Tag Archives: innovative leadership

3 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make About Educators

 

I haven’t had my own classroom of students for a few years, but I always try to remember what it was like to be a teacher, and always try to start from that viewpoint.  It bothers me when I see posts or videos talking about how so many teachers are not willing to do something better for their kids, when every single person that has “embraced change” was at some point doing things previously that they would question now.

I talk a lot about the importance of using technology to enhance learning and relationships, but I didn’t always believe it was important.  It took a lot of suggestions and support from others before I started doing things differently in my practice; it did not happen overnight.  That being said, just like so many other educators, I still have a lot of room to grow in so many areas.  There are so many aspects of education that are important to the development of our kids, and teachers are juggling so many things that they have to do, many of which have little to do with teaching in a classroom, but are admin tasks.  Instead of wondering “why aren’t people moving faster?”, we have to take a step back and get rid of some of the assumptions that people make about educators.  Below are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. Educators are not willing to embrace change.

I think for many educational leaders, this is an easy way out.  It puts the blame others instead of looking at something internal.  Simply telling someone that they should change their practice, and it reminds me of how sometimes people are just bad at selling change in the first place.  I have seen a lot of people talk about the importance of change, but by the end of listening to them, you feel terrible about what you haven’t done as opposed to inspired to do something better.

\Making people feel like crap is not the key to getting them to do something different and will not lead to sustainable change.  What is important is that people experience something different themselves, but also that they are valued for what they do.  If an educator knows that the change is something that will be better for kids, they are more likely to start doing something different.

There are so many things that an educator has to do, so I think it is actually good that many of them are critical about what they put their efforts into.  Have you ever had an initiative in your school that has come and gone and shown no impact on students?  Not all change is good, but I believe if an educator can see the value in it for their students, they are more likely to embrace it.

2. Educators don’t want what is best for kids.

Educators know that they are going into a very giving profession, where the pay is traditionally not that great.  The majority of them want to make a difference.  It is cool when some students get opportunities like Innovation Week, but sometimes kids show up with no food in their stomachs, and making it through their day is a huge accomplishment.  Doing the “innovative ideas” might not be possible for that kid.  There are so many variables to our day as educators, and teachers are rarely ever just teachers.  They take care of kids in so many different ways because of they didn’t, there is no way some kids would be successful in any aspect of their lives.  If every classroom and group of students looked exactly the same, teaching would be easy, although in my opinion, not very rewarding.  The diversity is what makes education so great.  That being said, most educators are doing what they believe is best for their kids.  No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be terrible at their job.  We need to always remember that.

3. That all educators do is teach.

It disheartened me to see an educator friend, who is brilliant and I would want teaching my own children, talk about how they had to get another job to make ends meet.  I have heard this from several people.  To think that a person who would have to work two jobs (one of them serving children all day) would not only have the time or the energy to learn new things, is pretty presumptuous.  Just being a teacher, takes a lot out of you.  We can’t assume that all of our efforts go simply into teaching.  There are so many other aspects of our lives.

It is not only the cases where teachers are juggling another job, but also other aspects of their life.  Many people have so many things going on in their lives, yet we assume that so many should put all of their time and energy into becoming the greatest teacher of all time.  Some people are lucky if they can make it through the day because of whatever is going on in their lives.  This is not only in education, but in all professions.  We want to be great friends, partners, parents, siblings, or whatever, and sometimes teaching needs to take a little bit of a backseat to the other things in life.  Does this mean a teacher doesn’t care about what they do? Not at all.  But I am firm believer that I would rather have a teacher that is focused on being a whole person, than simply focusing on being a teacher.  Personally, some days it is/was hard for me to get up and do my job because of other things going on in my life.  We always have to remember that there is more to a teacher than being a teacher.

Do some teachers not fall in line with what I have shared? Absolutely.  There are bad people in every profession.  I guess my point is that when we make generalized assumptions about others in our profession we are already starting in a deficit.  Trusting someone is doing the best they can before they prove it to you, is an important part of leadership. We have to give trust before we earn trust in many cases.  Assuming the worst of others will not get us to grow as a profession.

Questioning Forward

I had the honour of addressing the Trillium Lakes District School Board in Ontario recently, and I was amazed by the culture of learning they have created.  They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to just want to keep pushing themselves to get better and better.  These days are awesome for me as an educator because I feel I really grow through the process even though I am the one “delivering” the workshop.

I was inspired in listening to Andrea Gillespie, one of their superintendents, the night before, and the board’s vision of constantly moving forward and growing as a learning organization.  You could tell by her stories that this was not just something they said, but something they lived.  The feeling I got was that they were not a board that felt they had “arrived” because they know that great organizations never stagnate.  Education will always have a target just out of reach because of the consistency of of change, and instead of being frustrated by this notion, they build upon it.  It is not that they aren’t a great organization, if anything, quite the opposite.  Growth is continuous as is learning and this is something that they are aware of and embrace.  It was refreshing.

One of the ways they keep this momentum moving forward is by starting their professional learning opportunities by stating the following:

“We are a board questioning our way forward.”

EEK!  I love this!

This sets quite the tone and embraces the notion of the innovator’s mindset of constantly learning and creating better opportunities for students.  This phrase really struck me and is something that we need to embrace in our work.

