How often have you asked the question? What about “How are you doing?” or one similar? How often have you listened to the response?
In the hustle and bustle of the day, we’re all very busy and such conversations are sometimes fillers as we politely listen to a reply. And there are those people that we don’t ask, right? They tell us stories and problems that, really, we didn’t really intend to listen to when we asked the question.
As a parent and educator, I was often guilty of asking but not listening. Well, I “heard” what they said but I didn’t always listen to what they were saying. I would do it with my own children, asking them how their day was but only partly listening to what they were saying. We’re all busy, right?
Intent to listen. Do you even consider this?
As a school leader, I sometimes would get into “fix it” mode where I would listen with the intent to offer advice or a way to solve whatever problem being brought to me. In the busyness of the day, I would have my own thoughts/agenda running as background noise while I listened. It happens now, even though I am much more conscious of my need to listen with intent.
Learning to Quiet the Voices to Listen
One particular student helped me to understand how important it was to listen with the intent to understand. He wasn’t in trouble and he wasn’t bringing me a problem. He was just telling me about the song he was writing. And I might have missed it had he not said “Do you really want to hear this? I can tell you another time.”
I stopped. Did I? What were my choices? See, I hadn’t stopped what I was doing when he asked me. I had kept on doing what I was doing. So I stopped, put down my pen and listened. But instead of just listening, I gave him my attention and he gave me a wonderful gift – he shared his story of writing a song about our class – each person had a verse – all 31 and me. Then he sang it to me. As he proceeded to sing, I began to understand why he was always humming as he worked. Over time, I learned he would write songs to remember what we were doing and used these songs, humming them, as he wrote or did an exam. I had learned so much about him.
Although I learned something, I really didn’t learn to listen until my 4th daughter taught me. She had a speech impediment and, until she was about 6, hard a difficult time communicating. As a parent, I was often left frustrated by not being able to understand what she was saying. It took me a long time to learn to stop, quiet the rolling voices that were in the background and listen, not just with my ears but with my other senses as well.
That was the beginning but I’ve learned it’s a daily journey, one I must tend each day.
A daily journey.
It sometimes involves tears.
Some are mine.
Let People Know You Are In Relationship With Them
Schools are busy places. There is always something happening and a commotion somewhere. In all this busyness and happenings, how can one possibly listen to all that comes along? I struggled with this as an administrator – remember Fix-It mode? I also suffered from Pressing Issues syndrome, Tattling overload, Initiative fatigue, Reporting cramp, Teacher Frustration aches and No Dinner pangs at times. Listening wasn’t always easy – but it was absolutely necessary.
Letting people know you are listening means you need to commit to that relationship in the moment. Listening to a student tell me something isn’t really an efficient use of time. But it can’t be about efficiency – it has to be about effective as it relates to relationships. As leaders, it’s about sharing one of the greatest gifts you have – time.
As a parent, I learned that I needed to listen with all my senses in relationship with my daughter when she was telling me something. And it wasn’t just my one daughter. As a father of 8, it’s sometimes very busy when people get talking. My wife and I have often eaten cold suppers after all the stories have been told.
In silence. Listening to the smiles.
At times, when I was busy, I had to be honest with my children and ask them if they could tell me in a few moments. I’ve done this with students and teachers. It is important to enter into relationship with others as you listen and sometimes being honest with them and arranging another time is the right thing to do.
And if they say no?
that’s was always a cue that I needed to stop and listen because it was important.
Being In Relationship
In all the discussion about devices, communication, screen time, and distraction, it’s often portrayed that we only have “real” relationships when we are in a fact-to-face interaction. Yet, my experience is that it’s about the relationship of the people that is the important. A while back, I wrote
The point is that today, now, there are many different ways for us to connect as a family. I’ve learned not to compare the past with the present so much any more. Things are different and will be different. There are new things that challenge my worldview and previous assumptions and have made me change how I view and think about many things.
The point is not about the devices or technology but the relationships we have with people. Too often what becomes lost in these discussions is the space where each particular person is at
listening to reply – not understand
So, how are you today?
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?
I’ve been working on trying to figure out what I might want to talk about to administrators during my 45 minutes presentation at the Tlt conference that is coming up in two weeks. My intro to the presentation was using technology to help manage your school. I began writing about that and, low and behold, I found that it was nearly as boring as watching primer dry. What was I thinking?
