#leadershit #37 #cong21

Synopsis:

Leadership is often characterised as a superior, controlling heroic act, where performance management of others is key. I don’t like that.

Total Words

928

Reading Time in Minutes

4

Key Takeaways:

  1. It’s only natural that individuals are controlling and power hungry, so we must fight it (and forgive it);
  2. ‘Deliverology’ is a busted flush;
  3. Leaders must respect workers as their equals;
  4. Leaders should serve not command.

About Richard Millwood

I am an educational designer, having made everything from apps to universities. I am now finding fulfilment with families in rural places all over Ireland, trying to encourage an interest in creative computing. The job is as a Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin tied to an SFI ‘Discover’ project to design and develop workshops which encourage parents to see computing as a fulfilling choice for their children’s future.

Contacting Richard Millwood

You can see Richard’s work on his website, connect with him on Twitter or send him an email

By Richard Millwood

I’ll never forget what the late and much missed Bianca Ni Ghrógáin said about rewards for the children in her primary classroom. She reported that the reward most sought-after was to be allowed to take the role of class teacher for 5 minutes. This opportunity to take power was valued more highly than any other childish delights on offer.

Perhaps this points to a natural desire to be in charge, for selfish reasons or perhaps to enjoy the delight of ‘zest’.

The selfishness can arise from a desire to be seen as important, to fulfil self-belief in one’s competence or to occupy a position of power over others to get things done right, as you see it.

‘Zest’, in John Heron’s language, is a delight which arouses “The emotions involved in the fulfilment of free choice and effective action” including “relish, gusto, exhilaration, achievement and work satisfaction.” Such delight is often only experienced in the playground, unlike the classroom, where activity is regulated, sometimes meaningless, not always completed, and choices are constrained to those the teacher offers.

The key elements here are the privileges of being in charge as a leader: ‘free choice’ of what is to be done and ‘effective action’ – the free choice converted into real world activity.

I first started using tag #leadershit at a conference in New Zealand, where the presenter earnestly spoke about three ships – leadership, relationship, partnership. I called them ‘the three shits’ in a moment of boredom, as the speaker sanctimoniously pronounced each syllable of the bullet points on slides. By the time they were explained, I had read them several times and readily digested them as terms that were virtuous, but individualistic in their outlook. This tendency to think about the individual is only natural in such talk, and to some extent reasonable, but so often falls short on analysis of a wider team seen as equals, rather than as troops to follow orders.

My curmudgeonly reaction to such well-meaning discussion arises from the failed leadership I had suffered so often in the varied work-places I have experienced, but particularly higher education. I am strongly influenced by the Cybernetic systems thinking I was exposed to a decade ago when working in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton. In that work we applied the ideas of feedback loop, variety, amplification and attenuation to try and understand how an educational institution operates, in order to invent improvements. Our particular interest was to find ways to allow undergraduates and masters students to nurture their ‘zest’ and support their ‘interest’ (another of Heron’s delights) in a work-focussed online degree programme. The challenge to leadership (of the course) is that every student may be studying topics unique to their context, job and workplace. You could say it was like a PhD for undergraduates. The feedback loop in particular, whether to drive learning or to improve teaching performance was strong.

At the same time, I was strongly aware of the leadership mantra of ‘deliverology’ the ideas developed by Barber for Blair back around 2000. The trouble was that instead of helping to focus, every aspect of performance became a priority, and “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”. The micro-management of every aspect of performance lead to much inauthentic labour and the situation was exacerbated by increasing oversight to the point of breakdown.

For example, in England, teacher education suffers this fate. At one point it had ‘quality assurance’ processes thrust on its long suffering lecturers from three directions: internal university quality assurance, the government’s higher education authority (HEA) and the government’s schools authority (OFSTED). Hardly any time to work, too busy explaining what targets the work might achieve…

The missing approach, distrusted by successive governments, was how to respect, nurture and trust professionalism in educators (and students) to achieve quality. This approach casts leadership in a service role, supporting and empowering professionals to do their job well. John Seddon explained how effective such an approach could be, when describing how a council repair worker could often be sent to do a job (to fix a tap), find that the problem belonged in another domain (electrician needed), and withdrew having wasted everyone’s time. This was transformed into a more effective operation by establishing a practice where the worker on encountering such a difficulty could call on management to send the right person or, if skilled, tackle it themselves, including the delivery of parts required.

How radical, to see your boss as someone who will help you fulfil the task!

Socialism in TOWIE town #44 #cong20

Synopsis:

What is the future of socialism in a society that appears to have succumbed to ‘capitalist realism’ – the notion that there is no reasonable alternative to the economic and political framework most countries have adopted? This blog reports from the town that gave birth to the Only Way is Essex, but still offers some hope.

