Category Archives: Leadership

Fanning the Flame

I never wanted to be a teacher.

I loved school and enjoyed my time there, but my passion was always in sports and coaching. Teaching was a pathway to that love.  In fact, in one of my interviews, I was reluctantly hired because the principal thought I was more interested in coaching than I was teaching.

He was right.

And although I stopped coaching soon after, I started to referee basketball and that became a love for me.  Teaching was my job, but sports were my passion.

In my career now, I connect with people that had known they wanted to be a teacher early on in their childhood.  Their fire was sparked at an early age, but I was never that person.

But then you cross paths people that change your perspective, and some of the leaders that I have encountered in the last ten years or so, saw something in me that I never did.  They found a spark and fanned it into a flame, and gave me the tools to continue to let it burn.  This is why the topic of “leadership” is so important to me.  Those leaders are the reason I am writing today and more passionate about education than I have been any other field in my life.

Yet some of those same people that had that passion from an early age have lost it, and to be honest, it is because of leadership (or lack there of).  I never think that people intentionally try to kill a fire inside of us, but little things that they become unaware of, turn teaching into a “job” for some people, and it no longer becomes a “calling”.  Bottom line, it is a job.  But great leadership can make a job seem like something so much bigger.

So many blog posts and articles talk about “what’s missing” from education, and I rarely see this as an educator problem, but a lack of leadership.  Now if you are reading this and you are thinking “Yeah…my leaders have sucked my love of teaching away”, you need to understand that leadership is about influence, not position.  You can have that same influence on your colleagues, no matter what your job is.

The beautiful think about teaching is that our legacy is defined in what we give and empower others to do, not only in what we do ourselves.  If leadership is truly about how you influence others, isn’t every person in education, in some way, a leader?  Whether you influence kindergarten students, principals, or teachers, you could be the person that sparks and flames that fire in others.  You could also be the person that douses the flame.

As many educators in North America, look to recharge and learn over the summer, remember that you are, and can continue to be, the one that fans that flame in others.  Legacy as an educator and leader, will always be in what you give and empower in others.

fanning the flame

Connecting Professional Learning and Leadership

Years ago I heard about a great program from a school district that wanted to work with their teachers on deepening their understanding about using technology for learning.  They created 50 spots for teachers that would have to attend 12 sessions,  on their own time, to further their learning in this initiative.  As incentive, at the end of the 12 sessions, they would be given their own laptop to use at their discretion.  The district explaining the process was very excited about these 50 teachers that had developed these new skills, but something stuck with me.  What about all of the other teachers in the division?  How would they develop these skills? Would the program run with 50 teachers at a time, or would it only be for these 50 teachers?

As an adaptation of this program, I developed a program that was similar, but with less sessions, and more focus not only understanding what learning can look like, but also how to spread these ideas with their colleagues.  Instead of teaching 50 that would simply gain knowledge, we would work with 50 (actually turned out to be more), that would share their knowledge and help develop others.

As the proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if you adopt the idea that if you teach someone to fish you could also teach them to lead others to fish as well?  The possibilities the become endless.

Joel McLean shared the following image below and it sparked this idea:

leader

As many professional learning opportunities tend to have little impact division wide, how often do we ask the question, “how will this learning spread to their colleagues?”  Simply sharing a YouTube video that shares the ideas learned to others, is not enough.  Time should be spent on working with leadership strategies. How do you work with others that may be reluctant?  How do you deal with what has already been done, and replace it with this?

That being said, if you want ideas to spread, we must take time developing ideas together.  It is not only about getting people to “buy in”, but it is about creating a vision together and moving forward.  The more advocates there are for any initiative, the quicker it can spread, yet for people to become advocates, many of them need to feel (and should feel) ownership over the process. It is much easier to spread “our ideas” than it is to spread “your idea”.  Empowerment needs ownership.

So instead of simply asking or identifying, “What will be learned?”, you should also ask, “How will we support others to lead this initiative?”

We should not only focus on developing professional learning opportunities, but leadership opportunities as well.  Teaching others to lead will ensure that ideas worth spreading will flourish, not die.

