Leaders as Servants First

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Everyone in education has heard the line that the principal is key to the success of a school.

I have never been comfortable with this, more so after 12 years as an administrator in a variety of schools.  The administrator plays a key role, but the overall success of the school depends more on the leadership style of the principal.

It is difficult to teach a leadership style and to be honest, I am not sure how you would do this.

As administrators, we are well trained in a number of areas.  We take a whole host of courses that prepare us to deal with the administrative side of the job.  We are well equipped to deal with ministry regulations, curriculum expectations, school finance and management practices.

We are not well trained on how to deal effectively and compassionately with staff and the wider community.

I say this because over the years I have heard so many stories of administrators fumbling relationships with staff, parents and the wider community.  I have worked in several schools where I replaced administrators who had run roughshod over the emotional landscape of their school.  To be fair, I have also replaced excellent administrators and in these cases, I have done my best to continue to support their excellent practices.

The problem seems to be that you can’t teach ‘heart’.  You can’t teach a principal to lead from the back, to empower their staff and to make themselves the servant leader in the school.

Years ago, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote about how to test for true servant leadership:

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the last privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

This is not new.  Greenleaf wrote about Servant Leadership over 40 years ago. However, this essential ingredient in teaching people to become effective leaders is entirely lacking.

The result is troubling.  Administrators regularly act as if the teacher, educational assistant, custodian or parent do not truly matter.  Administrators routinely believe that their way of leading is the only way and what they know is what is best for their school.  The idea that they should stand back and play a supporting role is lost on many people.

This is not to say that there are no great leaders out there.  I have met many of them, some in our own district and many more at conferences I have attended and learning groups I have joined.

“The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

It will be seen by many that writing about this smacks of disloyalty to other administrators.

This may be true, but I sincerely believe that we are not put in these positions to support other administrators, we are here to support our staff, students, and community.  We are here to create the conditions for the best learning environment possible.  We are here not to put our stamp on our school community, but to get out of the way and allow others to thrive.

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I love reading the work of George Couros.  He is a true leader when it comes to innovation in schools and the use of technology in education.  Most importantly however, he is a true believer in the importance of building healthy relationships.

When I talk about “innovation in education”, creativity in schools, or meaningful use of technology, I always begin by saying that nothing I say matters if you do not build relationships in schools. There is no “culture of innovation” if there is no positive culture. It is the foundation of which we build things upon.

George Couros

Maybe this is one reason why schools are failing to become centers of innovation.  If everything depends on the ‘vision’ of one individual, how can we expect innovation to take place?

How do we expect our staff to really express their creative voice?

This is what I see.  I am happy to hear from others with an opposing view. Whatever the case, we should consider the role of the leader and the enabler, the true servant of their community.

This is where true growth and innovation will flourish.

Implementing Digital resources at your school some points to consider.

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Today I learned that we will be losing two really important digital programs at our school.  This is a real blow for us as we are trying very hard to supply our teachers and students with excellent digital content to support the use of chromebooks in the classroom – all students from grades 3 to 6 have their own computer and the juniors (4-6) are expected to bring their machines home every night.

There are two important factors that seem to be influencing decisions about access to digital resources.  One is the expense, the other is implementation – not enough teachers across the school board are using these costly programs.  I would like to focus on implementation.

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

So what can we do?  Here are a few ideas.

  • Implementation is a long game – to successfully introduce a program, you need a full-year plan of PD and support for your teachers.  Some of this training has to be driven by the principal or someone else who is available to put on demonstrations and workshops during the day.
  • Webinars are good, but people are better.  We have found that while webinars are easier to arrange, teachers prefer to meet with a representative of the company producing the content.  When we have been able to arrange this, implementation has gone up dramatically.
  • Teachers need in-school time to experiment with the programs.  Last year, after the introductory workshops, all teachers were given release time to experiment with the programs.  They could choose what program they wanted to experiment with and many times they were able to contact the service provider to get just-in-time solutions to their problems.
  • Provide your staff with a good on-line PD resource.  We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need a source for curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, its works really well.
  • People need to understand the importance of curated resources. Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers states that he rarely uses Google as a way to locate material for teachers.  This is a really important point.  If you want really good content, it has to be curated.  Discovery Education, for example, does an excellent job of bringing educational resources together in math, science and social studies.  Other tools like unroll.me and Scoop.it are wonderful ways to collect information of interest to you. You choose the content and receive (in the case of Scoop.it) suggestions from your personal learning community.  The important point is – curated resources can cost money.  You can’t sustain your school just using Google and YouTube.  You need to make sure the materials you are using with your students are excellent and have been selected by professionals – you can’t guarantee this with uncurated sites like Google.

