(Thanks George, for this month’s post & prompt!)
There has been a lot of talk on the idea that education as a whole takes a long time to change. As an educator, this is a challenging notion, since we are seeing many people doing some amazing things that did not exist when I was a student. Change is happening but sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the middle of the process.
Some things are out of the hands of schools. Budgets and government decisions can make creating new and better learning environments for students tough, but not impossible. Educators are not powerless, and in some cases, more powerful that ever. The story of education can not only be told from the perspective of educators, but also from the students that are currently in the system. Although there is still a lot of work to do (as there always will be in organizations that focus on continuous learning and have an emphasis on becoming “innovative”), there are also opportunities in education, now more than ever, that we will need to take advantage of and create a different path.
Here are some of the challenges we have had in the past and how we can tackle them
1. Isolation is the enemy of innovation.
Education has traditionally been an isolating profession where we get some time together, but not nearly enough. Even if we wanted to change this significantly, in most cases, the current physical structures do not allow us to work with other educators. Some administrators have been very innovative in their planning of teacher prep time and have embedded collaboration time into the regular school day, but it is not necessarily enough to make a significant impact.
How so many educators have shifted this “norm” is by using social media spaces to connect and learn from educators all over the world, and making a significant difference in their own classrooms, and creating much more engaging and empowering learning spaces. Isolation is now a choice educators make. Where the shift really has to happen is using things like Twitter is for educators to connect and share learning that is happening with educators in their own school. I challenged people to do the following (as shared in this visual from Meredith Johnson);
We need to make this happen and create transparency in our own classrooms.
How does a song like “Gangnam Style” go so viral that most people around the world not only know the words but the dance moves? Social media. If a song can spread so quickly, so can great learning.
Make it go viral.
2. A continuous focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right.
Think about the traditional practice of what school has done with many of our students. If they struggle with the subject of math, we often send the more math homework to do at home. Does this really make sense? If they are struggling at school, making them struggle at home with the same content is often counter-intuitive. It is not that we shouldn’t struggle, but it is important that we are very thoughtful of how we spend our energy.
The shift that has happened with not only our students, but also our schools, is focusing upon building upon strengths as opposed to focusing solely on weaknesses. This is imperative as building upon strengths often helps us to not only build competence, but also confidence which leads us to the mindset that we are more open to tackle our other challenges along the way.
I love this quote from Forbes on putting people in the right positions to be successful:
Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.
Many organizations outside of education are hiring not on need, but finding the best people and empowering them based upon their strengths. Schools should try to do their best to follow suit and put people to be in the best situations to not only do well, but to lead.
3. Experience is a very powerful teacher.
I remember sitting and listening to Bruce Dixon at a conference and something he said has always stuck out to me:
In no other profession in the world do you sit and watch someone else do your job for 16 years before you go and do it yourself.
Wow. That is a powerful message and shows why so many new teachers aren’t coming into school with all of these “innovative ideas” and changing our school system like so many people predicted. Many educators simply replicate their experience as a student. If you think about it, at least one-third of many teachers educational experience is as a student, not a teacher. That is a tough thing to overcome, but not impossible.
Innovation has no age barrier, and if we can tweak the experience for educators in their professional learning, they are more likely to change the experience for their students. Writing ideas about “21st century classrooms” on gigantic pieces of paper with a felt marker is not going to create cultural shifts; changing experiences will.
People are starting to look differently at professional learning, and create experiences that are much different from what I first experienced as a teacher. I think a major reason for this shift (going back to point 1) is that educators are seeing the shift in practices in so many other organizations, and are trying to create a different practice where more educators are not really focused on teaching as much as they are about learning. This empathy is crucial since to become a master teacher, you must become a master learner.
Changing experiences to shift the focus on the learner from the teacher helps to disrupt routine. If you would want to create an environment where students would want to be a part of your classroom, we have to experience what learning could look like for ourselves and start from a point of empathy.
One shift that was not mentioned was the mindset of looking at obstacles as opportunities. As mentioned earlier, not everything is in our control, but as educators know, they can make an impact every single day. It is not always easy, and teaching can be a very daunting and tiring job, but I believe that every day we can make a difference if we choose. Having that mindset is the only way that we will ever truly be able to make a powerful change for ourselves and our students.
For this month’s prompt, write about how you already are, or are going to, address the challenges discussed above.
Recently I took part in a leadership activity that aptly illustrated the importance of “clear” communication. The group was partnered up. One partner had a picture of a figure, the other a blank piece of paper. While sitting back to back, the person with the figure attempted to explain what the picture looked like while the other partner drew. It is an understatement to say that at the end of the activity, the pictures didn’t typically match.
As a leader it is up to you to clearly define not only your vision, but your expectations. If they are not so clearly stated that anyone can read, follow or understand, the onus falls on you, as the leader to clarify. If your expectation is that parents feel welcome when they walk in the doors, what are the look for’s that indicate that is happening? Have you shared those with your staff? What if your passion is that every student feels heard? What does that actually LOOK like in a classroom? Are your teachers aware? the counselor? Many leaders in the corporate world now understand that clear, two-way communication is vital to the success of any organization and its leaders. Jim Collins, in his best selling book about making organizations better, Good to Great, writes, “A primary task in taking a company [read: school or school system] from good to great is to create a culture wherein people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard.” (2001, p. 88)
Students learn better when adults communicate well. The need for good communication in our schools is great because the needs of our students are great. Students matter.
The spring is the downhill slide in education. We’re moving towards the end of the 2013-2014 year, and plans for 2014-2015 are on the horizon. Take advantage of what’s left of this semester to evaluate just how clear is your “communication”. Is there something that you can share with your group that didn’t go as expected, because of a communication miscue? or a success?
Have a GREAT week!
