6 Leadership Lessons From Australia

Spending the last two weeks in Australia, I have seen a lot of different schools, teachers, students, and cultures, and it was when Stephen Gwilliam actually asked me over lunch about my learning, did I really think about what i picked up from my experience presenting and facilitating workshops.

Below are some thoughts that I have from my experience that I believe are important considerations for myself as I further my own leadership.

1. People matter, but “stuff” sometimes matters to those people.  Make sure that stuff works.

Being in Australia for the third time in the last 12 months, I feel the pain of many teachers that have to go through “proxy” settings to get some type of filtered Internet.  It rarely, if ever works for teachers, and there is often frustration and a subversive culture often being created.  It is also often a killer of innovation.

Coming from a very open environment, one of the teachers that was extremely forward thinking was actually surprised by what we are able to do in our own school division.  The comment she had made was, “we had no idea of the thing that were even possible until you showed us things that we are not able to have access to.  We never try a lot of the things that you show because we are so used to an environment where things don’t work.”

I am hoping that the South Australia department is listening to this message. If they are, I am sure that many other systems would be more than willing to open their schools and classrooms to show you the possibilities of an “open” Internet.  Yes we still have filters (pornography and gambling) but you need to start looking at what kids access on their phone and preparing them for the world they live in.

(I highly suggest this Dan Haesler article on driving and social media. Are we doing our job?)

2. Get the right people on the “bus”, but make sure that you know where the bus is going.

The “bus” analogy is one that is often used in leadership circles and I have loved the analogy, but where is it going?  I know that many organizations put a lot of time into creating mission and vision statements, but how often do we ask questions such as, “What is the purpose of school?” or, “What does that mission statement look like in the context of schools?”, and get some answers.

If leaders cannot define those things, then a mission statement is just fancy words on a piece of paper.  People want to do good but they are often unclear of what “good” could look like or, worse, they are not included in the conversation at all.  It is time to take those mission statements and think of what they look like for kids and teachers.

I believe that there are not only one answer for these questions, but I also see many teachers thinking that having kids sit quietly in rows by themselves is good teaching because they have not been told anything else.  As a teacher myself, I would teach way better when I wasn’t being evaluated because it was more focused on “learning”, yet when my principal would come in, I would focus more on “teaching”.  It was not until I had heard what my principal (specifically) was looking for, did I feel that I was able to really push the former.

Do we have a vision, and if we do, is it clear to others?

3.  Kids and adults should be learning in the same room more.  Way more.

One of my presentations, meant for high school students actually had more adults in the room.  I had decided to change what I was doing on the fly and make it something applicable to both and the conversation that had come out of the afternoon was amazing.  I was abe to facilitate conversations where students said things such as, “We should be allowed to bring in devices to the classroom”, where I agreed but the asked them, “How will  you use it for learning if this happens?”  Simply allowing kids to bring devices into classroom will not get your school to the transformative level, but both students and teachers should think of ways they can use this technology in meaningful ways.

What came out of this day was seemingly more accountability on both parts.  Having someone talk about the possibilities for moving classrooms ahead, and the roles that we all play, put ownership on all parties to move forward, including the students. It also allowed students to share what they want to do in their classrooms and how it can change with someone facilitating the conversation and also helping staff know how to get there.

Let’s face it, if a teacher is not comfortable with mobile devices in the classroom and one day allows students to use them without taking a hard look at their own pedagogy, do you think kids would just immediately stop texting?  I know I wouldn’t.  These conversations should happen together WAY more often.

This was my first time doing this type of conversation and it seemed to be very successful with a lot of possible upsides.

4. Use your voice.

I have stated this before to many people that I have connected with.

“Don’t complain about something you don’t have if you have never asked for it.”

Teachers need to come together and keep asking questions and focus conversations on, “What is best for kids.”  Many that I encountered felt that there voice was not valued yet also did not often speak to the right people.  Your voice is important but if you are in a culture where you find out it isn’t, maybe it is time to move on.  As the Edcamp motto goes, “People will talk with their feet.”

Ask questions and share what you want to do what is best for kids.  Focus all conversations on that point, but, start the conversation.

5.  “Connecting” is a HUGE part of leadership and we need to recognize this.

When I was a kid growing up, the principal seemed to be the person with all the answers.  Now (and probably back then), this is impossible because there are far too many questions.  A school administrator should be a facilitator of leadership and that means sometimes deferring to others and helping to not only build leadership capacity, but also relationships in the building.  It does not make sense to be the “last stop” for information, but also a conduit to others.  A leader creates other leaders not more followers.  Connecting people to those leaders is an essential.

Malcolm Gladwell refers to “connectors” in his book The Tipping Point and  that they have a unique knack, “to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”  If we are at a “tipping point” in education, will those who are “connectors” become vital to the success of schools?

To become a connector, it is important to know that this takes a decrease in  “ego” but an increase in confidence.  To be able to say “someone is better at this than I am” is essential for a leader.  Strong leaders get this and are comfortable with it.

6. Resilience

To my many Australian friends who are moving towards innovative schools and classrooms and dealing with things that they see as roadblocks, don’t give up.  Nothing worth doing is easy and I know that many great schools did not happen overnight.  There is a lot of work to be done, but technology issues, resources, and changed mindsets can happen over time with patience and hard work.  That being said, I believe that “change” does not need to take as long to happen and stick in a school anymore.  With the effective use of technology to share amazing things happening in the classroom through social media, great practice that happens in isolated classrooms does not take as long to be visible to others.  Instead of waiting to share something once a month at a professional development day does not have to happen anymore.  You can share it as it happens or at least soon after through the effective use of social media.  It is essential to do that.

