Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind

A lot of work that I do is not only showing people how to do “stuff”, but more importantly, trying to help them embrace change. One of the most powerful ways to not only change the teaching profession as a whole, but also as individuals, is through the act of blogging.  One of my favourite articles on the topic of blogging is from Dean Shareski, which he shares how he believes blogging makes better teachers.

Thousands of other blogging educators could echo similar words. In fact, I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise ofProfessional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more. While the data may not be school specific, great bloggers know how to share data and experience that is both relevant and universal so any reader can contribute and create discussion.

Yet fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.  I have learned how hard it is to move people from a “known average” to an “unknown amazing” because of fear.  So for some of the arguments I have heard against the idea of blogging, I wanted to provide some of my counter-arguments on the topic.

 

1. Blogging is useless. – The thing with this argument is that I have rarely (if ever) heard this from someone who has consistently blogged on their teaching and learning for any amount of time.  As I was talking with a student the other day in a school who was about to start his own blog in class, he argued with me on the merits of the activity.  I asked him, “have you ever blogged?”, to which he replied “no”.  I challenged him to give it one month, and a legitimate try and then offer me his thoughts, to which he said, “I will.”  Even in Dean’s article, he uses the same argument:

So here’s my plan. Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.

Try that. If it doesn’t work after a year, you get my golf clubs.

PS. The only people allowed to criticize or challenge this idea are people who have blogged for at least one year and written at least 50 posts. The rest of you can ask questions but you can’t dismiss it.

It is easy to criticize something you have never done (all of us our guilty of this, including myself), but to me, a viewpoint is not truly valid unless you have experience.

2. I have no time. – We all have the same amount of time and it is not like those who blog have 26 hour days, compared to the rest of the population.  It is not about time, but more about priority.  If people see it as important, they will make time.

So one of the things that I try to focus on is the importance of blogging for not only reflection, but open reflection.  The art and practice of reflection can help make ourselves better educators and learners.  For us to truly help students, we need to be masters of learning before we can become master teachers.  Reflection helps in that process. But “open reflection” helps others and not only pushes our profession forward in a communications aspect, but also in making each other better.  Clive Thompson wrote a quote on how blogging makes us all smarter:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

This “audience” helps us to really think about what we write and go deeper in our learning.

But that being said, it is hard to find time in your day to start the practice.  What I focus on is helping educators not focus on doing everything that they are already doing plus blogging, but looking at doing something different.  For examples, many teachers use what is called DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read), where students take a certain amount of time to read. Many teachers model the importance of reading during this time and take part in the practice.  Could you not change the “R” to represent the word “Reflect”?  If we had “Drop Everything And Reflect” time embedded in our week, could you not find the time to model the importance of reflection for your students by sharing what you have learned?

There are things that you are already doing (writing emails to others, putting things in word documents) that can be easily thrown onto a blog instead. Again, it is not about more as much as it is about different. Find what you are already doing in your practice, and think about how you can add that into a blog.

3. I’m a private person. – Blogging does not mean giving up privacy.  There are things in my life that I keep totally private in my life and don’t share on my blog and I choose what I am comfortable with.  You do not have to share your most personal secrets just because you have started a blog. Your level of comfort with sharing will change over time, whether you share less or more.  Every person is unique in what they are comfortable with sharing.

But it always freaks me out when teachers close their doors and don’t want anyone to see what is happening in their classrooms.  This does not mean that bad things are happening in the classroom, but sometimes the perception because of this practice paints a different picture then what is actually happening.  When we are taking care of other people’s kid throughout the day, I think that we have to try and find some comfort level in what we share.  I understand that this is a tough one for so many people (and understandably so) because it is easy to be criticized and have our words morphed online, but that being said, working with a generation of students where public is the “default” mode of practice, should we not put some of ourselves online to understand the importance of developing our own digital footprint?  Many teachers think that not sharing anything online will ensure they never have a footprint, but the only thing that is a certain as that they will never have a footprint that they create.  These are some of the realities of our world that we do have to help kids navigate as educators, and we should try to find a way to put some of ourselves online.

