One of the biggest errors in leadership is when people aren’t moving forward and leaders look outward first, and not inward. If you are wondering why people aren’t moving forward, ask how you are changing your leadership first, not why they aren’t changing their practice. I have seen this mistake over and over again in my travels. Administrators wonder, “Why aren’t people embracing this new idea or initiative?”, and their first inclination is to blame, not to rethink their leadership. This practice is no different than an educator with a struggling student, trying the same practice over and over again, and wondering why the student still doesn’t understand?
In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset”, I focus on five areas that have the possibility of making a significant impact on the likelihood of creating an environment where people are more willing to embrace meaningful change. The five areas are as follows:
- Strengths-Based Leadership (How do we focus on strengths of those that we serve?)
- Powerful Learning First, Technology Second (What is the type of learning that we want to see in our schools, and what resources will support this learning in our schools?)
- Less is More (Are we focusing on doing everything, or a deep focus on a few things?)
- Embracing an Open Culture (How do we continuously tap into the expertise of our own community?)
- Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences for Educators (When people wake up for a professional learning day, are they looking forward to the learning, or the hour lunch?)
Based on these five conditions, here are five questions that can help guide your practice:
1. Do I know and build upon the strengths of those I serve? (Strengths-Based Leadership)
When people ask me about entering a new situation, one of the first questions they ask is, “What should I change first?” My answer? Nothing.
Create a spreadsheet (seriously), put every staff member’s name on that spreadsheet, and then create a columb beside that says, “strength”. Until you can fill that entire thing out, do not change anything. When people know that they are valued (and knowing they are valued and being valued are not always the same thing; knowing is crucial), they are more likely to embrace new opportunities and take risks in pursuit of becoming better. Start where people are strong, not where they are weak.
2. What is the “clear” vision for learning in your school? (Powerful Learning First, Technology Second)
You will hear things such as, “We need to become more innovative.”, yet many people will have no idea what that means. Does it mean that we need to use technology more? Does it mean that some of the things that we are doing are not acceptable?
Having a vision of where you (the organization) want to go, but if people do not understand the vision or see themselves in it, it is simply words on a website. Discussing the vision for learning on and ongoing basis, giving relevant examples, happening both in and outside of your school, helps make the abstract into the concrete. Having a vision is important but not if no one understand where it is leading, and how you are getting there.
3. What are the few purposeful areas that we are focused on? (Less is More)
Go into most schools or districts, and there are usually a plethora of initiatives. People do not excel when they feel overwhelmed, or that they believe the following with any initiative; “this too shall pass.” Take a good look at the initiatives that are happening in your school, and ask what is most important right now. Then focus on that and come back to it, consistently. Do not have a series of professional learning days that are focused on a new thing each time. There will never be depth in what we do, if we are not willing to place focus on what is important.
4. How do we share openly and regularly to further our own learning and development? (Embracing an Open Culture)
Often what you share is what you value.
Historically though, schools have been walled off from others in the own building, and the expertise is not tapped into within. No matter where I go, people that are doing amazing things in their own school will say things such as, “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.”, and I always think, “Why not?”
Create a culture where people value and learn from one another often.Using Twitter for ongoing professional learning can open up ideas on a global scale, but it can also help you connect within your own community (Related article…6 Ways to Use Twitter to Enhance In-School Professional Learning). This is a simple idea that can have a profound impact.
Learn often from the people you have the most access to. They will keep you accountable to one another.
5. Do our professional learning opportunities mirror the learning we want to create for our students? (Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences for Educators)
You recreate what you experience. Yet professional learning often stays the same, while we hope classrooms will change. What people get mixed up with here is that “lectures” are no longer valid, and I would disagree. A great lecture can really push my thinking, and inspire me when I need inspiration. But if that is the only way we learn when we our together (and we only learn together on days that are allocated), then we are not using our time in the best way possible.
Think of it this way…when you are with a group of educators, what you teach is as important as how you teach. I have made a concerted effort as of late to not only share ideas, but explain why I use the process that I do, and ask participants to reflect on how it can be used in their own classrooms. Making this explicit connection can have a significant impact on the learning of your entire community, which is the hope for all professional learning time.
These questions can make a significant difference upon inward reflections of leadership. One component that is crucial is that as a leader we learn to ask them continuously, not simply go through them once, and then move on. It is consistent effort at high quality that will lead to the success of any individual or group.