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.
This past weekend I spent Saturday morning at #edcampPBS organized by teachers from a few different schools and school divisions around the city of Regina. Over the past few weeks we have been collaborating to organize the event which was held at Pilot Butte School. I’ve been to a few other edcamps which I really enjoyed and found to be great learning experiences and this was no different. As the morning progressed, people became more comfortable with the format and began to ask questions and offer ideas and input which is what this is all about. But, the biggest take away from today was:
As teachers, we have to tell and retell our stories, share what we are doing and be willing to be vulnerable as learners
As I was sitting with a group during the last session of the day, we heard about some great ideas for learning and sharing. All the members of the group were from different schools and school divisions. There was no “One Way” or “Right Way”. We discussed what some of the participants were doing and the learning that was going on. I was familiar with some of the people but only knew other via twitter or just met them. Each person had an vision for how they saw things based on their experiences and learning. As each member talked, the stories they told were of learning journeys – of wanting to improve and seeking ways to improve as teachers and administrators. For me, it was these stories where the deep and rich learning was taking place.
From where I sat
Working on a PhD and doing a great deal of reading about PLN’s, Professional Development and teacher career paths, I have come across a great deal of deep thought about what is needed to improve teaching from some of the world’s foremost leaders on these topics. If this was an academic work, I’d begin to delve into each area but that’s not the purpose. Instead, it’s to highlight that in almost all the reading I am doing, the perspective and learning of the teachers is not used to highlight teachers’ learning. But as I listened to these stories, which were filled with reflective anecdotes, insights about school change, the importance of relationship as primary to everything we do, and the passion these people brought to the table, I was struck by two things:
1. The desire of these teachers to improve and get better, to be the best teachers/administrators/consultants they could be in order to help the students/teachers/community where they taught.
2. The importance of relationships and culture for learning. We work in relationship each day and each of these people mentioned over and over the importance of this to learning. Part of the conversation revolved around helping those teachers who continue to work in isolation – teaching in the silo to venture forth at required times – and the desire to help them see the power of connecting and learning with others. For me, this is the crack, the place where teachers fall through. There were “this is the way” answers which I’ve heard many times. But what was different was that everyone at the table recognized/felt/sensed the changes taking place in their buildings. Hope!
Passion for learning
As someone who has not stopped trying to improve as a teacher/administrator/person, I sometimes don’t understand when people shy away from learning, especially when it relates to the work they do each day. I understand that people are in different places in their careers/lives and this has an impact that too often is not discussed. And too often we highlight the “super stars” who are atypical. I call this SuperStar syndrome but you could now call it (fill in the blank with your pick of superstar) who we hold up to demonstrate that anyone can do it, just look at them. Now ponder that for a moment. How to deflate anyone trying to improve by comparing them to the “super star”. They already know they aren’t that person – resentment, depression, anxiety, angst – all roll into play. Would you ever say that to a student to motivate them? Hey, look at _____________, if you work harder you can be just like her/him. Instead, listen to their story and find the thread where there just might be something of a passion.
In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman demonstrates that there are people who bring out the best in others, they multiply their abilities. Not all leaders are multipliers – I wasn’t when I started. I wasn’t open to listening or trying to improve the whole – I was what Wiseman calls a Diminisher.
I was a Diminisher. However, somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t the smartest person in the room and this changed how I began to see things in school – there were so many smart people around, my role as an administrator was to help them and support them, give them ideas or nudges or, sometimes, a push forward. It was about changing the relationships in the building – building the capacity of the people who were there. It wasn’t about me – it was about others. When I let go of “me”, things began to change which eventually allowed me to revision my own career path.
Technology had always been an interest for me and it was helping other harness this in their own teaching that eventually moved me to change paths. Through building relationships and changing the way educators can assist students, technology offers educators a way to fundamentally change what happens in the classroom and to think differently about their roles. That’s scary. That’s why we need Multipliers – to help others during their career path change. But, from what I’ve experienced, heard, witnessed and felt, that change and shift is career changing.
