Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

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.

The Value of Confidence

I recently shared this video on the importance of “confidence” for leadership and it is something that I have often thought about in our work as educators.

My experience as a referee taught me a lot about many aspects of leadership and teaching, but one of the things that it help to develop was my confidence. Often, I would be in a game where the majority of people in the stands could tell me how to do my job, yet the minority had ever done it. Most of your decisions were ones that 50% of people disagreed with, and you quickly develop a thick skin. If you don’t develop it, you cry or quit. You had to not only believe in your ability and understanding of the game, but you also had to be comfortable when you had make a mistake and owning it up to it. The best refs often a lot of confidence in their game, yet it was a dangerous line to flirt with. Arrogant refs who thought they knew more than others and were infallible often alienated themselves from coaches, players, and sometimes other referees.

Instead of googling the definitions of “confidence” and “arrogance”, I throw you my own simple thoughts. Confidence is when you believe in your own abilities yet still have humility. Arrogance is when you believe you are better than others.

This confidence I developed as a referee was something that I needed to carry over to when I became an administrator. Making tough decisions that would ultimately upset people every now and then was wearing, but if I could look back and say that I did what was best for kids, I could sleep at night. I would try my best to listen, value other people’s ideas, but sometimes I had to make the final call and it wasn’t something that all were okay with. That is part of the job.

On the other hand, this lack of confidence by educators can be detrimental to moving forward in our schools. Yong Zhao talks extensively about the correlation between “confidence” and “entrepreneurial spirit in his book “World Class Learners”:

There is no more important attribute of entrepreneurship than a sense of self-confidence, the belief in oneself and one’s own ideas. Entrepreneurs are agents of change, and change is usually resisted. Entrepreneurs will continually confront roadblocks and resistance from individuals who do not support or believe in their ideas…. To confront and overcome the resistance they will encounter, it is imperative that entrepreneurs have a sense of self-confidence. (Zhao)

So what happens when we lack confidence as educators?

Well often it impacts our relationships. Insecurity often leads to distrust and feelings of inadequacy. Similar to any relationship, these feelings often lead to negative actions that make an impact later. What I have tried to do is give trust before I am trusted, and I have been more often right than wrong in this practice. I also try to not take things personally when it comes to decisions within the school. I have often debated many people who disagree with some of my ideas, and previously, I would often be quite upset. Now, I (for the most part) realize that people can have different opinions and still have a negative relationship, as long as they have the ability to listen to each other.

A lack of confidence can lead to either being personally hurt, or a lack of listening. Neither of these outcomes, ultimately serve students. It is easy to label someone as “arrogant” when they don’t agree with our ideas, but sometimes this has to do more with ourselves, than it does in others. Is it their arrogance or our insecurity?

One of the things that I feel is so ironic about education is that we spend so much time talking to our kids, and telling them to be proud of who they are, share their voice, and to be confident, yet as adults we often call others that do the same as “arrogant”.  Is that more because of them or us?

I recently read a post from Krissy Venosdale and she referenced how tough it is when we attack each other’s passions:

In a truly collaborative atmosphere, everyone’s strengths are capitalized on, weaknesses embraced and supported, and passion? It’s accepted. It’s celebrated. It’s welcome. It’s what I expect of my students, always. It should be what we expect of ourselves as colleagues. But sometimes even colleagues let each other down.

When you pour you heart into something, it can truly break it when someone doesn’t “get” it. But we’re all different. The very best thing we can do for our students is to live out loud. Be ourselves. Let our passions shine through. Never shining so they will blind others, but so they will light up learning in our schools and for our kids.

We owe it to each and every child that crosses the doorway into our schools to be authentic and we owe it to each other as colleagues to support, build up, and celebrate each other’s chance to shine. Every single day.

As all people, I have my own insecurities, but I think growing as a person helps us to not only identify where we are weak, but sometimes even learn to accept and embrace those feelings. The thing I often wonder is that if we continuously question ourselves in a negative way and project our insecurities on others, what does this model for our students? Before we tackle the world, we often need to be able to tackle ourselves.

