Another Edu-Awesome #saskedchat! Our topic was Student Engagement and our guest moderator Jade Ballek (@jadeballek) a principal in the Sun West School Division at Kenaston Distance Education Learning Centre.
We had over 40 participants take part in the chat. For some, this was their first experience joining a chat which can be a bit of a shock with how fast the chat moves and the number of different conversations that take place.
With this number of participants, missing part of a conversation happens and that is why we archive all the #saskedchats!
What does “Student Engagement” mean to you? Over time, my ideas about student engagement have changed. As a young teacher I was focused on the lesson and my teaching, on creating lessons that were, I thought, “engaging”. Later, as I developed confidence as a teacher and began to explore different teaching strategies, I became less worried about “my teaching” and more focused on “student learning”. In Matt Head’s post Learning or Teaching? he states
As I reflect on my own teaching I have come to realize that what and how I am teaching is usually my first priority.
It is what teachers are doing, focusing on their teaching because that is part of the job. There is the focus on planning, assessment, planning, classroom management, planning, classroom design, planning, student interaction, and planning. During a recent episode of ITTNation, Dave Bircher and I discuss Cross-Curricular planning and how the act of deeply understanding the curricula can open up opportunities for learning that allow for FLOW to take place.
Focus, Learning, Observation and Wonder.
Teachers are able to allow the Focus of the lesson to emerge from interaction with students. The Learning take place through the interactions and is driven by student ideas, interests and passions. Through Observation the teacher is able to guide students in their interests while making connections to Learning Outcomes. This allows students and teachers to Wonder – exploring different topics and concepts from a place of Wonder.
The current focus on the state of education on a global scale is on what teachers do in the classroom. Debates between Reformers of all types draw different ideas about what needs to happen in the classroom in order for students to be prepared for their future. Sometimes, missing from the debate, is what is happening NOW . How many educators are wondering about how the recent two wins by Google’s AlphaGo over the world champion Go player will impact schools? What will this mean for students?
Overall, Google’s DeepMind is calling on a type of AI called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data — such as photos — and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Venture Beat
Are we preparing students for today? Are we engaging them in a discussion about what is happening in the present? Too often the mantra is “Prepare for the Future”. In some respects, today isn’t even close to what I thought it was going to be 10 years ago. In other way, it is.
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Yoda
This is not a call to toss out all of what is currently happening in schools and classrooms. In the present reform cacophony, it’s hard sometimes to even hear oneself think never mind trying to make sense of what is being proposed especially when there is more and more being added to the discussion. This isn’t just about what tools to use in the classroom or if there should be interactive whiteboards or not, whether teachers should adopt flipped learning or embrace blended learning or Project Based Learning. The discussion includes environment design, learning design, social justice, content bias, differentiated learning systems, game theory, makerspaces, content diffusion, digital citizenship, digital literacy and other pedagogical and theoretical discussions/issues each with their representatives and lobbyists.
Education, it’s a serious business.
There are no simple answers and stopping schooling until things get figured out isn’t going to happen. It is a work in progress. Yes the shuttle is being built as it is being flown – it is the only way learning can continue.
Engaging or Empowering?
Our chat briefly touch on is engaging someone the same as empowering them? What do we want to happen in schools? Why is this important to discuss? As we live in the midst, it is struggling with such questions that help us to make sense of the noise.
If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen. George Couros
Are teachers being engaged or empowered? Are administrators? Are parents? Do we allow people to have ownership of their learning? How do we mange such a shift?
Like other such discussions, everyday implementation is, itself, a work in progress. As an administrator, providing input from students and parents was important but so where division and provincial policies. Providing leadership opportunities and helping people develop their strengths was important to developing a school culture of learning and growth. Shifting school culture from a top-down model to a collaborative/shared leadership model isn’t just about “sharing responsibility”. It involves creating a culture of shared growth, trust, learning and collaboration. Such development takes time and, in an environment of efficiency and improvement, can often be overshadowed by “what the data says”.
The #saskedchat provided a great many things to think about, some of them I’ve touched on.
Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.
A few years back, my daughters were given the responsibility of running the local swimming pool for the summer. They were hired by the local pool board and given the responsibility of getting the pool ready for the upcoming year. There was a manual and a someone who worked on maintaining the mechanical aspects of the pool but they were responsible for the rest. The one hired as the general manager asked the chairperson how she was suppose to learn all that she needed to do. I absolutely loved the response, which I was fortunate to hear because, in a small town, they were discussing this in our kitchen:
We hired you because you are smart and capable. We know that you have the skills necessary to do what is needed. We will support you and I can tell you who you can contact for help but you are the manager. You and your staff will need to keep the pool up and running and I can’t be leaving work to help you out. I’ll do what I can but we have full faith that you will be able to do what is necessary. That’s why we hired you.
