The First Follower
This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.
Challenge Others to Change
As a leader, creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things, make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.
Re-Frame the Challenge
The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”
But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?
What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?
Why would school be important?
Why would students want to come to school?
Why would teachers want to teach?
Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:
Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
And we happen to make great computers.
Wanna buy one?
So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like
“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?
That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and re-image learning and the school in a different way.
That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?
Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.
It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be. Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.
I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to being a Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input, tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.
Re-Framing as Leader
Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership
You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.
Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.
The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.
Thing to Think About
- How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
- Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
- Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
- What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?
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!
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.