Tag Archives: josh stumpenhorst

What “Digital” Accelerates #LeadershipDay14

This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2014.


The term is thrown around in circles often and it is something that I have focused on in my work with students.  What I concluded around the term was “the opportunity to use technologies to make a significant impact on the lives of others.”  In schools, we have focused on the notion of “digital citizenship” for years, but the term seems to be very neutral.  In reality, if I live in a city, I am a citizen in that area.  Is talking about the mere existence of “being online” enough for our students?  Are we really setting high expectations or as educators, have we set a rather low bar for what our students do online because we are unsure of the space and how to use it ourselves?  And really, is it “digital citizenship” anymore in a world where every single student in our school has grown up in a world with Internet?

Not settling for the “status quo”, many administrators have jumped into the space to experiment, themselves, on how social media can make an impact in the work that they do in schools.  Starting off as “citizens” in the space, many educators have played around with technologies to see how it could impact learning and relationships amongst both peers and students.  The transition for many though, has gone into the leadership space, where they are sharing some of their learning in an open space to focus on making an impact on the lives of not only those students in their school and classroom, but helping teachers help students across the world. Although “Digital Leadership” has been a quote that has been used often in this type of work, the main components of leadership have not changed, but only amplified and accelerated.  From experimenting myself and observing others, I have seen how “digital” has made a significant impact on not only the notion of leadership, but also the work that is underway in schools.

Accelerating Innovation

Innovation can simply be defined as doing things “better and different”, yet it is often used to replace the term (mistakenly) for technology.  Innovation and technology are not necessarily synonymous although some organizations simply replace the word “edtech” with “innovation” in job titles, without really changing job descriptions.  Innovation is a human endeavour and is really more about a way of thinking than it is about the “stuff”.  Yet, the way we use technology now can really accelerate the process of innovation in schools and districts.

Two key components that are necessary to innovation are networks and remix.  Great teachers have done this for years without social media, but with the ability to now connect with people all over the world, innovation can definitely be amplified. Networks are crucial to innovation, because they increase the ability to learn and share ideas with people.  Concentrations of people in a specific area (known as “spikes”) already exist in our world.  In North America, if you want to be a movie star, where do you go? If you want to become a country singer, where do you go? If you answered “Hollywood” and “Nashville” (in that order), you have identified a “spike”.

So where do “spikes” exist in education?  Until now, there has been no real place since schools are all over the world.  But with the thoughtful use of social media by educators all over the world, “spikes” have been created through a ton of teachers connecting through mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.  These types of networks are crucial to this accelerated growth and though often people complain that they can become an “echo chamber”, the changes and iterations to many ideas are really creating some great ideas that are impacting education.  Things such as “Genius Hour”, which gives students the time to explore and create based on their own passions (paraphrased), are going viral, and although there are many that would suggest this type of learning should be the norm for the majority of time in our schools, implementing some of these ideas in small steps, are usually crucial to major changes.

As Chris Kennedy stated in his recent #LeadershipDay14 post, “you cannot microwave change”, that being said, change can happen a lot quicker now than it has before.  This social sharing through these vast networks has been the spark for many great ideas.

That is where remix comes in.

Again, great teachers have always done this, but now, they just have a greater opportunity and community to tap into.  Finding the idea is one thing, but making it applicable and work for your community, situation, and more importantly, your students’ needs, is where this is crucial.  Seeing Josh Stumpenhorst share the idea of “Innovation Day” in Illinois, I watched as Jesse McLean made it into “Innovation Week” within Parkland School Division in Alberta.  Remixes and iterations of this day/week, have been shared, remixed, and made applicable to kids of all ages all over the world.

The network is where the information has been found, but the ability to remix it for your own context is where innovation happens.  This becomes a massive game of “telephone” where the idea starts off one way, but by the time it ends up in a specific spot, it could look totally different.

A Flattened Organization

This used to be done in our schools through an administrator seeing a great practice in a classroom, having the teacher share it in a staff meeting, and then others implement it in a way that they have seen makes sense for their students.  It worked, but it was a much slower process and often relied on teachers being empowered to shared by their administrators.  What “digital” provides is often an instant look into the classroom without waiting for those “once-in-awhile” meetings.

I remember in my first year of leadership, one of my mentor principals had shared how she believed that she was a better teacher now as a principal, because she saw teachers “teach” all of the time through visiting their classroom.  I made this something that I implemented often in my work as an administrator, but my instructional leadership alone could only go so far.  I wanted other teachers to see what I saw.

Having teachers watch other teachers in action is probably the best professional development any educator could get, but the reality is that because of time, space, and funds, this opportunity is often limited.  What I wanted to see was the teachers creating this visibility into their classrooms through the use of social spaces.  Instead of waiting for the meeting, a teacher can simply blog, create a video, or even tweet ideas of things that are happening in their classrooms.

