4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be

First of all, I am going to challenge my own title in this writing as the qualities that I am about to list are not usually people with influence, but people with tittles and authority.  Leadership and administration are sometimes not synonymous and if an administrator does not make those around them better, they are not leaders, they are bosses.

Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.

Here are some styles you should avoid being or working for if you want to really move forward.

1.  The “Blame Everyone Else” Leader

Ever tried to do something that is new to an organization only to be stopped by an administrator saying that “others” are holding things back?  Often times, they will say things like, “if it were up to me, I would love for this to happen”, or even act as if they are a martyr and trying to save you from getting in trouble from others.  Whatever the case, if someone is blaming others in the organization for not “allowing” you to move forward, trust will be at a minimum.  Most administrators are part of a team and although they might not always agree with one another, they will never blame others for a lack of opportunities for educators.

If you think about if, if  they are going to throw someone else under the bus, including someone on their own administration team, what do you think that they do when you are not around?

2. The “Driven by Policy” Leader 

Policies are often put into place to ensure that students and teachers are safe, yet the process to create them is often long and arduous.  With education moving so quickly, some policies are simply outdated and they are not in the best interest of organizations, and more importantly, students.  Sometimes policy interferes with doing what is right, but sometimes, doing what is right is hard.  It is easy to hide behind policy in this case.

Sometimes obviously we have to stick with policies to ensure safety and I am not saying that we throw them all out the window, but when policy trumps common sense, there are issues.

3.  The “Dead-End” Leader

You come up with a great idea that is new to an organization that you are willing to put in the work and effort.  You approach your boss and share it with you and they tell you why it probably won’t work.  You wait for suggestions.

Waiting…waiting…waiting…

Nothing.

There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm for someone at work when they are simply told “no”.  Great leaders want people to take risks, and although they are trying to protect others, a simple “no” can have harsh repercussions on an individual and ultimately school culture.

This does not mean you need to say yes to everything.  But you should ask for further explanations and help people look for ideas, alternatives, or give them the opportunity to take risks.  A yes rarely needs an explanation, but in my opinion, “no” always does.  But even with the explanation, it is still important that we try to create opportunities to keep that creative flame burning in others and getting involved with an idea or project, or at least offering guidance, says much more than “no”.

4.  The “Lack of Knowledge is Power” Leader

With all of the changes in our world, society, and culture, schools need to change.  With many administrators, this change leads to not only differences in the classroom, but in their own practice.  If administrators do not continuously learn and grow, students lose out.

Yet learning and growth take time and effort, and for some, doing what is comfortable is an easy option.  Some of my best administrators were not people that believed they knew everything, but those that actually showed vulnerability and that they actually didn’t know.

Yet when we admit that we don’t know everything, that means we have to trust others and give our “power and authority” away.  This model of distributed leadership is very tough on some and they end up hiring great people only to micromanage them.  A person that pretends that they know something is much more dangerous than those who can fully admit that they don’t.

So instead of showing humility and a willingness to learn, they often pretend they have an understanding of things that they don’t, which often leads to poor decisions that impact many.  The interesting thing is that those that are willing to get into the trenches and admit that they don’t know always have more credibility than those that pretend they do.

Weakness is not knowing, it is not being able to admit it.

I am sure that everyone of us (including myself) that is in a position of authority has done this.  No one is perfect.  But when these things become the norm, any one of them can be highly detrimental to the culture of a school.  It may not impact students directly, but long term, they will lose out the most.

 

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Dehumanizes”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

One of my favourite books that I have read in the past few years was called “Humanize”, and it really helped me to think of technology in a much different way than I had in the past.  As an assistant principal years ago, I remember actually arguing against the use of technology because of the way that I had seen it used.  Students would often go to a lab, which became an event, and teachers would often have students interact with websites or programs, instead of people.  I watched kids focused on a screen and losing connections with one another.  If I continuously talked about the importance of relationships in schools, it didn’t make much senses to talk about technology this way.

When I became a principal however, Twitter started becoming all the rage amongst educators, although I never really understood it.  Once I started connecting and sharing with real people, I was hooked.  Not only were these people brilliant educators, but they were great people that I connected with.  I learned not about their philosophies and thoughts on education, but about their families, their likes, their interests, and who they were as people.  I don’t come back to Twitter for the technology but for the connection.  If you build relationships in any area of your life, online or offline, you are going to come back.  Relationships are built with people and the people are what brought me back.  The ability to show one’s self was the draw for me.

