Welcome to January's "From the Fountain", brought to you by longtime 'Friend of NESA', Jenny Canar. As we continue to navigate toward well-being and bettering our collective human capital, we hope this monthly column brings a bit of reprieve from the day-to-day. This month's focus is why now is a good time to bring our goals back together. It’s a bit more tactical (or technical) than previous columns. We hope it meets the moment.
Bringing the Goals Back Together
BY JENNY CANAR
Hi there, NESA!
Happiest of new years to you and yours! From the looks of our international world travelers, we had many colleagues who braved the arctic winds that swept through North America and others who meandered through Christmas markets or waded seaside on sandy beach isles. Either way, I hope it resulted in moments of exactly what you needed, when you needed it.
As we start a new year and ready ourselves for 2023, we begin the second semester of the 2022-2023 academic calendar. I mentioned in December’s From the Fountain that transitioning from one year to the next in January feels a little different in the world of education in that our ‘new year’ starts in August/September. However, we continue to embrace this flip-of-the-calendar page from December to January in ways that are similar to the start of a new school year. We reflect on our first semester, we think about how we structure our meetings, we dust-off our strategic plan timeline, we revisit our daily obligations, etc.
First semester is usually filled with a spattering of onboarding commitments, teaming strategies, special events, parent-teacher conferences, holidays and long weekends, and it can be difficult to find momentum and get into a groove. In some ways, it may feel like driving a stick-shift car for the first time (that metaphor is certainly on its way out the door!). Stop - go - stop - go - stop - stall, repeat. It is usually not until January/February when the rubber hits the road or the gear shift seamlessly navigates the transmission. For that reason, it’s a suitable time to bring your goals back together for a team review; with a semester under the belt, we have more knowledge of existing nuances that will help leverage success and prime the pump.
While many of us may lean toward revisiting our initial SWOT analysis (or something of the like) from our strategic plan to cultivate this goal review, an alternative method that may have greater potential in shedding light on blindspots is an anti-goals approach. Although this inversion tactic is not complicated, it’s a meaningful practice that will support your team in designing better structures to avoid pitfalls within your existing system – a system that has been teased-through in semester one. It also helps surface team alignment in both risk and value-added. What risks are you willing to take to add value to your organization?
Anti-goals or anti-actions focus on what you don’t want. The basic model is described by entrepreneur Andrew Wilkenson as, “The idea that problems are best solved when they are reversed”. There are a couple ways you may choose to go about this exercise with your team. See two possible approaches below.
The first approach stems from Sahil Bloom. He breaks the practice of creating anti-goals into four steps: (1) Choose Your Arena, (2) Establish Traditional Goals, (3) Invert the Problem, and (4) Establish Anti-Goals. Although our annual goals or actions from our strategic plans are not intended to be “problems” per say, the same logic can be applied in our organizations. Broken down, each step includes:
- Choose your Arena: Your arena is the project under a larger category. It’s where achievement, progress, or growth will be measured. Bloom gives personal, work, & health as examples. In our world of education, this could look like appraisals or curriculum or team collaboration or communication.
- Establish Traditional Goals: These are our standard goals/action plans. Bloom suggests running a 6-minute mile or creating a top-25 podcast. For educational January purposes, this is a review of your school, divisional, and/or team goals – your desired outcomes. This may sound like “complete three walk-throughs with feedback per week”, or “facilitate and model adaptive schools strategies at divisional meetings.”
- Invert the Problem: In pursuit of these goals/action plans, what are worst case scenarios, and what systems and/or daily action would lead to these worst case scenarios? In the case of completing three walkthroughs with feedback per week, a worst case scenario may be stacking your schedule or stressing about completing the walkthroughs. A system that would lead to this worst case scenario is not scheduling fixed windows of time to complete the walkthrough (and the feedback) or committing to a laborious feedback tool. Given this is a mid-year review of your goals/action plans, some of these inversions may have already been sussed out.
- Establish Anti-Goals: Now, set the specific outcomes you DON’T want by working backwards from Step 3. Think, ‘What can you put in place now to avoid that from happening?’ For example, never schedule a walkthrough after lunch or no more than two feedback points per walkthrough or no more than one walkthrough per day.
A second method which may not require as much time but could be just as revealing is from Josh Spector. In thinking about your goal/action, write 10 sentences starting with, “I/we want …” Then, write 10 sentences for that same goal/action starting with, “I/we don’t want …” This simpler exercise will likely bring forward a few excusable as well as inexcusable excuses for why some goals/actions are not yet being initiated (or met).
After you’ve landed on an approach, next decide on a facilitation technique that neutralizes bias and hierarchies (this is critical as vulnerabilities can run high when goals/actions aren’t being met). Design-sprint exercises such as storyboarding and solution-sketch are two methods that are inclusive, interesting, fun, and creative. In fact, any of the design-sprint exercises listed can be tweaked to help identify anti-goals in ways that may not be as restrictive as the two aforementioned methods.
Don’t be surprised or alarmed if what bubbles to the surface to avoid worst case scenarios includes less is more or subtraction adds value. It’s likely you and your team are trying to do too much. In the simplest words of Otto Scharmer, sometimes you have to let go to let come.