4. No one cares what I have to say. - Out of all of the arguments listed, this one bothers me the most.  First of all, if I was to ask the same teacher who uses this argument to not blog an interview question along the lines of, “what learning can you share with the rest of our staff that will help us become better as a school?”, I highly doubt their response would be “nothing”, and if it was that, I would struggle to hire them.  Yet too many educators, sharing feels like bragging, and modesty often trumps their comfort level in posting their teaching and learning online.

I get it.

But if we are really here to help kids, does it matter if they are in our grade, our school, our class, our world, or anywhere?  Whatever we share can help someone else, maybe not everyone else, but someone.  They may not take what we share exactly the way it is written, but if they turn it into something to help their kids, is that not worth it.  Just remember, if you impact only one teacher, you often impact at least 20 kids, if not a whole lot more.

One of my favourite videos on this topic is, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”, which has a great message on the impact we can have on one another:

Our impact on one another as teachers should never be underestimated.

 

I am not in the camp that says, “Everyone should __________”, with any tool or platform. People have different lives and situations, and I have learned to honour that.  Blogging may not be for you.  But for some, they are right on the cusp, and giving them an alternate viewpoint to the one thing holding them back might just change their mind.  I have learned a ton not only from my own blog, but from benefitting from others that have been willing to share their teaching and learning with me, and because of that, as Dean Shareski stated, I am better off for the willingness of others to share.

Character, Credibility, and Social Media

Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “character and credibility” being essential to successful leadership.  Character is how people perceive you as a person, and credibility is how they perceive your ability as a leader.  Years ago, while many principals were against the use of social media due to hearing things about online safety, cyberbullying, and a myriad of other issues, you saw many administrators against the idea of using social media.  Yet, there were a many administrators that saw these new “tools” had the potential to not only build their own credibility as leaders, but also create a deeper connection into their own character.

The expectation for school leaders is that they are instructional leaders. Although long before social media existed, many administrators were actively learning and enhancing their craft, it was hard to exhibit the characteristics of “lifelong learners” that we promote so actively to our students.  Instead of simply going with sharing their learning at the sporadic staff meeting, administrators are now actively sharing their learning through Twitter, blogging, Google Plus, and a plethora of other tools.  They are showing not only their expertise, but their growth as learners in a much more open example of transparent leadership.

To be a leader in schools, you need to be a learner first.  Where are your examples?

But how do we show character?

Social media is not only about sharing our learning, but it gives a view into our outside interests as well.  Principals are not just principals.  They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, music lovers, pet advocates, and a whole host of other things, that they can now show their community.  In Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, she states, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  This goes for adults as well.  The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level; this is point that should not be lost on the connection leaders have with their schools.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

 

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) – When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) - Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

Jumping In First

 

A common thing I hear in regards to technology and our understanding of it goes along the lines of, “Kids are amazing…we can just learn it from them!”

Although I really believe in the power of learning with our students and that in the area of technology, I wonder sometimes if we use that thinking as an excuse to get out of learning.

Let me explain…

The ability for us to connect and learn from a vast amount of information in a highly networked world is daunting for most, including our students.  Navigating some of these murky waters, can be extremely complicated.  Because of that, I think this is all the more reason that we have to jump in ourselves and learn so we can help guide our students through these networks.  SImply saying, “I am going to learn from our kids”, leaves us often waiting for those moments and we could possibly miss out on many opportunities that we could have created for our students.  Sometimes we “don’t know what we don’t know”, and when we wait for our students to “teach us”, we might miss out on what we can show them as well.

Do I think that we can learn from kids? Absolutely.  I highly encourage it as it empowers our students to act as both teachers and learners.

Is it possible for us to know about all of the technology out there? Not a chance.  Even the most tech savvy educators in the world will not know every facet of technology.  There is just too much stuff.

But for us to simply wait for our kids to teach us, we could miss so many amazing opportunities that we could have helped create in our school if we would have jumped into those waters on our own first.