Although I was proud of all that my school was achieving, while also sharing my own thoughts on education, I decided to show other aspects of my life as well.  People saw through the sharing of my love of basketball, music, and humour, that I was not just a “principal”, but a person who happened to be a principal.  But it was not only the “good” times that I shared.  When I lost my first dog Kobe, or went through another stressful time in my life, and even lost my dad, I felt that the Internet cried with me and gave me a virtual hug.  People came together to help me through trying times, many that would be considered “strangers”.  My willingness to share myself made me more than an avatar, but a human being.  This past weekend when I got engaged to the girl of my dreams,  I got another giant virtual hug.  Because I have been willing to share my ups and downs, I have been able to connect with so many people that I would consider good friends.

I have experienced this, but I have also seen these stories over and over again online.  John Berlin, made a video asking Facebook for his deceased son’s “Look Back” video, and when it was picked up by a Reddit user, people shared and reshared the video, which quickly caught the attention of Facebook and led to the video being released.

There is more good than bad in the world and the Internet has given us the opportunity to really tap into one another as human beings.

As a school administrator, I think often about the opportunity social media gives us to connect in ways that we couldn’t before.  If you look at large school districts such as Peel District School Board in Ontario and Surrey Schools in British Columbia, they have made their world a lot smaller by their use of social media.  In large geographical areas, they have used social media to create a “small town” feeling within their communities. Although you might see their leaders only once in person within the school, you have the ability to connect with them often online.  It is all in the way that you are willing to use the technology.

If a school leader uses social media as a way to simply share messages, and not engage with their community, it will not be very beneficial and does not create much more than existed without the technology.  Recently, I saw my good friend Jimmy Casas (who I met in person first but have become very good friends with because of technology) share a post about being vulnerable.  In it, Jimmy shared an anonymous tweet that was targeted against his work as a principal:

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Jimmy could have simply ignored it and moved on, but instead showed his vulnerability and addressed it openly.  That is courageous leadership.  The ability to openly share and discuss a criticism in a space that is totally open.  The irony of the post is that technology was used in an anonymous way from someone who was not willing to be brave enough to address Jimmy in person.  If you think about it, people dehumanize one another, not technology.  We have to always remember that on the other end of that Twitter, YouTube, Facebook account is a person, and when we choose to use technology in such a manner, we do more harm than any social media account ever could.

I often hear people talk about losing special things such as handwritten cards because we are often focused on teaching technology to our kids.  There is something sweet and sentimental about a card, but then I think about the video my brother shared of my dad below:

I wouldn’t trade seeing my dad in this video for any handwritten card that he could have ever  written.  His humanness shows here and I am reminded of his loving, goofy, and caring heart even though he is not with us anymore.

If you think about it, this type of technology can makes us even more human than we were before, it’s simply on the way we choose to use it.

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”
Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Will Replace Face-to-Face Interaction”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

A fear for many is that the continuous interactions that we have with one another through technology will replace face-to-face interaction.

Sometimes it seems that we forget our own childhood and that we had many peers that had trouble with interactions before mobile devices were the norm.  Technology did not inhibit them from speaking to others, nor do we need to necessarily think less of someone who may be an introvert.  People have different strengths and some actually thrive in isolation.  Their issue or our issue?

What some teachers have done is use technology to actually give students a voice and options that they didn’t have before.  I thought it was brilliant to see one teacher use Google Forms to do a simple “check-in” with students to give them the opportunity to share what is going on in their lives to ensure that she could help them in any way possible.

What this actually facilitated was the opportunity for the teacher to get to know her students better through the use of technology and she saw it as a way of actually enhancing their face-to-face interactions.  Some students are fine going up to a teacher and sharing some of the struggles that they have in their lives, but from my experience, those students would actually be in the minority.

Instead of accepting that some people are more open than others, we have often tried to force students talk to a point which would be our ideal.  Many educators, including myself, used to give marks for “participation” in class discussions to push our students to talk.  What this would often do would force some kids to speak when they are totally uncomfortable, and not facilitate anything that would be beneficial outside of the classroom.  With others that continued to not talk, tying marks to their “lack” of participation, only makes them feel worse and punishes them for sometimes being shy.  Is this really helping the problem?

We have to see that for some students, technology actually can provide them the voice that they have never had before.  I spoke to one student that said the use of social media actually inspired them to start speaking publicly because they developed confidence through a medium that worked for them.  I think of how many students would benefit and feel more comfortable talking in public when they would be allowed to use a medium that works for them first.