To top if off, I’ve started down a road at school that is so uncharted I feel like the early explorers. You see, I’m about to bring all my grade 9, 10 & 11’s together to discuss what we want the school to be like and how we, together, are going to work at creating this vision of school. Our first meeting will be to address some of the simple rules that have been a thorn in everyone’s side since I arrived: students arriving late to class, students skipping class, students wandering from class and the whole cell phone thing.
As an administrator, I’m just about fed up with trying to create an attendance policy because it doesn’t get followed by the teachers. I’ve tried to get teachers to be responsible for students showing up late for their class but that hasn’t happened. They all want to have the same policy so that no one looks “bad” but they don’t mind if I’m the one who has to deal with the problems. So, in a fit of delirium, I’ve decided to go straight to the students to work out how we will deal with these problems. I have no clue how this is going to turn out but I’m pretty much tired of the whole mess. Time to come up with a solution that will work.
This brings me back to my presentation. I want to impress upon administrators that they have to actually get into the fray and begin learning about the technologies that are all around them. They have to be the educational leaders and be learning about what is going on and how these tools are being used. As administrators, they have to see that the students walking through the doors are not the same as they were because the world we are living in is not the same. That to deal with issues and problems in the same manner we have been doing does not deal with the problems, it just sweeps them out of sight.
I really want to tell them that to let IT departments dictate the filtering and software use is contrary to what learning is all about. That teachers need to be addressing the issues of inappropriate information in all that they are teaching so that students can begin to sift through the ever growing mountain of information that bombards them.
I want to tell them that parents need to be brought into the discussions about acceptable use of information and technology. That they need to be aware of the statistics about youth and the “evil” internet. I want to tell them that schools are the one place where topics like improper social network usage, giving out too much information and other such things can be discussed without the fear factor that other media is giving the internet. I want to impress upon them that the cellphone that our students are carrying is a powerful learning tool that can surf the web, record events and information and transfer their ideas and creations. I want to tell them to get over their prejudices about the various technologies and to think of them as learning tools instead of problems that need to be controlled.
I want to show them the power that every person on their staff has to develop a learning network that is tailored to their interests. Explain that, through the use of some very simple tools, they can introduce their teachers to others who will move their thinking and learning in ways they didn’t think possible.
When I began to work on this presentation in earnest, last night, I realized that I my presentation is really a reflection of the frustrations that I have been having trying to deal with some of the issues at school. I’ve been banging my head trying to figure out how to have teachers buy into something that, really, I need students to buy into and understand. Instead of creating reactionary consequences to what is happening, I want to bring students into the solution so they make it their problem not ours. I want to join in a conversation with them to find out where they are so that we can come create a solution. Like I said, I’m not sure what will happen tomorrow or how this will all turn out but, as an administrator, there needs to be some solutions found so we can move on to tackle some more serious issues.
Instead of giving the administrators who show up to my session some neat little package that they can go away with, I want to challenge them to look at their schools in a totally different way. I want them to begin to glimpse that the technologies are tools that are available but unless people working in schools begin to see teaching a learning in a new way and view students from a new perspective, it won’t matter what tools we throw into the mix the final results will continue to be the same.
I want these people who attend my session to begin to glimpse that preparing students for life in this ever-changing social climate means that their learning needs to be diverse, multi-faceted and more about learning how to learn than what to learn because the knowledge will continue to change in ways that we cannot predict. Students are much more aware of the hypocritical nature of people and many see teachers who talk about life-long learning but that is where it ends.
Maybe it’s the frustration of the past week or so that has me thinking like this or because I’m just desperate. It could be a little of both. I’m dealing with students who are finding no use in what they are doing and want more and, for the most part, aren’t really happy with the answer “Well, it’s the curriculum.” As I listen to my own daughters and their friends comments about school, I see we’re losing a whole group of students because we are not challenging them – demanding them to demonstrate their knowledge in ways besides writing and tests. I long to hear my older girls come home excited about what they are doing at school instead of the stories I get to hear about some misadventure that has gone on involving their peers. The first happens so rarely while the latter happens much too often. I want to tell the administrators that these types of comments have been ignored for too long – myself guilty as charged. To bring about the change, we need to be the educational leaders that promote and lobby for change to meet the needs of the students in our buildings. Granted, there are many more needs that we need to address, but learning is the fundamental reason for our existence and it’s time to reshape what that looks like.