Total Words

1,086

Reading Time in Minutes

4

Key Takeaways:

  1. Has ‘Capitalist Realism’ triumphed?
  2. Am I diverting from a socialist future by offering charity?
  3. Can I act out the future I’d like others to embrace?
  4. What is the future that my socialism imagines?

About Richard Millwood:

Dr Richard Millwood is director of Core Education UK and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin. Current research interests include learning programming and computational thinking and in relation to this, he is currently engaged in the development of a community of practice for computer science teachers in Ireland and also creating workshops for families to develop creative use of computers together. He gained a BSc in Mathematics & Physics at King’s College London in 1976 and first became a secondary school teacher. From 1980 to 1990 he led the software development of educational simulations in the Computers in the Curriculum Project at Chelsea College London. He then worked with Professor Stephen Heppell to create Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, acting as head from 2005 to 2007. He researched innovation in online higher education in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton until 2013, gaining a PhD by Practice ‘The Design of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education’. Until September 2017, he was Assistant Professor for four years directing the MSc in Technology & Learning and supervising six PhD students. He is now working for Eedi / Diagonostic Questions as Computing Lead.

Contacting Richard Millwood:

You can follow Richard on Twitter or send him an email

By Richard Millwood

I live in the home of TOWIE – The Only Way Is Essex –  which is set in Brentwood in Essex, England. The hit television series has averaged around one and a quarter million viewers every year since 2010 to watch almost three hundred episodes. But not everyone loves its “irritating, vain celeb-wannabes standing around babbling about their dull romances and private lives” [ ‘TOWIE’ Live review: Dancing pigs have more charisma Alex Fletcher on Digital Spy, 2012 ]. It featured a loaded, empty-headed but wealthy class, hardly improving on the Essex-girl jokes and white-van-man stereotypes. Brentwood’s high street could be  any prosperous high street in the i’m-all-right-jack south-east – only more so. “Often you’ll go into a pub and you’ll have a table of about eight girls with all their hair in curlers, beautiful clothes on,” said a taxi-driver and security guard turned film-maker. “Nine times out of ten they’re from somewhere in Ireland, probably the first time they’ve been out of the country. They’ve all spent about 400 quid each to come to sit in a pub in Brentwood.” [ The power of Towie – how ITV’s hit show changed Essex Tim Burrows in the Guardian, 2015 ]

Brentwood has a Conservative MP, who wins with a large majority. The local council has thirty seven councillors of which twenty are Conservatives, thirteen Liberal Democrats, three Labour and one independent. Many of the ordinary residents are employed in the financial sector – Brentwood is a commuter town, only twenty five minutes by fast train from the City of London. The appearance is of a wealthy ‘loadsamoney’ population, but as with all stereotypes, the truth is more diverse.

Brentwood has wards where houses go for three million pounds, and child poverty is 2%, but housing in neighbouring wards is still expensive at a tenth of that price, but over 25% children live in poverty. I know this because I chair the local Labour party and have found it interesting to explore the demographics and the reasons for its political complexion. I have tried to explain why we bother in Brentwood, even making a presentation about our aims in Leinster House, Dublin in 2017. We have around five hundred members in the local party, which is more than the membership of the other two more successful parties combined, but few are active at election time. The best I recall was eighty getting involved, but that included quite a few who turned up for an hour to help with poll checking at the vote or signed the nomination papers.

In the 2019 General Election, I recall meeting in the pub with a few of these volunteers to stuff envelopes. As we finished, I explained to a stranger what we were up to and who we represented, and he exclaimed “You Communist c••t”, as he swiftly left the building. I wasn’t hurt, but surprised, and wondered at the conception of our friendly and well-meaning Labour Party as ‘extreme left’ in character, and thus began a personal inquiry of the meaning of Socialism, to me and to the residents of Brentwood.

I knew that folk weren’t voting for us, but hadn’t stopped to think how they were rationalising their vote.

I recently started volunteering for Brentwood COVID-19 Mutual Aid, a self-organising group set up to support the vulnerable and isolated in the community during the Covid-19 outbreak. My discovery of a two-year project, predating the crisis, to offer community and nourishment to Brentwood residents has challenged me to think how could I practice what I believe. How could I demonstrate that I have a practical as well as philosophical view of how society should best run? 

And then I found Bank Job, based in nearby Waltham Forest, a group creatively challenging the Creditocracy through direct action, by buying up debts and releasing the debtors. They argue that debts are a result of a monetary system which is impoverishing multitudes by design, and could be changed.

