Tag Archives: josh stumpenhorst

The Value of the “Naysayer and Antagonist”

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by kaktuslampan

“Attuning yourself to others—exiting your own perspective and entering theirs—is essential to moving others. One smart, easy, and effective way to get inside people’s heads is to climb into their chairs.” Dan Pink

Sitting in Eric Sheninger’s session yesterday at ASCD, he asked the question, “How do we deal with the ‘naysayer’ and ‘antagonist’ in our schools?”

As I thought about the question, I believe that we have to think more about listening to them and giving them an opportunity to speak publicly, as opposed to pushing them into creating a subversive culture.  Too often educators bring in educators to workshops that already agree with all of the ideas being shared and we are too often preaching to the “converted” and only confirming thoughts.  Their is power in bringing the “naysayer” into the conversation with others to hear the perspectives of educators from other schools.  If you can have the “naysayer” become the converted, can you imagine the impact that could have on staff culture?

It is easier to bring in people to meetings when everyone agrees with you; it is more important to bring in and listen to the people that don’t.  

The other thing that popped into my mind is that the notion of the “naysayer and antagonist” are all a matter of perspective.  I am both of these things depending upon who I am talking with.  When speaking to Josh Stumpenhorst, I brought up this very notion and asked him to think of his wisdom and if he was either of these things.  He looked at me and stated, “I am a naysayer of the status quo.”  If Josh was in my school, he would be a champion of what I believe.  Put him in a different environment, and he might be considered a trouble-maker.

We have to continue to listen to different perspectives and not go from one extreme to another.  Educators can go from the notion that schools are highly content focused, to shifting to a school that is extremely process focused.  We need both elements not one or the other.

If change is going to happen, it has to be embraced by a wide range of people with a wide range of thoughts.  Working together and listening to those who agree and disagree often helps to come to a better solution that works.

Always remember, no matter what your thoughts are, you are the “naysayer and antagonist” to someone.  Would you want to be heard?

Ideas Into Action

“Organizations that can access the most brains will win. Its not what you know but how quickly you can access knowledge of others.” Liz Wiseman

There are some really awesome things happening in our schools right now and I just wanted to share some simple ideas that may spark some others.  The interesting part about the work that is happening is that many administrators are looking through social media at what is happening at other schools around the world and implementing them in some fashion within their own schools.  If these educators were not connected, I am not sure that they would be trying these out but they are all very active while also willing to share their work with others both within our division and the entire world.

1. Memorial Composite High School Facebook Page - Facebook is not necessarily an innovative idea nor new to schools, but I was extremely impressed watching the school principal, Shauna Boyce, doing all of the updating and creating of this page, as well as the Memorial Composite Twitter feed.  Now the principal doesn’t have to be the one updating this page, but I know that because of Shauna’s understanding of how this could be used she would encourage and be able to model this for her staff.  Instead of killing innovation because she is scared of “Facebook” (as outlined in this post), Shauna is modelling an effective way she can be using this technology to connect with students.

2. Muir Lake Ninja Program – Adopted from Jeff Utecht’s program that he has run with his own students and shared openly with others, Muir Lake School Assistant Principal Travis McNaughton has implemented this same initiative with the students of his school.  In a kind of a neat way to connect with students, Travis has explained the program:

“Welcome to the Google Apps Ninja Dojo! In JapaneseDojo means “place of the way”. Here you will find your way to becoming a Google Apps Ninja Master.

There are a few Google Apps categories that you must master in order to become a true Google Apps Ninja Master at Muir Lake School. In each category there are four belts to achieve in order to becoming a Master Ninja.”

Kind of neat hey?  The admin team at Muir Lake has effectively used their school blog to connect with parents and share information openly, such as their “Google Chromebooks” initiative.

3. Innovation Week - Jesse McLean, as part of the amazing administration team at Greystone Centennial Middle School, is looking to host their first “Innovation Week”, an idea that has been shared by Josh Stumpenhorst and others. As this has been a first time for the school and will be implemented in late December, Jesse is actually looking to endeavour in his own innovative project before the students give it a try.  He has told me that he believes for him to be able to successfully share this with others, he will have to experience it himself to understand both the positives and negatives.  Here is a small snippet of what Jesse is sharing:

“During this week, students will be given the time, space, support and necessary materials to work on a project of their choice. Our hope is to provide students with a meaningful experience that will help develop a passion for learning by giving them the chance to pursue their own learning interests. Similar projects have been run in the United States and England and have been met with great success when it comes to student engagement and impactful learning experiences. The students will not attend their classes during this week, instead they will work in the Innovation Week area for the entirety of their school day. Staff members from our school will be supervising and assisting in the Innovation Week area all week. We are hoping every staff member will get the chance to be in the Innovation Week area for at least one school day. On the morning of final day, we will have each individual/group present their project and give a summary of their learning that occurred during the week.”

It will be great to see what the students will be creating during this week and how it is further implemented on a daily basis at Greystone school.

Although there are some great ideas here, what I am most impressed with is that these individuals and schools are openly and willingly sharing their work as the default.  They are not being asked to put their stuff out there, but are doing it because they know that they can learn from others and others can learn from them.  Innovation is not about technology, but technology does afford us the opportunity to easily and openly share ideas in a way that we were not able to before.

I will end with the quote and image listed below which was continuously stuck in my mind as I wrote this post:

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

Do we need (great) principals?

