Focusing on Focus Groups

Consistent policy and curriculum review, responsive actions to school culture and embedding meaningful and lasting practices are, of course, always at the forefront of school leadership. In a busy, dynamic school environment time can be one of the most critical barriers to implementing changes effectively. One of the most effective models I have experienced in order to facilitate change in policy or practice was that of introducing Focus groups as part of leading the Primary School team. Once key areas to focus upon had been selected from the school’s strategic plan this approach was most effective because:

– teachers selected an area of interest from these identified focus areas, therefore allowing them to develop and invest time into something they were particularly passionate about or interested in.

– all community members were involved, class teachers, specialists, assistants and support staff.

–  meetings were flexible – the group decided when to meet each week and how to facilitate this.

– each focus group set their own shared goals.

– a simple, clear structure for the focus groups was developed with teachers.

– regular reporting back time was scheduled into the 8 – 10 week period with a final date given for groups presentations.

– emphasis for focus groups was placed upon gathering, reviewing data and presenting proposals for change or solutions to problems.

– discussion and collaboration became more embedded practice in professional culture.

– teachers benefitted from working in smaller groups, giving individuals greater opportunity to share their own personal ideas and discuss at length with colleagues.

– final decisions could be made in the various ‘focus’ areas by the whole team. This followed the group presentations and feedback, ensuring decisions were shared with the whole team.

Using time productively and effectively made everyone feel like we were progressing forward and sharing the workload in doing so. Just as we would do in a classroom, breaking tasks down, differentiating, giving ownership and allowing individuals the space and time to select areas of interest and take control is always going to be the most powerful approach for everyone!

All Change

Change is something which affects us all on both a small and large scale, sometimes we choose to change a routine or habit or sometimes we are faced with change in a much more dramatic or life-changing way. I recently was discussing ‘change’ with friends and colleagues and it got me wondering,  is it the actual change  itself that presents the challenge or is it more the context or way in which we view the change that impacts us? Furthermore, what makes children so much more adaptable to change?

Working in an International School environment, change, on a larger scale is, in many ways part of daily life. Colleagues, students and families come and go, and change in opinions can be widespread (and sometimes surprising) with such a mixture of cultures and backgrounds.

When I really started to think about ‘change’, one word came to mind, and that was acceptance.

The beginning of the school year always brings about a great deal of change. Whether it be change of teachers, students, books and materials, or even greater change such as moving countries or schools. I have noticed that quite often change is deemed as ‘bad’, ‘unsettling’, ‘challenging’ or ‘disruptive’. When you share the term ‘change’, even on a basic level ‘change your shoes’, ‘change your attitude’, ‘change your mind’ for all of these tasks effort is involved and acceptance that there is actually a need for change.

Yet when I started to think about well known sayings or quotations that related to change they seemed to have more positive connotations.

‘A change is as good as a rest’ and  ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

So what is it really that so often heralds this gloomy dark cloud over the idea of ‘change’?images

It seems to me that any sort of  ‘change’ requires three ingredients, effort, acceptance and self-awareness.

First of all to initiate any change large or small, effort is required to make the change happen. Secondly there needs to be an acceptance of the change or need for change and finally we need to demonstrate some self awareness of how we respond and react to the change.

When I consider how children seem much more adaptable to change it seems that their willingness to accept change, itself changes their outlook to being one of simply just ‘being’, that ‘change is going to happen so what must I do to cope with the change?’. Much less time is spent by children over how to prevent change and much more time is spent accepting and reflecting on what they must do to cope with the change.

So, whether I consider making changes, large or small, or I am faced with changes I am going to try to do so with acceptance, effort and self-awareness! Who knows, maybe this small ‘change’ in attitude might just ‘change’ my outlook for the better.