Both these projects gave me hope, that we need not wait until we are in power to start changing things for the better, and even more importantly, we may be the better for it!

So I come to Congregation and it’s theme of Society 3.0 with these questions buzzing:

  1. Has ‘Capitalist Realism’ triumphed?
  2. Am I diverting from a socialist future by offering charity?
  3. Can I act out the future I’d like others to embrace?
  4. What is the future that my socialism imagines?

Powerful Online Learning Community – the Ultraversity Project #41 #cong19

Synopsis:

Ultraversity was a new design for undergraduate, work-focussed, inquiry based learning for those students for whom university did not fit. It ran from 2003, petering out after 2007 as the university it was hosted in ejected the foreign organism from its nest! Nevertheless in November 2006, 144 graduates met each other face-to-face for the first time after three years of online learning as a community. Substantial relationships had been established in a powerful online learning community through experienced facilitation and a purposeful, motivated membership.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. online community is often the only possibility for some learners;
  2. place – university is too far away;
  3. time – university teaching is often at the wrong time and synchronous;
  4. substantial and meaningful relationships can be formed with good facilitation and strong motivation.

About Richard Millwood:

Dr Richard Millwood is director of Core Education UK and a researcher in the School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin. Current research interests include learning programming and computational thinking and in relation to this, he is currently engaged in the development of a community of practice for computer science teachers in Ireland and also creating workshops for families to develop creative use of computers together. He gained a BSc in Mathematics & Physics at King’s College London in 1976 and first became a secondary school teacher. From 1980 to 1990 he led the software development of educational simulations in the Computers in the Curriculum Project at Chelsea College London. He then worked with Professor Stephen Heppell to create Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, acting as head from 2005 to 2007. He researched innovation in online higher education in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton until 2013, gaining a PhD by Practice ‘The Design of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education’. Until September 2017, he was Assistant Professor for four years directing the MSc in Technology & Learning and supervising six PhD students. He is now working for Eedi / Diagonostic Questions as Computing Lead.

Contacting Richard Millwood:

You can follow Richard on Twitter or send him an email

By Richard Millwood

The Ultraversity Project was developed at Ultralab at Anglia Ruskin University. Established in 1990 it conducted many globally- significant action research projects.

Foremost amongst these were the Notschool.net project which provided an online learning community for adolescents for whom school did not fit.

Another major project was Talking Heads, which connected the headteachers of the UK in an informal online learning community.

These projects informed the design and development of the Ultraversity project in 2003. Staff worked online from their homes around the UK. The team had worked closely together in this way for three years on previous projects.

There was a need for higher education for working people, who could not afford to be at university due to financial, family or access issues.

The aim was to create a BA qualification where the students’ driver was the desire to improve their ‘work’ context.

It was intended to enable students to do this whilst full time working and living life.

‘Work’ is defined broadly and includes voluntary and domestic activity. The activity needs to be capable of improvement and research.

Action research was the core discipline in this fully online course. The first time students met was at the graduation ceremony – 120 students did so in November 2006.

The students could not attend normal university because they needed to keep their job or care for family. For many, the Open University route would take too long and they were prepared to put in the spare time to study more rapidly.

Most students were from the school workforce, but a significant minority were in the health service and there were others from a broad range of contexts.

Cohorts were important in order to build communities where students are sharing the same challenges and able to support each other as they work to common timescales.

Left to their own devices, together with a commitment to improve the workplace, students researched the issues that were current and relevant.

The course combined several innovations to create an approach which focusses on the development of a graduate with confidence, sustainable learning skills & habits and competence to use technology independently.

The regionally distributed team who developed this model, maintained a successful online community of practice themselves as they grew in confidence and know-how to offer the degree, and this is one of many departures from typical university practice.

The outcome was a mature practitioner comfortable with innovation, contributing to knowledge in the workplace and beyond, confident to critcially question initiatives and initiate proposals.

Initially students identified where improvement can be made in their workplace. After checking what was known about the potential, they planned action, did it and reviewed, repeating several times.

The degree depended on online community to function – students helped each other and challenged each other as they learnt together. The strength of this community was hypothesised to achieve depth in learning

Students were quick to say how much they had been rewarded by the strong friendships which had developed online.

For assessment, students were encouraged to communicate often, in relatively small pieces, using a range of genre and media.
The key element was the ‘stitching’ of these pieces, reflecting on the learning journey.

Ultraversity developed a process curriculum, which does not define any detailed content, focussing instead on the disciplines of action enquiry, digital creativity and exhibition. These disciplines, when linked to the twin drivers of personal fulfilment and workplace improvement set up the learner for lifelong learning and the employer for considerable assurance of improvement.