Picture courtesy of Dean Shareski

I have had this post brewing in my head for a while to discuss Josh Stumpenhorst’s blog regarding schools and if they actually need principals.  I remember the first time I even read the title and I was offended before I even clicked the link.  As I read through though, my thoughts began to change on what Josh wrote as it seemed that my idea of what a principal does was quite different from what Josh saw.  Yes, there are those “management” details that need to happen in the role of principal, but they also happen in the role of a teacher as well.  If a principal is only needed for evaluation, discipline, and meeting planner, then I would actually agree with Josh that schools don’t need them.  I would also argue that if teachers only deliver content to students, that they can be replaced as well.  Khan Academy delivers content.  Teachers should build connections and relationships.  Technology will never be able to replace that.  To be great in either of these roles, there is so much more that should be done than simply the “management” portion.

So I thought back as my time as principal and what I aspired to be in that role.  The management portion was actually the worst part of the job for me yet I knew that it had to be done.  To help create a strong culture though, a principal needs to do so much more.  In Alberta, principals are evaluated based on the Principal Quality Standard and “management” is only one of the seven dimensions listed:

1. Fostering Effective Relationships
2. Embodying Visionary Leadership
3. Leading a Learning Community
4. Providing Instructional Leadership
5. Developing and Facilitating Leadership
6. Managing School Operations and Resources
7. Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

So instead of simply regurgitating the quality standards as defined in Alberta, I thought about some of my own experience and what I thought a principal should do in their school to help create a great culture.

  1. Culture Builder – I have said this several times already in this post, but the principal should have a huge part in helping to shape the culture of the school.  The way they treat children, the way they help to build capacity, the way they connect with stakeholders; these are all important aspects of this position.  But even with all of these BIG things, it is often the little things that really help to build the culture.  I remember hearing the story of a principal that simply went into the washroom and helped to clean it up that shook up the entire school.  Seeing the pride in keeping the school a clean place for kids to feel comfortable sent a strong message to all of those in the building.  I remember reading this Marci Laeven’s post discussing how she was impacted by watching a new principal spending a weekend planting flowers around the school and how it literally brought her to tears.  A school with a bad culture cannot be a good school.  The principal helps to set the tone.
  2. Visionary – The one advantage of having a principal in the school that does not teach is that they have the opportunity to see the amazing things happening in classrooms on a regular basis.  Teachers are often isolated and do not realize the strengths that their colleagues have.  Great principals will build upon these strengths that already exist in the building and help to build the vision of the school.  They will also understand when to take things off of the “plate” that teachers have to do that do not fit into the vision.  Leaders should be able to define the “why” of a school, and help to create ways to achieve this goal.  Although they are not the only representative of the vision, they can become a unifying voice for the school.
  3. Instructional Leader – I had a conversation recently regarding the daily “activities” of a principal and how someone was not interested in being out of the classroom and not teaching anymore.  My response to them was, “You are the principal.  You can lead however you like.”  I strongly believe that principals should be very visible in classrooms to not interfere with the teaching that happens, but to help build upon it.  As a principal, I often led workshops in areas of my expertise and how teachers can use these skills in the classroom.  If I am not willing to embody what I look for in a teacher through the development of my own instructional leadership, how can I feel good about asking our teachers to do the same.  Being an instructional leader is not something that I see as “optional” in the role of principal; it is a must.
  4. Connector – When I was a kid, the principal was seen as the “holder of all knowledge”.  Someone who was infallible.  When I became a principal, I knew that was WAY off!  My job was not to be someone who knew all the answers but I did quickly realize that I should be able to lead my staff and community to the people who had the answers.  There was certain expertise had by many different people on my staff and I believed that my role was to really find that expertise and help to connect others.  The idea of “connector” is not only within your own building, but with social media, it can be anyone in the world.  Principals should be networked because it helps to create connections to answers and opportunities that did not exist 20, 10, even five years ago.  I might not know the answer, but my job is to find someone who does.
  5. (Leadership) Capacity Builder – Principals are often moved from school to school, and I am not sure where I stand on that notion.  I do believe however that principals should create an environment that will miss the personality of the principal, but not necessarily the expertise.  If we are focus on building leadership within our schools and having great “systems”, schools will thrive long after any principal leaves.  If the school is dependent upon the skills of the principal, they have not done their job.
  6. Time Defender – I hate meetings. I always have.  I have as a teacher and I have as a principal.  I know that there are so many things that can be done that improve the quality of learning when we have professional development time and talking about whether kids should or shouldn’t wear hats is not something that we should talk about in great detail.  I am never able to pay staff more money but I am able to give them the gift of time.  This might fit in the “management” column, but the idea behind it fits in the “leadership” area.  I have always asked for agenda items from staff that they are willing to speak to, but if I feel it is something that can be quickly shared in an email or is not applicable to the majority of staff, it is something that can be saved for another time.  Staff meetings should rarely (if ever) be over an hour.  Most of your time should be spent on improving learning.  That is why teachers teach.  As principal, I have to figure out ways to give them as much time individually and collectively to improve their practice.

These are just some ideas of what I see as the roles of a principal but there are other things that we can do.  If we show up just to manage  a school, we will honestly probably do more harm than good.  People never want to be managed.  Principals should lead.  I believe that if we do that, schools will continue to need us more now than they ever have.