What “Digital” Accelerates #LeadershipDay14

This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2014.

 

The term is thrown around in circles often and it is something that I have focused on in my work with students.  What I concluded around the term was “the opportunity to use technologies to make a significant impact on the lives of others.”  In schools, we have focused on the notion of “digital citizenship” for years, but the term seems to be very neutral.  In reality, if I live in a city, I am a citizen in that area.  Is talking about the mere existence of “being online” enough for our students?  Are we really setting high expectations or as educators, have we set a rather low bar for what our students do online because we are unsure of the space and how to use it ourselves?  And really, is it “digital citizenship” anymore in a world where every single student in our school has grown up in a world with Internet?

Not settling for the “status quo”, many administrators have jumped into the space to experiment, themselves, on how social media can make an impact in the work that they do in schools.  Starting off as “citizens” in the space, many educators have played around with technologies to see how it could impact learning and relationships amongst both peers and students.  The transition for many though, has gone into the leadership space, where they are sharing some of their learning in an open space to focus on making an impact on the lives of not only those students in their school and classroom, but helping teachers help students across the world. Although “Digital Leadership” has been a quote that has been used often in this type of work, the main components of leadership have not changed, but only amplified and accelerated.  From experimenting myself and observing others, I have seen how “digital” has made a significant impact on not only the notion of leadership, but also the work that is underway in schools.

Accelerating Innovation

Innovation can simply be defined as doing things “better and different”, yet it is often used to replace the term (mistakenly) for technology.  Innovation and technology are not necessarily synonymous although some organizations simply replace the word “edtech” with “innovation” in job titles, without really changing job descriptions.  Innovation is a human endeavour and is really more about a way of thinking than it is about the “stuff”.  Yet, the way we use technology now can really accelerate the process of innovation in schools and districts.

Two key components that are necessary to innovation are networks and remix.  Great teachers have done this for years without social media, but with the ability to now connect with people all over the world, innovation can definitely be amplified. Networks are crucial to innovation, because they increase the ability to learn and share ideas with people.  Concentrations of people in a specific area (known as “spikes”) already exist in our world.  In North America, if you want to be a movie star, where do you go? If you want to become a country singer, where do you go? If you answered “Hollywood” and “Nashville” (in that order), you have identified a “spike”.

So where do “spikes” exist in education?  Until now, there has been no real place since schools are all over the world.  But with the thoughtful use of social media by educators all over the world, “spikes” have been created through a ton of teachers connecting through mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.  These types of networks are crucial to this accelerated growth and though often people complain that they can become an “echo chamber”, the changes and iterations to many ideas are really creating some great ideas that are impacting education.  Things such as “Genius Hour”, which gives students the time to explore and create based on their own passions (paraphrased), are going viral, and although there are many that would suggest this type of learning should be the norm for the majority of time in our schools, implementing some of these ideas in small steps, are usually crucial to major changes.

As Chris Kennedy stated in his recent #LeadershipDay14 post, “you cannot microwave change”, that being said, change can happen a lot quicker now than it has before.  This social sharing through these vast networks has been the spark for many great ideas.

That is where remix comes in.

Again, great teachers have always done this, but now, they just have a greater opportunity and community to tap into.  Finding the idea is one thing, but making it applicable and work for your community, situation, and more importantly, your students’ needs, is where this is crucial.  Seeing Josh Stumpenhorst share the idea of “Innovation Day” in Illinois, I watched as Jesse McLean made it into “Innovation Week” within Parkland School Division in Alberta.  Remixes and iterations of this day/week, have been shared, remixed, and made applicable to kids of all ages all over the world.

The network is where the information has been found, but the ability to remix it for your own context is where innovation happens.  This becomes a massive game of “telephone” where the idea starts off one way, but by the time it ends up in a specific spot, it could look totally different.

A Flattened Organization

This used to be done in our schools through an administrator seeing a great practice in a classroom, having the teacher share it in a staff meeting, and then others implement it in a way that they have seen makes sense for their students.  It worked, but it was a much slower process and often relied on teachers being empowered to shared by their administrators.  What “digital” provides is often an instant look into the classroom without waiting for those “once-in-awhile” meetings.

