Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

Getting Where We Need to Go

Leadership can be tricky.

You have to juggle respecting tradition and research that has been done in the past, while focusing on the people in the building right now (students and staff), and also keeping an eye on the future.  What is often necessary is having an awareness of all three; ignoring the past sometimes loses people in the present, and focusing too much on the future sometimes does the exact same thing.

With what we know now (or at least have the access to knowing now), tells us a lot about the shaping of the schools and the opportunity to constantly look at a shifting pedagogy.  Dean Shareski once said, “the longer we keep up the facade that school is the primary place of learning, the sooner we will become irrelevant”, and there has been no more important time in our world to develop our students as true “lifelong learners”.  Some schools aren’t even close to the “present” right now.  YouTube, probably one of the biggest libraries of information in the world is closed in many schools, or access is only given to teachers.  Where does that leave our students?  Do we develop learners that do not see YouTube as a rich learning resource because of our own concerns and fears?  Of course YouTube has great entertainment value, but it can also be used for powerful learning, but people are not seeing this.  This is not even a focus on the future; this is what our world looks like today.

But what about the future?

There are still schools that are getting to the point of providing WiFi to their students and staff, leaving places like Starbucks as a more accessible learning environment, not only because of Internet access, but because of the different seating arrangements that serve a wide range of learners.  Yet the goal for some schools is to build an infrastructure that supports one device per child, but I am seeing adults in my workshops using two and sometimes three, depending on what they need at that time.  I know money is a part of this, but it is also shifting our thinking.  Do we want to put in a lot of money into providing the bare minimum amount of access (“sorry…YouTube needs to be blocked because of bandwidth issues”), or do we want to be thoughtful and create rich learning experiences that include not only viewing, but creating different forms of media.  If a student best shares their learning through creating a video and posting it on YouTube, shouldn’t schools provide the access to do it?

As I was sitting with principal Brad Gustafson on a panel recently, and he was sharing some of the amazing things that are happening at his school, someone asked him “where do you get the money to do this?”  I was nervous that he was going to share a grant process that may have been only available to people in his state of Minnesota, but he simply said that he shifted money over to a budget line that he created called “innovation”.  He did not add money but simply rethought what the school was doing and adjusted the budget accordingly.  If your textbook budget is eating up a major chunk of your money, what does that tell you?  Could you do something different that provides better learning opportunities for your students?

I recently heard that a principal who is in school that is trying to go paperless decided that when their photocopier went down, it didn’t make sense to get a new one.  If you are trying to go paperless, why is a photocopier an essential need?  I heard this story from a third party and do not know all of the details, but I do know it would take guts because this pushes people in a different direction. Could they still use paper?  Probably, but do they need to spend thousands of dollars on a machine that has traditionally been used for worksheets?

In my own context, we developed a digital portfolio process that can be used for a student’s time in our school, but can also be exported to their own space when they either graduate, leave our schools, or at any time of their choosing.  This gives peace of mind to educators moving forward, yet it also ensure that years of learning shared in one space is not hidden within the school walls.  Can you imagine doing 12 years of work in anything, and when you leave, it is not accessible to others, or even yourself? Our universities and colleges pushinig for digital portfolios? Maybe they aren’t right now, but they will be, and even if by chance they never want to see this, the learning is hopefully invaluable to the student.  This is both focused on the present and the future.

Recently, it was shared that Nova Scotia was going Google Apps across the province for schools, yet some organizations say that this is impossible to do this.  So why on one hand do we have an entire province moving this direction, yet organizations saying that it is not possible? I know that communities and situations are different, but I also know that some places have chosen one direction not because of where they need to go, but are focused on the platforms they (usually IT departments) have been trained in.  If it a good decision for kids (which is what ultimately matters), it shouldn’t matter what you have been trained in, but where you need to go.  Yes, things might be easier for a little while, but where is the accountability to what our students need and are more likely to use?

I understand why teachers use things like “Edmodo” for students (it is a great service from what I have seen), but I have not seen adults en masse create Edmodo groups to connect with one another outside of education.  Are you using this service to provide the training wheels to something else, or is this a “school solution” that is not really focused on what our learners are more likely to use on their own?  I am not saying that it is wrong to use it, but it is important that in education when we create solutions that we do not just think about what is good for today, but what is necessary for tomorrow.

If you go back and answer the question, what is best for kids, what do your answers lead  you to, and what are you doing to get to that place? True learning organizations constantly move and grow, and for this to happen with our students, it has to happen at all levels of leadership.  If we expect our students to learn and grow as individuals, we need to model this at the organizational level.

Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  As educators, it is essential that we do not try to think about only today, but ultimately what our work is leading to in the future of our schools and our students.  We need to try and understand where the puck is going to be and get there.

 

A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter doesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

If you are scared of change, ask yourself this question.

People are terrified of change.  Not just of change, but the process of change and what it entails you.  You cannot change your practice without work, time commitment, and sometimes shifting priorities.  In leadership positions, this is the same with helping people move forward and having them invest their time in a new project or initiative.  You will want to guard them from all of the work that they will have to do when time is precious.  So when you go through the process, ask yourself this question:

Is this best for kids?

If you can answer unequivocally that the answer is “yes”, then the change process is necessary.  It might not be easy, it might take time, it might be messy, but it needs to happen.

If you are unsure if the answer is “yes” or “no”, use that same question to guide your search.

If it helps our students, it is worth doing.

That simple.

New Project: #EDUin30

Image created by Tracy Mulligan  (@iMacMulligan)

Image created by Tracy Mulligan (@iMacMulligan)

Running seems to give me inspiration, clear my mind, and inspire new ideas.  Knowing that Twitter has recently created an option to share videos up to 30 seconds, I thought about creating a new project to get people to share ideas and things that they are doing, going beyond the 140 characters.

What I thought of is the idea of #EDUin30; an opportunity to not only share practices in a different format, but to also connect more to the educational community.  Here is the introductory video:

To be honest, it felt a little uncomfortable to share myself in a video. That was actually kind of the point. To stretch myself in this format as well. So I asked the question for week one, “what is a practice that you would like to share with others?” To model what I seek, I shared the question and an answer of my own.

Tweaking the project, I thought it would be great to use the initial hashtag of #EDUin30 in all of these tweets, but to also add a hashtag specific to the week’s question. So for week one, it is #EDUin30w1 (next week it will be #EDUin30w2, and so on). Since you are not sharing many characters, two hashtags should work fine. Here I am explaining that process.

So why do this? First of all, I think it is imperative that we make reflection a part of our work as educators. Thinking and processing thoughts on what we can do will only make us better, and everyone has 30 seconds in their life to share a quick reflection. The next reason is that we need to model growth.  I see a lot of people complain that other’s don’t move fast enough, yet are we ourselves continuing to push our growth and learning? This new addition to the medium means there are more opportunities of how we can learn from one another.  My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.  If you want to become a master teacher, you have to become a master learner.  This means going out of your comfort zone. The final reason is the most important one to me.  It is easy to forget there is a person behind the avatar, and using video gets you to hear voices, see faces, and get to know people on a different level.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video?  This can connect us in different ways. It was nice to see other people starting to share right away.  I was able to hear great ideas, but get to see them as well.  Here is one from Kevin Zahner:

And another from Jeff Dahl:

It was great to hear not only their ideas, but their voices. It is a nice way to better know our educator community.

So for the next few weeks, I am going to share a question to the #EDUin30 hashtag on the weekends. This question will be for the week, and you can share when you have the opportunity. You can also see others as well by following the hashtag. I would love for people to partake, hear actions and perspectives, but also would love to get your ideas for questions that talk about actions.

It would be great if you could share this idea with others so we can learn from each other.

Update

Tweets like this are why I wanted to do the project.

Please take time to check out the first week of responses and add your own at #EDUin30w1.

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.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

Sitting with a group of administrators yesterday, discussing having a school hashtag, I asked the following;

What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day that they did in their classroom to a school hashtag, and they took five minutes out of their day to read each other’s tweets?  What impact would that have on learning and school culture?

As I thought about it, this seems simple yet could have a major impact.  Not only would we get a daily window into each other’s classrooms and accelerate learning, but this could accelerate relationships amongst staff, students, and community.  We would not only share our stories, but we would partake in short reflection every single day.

It reminded me of a quote from Chris Anderson:

Crowd Accelerated Innovation – a self-fuelling cycle of learning that could be as significant as  the invention of print.  But to tap its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness.”

The tools are all there to make it happen, we just need the thinking and the action.  Could this simple thing make a big difference in culture and community?

5 Ideas for Conversations on Change

“Teachers don’t want to change.”

I hate this statement.

It does more to end a conversation than it does to start it.

It is a comment I have heard far too often, and honestly, believe less and less and seems to be a way of blaming others for lack of growth in an organization.  We only have a finite amount of time in our day, and because of this, simply saying something is better doesn’t mean others agree.  A lack of change in any organization is often more a reflection on leadership than any group of people, or an individual.  The ability to “sell” change and create systems and a culture where trying something different is not only encouraged, but applauded, needs to be something that people in traditional leadership positions needs to constantly focus on.  Learning is something that never stops or stays stagnate, and because of that, organizations must reflect that we are not only in the business of “people”, but also of being open to and leading change.  It is the only constant.