Stories are so important to us as people. For far too long, the stories of teachers have not been where we have focused. Instead, the focus has been on someone else’s idea of where teachers need to be. Even when people discuss Professional Growth Plans, they are typically tied to a teacher learning within the parameter of the School Improvement Plan or the Vision or ….. instead of listening, intently, to the teacher. I have a passion for using technology to build relationships and improve learning but everything starts with the person/people that I am with – where are they at. As I sat with the group Saturday morning, their passion to improve, to offer more to their teachers and students filled their stories. Too often, these stories get lost in the march of school improvement in yet another initiative. What, if instead of using data to sort and sift, the stories behind the data were investigated and those stories drove the learning? What if instead of starting with data, we started with story?
“This is the best PD I’ve had in my 29 years of teaching.”
I’ve heard that and read that a number of times as I listen to people’s stories. Part of me is happy that this is happening. Part of me, however, is saddened by this fact. As I see young teachers enter the profession and hear their stories too, I wonder if we can change this story, make it a different path. Do we have the will to help change this story? Or, as I’ve also heard, are we going to hope that these new teachers change their story and become more “committed” to their work, willing to “do things as they have been done” because that’s what “gets results”? Do we want them repeat, somewhere in a distant future, if they stay, that finally, “this was the best PD I’ve had…..”?
Step Out of the Comfort Zone
I came across George Couros’ new project, #EDUin30 today. I think it’s a great way to get teachers to tell their stories and build relationships with other teachers. In a nutshell, George is hoping educators will use the new video recording feature of twitter to share a 30 second piece about their teaching.
My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.
George is asking that each week you look for the #EDUin30 hashtag to see what the new topic is and then, if you are so inclined, to record a short post and tag it with the appropriate week hashtag – #EDUin30w1 for week 1, #EDUin30w2 and so on. Really, check out his post and, if you’re so inclined, tell your story.
Tell your story, please. Share your Edu-Awesomeness with others. Each teacher has so much to share. If you want to get started with blogging, join our #saskedchat blog challenge where each week we offer up another topic to write about. Last week, well, we focused on collaboration which is where I started. But, like a good story, it took me to places I wasn’t sure about when I started. So now I return to the start and hope each of you will reach out, in some way, to share and collaborate with others.
Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states
Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.
Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning, personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains
While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.
Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.
Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.
Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.
There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement. It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.
Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.
- Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.
This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.
It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week
There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing.
Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.
What about you?
What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?
I read Justin Tarte’s post – I got in trouble for tweeting at work. As I read through it, I was reminded of my own experience and some of the frustrations that I have heard from others as they encounter resistance from others.
First off, being connected in this context does not mean you are tweeting all the time or hanging out or blogging but you know what all these are and actively are reading about the changes in technology, have an active awareness of the many conferences, online included, and are involved in online connections in some manner, if only through reading various posts on your SM site of choice.
Those in central office are the leaders in a school district/division and set the tone for the rest of what happens. Depending on their view of technology and being connected, others will follow suit and it will trickle done. Now, they may not be against being connected or technology and integration but if they are not actively connected, they will not fully understand it’s importance and may, inadvertently, limit connections and growth. Here’s a good article from Forbes.com about why leaders need to make the shift.
Just like websites, which eventually became “must have,” every school district will ultimately need to embrace social media. The school districts that will thrive will be the ones using social media to engage their community, and aggressively enhance and protect their reputation.
Education is much bigger than just teachers and students and educational leaders need to begin to make this shift in order to shift the conversation taking place in the public forum.
It’s important for central office personnel to be connected – so they can identify those who are innovators – tap into their passions and build opportunities for them to interact and help others to connect.
Keeping up with what is going on around us makes better leaders but it can be almost impossible . Those who can see what is happening and then, in a proactive fashion, work collaboratively with others in building and working towards a common vision will be better able to navigate through the changes that are taking place now and in the future. By connecting and sharing with other lead-learners, a principal can better serve the students, teachers, parents and larger community, not by necessarily doing more but by being able to help others to also be leaders, sharing the leadership with others all the while keeping the common vision in view. The role of the administrator is changing rapidly and the era of the lone-caped leader no longer works. It requires a total team effort and the principal needs to be able to bring the best out of others, leading and sharing the lead when required. Being connected provides an administrator with the opportunity to share ideas, struggles, fortunes and misfortunes and develop themselves as lead-learners.
