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Lindsay Lyons: I'm excited for you to hear from today's guest who's coming to us all the way from South Africa : Dr Francois Naude. His experience in evolutionary biology and science education led to him receiving the national teacher's award. He trained more than 1500 teachers and is now dedicated to assisting teachers and school leaders to discover their superpowers and ensure that every teacher can teach like the superheroes they are. He works with teachers and school leaders by enveloping them in a community of practice. He shares his learnings from science, psychology and school leadership so you can solve the challenges that you face in the classroom, staff room and in life. This conversation was recorded in September 15, 2021. Let's get to the episode.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive, anti racist culture where all students thrive.
I'm a former teacher, leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you are a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader and if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself. You're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
Lindsay Lyons: Dr. Francois Naude, welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Dr. Francois Naude: Thank you Lindsay. It's great being here.
Lindsay Lyons: I'm so excited to have you today. I would love to start with a different way of beginning, which you just introduced me to. And I love this idea where can listeners learn more about you or connected with you online? And the reason we're asking that is your brilliant idea for like being able to follow along and look at some of your social media as people are listening to the episode.
Dr. Francois Naude: Yeah, well we know people are multitasking, we've got double screens and three screens while we're working.
So um I like telling people they can, they can go and stalk me on on my website at www.staysuper.co.za I'm from South Africa. So that's the z a part at the end of www.staysuper.co.za and they can go and stalk me in the work I do while we have the conversation.
Lindsay Lyons: Excellent. Thanks so much. And so I love this first question. Just diving right into really, what are dreams for education are Dr. Bettina Love talks about the idea of freedom dreaming and she describes these as dreams grounded in the critique of injustice. So with that in mind, what is that dream that you have for the fields?
Dr. Francois Naude: My big dream would be that we revolutionize the education system in such a way that we assist learners in self discovery in that they can take charge of their own learning that it is a self directed type of approach where the one size fits all kind of education, I don't think fits within the 21st century.
So the more we can give autonomy to our learners, the more we can drive towards their interest and self directed learning, the more injustices will be able to to eliminate. Because everybody's got a different um interest has got different learning trajectory for themselves, laid out. They can go and take agency and destroy or eliminate the injustices in their own lives.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that and different things resonate with different folks, right? And then I love that, that's such a personalized vision as well of like a dream for education. So that is great as you think about, you know, the you work with a lot of teachers, a lot of leaders and and thinking about, you know, working towards that dream of being able to personalize the learning in such a way where people, students and and adults even can really teach and learn and grow within that framework you just described, what are the kind of either barriers, challenges kind of ways that we need to shift away from traditional thinking perhaps to this new way of thinking, What are the things you've seen either be successful and people shift over their mindsets to that dream or what are the challenges that you've seen in people kind of trying to shift to that.
Dr. Francois Naude: There's a few things that get in the way of this. The first one of course is legacy thinking the whole fact that we've been doing it in a specific way for a long time. It's been working for us, or at least there's not a lot of resistance. So in the short term it's working. So let's just stick with what we know and in that essence, we really just keep on being busy in education. School leaders are busy. Teachers are busy. Whenever I work with teaching and the coaching I do, they always tell me I'm so busy, I'm so busy. I just can't get time for everything. And then my question to them is, well, are you busy moving forward or are you moving towards? And that's a big difference. That a lot of people are moving forward. We do what needs to be done in the classroom. We do what needs to be done in the community or in the school. But if we don't have a clear victory condition, if we don't have a clear goal, we're working towards, we'll just keep on remaining busy and we'll still be stuck in the mindset of the status quo and the innovation, the change doesn't happen for individuals who just keep on being busy.
So we need to be very intentional and the school leaders that I work with that are intentional about the change they want to bring about in the school. They are the ones that, you know, they're part of communities of practice their part of professional learning networks and they try and broaden their horizons and see what the options are available to them. Taking that and just experimenting.
And I think with that comes a lot of courage because it's easy for me to say, you know what we need to be innovative, we need to change the way in which we eat, but there's a lot of courage that needs to go with it. Somebody that is willing to take the first step, even if it's a small minor change they want to bring about that typically leads to the first, like I just want to say a chain reaction within changes in the school. So just changing that one little thing that you feel is going to affect change and then taking that scientific mindset to it. Like, well, let's let's measure, let's see what the outcome was. Are we moving towards our hypothesis?
Are we moving towards the goal or are we just moving forward?