I remember in my first year of leadership, one of my mentor principals had shared how she believed that she was a better teacher now as a principal, because she saw teachers “teach” all of the time through visiting their classroom.  I made this something that I implemented often in my work as an administrator, but my instructional leadership alone could only go so far.  I wanted other teachers to see what I saw.

Having teachers watch other teachers in action is probably the best professional development any educator could get, but the reality is that because of time, space, and funds, this opportunity is often limited.  What I wanted to see was the teachers creating this visibility into their classrooms through the use of social spaces.  Instead of waiting for the meeting, a teacher can simply blog, create a video, or even tweet ideas of things that are happening in their classrooms.

This “visible learning” shared by the teacher, shows that learning and leadership can come from anywhere within your school.  Many leaders have challenged this idea with the reasoning that teachers should “just talk to each other” and that digital shouldn’t replace that.  From what I have seen, it has actually been the opposite.  Conversations are often initiated from these “quick shares” that go on in the staff room, or after school.  I have seen greater face-to-face connections because of this sharing, not only at the school level, but at the district level as well.  It also shows that anyone can learn from anyone, the kindergarten teacher can make an impact on the principal, and vice-versa.

When we truly flatten our organizations this way, it makes us all better, because we not only better appreciate one another, but we tap into the “wisdom of the room”.  We can do a lot more together than we ever could do apart.

Empowering Voice

There are many things wrong in the world of education today.  Initiatives are often changed and it seems politicians are more concerned with “making a name” than “making a difference”.  Traditional media has also hurt education in many ways by focusing on the bad stories that come out of school, rather than the good.  It is not the idea that as educators we need to speak up now more than ever; education has always been in need of good public relations.  It is just now the opportunities to share our voice are numerous, and we need to take advantage.

Through the constant sharing of not only what happens in school, but the way things are changing, we have the ability to not only connect on a global scale, but also locally.  When I grew up, the sole concern of my parents was safety, but with a mass sharing of knowledge, comes a higher expectation from the public.  The more we are informed, the more we expect.  It is human nature for not only education, but for all organizations.  This, in my opinion, is so positive to what we are trying to do with schools.

School websites have often shared things such as sporting events or concerts at schools, but they have not focused on conversations with our community.  As many schools are trying to move forward in a much different time than many of us grew up in, it is essential that we not only share what is happening in our schools, but engage in true, two-way conversations with our communities.  The more parents are brought into the learning that is happening in the classroom, the more likely their children will be successful.  We have an opportunity to not only share our voice as educators, but we have many more avenues to hear the voices of our community, and more importantly, our students.

For example, Leyden High Schools, located in a suburb of Chicago, has recently turned over their Twitter account to an individual student in their school, one week at a time (found at twitter.com/LeydenPride).  You are able to hear the experience of students in the school from their viewpoint, not the view of a school that is trying to “brand” it’s message.  What this school has displayed (on several occasions) is that a school is defined by the experience the students have, and that they should not only engage them in conversation, but empower their kids to share their voice openly.  They are not focusing on developing the “leaders for tomorrow”, but by empowering student voice right now, they are developing the leaders of today.  Any great leader knows that their legacy is not defined by creating followers, but by developing leaders.

Empowering our teachers to share their voice and open the doors to what they do in the classroom, also gives our community a new perspective on what it is to be an educator, and how we are willing to go above and beyond for our kids.  There are bad teachers in schools.  You will find this to be true in any profession.  Yet those teachers are in the minority, while the stories that were shared about them, through the media, were in the majority.  What has changed is that many of our great educators are changing the narrative by sharing the incredible work that they are doing with students.

Unfortunately, there is still the mindset in many organizations that administrators need to “control” the story that is sent out about their schools.  The feeling is that with every blog post, tweet, website, etc., approval must be obtained before it is shared.  This is not leadership.  Our job is to not control talent, but to unleash it.  If you hired the teacher to work with children in a classroom, shouldn’t we be able to trust them to send out a tweet?