For example, I have heard many conversations from educators wanting to try something new is met with so much bureaucracy and hurdle-jumping, that it is not worth the effort at the end of the day to try something different.  It is almost as if many schools are blocking their own teachers from being great.  The role of people in leadership and support positions is not to control talent, but to unleash it.

So what about those that may still be resistant to change?  How do we work with them.  As I look back to my best leaders, these are some things that I have noticed in their work in helping people move forward as individuals.

1.  Start every conversation focused on “what is best for kids”.

This is Stephen Covey’s focus on “starting with the end in mind”, but it is imperative that the “end” is explicit to people in any conversation.  The majority of educators are there for children, and if a conversation starts with talking about helping children, it helps to keep our focus on the important work that we do.  If as a leader, we are not able to share why something is best for kids, why would or should anyone embrace it anyway?  Conversations in education always need to start from this point.

2.  Listen.

So many people are constantly trying to sell something to someone else, and our conversations can go off track very soon.  If you really want someone else to move forward, it should not start with what you think it is important, but trying to be empathetic of another person’s situation and ideas.  Once you really understand where they are coming from, you have a totally different starting point from when you started in the first place.  It is also imperative that you are able to implement their point of view in your conversations, not simply separate ideas into “what you think” versus “what I think”.  There are common grounds but we need to listen to one another to find them.

3. Focus on where they are, not where you want to be.

Years ago, I started to really think about helping move people from “their point A to their point B”.  If you are able to break something into measurable chunks instead of having a grand vision of where everyone needs to be, it shows that there is a focus more on process, than product, which has become more of an emphasis in our classrooms.  These smaller wins along the way lead to someone building confidence and competence along the way, which helps leads to success.  As much as there is talk about the importance of “embracing failure”, people want to be successful.  We just have to realize that success looks different for different people, and that if we start where someone is instead of focusing on where we think they should be, people are more likely to be successful.

4. Walk away with a plan moving forward.

There are lots of great conversations that end with no action planned.  This is often a huge loss and can be a waste of time in the long run.  At the end of conversations we should look at what we are going to do because of the time we spent together, and also talk about following up in the future.  Writing something down also makes it more likely to happen, because we become more accountable to what we have shared.  Walking away without a mutual plan can often lead to nothing changing long term as there are so many other things that can get in the way.  It is also crucial for “check-ins” throughout the process.  I have seen a lot of schools have “Professional Growth Plans” that are written at the beginning of the year and then discussed at the end of it.  If you only focused on looking at something twice a year, how successful do you think it will be?

5. Support.

Leaders do not only help others find a path to move forward, but they are in the trenches with them throughout the process.  Checking in and seeing how things are going is one aspect, but actually finding powerful resources for someone else, asking them follow-up questions, suggesting professional learning opportunities for them (and even going with them), or a myriad of other opportunities, are crucial in development.  Saying “do this” is not as powerful as saying “let’s do this together”. People are way more likely to be successful in the change process if they know someone has their back throughout it.

Change can be scary and honestly, stress inducing.  The more people know that we are in this work together and that it is all about supporting our students, the more likely individuals, and ultimately organizations, will be successful.

Feedback or noise?

I don’t know if it is because it is basketball season, but stories from coaching and reffing have been popping up in my head in relation to leadership.  As I was listening to someone tell another story about the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”, I thought about the coaches you would pay attention to when I was officiating basketball, and why you would really listen.

I remember one game in particular, where we were discussing the game plan as officials before we started, and my partner said, “the coach on the visiting team doesn’t say much, but when he does, you need to listen because it is probably legitimate.”  The coach did not argue every call they didn’t like, but they chose to use their voice when they thought it was imperative.  As hard as it is to admit as a former official, there were many coaches that did the exact opposite and were constantly complaining about every single call that was not in their favour.  In a tense environment, it is hard to acknowledge everything coming your way, and the more spread out you are, the harder the job becomes to do well.  Constant complaining is no longer feedback or “picking your battles”, but it can simply become noise that many choose to drown out.

I have read so many articles written on dealing with the “squeaky wheel”, but there are few that discussing how not to be that person.  In a time where a lot of things are either changing or need to change in education, it is easy to complain about how fast or slow things are going, but after awhile, I know that commentary can go unheard if it is just a constant noise.  In the last little while, I have really tried to think about what is important to bring up and push, and what is not necessary at that moment.  There have been times that I wondered how to deal with the squeaky wheel, but I am also thinking about making sure that when I do say something to others, it doesn’t simply become “noise”.

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.