog?

I actually liked that…it made sense to who I like to think I am as a man, as a teacher, as a thinker!

Obviously, my blog was always going to be about EDUcation (or COOKing, perhaps)! Funny thing is, I probably would have a got a lot more “hits”, if I had gone with the latter…ne se (and Google Translate still “sucks”)!

The problem was that I am soooooo interested in soooooo many things…classroom practice, technology, leadership, performance improvement, language development, cognitive growth, assessment, curriculum, innovation, teacher education…

In the end, I did go back to PURPOSE…I went back to LEARNing. That was the “line” that seemed to connect all my “dots”.

I drew up my little manifesto…and have always tried to stay true to that.



The thing is – this PURPOSE keeps bringing me back to the notion of:


This is why I loved the idea of the Why Guy (click on this – great video) when I first stumbled onto it – OK; it was not really “that” Why Guy (though it is a fun video clip). The term was (from what I was able to dug up) the brain-child of Mike Castellucci – and it has been picked up by a huge range of organisations and web-based thinkers.


Seth Godin (one of the Blogging Jedi Masters I researched many moons ago) has recently done a post on the importance of having these “guys” (and “gals”) in every institution around the globe…

Seth tells us we need to be asking more questions like:

  • Why does it work this way?
  • Why is that our goal?
  • Why did you say no?
  • Why are we treating people differently?
  • Why is this our policy?
  • Why don’t we enter this market?
  • Why did you change your mind?
  • Why are we having this meeting?
  • Why not?

He’s right – totally right – and those of you that know this blog well will know the types of questions I love to ask…and love others to ask themselves.


Being a “Why Gal” is extremely important for anyone in a LEADership role – we know that everyone is a “boss-watcher” and if you want a “thinking team” you gotta “walk-your-whys”.

TEACHers are leaders – and students are “TEACHer watchers”. If you want to help co-create thinking studentsyou gotta be a “Why Gal” (or “Guy”) in the classroom

You just knew one of these was a-comin’…


I need to tell you a little story about something that happened this week.

You know I have been coaching a few teachers in observation and feedback skills of late. Normally, when I do this type of work – we look at best practices across a whole range of disciplines and practice a few reflection and feedback skills in a more “controlled” environment – then we “step it up”.

This week I stepped it up with two of my favourite “reflectors” – I asked them to observe each other’s class and then take the role of “observer” and give feedback to the “observee” (with me there to “feed back” on the “feedback”). They were both ready – they have established a great LEARNing partnership, they care about each other deeply and they have become really skilled at asking the “right” questions.

The feedback and reflection session went “south” so quickly…it would have made your head spin!

…because of the bloody question “Why”!


Sure, “Why?” is a great question – but it also the type of question that can send us all into a “Freudian panic” faster than Mitt Romney can change his position on just about any issue that matters…to US voters.


A lot of this goes back to how we have been trained to “hear” what the word “why” actually means:

  • Mummy: Why did you do that? I told you what would happen…
  • Daddy: Why didn’t you ace that test? Just a “C”…just a “C”…
  • Grandma: You didn’t do it…Why not? What’s wrong with you…?

Philip Larkin wrote a great poem about how families “condition” us to certain ways of thinking…sadly many institutions continue with this tradition.


Coming back to TEACHersgiving each other “feedback” – look at these:

WHYI giggled a bit as I typed that…do you think a TEACHer might not want to “hear” the red questions, acaba (good save – Google Translate)?


The “Why Guy” is important (in the right context, with the right relationship) – but, we also need the “How Gal”…a gal who knows how to get the “best” out of others. 

…but, most importantly, we need the “How-Do-We-Know-Guy”!

“Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 3)

In Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, The Paradigm Debate on 09/11/2011 at 12:19 pm

I know, I know – I never really did get round to outlining exactly what Change 3.0 is in Part 2.

You have to remember…I am a “male of the species” and we do get oh-so-confused when we try this multi-tasking stuff…Besides, it is the topic of “change” we are dealing with…and tolerance for ambiguity is a big part of this.