“We are all meant to shine, as children do… It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson

To Those That Have Heard Everything


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Steven Shorrock

I was a little surprised to see a tweet from someone talking about how we shouldn’t be talking about “being connected” with people anymore because everyone should just be doing it.  I found it rather interesting as a great teacher would differentiate learning for students and understand that people are are different points in their journey, not simply say, “you should all get this by now”.  It should be no different with educators.  Differentiation is not just for kids, and if we treat people like that when we are in an administrative position, you will lose more people along the journey then you will gain.  I understand the “push” that many people make, and have been guilty of doing this myself, but the support has to be there.

My mentor would say to me when I was frustrated with what I sometimes felt was a slow pace by others was, “not everyone is you”.  Because something makes sense to me, it does not necessarily mean it is common practice for others.

Now I have been in keynotes where I have heard the same message over and over.  So what can I learn from this?  Well as someone who is in an administrator position, and especially someone who does keynotes myself, the “content” is only one part of what is happening in any presentation.  I am a huge basketball fan and decided years ago that I wanted to become a referee.  When that happened, the way I watched games changed.  I wasn’t watching the games as much as I was watching the referees.  My focus had shifted onto something different.

This was made abundantly apparent to me when I recently keynoted a conference in Vancouver and Chris Wejr, a good friend and colleague, noted that although he had seen me speak several times, he was more focused on what I did as opposed to what I said. There are great elements of teaching and leadership in many keynotes/talks/presentations, and if you think that you know all of the content being presented, you need to shift your focus.  You can learn from the great speakers as well as the bad ones.

For example, I remember seeing a keynote at a conference who started off with saying something that was totally lost on the audience and was a great way to show he was smart, but he made the audience feel dumb.  He lost them immediately.  Because of that, I really try to focus on taking something complex and making it simple so that is relatable to people, especially in larger settings.

Now for the great lessons that I have learned from others watching them speak.

My brother Alec, who helped me get into speaking, showed me the power of visuals and media to supplement ideas in a talk and was a great way to engage the audience

Dean Shareski taught me that is important to empower the audience to do something great, not for them to feel lesser in their work.

Jenny Magiera showed me that laughter and learning go hand-in-hand and it is way easier to connect people t with an idea when they are smiling.

Adam Bellow showed me to honour and value the people sitting in front of you and although you can share a similar message, it is important to show that you are focused on that audience.

Will Richardson continuously teaches me to ask tough questions, and to push people to think deeply about their work.

I honestly could not tell you much about their content, because in reality, I feel the people that I have listed talk about many similar things.  That being said, all of those lessons can apply to any position, whether you are a speaker, principal, or teacher, or a combination of any of those.  There is a lot to be learned even when sometimes we act like we have seen this all before.

What if…?

What-if_

Here are some questions that I have been pondering lately in thinking about great organizations and administration.

What if we believed that everything that we had to make great schools was already within our organization and we just need to develop and share it?

What if schools always focused on the notion that we should all be “learners” as opposed to “students”?

What if we did not only promote “risk-taking” to our staff and students, but modelled it openly as administrators?

What if we hired people that did not look at teaching as a “career” but a “passion”?

What if we wanted everyone to pursue their dreams in our organization, not only our students?

What if we focused on connecting and learning both globally and locally?

What if people were always our first focus as opposed to “stuff”?

If these questions were a focus, what do you think schools would look like?

What are your “what if’s”?

Learning From Eric Sheninger

It has been almost one week since I spoke at #Edscape in New Jersey, and it was a tremendous honour to have that opportunity.  Not only because I was able to connect with amazing educators in the area, but because I was asked by my friend Eric Sheninger.  Eric speaks around the world, inspiring people all over, has written books, and is one of the most known educators in social media.  For him to ask me, was a great honour.

But what was fantastic about the experience for me was, as it is always, the opportunity to learn from so many other educators, and to be able to spend time with Eric.  There is so much that we learn from informal conversations, and to be able to have three days with Eric, both professionally and personally, I learned that he is the real deal.

Here are some of the things that I was most impressed with.

The first night I connected with Eric, he took me to a restaurant in the community near to the school and it was fantastic to see how close he was with people in his community.  The owner of the restaurant came over and talked about how Eric always brought them opportunities to the school, and in return, the restaurant put money back into the events that were happening.  It isn’t one taking from the other, but mutual support.  

The focus on community continued as Eric took me to his school’s football game late on a Friday night.  This had nothing to do with me being in the area.  In fact, Eric gave me one choice about what to do that night; go to the school’s football game.  This is vital to his work.