You want to think how quickly things can move in our world right now?  Do you know any Korean singers?  Exactly.  Things can happen faster now in our world and Stephen Johnson refers to this connection being essential to innovation:

“Figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together.”

Thank you to all the new acquaintances and old friends from Australia that made for a great learning experience!  I hope to see you all again soon :)


9 thoughts on “6 Leadership Lessons From Australia

  1. Erin

    Since that wonderful session here at our school, (mixed with both teachers and students), I too have been thinking about how can we do this more. The next day I had the twitter stream of #ACTlearn on the large projector in the middle of our learning space, it prompted a number of fantastic questions from students.
    Why is ** teacher there?
    What are they doing?
    Why do teachers gather together like that?
    Don't they already know what they need to know?
    What are they learning?

    Also a number of fantastic comments…
    That's great that they are keen to learn more.
    I never knew that teachers continued to get together like that after uni.

    I think exposing such great learning, prompts, quotes, questions and ideas was really beneficial. All the students I spoke with about the twitter stream where impressed that their teachers were dedicated to doing more for themselves and hence them!

    I would love to do something maybe once a term where teachers and students can learn together, through a facilitator or guest speaker. Something else on my todo list.

    (Of curse I couldn't post this comment from my work computer….. Had to do it from my phone)

  2. @stephengwilliam

    George, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet up in person with some colleagues from the ACT. Everybody needs their own http://www.abitetoeat.net.au/ – a 'genius loci' or place to reflect – even if it is over a busy and rushed lunch!

    Your comment on making sure the right processes, people and learning tech "stuff" works is one aspect that appears lacking in most educational administrative preparation program's across jurisdictions?

    I appreciated your encouragement to consider a blog- working on one! The opportunity for the 21 schools in my network to further collaborate using Twitter as an "enabler". I believe we need to make the brave move to begin a journey and perhaps share online. I see many fantastic teachers in our schools inspiring students, parents and colleagues with creativity, passion and leadership that should be shared locally, nationally and internationally. Similarly, there is much collective wisdom out there to learn from.

    So how about an e-book George? "Lessons of the collective wisdom from educators on #Twittersphere?"

    Hope to see you back our way or in AB sometime. Cheers.


  3. Rhoni McFarlane

    As we bang our heads against iPads and laptops with a desperate thud thud thud begging for bypasses to work, connections not to drop out and streaming to occur before we lose our audience! I think we prove to be a pretty resilient bunch here in SA, perhaps too resilient on the verge of compliant and accepting. Perhaps it's time to muster the troops and expect a helping hand from our dept. to foster rather than constrain our access to the world online for ourselves and our students. Not only frustrating on a daily basis, but embarrassing when an international guest spends so much time getting access rather than engaging with his captive audience. Fingers crossed there's less restrictions for your next trip down under!

  4. spdarwin

    George, I always find your posts interesting, but this one in particular has so many points that resonate with me. One idea I have been thinking about for a long time is "teachers talk with their feet". In Australia's NT we often hear that teachers will leave because the conditions (in this case, tech access) are unsatisfactory, but as one of the teachers who has chosen to stay, I reject the notion that we are left with inferior educators.Some stay because we don't want to abandan the cause. ( It sounds like a call to war). I totally agree with the point that we should have better access to online resources, it can be very frustrating and I understand why people disengage. To me the biggest barrier of schools properly utilising technology is budgeting for the resources required, and that is an ongoing quest.

  5. missateaches

    I needed this post. I was complaining that my school had blocked a certain social media site. Complaining to all the wrong people! When someone suggested I speak to my admin (sound familiar?) I balked. I wasn't sure I wanted to fight about it. Was it really something I needed or wanted to argue for? Reading this post has made me realize, if I'm not talking to the right people and voicing my ideas, I really shouldn't be complaining! That when I voice my complaints without having the conversations with admin and other staff, it is trivial whining! I thought a bit about why I felt like I needed access to that site, and what I would be teaching my students with that particular site and I realize, yes, I'm willing to have the conversations. So, come Wednesday, I'll be using my voice to ask for what I want, rather than complaining about the powers that be not reading my mind. Thanks for the shift George!

  6. Graham Wegner

    George. my boss came to your session and said that it was really useful, helping him to see more clearly a lot of the things that I have been talking about since I joined the school. I'd just like to comment about your first point about filters etc in South Australia because I feel that you may have been painted a picture that isn't quite accurate. The state has a new internet/email/LMS system called LearnLink where only a handful of categories are blocked without possibility of change in the same manner that you describe your Canadian open system. What is left open or closed is then a decision made at the local level by the school – I know because I have altered my own school's settings. Another factor is that many SA schools have a second internet connection using a secondary (commercial ISP) and that is totally filtered at the local level. Schools had the option to download a Department filter and install it and either leave it on its default settings or ask their tech support to get under the hood and change things to their requirements. The ability to customise filtering at the local school level has been around for at least ten years to my knowledge – so hearing educators complain about override passwords and restrictive filters is frustrating because someone on their site has the ability to do something about it. I know I have in consultation with the school community, leadership and teachers. I am not sure why teachers would be hesitant to push for more openness. I have heard of schools where some teachers are glad to have strict filtering in place because then they don't have to teach kids about responsible internet use because "they can't get to the bad stuff." Either way, I don't think the Department has to do much more in terms of providing potentially open internet access – but I agree that much more needs to be done in the area of what the possibilities could be. And I am as guilty as anyone of not spreading much beyond my own patch of turf…

  7. Pingback: From pockets of innovation to an innovative culture « ACT Learning Innovations

  8. Daniela L

    Interesting point about making it clear what we are looking for in 'teaching'. Just like visible learning really hey?
    I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to listen to your innovative ideas, and look forward to being able to keep working towards using technology and social media to improve learning outcomes.
    Thanks again.

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