And the girls did just that. It was one of the best learning experience my daughters had before they went to university. To this day, they talk about how much they learned. They still get the odd phone call from new managers about how to do things.
Did they make mistakes? You bet they did. Were there stressful moments? Yep. I was privy to some “deep discussions” (arguments) between the two sisters about everything from schedules to expectations of staff to expectation of patrons to what pool toys to purchase (who knew a blow-up whale could cause so many problems!) The board trusted these young people to do what was right and make good decisions and were rewarded for that trust with hard work and young people who gave it their all (and a lot more) and provided a great service to a small community.
Grew Their Strengths
There were courses to take and tests to pass, inspections to meet and technical aspects to master. Each one required different strengths to be developed. Each girl had different strengths which they were allowed to use – to grow. Because they were allowed to use their strengths they were willing to take risks. And when something wasn’t a strength? Fortunately each of the girls that worked (and they were all girls) had different strengths which they used. Sometimes, it took the intervention of someone to point out that maybe someone else might be better suited to organizing the swimming lessons or managing the chemicals and ensuring that all safety standards were met.
Did they always use their strengths? Nope. In fact, stubborn determination sometimes meant they had to learn through mistakes. But, mistakes they did make and learn they did. For three years, this group managed an outdoor pool in a small town, taking it from losing money to breaking even. All have gone on to other things but each of them grew in so many ways during that time.
I was fortunate to be able to learn with/from them.
The role of school leadership and it’s impact on change and innovation has been well documented and discussed. There are different opinions as to the exact extent of the impact that school leadership has on student achievement or the changing role of school leaders in schools today. As a former school administrator, there always seemed to be a wide array of opinions about what I should be doing as a leader and what my role was as a leader within the school and the community. Having been an administrator in 8 different schools in 5 communities, my experiences were different and unique in each setting. Although there were some things that were similar, each school and community was unique with its own set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.
Seeing Strengths in Others
In education, we traditionally focus a great deal of attention on weaknesses or areas of improvement. A great deal of Data Driven Decision-Making is focused on identifying areas for growth – areas of weakness – that need improvement. One of the primary responsibilities of an educational leader is to use that data to identify areas and implement initiatives to make improvement. A lot of time and effort is spent on looking for deficits.
It’s somewhat similar at all levels. Identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Focus on these.
But what about Strengths
As an administrator I spent so much time focused on identifying weaknesses in everyone, including myself, but not nearly enough time identifying strengths and helping people use and improve them.
What I learned from watching my daughters was how important it was to focus on strengths – grow them, improve them, nourish them. Through a collaborative team effort where people’s strengths are combined, the synergy of the team leads to even greater growth and development, especially in areas of strengths.
Liz Wiseman in Multipliers identifies 5 traits that leaders have who grow people – develop them and allow them to improve.
And areas of weakness? They improve but, more importantly, they aren’t used to hold someone back from progress and growing.
Differentiate to grow Strengths
Too often an inordinate amount of time is devoted to weaknesses instead of building teams that are strong because of the variety of strengths the people on the team possess. Teachers, for the most part, spend their days working in classrooms with students. Many teachers are themselves Multipliers, helping students to grow and develop strengths. However these strengths aren’t the one’s found on tests or reflected in test scores which shifts the focus away from helping both teachers and students grow and develop their strengths.
Too often, time is spent trying to improve areas of weakness that result in minimal improvement while areas of strength are left without development. This stifles growth and drains students and teachers of energy. To have innovation, supporting people to use their strengths gives them the freedom to develop these and improve.
We tend to think of innovation as arising from a single brilliant flash of insight, but the truth is that it is a drawn out process involving the discovery of an insight, the engineering a solution and then the transformation of an industry or field. That’s almost never achieved by one person or even within one organization.
If we truly are looking for innovation in education, focusing on improving deficits will not bring that innovation. Instead, allowing people, teachers and students, to use, develop and grow their strengths through collaborative efforts and connecting provides opportunity for creativity and innovation and the possibility of transformational growth.
How are you growing others strengths? How are you growing your own strengths? I’d love to hear your experiences either of helping others to grow or someone who helped you and the impact it had on you.
What to do next?
The past few weeks have been somewhat of a blur. Not the “I’m so busy I can’t remember” type of blur. Instead, they’ve been a blur because I’ve been trying to figure out exactly which path to take next.
How to Explain This?
Like a few other administrators that I follow – Peter DeWitt and Joe Mazza, I’ve been reflecting on my role as an educator/administrator. Unlike either of them, I’m not writing or working with someone outside of the school setting. Instead, I was finding that the role I had was no longer deeply fulfilling. It’s not that I’m not passionate about learning, students, teachers and innovation and change in schools. But as a principal, I felt I wasn’t where I should be – the fit wasn’t there. The school communities I’ve worked with have been great – the teachers, students and parents have been great support. The fit just wasn’t there – I was a round peg trying to fit in a square hole!
