Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Be Prepared To Be Nowhere Else Today

"If You Don't Create Change, Change Will Create You"

I'm currently reading Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.  One of the principles discussed in the book that most resonates with me is to be here, prepared to be nowhere else.

As leaders we have hundreds of conversations each day with a variety of stakeholders.  Often we are having multiple conversations at the same time.  We are also guilty of emailing, reading, or working while we are having those conversations.  The problem with multitasking is that it takes away from the conversation that you are having with the person.

Success in life (work, relationships, etc.) occurs one conversation at a time.  Similarly, failure also occurs one conversation at a time.  Your challenge (if you choose to accept it) is to practice being present in all of your conversations today.

This means putting down the blackberry, turning off your email, etc.  Give the person that you are speaking to your undivided attention.  Speak and listen as if this is the most critical conversation that you will have in your life.  You never know.  It truly could be the conversation that pushes your organization forward.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creativity in the Classroom Begins with Leadership

This post is my submission as part of the Calling all Bloggers: Sir Ken Robinson Blogathon via @joebower

There have been many definitions used to describe the term creativity. Sir Ken Robinson uses one that I really like. The definition is short but it has two critical parts. 

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value”

Sir Ken Robinson

The first part of the creativity definition "original ideas" is the piece that we tend to think of.  The important part of the definition is that the ideas have or add "value".

What does creativity look like in the classroom?  Our district is undergoing a major curriculum revision to make sure that critical skills like creativity are embedded in what we do.  Here is a sampling of some of the initial work.  In creative schools all stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, students, etc.) are able to:

  • Analyze and evaluate information, ideas, or objects to develop a point of view, make predictions, or draw inferences
  • Identify and define a problem-situation and work through a procedure to determine viable and appropriate solutions and next steps and carry out as applicable 
  • Generate and develop ideas, solutions and connections to create something original / novel that is meaningful or useful
  • Use an inquiry process to locate, evaluate and use sources based on accuracy, authority, and point of view to explore a question/topic and synthesize and share findings and give appropriate credit/ citation
  • Select and use appropriate format to effectively engage the target audience in a topic, point of view, argument and/or creative work
  • Contribute to the improvement of the local, national, or global community by making decisions / taking actions to  enhance the welfare of society in an ethical manner
  • Work with others by sharing responsibility and critically examining knowledge and ideas to build consensus in order to achieve an objective 
  • Independently select area of focus, develop achievable goals, organize and carry out plan, and seek feedback to achieve goals within designated timelines 

This type of learning will only occur with a change in the way schools are led and the way teachers teach. The larger question for me as a leader is "How Can I Foster Creativity In the Schools I Lead?"

The short answer is to model what you expect teachers to do with every opportunity you get.  This includes rethinking the way you.... 

  • lead faculty meetings
  • offer professional development
  • conduct interviews
  • participate in walkthroughs/learning walks
  • facilitate instructional conversations
  • develop improvement plans
  • analyze and utilize data for improvement initiatives
  • introduce new initiatives

Sir Ken Robinson also argues that creativity will be as critical as literacy in the workplace.  We all know that schools need to change dramatically to meet the needs of society.  Change always begins with you..... 

What creative ideas do you have for leaders?  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who's In Your Starting Five?

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

I read this quote recently and begin to think about the people I spend the most time with as a leader.  I believe that you should always surround yourself with people who make you better.  I also believe in surrounding yourself with people who think differently and push you to stretch your thinking.  

As a leader you can only lead people as far as you have gone yourself.  That's why it is critical to continually re-evaluate your "starting five" to determine if they are helping to develop you as a leader.  

The book The Wisdom of Crowds touches on some of these key points.  These are four factors that make up a wise crowd or an all star starting five.

