Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

Before You Move Onto the Next Big Thing…

Often after presentations, I will hear things like, “This is really cool, but what’s the next big thing in education?”

My response?

Shouldn’t we become great at what we are doing now first?

The problem with continuously focusing on the future is that we are often neglecting the present.  The next cool “app” often leads us to going a mile-wide and an inch-deep.  We want our students to have meaningful learning, yet we often want to implement every new thing we hear about or see, that we never really become great at anything.

While we are fixated on things like “school in 2030″, just remember that there are kids in your building that need you to knock it out the park right now.  Just like we want our students to have deep and powerful learning experiences, we have to learn how to create these  same opportunities for ourselves. That takes dedication and long-term commitment, which are the same things we are hoping to develop in our kids.

8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset”

Recently I explored the notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and have thought a lot about this idea.  As I look to write on the topic of “Leading Innovative Change” within schools, we are looking to develop educators as innovators.  To be innovative, you have to look at yourself as an innovator first, and to create schools that embody this mindset as a “culture”, we must develop this in individuals first.

Building upon Carol Dweck’s work, I have been looking at the traits of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, which would be summarized as follows:

Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.  Here they are below and why they are important for educators:

  1. Empathetic - To create new and better ways of doing things, we need to first understand who we are creating them for.  As educators, innovation starts with the question, “what is best for this child.”  For us to create something better for our students, we have to understand their experiences and this is why it is imperative that we not only talk about new ways of learning, but immerse ourselves in these opportunities.  This way we can understand what works and what does not work from the perspective of a learner, not a teacher.  If anything, teachers have to a deep understanding of learning before they can become effective in teaching.  We need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.
  2. Problem Finders - As Ewan McIntosh talks about, it is important that we teach our kids how to ask good questions instead of simply asking for answers. All innovation starts from a question not an answer.  The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, “How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?” Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.
  3. Risk-Takers – Many would argue that “best-practice” is the enemy of innovation.  To be truly innovative, you sometimes have to go off the beaten path.  The reality of this is, that for some kids, the “tried-and-true” methods will still work, but others, you will need to try something different.  In a time where many kids are totally checking out of school, is “best practice” truly “best”, or just “most well known”?
  4. Networked – Steven Johnson has a powerful quote on the importance of networks where he states, “chance favours the connected mind.”  Innovation does not happen in isolation, as it is often ideas that are being shared amongst many that lead to new and better ideas being developed.  The best educators have always created networks to learn from others and create new and powerful ideas.  Now though, many have taken the opportunity to take networks to a whole different level through the use of social media to share and develop new ideas.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Networks are crucial if we are going to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset”.
  5. Observant – A practice normal amongst those that would be considered “innovative” is that they constantly look around their world and create connections.  It is normal to have a notebook or use their mobile device to record ideas or thoughts around them and link them to their own ideas.  In education, we often look to solutions to come from “education”, but when organizations around the world share their practices and ideas, we have to tap into their diverse expertise and learn from them as well.  Wisdom is all around us, we just have to look for it.
  6. Creators – So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.
  7. Resilient – Things do not always work on the first try, so what are the tweaks or revamping that is needed?  To simply try something and give up as soon as it fails never leads to innovation only a definitive end.  This is something great teachers model daily in their teaching, as they turn good ideas into great ones.
  8. Reflective – What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in education and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of education as we are always “trying to get through the curriculum”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of education as the connections we make on our own is where deep learning happens.

For educators to embody this, it is imperative that leaders create a culture where this types of characteristics are not only accepted, but encouraged.  It is also imperative that at both the leadership and whole organization level, these characteristics are embodied.  To many, being “innovative” is no more than a buzzword, but if we truly have innovative students, we need to embody the “Innovator’s Mindset” at all levels.

Why We Don’t Truly Embrace Failure

Although it seems to be cliche and commonplace in education to talk about innovation and the importance of “failure” in the process, this thought process seems to be misguided and focusing on the wrong aspect of the process.  Advocates of the importance of “failure” will often point to stories such as that of James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson Vacuum who, “spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed before he made one that worked.”  Yet the reality of this story is that no one would even mention James Dyson if it wasn’t for that one success at the end.  How many other vacuum inventors can you name and, especially,  how many of the other vacuum inventors that never successfully got a vacuum on the market can you name?

The part of this process that is imperative is resiliency and grit.  Resiliency, in this case, being the ability to come back after a defeat or unsuccessful attempt, and grit meaning a “resolve or strength of character.”  These are characteristics that are important in the innovative process as we need to continuously develop new and better ways to serve our students.