I’ve been a principal in 9 different schools over 13 schools. Now, there are multi-campus periods where I was a principal in 2 schools at once and in my last position, I was principal of a K-6 & 7-12 that amalgamated into a K-12 school so it’s not quite what it looks like but my family and I have experienced life in larger urban settings and smaller rural settings. I’ve experienced a great deal of growth over this time and have learned mostly because I’ve made mistakes in decision-making, relationship building, trust development, school community building and teacher/student/parent engagement. In fact, if you were to have a set of categories for administrators, I’ve probably gaffed in all of them – some which were pretty major gaffs. But, no matter the mistake, I learned long ago that I needed to apologize and then move on, picking myself up and dust myself off. Sometimes these gaffs will get together and, late at night, rush to remind me of my need to be reflective and consider my decisions/words/actions carefully.
In my last position, it has been an exciting/ exhilerating time as we entered a new school building and began to develop the culture within. During the last year, despite all the great things that were happening and the great growth and development that was taking place with staff, students and parents, I felt unsettled, like something just wasn’t right. I explored the field of central office with several interviews but nothing fit or I did’t fit – either way, those options didn’t pan out.
Time to Explore
So, after a long drive for an interview with all kinds of time to think and reflect, I felt it was time to finally take the leap to explore. My wife and I had spent a great deal of time in reflection. As an administrator, my focus has always been “Do what’s best for students” and I knew, if I was being honest with myself, that I wasn’t going to be able to do that in the upcoming school year – I wasn’t going to be able to “Walk the Talk”. So I resigned with nothing other than a gut feeling that there was a new path out there for me to create. It was time to explore something new.
What will we find?
I’ve learned a great deal as an administrator and teacher. As I’ve explored the world outside of school through various interactions on social media like twitter, FB, Plurk and other avenues. I’ve been involved in GH, Skype and other activities with great educators from around the world. I have been drawn to explore how to assist teachers to utilize these great tools to engage students and better manage the incredible amount of initiatives that are placed before them while they try to help their students. So, after a great deal of reflection, I’ve decided to pursue my PhD in Educational Administration and Leadership – now to find a university!
Food for Thought
These are some of the titles that I’ve been reading over the past few months. They’ve pushed me to think more deeply about learning, school and those involved – students, teachers, parents and community. In this time of change, there is opportunity to explore how and why we’ve done things and how, why and what can be done to change and evolve – move the paradigm. Like Joe Mazza and Peter DeWitt, I’m drawn to explore the world outside the school – to Walk the Talk and follow my passion – to help teachers/students/parents in a different capacity to build their capacity to reshape school and the world. I don’t have the means to attend various conferences but have learned that being there is only an added bonus since the learning is available because of the sharing that takes place. Having explored a MOOC this summer focused on Design Thinking, I’m intrigued how this process can be employed in schools – by teachers and students but also by administrators, central office, IT and other support personnel in a way that is better suited for engaging more individuals in a problem solving method that is vastly different from what most people have experienced.
So, if anyone out there has something for me to do over the next few months, I’m open to suggestions! Really. If I could find the funding, I’d do something like this:
Otherwise, my new mentor and I will be exploring the world – with a leap of faith!
Today I get to watch my daughter play hockey. She’s a goalie. Anyone who hasn’t played that position doesn’t really understand the position. It’s lonely at times, with a great deal of pressure. As I watched her today, it’s amazing how much she has improved from the beginning of the season. Heck, how much she learned from last weekend when she had 28 goals scored on her in 3 games. Not many kids would volunteer to suit up after that. In fact, she is even missing a family wedding so she can play this weekend.
As an educator, I’m always so impressed with children when they don’t allow a bad game or 3 affect them. As my daughter was getting ready today, all she was focused on was improving – not letting the other team score on a wrap-around. Not give up the long goal – get her body in front of that puck. It wasn’t about the bad games or the mistakes but about learning from them and getting better.
Somehow, as educators, heck as adults, we must adopt this same attitude. People like Angela Maiers, Lisa Dabbs, Tristan Bishop, Vicki Davis and others continue to bring this message but it needs to become something our children hear each day, especially in our schools.
As a K-12 principal, I often feel like a goalie (which I have been)! Too often I don’t just shake off that last goal and I waste too much time on what I could have done to make that save instead of looking around me to see how hard my team is working, thanking them for all their hard work, patting them on the back and getting ready to play again. That’s what I saw my kid do over and over last weekend – 28 times. She’s taught me a few things – last weekend it was about being a real leader.