Fearless. Courageous. Thoughtful. Visionary. What are some adjectives you think of when you think of the word “leader”?
Does the word “delegator” come to mind? It is a true art form, the ability to wisely and effectively delegate. It is a quality far more quiet than others, and yet can be one of the most crucial to a leader’s success. A principal who insists on maintaining all control and refuses to allow other’s to contribute or feel ownership of a campuses goals is missing the forest for the trees.
When I think of the leader who’s style I would most like to emulate, I think of someone who always empowered me to take on more, who encouraged me to believe in myself and gave me the opportunities to prove it. I was given extra after extra, and the encouragement to believe that not only could I handle it, but I would be able to handle it well. It truly molded me into who I am today, and even better, she STILL finds opportunities to build me up.
Tight fisted leadership doesn’t allow people to get on board. It is hard for someone to feel invested in a direction if they feel as if they are an outsider looking in. Delegating allows your team to take control, it empowers them to want to be better, to make ALL of you better. And as a leader, isn’t that what you want? Managers come and go, but leaders build other leaders and are never forgotten.
You are where you are for a reason. You are the LEAD learner, the INSTRUCTIONAL leader. You can spend 20 minutes every day doing something your secretary should be doing, which equates equates into 86 hours of doing that task during the next five years. Which is a more effective use of your time?
Obviously, this begins with smart hiring and being surrounded by people who you trust. If you find yourself saying, “So & so can’t handle that…so & so isn’t responsible enough for that.”, you may want to start with evaluating who is on your team. Find the “power points” on your campus, make sure they understand and believe in your vision, and start delegating. I had a conversation recently with a former custodian who worked in the building where I taught. He has since been promoted to custodial supervisor, and I love getting to catch up with him. He asked me who my heavy hitters were, and when I looked puzzled, gave me the most genuine compliment ever.
“Amber, you know you were the one we could all go to when we needed to get something done. You were that person on the staff, and everyone knew it. You’ve just got to find those power points on your campus now.”
3 easy ways to get started…
- Choose people who don’t need to be micromanaged. Make sure they are on board and up for the task.
- Ensure that your expectations are understood. Be clear if your goals and what the final product should look like.
- Follow up, check in, touch base…delegating doesn’t mean not following up! Give plenty of praise and credit where it is due.
By not delegating, you may give off the impression that you don’t think those around you are up for the task. Successful delegation of authority as a leadership style takes time and energy, but it’s worth the time and energy build other leaders. This week, have a conversation and decide who YOU can empower. Delegate!
Have a great week!
Stephen Covey talks about the notion of great leadership and how it is measured by “character and credibility”. Character is basically that people see you have good values in who you are, and credibility is in what you have to offer. In much of our conversations in the #SAVMP program, it has talked about the importance of trust and fostering effective relationships. If you have no trust, you will have change.
Instructional leadership is an important part of becoming an effective principal, yet many teachers question if there administrators would be effective teachers. How can you change what the classroom looks like if you were never an effective teacher? This was something that I focused on in my writing and shared things that I looked for in today’s classroom. I also wanted to immerse myself in work with my teachers and started to do “1-to-1” sessions talking about things staff could do with students. This is the focus on “credibility”.
So…in your work as a leader, what are some of the things that you do to not only show your knowledge and understanding of today’s classroom, but also get deep into the work with your staff and students? Please share some of your learning to the #SAVMP hashtag through your tweets, or blog.
Have a great week!
Instead of asking people to share in a blog post this week, I am hoping we can use this blog to start a comment thread to share some ideas in one space.
As a new principal, it was imperative that I started off right with my school or I could easily lose them right from the beginning. It takes a long time to build trust, but you can lose it an instant. With that being said, I spent time just observing the culture and listening to the ideas of others and trying to build on strengths. In my first year as an assistant principal, I got into a small argument on one of the first days with a strong teacher on our staff. I was actually very upset and looked poorly upon the person, but later when I reflected, I was much too pushy for coming into a new environment and didn’t listen as much as I needed to at that point. Two years later when I was promoted to principal at another school, I chose that very same teacher as my assistant principal.
There were lots of mistakes and learning along the way, but my focus as a principal was on learning the culture of the school as a whole, while also understanding individuals.
So I ask you, to share what are some important thoughts that you have on either starting at a new school, or starting a new year? What has been successful and what didn’t work? Please share your comments below.
Have a great week!
I wanted to personally thank so many people for sharing so many inspirational posts and stories this week through their blogs and the #SAVMP hashtag. I have really enjoyed seeing this program start off strong due to your passion for making a difference. Thank you.
In my own belief, as leaders, we must know ourselves before we can lead our schools. Many of you had the chance to look at your own “why” and why you lead. The next thing that I believe is helpful is to have a clear focus on what we would like our school or organization to become. If you are asked “what is your vision for school?”, it is important that are able to answer this. We are unable to lead our schools if we do not know where are we headed.
As suggested viewing, I encourage you to watch the following Simon Sinek Ted Talk on what makes an organization great.
For a prompt this week, I encourage you to develop your “philosophy of education’ to try and articulate your view for leadership and what schools should look like.
As a sample, I have written the following post to give you an idea of what this could look like. Also, if you have written something like this before, I encourage you to either share what you have or revamp it and share.
Here is also a great Ted Talk from Seth Godin regarding his beliefs for school:
As you write your post, I encourage you (as I do for all posts) to use the #savmp hashtag in your title so that it is more likely to be shared to the hashtag.
None of these are mandatory posts, but just suggestions to help you get to know yourself, while also helping to build connections between mentors and mentees.
To anyone who is not officially in the program, you are more than welcome to take part in the activities and share with others.
Please feel free to use the comment section to share your thoughts on anything that I have shared above or any ideas that you have before.
Have a great week!