A teacher sharing their voice publicly, is often deemed risky.  Although there are pitfalls and negatives that can happen, the positive far outweigh the negatives.  As leaders, we can not simply ask our teachers to take a risk and share their voice with others, but model it ourselves.  Often we promote that our staff “take risks”, but unless they are willing to see their leader “put themselves out there”, they feel it is not a chance that they are willing to take.  Through these stories from our schools, we make a connection with people that “data and numbers” simply cannot convey.  Stories from the classroom, are the ones that touch the hearts of our communities and other educators, and often lead to meaningful change.

Our voice as an education community is more important now than ever.  How are you as a leader empowering others to share their voice?

Concluding Thoughts

The main components of leadership have not changed in the past few years because of the “digital revolution”, nor will they change in the future.  Perhaps we just have a better understanding of the definition of “leadership” and how it differs from “management” (although both are crucial components to successfully leading an organization).  The difference digital makes is that we can accelerate, amplify, and empower in a way that we couldn’t before.  Great leaders take advantage of every opportunity in front of them, so that they can empower those that they serve.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, BC, recently said that “better is not easier”; as leaders, we shouldn’t be looking for an easy way out.  This work is tough, but the most important element is not necessarily where we are, but that we are moving forward.

It is pretty easy to say “do this”, but it is much better and more valuable to say “let’s do this together”.  If we can show that as leaders we are willing to embrace change, and jump in to many of these new opportunities for learning with our communities, the impact we can make not only with our staff, but more importantly, our students, could be monumental.

What if I give you a good answer?

 

You probably have either seen it, been a part of it, or done it.

The time that someone asks the question with a negative connotation that basically is giving them the out of doing whatever it is that you are saying.

It will usually start off with something like, “I really like all of the stuff that you said there…but”

The “but” in many cases is the exact reason that they are going to cite why they are not going to try it later.

“But what about cyberbullying? But what about creepy people? But what about our kids not exercising enough? But what about time? But what about balance? But what about the tests that we have to teach?”

These are all logical questions for a lot of the stuff that I talk about, and like many people that I work with, I also see these as concerns.  In my mind they are not reasons to NOT do things, but they are reasons that we need to be proactive.  Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.

So when I am about to give my answer to the “ya but” questions that I will inevitably hear, I might have a question back before my answer.

“What if I have a good answer?  What will you do then? WIll you consider changing the way you do things or will you stay on the same path?”

I don’t think you should ask this in a condescending way, but in a way to open up and have someone think about what they are going to do if they are provided new information.

The idea of a “fixed” and “growth” mindset is fantastic, but I believe that you can actually have both.  Many people that you see that are really “open to change”, are the same people that will not go out and try new restaurants, new experiences, or are set in their ways in other parts of their life.  On the notion of schooling, I have a “growth mindset”; on the idea of bungee jumping, I would say that I am pretty set in my ways.  You do not have one or the other, but probably a combination of both.

But maybe sometimes, we should help people identify where they are at when they ask a question.  Do they really want to hear the answer or is their question just a way of digging their feet in without them even knowing it?

Can we promote a “growth mindset” in subtle ways in the people that we work with?  I hope so.

Why are we waiting for tomorrow?

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 6.51.07 AM

When I recently was visiting a school, I noticed their “motto” on the wall that talked about “developing today the leaders of tomorrow”, or something similar.  This was not unique to this school, and I could tell you from connecting with that staff, that these are some amazing educators that have created an amazing culture of learning and leadership.

The one challenge that I gave to them was by the asking the question, “Why are they not ‘leaders’ today? Why are we waiting for tomorrow?”

I understand the idea behind it and the age-old notion that as educators we are developing the “next generation”, but I also believe that if we want students to make a difference, why wait for it to happen later?  Why can’t they go out and make an impact in our schools and community, both locally and globally?  They have the world at their fingertips and playing “Candy Crush” on Facebook now doesn’t necessarily mean that one day they are going to be leaders because it’s “their turn”.  We need to empower their voice.