To some, this may come across as a bit whiny, to others, a bit egocentric and to a few in the crowd, it will be , like, WTH. That’s okay. As an administrator, I’ve learned that many people do not see the full picture of what takes place in schools – no matter how transparent you try to be because that is the nature of what happens. Also, it’s been on my mind for a while and needs to be put out there.
It all began 5 years ago when Scott McLeod began Leadership day. Check out the link to see what that is all about. The one thing I will steal from his post are the bullets he outlines for his reason for promoting such a day.
Many of our school leaders (principals, superintendents, central office administrators) need help when it comes to digital technologies. A lot of help, to be honest. As I’ve noted again and again on this blog, most school administrators don’t know
- what it means to prepare students for the digital, global world in which we now live;
- how to recognize, evaluate, and facilitate effective technology usage by students and teachers;
- what appropriate technology support structures (e.g., budget, staffing, infrastructure, training) look like or how to implement them;
- how to utilize modern technologies to facilitate communication with internal and external stakeholders;
- the ways in which learning technologies can improve student learning outcomes;
- how to utilize technology systems to make their organizations more efficient and effective;
- and so on…
Administrators’ lack of knowledge is not entirely their fault. Many of them didn’t grow up with computers. Other than basic management or data analysis technologies, many are not using digital tools or online systems on a regular basis. Few have received training from their employers or their university preparation programs on how to use, think about, or be a leader regarding digital technologies.
5 years ago when I first read this, it kind of irked me because, as an administrator, I guess I was one of the few who understood the power of technology and the need for collaboration. In fact, in my Master’s Thesis of 11 odd years ago, Teacher Professional Development in Saskatchewan – Meaningful Transformation – I argued for the following:
- Teacher led, school-based pd focusing on: curriculum renewal, technology, teaching strategies and assessment.
- The need to harness the use of technology to have teachers share and collaborate and work with students – guides/coaches
- Collaborative collections of resources to assist with curriculum renewal – in Saskatchewan we have a resource based provincial curricula that really is geared to the use of multiple resources – perfect for technology integration.
That was 11 years ago, give or take a few months. As an educational leader, I have strongly advocated for school-based pd where teachers share their resources and ideas with one another. I have promoted the need for teachers to gather, just like the Edcamps that are currently taking place, to share their learning and build their knowledge. I even tried to organize one this past spring in my own province to no avail. As an educational leader, flipping the classroom was something I have done for the past 7 years, using technology – delicious, wikis, mind maps, LMS like HotChalk and more recently twitter, Survey Monkey, EasyPoll, Remind101, diigo , Youtube and various other websites when teaching because, well, I still teach. Middle years and high school. Different subjects each year. It’s been part of they way I’ve taught before there was these “technologies” – asking students to create videos, documentaries, doing cross-curricular units to help students make connections. I’ve been using UbD for years – am well versed in PBIS, RTI, PPP’s and Assistive Technologies because every school where I’ve worked as an administrator was inclusive. Period.
I’ve been online for some time – Educational Discourse , Educational Discourse and Ed Administrator2.0 plus my blog – Educational Discourse all examples of how I try to share with others – well plus my twitter @principal_kelly. Our school has a FB Page, twitter account and the staff uses Livebinders, pbworks wiki, skype and other online and in-school software to facilitate learning, sharing, collaboration and integration with students. This past year we have developed online blogs for our K & 1 classes hoping to add our 2 to 8 student portfolios via Class Blogmeister – which I’ve used with classes to have students blog about their learning – to facilitate discussion and to hopefully encourage them to speak to an audience other than me. I was a teacher support for the flat classroom project, have presented at conferences about the use of SM tools and technology integration. My work in 9 schools with a few hundred staff has focused on changing their paradigms, helping to move each one forward with the integration – not use – of technology and moving to a student-oriented view of teaching and learning.
But as a leader, I have also felt the repercussions of not following the prescribe path. I’ve been overlooked and passed by – outspoken about the need for schools to make changes which doesn’t always sit well. I’ve been chastised for technology use amongst a group of peers and used as a negative example of technology use. People ask for example about SM or online discussions that have had a negative effect – I have personal examples which caused me to – make my online SM accounts non-public, close and delete a number of my accounts and always use previewing for comments. Having received a Master Degree that was mostly online plus several other classes through Harvard Graduate School of Education, PLPNetwork and other online educational providers – some focusing on business, I’ve seen some very good online teaching and some not so good. Schools where I have been administrator have been providing online classes for years – some synchronous and some asynchronous. No one has ever come to me and asked me to share or lead an inservice.
So why all this? Well, to be truthful, it doesn’t seem to matter. (This is where those who think I’m bragging and those who think I’m whining will be WTH?)