As you go into Eric’s school, you see a VERY old facility (I think he told me it opened in 1929), that has a lot of desks and looks nothing like some of the innovative spaces that I have seen in my time.  In fact, some of the spaces seem so old that it was criticized by someone on Twitter about the 20th century space.  The thing is, while so many administrators focus their funds and efforts on redesigning classrooms spaces and bringing in all of these other amazing elements in the classroom, Eric has put money and time into people.  

Unfortunately in education, we sometimes have to make some tough choices, but the best answer is always put time and money into people.  The other things we can get later, but if people do not understand why or how to use these things, it doesn’t matter.  We need to create such a deep understanding of the opportunities that technology and innovative school design create for students that we create a need for these things in the classroom.  This is what Eric focuses on.

What I loved about #Edscape was that it was exactly what the people there needed.  It was not necessarily the same types of conversations that happen at Educon (which is another amazing conference), but it is what the people are interested in that are at the conference.  Many people that attended are just jumping into using technology in their classroom and are shifting their thinking about what they are doing as teachers and learners, and the feedback from their experience was fantastic.  

The vision of the conference, created by Eric and his staff, was to start with where people are, but to push them to their next level.  The best leaders have a larger vision, but they break it down into smaller steps so people develop confidence and understanding along the way. That is what happened in the sessions at Edscape.

As all leaders, Eric focuses on relationships first, and builds from there.  Seeing the growth and development of his school, you see how vital this is to growth.  But what I also loved about Eric is that he knows there is still a lot of work to be done, and that the best organizations continuously grow and learn.  The best leaders celebrate their accomplishments, but build off of them.  As soon as you spend too much time patting yourself on the back, you find that you become Blockbuster.  Eric was proud of where his staff and students have come, but also has a vision of where they can still go.

I learned a lot from my time with Eric and I hope I have been able to share a few of those “nuggets” with others.

The big take-aways from spending time with Eric:

1. Focus on relationships and building community.
2.  Change can happen in “old” environments if you focus on changing mindsets and developing educators as learners first.
3. Start with people where they are at, but help them get to their next level, wherever that may be.

Thanks to Eric and his school community for putting on a great conference and leading by example!

Leading Innovative Change Series – Excellence Lies Within

I wanted to try my hand at writing a series of blog posts on “Leading Innovative Change.” As I am looking at writing a book on the same topic, I thought I would put some ideas out there and hopefully learn from others on these topics. I also want to give these ideas away for free. These posts are for anyone in education, but are mostly focused on school administrators. In all of these, the idea that administrators openly model their learning will only accelerate a culture of innovation and risk-taking.  You can read the first two posts in the series:

1. Learning First, Technology Second
2. A New Staff Experience


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Sander van Dijk

“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.” Peter Drucker

Years ago as a teacher, I wanted to start a blog as I had just recently heard about them and wanted to see how they would work in the classroom.  When I approached my principal about starting one, his response was that although he knew that I would be comfortable doing it, it would make others on staff feel uncomfortable if it was a success.  I asked him if he was joking, and he looked at me seriously to let me know he wasn’t.

Later in the year, when we had some new technology in the school that was used for a specific program, I had asked if I could use it with students to try out, promising that once I figured it out, I would teach other staff.  Again, I was told that the technology was too expensive and it had a specific purpose to the school.  Myself and my students were not a part of the plan.

At the end of the year, when I applied for a few leadership positions, I was told that I did not exhibit leadership within my current role.

Pretty tough when you are not allowed.

Unfortunately I am not the only educator that has this type of story.  Many educators are trying to create powerful learning opportunities for students with what they excel at, but often because of fear of the unknown, they are quickly thwarted and asked to draw within the lines.

New Beginning

As I obtained a new position as the “Educational Technology Coordinator” in another school district, I was asked to help integrate opportunities for technology in learning with other teachers in my new school.  As my principal at the time did not really know much about technology, she did understand that it was a crucial element of students being successful in our world so she decided to hire me to lead the process.

When I first received the schedule, I was scheduled for forty minute blocks with each class during the week.  I would sometimes get two in a row with a classroom, but my time was spread equally within the school amongst each teacher.  This was a new position for me, but something about the schedule did not seem right.  Being new to the school, I did not want to “rock the boat”, but in my conversations with the principal, I knew that she had always focused on “what is best for kids”.  I approached her and said that I thought the schedule was not going to really work as we should be able to go deeper into the learning that we could do with technology, as opposed to having shorts amounts of exposure.  I explained to her that it would be more beneficial if we focused on projects as opposed to “lessons”.  She looked at me and said, “I hired you as the expert in this area. You do whatever you think is best.”