We are defined by our actions today, not our potential for tomorrow.

Kids needs time to grow up and be “kids”, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make a difference in our world.  I am hoping that stories like the one of Martha Payne become the norm and these kids aren’t simply outliers.

Words matter.

Our expectations matter.

If a kid makes a difference today, aren’t they more likely to do it tomorrow as well?

There is no need to wait.

4 Ideas To Have A Successful First Year as Principal

I am so intrigued with the number of people that are jumping into principal positions as I think it is truly one of the best jobs in the world.  It is also one of the toughest.  Isolation within a school (even though that is a choice that we now make ourselves) has been kind of a norm in past years, so to have a shared focus as a school is foreign territory for many (including principals).  Yet with a constant focus on “change”, many principals bring people together, but often for the wrong reasons.  If you move to fast, that can often lead to strained relationships within a school and resentment towards the new “leader”.  As much as principals want to make it “our school”, many admin really try to make it “their school”, or at least, that is the picture that they paint to their staff.  Sometimes you need to move slow to go fast.

Here are some things that I have learned from my time in both success and failures.

1. Build strong relationships first.  If you did a “Wordle” on my blog, I am guessing the term “relationships” would be the word that is in the top five for being most used.  Although this may seem redundant, to emphasize the importance of this over and over again, is something that cannot be understated.  The investment you make in your staff, students, and community will come back tenfold, but it takes time to build trust.  I have watched administrators like Patrick Larkin, Kathy MeltonJason Markey, Amber Teamann, and Jimmy Casas show and share the significance that they put into people.  This is not just your teachers either.

Every single person on your staff is an important part of the team and should be treated in that same manner.  Make sure that you connect with every person on that staff and know something that goes beyond the building.

One of my favourite things to do with the community was to wait for the busses and talk to kids and parents as they arrived to school.  Talking to kids is huge and a great proactive way to avoid issues later, while also being visible to the community.  It also builds credibility with staff.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.  Trust me, it is the most important part of the job and the foundation that all great schools are built upon.

2. Find the value of every staff member.  I tweeted the following yesterday:

Principals often want to make a splash with staff and bring in “gurus” to move them ahead, but I truly believe that most schools have everything they need within the building, we just have to find a way to bring it all together.  It is not that you shouldn’t look for outside help ever, as a differing perspective helps sometimes, but you should also balance that with having your own staff deliver professional development as well.  This builds capacity and relationships (see number one) within your building.

Every person in your organization has something to offer.  What is it? This is fundamental to “strengths based leadership” and people that know they are valued will go above and beyond. There is a difference between “developing” and “unleashing” talent; a great principal does both.

Great leaders develop great leaders.

3.  Show instructional leadership. There used to be a belief that “those who can’t teach, become principals”.  This drives me crazy.  The other idea is that the principal should be the best teacher in the school.  That is also a fallacy.  Some teachers are absolutely amazing and have no interest in becoming principals; there is nothing wrong with that.  You do however, need to show credibility in your role as principal.  This could be in delivering professional development to your staff or teaching a class, or even a combination of both.  Teachers connect well with teachers, and when they see that their principal, no matter the position, is still a teacher, it shines a different light on them.  When you teach, it also reminds you that the “change” that we try to implement is not as easy as it sounds with 25 kids in a classroom.  It is possible, but it takes time and this perspective that you gain by staying current in your own teaching practices is important.

4.  Don’t focus on “change” as much as you focus on “growth”.  Change and growth are often synonymous but the words sometimes the words evoke different emotions.  If you walk into a school and constantly talk about “change” or how you are going to create the “best school yet”, you are disrespecting the work that has been done prior by the same staff that you are now serving.  I agree that there are lots of things that need to “change” about schools, but I also know there are lots of great things that have already happened in many organizations.  Growth is different.  We expect it from kids and we should expect it from ourselves.  You may have seen the light and changed your teaching practice, but my guess is that you didn’t change every aspect of what you used to do.  You probably got better.  And when you ask for “growth”, make sure you model how you are growing as an administrator as well.  Say when you screw up, admit mistakes, apologize, learn openly, and do things that show you want to get better in your role to model what you want from your staff.  Modelling growth moves from saying, “do this”, to “let’s do this together”.  Very different ideas with the latter being much more effective.