For example, I was recently talking to a learning coach that shared her frustration about working with another teacher who basically tried one process with a student and it didn’t work. When her learning coach asked her whether she tried anything else, the teacher had told her she hadn’t.  The learning coach was obviously frustrated that this was a “one and done” situation.  Later, our group conversation turned to focus on the notion of failure and how it is important that educators “embrace” and be okay with it.  I immediately jumped in and asked the learning coach, “Do you consider the process you described earlier as a failure?”, to which she quickly said “yes”.  I then asked, “and were you okay with that?”, to which she emphatically said, “NO!”  Trying out different things and figuring out alternative options for our students are all part of the “innovator’s mindset“, but accepting failure, especially when it comes to our kids, is not something I, or others, will ever embrace.

When I first started teaching, I remember famously saying to a student, you are going to learn the way I teach.  I could not have been more wrong in my thought process with this student.  A great teacher adjusts to the learner, not the other way around.  This is where resiliency and grit are not only “nice”, but necessary.  Not accepting failure is important to be successful in serving our kids.  What works for one, might not work for another, and as leaders, we need to develop a culture that focuses on doing whatever we can to ensure that we are successful in serving our students.  This “napkin drawing” by comedian Demetri Martin, beautifully outlines this process.

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Success is messy, as is learning.  Although I love this picture, the one thing that needs to be pointed out is that on both sides of the drawing, the endpoint of the arrow is pointing in the same direction.  Towards a better way in the end.  Yet in many educational institutions, their “line” would not look like either.  It would simply be a plateau where we have done the same things over and over again; no better no worse.  We all know what a “flat line” means in the medical profession.  Schools can’t mirror that or we might face the same outcome.

Who is the leading thinker in education?

 

Recently I was having a conversation with educators and they asked me the question,  “who is the leading thinker in education right now?”

I thought a lot about it and I couldn’t come up with one name.

In fact, quite the opposite.  I could come up with too many to name just a few.  They range from researchers, science teachers, speakers, kindergarten teachers, math teachers, principals, vice principals, grade 4 teachers, and more.  There is no end to the list of who we can learn from now.

There are so many educators that are both in and out of schools, that are influencing my thinking now.  It is hard to say that one person is influencing me more than another because it depends upon what we are talking about, what facet of school is being discussed, so on and so forth.  There are so many different elements of school that no one person could be an expert on all of them.  Really, there is no need.

In the past, “leading thinkers” were those that wrote books, that were used as the guide to providing great opportunities for education.  A lot of what was shared in the past was by names such as Dewey and Papert, who had research  that is as relevant today as it was when it was written.  We have always looked to “researchers” more than we have looked to each other. This is probably partly due to “prophet in your own land” thinking, but also because it was hard to get a glimpse into what was happening in each other’s classroom.  Now with blogs, Twitter, and a myriad of other publishing tools, we are getting amazing information from anywhere and everywhere.  Whether you have 10 followers on twitter or 100,000, the “active research” that is being shared by educators that is real-time, is invaluable to what we do in schools.

Is it always top quality information? Nope.  But neither were some of the books that I have read in the past.  We have to start seeing past “names” and looking at the information is being shared.

We can learn from anyone, whether they teach currently or not, and make it applicable to what we do in schools.  That’s the power of the web.  But I hope we are at the time that we quit focusing on only looking for “names” and start realizing the power that we have to learn from one another.

“Ensuring Equity”

A question and concern that I often hear in my travels is “what about the kids that don’t have devices in school?”

These educators want to create “equity” among students and don’t want students to feel left out if they don’t have access to technology.  Interestingly enough, one of the goals of the Ministry of Education in Ontario is on the notion of “ensuring equity”:

All children and students will be inspired to reach their full potential, with access to rich learning experiences that begin at birth and continue to adulthood.

What I love about this is that it is focusing on ensuring high standards for what we provide our students.  There are many students that do not have access to devices or the Internet at home which means it is MORE IMPORTANT to provide these things for them at school.  We would never take a library away from a school because students don’t have books at home.  In fact, we would do the exact opposite.  We would provide more opportunities for kids to read rich resources.  So not finding ways to provide devices and access to the biggest library in the world (which happens to fit in your pocket) to our kids, in my opinion, is unacceptable.

If we are to ensure equity for our students, let’s make sure we do it at the highest levels possible.

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.

The “Work Phone” Mentality

 

It was a few years ago while I was in Europe at a conference with several other educators, that I sat at a table while they all connected back home with people and information through their iPhones.  I sat there with my Blackberry, that might as well would have been a brick at the time.  Other than email, I just (at the time) couldn’t seem to do what they did with their phones.  It was not that we weren’t talking to each other, but in fact, some of the conversation we had was much richer because of their ability to go deeper into discussion items, look up things that we were talking about, or bring others into the conversation from anywhere in the world.  I decided that I wanted to be more a part of this “new” conversation and create a different experience for myself.  I purchased an iPhone, started using it differently than I had my Blackberry, and I saw a whole new world of potential for my own learning.  It wasn’t the phone that changed everything, but it was my way of thinking.