You have two administrators with two very different approaches.  One saying, I am not comfortable with the unknown and the other saying, “go for it”.  Would you area do you think people are most likely to excel?

Culture of Risk Taking

What my one principal that trusted and believed in my ability exemplified was that she wanted a culture of risk taking. She wanted people to try new things with the vision of “doing what is best for kids” always out in the forefront, and if we could do something different that was better for our students, that we needed to explore that.  What she embodied though was that she was willing to take risks in own practice as well.  This is a crucial element of leadership.

People will not feel comfortable taking risks in an organization unless leaders do not share the things that we are trying to do to get better ourselves.  My principal modelled this by creating environments where she did not micromanage and pushed people to think outside of the box and never pushing for “perfection”, but for better ideas.  Learning is messy and we have to be comfortable with that.

Once people see  leaders take risks, they are more likely to try their own ideas and push what is happening in their own situations.  Giving people license to take risks, will more likely lead to some amazing things.

“if you want innovation, it’s critical that people are able to work on ideas that are unapproved and generally thought to be stupid. The real value of “20%” is not the time, but rather the “license” it gives to work on things that “aren’t important.”
Jonathan Fields

Fit jobs to people, not the other way around

We are often looking for the best person to fit a position, yet what we should be looking for is the best person. That simple.  When you see one position in a district or school create amazing results, what you often see is that exact same position replicated over and over again in other organizations yet there is often a lack of results.  Why is this?  Well because the position does not create results, it is the culture and the person.  Simply having an “Chief Innovation Officer” does not create innovative learning environments.

The most effective approach is often finding the best person and perhaps giving them a position with duties that are “to be determined”.  This gives that person some leeway into what they are trying to do to make a better environment and helps to build upon their strengths, as opposed to something different.  It is hard to say to someone, “go be innovative, but within these parameters.”  We have to find out where people excel and build upon that.

Staff development led by staff

With many new administrators walking into schools with “guns a blazing” trying to implement new ideas, it is important that you work from a “strength-based” model, as opposed to focus on deficits.  Relationships are the most important element of school, and by starting a conversation with, “here is where we need to do work”, you quickly build a culture where people are wondering if they are valued.  My best advice is to sit back, wait a bit, and know where people are strong.  If you can’t identify a strength in someone, it is often the fault of the administrator, not the teacher.

Working with a new staff and understanding some initiatives that we had happening in our division, I proposed to my new staff that we could lead the professional development within our own school.  We did not need “outside experts” because we had the expertise within our own building.  I suggested three initiatives that we should undertake within a year (they actually gave me a fourth) and that each initiative will be led by a team created within the school.  The only thing that I asked was that each educator joined a team that was to lead in an area that they were strong at or had an interest in, as opposed to an area that they felt they needed a large amount of growth.  I wanted them to follow their passions, as opposed to something they had no interest in.  The other thing that I asked was that they, as the experts in the area, developed the goals for the school.  If they were the experts, they should understand what success looks like, and be able to set the goals for the school.  As the principal I oversaw the plan (I was also on one of the teams which is crucial), but I believed that there is more of an accountability when the measures of success were led by my staff, not defined by administration.

Giving time to my staff to explore their strengths, each group came up with many different ways to implement learning throughout the year and led our own PD.  The more interested they were in the topic, the better the learning would be for the entire staff, but they also started to see each other as “experts”, not only colleagues.  Having this focus on that we each have strengths that contribute to the vision of the school helps to move us from “pockets” of innovation to a “culture” of it.  Wouldn’t anyone want to be in a school where we recognized that everyone has value?

Forward

By focusing on strengths first, and building from that as opposed to a “deficit” model, we create an environment where people feel a purpose towards the entire school, as opposed to only their own classroom.  This is where the shift from “classroom” teacher to “school teacher” happens.  The freedom to take risks in the way that we do things is essential, and that freedom starts from administrators modelling that they are willing to take some risks as well.  It is really easy to say, “do this”, but it is more important to say, “let’s do this together”.

