Spending the last two weeks in Australia, I have seen a lot of different schools, teachers, students, and cultures, and it was when Stephen Gwilliam actually asked me over lunch about my learning, did I really think about what i picked up from my experience presenting and facilitating workshops.
Below are some thoughts that I have from my experience that I believe are important considerations for myself as I further my own leadership.
1. People matter, but “stuff” sometimes matters to those people. Make sure that stuff works.
Being in Australia for the third time in the last 12 months, I feel the pain of many teachers that have to go through “proxy” settings to get some type of filtered Internet. It rarely, if ever works for teachers, and there is often frustration and a subversive culture often being created. It is also often a killer of innovation.
Coming from a very open environment, one of the teachers that was extremely forward thinking was actually surprised by what we are able to do in our own school division. The comment she had made was, “we had no idea of the thing that were even possible until you showed us things that we are not able to have access to. We never try a lot of the things that you show because we are so used to an environment where things don’t work.”
I am hoping that the South Australia department is listening to this message. If they are, I am sure that many other systems would be more than willing to open their schools and classrooms to show you the possibilities of an “open” Internet. Yes we still have filters (pornography and gambling) but you need to start looking at what kids access on their phone and preparing them for the world they live in.
(I highly suggest this Dan Haesler article on driving and social media. Are we doing our job?)
2. Get the right people on the “bus”, but make sure that you know where the bus is going.
The “bus” analogy is one that is often used in leadership circles and I have loved the analogy, but where is it going? I know that many organizations put a lot of time into creating mission and vision statements, but how often do we ask questions such as, “What is the purpose of school?” or, “What does that mission statement look like in the context of schools?”, and get some answers.
If leaders cannot define those things, then a mission statement is just fancy words on a piece of paper. People want to do good but they are often unclear of what “good” could look like or, worse, they are not included in the conversation at all. It is time to take those mission statements and think of what they look like for kids and teachers.
I believe that there are not only one answer for these questions, but I also see many teachers thinking that having kids sit quietly in rows by themselves is good teaching because they have not been told anything else. As a teacher myself, I would teach way better when I wasn’t being evaluated because it was more focused on “learning”, yet when my principal would come in, I would focus more on “teaching”. It was not until I had heard what my principal (specifically) was looking for, did I feel that I was able to really push the former.
Do we have a vision, and if we do, is it clear to others?
3. Kids and adults should be learning in the same room more. Way more.
One of my presentations, meant for high school students actually had more adults in the room. I had decided to change what I was doing on the fly and make it something applicable to both and the conversation that had come out of the afternoon was amazing. I was abe to facilitate conversations where students said things such as, “We should be allowed to bring in devices to the classroom”, where I agreed but the asked them, “How will you use it for learning if this happens?” Simply allowing kids to bring devices into classroom will not get your school to the transformative level, but both students and teachers should think of ways they can use this technology in meaningful ways.
What came out of this day was seemingly more accountability on both parts. Having someone talk about the possibilities for moving classrooms ahead, and the roles that we all play, put ownership on all parties to move forward, including the students. It also allowed students to share what they want to do in their classrooms and how it can change with someone facilitating the conversation and also helping staff know how to get there.
Let’s face it, if a teacher is not comfortable with mobile devices in the classroom and one day allows students to use them without taking a hard look at their own pedagogy, do you think kids would just immediately stop texting? I know I wouldn’t. These conversations should happen together WAY more often.
This was my first time doing this type of conversation and it seemed to be very successful with a lot of possible upsides.
4. Use your voice.
I have stated this before to many people that I have connected with.
“Don’t complain about something you don’t have if you have never asked for it.”
Teachers need to come together and keep asking questions and focus conversations on, “What is best for kids.” Many that I encountered felt that there voice was not valued yet also did not often speak to the right people. Your voice is important but if you are in a culture where you find out it isn’t, maybe it is time to move on. As the Edcamp motto goes, “People will talk with their feet.”
Ask questions and share what you want to do what is best for kids. Focus all conversations on that point, but, start the conversation.
5. “Connecting” is a HUGE part of leadership and we need to recognize this.
When I was a kid growing up, the principal seemed to be the person with all the answers. Now (and probably back then), this is impossible because there are far too many questions. A school administrator should be a facilitator of leadership and that means sometimes deferring to others and helping to not only build leadership capacity, but also relationships in the building. It does not make sense to be the “last stop” for information, but also a conduit to others. A leader creates other leaders not more followers. Connecting people to those leaders is an essential.
Malcolm Gladwell refers to “connectors” in his book The Tipping Point and that they have a unique knack, “to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.” If we are at a “tipping point” in education, will those who are “connectors” become vital to the success of schools?
To become a connector, it is important to know that this takes a decrease in “ego” but an increase in confidence. To be able to say “someone is better at this than I am” is essential for a leader. Strong leaders get this and are comfortable with it.
To my many Australian friends who are moving towards innovative schools and classrooms and dealing with things that they see as roadblocks, don’t give up. Nothing worth doing is easy and I know that many great schools did not happen overnight. There is a lot of work to be done, but technology issues, resources, and changed mindsets can happen over time with patience and hard work. That being said, I believe that “change” does not need to take as long to happen and stick in a school anymore. With the effective use of technology to share amazing things happening in the classroom through social media, great practice that happens in isolated classrooms does not take as long to be visible to others. Instead of waiting to share something once a month at a professional development day does not have to happen anymore. You can share it as it happens or at least soon after through the effective use of social media. It is essential to do that.
You want to think how quickly things can move in our world right now? Do you know any Korean singers? Exactly. Things can happen faster now in our world and Stephen Johnson refers to this connection being essential to innovation:
“Figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together.”
Thank you to all the new acquaintances and old friends from Australia that made for a great learning experience! I hope to see you all again soon