Now that you’ve established a method, facilitated the conversation and have a list of refined goals/actions for the rest of the school year, take it one step further with this dynamic thinking practice of inversion and ask your team, “If this was easy, what would it look like?” By asking this straightforward question, we unpack what the process would be and what we need to get started. Sometimes it is a less complicated approach that gets us through the most complicated of goals, situations, and initiatives.
I’ll end this month’s article with a quote from Charlie Munger used poignantly in Wilkenson’s first post about anti-goals. “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent”.
From the Fountain…
Check out From the Fountain's resources, links of interest, and ideas:
- Inner Development Goals & Closing the Books with IDG’s: In review of our organizational goals, how often do you take the time to align your personal, professional goals to the goals of the organization? With many schools taking a closer look and commitment to closing the gap between intercultural competencies and sustainable development through the work of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, you may wish to further expand these efforts to include the Inner Development Goals. The IDG framework of skills and qualities relates to what is needed in order to successfully work with and lead through complex societal issues. And, they just published Closing the Books with IDG’s - seven pages to reflect on the past year (or past semester). How may the IDG framework be included in your conversations with teachers?
- 10 Questions for Mid-Year Reflection: There's no shortage of exercises with new year resolutions in mind. I particularly appreciate this one from Alexandra Franzen titled, 10 Questions for Mid-Year Reflection. It’s written for the month of August, but for us educators, mid-year is now. One question that stood out and may help reveal what needs to be subtracted: Is there something I’ve been doing lately – like a writing project, a business project, or any kind of project or commitment – that’s not feeling “right” anymore? Do I need to keep doing it? What would happen if I just stopped?
- ChatGPT: It’s on all our minds. What are the kids thinking? In case you missed it, on February 2, Frankfurt International School will host a student-led ToK online symposium about the promises and pitfalls of artificial intelligence in education. Details & registration HERE. Other resources and future conversations:
- EDU & AI - Conversation with Gary Stager by the Big Questions Institute scheduled for Tuesday, January 24. It's free!
- Dr. Alec Couros (yup, the brother of George), who was a NESA presenter and keynote speaker years ago, shared Let’s Talk About AI in Teaching & Learning. Presentation, resources, and link to video HERE.
- International Schools Services (ISS) will host a 90-minute virtual workshop for K12 educators worldwide to discuss ChatGPT. The ChatGPT workshop will be held on Monday, February 20th at 8:00AM - 9:30AM (EST). Unlike the above, there is a cost associated with this workshop. Register at iss.edu/events
- The Science of Reading: The Sold a Story podcast about reading curriculums, the teaching of reading, and the science of reading stole my attention quickly. I finished the six-episode series in two days and asked, “Does the Media Draw on High-Quality Reading Research?” The podcast left me wondering about other stories we’ve been sold over time.
- Time and Focus and Energy: Seth Godin, as per normal, does not disappoint with this post from August 3. I earmarked it for January’s From the Fountain because as we reflect on Semester 1 (or 2022), you may begin to ponder how exactly you give your days away. Fast Company’s recent article helps you get them back.
- Meeting Review & Refresher: In looking at the months ahead, a refresher on how to run meetings well is never a waste of time. An HBR article, 3 Types of Meetings and How to Do Each One Well, specifies meetings as gatherings. Perhaps your gathering agendas need to be reconsidered; it’s time to implement a strategy proposed in Less Fluff, More Stuff: The Science of Productive Meetings; or the 4 P’s Model. You know best.
- Traditions & School Event Calendars: I was bummed to have discovered the New York Times 31 Days of Holiday Treasure on Day 18. It’s really not too late to enjoy the read and learn the history behind a few holiday traditions, including the history behind dropping the ball for the countdown to January 1 at Times Square (Day 31). What traditions hold the test of time at your school? Do you take the time to remind your community of the history of these traditions and why they remain important and relevant? Or, maybe you can build a new one especially as you begin conversations for your 2023-2024 school events calendar.
And, one last note in the spirit of From the Fountain. The reminder that the “The Book of Hygge” (Day 7) calls the concept of hygge “a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life”. Where does sanctuary exist in your day-to-day spaces? Where could it?
Jenny Canar is an international educator and leader with over 20 years experience in the field, from the fountain. Her career began as a Middle School Math & Science Teacher before heading overseas, working at the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin, Germany; Surabaya International School in Indonesia; and Shanghai American School in China.
Jenny moved to the NESA region 12 years ago as the Elementary School Assistant Principal at the American International School - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There, Jenny held several other leadership roles including Elementary School Principal, PreK-8 Managing Principal, and Director of Academic Affairs/Assistant Superintendent. Jenny is no stranger to NESA, having served on the Professional Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) for six years and as a zealous workshop presenter at the NESA Fall Leadership Conference and Spring Educators Conference.
Since Riyadh, Jenny has exchanged camels for llamas and now resides in Lima, Peru, working at Colegio Roosevelt as the Head of Operations.
As we continue to navigate toward well-being and bettering our collective human capital, ‘From the Fountain’ will bring a bit of reprieve from the day-to-day in hopes to laugh a little and ponder a bit.