Teachers have a tremendously important and demanding job – meeting the needs of the students in their classroom. It’s not just student learning needs as all teachers know that relationships with students are vital to the student learning and this means meeting those “other” needs as well. To meet the needs of the learners’, teachers can choose to work alone, seeking out help from those immediately around them or, with the ability to connect to teachers and experts all over, they can choose to work collaboratively to share their knowledge, expertise and passion. Connecting helps one to share ideas and collaborate when planning, gives one someplace to go when there is a question and provides support when there are times of struggle. This doesn’t mean they are always online. Like all things, moderation is important and balance is key.
Connected Educator Month is much more than simply one month of activities. It is capacity building. It has the ability to ignite a renewed spark and shine light anew on removing barriers and tearing down silos that bind teacher growth. Leaders welcome, encourage and recognize the knowledge, ideas, and conversations their connected educators bring to their districts and buildings. Gordon Dahlby
Being connected doesn’t mean one is always online. It means that one is aware of the many options that are available to continue one’s learning and improving oneself as a leader and teacher.
Over the past three or four years, I’ve wondered if my voice in education really matters. As a principal, my voice has impact within the building where I am and it has impact, to some extent, in the school community where I am.
But, really, does it matter?
Since I began my career as a classroom teacher, I’ve searched for ways to have an impact on the learning that was happening in my room and in the school where I was and, in some way, in the division where I was working. I became involved in as many different efforts and associations that were focused on students and learning. I became at the provincial level in order to discuss learning, students and teaching.
My decision to do a MEd was directly a result of wanting to be able to know more about leadership in education which led me to look at the role of Professional Development in the lives’ of teachers. I looked for ways that teachers’ voices could be heard during a time when PD was just beginning to shift – how could we involve teachers more and have them drive the PD? What was needed to make this shift?
But, really, does it matter?
As an administrator, I’ve tried to remain involved in the advances in education, whether it be the introduction and impact of technology or what we have learned through research or the changes we have seen in pedagogy and curricula. I’ve participated at Conferences, trying to spread the message of learning and collaboration, planning and progress.
But, really, does it matter?
As I sit poised on yet a new direction, looking at a field of opportunity, I can’t help but reflect. This is where it is important to set ego aside. Instead, it is here, in the silence of wondering, that all teachers eventually face “But, really, does it matter?” The answer is individual. For me, it is tied closely to what I will do with in future. Which path will I start to build next? Which untravelled direction will I explore?
But, really, does it matter?
I’ve learned that each and every single voice in the buildings where I have been an educator are crucial and need to be heard – especially the ones we don’t like to hear. Each discussion, even the uncomfortable ones, have a grain of sand that we can turn into a pearl. As a leader, I must admit, I didn’t always convey that I listened – it is a fault that I continue to work upon – but I did. And, in the night, when no one else was around, I would ponder those words – they would keep me awake as I listened to them over and over again – trying to ascertain what/where/how change could be made so that the voice knew it had been heard.
But, really, does it matter?
In the cacophony of voices that make up the social media sites like twitter, a single voice, especially those who are dissenting or new or soft or …. can get lost under the enormous “boom” of those who have the audiences attention. Again and again it is asked “How do we get more involved?” “Why can’t they see how important it is for them to be here?” I’ve heard those same questions asked by teachers.
But not about technology and social media. instead, they are deeply concerned about parents who wouldn’t show up for Student Led Conferences or who wouldn’t come to meetings; about students who are struggling or have problems outside school or who don’t have enough to eat! It kept me awake at night wondering what we could do differently. Understanding that we might not have all the answers but maybe, with open dialogue and discussion, we could meet them where they were and move forward. Sometimes, I needed to recognize the leaders within the building and provide them with the opportunity and support to lead us.
Because, yes, every voice does matter – it’s the ones that we must search to hear that are the most important! Instead of pondering what they need to do differently, ask how we can do things differently and provide an opportunity for them to find their voice. And then listen.