When we look at change, we have to realize everything we need is often already within our own organization.  We just have to figure out how to unleash this talent. Isn’t this the culture we want in our classrooms?  It has to be modelled from the top and the way that we view every individual part of our organization.

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Tom Peters

Two Roads to Innovation


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Paro_for_Peace

I have been really trying to study the notion of “innovation” and how we create an innovative culture.  From what I am seeing, two make an innovative “mindset” a culture, there are many factors, but there are two ways that those factors need to be delivered that are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  One is through mass collaboration, and the other through individual connection.  With one of those areas lacking, that culture will either never happen or it will take a significant amount of time.  Through the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” (#SAVMP), I am trying to create something that shows both sides of that spectrum.  The ideas for the program though have been inspired by many different things (Stephen Covey’s ideas, open networks, MOOCs, etc.), yet have come together in one space:

“The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.” Steven Johnson

How do (and how should) these big ideas come together?

Mass Collaboration

Sitting with George Siemens yesterday (who basically blew my mind for three hours in a car ride), I listened as he shared two major ideas.

The first one talked about the notion of mass groups.  He shared the idea if that you put 100 people in a room, that you learning could increase exponentially.  With different expertise in the room, each person will bring different strengths and knowledge that they can share with the larger group.  Although each of us knows a sliver of information compared to the knowledge of the room, by sharing, our knowledge goes up exponentially.

Think of this analogy to help further the idea.

Most people know that a program such as Microsoft Word, although seemingly simple, is under-utilized.  If we use it to only 10% of it’s capacity on our own, that 10% is unlikely to grow.  What happens if you share YOUR 10% with others, and it is different from the 10% that they know?  Although we will not all know totally different things, there will be elements that we each bring to each other that will raise our learning exponentially.

The use of social networks works much this way.  Groups that I have been in such as Connected Principals, have brought each person’s 10% to the forefront and it has opened up ideas, for myself, that I would have not had on my own.  Now I do because I was willing to create and be a part of the network.  Although with Weinberger’s idea that the “smartest person in the room, is the room”, there are two important elements that we overlook.  First, we have to be able to “create the room” for those “hunches” to come together, and secondly, we have to be in the room.  If you do neither, you are more likely to be stuck with your 10%.

In my own school district, there are 22 principals and although that is a network in itself, it is not certain that you will connect with all 21 others in that position, nor is there necessarily a space that we can connect on a consistent basis.  Through things such as hashtags, blogs, google plus communities, we give an opportunity to learn from that group of 22, but also the opportunity to open it up to the world.  While closed groups tend to shrink, and sometimes die, open groups usually expand and grow as do many of the individuals within them.  How we tap into those “individuals” is just as important on the road to an innovative culture.

Individual Connection

The second idea that George shared with me was the notion of “Reed’s Law” which talks about the idea of smaller networks being developed that push a larger group.

As we continuously look at the power of networks to improve our learning and the system within our schools, we also have to look at how we tap into the strengths of individual.  With mass networks or groups, many of our quiet educators may get lost in the mix because they are not as “out there” as others, yet have much to share.  This is where the idea of starting from each individual’s “point a” and moving to their “point b” is crucial.  As we look at the #SAVMP program, the mass network is able to share ideas to a large group, but the small mentor-mentee connection is able to build relationships in a much more personal environment.  Through the small connections within the network, there is the potential to learning from both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.

The ability to share and discuss in a smaller place brings the opportunity to learn from individuals and feel a deeper connection to a smaller network, while also creating a stronger accountability to growth.  If I am one out of 400, it is much easier for no one to notice if I am not writing a blog post or sharing my thoughts in a larger network, but if I am one out of four, I am more accountable and my lack of participation is much more identifiable.  The human connection in a smaller setting creates a higher level of accountability to growth than a large network where you can easily be missed.  It is easy to get lost in a crowd, so make the crowd smaller.

Creating These Spaces

So within a school, you often see one of these spaces utilized.  Whether it is through PLC’s for that “individual connection” or the use of a hashtag for  “mass collaboration”, it is imperative to bring these two ideas together in one space.  For example, using something such as blended PLC’s gives educators to share the same learning that they do with a small group, but also with a much larger audience that is often willing to jump in and share ideas.  Sharing the work of each PLC group to one hashtag, google plus community, blog, etc., gives the opportunity to learn from both the large group and the individual.  What is imperative though is the openness of the larger group.  Open often leads to growth, closed (or fixed) leads to stagnation.  Carol Dweck’s idea of “mindset” is not limited to an individual, but applies to networks as well.