Tolerate “with” me…just a wee bit more


In the last post, I think I finished up asking whether it was, in fact, the questions that educational managers (and leaders) ask – that are the real source of many of our “change woes”.

I suggested that far too many of them ask the question:

  • How do we motivate “our people” to change? 

Rather than some of the more powerful questions that Peter Block suggests we consider: 

  • What is my contribution to the problems I am concerned with?
  • What refusals have I been postponing?
  • What commitments am I will to make? 

Or, the question that Leo Tolstoy sort-of-proposed so many years back: 

  • How do “I” need to change as an educational manager?

FUNNY…we don’t see these last 4 questions in the preamble of many strategic plans


Organisations do notmanage” or “lead” themselves. Institutions do not write their own strategic plans. Schools, colleges and universities do not choose which of their problems need attentionat the “organisational level”  (formal) educational managers and leaders do all that.

Change agendas and implementation strategies are not handed down from the heavens – they are penned by management teams, task forces and (all too infrequently) teachers and students. These groups (or the wiser of them) have grown used to framing and drawing up their change initiatives in line with the conventional wisdom of Change 2.0best practice, planning and management techniques.

These, as we noted, are just NOT enough.


When change agents (or “teams” of change agents) get busy with best practice, planning and management techniques (or systems), they do recognise that “others” are involved – and, as a result, they also look for ways to motivate these “others” (heard the phrase “get them on board” much, lately?)…

You CANNOT, as we said earlier, “motivate” anyone – and, it is just plain “dumb” to assume that “others” can be “changed” and that the best laid motivational “carrots” will get you what you want.

…and that those very same people will give your change initiatives the finger – for a multiplicity of reasons! Trust me on that one…


Change agents of the “Change 2.0 varietysimply forget that:

…or perhaps they have not LEARNed that:

In all my years as a teacher, a teacher trainerand even as a “manager” I have not once heard a teacher or lecturer say one of the following:

  • Strategic plans are really sexy!
  • Those new change initiatives really turn me on!
  • I can’t wait to see how we evaluate the success of this improvement project!

This because best practice, planning and management techniques are, essentially, the tools of “incrementalism” – and not very “hot”. OK – these things may be a huge “turn-on” to managers and supervisors but that’s usually because they know they will be “evaluated” on the success of their plans, initiatives and projects. 

Don’t believe me? Try gathering a group of teachers (hey, and a few students, too) and ask them the following: 

  • What really matters to you as a teacher – what should really matter to us as a school? 
  • What should we do to really make a difference to lives of our students? 
  • If you could change one thing to improve student learning and success, what would it be? 


The vast majority of educators are in the “game for something elseand it sure ain’t the money! For them…it’s about purpose, service…and something that just makes it worth it getting out bed in the morning even when we have the “class from hell” on Monday morning!

Teachers (as a “species”) have got to feel it’s all worth it – we’ve got to be inspired by what we are doing (and how we do it) and this means we need leadership that makes a real difference to the lives of our students – and, in turn, our lives!

The problem in education today is…and I just know someone is gonna put a “hit” out on me soonnot all “educational managers” are terribly well-endowed in the leadership stakes, and not “all of the others” appreciate that their managers just ain’t been able to work this out and do something about it!


What does real leadership “look like”?

Probably, the best description does not come from education at allnot that we like to admit this:

Even a “hard-nosed” business guru, like Tom Peters, gets this…try giving this list to a bunch of teachers and then tell me how many of them disagree! I’ll bet you all the money I make from this blog (!) – you won’t find many.


That’s because most teachers already know thatit’s not only the planning, it’s not only the systems and its not the management…that really “matter”!

They also know…(in addition to the fact that this Tolstoy guy is a pretty smart cookie – for such a scary-looking dude):


It’s not only teachers that know this stuff…many great “educational leaders” (especially those who do not park their bums in high-ranking, formal “chairs”) just “know” how important it is to:

These people just get that when an organisation says “Our mission is to teach to world-class standards” – not many of those “others” are going to be jumping around in their seats…worse even – they simply will not “believe” the hot air that is wrapped up with that last bit of the sentence.