Implementation is not easy.  It is much harder than simply buying machines for everyone in your school.  It is something that requires a great deal of thought and yes, sometimes, financial resources.

Should educators be connecting – of course!

Isn’t it wonderful when a writer poses a question, then answers it right in the title?  Why read on – you have your answer!

Well, I hope you will read more.  Of course, we should all be connecting and I would argue that we all do in an increasingly varied number of ways.  I would argue that educators need to reflect on how they are already connecting and how these connections are contributing to the development of their personal learning networks.

Here in Ottawa, we just spent two wonderful days of learning hosted by the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education and Discovery Education.  We had some excellent workshops on PLNs and new professional development.  Derek Rhodenizer presented a great workshop on Personalized PD.

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He makes the excellent point that we all connect using a whole variety of methods, including podcasts – something that Derek does frequently. I never thought of using podcasts as a way of sharing learning, but it works for Derek.  For others, it might be blogging, Twitter, and more recently Instagram or SnapChat.

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Derek’s presentation is important.  He emphasizes that we are all connecting – even if we don’t know it.  We connect even when we have a conversation in the hallway after a long day – learning is going on all the time, we just need to acknowledge it and grow our networks.

The Ontario Ministry of Education in its excellent Capacity Building Series has several monograms on the importance of teachers making personal connections to advance their personal learning through collaborative inquiry – one in the series states that teacher inquiry is a critical part of teachers’  daily work. (pg. 1 Collaborative Teacher Inquiry September 2010)

In my presentation, I focused specifically on Twitter, Voxer and Discovery Education’s Educators’ Network called the DEN.  What I love about the DEN is that it focuses on the development of personal relationships through small, intimate  ‘Day of Discovery’ conferences, virtual conferences, summer institutes and a variety of social media tools.  The emphasis here is on the personal conversation which really makes it unique in this digital age.

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Focusing on the human connection is becoming increasingly important.  One great, relatively new PLN tool is Voxer.  You can find me on Voxer at mcguirp – happy to connect!

We were able to display the power of personal connection through Voxer by inviting Donna Miller Fry to talk to us during one of the workshops.  Here is part of what she had to say to the workshop participants. 

Pretty amazing to have such an influential Ontario education contribute to our learning in Ottawa while she waited for the power to come back on in Thunder Bay!

So, we all connect in some fashion.  How do you connect? You are doing this – what is your next step?

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Why do we fear 1:1??

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I find it very common to hear all the reasons why moving towards 1:1 in our schools will not work.

We don’t have the funds, the teachers won’t use them, I don’t understand how to use them, collaboration is better – the list can go on and on.  In my mind, these are all just excuses for not taking the creative leap to provide a computer for each student.

We work at a school in a high poverty area.  Every student from grade 3 to 6 has their own laptop.  The grade 4’s are expected to bring their machine home every day and work on various programs to supplement their in-school learning.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be BYOD (Bring your own device) which makes no sense.  While this allows schools off the hook for paying for computers, it creates an opportunity gap between rich and poor schools.  Our parents don’t have the money to buy a computer for their child. We, therefore, are obliged to find the money to invest in machines.

The main reason I am so keen on 1:1 is because the daily use of computers has really revolutionized the teaching and learning at our school.  Teachers have been open to learning new programs like Mathletics, Prodigy Math, the Discovery Education Science Techbook, Google apps and Hapara as a learning management tool.  They are getting into coding and robotics and our kids are very keen on makerspaces.

I can’t claim that all of this is because of the fact that we moved to 1:1, but it did change how we do things here.  The teacher is no longer the sole provider of information.  The teacher is a co-learner with the student.  Teachers are more apt to encourage students to find their own answers to their inquiries rather than depend on one adult.

If these are just some of the benefits we have seen over the space of our first full year as a 1:1 school, why are others so hesitant?

I have no good answer for that question, but for us there will be no going back.