Then you have the other argument that the constant use of technology actually takes away the ability for some students that are already social.  The reality with many people are social, means they will actually connect both online and offline.  Social media has not made me any less social when in an “offline” environment.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I now feel that I am always comfortable going to any conference on my own as I will know people there that I have connected with through Twitter.  Instead of simply going to workshops and being by myself, I now can easily find a group of friends and connect with them in person.  This only started happening for me when I started using social media and if anything, it has actually made me more social in face-to-face settings.  Before I would have never gone to a conference on my own, and now, I don’t even think twice about it.

What I have also seen is that technology and social media has actually given people the opportunity to connect with others that have similar interests or experiences.  I was moved, as many were, by the video of two girls that were both born with one arm, connecting continuously through Skype.  Although they had never met, they considered each other “best friends”, and talked constantly, even though they were on opposite sides of the world.  The moment they finally met was inspiring, and to say that this relationship is lesser because it started and grew online, would most likely be an insult to these two, as it would be to others who have met some of their best friends and partners online.

It is pretty amazing to see the opportunities we have to connect, see, and learn about one another because of technology, but sometimes the ease of use leads us to take it for granted.  As I see my nephews and nieces grow up through my brother’s sharing of their lives, our conversations are much richer and deeper each time I see them.  I know more about their lives and feel that even though I am living far away, I am still able to watch them grow up.  I would take opportunities to see them in person over online interactions, but since I do not always have that option, I will continue to enjoy connecting with them through technology in-between visits.

Technology can give us the opportunity to enhance face-to-face interactions, not replace them.  We just have to take advantage.

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Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Narcissistic”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As a teenager, I remember seeing my friends after they came home from a vacation and going through a ton of pictures that they had just taken after their trip. Sometimes I would be mesmerized, and sometimes I would be thoroughly bored. Some pictures were amazing, and some had a thumb covering the shot. The roll of film didn’t allow you to delete, so you had to take the good with the bad.

I experienced this as most had in my generation, but was this an act of narcissism or simply was it an act of wanting someone to care? I would say the majority of people that I know share things and want to know others care, whether it is sharing pictures of their family, trips, or their own ideas. Many people love to share, while also enjoying being acknowledged. When my sister-in-law shares images of my nephews and nieces growing up, or even of her own life, I do not see it as a narcissistic act. In fact, those images allow me to connect with my family that I was not able to experience even 15 years ago. What may be seen as narcissistic to some, is gold to others We just have the option whether we want to look or not.

When I saw this video of a young boy asking for a single “like” on his first YouTube video, I thought, “is this a narcissistic kid or someone who just wants to know somebody cares?” I have no idea of this kid’s situation, but I remember being an awkward, chubby kid, and having that feeling that I would wish someone would pay attention to me. I was teased mercilessly and wanted to be recognized for doing something well, not for being overweight and I wonder how this audience can actually shape someone’s own self-perception in a positive way.

So what happened when the boy got a single like? Well he was so excited that he made another video asking for 3-5 likes, and ended up getting millions.

We tell kids to embrace themselves, yet when we see them share “selfless”. we label them as inward focused. Is this their narcissism, or is this our insecurity.  I actually saw one educator talk about how one student out of a panel of ten should be commended for giving up his smartphone and stated, “Wouldn’t every parent want a child like him?”  What does that say about the other kids?

And what about selfies?  A “Dove” commercial challenged the notion of selfies about being narcissistic and actually a way to celebrate ourselves, no matter what shape or form, as being beautiful.  The film tries to paint a different narrative on what a selfie can actually say to a young woman:

The film, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, dives right into the heart of Dove’s brand mission: Convincing young women that the things they hate most about themselves are the features that make them most beautiful. The twist is that the high school girls are assigned not just to rethink their own selfies, but to give their equally self-loathing moms a selfie lesson too.

So instead of painting kids as “narcissistic”, why not help them see themselves in a more positive light?

Personally, I love this picture taken by my brother of his three year old daughter Bea taking a selfie.  If you know Bea, she is a very confident young girl, while also having a warm and loving heart.  Is any of that bad?  Is this not what we would want for our kids as they grow up?

There are definitely people who are out there that are narcissistic, but technology didn’t do that to them, it just gave them an audience.  Instead of painting everyone with the same brush, I think it is important to take an inward look at ourselves and see why people sharing themselves would bother us so much.

Technology and the Basics

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.56.05 PMWe talk a lot in education about the use of technology and giving us the ability to do things that we couldn’t do before.  This “transformative” use of technology is something that many school division aspire to and focus on.  They use things such as the SAMR model or Bernajean Porter’s focus on “Literate, Adaptive, and Transformative”, when measuring their use of technology, but what about the “basic” uses of technology?

