Category Archives: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

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.

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.

The Innovator’s Mindset

Carol Dweck’s famous book, “Mindset”, was one that was (is) hugely popular with educators, not only in helping shape their work and thoughts on students, but also pushing learning in educator with their peers.  There were two simple concepts shared that resonated with many readers; the “fixed” mindset and the “growth” mindset.

Here is how the two differ according to Dweck:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

The great thing about Dweck’s work is that she found that you can move from one to the other.  You may have a fixed mindset, but it is not necessarily a permanent thing.  The other aspect is that you do not necessarily have a “fixed” or “growth” mindset and fall into one of those two categories in all elements.  I have a growth mindset on (most things) education, but have a fixed mindset on fixing things around my house.

So what I have been thinking about lately is the notion of the “innovator’s mindset”.  This would actually go one step past the notion of a growth mindset and is looking at what you are creating with your learning.  SImply it would go look this:

Fixed Mindset –>  Growth Mindset  –>  Innovator Mindset

The “Innovator Mindset” looks at all of their learning (in any given area), and they look at what ideas can come out of this.  It is not simply about being open to growth, but focusing on what new knowledge you can create with that growth.  If I think about how this “Innovator’s Mindset”  would work with students, it would always start with the question, “what is best for this student?”  Because of your willingness to learn and have a growth mindset, you would be able to take that knowledge and implement or create something for that student.  You would try different ideas and create different things to help that child to be successful.  No matter the area, the innovator’s mindset would always start with a question, and then from what you know, creating either a singular or myriad of solutions.

I am not sure if this is something that has already been said or shared, but I think it is important to look at how many educators have adopted that “growth” mindset and have learned so much from it.  What we have to develop next is what people do with all of this new knowledge to help their students.

Update
(Here is a picture I put remixed with the idea of the “Innovator’s Mindset”)

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 6.09.51 PM

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.

The Balance of Digital Footprint and Having Empathy

You might have heard of “Vodka Samm”.  She was a student at the University of Iowa who was extremely intoxicated, taken to jail, and then live tweeted from her phone about her experience.  Her story quickly went viral, and as we teach our kids about the perils of their “digital footprint”, you can see in the screenshot below the Google search of Samantha Goudie:

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.35.24 AM

Not the most flattering “footprint”, and by any accounts, she might struggle getting a job if any employer was to Google her.

But before we judge too harshly, check out part of this video that is on the first page of results when you google her name.

Does she seem like a really horrible person or just someone that made a mistake in university?  Does this one action posted online determine her character for the rest of her life?

t is very easy to become judgmental as a society and jump on people when they screw up, but honestly, did you ever drink too much or do something that you regretted?  I know that I am guilty of making many mistakes in my life, and perhaps I was just lucky that social media did not exist when I was in high school or post-secondary.  We teach a lot about “Digital Footprint” but do we teach our kids and ourselves enough about empathy?

I think there has to be a balance of teaching our kids the perils of posting inappropriate things online and the impact it could have on their lives, while also having an empathy for one another and realizing that we are all human meaning fundamentally, we are all flawed.

“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.

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.

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

Yesterday, I read and shared an article from the Atlantic entitled, “A Eulogy for Twitter”.  It talked about the demise of the social network and how something is just not right:

Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing.

Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it’s maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter’s earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.

There already have been rebuttals to the article, and although it talks a lot about the demographics and use of the platform, I would actually challenge that the rise and fall of Twitter (or any other social network) might not be something that we would look at from the viewpoint of group, but more from a personal perspective.

Stay with me here…

Twitter, depending on the day, can be either the greatest thing, the most boring thing, the most overwhelming thing, or something I simply don’t pay attention to.  But is it really Twitter or my use of it?

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

From my perspective, Twitter shares two main purposes in my own use that are extremely valuable.  The first is the “social” aspect.  I can go on there and see familiar faces, talk about happenings in the world, sporting events, or just joke around.  Some of my best friends that I have met started simply as profile pictures and a 140 character bio.  Avatars to friends.

The other aspect is the “learning” component.  I would say that since I started using Twitter to connect with educators and see not only what was happening in other schools, but to also get ideas and perspectives about education as a whole.  I have learned a lot about education systems in other countries around the world when five years ago, I might not have had that perspective.  The ability to talk to people, and not just “look up stuff”, has made this network invaluable to the work that I do in my own practice.

Social + Learning = Engagement (for me)

From what I have seen, people that use it for simply one or the other, and not both (in the education field), don’t stick around too long.  Our minds can get full and I do not need to continuously learn every second of the day, and the social aspect is something that many people can get from the connections that already exist in their world.  After a full week, the last thing I want to do sometimes is read an article on education related.  My mind is full and I want to decompress.  When I am watching a game with friends, I don’t need to tweet about it because I would rather enjoy the experience with the people in the room.  Yet, when I am by myself, the connection to others through social media makes the game that much more interesting.

So what does this mean?

Well, Twitter has already seen it’s demise in the eyes of individuals.  If the user experience is not being met, why stay on the network?  And that experience is not necessarily defined by the usability of the social network (although I am not a fan of the new profile), but in the way individuals use it.  There are people that I used to always connect with on Twitter that don’t share much on the network anymore.  Is it because Twitter has become meaningless to them, or something else in their life has grabbed more attention?  When I looked at my own use of Twitter through the archives, I could see a decrease or increase in tweets and I could directly correlate that with events happening in my life.

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

The thing that I do love about Twitter, is that the experience is personal and although some are predicting it’s demise, if it works for you, that’s what matters.   I know that when I have those times in my life where I want to take a break from that large network, it’s okay, because it’s going to be there when I am ready to come back, along with many of the people I have met, and the people I am looking forward to meet in the future.  The learning aspect of Twitter has been tremendous in my development, but the social aspect, the people that I have met and don’t want to lose that continuous connection with, that’s why I continuously come back.

If no one is looking at your Twitter account, it could be for a couple of reasons.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 12.26.00 PMMost organizations or schools feel that jumping on the social media bandwagon is something that they should do because it is becoming the norm for others.  If you think that Twitter is just about tweeting, you are missing a huge cultural shift that is happening.

Too many people use Twitter as a “one-way” communication.  They simply use it to deliver messages with no engagement at all.  This might work if you are a huge celebrity, otherwise you are spending time doing something that is really going to do nothing but take up your time.  If you are just sending information out, with no interaction, you are becoming the new “spam”.

Communication is key with organizations, but the huge cultural shift is that people do not want to just hear, they also want to be heard.  You might have a lot of followers on your account, but that does not mean people are engaged in what you are doing.

For example, @AirCanada used to be a horrible Twitter account.  It was used to share deals and tell about how awesome they were.  If anything, their presence and lack of true communication did more harm than good.  People wonder why would organization be in a space that is about back-and-forth communication, but only talk, and not listen?  Now, the account is doing an amazing job to connect with customers when they have concerns or problems.  I would never use email with Air Canada as I know their Twitter account is much more effective and faster.  They have to be, because the whole world can see their reaction (or lack thereof).

What is also important is heart.  Creating an emotional connection through a social media account is an art form and the Edmonton Humane Society does this beautifully.  It is not that hard to make people feel something when you are sharing puppies, but not everyone understands how to do it.  They share amazing stuff on their Facebook page, and often connect with people sharing it.  They have taken an organization and made it “human”.

To sum it up, if you want people to not just “follow” your school or business, you can’t just share.  You need to listen and engage, while also connecting and tapping into the humanness of people.

It is not just about “tweeting”.  There is a major shift that has happened in our world because of these different ways we can communicate.  Are you really paying attention?