You see, I’m not an educational leader who thinks that everyone needs to tweet, blog, pin, chat, google+, plurk or whatever to be a good teacher. I don’t believe that, as an educational leader, my role is to impose my vision upon them or what they need to do – I don’t believe being a SM Star makes you a good teacher and I don’t believe that SM is deep PD. If 140 characters capture the essence of your thoughts, how deep can it be? What it does is provides you points of reference on your individual journey – connecting you with others who, hopefully, will cause you to stretch and think, to pause and reflect and building your own learning and allowing you to create something total new and you – much in the same way that teachers do with students.
Some teachers are there but others aren’t. As an educational leader, I need to put my time and resources where it’s most needed, much the same as we do with students – with teachers who need assistance to improve. For some, all they needed was the okay to go ahead and, bang, off they went. They need to continue to have our support. Others, it’s not so easy for them. But instead of talking about how much they gripe or how many excuses they give (no time, not proficient at it, too hard, too old, too young, too many kids, not enough kids, too early, too late, etc and writing lists about how these aren’t valid or how they aren’t good teachers and live in caves or how, if they’d just listen, they too could be great) it’s about meeting them where they are and moving them forward – sometimes through working with them one-on-one and sometimes by providing a mentor but all the while fostering a belief that they can do anything – there is a leader within them and they are capable. I could finger wag, give them a list of 10 reasons they need to be on twitter, provide them with blog posts of how technology is necessary for learning or I could go to them, see where they are and walk along side them until they can do it themselves – “look ma, no hands!” Just an aside – teachers are professionals but they are people too and if you set yourself up so that there are good/bad teachers with particular criteria – they’ll live up to your expectations – or down to them. Being able to talk about how great technology is might be wonderful – showing how others do it might get them interested but being able to walk with them – having them see how you use the technology – not as an administrator but as a teacher – will go farther than any keynote speaker in making changes in a school’s culture. Leaders who don’t have this might be able to talk and show but they lack the walk – that actual ability to do what they say others should do – not through incidental demonstrations but day-to-day, week-by-week. Really, if you can’t demonstrate that you can walk the talk, as a leader, I won’t listen to your talk. That’s what so many reformers don’t get – it’s not a class or pd session that will convince people – it’s the real results that people can see. Look at the infomercials for fitness and weight loss – it’s about real people getting real results. The more teachers, not those 3 and 4 degrees removed from the classroom, can demonstrate the results and share it with colleagues in close proximity, the greater the change and the swifter the movement. (Psst – that’s why more and more teachers are willing to make changes – the teacher next door is too!)
I don’t think you need to be online, barring your life to the world to be a successful educator – others might think differently and that is okay – but if it’s okay to think that, why isn’t okay to not be hardwired, soul-barring? Why isn’t it okay to question the technology reformists just like I’d question any reformists? Why is it when many technology reformists are questioned, they dismiss the questions as coming from someone ill informed, not with it or uneducated or unknowing about the way of the world today?
As a leader, I think I’ve the right to be able to question and expect to be answered not dismissed or given a generic, all encompassing general answer, patted on the head, told how educated/informed the person is, how much they know/have researched and how, apparently, uniformed/uneducated I am. Yet, surprisingly, this happens quite often, especially in discussions involving technology reformists – so much so that I often don’t get involved in discussions when it involves technology or reformists. In fact, I don’t encourage teachers or leaders to follow them – I give them other contacts who I know are walking the talk and can provide them with some insights or connections to others who are doing the same thing.
So why did I write this? Mostly, because it’s been on my mind for some time and a few incidents in the past week have kind of pushed my buttons enough to make me want to give voice to my thoughts. Hopefully some will read this and reflect, give pause and maybe comment, maybe even positively. Mostly, because as an educational leader that has been in the doing this for years, working to improve the learning of students, it’s deeply frustrating and somewhat disheartening to be constantly dismissed, openly ignored and routinely passed over. Why do I keep at it? Well, really, because it’s about the students, teachers, parents and community where I live and not the rest. And, sadly, that’s what seems to be lacking from much of what is presently going on – creating teachers/leaders who are SM Stars – not helping teachers to connect with students and build relationships which help students to become leaders and be the best they can be.
I’ll end by linking to this post by Dr. Rodney S. Lewis – from the heart and deeply true.
Having been around twitter and SM for quite awhile, I’ve noticed a shift in content of what people are writing about and the proliferation of “quotable quotes” that seem to fill space. Now, I don’t often write/blog as I find there are other ways to connect and share. (I do have some thoughts on that but they’ll have to wait for another post!) but I figured this might be worth a mention.