This mantra has stuck with me ever since:

“To innovate, disrupt your routine.” Frank Barrett

I was reminded of this moment the other day when I was delivering a workshop and one of the participants said that she was going to put away her device so that she could just pay attention and get away from work.  I asked her what she had called her device, and she referred to it as her “work phone”.  Then I proceeded to ask her if she saw it as a “learning tool”, to which she didn’t really answer.  I had the same conversation with students years ago while working with them, and not one of them saw their mobile device as something that was powerful for learning, but more of a communication device.  If they did see it as a learning tool, it was to use as a high powered calculator, and to “google stuff”.  They understood the ability to consume, but not the power to create.  This was one of the reasons why I felt I needed to immerse myself into these technologies and not look at a computer or a mobile device as “work stuff”, but as powerful ways to learn, both consuming and creating content.

Schools and classrooms will never look different, if our own actions and beliefs, look the same.

The “work phone” mentality is being transferred already to our kids.  With many schools and classrooms using iPads or other devices to either push “apps” or house textbooks, kids don’t really see the power of what they have in their hands.  I asked one set of students in a school that had 1-to-1 iPads what they thought of the devices and they had told me that they hated them.   I asked why, to which they responded, “All we do is read textbooks on them. It’s boring.”

Sounds pretty boring. I would probably hate them too.

The “tool” is one thing, but the way we look at it is much more important.  Are we trying to do what we did before better and faster, or trying to do something different?

When we started our “Learning Leader Project” years ago, each educator was given an iPad two months prior to the start of the program.  Here were the instructions…Open the box, play with the iPad, give it to your own kids, explore, and do whatever you want.  We did not “image” each device to be “work-ready”, but we wanted people to try things that they wouldn’t have usually done and give them the necessary time to play.  This was a calculated disruption for the program.  Did all educators play with them before?  Unfortunately not because we have grown up in a system where compliance is the norm and people often wait to be told what to do.  But compliance and innovation do not go hand-in-hand.  

To be different, we have to think and act different first.

Today, after the announcement of the death of Robin Williams, I am reminded of one of my favourite movies and inspirations for becoming a teacher, “Dead Poets Society”.  In the movie, this quote from his character, resonates:

“Why do I stand up here? Anybody? I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

Changing how we look at things is the first step in creating powerful and sustainable change.  Maybe it is time to ditch the proverbial “work phone” and look at what we hold in our hands with a new perspective.

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.

Can we keep making small “tweaks”?

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I recently read an article about the interruption  that bell causes with many schools when it destroys the flow of learning for a teacher.  I have said something similar before and have not been in a school as an administrator where bells signified the end of a class.  The idea was always that if a kid was deep into learning that the bells would stop that deep learning that was happening in the classroom.

Then I started to think my time in high school and how the bell was a reprieve from the boredom that I was experiencing in any given class.  Yes, there were times where I wanted class to go on, but I would honestly say that as a student, those experiences were in the minority.  How many times did you hear things such as, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.”  You might have even said it a few times as a teacher. I know I have.

So as I thought about it, that one or two minutes that you might go deeper into a conversation could be great, but if we are set up on the same scheduling that we have been traditionally in high schools, do we ever really get deep enough into learning that students don’t want to leave?  Are they trading “waiting for a bell” for “watching a clock”?  Although I believe that bells are annoying and aren’t really helping anything in school other than create a Pavlovian effect for our students, is this small change creating a major  difference in the way that we teach and learn?

When I went to visit Ann Michaelsen in Norway this past January, she told me how their high school had got rid of several classes in a day for high school students, and went with one class per day.  For example, you might have English on Monday, Mathematics on Tuesday, and so on.  What she had shared was that this created a significant shift in the way educators taught their classes.  As I watched the teachers in action, it looked more like a workshop model in every classroom, with students doing a lot of hands on work, and the teacher becoming almost like an academic advisor, working with individual students throughout the day and seeing where they were in their studies.  The amount of time that each teacher had with the students had really made an impact on changing teacher practice and mindset towards the way kids were learning throughout the day.  It would be tough to lecture for five or six hours in a day; the students would have to become more involved in their learning.

I am not sure how effective this type of day would be for a student or a teacher at the high school level, because I have never experienced it (although this was a standard practice for myself as an elementary teacher), but I will tell you that it looked pretty amazing.  We still have to work within the confines of a system and although there are many people that would like to start from scratch, it is not a reality for many schools.

That being said, are there times when we have to think less about the little “tweaks” we can make to the existing structure of school, and think more about some of the major changes we can make in our school?  For example, many see a SmartBoard as a glorified chalkboard; a great improvement on what we have used before but not necessarily going to make a major difference on the way we teach and learn in the long run.  Many would point to something like going “1 to 1” being a major change in many schools, but that would be only if was followed up with proper professional development.  In a lot of schools the technology is being used to simply write notes and “google stuff”, or even simply collecting dust.

When do we move from “tweaking” the system to making some major shifts in what we do?  There are a lot of innovative things that we can do within the system, but when do we start really pushing the boundaries?