This video from TEDx Toronto has really been resonating with me lately. It has me thinking about the kinds of learning experiences we create for our students. The relationships we build with our students. And also the learning experiences we create for teachers and the necessity of strong relationships there too. The video is about 6 minutes. It’s worth that watch. I’ve got some more thoughts on the other side.
Yes, You’re a Leader
Stop thinking that you don’t have something to share. That you don’t have insight to offer into making education better; whether that be at the district or school level. Or that no one can learn from you. We’re all leaders when it comes to the business of making teaching and learning better for our students. To existing district and school leaders: are you tapping into the full potential of the leaders you have around you every day? Are you giving opportunity to the people within your organization develop their leadership capacity?
So, what might this look like? It could look like sharing at a faculty meeting, joining in a chat on Twitter to share your expertise, joining a Google Hangout, joining a Google+ community, leading a conversation at an edcamp, or writing a blog post. Some are more comfortable with certain mediums than others. We need to be ok with this and allow it to count as professional growth.
Spreading the Love
Who makes your life better? Who makes you a better teacher? There’s no denying the power of words. No matter how they’re delivered to us. Sean Williams and I had a brief discussion about this on Twitter the other night:
If you don’t have an “Email that makes you feel great” label, make it now. I just got to add to add to that folder.
— seani (@seani) March 18, 2014
You will never know all the people you have impacted in your lifetime. Chances are good someone has impacted you in some way. Have you taken the time to tell them?
Change the World
We have all experienced our own “lollipop” moments. We all have likely even been the creator of some whether we remember it or not. The power of sharing these moments with those that gave them to us I truly believe has the ability to change the world. It comes down to letting people know they matter. I think about this all the time when I think about the wonderful people I’ve become connected to in online and offline spaces. It regularly blows me away! I am working on being better about telling people who 1) I am thankful for them and 2) that they’re having a huge impact because of what they’re doing and in turn sharing about it, and 3) that I really appreciate it.
Think about the collective power that’s out there already. Now think about if we worked more to tell people they matter, tap into their genius, and help them find the best outlet to share it. Just imagine what could happen!
What makes us latch on to a leader? Why do we follow their ideas, presentations, tweets, and/or conversations? I always enjoy learning about a variety of topics related to educational technology, professional development, and education in general. The last couple years I have had a strong interest in leadership qualities that promote a positive culture and innovation in schools. There are lots and lots of qualities that make a strong educational leader, however, I had 5 come to mind and wanted to share some thoughts about them.
1. Trusting. Leaders instill trust in those that work for them. They get things done when they say they’re going to. There isn’t really a “back burner” to put things on. We trust in our leaders to provide us with the tools, resources, and time to do our jobs to the best of our ability.
2. Valued. A leader makes their people feel important and valued; bringing out the best in everyone. As Liz Wiseman calls it in her book, it is The Multiplier Effect. Focusing on extracting the genius and best effort possible from everyone. Not being the only voice at a staff meeting. Seeking out expertise from their own people. Crowdsourcing if you will. Being a genius maker rather than just a genius.
3. Empathetic. It’s always good to show empathy as a leader. Now we all know that leaders sometimes have to make difficult decisions that not everyone agrees with. This is just how it is. Despite not agreeing with your leader’s decision, when they show empathy that lets us know they not only understand, but they’re not going to leave us stranded without support and resources that are needed even in times of difficult decisions needing to be made.
4. Encourage risk-taking. As my friend Adam Bellow puts it, “Innovation is the intersection of fear and bravery.”. As a leader are you encouraging teachers (and are teachers encouraging students) to take risks? To be brave, bold, and step out of that comfort zone? We all need that type of encouragement. We’re in a different time now. Teaching and learning is different. Leadership is different. It should be. In terms of technology and social media I think of it this way: don’t deny the existence, invest in the potential.
5. Growth. A leader should first and foremost remain a learner. We all should be learners first if we’re truly about doing what’s best for our students. Encouraging teachers to attend an edcamp, build a PLN, and giving teachers time to learn from each other are essential. It’s not a matter of finding the time, it’s a matter of making the time; for educational leaders and those that they lead.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure many of you can think of additional attributes that are necessary for a leader to exude. In my opinion the five characteristics mentioned above are key to not only being a successful leader, but also empowering those that we lead.