For example, as I am sitting at a dinner table with people I don’t know, in a culture that is foreign to me, talking about education, I heard many great insights on the future of learning and the possibilities that are out there for our system.  As I watched others write notes on pen and paper (which is accepted as normal by the majority of educators), I struggled with pulling my phone out of my pocket and writing in a way that I felt comfortable with, as I did not want to seem out of place in this new environment.  When I brought it up, I was encouraged to use my phone because that is what worked best for me.  How many times do we lose out when a kid is not allowed to use their device, not because they don’t want to write “notes”, but because they don’t feel comfortable writing them in a way that makes sense and is easy for them?

What I was doing with this technology was very basic and it was something old done with the new.  I wasn’t creating videos, reaching out across the world, but simply writing notes.  Nothing transformative at all.  Kids need this option as well.  All kids. All learners.

So I guess if we look at what technology can give us now that we couldn’t have before, I would say for some people, it gives them the opportunity to finally learn in a way that works for them, whether it is very basic, or very advanced.  We all need options and if we are to truly empower our learners, we have to ensure we help them figure out what works for them, not us.

Myths of Technology Series: “Don’t Talk To Strangers”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As kids, we were continuously told “don’t talk to strangers”, and this generation has been told the same thing.  Times have changed and we have to really rethink this notion.

If you really think about it, everyone you are close with now was a stranger at one point.  Not only does that notion come to play, but as adults, we have to realize that it is much more common for people to meet someone online first.  Online dating has moved away from being “taboo”, it has become the norm.  If you took it even further, many people probably meet friends online first.  My time connecting online, has actually helped me to connect with some of my best friends in the world.  Similar to online dating, many of these friends that I have become closest with have a list of qualities that I was drawn to that I may not have necessarily met if I was only open to “offline” connections.

Kids are also starting to create those environments for themselves as well.  Danah Boyd discusses in her book on “Networked Teens”, how kids are using social media to connect with peers that have similar interests.  One example I have seen was a student in a small community who had a unique interest in gaming, use his Instagram account to connect with other gamers.  None of these people were in his class, and could have lived in different countries, yet they were all people that this student identified with and gave him a sense of belonging.  There are many kids in our schools that would benefit from a sense of belonging.

As I continue to do workshops with students, I have continuously asked them, “How many of you have met someone online first, and them met online.  Years ago, my guess would be that the percentage would be very low, but I consistently get above half of the room raising their hands.  I would also guess that several students chose not to raise their hands because they have been continuously told that this is something that they shouldn’t do, while we as adults, continue to do this ourselves.  Safety should always be our number one concern, so if we are going to help kids be safe in a networked world, we have to think differently.

One suggestion that I have given students is that they have connected with someone online that they want to meet in person, they should talk to their parents first and arrange a video chat with their mom or dad in the room.  Not hovering over their shoulder, but so that it is obvious that the parent is present.  They could arrange to meet somewhere where their parent drops them off, and is around.  Obviously this depends upon the age of the child, and some still might scoff at the idea, but it is a lot safer than pretending this could never happen and covering our eyes.  We have to start thinking about different approaches to keep our kids safe in such a networked world.

Many educators, such as Kelli Holden from Parkland School Division, understand the power there is connecting with “strangers” and has focused on modelling the power of social media with her students, which has made a tremendous impact on their learning.  Using a classroom Twitter account, Kelli will ask questions of the “world” that are often developed with her students, and they will learn a great deal about the rest of the world.  Using the hashtag, #whatsdoesyourspringlike, her students displayed a picture of the weather outside in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and received responses from around the world, including Palm Springs, Washington,  Norway , Tokyo, amongst many others.  If we want our students to have a “global awareness”, we have to teach them how to safely connect with others.

If I think about my experience with a subject such as science, I remember losing interest quickly.  This lack of passion for the subject probably spilled over to my own students in my first few years of teaching, as I never really understood or developed a love for the subject.  But now, with the ability to connect with biologists, physicists, astronauts, or even classes around the world, there is an opportunity to learn about science from “scientists”.

If we let our notion of what a “stranger” is and decide not to connect with these people, we are taking away tremendous opportunities from our students.  Instead of the idea that we “shouldn’t talk to strangers”, maybe we need to focus on Bill Nye’s notion that “everyone you meet knows something you don’t” and teach our students how to be safe in a world that is powerfully connected.

It’s About the Work

I sometimes struggle with the notion of publicly recognizing the work of teachers that publicly share their work on Twitter in our school district.  Although I do it anyway, I have always worried about the perception that some teachers might gauge others as “favourites”.