Originally posted at Ed Administrators2.0
The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey is a must read for anyone who is involved with the change process. The book outlines how trust is the foundation for all the relationships. Whether it is in business or in our personal lives, trust binds all that we do together. I would recommend that this be a book that all educators read at some point as it is with incredible trust that parents send their children to schools all over world, trusting that the teachers in each classroom will be looking out for the best interest of each child, leading and learning so that each child is able to grow and develop within a safe and caring environment.
As a parent, I know that children trust us explicitly. I remember when our oldest daughter would jump of the top stair when I came home from school, laughing and giggling – trusting that I would catch her each and every time! That trust built over the years and, despite the that we were two very similar people (read subborn), she would still trust enough to talk about how things with her mom and I. That trust was a two-way street as we trusted her to make good decisions and, after graduation, sent her off, first to Loyalist College in Bellville, Ont and then, over seas to France where she has spent a year as an Au Pair. Her adventure will continue as she moves to Spain for another year. Through it all, she regularly Skypes home to talk with us and her 7 siblings and write letters and postcards to each of us, sharing her adventures. As parents, it wasn’t always easy to let go but we have learned that we need to trust that the foundation we have established when our children our young will be serve them as they move through youth to adulthood. To see how my eldest has faired, check out her site – Blue Eyed Site http://amiechristo.wordpress.com/ .
This is the trust that children bring with them as they enter classrooms each day. It is this trust that the relationships are built upon. In the book, Covey discussed the importance of trust – trust in ourselves and then trust in relationships and how these are key to building and developing situations in which people can achieve and succeed. He outlines 13 behaviours that are key to building trust in relationships – key for principals and administrators who are working to help people develop, bring about change and help to develop a safe and caring culture within their schools. Covey discussed the importance of developing trust with stakeholders. In education, the primary stakeholders would be parents. However, it is important to develop trust with all members of a community – even if they don’t have children in the school. Finally, Covey examines how “not extending trust is the greatest risk of all.”
This book, although not specifically focused on education, is definitely one that would be worth reading as an educator. I would recommend that all principals look at the “Creating an Action Plan” after reading through the 13 behaviours as part of the preparation for the upcoming school year.
Steve Dembo, over at Teach42, has challenged other bloggers to the 30 days of blogging for the month of November. Since I just ran across this in my RSS reader, I figure I can still get in on it and maybe just add 2 days at the end. What do you think, Steve?
My biggest reason for doing this is that I’ve been away from the blogging thing for a long period of time and I figure this will give me a good start to getting back at writing, something that I do enjoy doing. My lack of writing of late hasn’t been from lack of topics, it’s been from not knowing what to do now that I have people from the local area reading my blog. You see, when you aren’t being read by anyone local, there is no pressure. It’s not that you go off on a rant or anything but you just have a freedom to express your ideas and thoughts on different topics. For me, that all changed when I became aware that there were a few local people reading what I had to say about education and then investigating what I was saying about things like Twitter and Pownce. I wasn’t sure how to handle the information since, once you put something in writing, it’s there forever and can be viewed again and again. It becomes part of your digital footprint which will be there regardless of what you try to do about it. It made me wonder if I wanted to take that chance.
Being read by local people also means that there is a chance that a disagreement will take place about what you said or how you said something or what is interpreted. It could lead to some rather interesting things happening and I wasn’t sure how I was going to continue writing, knowing that people were reading what I was saying, since much of what I write about deals with my growth as an administrator and how different situations impact my ability to be the administrator that I want to be. In fact, I was worried that my idea of what I wanted to do, when compared with what I was able to accomplish in reality, might lead people to question my abilities.
You may have noticed that I have used the past tense in the previous discussions because I realize that what I have to say regarding education indeed needs to be heard. Not because I know so much or because I have the answers. It’s because, as an administrator, I offer a perspective on education that is very hard to find. Most administrators do not put their ideas out for the world to read, digest and use. I like to think of myself of a bit of a pioneer in this regard, blazing trails so that other administrators can eventually feel comfortable sharing their ideas with the public, looking for input without the fear of being raked over the coals because of what they do and generally working with the public to create a better learning community.