Slogans and Quotes Don’t Make Change
I’ve read, heard, listened to a fair number of inspirational speakers, keynotes, bloggers, “the progressive minority” and others. Lately they all seem to be dealing out some “tweetable” quotes which has me wondering if too much is focused on nailing the “tweetable quote” and less is about actual substance. Don’t get me wrong, having your quote tweeted, retweeted and reretweeted is really great. But what we do each day in schools isn’t about quotable tweets – it’s about changing lives. Visions, Missions and Values might guide us but actions and relationships are what make us. Now, if what someone says inspires you to begin changing and helps with motivation, then use it. The hard work of change and helping others change isn’t about the quote – it’s about the person.
Connections Help to Motivate – Relationships Haul You Through
I’ve a few thousand connections – not nearly as many as the “Big Guys” but enough to know that being connected allows one to learn and expand. Connections allow for exchange of information, links, ideas and discussion. However, it’s relationships that really move the rock. These can be online or f2f or somewhere in the middle – but they’re more than just connections/linkages. A connection can bring me a new idea or help to clarify something or…. but a relationship to go with that connection solidifies whatever it is into something tangible between me and someone else. And it’s those relationships that will work through the rocky and “less than your best” days and share and celebrate with you on those “wow, this rocked” days.
Too often, as people try to build a following or whatever their reason, they focus on the quotable quotes and the list of things to do and blogs about generic leadership or what I call the “love, trust and pixie dust” elements of leading. To make real changes requires so much more – and in education today, to create lasting change, relationships need to be the foundation of where things begin.
Experience Matters – (to me anyway)
Too often I read administrative advice being provided by someone with little or no school administration experience. In fact, there are many who are providing advice with a little actual classroom experience. They use these slogans and generic subjects to expound great wisdom in such a way that you can’t really argue with them – who doesn’t want what’s best for students? Who doesn’t think that technology is important? Who wouldn’t want to have students be more creative, think deeper and create their own unique responses. Who?
From my experience – as an administrator, father, husband – you cannot expound wisdom without experience. Look at being a spouse or parent? You knew it all right from the getgo and there was no learning needed, right? WRONG. Not only did you not know it all but how many times did you want to read that manual again? Being a parent of 8 children – 4 girls and 4 boys aged 3 yrs to 20 yrs – I still don’t know it all and have made it a kind of unwritten rule to not provide parenting advice – even when asked sometimes – because it will come back to haunt me. You can try to “pass on your wisdom” and – if generic and “love, trust and pixie dust” feeling enough, people will eat it up. But, in the day-to-day comings and goings of the lives of children, schools and teachers, lack of experience can bring tragic problems. As a young “go getem” administrator, I stuck my feet in my mouth so many times I could see me shoe size on my tongue. Since that time, I’ve learned that slogans, new fads and “quotable quotes” don’t get things done, people do. But it is you, as an administrator, others look to for leadership. If you don’t provide it, they will find someone who will – slogan or no slogan. Given enough time, people will see that you don’t have the tools or skills or anything more than your slogan or “great ideas and sayings” to lead them through tough times – and they will look for another leader. Unless, of course, you only stick around for a short time – leaving before you really need to lead.
Slogans motivate people – great leaders use them all the time. But they don’t keep people motivated – people’s actions and the relationships do that. People who speak with a lack of experience in these areas but expound wisdom about knowing what it takes to lead are those I stay away from. They give great keynotes – but that isn’t going to help the students in school – they aren’t there to hear it. So, do the people to whom you listen speak with authority from experience or from a “what I’ve seen and heard from others” experience? Because you know what they say about gossip……
Over on twitter tonight, there has been a few discussions about professional development, what and when and how and ……
Why? Why do we continue to discuss the best type or the best way or the best method or …..
Professional development is a frame of mind. As a professional, I don’t decide when I’m going to “DO” PD because it happens in many different ways and different times. I don’t look online or f2f or in groups or at school or at a convention because, well, it happens at all of these but can happen in a conversation with a parent or child, reading a book or watching a video. I don’t separate out when I do PD and when I don’t. Because I don’t separate out when I’m learning and when I’m not and PD is about learning.
Why are we debating the value of this or that pd?
Is there a prize if you win? Do you get something? Just like I no longer argue with teachers about the use/merits of technology, I don’t argue about the PD. I do put expectations on what they will do – like if they go to an “event”, they will come back to share with us and we will then add it to our repository of what we know. I will ask them later in the year how they plan on using their learning. And you know what? Not one of them has withered away. In fact, it has expanded the learning that is going on in our building and expanded the expertise we have. We don’t look at the “cool resources” or the “incentives – get a new ipad2”. Instead, we examine the PD from a learning perspective and what it will add for the person and, then, the whole because we’ve come to understand that to share what we know is a requirement of learning and growing as a school, a staff; as individuals who will be learning well after we leave the “school”, just like our students.