Most likely, I’ll show them a nice powerpoint and a screencast about using some social tools. I mean, I only have 45 minutes.
This week I was asked the question “What are some characteristics of an effective and progressive high school?”
Now, being in a K – 12 school, I took some time and talked to a few of the students in the senior grades. They were a great help, as were the 4 people who answered my twitter call for help. Through their suggestions and ideas I was able to come up with 4 characteristics that seemed to capture the essence of an effective and progressive high school.
From my discussions, it was clear that students want to learn and know that learning is important. Their biggest issue was that at times what they were doing didn’t seem relevant. It wasn’t that they wanted things to be always “today’s headlines” kind of stuff but they wanted to be able to find connections between what they were doing and what was going on around them. If it was detached or just some facts about things, they found it hard to follow or care about. They wanted to be involved in things that were going on in their lives and were linked to their world. They gave some examples like the problems in the Middle East – it was linked to history in many ways and they were interested in how this came about and why so many problems. They had some ideas but weren’t sure if what they knew was right or not.
The whole idea of being connected came through, not as one important idea but from how they talked about being connected to other students and other people. This leads me to think that we need to really work on helping students build networks with other students. This is happening in a few cases but they are not the norm. In most cases, students continue to work in classrooms limited to connecting with those in the room. With the tools available to teachers, it seems that this should be something that can be achieved without too much trouble. I think it will require the will of teachers to stretch and try new things but, for our students, these are the things they are already doing outside of school. Maybe it’s time we brought some of these things into the school and examined, in more detail, how we can provide opportunities for students to network.
This was something that the high school students were concerned about. Although they didn’t call it this, they talked about having the skills and knowledge to move from school into the world beyond and be successful. They discussed more than just academic skills. Things like living on their own, budgeting, food and clothing, working, banking and other daily activities were tossed around whether they were thinking about furthering their education or going into the work force. As things change rapidly in our society, maybe we need to spend more time looking at some of these aspects and discussing with students the various parts of living on one’s own.
Engaging students. Whether in how the school runs or the classes that are offered, students want to be active participants in what is going on. They want to be part of the process and be part of what is going on in the school. They want a say in how they will spend their day and what they will be doing and, connected with the relevant curriculum, they want to know how and why some things are the way they are. Mostly, they weren’t looking to get rid of anything but just wanted to understand more about how things worked and ran.
We have all seen a change in the students that come into the schools. I would say that most of this change has been positive. They are much more aware of the surrounding world and what is going on. They are curious about how things work and how things happened to get to where they are today. They are very environmentally aware and have a social connectedness that is much greater than a few years ago. As educators, one of our biggest challenges is to tap that curiosity and have students expand their knowledge and understanding and then demonstrate what it is that they have come to understand.
The one thing that wasn’t mentioned was the physical environment. They talked about being able to connect and find information, have access to information and use new technologies but they talked about classrooms have wifi and internet access and being able to use the tools to do different things in the classroom setting but they didn’t seem at all to be put out by the physical design of schools. Or maybe I just didn’t ask the question:)
So what’s your take? What are the important points that you would consider in an effective and progressive high school?
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that has Calvin hammering nails into the coffee table. His mom comes in and freaks, saying “What are you doing?” There is a pause and then Calving replies “Isn’t it obvious!”
Sometimes, this is how I feel when I’m working with the various tools that I use each day at school. I think it’s obvious what I’m doing, kind of like hammering nails into a coffee table. And it may be obvious to others who are using similar tools and doing similar work. However, I think that many teachers react like Calvin’s mom – in some type of disbelief and shock. It looks like we’re hammering nails into their coffee table.
So, I wondering, in the same vein of my previous posts, what 5 tools do you think would be the best to use with teachers so that they don’t think we’re hammering nails into that coffee table.
My list looks like this:
1. pbwiki – staff wiki of information and events with calendar of school-wide activities.