What other leadership traits would you add?
Last month, I received the great honor of being recognized by Education Week magazine and the U.S. Department of Education as a 2013 “Leader to Learn From”. It was a tremendous honor to receive special recognition from Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The other 15 leaders receiving the recognition came from all around the country and the type of school systems represented was very diverse.
It was great to connect with these other educational leaders in the short amount of time we had together in Washington, D.C. We are making sure to continue to stay connected to learn from each other as we all recognize the variety of strengths we bring to the table. However, this got me thinking: if you’re a connected educator, a lifelong learner, striving to constantly be better no matter by what means, you are a leader to learn from. You have a lot to offer us. We need you.
If you’re a teacher that’s helping fellow teachers to grow professionally, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re modeling productive, positive, and creative technology use for your students, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re a principal that is modeling what it’s like to first and foremost be a learner, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re tapping into the power of social media for collaboration and communication, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re a district level leader that has a vision for the ways that teaching and learning are changing, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re a parent that offers unconditional support to your child, your child’s school and teachers, you are a leader to learn from.
If you’re a district that’s putting more technology in students’ hands to make its use more seamless in day-to-day teaching and learning, you are a leader to learn from.
This can easily go on and on. Sure, the 15 of us mentioned above received special recognition (and many others do all the time), but it’s making me more thankful than I already was for the thousands of leaders I have to learn from. Those of you that I have become connected with over the last several years. Those of you whom I have come to call my friends. I appreciate your constant offering of your knowledge and expertise to myself and so many others.
I would encourage you to share in the comments section on what you think makes someone a leader to learn from.
Learning isn’t analog any more
When I think of analog learning, I think of something static. I think of content that doesn’t change and is quickly outdated. I think of a textbook that I can’t interact with. Would you agree? If so, what do you think our students think? Is this normal to them? Do we want it to be normal to them? Do they have a say?
Learning opportunities that exist today are far from analog. The evidence of content is in abundance. That doesn’t mean we just send our students freely to the web without important conversations about things like proper digital behavior and critical consumption. This cannot be treated as a skill that we have students pick up in 8th grade from a particular course. How to deal with the flood of information and tools available to our students must become a literacy. We have a responsibility to our students. If we claim to be doing what’s best for students, yet we keep our resources and methods in the 20th century, our students are losing out.
We. Need. A. Plan.
Getting our students to a place of digital literacy begins with us. It’s a matter of modeling what we expect. It’s a matter of teaching the way we would want to be taught today if we were students in our classrooms. We must make this literacy a priority for teachers before we can expect to get our students there. Teachers: this isn’t meant to be seen as “one more thing”. Your students want you to go with them on this journey. Let them help. Let them teach you. Grow together. Leaders: it’s not a matter of finding the time for your teachers to learn; it’s a matter of making the time.
This is why a plan is important when beginning to venture into these new horizons of literacy. We have national standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help guide us in our journey to increase our digital literacy. Be sure to check out the Essential Conditions too. All are great places to start.
Does every teacher, student, and administrator need to have X, Y, and Z mastered straight away or even by the end of one school year? I don’t think so. What we expose our students to; learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking provides them continual experiences for them to build on year after year.
For example, In my district, our department is working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Instruction to plan out a year-long professional development plan to our elementary principals. Using the NETS-A as a guide, we’ve created learning opportunities that allow administrators to experience new tools, ideas, and resources they can take back and use with their teachers (modeling), which will (hopefully) have a trickle down effect. Teachers will become interested and want to learn more, which leads to teachers using said ideas and resources with students which leads to students being exposed to new tools and resources to foster the “C’s” mentioned earlier. Teaching and learning is happening in new and different ways. It’s an exciting plan to be part of and our team can’t wait to see what happens next.
Making a move from the “analog” is an important step. One that’s hard to make by oneself. Planning and support is essential. Stick with it and don’t look back. You can only get better.
Thanks for reading.