It is another challenge
Being an administrator is a challenge all of its own. It doesn’t come with any type of manual and is a new set of experiences every day. It forces one to grow as a person in ways that many people cannot appreciate and requires one to remember to be humble about what one does. My constant reminder is that my main focus is on helping teachers to provide the best circumstances for learning that I can so that all children in the school have the best opportunity to improve. I must be constantly learning and re-evaluating how I go about my job and how I interact with staff, students and community. My role as the educational leader in the school is to demonstrate to everyone that learning is an everyday matter that should never stop. It allows one to grow and improve, changing from day to day. It is not a means to an end but is, in itself, the end which all should strive to pursue, continuous learning.
It’s not about me
As I accept this challenge, I go back to something that I learned a long time ago about teaching; it’s not about me! When anything I do begins to focus more on me than on the students, I must take a step back and re-evaluate what I am doing. It isn’t about me or what I want. It’s about helping students to achieve their best, using the skills and knowledge I have to help them to make connections and links, learning something new or changing what they thought, or questioning themselves or others. I’ve seen many who do not understand this idea. Their lives are, indeed, caught up in the identity they have carved out for themselves as “teacher” and they work, not for the students but for the recognition that it brings them.
I will again begin to write about education and learning. Since the focus needs to be refocused on the students, that will be my theme for the month – student centered learning. I think I already have my post for tomorrow!
As an administrator, one of my main roles is to be an educational leader in the school. Some days I’m not sure what exactly that means. In fact, over the past few weeks, I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing in this position and could have just as easily called this “Is it okay to cry now?”!
As the new year approached, I was looking forward to having a chance to really make some headway with some of the things that we have been addressing at the school, building on the new Code of Conduct that we have and addressing some areas that needed to be addressed. Instead, I’ve been taking heat over having the gym ceiling painted – it had the names of grads from previous years but wasn’t my choice – and just seeming to be out of align with things.
I know it’s only just over 2 weeks into the year but, for the first time in my career, I’m not sure I’m up to the challenges that lay ahead. I know that, each on their own isn’t really that big of a problem but things don’t seem to coming one by one. In fact, things are happening much faster than I’ve seen in previous years and by the time I know it, the weeks over and I’m trying to figure out where the week has gone.
Walking the talk
One of the things that I’ve always tried to do is “Walk the talk”. As an educational leader, I feel that it is important that I don’t just say “Well, this is how I think you should do it” or “Try this or that”. Instead, I want to model different teaching strategies, assessment strategies, the use of technology in learning and having an understanding of student learning. I know that, sometimes, it can be a tall order but that is part of leadership.
Another part of this is allowing others to lead in areas of their strengths and being able to recognize that, in many instances, you aren’t necessarily the best person to be directing. Instead, you need to allow others, using their strengths and talents, to use them to help build towards the ideal of creating the best possible education for all children.
The Eye of the Storm
As the days rush by, it seems almost impossible to get any type of bearing on what is happening and where things need to go next. I can honestly say, I’ve stood in my office wondering what exactly I need to do next. It’s not like I don’t have a list that goes out the door but there seems to be a barrage of things that just doesn’t stop and the requests and paperwork are non-ending. With all this going on, I often wonder “When do I get to be that Educational Leader I so desperately wanted to be?”
No, really. When is it that, as an administrator that teaches, I will find the time to do my walk-throughs, discuss lessons with teachers, meet with teachers about their Professional Growth Plans, discuss with the new teachers (5 in my building this year) how things are going and just simply be present in the school? I made a pact with myself that, to be a leader, I had to be visible and, to be visible, I had to be out of my office. So far, I’m not doing so well. With a new vice-principal, I’m trying to model how you need to be visible to the students and the staff but, some days, well, it’s just not happening.
Is it possible?
I always have thought that part of what has made me a better administrator is the fact that, each day, I go into a classroom and try to capture the attention of students to help them grow and stretch, to ask themselves questions and question what is going on in their lives and the world around them. As I look at the weeks coming up and ALL the items that are clogging my ical todo list, I wonder if it has reached the time when being a teaching principal may not be feasible if I want to continue to an educational leader of quality.