3. Audacity – recording using the computer lab instead of tape-recorder. Students like wearing headphones and having a microphone!
4. Zoho business – introduction to online desktop. Slowly beginning to look at using online document sharing.
5. Google Earth – there’s just so much to do with this program.
They can choose to participate or this will die a quick and sudden death.
Years back, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I decided that I needed some money to pay for bills, food and rent because I didn’t want to move home and live with my parents. I was 18 you know and that would have been a real blow to my independence and self-esteem if I had had to move back home. After doing a few odd things, I happened upon someone who needed some painting. The rest, as they say, is history. I liked the job and, after a few summer working for someone else, I decided to work for myself. With a partner, a company was born that proved to be quite successful, employing 20 odd university students during its peak operations. I was also attending university and this “summer” job provided me with the opportunity to earn enough money to put myself through school plus pay the bills. At one point, I decided that I should really take this a bit more seriously and took some classes in the craft moving toward my journeyman status.
I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few weeks. I’ve been finding it rather difficult to write these past few weeks because of a ho-hum that has settled in. Now this could partly be due to the fact that my candle has finally reached the point where two ends cannot burn at once. Another important impact is that I’m neck deep in various projects that are requiring my time. A third possible reason for my lack of ideas is that I’m not really sure where I’m going right now. That whole “being adrift” feeling and not having a focus. I’m lacking enthusiasm right now and I really don’t know why.
However, while cruising through some posts the other day, I watched a video Digital Students @ Analog Schools. As I listened to the students speak, I was reminded of the movie Teachers with good ol’ Nick Nolty.
The issues that are raised in that movie regarding teacher/student relations, the incredible tensions teachers find themselves under and the ways they deal with that stress, are similar to those we are still facing today. The schools didn’t work for those students, or the teachers for that matter, why should we expect them to work now? I mean, the best teacher is an escapee from a mental institute who makes history come alive for the students. Students are depicted as entering and exiting a world of ditto worksheets and any teacher who is reaching out to students and using whatever technological methods available is still an outsider. Now there is more going on in the movie than this but the whole idea that the schools weren’t working.
As for what students are saying in the video about what they expect when going to school, I’d venture to guess that it was no different than some previous generations. I mean, my university experience didn’t prepare me a lick for what I do today. In fact, other than the skills of reading, writing and math, I really question all the other things that were covered in my schooling. Very little, if any, gave me the skills that I needed when I entered the work force, started a company, did a variety of other things and then entered my present profession. Not to mention the skills I have found that I need as a parent and a community member. Holly macaroni! Where was I during those classes? No amount of “real world” experience or problem solving could have prepared me for that.
However, I didn’t have the means to express that frustration or angst that today’s youth are being provided and it has given them a voice unlike any voice they have had in the past. As I’ve discussed with students a few times, having a voice is one thing but expecting that you will get what you want is another. As I watch the different presentations about schools and read the discussions, I wonder if there is any way we can bring the two sides together? Can schools ever hope to provide what the youth want when it comes to education? Did schools ever really provide students with skills for society? Or do we just pay homage to a system by saying “it worked for past students but wont’ for these students.” when in fact it didn’t work and, from my brief survey of people around me, didn’t really prepare them for the lives they are living. Could it be the whole idea of “preparing the youth future society” won’t really take place at school? Instead, it will take place like it did for many, during the day-to-day of actually living and dealing with what is taking place at that time.
As I ponder what people say about schools, students, technology and the future, I wonder if we are any different from what has taken place before? Sure there is greater access to global partnerships but we still need to take care of what is happening in our own backyard. Sure we can communicate with people all over the world via a multitude of methods but it’s the daily face-to-face encounters that move us and affect us far greater. Yes we can work and collaborate in incredible ways but the sharing of duties within a house still impacts people in deeply rooted ways.
I don’t think we stop using and working with the technologies and helping students to use them to broaden their learning and sort through their understandings. Technologies do give us access to things we didn’t have before in a number of areas. But, when we really get down to it, did schools really prepare students for the future? Or does school play another role in our societal design besides the preparation for the future? Should we be looking at things from a different perspective? I’m not sure. But as I work through quite a few different “real world” problems with students, parents, teachers and staff, I wonder if we need to reconsider how we label the role schools have in our society.