This “visible learning” shared by the teacher, shows that learning and leadership can come from anywhere within your school.  Many leaders have challenged this idea with the reasoning that teachers should “just talk to each other” and that digital shouldn’t replace that.  From what I have seen, it has actually been the opposite.  Conversations are often initiated from these “quick shares” that go on in the staff room, or after school.  I have seen greater face-to-face connections because of this sharing, not only at the school level, but at the district level as well.  It also shows that anyone can learn from anyone, the kindergarten teacher can make an impact on the principal, and vice-versa.

When we truly flatten our organizations this way, it makes us all better, because we not only better appreciate one another, but we tap into the “wisdom of the room”.  We can do a lot more together than we ever could do apart.

Empowering Voice

There are many things wrong in the world of education today.  Initiatives are often changed and it seems politicians are more concerned with “making a name” than “making a difference”.  Traditional media has also hurt education in many ways by focusing on the bad stories that come out of school, rather than the good.  It is not the idea that as educators we need to speak up now more than ever; education has always been in need of good public relations.  It is just now the opportunities to share our voice are numerous, and we need to take advantage.

Through the constant sharing of not only what happens in school, but the way things are changing, we have the ability to not only connect on a global scale, but also locally.  When I grew up, the sole concern of my parents was safety, but with a mass sharing of knowledge, comes a higher expectation from the public.  The more we are informed, the more we expect.  It is human nature for not only education, but for all organizations.  This, in my opinion, is so positive to what we are trying to do with schools.

School websites have often shared things such as sporting events or concerts at schools, but they have not focused on conversations with our community.  As many schools are trying to move forward in a much different time than many of us grew up in, it is essential that we not only share what is happening in our schools, but engage in true, two-way conversations with our communities.  The more parents are brought into the learning that is happening in the classroom, the more likely their children will be successful.  We have an opportunity to not only share our voice as educators, but we have many more avenues to hear the voices of our community, and more importantly, our students.

For example, Leyden High Schools, located in a suburb of Chicago, has recently turned over their Twitter account to an individual student in their school, one week at a time (found at twitter.com/LeydenPride).  You are able to hear the experience of students in the school from their viewpoint, not the view of a school that is trying to “brand” it’s message.  What this school has displayed (on several occasions) is that a school is defined by the experience the students have, and that they should not only engage them in conversation, but empower their kids to share their voice openly.  They are not focusing on developing the “leaders for tomorrow”, but by empowering student voice right now, they are developing the leaders of today.  Any great leader knows that their legacy is not defined by creating followers, but by developing leaders.

Empowering our teachers to share their voice and open the doors to what they do in the classroom, also gives our community a new perspective on what it is to be an educator, and how we are willing to go above and beyond for our kids.  There are bad teachers in schools.  You will find this to be true in any profession.  Yet those teachers are in the minority, while the stories that were shared about them, through the media, were in the majority.  What has changed is that many of our great educators are changing the narrative by sharing the incredible work that they are doing with students.

Unfortunately, there is still the mindset in many organizations that administrators need to “control” the story that is sent out about their schools.  The feeling is that with every blog post, tweet, website, etc., approval must be obtained before it is shared.  This is not leadership.  Our job is to not control talent, but to unleash it.  If you hired the teacher to work with children in a classroom, shouldn’t we be able to trust them to send out a tweet?

A teacher sharing their voice publicly, is often deemed risky.  Although there are pitfalls and negatives that can happen, the positive far outweigh the negatives.  As leaders, we can not simply ask our teachers to take a risk and share their voice with others, but model it ourselves.  Often we promote that our staff “take risks”, but unless they are willing to see their leader “put themselves out there”, they feel it is not a chance that they are willing to take.  Through these stories from our schools, we make a connection with people that “data and numbers” simply cannot convey.  Stories from the classroom, are the ones that touch the hearts of our communities and other educators, and often lead to meaningful change.

Our voice as an education community is more important now than ever.  How are you as a leader empowering others to share their voice?

Concluding Thoughts

The main components of leadership have not changed in the past few years because of the “digital revolution”, nor will they change in the future.  Perhaps we just have a better understanding of the definition of “leadership” and how it differs from “management” (although both are crucial components to successfully leading an organization).  The difference digital makes is that we can accelerate, amplify, and empower in a way that we couldn’t before.  Great leaders take advantage of every opportunity in front of them, so that they can empower those that they serve.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, BC, recently said that “better is not easier”; as leaders, we shouldn’t be looking for an easy way out.  This work is tough, but the most important element is not necessarily where we are, but that we are moving forward.

It is pretty easy to say “do this”, but it is much better and more valuable to say “let’s do this together”.  If we can show that as leaders we are willing to embrace change, and jump in to many of these new opportunities for learning with our communities, the impact we can make not only with our staff, but more importantly, our students, could be monumental.

The 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.