Or is it just the beginning of the year madness? Once all the various things fall into place, I’ll see that this was no different than other years and, really, I’m just as able to do the things I see as necessary as a leader as I was before. Or was I? You see, that’s the crux? Would I be able to perform my role better if, in fact, I didn’t teach? Although it would distance me from the students, would it really affect my ability to perform my duties as an administrator? And are these duties different from being an educational leader? Should the two be separate titles or jobs? One where the administration of the school is the focus and the other where the development of teachers is the focus? Or should I even worry about the development of teachers? Is that the role for someone else? But, if I’m doing walk-throughs and classroom visits, isn’t teacher growth inherent in that type of relationship?
I just don’t know
Really, I don’t. My incredible PLN on Plurk has been there for me over this past few weeks, encouraging me as I struggle through this. They have been offering advice and just supporting me as I ask questions and look for some insights. As an administrator, it isn’t always easy to discuss these things with anyone. In fact, it is darn near impossible to do that without creating a bigger mess. It’s not like I’m looking at throwing in the towel or anything but there is a need to create some kind of balance which isn’t there right now and, given the different things going on, I’m not sure how to find it.
I want to be the best leader I can be. At times like this, I search for ways to improve what I’m doing and seek out the council of others hoping, that through this, I can continue to develop myself and continue to be an example to those around me of what life-long learning is all about.
Years back, my wife use to hate when she had a technology problem or couldn’t remember how to do something. In fact, when we (read I) first bought our imac, she wasn’t very happy with the whole thing because everything was “backwards” and she couldn’t find anything. She would avoid asking me to show how to do something AGAIN because of my “attitude” and how I did things. That was 8 years ago. Today is much different. I have learned to be patient, not sigh heavily (that use to drive her crazy) and take my time. If I don’t have the time at the moment, I say so, help out and then, when there is time, get her to show me what is frustrating her. It works the same for my children (well, most of the time. I still use the timeout to keep them alive!)
Over time I’ve been able to transfer this to school and what I do as a principal. In my capacity as administrator, there are many times when people come to me for information, advice or assistance. I use to react in a way that reflected my particular mood at the moment. Now, with all that goes on in a day, that was usually somewhere between stressed and freakin’ stressed. This caused all kinds of misunderstandings and miscommunication which eventually led to problems which led to more miscommunication and misunderstandings and so on (cue Faberge commercial with Farrah.) I knew that it wasn’t how I wanted things to go but I couldn’t understand how to change it. Thank goodness for my wife. She cleared a few things up for me after a particularly difficult day. She explained to me how she felt at times and then transferred it to the situation. The road to change had begun (well, after I stopped pouting!)
Having worked on this for some time, I really thought I’d mastered the whole thing. Seems I was wrong and I was in need of a reminder. Being reminded about something like that isn’t always easy but I realize that, as a leader, I need to be able to accept when someone gives me advice, even if it’s hard to take at the moment. It made me reflect on what I was doing and the impact it was having on those around me. To be an effective leader, one must be willing to ask trusted people to be honest with you and then take their words seriously.
This past week I was asked to describe the characteristics of an educational leader. For me, listening is one of the most important characteristics. Being able to “be in the room” when someone is with you is vitally important. No clock watching or doing other work. When someone is talking to you, you need to make it obvious that you are listening – 100%. Unfortunately, I stopped my description there. Now, listening is important but there are some other important characteristics that I didn’t mention.
Of all other characteristics, I believe this is the most important. This can be done in a number of ways. Listening is one of them. So is supporting them, seeking their opinion, seeing their strengths and allowing them to use them and allowing them to help themselves. As an administrator, I’ve come to learn that the best way to help others is to empower them to help themselves. Whether it is helping students to work through a problem, supporting a parent who is having difficulty, making a decision that moves things along, keeping the vision in front of others, cheering on the team or helping someone learn new skills so they can be independent, I’ve come to see myself as more as someone who is there to help empower others rather than having power over others. True, sometimes in my role I need to make decisions that may not make everyone happy or be involved in some form of discipline but in each instance there is an opportunity for empowerment of other individuals.