They know that authenticity, honesty and “usefulness” – are the keys to successful community-building and meaningful improvement.

Indeed, you might say their internal “self-talk” or mantra is:

and they walk-this-mantra…everyday!

What’s more they know how to look in the mirror before they leave for work every morning and ask Tolstoy’s (first) questiontwice a day!


Hey, you had to have guessed “this” would be on the cards.

After the last few paragraphs (and piccies) a few of you have probably begun to thunk:

 “All right, Tony, all this stuff might work in educational-la-la-land – but what about the real world. I have teachers that are nothing short of lazy bums or rotten apples – not only are they not interested or engageable, but they actively work to undermine all the good stuff we are trying to do”!

Yes, it is true – we probably all have some staff that should be “motivated” out of the organisation. But, we need to put challenges like this in perspective…they probably constitute less than 10-12% of your staff (even in a worse-case scenario).


But, here’s the deal…the one thing I really love about great teachers is they do not consider themselves “quitters” – they do not give up on even the most seemingly-hopeless of cases. And, when the “care” and “usefulness” really kick in – we can move mountains!

Educational leaders need to remember that they are first-and-foremost teachers, too – and this is a “talent” we should never forget! Besises – this is why we get the “big bucks” (LOL)…

The trick is, as Tom Amca reminds us:

OK – I’m very close to my self-imposed word limit (again)…and Dexter needs his “walkies”. I’m asking myself if I have said enough to outline exactly what Change 3.0 is really all about.


I guess I’ll have to leave that to you – to judge!

“Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 2)

In Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, The Paradigm Debate on 07/11/2011 at 9:17 pm

I sat down this morning and began to think about how I would begin Part Two of the little mini-series I began yesterday. It was tough…and three cups of coffee later, I still had no idea of how to start.

True – I had mapped out a diatribe (of sorts) yesterday morning (but realised I’d have to use over 5k of lexis to get it all “on screen” – so decided to split it up). The problem was that last night I got a couple of “notes” that made me thunkone was quite funny. It accused me of a form of “digital penis-envy” and suggested that I had invented the phrase “Change 3.0” just to play catch up with all the techies and their Web 3.0’sfunny, because it was kinda true!

A couple of people got me some quotes – one I had never seen before was from the comic strip “Over the hedge” (penned by Michael Fry and Tom Lewis):

The more things change, the more they remain… insane.

Could there be more than a grain of truth in such tongue-in-cheek one-liners?

My perspective on “change” has always been a bit more “hopeful“, more “optimistic” – like that of Margaret Mead:

As I said yesterday, I like to believe that I “eat change for breakfast” and do not always “get” why so many people cringe when the “word” is mentioned  or why they run for the hills when its big brother – TRANSFORMATION – is placed on the table.

I tried running over these notes and comments (and my scribbles from yesterday) – desperate for inspiration – and up popped a tweet… @TeachersJourney to the rescue:

You can’t put students “first” if you put teachers “last”.

Those 54 characters (and how the hell most normal human beings are supposed to convey a decent idea in 140 characters is still beyond me) captured the paradox that is so often hard-wired into Change 1.0 and Change 2.0 initiatives…

And, taking my lead from @TeachersJourney – I started to think about a couple more questions:

Do we really put students “first” – really, really?

If we do, do we have to put teachers “last” – or can both come “first”?


The problem is I cannot really answer these questions with the self-imposed word limit I try to keep for each post – this one will have to go to a Part 3…but here goes!

I said yesterday that the main issues with Change 1.0 were:

  • the focus on change-as-an-event
  • the preference for command-and-control approaches to improvement
  • putting the organization before the people who “live” in it and those it is designed to “serve”

Change 2.0 did address these issues and sought to:

  • acknowledge that organisational change is, in fact, a “process” of “changing people”
  • recognise that these people need to be “motivated” to change
  • pay greater attention to best practices, planning and management

Surely, this type of conceptualisation is enough – process, people, planning! Loading the dice in this way has gotta work…


Sorry, but I think it’s time to burst that little “bubble”…

  • We cannot “change” peopleand anyone who has this as her “goal” is just plain “dumb”
  • We cannot “motivate” anyoneand the sooner we drop this “myth about carrots and bloody sticks” the better
  • The truth is…..and I need some images (and a few words) to convey this:


Number 1

I’ve talked a fair bit about “best practice” in earlier posts. Looking to best practices is not a bad thing in itself; we can learn a great deal from them and they can help along institutions wishing to reinvent themselves.