When I thought about it deeply., there is a difference between saying, “we need to ask questions” and “questioning our way forward.”  Often, when I hear questions, they are more like statements about how this won’t work disguised as questions.  For example, I will hear things like this:

“This is great, but what about standardized tests?”

or…

“You showed me some really great stuff, but when we are going to find time for this?”

Both of the above are questions, but seemingly leading to a dead end.  What if we tweaked these questions to ask the same thing but to find solutions instead of looking for problems?

“How do we move forward with these initiatives while still ensuring that our students are doing well on standardized tests?”

or

“What are some suggestions you have to create time to make this happen?”

Again, both questions but they are not dwelling on problems but instead looking for solutions. Simple tweaks that make a world of difference.

Questions are so crucial to our growth, but I think we need to focus on phrasing them in a way to find ways to move forward, not to stand still.  In education, stagnation is the equivalent of moving backwards and in a world where change is the only constant, asking questions to move forward is something we need to not only teach our kids, but embrace ourselves.

 

Leadership Framework: Developing the Organization #ONTEdLeaders

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

Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices

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

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

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

Chosen or unleashed talents?

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

“School leaders…distribute leadership on selected tasks.”

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

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

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

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

What is “expertise” and who has it?

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

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

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

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

Parent engagement or parent empowerment?

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

 

 

Leadership Framework: Building Relationships and Developing People #ONTEdLeaders

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Relationships and Developing People

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

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

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

Visibility 

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

School leaders…are highly visible in their schools

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

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

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

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

Critical Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection and Modelling

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

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

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

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

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

What’s missing?

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

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

 

Which team are we on?

 

Through a Twitter conversation, someone brought up an interesting analogy on how administrators should be the “offensive line for their staff”, blocking distractions and unnecessary “stuff” that takes away from great teaching and learning.  I loved the analogy, and really thought about how administrators need to be seen as those that do whatever they can to ensure teachers are successful so that their students can amazing learning opportunities.

Yet from many conversations and observations, it seems the opposite.  With technology, teachers seems to be jumping through hoops, having decisions made for them without their input on experience being utilized.  It seems that the “offensive line” concept is not protecting teachers, but sometimes blocking them from great opportunities.

For example, if you want teachers to use social media, how would a 50 page document sharing the guidelines actually help them?  With every page that is turned, you lose teachers who just see that it is not worth it to go through all of the roadblocks to even start.  Or the computer that takes “only two minutes” to log on because of network protocols. Yet two minutes, times 30 kids, can be an eternity, especially if one of those computers doesn’t work as expected.

With every page, every policy, every filter, many teachers just choose to do what they have always done and do not see it is worth the time to do something new.  We encourage “risk-taking” yet we have created such a risk averse culture in education.  We can say “take risks” all we want, but actions will always be louder than words.

So if administrators are the “offensive live”, we need to make sure that we are blocking for the right team.  Otherwise, we can only blame ourselves for not moving forward.

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader (Document)

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

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

The Innovative Leader Rubrics

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

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

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

Developing Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

Embodying Innovative Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation Doesn’t Happen Behind Closed Doors

Whether you are starting off as a new administrator, or you have been in the role for awhile, it is important that you “make your mark” and bring your own style to a position.  Just like your teachers want to make an impact with their students, you want to make an impact with your school community.  Doing something “awesome” is important as administrators should feel that they are contributing to the growth of the school, not simply the management of it.

In my own experience, it is easy to lock yourself in a room, work on some great ideas, and come out with something (you believe to be) new and amazing.  Yet closing yourself off and focusing on being “innovative” often leaves you with great ideas that will get nowhere, because you have not created the relationships needed for people to feel safe trying something new.  If you don’t spend time in the classroom and see what the inner-workings are of what learning looks like every day, your ideas can become great in theory, but unattainable in practice.  It is important to recognize that innovation is a human endeavour, and if you are going to put too much time into something, it should always be people, not stuff.

So what is a great step to help move this forward?  Move your office into a classroom.

Administrators have a lot of managerial duties that they have to get through in a day.  It can honestly be overwhelming.  That being said, it is rare that we don’t have access to an untethered device that we can go sit in a classroom and be a “fly on the wall”.  This helps not only with visibility of students, but will give you a great perspective of what teaching and learning looks like, and what hurdles teachers have to jump through in a day to be successful.  Is the technology working?  Does the classroom have seating that is conducive to different types of learning styles?  Does Wifi work?

Many teachers accept their classroom “as is” and do the best with what they have and they don’t say anything.  This does not make those boundaries acceptable.  By simply spending an hour catching up on emails from a classroom, you will learn a lot more about your school than you would spending an hour in your office.  You don’t have to do this all of the time, but you should do it often.

This isn’t “no office day”.  Although I love the intent behind that initiative, I find the idea of having a solitary day to go spend time in classrooms is not enough.  This should be a weekly process, if not more.  The time you spend just sitting in a classroom builds a comfort and trust level with staff who eventually don’t even know you are there.  That’s kind of the point.  If you don’t have time to go into a classroom, your priorities might be out of order.

Through this process, you might not get as much done, but you will build relationships with teachers in this process that will lead them going over-and-above for you, which in the long run, will not only save you time, but creating better opportunities for your entire school community.

Believe me, the investment is worth it.

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.

Character, Credibility, and Social Media

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

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

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

But how do we show character?

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