Diversity of opinionEach person should be an independent thinker 
IndependencePeople's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
DecentralizationPeople are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
AggregationSome mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

I actually think about the five people quote in two different ways.  First, there are the five people that I have the most face to face time with.  These are the people who are on your leadership team, executive team, etc.  These are the key decision makers who you rely on to get a project done.  Are you surrounded by the right people?  

The second way involves the importance of a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  The five people I spend the most time with really depends on the project, area of interest, topic discussed, etc.  The best thing about having a PLN is that you have unparalleled access to experts in all educational fields.  In this way I become infinitely smarter with my starting five.  I am able to garner resources, ask questions, discuss obstacles, and take advantage of opportunities.  I often wonder how I ever operated without the benefit of my PLN.

Who is in your starting five?  Take a look at those five people.  Are you okay with your average?  Is it enough to move your organization forward?  How can you leverage the collective wisdom of this group to transform learning?

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Are You Doing For Others?

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' 

Many of Dr. King's quotes resonate with me.  I often use them in speeches, presentations, and meetings.  This particular quote defines a large aspect of what we should be doing as educational leaders.    

Many leadership articles will encourage you to find a mentor.  I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for my friend and mentor.  I am encouraging you in this post is to become a mentor.  

One of my guiding leadership principles is the belief in leading, mentoring and developing aspiring leaders.  As a building principal, I always recruited and worked with people that were aspiring leaders.  Not all of these people wanted to run their own schools.  Many became teacher leaders or went into curriculum development, technology integration, etc.  This belief in mentoring allowed me to build capacity in the organization, distribute leadership, and develop talented leaders.

It doesn't matter how much experience you have in the field.  Someone out there has less! You will never know everything there is to know about leadership but you do have a lot to share with aspiring leaders.  We have all made great decisions and terrible mistakes that people can learn from.  Why not share that knowledge while providing a valuable service to the individual and the organization?

Here are some mentoring keys that I have used with aspiring leaders:
  1. Set aside time to talk to your mentee.  I often did this in 20-30 minute blocks.
  2. Provide your mentee with a leadership project.  I often would tie a school need to something the individual was passionate about.
  3. Talk out loud about decisions, events, meetings, etc.  This provides a good sounding board for you but also allows the individual to hear your thinking.
  4. Transparency is key.  Aspiring leaders need to see all sides of the profession. They need to know that:  
    • Not every decision is a good one.  
    • Not every project ends in success.  
    • Not every parent is in love with your program
I believe that everything comes down to leadership.  Everything great is about leadership and everything bad is about leadership.  It is our responsibility to mentor the aspiring leaders that will lead future schools and future students.  This is just one response to Dr. King's question "What are you doing for others?"  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Interactive Communities of Practice

Growth is the only evidence of life.  ~John Henry Newman

The key to transforming schools begins with the principal.  The principal is the main change agent or blocker in the field of education.  Michael Fullan writes that "Leadership for Change" requires a 'bias for action, a sense of urgency' and a mix of 'pressure and support'.  This post explores these facets through the lens of an educational leader.

A Bias for Action
It is very difficult to transform a school without a bias for action. Leaders with a bias for action: 
  • See a need and fill it
  • Anticipate a problem and head it off before it stops progress 
  • Are always relentlessly pursuing a better way to do their work
A Sense of Urgency
This is the facet that is the most easily confused because many feel like they have a sense of urgency.  Urgency has nothing to do with running around like crazy.  A true sense of urgency is about a focused, driven plan.  It is about treating every day as if it was the only one that mattered.  

I read recently a line that really sums up this thought as it applies to education.  No one has the right to waste a minute of a child's life.  What would schools be like if we all embodied this concept?

A Mix of Pressure and Support
Change typically occurs when people either see the light or feel the heat.  A combination of pressure and support is critical for improvement efforts.  People need to stretched and developed to meet the needs and challenges of successfully educating all students.    

These three factors are critical in developing interactive communities of innovation.  These communities will propel schools forward in preparing all students to be college, career, and citizen ready.  

And it all starts with a leader....