The problem is that many best practices are “old news – and “old news” developed to help solve someone else’s problems. If best practices are uncritically adopted and grafted (or should I say cut n’ pasted) onto another organisational culture – we can end up with an even bigger headache than we started with.

This is why perhaps so many, like Bill Monro, view imitation as the “sincerest form of collective stupidity” – and remind us that “looking back” is hardly the best way to create “next practice” that is both fit-for-purpose and useful


Number 2

OK – who can disagree with a maxim that tells us “Failing to plan is planning to fail” (and we do not even need our 140 characters to get that idea out there)?

Of course, we need to “plan” – but there’s other stuff we all know to be true; the best-laid plans of mice and men, life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans and something about Zeus getting a bit of a kick out of pissing all over the plans of “mortal men” (and women, too).

This is actually where Change 1.0 (and Change 2.0) really falls flat on its face – sure we can draw up a “wish-list” of our 12-step action plan for change but “hit shappens”. Even if we stand on the shoulders of giants like John Kotter and follow his advice to the letter, not going with the flow of unanticipated outcomes or failing to fully exploit emerging practices or evolving capabilities can mean “failure”, too – and a bigger failure than just not being able to tick off items on the “change checklist”.

On-going improvisation” can sometimes be a change agent’s best friend – a kanka, even! More people need to recognise this…


Number 3

Now, this is the one that gets me in so much trouble – even though many educational “managers” do not have anywhere near enough “management training”, they do love the idea of “management processes”. It’s something about the way those words collocate so smoothly with words like order, efficiency, and mission.

I like my processes, too – but (and to quote Covey) “Management works in the system; Leadership works on the system”. “Management” works just fine when the “system” works just fine…


Change is about working on somethingto make it better – and that’s why we need more “leaders” (both formal and informal). However, not “leaders” that prize their “seats” (and systems) more than they do the people that keep them in these seats.

As Tom Peters reminds us “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing”. This is the crux of the matter allthingschange in education.

Now, you see why I needed that 5k of lexis!


But, before I elaborate on this – I guess I have to jump back a space or two. As I noted yesterday, what often ruffles my feathers is the fact that many educational leaders (and, even moreso – politicians) still keep on talking about “herding” and asking the question:

  • How do we motivate our people to change?

And, by “people” – they frequently mean “them” or “those buggars“. Guess what – teachers “know” this and are not easily conned by a carrot or two


Let’s be very clear – this question is very much one created in the back rooms of a “managerial mindset”; an approach to change that focusses on “arranging”, “telling” and “herding”.

Management is not enough – especially if that management that fails to walk-its-talk or is based on tradition and folklore.

Tolstoy had it right when he said “…everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”. His words prompt another question – could it be that many of the difficulties we still face with “change in education” are actually “caused” by those who see themselves as being “charged with managing change”?

Could it be that the core questions they ask – are just “wrong”?

But, I’ve just realised I have gone over my word limit – time to “plan” for Part 3… thinks.

What’s Your PURPOSE?

In Book Reviews, Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 11/10/2011 at 5:29 pm

Here’s a quick “brain-teaser”…


Take pen and scrap of paper (or open up a word doc)…I’ll give you a minute…OK?

Now, and without looking at any webpages…write down…word for word

…the “mission statement” of the place where you work!


I’ll give you a couple of minutes…OK?


Now, I’m guessing most of you did not do the little exercise I suggested (yes, I have hacked into your camera – and see everything you do)…not because you do not know your mission statement off-by-heartbut because you do not really “care” about it very much!