Everyone wants to make a big splash when they are starting a new job, and administrators are no different.  Yet sustainable growth takes time and as Covey states, it is important as a leader to show “character and credibility”.  Both of these things take time.  You may have a vision of where you want school to go but the best leaders hold that vision and break it down in smaller steps so that people can gain confidence and competence in the process.  If you want to create something great, it will take time and will only come from the people that are a part of your learning community.  Honour and tap into them and you will move further than you could have ever imagined.

Connecting Your Own Dots for Leadership

As I looked into moving into “leadership positions” within my own district, I believed that I did not have the experience to get into a role that I had wanted.  The tricky thing is that if you don’t have the experience, how do you get the job?

“Leadership” is not about title, but often influence and the ability to help others.  There are many administrators who aren’t necessarily leaders, and there are many teachers who exemplify the definition.  Yet for many, the idea of moving into “leadership” without the experience, seems insurmountable.  The reality is, the experience is already there within your current role, you sometimes have to just connect the dots for others, and more importantly, yourself.

So how do you do this?  As I applied for administrative positions within my school district one of the best pieces of advice that I received was to look at Alberta’s “Principal Quality Standard”, which is the evaluation tool for administrators within the province.  Most provinces or states will have something very similar.  After looking at the seven standards, I was given the task to look at what I was currently doing in my role as a teacher, and how I was already meeting the standards.

For example, the first “quality” for leadership was regarding “Fostering Effective Relationships”.  This standard is not exclusive to school administrators, and the best teachers do this in an abundance.  To be able to make this connection on a resume and a portfolio is a great reflection for yourself, while also being able to showcase this to others.

Another “quality” is on “providing instructional leadership”.  I have watched many teachers share ideas from their own classroom, and make an impact on not only other teachers, but students in the school (sometimes outside the school as well) that they do not teach. Again, this is not a quality that is exclusive to an administrator.  In fact, a great administrator will not only be an instructional leader, they will develop others with these qualities as well.

There is a saying to “dress to the job you want, not the job you have”, but if you look closely enough, you might realize that you have already been playing the part. You sometimes just need to connect the dots.

One Step At a Time

The push to totally change the way school looks, is coming from many that believe that education as it looks today is not sufficient for our kids.  Although I do believe that we have to change some major elements of school, I also believe that there are lots of positive elements that we can build on as educators.  When we say “everything has to change”, we also tell educators that “everything you are doing is wrong”.  We have to build upon our strengths, while also paying attention and developing on our weaknesses.  This does not happen overnight.

Barry Schwartz talks about the “paradox of choice”, and in his Ted Talk (one of my favourites), he talks about abundance of choice often making people miserable.  This would be no different with what is happening to many educators.  When we say “change everything”, people are often overwhelmed and change nothing.  Personally, I understand that although teachers need to question the system, they also need to work with inside of it to make change.

So if we are really going to make powerful long lasting change, we have to realize that this happens one step at a time.  Although we might have a vision of where we want to go long term, successful leaders will help break the BIG VISION into smaller, achievable steps.  With every single step, we move closer to our goals, while building confidence in a “new way of learning”.

My suggestion for people wanting to change what they do?  Focus on one thing at a time.  Look at something you currently do, and ask how you could do that better, and improve learning opportunities for kids.  Once you have seen success, move onto another thing.  I love this story from Will Smith about something he learned from his dad when he was young:

When Will was a 12-year-old kid, his dad gave him an impossible task: rebuild the brick wall in front of his business. It took Will and his little brother a year-and-a-half, but they built the wall.

How did a couple of little kids build a big brick wall? Will explains, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.”

Success breeds success, and if you focus on that one brick at a time, soon you will have something that is so much better than what you started.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu