Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

What do you want leaders to do with technology? (Updated Visual)

I worked with Bill Ferriter, who created the visual  “What do you want kids to do with technology?” on this updated version of “What do you want leaders to do with technology?”, adapted from my previous post on this topic.

This morning, Bill sent me the updated graphic that he had created. Bill has a ton of great slides that he also shares with the world, so I was honoured that he would create this for myself and others. You can see his creation in the tweet below:

(You can all see Bill’s original post on Flickr.)

First of all, this is not about “administrators” but about leadership, which can come from any position.  Secondly, all of the items listed on the “better” side can be done without technology and are core elements of great leadership.  Technology though can both amplify and accelerate.

If we are thoughtful on why we use technology and the impact it can have on leadership, all of these things can happen a lot faster with technology than they could without.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way.

You have a great idea.

It has been brewing around in your head for days and days, and although it is something you have never tried before, you see it as something that could be great for your students.

You decide to bring it to your boss to make sure it is okay to try.

You are crushed when they say, “I don’t think that is going to work.”

Not only did you just hear “no” now, but you probably won’t even ask in the future.

Sometimes “no” is not only a conversation killer, but it can be a relationship killer.  It makes people feel that they aren’t trusted or that they are doing something wrong.  When people make an effort to go above and beyond, and we stop them before their first step, it creates a reluctance to even try something different again.

Great leaders don’t necessarily always say “yes”, but they rarely say no.  The best leaders I have ever had have said things like “go for it”, or “I think you have a great starting point, but have you thought about this?”  They work out ideas with you, or they let you fly on your own, supporting you any way they can along the way to be successful.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way. They alternate accordingly between both spaces.

In a culture that promotes “innovation”, new ideas are not only welcomed, but they are encouraged.  It’s the only way as educators we will ever create something different.

They Will Follow Your Lead

When I first started to teach, coaching basketball was everything to me. I played basketball since I was in grade 4, and to be able to still be a part of the game was an amazing opportunity. Watching years and years of the NBA, the rivalries between legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and some new guy named Michael Jordan, I would try to mimic their plays on their court, into my own style. I wasn’t even in close, but like every kid that played basketball at that time, I wanted to “be like Mike”.

Transitioning into coaching, I followed the same script. Imitate NBA players when you play; imitate NBA coaches when you coach. It seemed pretty easy. I would watch countless games in the pros, and try to draw up similar plays that I would see in games and we would call them “Bulls” or “Lakers”, so everyone knew what we were running. It wasn’t only the “x’s and o’s” of the game, but it was also the interactions these coaches had with referees. They yelled, I yelled. If you wanted to get the attention of the ref, best thing to do is start screaming across the court at them. That’s what I saw. That’s what I did.

One game, while in my first year of teaching and coaching, I remember constantly yelling at a ref who I felt had made a bad call, and my players totally agreed, so they joined in. I called a timeout, and the ref came over to talk to me, and what he said changed me forever.

“No matter if you are kind or a jerk, these kids will look up to you and follow your lead. What direction do you want to lead them in?”

That was the last time I ever yelled at a ref. Would I talk to them or challenge their calls? Absolutely. But it was always in a manner that was respectful.

This does not only translate to the coaching ranks, but the way we teach as well. If we model that we struggle with any type of change, or hate being flexible, what do we think our students will become? If we don’t try to push ourselves and think of innovative ways about our teaching and learning, why would students be any different?

I could not thank that referee enough for that moment. He could of yelled at me, thrown me out of the game, or ignored me, but he saw someone just starting off in their career, and made it into a teachable moment. Those words stick with me to this day.

Higher Expectations, Higher Responsibility

On the suggestion of Ariel Price, I decided to read the book, “The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools“, and it talks extensively about bringing the best out in people, as opposed to doing the opposite.  As leaders, it is essential that we focus on how we “unleash” talent, even though we have come from a place where “management” of people often means controlling them.  Let’s be clear; micromanaging people not only sucks the life out of them, but it is more work.  Control should never be the standard we are trying to achieve in leadership and this book really focuses on how to get more out of people, leading to better schools for our kids.

One of the ideas that was shared was the notion of “pressure” vs. “stress”. Shared beautifully through the story of William Tell and his son (I won’t tell you the whole story), when William, an expert archer, ran into trouble and had to shoot an apple off his son’s head or they would both face execution:

The father and son both simultaneously experience a flood of relief; however, they actually had very different experiences in the preceding moments. While he stood taking his aim, William Tell felt pressure. His son felt stress…We feel pressure when the stakes are high and when we must perform at our best. We feel stress when we have no control. (Multipliers)

Control is important here, but it is dependent upon who has it.  I know many teachers would feel a lot of stress because many of the decisions that make a significant impact on student learning are out of their control, as well as many decisions made at the school level.  If we expect more out of people, we are going to have to give them, as sportswriter Bill Simmons would say, “skin in the game“.

A powerful idea shared in the book was to “supersize” a person’s job, meaning to “…assess the person’s current capabilities and then give him or her a challenge that is a size too big.”  As a tech lead in my school several years ago, I remember my then principal pulling me into her office and asking me to decide on what technology would be purchased for the following school year.  In the past, I had know this to be an administrator decision, so I was a little thrown off by the request, but I was excited to have the opportunity to make the decision.  I asked her why she asked me in the first place, to which she stated, “If you are the lead in our school in technology, shouldn’t you have an impact on the decisions?”  It was exciting to have been trusted to make such a big decision that I knew would help others.

The more I thought about it though, the more pressure I felt because if people were going to complain about what we had in our schools, it would have been because of my decisions, not our administrators.  I put a lot of thought into it, and from my work with teachers, I had made several suggestions on how we could have moved forward.  The principal knew that since I worked with every teacher in the school in the area of technology, that I would have had tremendous input from others, but that I would work harder to make things successful in the school.  This not only lead me to feel more empowered by the process,  but want to create that same experience for others that I had worked with.  If you want people to feel empowered, you have to be willing to part with control.

This is one of my favourite quotes on the topic:

“Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” ― Harriet Rubin

Pressure and stress are not only something that we can feel, but something that we can create for others.  Higher expectations need to come with higher responsibility if we are truly going to unleash the talent in others.

3 Questions To Shift the Focus to the Learner

The teacher evaluation process sometimes seems a little ridiculous.  For many boards, a principal will formally “visit” a teacher 2-3 times, and from those observations (and obviously some other observations throughout the school year), they will write an evaluation on that teacher.  As a new teacher, it is tough to feel comfortable with an administrator in the room so they often get “the show” which is not really reflective of what teaching and learning looks like in the classroom.  I did the same thing as a teacher. Those few observations didn’t really resemble what I did throughout the year, and it was often a reflection of what I thought my administrator wanted to see (kids quiet, sitting in rows, respectful of my dynamic up in the front teaching with my amazing lesson), not how I taught the majority of the year.  I don’t think my teaching was ever a “lie” during that time but often an exaggeration.  It is easy to get nervous during this process.

Although many boards still have to do the three observations, I think that the process needs to focus more on the learner.  For example, instead of telling someone how they taught based on those observations, I challenge administrators to ask the following questions:

What are you strong at?

Where do you need to improve?

What are some things that you are going to do to become a better educator?

The important part of this process is to really let the learner talk.  If the focus is on their teaching, then the learner should be the one sharing what they know.  If administrators started to do this, what would the “trickle-down effect” be in the classroom?  What if you asked the same questions of your students (modified for age level obviously)?  Would this not be the type of assessment that not only summarizes learning but actually an assessment to improve learning?

I would love to hear the practices for teacher evaluation that are happening in schools that go against the traditional model.  What do you got?

The School Won’t Fall Apart…

Working with a lot of principals at conferences, I have seen people mention about checking in on their phone because they might be worried about what is happening in their school.  Just like any part of education, people have to leave for professional and personal reasons, and they cannot physically there.  That being said, if you think as a principal, the school could fall apart without your presence, you might not be doing one of the most important parts of your job; developing leadership.

If you have created a culture that builds leadership, the majority (if not all) of emergencies that happen in school will be handled by the people in the building that you have entrusted with kids.  Great leaders build cultures that are not dependent upon any one person.

So if you are checking your phone over and over again, to make sure nothing is going wrong at the school, you have some work to do.  Supporting people is important and I know many leaders want to be available to their team, but developing people and trusting them is crucial to the success of any school.

 

Leadership Framework: Developing the Organization #ONTEdLeaders

This is part three in a series of looking deeper into the Ontario Leadership Framework.  Please feel free to look at the previous posts on this page on “Setting Directions” and “Building Relationships and Developing People“.

Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices

Under this strand, three major themes seem to emerge.  Leadership development, communication with stakeholders, and management of resources.  The interesting part of this strand is the term “desired practices”.  Who is determining what is “desired” for any school or organization?  Often the school “tail” wags with the principal and this can be either a good or bad thing, depending upon their vision.  If they believe in something, they will move heaven and earth to make it happen, yet sometimes the practices they believe in could be outdated and not serving a student’s future, but more likely our past.  This is why it is imperative that school leaders look at the work of other schools and both local and global trends.  The notion of “management” comes under the following standards”

“School leaders…manage efficient budgetary processes…distribute resources in ways that are closely aligned with the school’s improvement priorities.”

Leaders should never make decisions solely upon their own knowledge; that is too limiting for the number of people they serve.  They need to tap into a collective knowledge of their school community as well as others and it is imperative that we create a culture that taps into the expertise of our whole community.

Chosen or unleashed talents?

Great leaders develop great leaders.  This is a given and within any school, it is important to develop a culture that relies on the expertise of many as opposed to a few.  Distributed leadership is highlighted in this document:

“School leaders…distribute leadership on selected tasks.”

One of the pieces that I feel is missing is that it doesn’t focus on building upon the strengths that already exist within the building.  A great leader doesn’t simply develop talent, but they help unleash it.  This may be outlined in the following strand:

“School leaders….provide staff with leadership opportunities and support them as they take on these opportunities.”

As we look more at these ideas, I think we need to encourage our staff to go beyond leading within our own schools or organizations, but outside them as well.  For example, when many leaders look at the ideas of “leadership opportunities” this might be going to conferences and participating in sessions, yet many organizations limit their own staff from presenting at these same conferences without a ton of red tape in the way.  Not only does this show that you value your own staff’s expertise be shared with others to help further learning of all schools, it is a great way to promote your own organization through these opportunities.

When I have seen staff have these opportunities to present and share their learning with others, it does not only benefit their own careers, but they often come back learning more from the process.  To sit in a session may bring back some knowledge, but to have to present or lead a session brings a whole level of expertise.  The best leaders promote these opportunities.

What is “expertise” and who has it?

One of the standards under this strand focuses on the notion of tapping into “expertise”:

“School leaders…develop and maintain connections with other expert school and district leaders, policy experts, outreach groups, organizations and members of the educational research community.”

I have struggled with the word “expertise” for the last little while because of who this word is associated with.  We often refer to speakers at conferences or researchers as the “experts” which often devalues the “expertise” we have in our own buildings.  For example, whom are you more likely to consider an “expert”?  A researcher that looks at the practice of teaching kindergarten or a teacher that you connected with on the #kinderchat hashtag that teaches kindergarten?  In my opinion, both can be experts in different ways and we have to treat them as such.  How great would a school be if we dropped the notion of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land”?  Would we do more together if we looked at each other in our schools of having expertise?

In the past as a school principal, we defined our priorities as a school, and then had our teachers separate into groups based on their strengths, to lead these initiatives.  Not only did they create and deliver professional learning opportunities for the school, they wrote the objectives as well.  We did not have to wait for the “experts” to come into the building because we focused on making sure that we created a culture where we saw our own teachers as the experts.  You could walk across the hall and get help, not wait for an outsider to show up.  There is definite value in learning from people outside of your school, but if we are truly looking at a model of “distributed leadership”, it is essential we develop a culture of expertise within our own buildings.

Parent engagement or parent empowerment?

As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework:

“School leaders…create a school environment in which parents are welcomed, respected and valued as partners in their children’s learning.”

A welcoming environment is essential if we are really going to tap into our parents.  The best school leaders I have seen go out of their way to initiate connections with parents through simple things such as doing morning supervision, or even doing house visits to learn more about families.  A person is more likely to feel valued if you talk to them when you don’t need to.  Going out of your way to connect with the parent community is hugely important.

We often talk about how do we increase “parent engagement” in our schools, yet I think we are often focusing on the wrong term.  What if we focused on “parent empowerment”?  If they are a crucial factor in the success of our schools, is engagement enough?  I have seen great school leaders bring parents in not to just tell them about initiatives, but to actively immerse them into the type of experiences that their children are having in schools to give them a better understanding of what school looks like now.  This “education” for parents empowers them at home and in schools.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking at a parent-led and planned conference with Halton District School Board.  The parents of the planning committee organized the whole event to support important (to them) learning initiatives in the board.  It was heavily attended and was a powerful way to see parents empowered to support success for all students, not only their own children.  I hope to see more opportunities for parents that follow this lead.

Concluding Thoughts

Leadership without management often creates a vision that never comes to fruition, and vice-versa.  But we have to remember that management is for “things” and leadership is for “people”.  Personally, I don’t like to feel “managed” and I am sure I am in the majority.  To really push our schools forward, expertise and empowerment has to be developed at all levels (including students) and “management” comes in to ensure that people have the resources needed to be successful.  Creating a vision is one thing, but making that vision a reality, school leaders will need to utilize all resources (including people) to their fullest potential.

 

 

Leadership Framework: Building Relationships and Developing People #ONTEdLeaders

 

Spending a lot of time in Ontario, I have been going through the Ontario Leadership Framework (this is updated from the last document) with a fine tooth comb (here is a cleaned up Google Document that I have been using to go over each leadership strand) and although there are some areas I would change (“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people), the overall document is really strong.  

As pointed out to me by Donna Fry, the document I was using previously was an older version, so I am going to move ahead and use the newest framework.  It is interesting to see the difference in language between the documents (for example, they use “school leaders” instead of “principal” on the latest version), and some of it feels like a step-back while some of it seems like a step forward.

To learn more about this framework, I wanted to really go through each “leadership strand”, pick out a few key points that really stuck out to me as “forward thinking”, and break it down deeper.  If we are going to be effective moving forward, we need to be reflective in our practice.

Over the next few blog posts, I will be going over each strand, and trying to take an in-depth look into some of the ideas that really stuck out to me.  I really encourage others that are either interested in going into leadership (no matter what area you are located), or are currently in leadership positions, try the same process.

The five strands that I will be looking at are the following:

  1. Setting Directions
  2. Building Relationships and Developing People
  3. Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices
  4. Improving the Instructional Program
  5. Securing Accountability

Today, I will be focusing on “Building Relationships and Developing People”.  You will be able to see all posts eventually at this page.

Building Relationships and Developing People

Although someone pointed out to me that the framework is not set out in any particular order, I still think that the focus on relationships should be set out visually as the first priority in this framework.  Strong relationships are the foundation of great organizations and without laying down that foundation first, nothing great will happen, and if it does, it is in spite of leadership, not because of it.  I think great leaders go beyond simply caring for their community as part of a school, but they treat them like they would treat family.  This standard in the document resonated:

“demonstrate respect, care and personal regard for students, staff and parents.”

The “personal”, says something much more to me and is key to growth as an organization.

Visibility 

The framework notes that “visibility” is a crucial part of leadership:

School leaders…are highly visible in their schools

Great leaders know that visibility matters.  It is not that school leaders need to be at the school every day for it to run smoothly; if you have created a great culture, the school should be able to run without you being there 100% of the time.  But it is not just about showing up and being present within your office.  A truly flattened organization will see their school leaders as part of the team, not as above it, and that needs to be reflected in not only words, but actions.

For example, years ago as principal, I decided to remove all of the former principal pictures from the front entrance.  What this said (to me anyways) that the most important person in the school was the principal, when I believed that our school was about kids, not adults.  So what did we do?  We removed all of the principal pictures and replaced them with students that were currently in the building.  The entrance of our school signified that this is a place about kids.

People like Patrick Larkin shared practices of actually moving their office to their front entrance so that they were visible all of the time and you can see their learning.  I have seen him in action, and little things like this totally created strong relationships with his community because he was more than simply the “Wizard behind the curtain”.

You can also see leaders such as Amber Teamann and Tony Sinanis who also see the importance of visibility simply being in face-to-face spaces, but in a virtual space as well.  Amber regularly blogs and shares her thoughts with her school community, and I have loved seeing Tony share his video newsletters working with kids.  For these three leaders, is it not only about being “visible” but also being “present”, and they show it in different ways.

Critical Conversations

Once we start to build relationships and show people that they are valued, it is important that we are open to having critical conversations.  People are less likely to challenge and feel comfortable being challenged if they don’t feel valued.  This is highlighted a couple of places in the document:

School leaders will…demonstrate respect for staff, students and parents by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas, and genuinely considering their value.

School leaders will…establish norms in the school that demonstrate appreciation for constructive debate about best practices.

What is important in these statements is that leaders are not simply open to conversations, but create something based on those conversations.  We have to be able to say more than, “I hear you”, but be able to show that based on those conversations, we have done something differently.

It is also imperative that we create a community where we constantly don’t talk about “changing others”; in those cultures, blame is shifted back and forth.  You can hear in the same buildings, “people don’t want to change” and “leadership is holding us back”.  The amount of time we spend pointing fingers, is time that we could be using to move forward.  Conversations are important, but actions based on those conversations are essential.

Reflection and Modelling

Reflection is so crucial to move forward.  Without looking back, we are unable to move forward. Modeling reflection is also imperative.  This is highlighted in the framework

School leaders…encourage staff to reflect on what they are trying to achieve with students.

School leaders…demonstrate the importance of continuous learning through visible engagement in their own professional learning.

A word that I think is missing in the reflection piece is “open”.  When we openly reflect (and there are several ways that this can be done), we not only develop ourselves, but we develop others as well.  Technology allows us to do this in a myriad of ways like things such as podcasts, videos, blogs, and any other alternative that people can come up with.  When teachers and leaders are willing to do this in an open forum, we create a visibility in our practice that promotes conversations not only within our school communities, but globally as well.

In my own practice, instead of sending a weekly memo to staff through email, it was simple enough to do the same thing and share it through a blog.  I would often share things that were going on in school, but also articles that I thought were great discussion starters and example of theory in practice.  Why would we hide this from our parents and community?  The conversations that it facilitated not only in the blog, but in the hallways and staff room was paramount to growth of our organization.

What’s missing?

All of these points are important to building a great culture, yet the document seemed to lack a real focus on developing great leadership.  This is not just about developing “future principals”, but developing leadership within the building.  Although it is cliche, great leaders develop great leaders, not more followers and a building should not be focused on having a sole leader.   You could argue that it is implied throughout the document, but I think that organizations have to make it explicit that we want to develop our people as leaders in different areas. What is explicit is often what gets done.

Relationships are the most important thing in schools.  It is not only our kids that need to feel safe, but our staff as well.  Knowing that we have created an environment where people know they are valued, cared for, and that we focus on their continuous development, great things are more likely to happen.

 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader (Document)

I wanted to create a “rubrics” (for lack of a better term), that discusses some of the questions and ideas based on my post “The 8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader“.  Since I believe innovation often starts with “questions” that guides practice, this document starts from there, but gives a few suggestions as well.  So instead of doing a traditional rubrics, I left a column open so people could write their own ideas on how they are meeting the characteristics.  If it was truly innovative, then the idea might be sparked from this, but should not be limited to what is shared here.  It is more of a starting point than an endpoint.

Please feel free to use as you see fit.  The writing is small so I uploaded it to Scribd so it could be downloaded or expanded for a better visual.

The Innovative Leader Rubrics

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

I have really focused on “innovative leadership development” in my work, and have written about it extensively in my work.  Because of this, I wanted to collect all of my posts that have really focused on leadership in a time where leadership really needs to change.  Please feel free to use the posts in any way to help you with your own development, or challenge any of the ideas that I have shared.

The posts are organized into two areas: Developing LeadershipandEmbodying Visionary Leadership“.  It is meant to help develop a vision and understanding, and then to talk about what it actually looks like. (For a static page of these posts, you can check out the “Leadership Deveolpment” page on my blog.)

Developing Leadership

Educational Leadership Philosophy – This is the post that leads to all of other things.  I think it is a great practice to be able to write your own leadership philosophy so people understand why you do what you do.  It is also something that I will revisit and tailor since a leadership philosophy should not stay the same for the rest of our lives.  It should change on based on who we serve, and what we learn.  It should constantly be pushing you to move forward. 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader – As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.  This post talks about some of those characteristics.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal – To develop a powerful vision, it rarely starts with answers, but more often with questions. This post focuses on questions in five crucial areas: Fostering Effective Relationships, Instructional Leadership, Embodying Visionary Leadership, Developing Leadership Capacity, and Creating Sustainable Change.  How do you lead in these areas?

3 Questions To Guide Your Vision – One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. To create a vision, you have to think about your long term impact, and how you will develop people to create a culture that is not dependent upon a person, but on the community.

Want someone to see your viewpoint? Ask them their thoughts first. – When I believe in something,  I used to spend all of my time trying to “sell” that idea to others and trying to get them to embrace what I saw.  If people didn’t agree with me, or my viewpoint, I would often got extremely frustrated and get nowhere closer than where I was before.  I hear this same approach from so many other people who tell me about the countless hours they try to get people to “embrace change”, and what I have learned is to spend less time defending your position, and spend more time asking questions.

Embodying Innovative Leadership

4 Attributes of a Great Assistant Principal – Being an Assistant (or Vice) Principal, was one of my favourite jobs.  As a principal, my AP’s were amazing and they helped to make me a better leader. They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect great Assistant Principals to focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.

The Need for Courageous Leadership – This is a great example of a leader that models risks for their faculty, and leads through actions, not simply words.  Does your school have the courage to let a student tweet on the behalf of your school account? If not, why?

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be – Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.  These are some qualities that you or I could be doing, without even thinking about.  It is so important to take a strong look in the mirror and think about the things that we would hate as an educator in our building.

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning? – The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much without the crucial conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom.  This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing that has been dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better.  There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development – There are a lot of things that we have just accepted as “norm” in our professional development, but we should always deeply look at how we spend our time with staff.  Time is the most valuable currency we have in schools so it is important that we get the most out of every interaction we have together.  In this post, I look at three things that we should not accept as simply the norm.

5 Characteristics of a Change Agent – As a leader, it is not just teaching “stuff”, but it is helping people to see the importance of embracing change in our work in schools today.  We often lament at how people are terrible at accepting change, but in reality, many leaders are just poor at delivering why change is important or crucial. All people want to do something better, but what are the characteristics of leaders that successfully move people along?

Hopefully there are some things that you can take away from these posts, or share with others.