The framework that I've chosen to build everything around? And the work that I do is that of being a super teacher. The program that I've started, the talks that I give to schools, whether it's being online or in person at the school is framed around teaching like a superhero. Because I believe teachers and the great teachers are superheroes to the learners in the classroom. So when within this frame we need to understand that education is in a crisis and definitely in my country, it is a big pain point and I've seen that around the world, that there is, there needs a lot of disruption to come in education.
And if we are in a crisis, who are we hoping towards, what are we hoping for is the savior is some form of hero that's going to step in and save us from the crisis. And I believe teachers are those role models. Teachers are those beacons of hope in communities and that's why I believe strongly that teachers need to be super teachers and not just your mediocre teachers or average teachers.
And unfortunately there are many mediocre teachers and it's that mindset of well, how can we improve how can we take the first step to solving the challenges or improving my community or at least just improving my own life? Because the I think one of the challenges is that our personal lives get in the way of what magic can happen in the classroom. If a teacher is struggling personally, that often spills over into into the classroom. So what's been working quite well is these individual sessions or group sessions that we have with teachers. So the teachers like a superhero mastermind, The teachers who are part of it can on a regular basis say, well, here's my challenge. I'm struggling with the following, can we within the team of Avengers, if we can take the metaphor a bit further, if we've got a group of super teachers together now we can start collaborating because where my weakness is, you might have that strength and in these communities of practice we discover that and then we learn new strategies, new methodologies that we can bring into the classroom and affect the change.
Lindsay Lyons: Oh I love that so much. Okay, so and I'm thinking about all the themes to in terms of, you know, some of the stuff that I do and talk about a lot of the podcast that's totally connected here. So I'm just thinking, my first question was you know as you were talking about being a super teacher super teaching like a superhero. You know, what is what do you define as, you know, being a super teacher super teaching like a superhero because for me I'm thinking that element of collaboration you just brought in at the end really resonates. So I'm thinking even collaboration with students and you you started with this dream of you know, a personalized environment. So just teaching like a superhero and I know the words hero and savior kind of conjure up a certain certain image. Does that also mean you know, knowing when to step back, Does that also mean knowing when to let students lead or two to collaborate with students in addition to their colleagues. Like what kind of definition do you have for teaching in that way.
Dr. Francois Naude: So it's a difficult one because I mean, teachers are so individualized and there's no stock standard answer to that. And I've made it my professional mission to go and discover the traits of a super teacher.
And that's what I share in the public talk. Um, that when I do talks at schools, it's what are the three? I would also say bare minimum attributes or characteristics of a super teacher. And um, I would love to share it with you. So we, we start off and I believe that even though we say we are the super teachers, a super teacher understands that they are not the hero of the story. That the champion is in the chair. If we lose sight of that, then we become egotistical teacher.
Because a lot of teachers feel that you know, I am the hero. If I step into the classroom and you say that I'm everything, you guys need to listen to me, I'm this oracle of knowledge bow down before me, then you're a mediocre teacher, you're a very, very average teacher. It's the ones that understand that my purpose here isn't to be in the limelight. My purpose is to be the sage on the stage, is to be the guide on the side.
It's somebody that's going to support the hero, which is the learner on their journey to victory. So that's the first thing that a super teacher does is realizing that they are not the heroes of the story.
The second thing that super teachers do is they disrupt distraction. There are so many distractions for our learners and especially with hybrid learning, online learning, the distractions are just being amplified. So what a super teacher does is they've got these hacks, these tips and tricks to ensure that they can maintain attention. And I always say like in the in the discourse of superheroes, they super teachers are the Ironman and the Batman kind of superhero. You know, you get superheroes that needs to be bitten by a radioactive spider in order to get their superpower or you get no these superheroes that are accidentally became heroes like there was a radioactive explosion and now they got their superpowers, but that's not the kind of superhero that teachers should be.
Teachers are the Ironman, the Batman, the people with the utility belts that can use tools to there that's at their disposal to hack attention. And unfortunately, I mean that's I think that's so difficult for teachers to like try and grasp in a half an hour and that's why it's a career long journey. Um and that's why the lifelong learning and the self directed learning for teachers are so important because we get to learn new. As the as the environment changes and we saw it in the last few years as the teaching environment changes, we need to find the tools in our utility belts.
It's going to help us to disrupt distraction and then the last thing that super teachers do is we get close and we get close with our learners. We build a relationship with them, you know, the social emotional learning component to our careers. It's it's not just sterile content that's being taught, it's understanding that within the bigger social context.
Um there are many other factors that influence learning and we need to get close enough to our learners that we understand their interests. We get to understand their preferences and that we then design learning environments and learning situations that's optimized for the learners we're teaching. So they get close to the learners and I have already mentioned, they get close to their colleagues, they collaborate, they find their Avengers. So we get close. But the most important thing in getting close as we get close to ourselves. Society wants us to or conditions us to focus on our weaknesses and we often get trapped within our weaknesses and how we structure our personal and professional development is around our weaknesses. When I believe that we should rather be focusing on our strengths. You know what your teacher superpower is. You know what your strengths are.
Well if you don't you can start discovering it but start focusing on the things you're doing well before you start focusing on the things you're struggling with. Get that one superpower dialed in. Some teachers are humorous teachers, they love bringing humor into the classroom and that helps to translate the content. Other teachers are amazing storytellers. Other teachers are great at the administrative side of their teaching, focus on what you're good at, perfect that and then start worrying about the rest. So in a nutshell, those three things I believe that the super teachers have as a theme or at a minimum and then we start building all of the other characteristics, start being built up on top of that.
Lindsay Lyons: I am so grateful that you just share those three. Those are so powerful and so interconnected too. Right? If we get close, if we get close with students, we get close with colleagues. If we get closer to ourselves, we can do the other things, we can disrupt distraction, right? We can make sure we're not the hero of the story and the students are.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that, that's such a, such a wonderful framework and I really appreciate that you shared it with our listeners. Um one of the things that I'm wondering is where or how do you find super teachers? So in this idea of recruiting and hiring and um, that kind of thing, what would you say to to leaders who are asking this question of themselves?
Dr. Francois Naude: Finding super teachers? If you look at all of the movies, it's like all of the super teachers are in costume, they're hiding away. They want to hide their true identity, but finding the competent teachers who work at your, at your institute and that I'd say is probably one of the bare essentials. The starting point of uplifting your school. Howard Mann in one of his podcasts explained the concept of recruiting that before you go and look for candidates that can fill positions, you have to first do an internal audit of competence. Look at the staff that you currently have and give yourself a rating out of 10.
So think about, most principles or most, most school leaders will be able to do that because they interact and they're busy or they know their staff competence. They can go like if I were to rate my staff component, I'll give them on competence, a six out of 10, whatever your measure is. But then when you hire new staff and your goal, your victory condition is you would like to have a eight out of 10 average or a nine out of 10 average. you can't be hiring more sixes. You can't be hiring fives and fours. With every hire, you should be hiring somebody whose competence is above the average competence that you deem in your school. And that process, even though it sounds simple is difficult. Because how, how can you in an interview determine the competence of a teacher. So what we do is I've started recruitment company for teachers called: goteach.co.za. And my philosophy around that is to assist even our student teachers as well as practicing teachers to start building up the proof of competence, in digital assets in digital portfolios of evidence that then um they have at their disposal that when they do apply for a job because that's the other part of the the portal, is that the schools advertise their vacancies.
But then we use our algorithms and to screen out candidates that we feel won't fit the ethos of the school or what the school's guideline is. So we have a very intense discussion with the school in determining their culture, in determining their ethos and then slotting all of those parameters into our algorithms and then getting from the applicants, like precipitating out the super teachers from that. But then we always ask the teachers, well, where's your proof? Do you have videos of you teaching? Do you know what principles are looking for? Do you have testimonials? Because everybody's putting references on their CVS, but very few people phone the people or if you do, what are they going to tell you? Nobody's gonna lie or at least they're not going to tell you. Oh no, this teacher was absolutely horrible. Don't hire them. Nobody does that. So rather building up case studies from parents, building up case studies from learners that you've been working with, of course you can change the names or anything.
But the point being, how are you using digital assets to prove your competence, to prove that you are a super teacher. And I can promise you if you are part of 50 or 100 teachers that apply for a job and you're the only one that can prove your competence, you're the priest word candidate. So finding those teachers is the one part that's the recruitment aspect. And then the other part that we do is assisting schools in the internship project because we believe strongly in schools having to grow their own number.
They're taking in student teachers in an internship project. And then for the time of their studies in our country, our teachers study a four year degree. So during the four years they are in service every day in school, getting to know the ethos and the culture of the school. And we assist in with the mentor teacher support, we assist with the intern support, but by the time they're qualified, you don't need to go and look for super teachers. You've grown a super teacher in your own headquarters.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that that, that both trying to make sure that you have great, you know, super teachers coming in and also that there is capacity for change and growth within the staff that you already have. I also loved your idea of you know, thinking about doing an internal audit like and and really figuring out where you are in the ratings for each of those, it reminds me of what I was about to say earlier and totally spaced on the values in action. I don't know if it's valuesinaction.com. I can link to it in the show notes, but they are a group of positive psychologists who have tried to focus more on the strength space what you were saying earlier, as opposed to deficits let's look at strength. And I actually had experimented with as a teacher, we did that as a staff, we had all of our students do that. And then we had everyone who taught those students in a in a cohort um to do it as well. And we all got to talk about our strengths in a way that was not very bragy. It was like, oh, I took this inventory and here are my strengths and you know, you have these strengths and we would be a great team for this project.
And so even students to student thinking about what the strengths are. You know, doing that audit in a sense of what are my colleagues or my staff, but also where are the strength of my students and where do we maybe need more in the staff to enable that in the students. I mean, there's so much possibility in what you were sharing that I just think it's so cool to be so cool to hear, you know, how teachers are our leaders are doing that. And then I also just love the idea of testimonials beyond your supervisors, like you were saying, family members, learners, I mean that that's who you want to hear from, right, when you're interviewing, you want to know what the experience of those family members were when they talked with the teacher. Was that communication a one way street, was it a partnership? Did you only get calls that were like your kid misbehaved in school today? You know? And what did the learners experience, you know, feel like to them when they were in the class? So brilliant suggestions. I absolutely love these, These are really exciting. Did you, do we cover enough about all the various things that you do, I know you do so much.
Was there a program that we missed there?
Dr. Francois Naude: No, I think, we we've covered quite a lot of what I'm busy with the moment, of course, with the aim of supporting teachers, because that's the that's the thing for me, I never wanted to be a teacher, it was never on my radar as a job. I went to study, I've got my BSC honors in zoology and it was only in my first year that I thought, yes, I want to do something else, and one of my own lecturers said, well why don't you consider teaching? And I went that's such a brilliant idea because for a lazy student like myself, teaching is the best job out there, and, you know, half day job, you get the four holidays a year, it's basically babysitting. I was like, yeah, I'm gonna do this. But it was only like after the first week of teaching 15 year olds about, you know, sexual reproduction, that I realized, I love what I do, just getting that fire in the classroom. So I ended up in teaching per accident, but I had the passion, I had enthusiasm for the job, but still being thrown into the deep end, not receiving the support. I could have easily just decided after the first three years, you know, I'm out, I don't want to do this because it's teaching is a difficult job.
I saw the research on this and teaching is as difficult, as dreadful as air traffic controllers, as firefighters. It's shocking that people generally don't understand how stressful a job it is to be a teacher and we're losing teachers at a very young age. So I made it my mission to support, not only novice teachers, because they are retired or close to retirement, teachers also need support so that everything I decided to get involved with, because you're as judged by what you say no to as to what you say yes to, that the things that I've decided to say yes to has to be supporting teachers. and so the recruitment company, the intern support, the masterminds, the public speaking, all of it has got this mission on supporting teachers to become the super teachers so that we can teach like superheroes.
Lindsay Lyons: That's so powerful and it's such an issue like retention. I mean I was a special education teacher and part of the reason that I got into teaching is the same, I was not intending to become a teacher and then there are all these alternative certification programs where it's like, we'll pay for your college degree in education if you just come teach in this subject area that we don't have anyone wanting to teach in.
And it's because people leave after 3-5 years, you know, 50% of special education teachers are just not teaching anymore and it's bananas because it is, you know, such a, there is such opportunity like you were speaking to the joy and like I actually really love this job. And that is what I think when you're talking about even close to retirement teachers, when you don't have that joy anymore, it starts to hurt your own well being, which then impacts, as you said earlier, the student's well being and the student experience and it's all interconnected and so I love that your mission is really just amplifying that joy that expertise and you know, the experience for all learners. So that is so beautiful. Um, I know we talked about a lot of different things that teachers could do, our leaders could do. And so I'm wondering as a final call to action, what would you say if there's just one thing where a listener is ending the episode and they're like, I'm gonna go do one thing to kind of build that momentum based on what you talked about today. What's that? One thing you would encourage people to go do after kind of hanging up to your beds?
Dr. Francois Naude: Well, the one thing would be to go and discover their superpower. That would be like if you need to write it down somewhere, figure out your superpower. And there's, there's three ways that I like triangulate and ask people to go and discover their superpower. The first thing is listen to podcasts like this one. Go and find out because we need to find out what are the typical traits of super teacher. If we don't know what is available traits or what has worked in the past, it's very difficult to frame something just out of context.
So by curating content, listening to podcasts, reading books or watching youtube videos and there are so many amazing content creators on Tiktok. The teacher Tiktok is amazing and I love it. So go and go and view these things, follow other competent teachers because you'll soon realize ah this is a trait I also have. Okay, I'm not that kind of teacher now you're comparing and seeing, okay, where do I fit? number one
and the second one is going to do a personality test, do yourself a favor, go and do a personality test. There are many free ones online but go and do one and go and see what kind of person you are. So you're getting close to yourself, you're discovering what psychologists deem your strengths are. And then go and ask your friends, your family just to mention five traits that that they admire about you. What are the things that they believe your superpower is? Because now you'll be able to compare and see out of the five people that sent me responses three times came out humoristic. Okay, I know that's so you get a perspective, an outside perspective, a professional perspective and in your own and triangulation between this is going to help you discover your superpower.
Lindsay Lyons: Wow, that is so cool. It reminds me of Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, she does a lot of positive psychology research and she has the reflected best self. So it's basically what you're saying is you're asking all these people like if you could reflect back a time where I was at my best, what was that time?
And so they come up with all these anecdotes and yeah you can pull the values and the strength from them and it's such a fun activity and I know I asked for one action but I'm even thinking an extension for people who are listening could be you know, do that with your students to write like you could have the students tell each other this as well and say, you know, I, I did this for myself. Um now I want you to have this joy of just hearing the good things about yourself. Like there's something really beautiful about that.
Dr. Francois Naude: There is on Saturday, I did a teacher wellness workshop and it's strange now to do in person workshops because for the last two years it's been all online, but I had my, one of the first in person teacher wellness trainings and we did this, we did all three of these, but then I asked the teachers to share with each other the point place and just the change in the mood in the conference hall was tangible. As soon as people started sharing these positives with each other, you could just feel because hey, we like it when people speak about us and then when they speak positive things about us, we like it even more.
So it was ego stroking type of exercise, which I think is that necessarily at times. But just the, the, the change in the mood was so tangible and we need to do more of this, imagine how kids would feel if we start sharing with them their strengths instead of picking on them and just writing them and like getting the, you know, sitting down and shutting up type of conversations with them. It's like, let's rather share with them what you just did. I respect what you just did. Just that sentence alone. What it does for a child's self esteem is amazing.
Lindsay Lyons: That is so cool to think about what the possibilities in a school like that would be like. So thank you so much for sharing that activity. I love it. And finally this last question is just for fun. I'm just, I'm curious to know everyone who comes out on the podcast has been really a self described learner and you know, invests in their own learning. I know we're in a mastermind together, so we're investing in our learning, but I'm just curious to know something that you have been learning about lately.
Dr. Francois Naude: I am, I'm like a serial entrepreneur, I'm also like a serial curator of information.
so learning for me has become a habit and I don't, I think like my attention deficit is speaking here because I can't focus on one thing at a time. So I don't learn about one aspect every single or in like larger chunks. I prefer to spread out my learning through different interests and behind me Lindsay you'll be able to see it at my bookshelf. I've got 10 books that I'm currently reading at the same time, But I do what I, what I do is I read 10 pages from one book, but then also capturing and that's very important because we forget like 90% of the things we consume. I would then retain the nice things from the 10 pages I've read. And I actually send myself an email with that information so I can recall it later.
And then that book goes in the back of the queue because tomorrow I'll be reading another book. And the interest is, it's from like fantasy genres of of uh you know, fiction to nonfiction biographies of business leaders.
Because I feel that I don't know what I don't know. So let me like spread my wings and read as much as I can and then start incorporating that in my day.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that strategy of the 10 pages email yourself. I think I might start using that. This is the first year that I allowed myself to read multiple books at once. So in order to retain, I'm using your strategy now.
Dr. Francois Naude: We call it, you need to have an idea trap because whenever you get an idea you need to capture it because your ideas are fleeting. Like many times you're in the shower thinking of something and then you're like, oh this is a great idea. Probably like a multi billion dollar business idea. And then you just step out of the shower and you forgot or you got it in the car and somebody swerves in front of you. Like you forgot the idea. So um I use I use an app and I can share the, the app's name. I just want to quickly double check it on my phone. It's called Brain Toss Brain Toss is an app, you can use that to capture any ideas. You can capture the pages of a book on a photo or you can send yourself a voice note or you can type in a text with links and stuff like that.
It immediately emails it to you and you've got it in the bank.
Lindsay Lyons: So cool, awesome. Thank you so much. I'm gonna use that now Francois thank you so much for being a guest on this podcast.
Dr. Francois Naude: It's a pleasure chatting with you Lindsay. Thank you for having me.
Lindsay Lyons: Thanks for listening. Amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsay Beth Lyons or labor review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it to continue the conversation. You can head over to our Time for Teachership ship facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries. Until next time leaders continue to think big act brave and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.