After bringing this notion up with Brian Woodland, Director of Communication for Peel School Board, he talked about the idea that it is not the teacher that you are necessarily sharing, but the work of the teacher.  As we went back and forth on this concept, we talked about the notion of making great learning viral and how this is really not much different than asking a teacher to share something at a staff meeting that has been done, it just has the potential to be spread to a much larger audience.

Chris Kennedy and I talked about this concept as well and his belief was that if someone was taking the time to share something great, one thing that he should try to do is acknowledge them on a wider basis.  When I asked him about teachers that might become jealous, he had told me that if any of them mentioned that if they thought it was unfair, to show him some great stuff that there were doing and he would gladly share it to a larger audience.

So what’s the difference between acknowledging a person through an email or through a social network and allowing the world to see.  Well if we focus that is not directly focusing on the teacher, but the impact that the teacher is making on the students that they work with, and that if it is shared to a larger audience, it will make a larger impact, then we are doing it for the right reasons.

When we get upset about this sharing, are we really focused on creating great learning opportunities for our students?

My suggestion if you are uneasy with this as an administrator?  Have a conversation with your staff and tell them that you are wanting to share great examples of learning as you see them by your staff as it makes us all better, and you will do your best to share the work of all those willing to post into a shared public space (for example Twitter, Google Plus, etc.).

If we want to make these great learning opportunities viral, we are going to have to share them.

You have the world at your fingertips…what are you going to do?

Today I had the pleasure of working with Central Peel Secondary students talking about the idea of #DigitalLeadership.  Although I am always honoured to speak to students, today has been a little rough since it is exactly one year since my dad passed away.

As I was speaking about the positive impact that students can make and sharing about how so many people from around the world consoled me during a difficult time, I started to tear up in front of the students.  During a video shared in my presentation, I saw a tweet from a student:

 

I responded and thanked her and the school for having me, and as the video ended, I pointed out the small act of kindness that made me feel very welcome at a point that I was very vulnerable. As I asked where “Kaitlin” was, she put up her hand and said, “Can I give you a hug?”, which, of course, I accepted.  As she gave me a hug in front of the whole auditorium, the students applauded loudly for her act of kindness which, in my mind, was definitely deserved.

It brought me to tears and it reminded me how inspiring our students are and how they always seem to go WAY above our expectations whenever we give them the chance.

Looking to favourite the tweets shared by Kaitlin, I noticed one of her tweets before the assembly began:

 

Can you blame her?

So much time is spent with students telling them what they “can’t” do as opposed to showing them the endless possibilities there is to make a difference in this world.

If we really believe that our students are “the future”, we need to help keep them safe, but we should also focus on the fact that they have the world at their fingertips and they can do something powerful.  I know that one student with a simple tweet and act of kindness made a difference for me on a very tough day that and it will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. Hopefully we can focus on empowering our kids, as opposed to telling them only what they “can’t” do.

Innovative thinking needs to lead to innovative action.

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” William Pollard

Many educators come up to me and ask about becoming an administrator.  One of the big reasons they share for not wanting to take a path to become a principal or vice-principal is that they see the tasks of the job to be unappealing.

My response?  When you are the principal, you can decide how you want to do things.  There is no manual or script that you have to follow (although there are school districts out there that this might be true) when deciding how you want things to be in a school.

Do you have to do six hour staff meetings? Nope.

Does your professional development have to be only in a “stand-and-deliver” form? Nope.

Do you have to be the sole “decision-maker” in your school? Nope.

There are a ton of things that I saw as a teacher that I swore I would never do to my own staff because I found them to be disengaging to my own practice or an utter waste of my time.  I remember spending 75 minutes as a teacher on a conversation about whether students should be allowed to wear hats in school.  Really?  Is this going to make a significant difference in the type of learning opportunities that will happen in school with our students?  Is this the best use of time?  My belief was that we have a limited amount of time in schools and that as administrators, any chance we get to work with staff we better make the best use of that time.

This is not to say that there is not a lot of things that someone could learn from the administrators before them.  Even the worst principals had things that you could learn and apply to your own practice.  But we often do not need a duplicate of what we had before, but a “remix” of past practice, or sometimes something totally different.

What does this lead to? Often when you display as an administrator at the top of your organization that you are willing to think different and take risks in what you are doing, it gives the freedom to your teachers and students to do the same.  Encouraging risk taking is not that effective unless you are willing to model risk taking.

If we want innovative schools, we need leaders who think different.  Innovative thinking needs to lead to innovative action.

We need courageous leaders who are going to think and act differently.  Until then, I am not sure how anything will change with our students.