No longer on that path
I’ve quit arguing about education at a philosophical level – whether we need to use technology or not, whether we need to go to PD or provide more PD, whether we need to change the way our school functions and responds to students. I no longer care about winning the argument. It’s a new path. Doing what we need to do to help our students in whatever capacity we can – without using guilt or brow beating or shaming or intimidating or bragging or whatever. We all have strengths and when we share those strengths as a group of learners to help each other so that we can become better at providing for our students, then our students win – and that is the bottom line!
Some day soon I will describe the journey our staff has taken in the past year but, safe to say, we have now emerged from some very dark and troubling waters as a strong group of educators committed to doing what is best for our students. We aren’t carbon-copies but individuals who, through some difficult struggles, have identified at the core that we need to do what is best for students – not for the adults, not for the teachers but for the students. We don’t always agree on best practice at times but we are becoming better at moving past the debating and looking at solutions and options that will allow us to best help our students. Humbly we walk, so as to lift our students higher, believing they are capable of more than they first think. To allow them to shine is our goal, to help them succeed is our mission. The future we cannot see so we work hard to help our students, the best we can, to boldly go where no one has gone before knowing that we have a great deal of learning and work to do as educators/learners/people.
We really don’t have time to argue/debate what, really, is an insignificant issue.
What got this all started was Dean threw out a comment on twitter “Teachers or leaders who say they don’t need to be liked to be effective are likely not liked and probably not effective.” to which I replied “but really, I am effective. ”
Now, it’s not that I don’t want to be liked – in fact, being a principal in a K – 12 school means that I DO want the students to like me. This can’t happen all the time. There is a huge difference between being liked and being effective. I’m the person that gets to come in after someone has worked at trying to be liked. I have spent most of my administrative career working at helping schools to move from being ineffective and dysfunctional to being effective, functional and doing “What’s best for students!” Don’t worry, this isn’t a story of how to do that – (secret NO MAGIC SOLUTION)
Do I want to be liked? Who doesn’t? It’s way to draining and soul sapping to work at being miserable. Something I point out to students, usually at odd moments when discussing something in a class I am teaching (which is another topic I really need to address), is that, for the most part, older people who are miserable were probably that way most of their lives. They’ve practiced at it and have become very good at it. They know how to suck the joy, fun and life out of any occassion. (Just take a look at some of the most recent articles written about THIS generation.) Not always but more common than not. I also point out that it’s an attitude – and that they have complete control of theirs. No one makes you be miserable – you choose that all by yourself.
No, there is a difference.
You see, it’s like this – I love my children but I don’t always like them. Heck, I love my wife but I don’t always like her. It’s what I do because I love them that makes the difference during those times when I don’t like them. At school, I love what I do. I don’t always like some of the decisions or some of the situations but I love doing what I do because what I do is so very different from what many administrators do. How do I know? Well, in working with administrators for the past 10 years, my stories aren’t the same. In fact, many of the stories I hear, begin where mine end.
Sometimes you aren’t liked. Sometimes you have to make very tough choices and they are hard to make and rarely do people agree with you …… at the time. In fact, it is not until much later and only through another source, that I have learned that people who have come after truly appreciate the difficult decisions and the tough choices.
I don’t like not being liked but sometimes you have to be willing to move through that in order to do what is right for students.
*Small aside – I do know that many will not understand and will disagree. But, and I read this somewhere, via a link on twitter, until you understand the road I have tread, you only glimpse a shadow of what I have walked.
Summer is here and with it I now have some time to begin to go through a notebook full of links that I’ve sent myself through the year. (If you aren’t using Evernote, haven’t given it a shot, you need to, it’s AWESOME!)
There have been a few that struck me as I read through them. One of them, by Mr. Chris Wejr entitled It’s Easy http://mrwejr.edublogs.org/2011/07/06/its-easy/. Give it a read. It’s an interesting view of the options that, as educators, we sometimes have to make.
I agree we need to take that road less traveled but I’m not certain that it’s black and white as many of the “It’s easy….” suggest. Human dynamics are much too complicated. So, although I agree that we need to travel a road that is less traveled, one must make those decisions based on the situation since there are instances when it is harder to do what others see as the easy way out because of what you know. One must always be careful when labeling what others do.
How could anyone disagree with what is listed? As an administrator/educator/parent/husband, they are what one strives to do each day. But, as I’ve learned as a parent/husband/son/educator/friend I will never be able to do it all. Thankfully, life isn’t about single decisions, most of the time. It’s about the combination of decisions that you make and the relationships you have that begin to define one’s life. There are instances where a single decision can have an incredible impact but, most of the time, we face decisions that aren’t in that category. Having made some astronomically poor decisions in each of the above categories, it was because others’ believed in me at certain points that allowed me to continue on and not my own “revelation” that I had made a bad decision. So although I can agree with the many things that are listed, there is so much more.