 

OSSEMOOC Blog Hop – What if…

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What if we promoted risk-taking to our staff and students and modeled it openly as administrators? 

This is the ‘what if’ statement that really jumped out at me from George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  As an administrator, I really think that risk-taking has to be part of our job.  How can we expect that anything will ever get done if we wait for someone else in our organization to do it?

This is one of the great challenges of leadership.  Administrators must be accountable to the school boards who employ them.  School boards are ultimately accountable to the public.  This is very clear, but at the same time, I would argue that part of being accountable means taking the risks that are going to push the boundaries of educational practice.

If not the administrator in your school, who else is going to do this?

Taking risks can be a challenge.  We work in systems where compliance to a whole set of regulations is expected.  I recognize this and I take my responsibility seriously.  But, at the same time, I think we are all called upon not to ‘wait’ for the next great innovation, but to play an active role in being part of that next new wave.

This does not mean you have to have to jump on every bandwagon that comes along, but it certainly means that you have to live out on the edge a bit and be willing to take the kind of risks that will create an atmosphere in your school where others will also feel free to innovate and create.

This can get you labelled as a ‘rogue’ from time to time, but at least you are out there trying to make a difference.  The discomfort of being labelled will always pass, but the changes you initiate can have lasting benefits for your school community.

Just imagine.  When teachers and students feel free to create and follow their dreams in a safe environment that accepts innovation what great things will happen?  Things that you could never imagine if you spend all your time being in ‘control’.

I think more of us need to take that leap.  I think it is part of our job.  We were not put in these positions to remain complacent and comfortable.

So, start taking risks and see where this leads!

The Innovators Mindset reflections on George Couros

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I am now completing my third chapter on George Couros’ book The Innovators Mindset, and it is a truly liberating chapter.

Innovation is a complex idea.  I have seen innovation, especially in the last two years as having something to do with the use of technology.  What I am learning now is that innovation is all about mindset, technology can only be an assist.

This morning, I asked my wife – a wonderful teacher – ‘do you see yourself as an innovator’?  She said no, I don’t use the technology that you do.

My wonderful wife needs to read this book.  She is a true innovator.  She adapts her methodology to fit the child.  She is all about making her students successful.  She is truly an innovator.

I think what we need to do is let our courageous teachers know that they can innovate simply by assuming the mindset that failure is not an option.

George also makes a really important point – in an earlier chapter.  We are not all about scores.  We  want our children to be ready for a brand new world.  We need our children to be free thinkers with the ability to come up with ideas that have not yet been thought of.

I had a conversation with a supervisor who questioned the concept of digital innovation as there was no proof that this led to higher test scores.  This was a really disheartening conversation as I thought it missed the whole point about what innovation is all about.

As a wonderful solace, I was  offered an article by Dean Shareski.  If you are getting discouraged, read this.

It’s not about the scores, it is about creating new learners.  Teachers with an innovative mindset can do this.  Lets encourage the innovators and support them in the brave  work that they are doing.

What Innovation is and isn’t George Couros

 

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graphic by George Couros (pg 24) adapted from @PlugUsIn

 

I am working through George Couros’ new book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  It is a great read and it needs to be digested slowly.  In the first chapter of the book, George writes about what innovation is and isn’t.

This is extremely important.  Innovation is the new buzzword in education.  Just saying that we are being innovative doesn’t make it so.  We all know innovative teachers and administrators, but as George points out, having pockets of innovation is not enough, we need to be able to innovate as a system (pg 18).

Innovation according to George has to do with creating a mindset that leads to something new and better.  Making change just for the sake of change is nowhere good enough.

Richard Rohr has a wonderful quote that has meant a great deal to me.  He says, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” (Simplicity: the art of living, Crossroad, 1991)  What I take from this chapter, is that for true innovation to take place, we really need to start thinking differently.  We don’t need to change the whole structure of education, but we need to constantly evolve to make things better for student learning (Pg 21).

What a liberating idea!  To be innovative we do not need to reinvent ourselves, but we must live our  way into new ways of thinking. Technology can be a part of this new thinking, but it is not an end in itself, especially if it does not produce results that benefit the student.

What does this mean for our school?  If we are to be truly innovative, we need to constantly look at the ways we are teaching and how we offer new opportunities for our students to grow.

Staying still is simply not an option, not if we are to assume an innovation mindset.