We can’t have winners and losers
I often find that this is one of the greatest obstacles to getting to a solution. In so many cases, people want there to be winner (usually them) and a loser (usually the other party.) Instead of looking to see how things might be done to create a solution for the problem, they come in with a predetermined solution and campaign for it. Now, it may be a bit easier to do the “you’re right, you’re wrong” decision but it doesn’t usually bring about a lasting solution. Like my wife who didn’t like my solution to her technical problems because, although it solved the immediate problem, it created a further problem that became much bigger than the original. Helping others to get past that initial campaigning is one of the most difficult things that I have to do and, unfortunately, I’m not always successful.
Helping Learners help themselves
As teachers, one of our goals is to have students become independent of us. We want to help them learn how to do things without us being there. Kind of like parenting, it’s not how your children act when you’re around that demonstrates what they have learned and value, it’s what they do when you’re NOT there. Eventually, all these students will venture out on their own and it will be how they function on their own that will be the true test of how well we’ve done. This is why it is so important to empower them to be learners – to give them the ability to trust themselves to make good decisions.
What does this have to do with technology?
Well, everything. Today as I was working with another administrator, it was clear that she was frustrated with how things were going and not just with the work we were doing. She was feeling overwhelmed in many different areas. Now, I could have gone the easy route and done the technology part for her but that would have solved nothing. Instead, we sat at the computer and I helped her (forced her at times) to continue doing things, trying things and retrying things. Was she frustrated? Yep. Will she remember it all? Nope but she will remember some of the basics that will get her moving on her own. Over time, she won’t need to call or email me as much. Hopefully she’ll become comfortable enough not to call me at all. While doing this, she was able to talk about other things that were on her mind, not something we get to do very often. We were able to share ideas and solutions about various difficulties we were both having.
This experience is a snapshot of something I’m seeing more and more in schools. People who are being overwhelmed by all the “things” that need to get done, being frustrated because they can’t learn some things as fast as they want which keeps them from doing other things that they want to do. Whether it’s kids or adults, it is becoming more and more common for people to stop trying once they can’t get something after a try or two. For those of us in the empowering role, it is important to acknowledge that frustration is part of learning and assist them to do the best they can at whatever level. Not everyone will be able to use technology in a seamless manner just like I’ll never play the piano (or any other musical instrument) at the same level as my children but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate what they do or try it myself.
As a leader, one of my goals is to recognize those gifted in particular areas and get them to go further in that area while helping them to struggle along with something that is more difficult for them. Part of it is to listen to them but a greater part is to empower them and that is where our learning must always continue so that we can help them to help themselves. It was an eye opener for me when my wife first told me how I acted and reacted but it was one of the greatest gifts she has given me. Truly, she is a great part of my success – she empowered me.
First off, let me congratulate Chris Lehmann for a very successful conference at SLA. From all that I have seen and heard, the Educon2.0 was an incredible success. It is obvious that Chris had done a tremendous job of facilitating this learning experience for all who attended. As Tim, 0ver at Assorted Stuff posts,
I’ve never seen a school, where there is such a sense of community and collaboration. Students and staff at SLA really seem to be equal partners in the learning.
Indeed, this is a goal that schools all over are trying to achieve. With the focus on improving student learning being at the core of what schools are about, it seems that Chris and the teachers at SLA are on to something. It is obvious from the various reading that I’ve done, that those who attended were swept away. I mean, even ijohnpedersen commented that Once a year I get serious on my blog. Today felt right. Reflections on Educon Philly. http://snipurl.com/1yk4b
As someone who couldn’t attend the conference, I am grateful to all those people who are sharing their notes and their links to the different sessions. It will take me time to sift through all these and digest the information. I agree with Tim about
However, more than anything else we need to continue and expand the discussions that began this weekend.
Improving education from the outside has never worked, not in my lifetime. The only way anything is going to change is by working from the inside.
We need to continue to expand the community of educators that was in Philadelphia this past weekend.
Exactly. We need to reach out to teachers and help them to begin using the tools.