When I was a teacher, I had certain thoughts and opinions about what administrators/central office should do. Having spent better than 10 years as an administrator, I now see that much of what I thought as a teacher was based on my uninformed opinion. As a parent of 8 children, the oldest being 19 the youngest 2, I live an experience that so few parents have – parent to an adult, teenager, youngster and toddler all at the same time. And although I have learned so much as a parent, I rarely comment to people about raising children because each day I am humbled by what my children are capable of doing and the incredible responsibility I have as a parent and because I have made those poor decisions. Each day, when I walk into my school, I have that same type of feeling – I am an administrator of a K – 12 school. I deal with 4 year olds and adults. I am humbled by the awesome responsibility. No list, however exhaustive, can capture that.
We are on a road but each decision is not it’s own, just part of the one road. As a parent and a husband, I have become better because I made mistakes, as an administrator, I am better for that same reason and as a person, it was seeing my reflection through others that has helped me grow and, hopefully, be a better person.
I believe that it’s about the road and not the individual decisions. If you are consistent, travel with humility and truly appreciate the awesomeness of which you are part, it isn’t any one decision on any list but your willingness to do what is best for others in a given situation that will reflect which road you are traveling and influence the decisions you make. But, no matter which road you are on, it’s not easy.
Change is the new constant
I’m not always sure that the world outside of where I am is real. I read so often on other admin blogs of how harmoniously teachers are working with technology, don’t seem to have any teachers who resist change and are seemlessly addressing the needs of all their students and are schools of example. In my 20 years, I’ve experienced this at one school where I taught as a teacher. And, by no means was it easy, seamless or without all kinds of struggles and difficulty. In fact, as a teacher, it was very hard work as we worked together to match our teaching with the current research on learning and teaching, reach out to our community, develop parent-partners and enhance our teaching through technology integration. It was late nights working on, at that time, Adapting for the learners, after-school meetings in grade alike groups, student support meetings, parent contacts and developing a culture that had a high expectation for student learning. That was more than 10 years ago and, in all my stints as a vice-principal and principal, I’ve encountered only a few other schools that had such characteristics. They are places where teachers, like those with whom I taught, had a very good understanding of lifelong learning, were themselves lifelong learners and were able to bring that to the classroom. They understood that it was the process of learning that was key, not the grade. They were determined, patient, risk-takers and thick skinned.
My experience since that time, with teachers, even online, is that change is very, very difficult, takes a great deal of time and requires someone who has is willing to move people forward through the process. Granted, many of the people who will read this will understand and “get it” but not all of them are teachers and many have backgrounds that are not rooted in the classroom but, instead, are supporters such as I have become as an administrator. I do teach but I am not a full-time teacher and my main responsibility is supporting the learning of the students and staff in the entire school and trying to facilitate and secure the resources and personnel to assist teachers and students to achieve their best.
Agent of Change vs Leader of Change
My role, in many of the schools where I have been, has been to be an agent of change. In fact, in some places, my role was to start the change process and then allow someone else to continue. I’ve been asked to start change, introduce new ideas and promote new ways of doing things. In fact, this has been my role since I began my administrative career, being an agent of change.
This has changed with my new position. I will be ushering in change but this time, instead of being a mere agent, my role is to lead. What’s the difference? Well, as an agent of change, you are working towards bringing about a change in practices, preceptions and product, starting people to see things from a different perspective and sometimes pushing people out of their comfort zone but with the idea that further changes will take place later on and, in fact, you will not see how things work out. Being a leader requires a different take on the situation. As an agent, the main goal is to begin the change process on its way. As a leader, its seeing the whole process through, from defining the vision of where all of you are going to working through to the end, all the while being very aware of where the people you are working with have been and moving them along the change continuum. It means that you have to manage the change process and help people with the process, especially if some are very resistant to change. It’s being able to remain calm and focused on the vision even when it seems it’s all coming apart – and some days it truly does feel like this. But, it’s seeing the appreciation in people’s smiles and their genuine enthusiasm as they begin to recognize the fruits of their labours.
I’ve had the great pleasure to revisit a number of places where I was the agent and I’ve seen what is taking place now, happy to see that the process continues with someone else. Not that the goal is ever reached but overcoming the initial inertia is huge. For any administrators that have ever had to do that, you know how difficult that can be. Sometimes, without the support, it doesn’t happen. For anyone who is working in a situation where that change inertia has been overcome, you have someone, somewhere along the way, who expended a great deal of energy to bring about that initial movement. For those who have been lucky enough to start new without having to overcome such inertia, keep things rolling!