…or perhaps you just wanted to respond in a similar way to my dear, dear friend House!

I’m sorry (and House would agree) – “mission statements” are NOT very sexy!


Especially, as far as teachers and educators are concerned – thousands of whom have been subjected to “mission retreats” staged to help them “wordsmith” a more articulate version of the “wall art” that these statements inevitably become.



Wall art that just ends up collecting dust…and, more often than not, is never truly “walked”, “lived” or “enacted”. If only more educational consultants or so-called “quality gurus” would commit a revolutionary act or two

What I’m saying must be true … it’s on the web!


If I’d asked you to jot down a few thoughts about the things you are really “passionate” about, you’d probably be still scribbling away…

The difference is that you’d be scribbling about “purpose” – the “ideas” that drive you, the “beliefs” you’d be prepared to get into a fight for (well, at least miss breakfast for)…in short, what is “right” and what is “worthwhile”.

House has a purpose…(over and above annoying Cuddy – what will he do now she has “left”)


Steve Jobs (still) has a purpose…


Do youDoes your institution?

8 defines purpose as:

“…the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc”.


OK, this definition might suggest some form of cognitive awareness of the linkage between “cause and effect” or perhaps some form of anticipated result that “guides action”. But, seriously…it sucks at conveying the “power” the word carries for most human beings.




Remember that piece of music that brought you tears last week, that movie that made you think about trying to be a better “father” (or mother), the “act of kindness” you saw in the mall that reminded you “not all people are assholes“…that episode of so-and-s0 “dizi” that made you want to get up and “make a real difference

…or just that lesson that they all seemed to “get” (and said “thank you” for).


Are we all, as individuals and a species, not looking for “purpose” in our lives? Do we all, perhaps at some primal level, not wish to be inspired and motivated by ideas or schemes bigger than ourselves? Are we all, as employees or leaders, not looking for some form of meaning to give us the motivation to complete our own work and signal to us that this work is moving us all towards a better, brighter future?


Purpose, as a concept, has been a buzz-worthy word for some time. However, it is only recently that business and management gurus have begun to take note of the potential of this seemingly simple notion – the smartest of which have all “trashed” their mission statements, in favour of a focus on purpose.

Mourkogiannis (2006) made the case that all great companies need a purpose and that purpose is critical to an organisation’s success. Concerned primarily with business success, his central argument was that it is not organisation and structure, but rather ideas that drive organisations, and it is these ideas that determine the success of a business. And, he knows how to define the word:

“…the reason for doing something that appeals to our ideas about what is right and what is worthwhile


This type of conceptualisation conveys how critical purpose is for individuals – and institutions.

Purpose is about engagement, involvement and “passion” – and it’s a choice.

A choice we can make in our lives…and “at work”.


“Nikos Amca”  also argued that successful institutions are more influenced by the strength of their purpose (and moral ideas) than the strength of their leaders. He maintained that it is purpose that becomes the “engine” of a successful institution and the “source of its energy” – because it is also purpose that most of us want from work, even over money and status.

Again…you are reading this on the web…must be true!

Hear me out…hear me out!


Purposenot “wall art” – that is “living” and “lived”:

  • makes people feel their “work” is worthwhile
  • fosters more “care” and consideration of others
  • helps to build “better” relationships
  • maintains morale and energy levels
  • reduces risk aversion and “fear”
  • helps innovators move from current convention to next practices
  • inspires everyone to be the best version of themselves they can be

So, the next time someone asks you to update the “mission statement”just say “NO”!


Instead, invite that person for a coffee and, together, consider:

  • What do we do? What is our purpose?
  • Who are we doing this for?
  • What do we want to create – together?
  • Where are we right now? What is today’s situation? How do we know?
  • How can we excel? How can we be the best version of ourselves? 



Afterall, and as Mourkogiannis reminds us, the role of “real leaders” is to “discover” (not simply “invent”) a purpose – and then build a “community of purpose” that truly “walks-its-talk”…

…and “lives” its “purpose statement“.


The BOOK (if you want to have a gander)…