Concluding Thoughts

So as I move forward continuously learning and experimenting in the “online” space, I look at the implications of that work and how it applies to what we do in schools every day.  The learning that is happening in groups such as the #SAVMP program tell me (and hopefully others) a lot about how we can not only lead and learn, but help people to embrace change.  The mass ideas that are shared through many large networks brings many of those ideas to the forefront, but the actual embracing of those ideas often happens on a one-to-one basis.  It is essential to ensure that we are looking at how we take both roads in our work.

3 Conversation Starters for the School Year

Last year, as I documented some of the crucial things that we needed to discuss to further innovative practices in our school, I feel more prepared to have some crucial conversations in my role this year.  I wrote a few blog posts to help guide my own learning but I wanted to put them on one post as a focus for next year.

Below are some posts that I am hoping others can use as conversation starters with staff as they prepare for the 2013-2014 school year.

1.  Is your digital citizenship practice a pass or fail?

Several schools are looking at improving the opportunities for “digital citizenship” in schools, yet are sometimes missing crucial elements.  Blocked sites that can be beneficial to students take away from the “real world” that students live in outside of our schools.  Ignoring discussing “digital citizenship” in schools is also a disservice.

Hopefully, this rubrics is beneficial to see where your school is at, while also sparking some necessary conversations.

2.  4 Guiding questions for your IT department

I love the following quote from Harriet Rubin:

“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.”

As we focus on technology in our schools, the question that we all must consider is “What is best for kids?”  That should guid all conversations.  The other 3 questions that I continue to consider are the following:

How does this improve learning? 

If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? 

Is this serving the few or the majority? 

The conversations we have with our IT departments, in both directions, should always be focused on serving kids first.

3. Building the Culture of an Empowered Mindset Towards Technology Innovation 

The role of principal is extremely important as it can “make or break” a school culture.  I really believe in the notion that principals should be the “lead learner”, and that it often leads to schools becoming a culture of learning that continuously grow and evolve.  A static school is a school that can be full of dead practices.

In this graphic, I try to show the correlation between administrator and school mindset, and how open minds often open doors for innovative learning opportunities.

Hopefully the three examples above are posts that will help people with some considerations for their upcoming school year.

Want to be successful? Be a sponge.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.

They listen.

No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn.  Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game.  The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.  

Leaders continue to ask questions.

When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education.  They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”.  They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others.  They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with.  They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.

“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande

Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.

This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear.  Not at all.  In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said.  Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better.  Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.

The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others.  That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.

Telling and Creating Your Story


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by umjanedoan

From a conversation with a good friend and colleague, and reading this article, I have been thinking about the role of the story in our organizations.

Here are some questions for you to consider:

What is the story that you are trying to create or are creating?  What is your “why” and how are you making it happen?

If you can you answer these questions, is it succinct?  Is it easy to understand?  Does it make sense to people both in and out of your organization?  If you can tell me the story of your school, can others?

But it isn’t just about telling your story…it is more importantly about creating it.  In the article about great companies being “storydoers”, the author talks about what those companies do differently:

  1. They have a story
  2. The story is about a larger ambition to make the world or people’s lives better
  3. The story is understood and cared about by senior leadership outside of marketing
  4. That story is being used to drive tangible action throughout the company: product development, HR policies, compensation, etc.
  5. These actions add back up to a cohesive whole
  6. Customers and partners are motivated to engage with the story and are actively using it to advance their own stories

Now although the focus is business related, it definitely can be used in the context of school.  Both the elements of telling and creating your story are imperative, but one does not come before the other.  They continuously feed one another.

For example, your story and narrative grows over time as it should in any organization.  Blockbuster’s story did not change and they have no story at all.  Yet words without actions mean nothing.  If you tell a story that is false, that will simply lose the faith of those that you serve.  Creating that story then leads to telling your story.  The more you tell your story, the more you are accountable to creating it.  It goes round and round and round.

Sometimes the story of the “organization” starts in a single classroom, but the importance is that it starts.  Sharing what is happening in one place in a compelling way, is how that story starts to spread.  Having it spread, creates a stronger story.  It grows and grows.

So tell your story, but don’t forget the accountability you have to continuously create it.