However, this post is not about that. This post is about one administrator, who has for the last 15 years or so, has been working to bring technology into schools. This post is about how one administrator wants to reach out to other administrators and help them to understand how education can change, needs to change, as technology becomes a part of everyday life. It is about how one administrator continues to look for ways to network and make connections but, living the life of an administrator, doesn’t have the hours needed to do much more. You see, one other thing struck me in Tim’s post.
Another thing great schools need is a strong leader as principal -so I’m thinking maybe we could clone Chris. 🙂
Ok, so that’s not very practical. Instead we need to work to help our administrators understand that more trust in our kids and giving them more control over their own education can actually improve their learning. Test scores, too.
Then one of the commentors left this comment-
I couldn’t agree more, and it became painfully clear today as we held the second of three faculty interviews for a new lower division principal at my school. I left thinking, “where’s the passion?” Chris definitely holds the patent on passion in administrators.
First, I have no doubt that this wasn’t aimed at all administrators but it did grate me some. Oh well. Move on and I probably would have but I kept on reading through my RSS feed and came across Scott McLeod’s post over at Dangerously Irrevevant that was a follow-up to an earlier post. Now, Scott links to his earlier post, a follow-up post by Pete Reilly and Others who have commented. He finishes by saying:
We need to teach administrators about this stuff. Take a post like mine that gets some play (and also is of interest to school leaders) and show them how this works. Show them that the learning is in the dialogue and the interplay of ideas and that it’s not difficult to do. They need help seeing the power and potential. Lend a hand, won’t you?
As one administrator who’s working his tale off and trying to make a difference, I’m kind of deflated at the moment, to be honest. I don’t have a hope of being able to hold a conference or be able to do national presentations about technology and the power it holds for administrators. Heck, I don’t even get the chance with the administrators in my own division. I might get a crack to actually do a small presentation at a small conference later this year, if my proposal is approved. I work pretty much in isolation, trying to gain insights and support from my small network. I’m trying to change things in my own school to make technology more accessible but am not always able to make headway. I’ve shared my own teaching experiences using technology, everything from using gliffy and bubbl.us to creating podcasts using audacity and trying out some of the online video editing software to sharing the use of social bookmarking tools, blogging and RSS readers. I worked to try to begin a ning group specifically geared to administrators and technology use but it’s not getting the response that I expected even once I threw it out to my twitter network.
Do I have the passion? I think so. But right now my passion is really burning wondering what a guy has to do to get someone to listen. Okay, maybe that isn’t passion but it’s still burning. Most administrators I know are working in a situation where they have way too much on their desks. They are trying to do things that are being dictated from above while being pushed by the teachers within their own buildings, often with more than one competing agenda. Heck, I think technology is extremely important but I don’t have the time to always be up on what’s happening on Twitter or seeing who’s leading on twitdir. In fact, I’ve grown to really like Pownce because I can see it having some real use for my staff and even for students in particular instances.
All-in-all, I’m pretty frustrated with all this talk about administrators being the ones who are highlighted for needing help. In my experience, they are only a part of the puzzle. In fact, it is just as important to bring all the stakeholders online with this need for change. Policy and focus need to support the actions of technology use so that schools can move from casual use to assimilation where the technology no longer has that “wow” factor but is just part of the learning environment. This requires more than just getting administrators on board. It requires a reshaping of culture in order to see that learning does not span certain a period of time but is, in fact, a lifelong pursuit that begins at birth and continues until death.
Yes, I have a passion – for doing what is best for the students that come into the school each day. Sometimes, I have no time to even think about technology with all the meetings or dealings with students who are struggling or who are mad or bullied or …. and never mind those who don’t want to be in the building. Then there are parents who don’t agree with how we do things or how I do things. Like most public school administrators, I deal with whomever comes through the doors and whatever baggage they are carrying and try to make things work for them. If passion was all it took to get things done, I’d have accomplished much more in my time as principal. But it takes much, much more.
For those who are serious about wanting to have their administrators become better engaged with technology, send them over to the ning. I’m hoping it’s a place to share and grow as learners. My experience is that, like teachers, administrators listen to other administrators. They don’t have to do more than just look around but I’m hoping to bring together a collection of what I’ve gleaned over the past few years in regards to technology, learning and leading. Actually, I’m hoping to have others contribute – my stuff won’t take much space.