“Support Without Interference”

This was an image I posted on my #YourDailyAwwwwww hashtag of a young boy catching a fish.

View post on imgur.com

Is it adorable? Absolutely. I love sharing adorable stuff in my blog.

But why I share it is the following top comment from the post that really stuck out to me.

“Good work Dad, support without interference.”

I have a very good friend who is doing amazing things in education.  She often asks me for advice and support, and I am open to giving it to her.  She wants to get better.  Yet sometimes she goes in a direction that is opposite of what I suggest.  Instead of being frustrated, I always support her.  Nobody knows her context better than she does, and how she got to the place that she is already, was not based on my advice, but her gut.

You see, when we are open to providing support, this sometimes means people will go in ways that we don’t necessarily agree with or understand.  This is okay.  And in fact, sometimes they go in an opposite direction and it was the absolute right decision for them, and worked out better than your advice would have if they would have accepted it. What is important is that you are still there to support them, and be okay with them going in the direction their gut sends them.  Leadership is about trust and when we “interfere”, that trust is obviously lacking. With support though, trust is shown in an abundance.  Sometimes it is important that others “step in”, but choose those moments wisely.

Some ideas that others have will fall on their face.  When we try to “control” the direction, we often lose great people that were willing to do great things, because they felt they weren’t allowed.

Support without interference.  

Just a amazing idea for not only catching a fish, but leadership in general.

Busy or annoyed?

I love reading leadership articles and books, and no matter how many times there is a “5 Qualities of  a Great Leader” type article, I tend to eat it up, even thought a lot of the information is similar.  In an article titled, “7 Habits That All Great Leaders Have“, this point really resonated:

5. They’re not always busy.

Warren Buffett spends 80 percent of his time learning and thinking. Bill Gates goes off the grid for a week every year for deep reflection. LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner sets aside two hours every day just to think. Contrary to stereotypes, the best leaders aren’t always frantically busy. They know that having the maximum impact means leaving time for deep concentration and uninterrupted pondering (and yes, even adequate rest).

It really resonated with me as I always think of this George Costanza quote from one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes:

Costanza Busy

 

If you have never seen the episode, basically George gets out of work by looking annoyed, which in turn looks like he is always busy. The more you watch the episode, the more you realize how “busy people” really do look “annoyed” all of the time.

via GIPHY

One of the best leaders I have ever worked for, seemingly was never busy when her door was open. I would ask, “Do you have a moment?”, and she would always say, “Of course I do!”, and welcome me into her office.  Although I know she had a ton of work to do, she always made time for people and made them feel welcomed and that they weren’t “on the clock”,

I have seen the opposite as well though.  When you ask for time and you constantly hear, “I only have a few minutes”, you feel like an annoyance, and it is definitely not a good way to build relationships.  It also creates a certain dynamic, as how often do we treat those we respect that their time is limited.  I rarely see principals tell superintendents that they are busy, but I have seen the dynamic the other way around.

Can you imagine a student showing up at your office and then telling them how busy you are?  Should we do this to those in our organization as well? There are times when 10% of people take up 90% of your time and you have to be clear, but constantly telling everyone how busy you are isn’t laying the foundation for a good relationship.

One of the things that I always say to people is that the higher up you go in the traditional hierarchy of an organization, the more people you serve, not the other way around.  

If we aren’t able to make time for the people we serve, can we really be effective as leaders?

The Message and the Messenger

With March Madness upon us, I have been really think about how much I miss being a part of the sport of basketball. Probably from the age of nine until only a few years ago, I either played, coached, or refereed, and loved every aspect. I still watch games all of the time, but being a part of the game was something that I loved and I learned a great deal from each opportunity that I apply in my life to this day.

One of the things that I was reminded of recently was how, as a referee, we would prepare for games.  We often talk about any concerns, but also the personalities of the coaches that we would be working with during the game.  I remember specifically one game where my partner had said, “The coach doesn’t say much, but if they do, they probably have a very valid concern.”  It kind of stopped me and I still think about that comment to this day in our every day dealings in education and leadership.  Each time I refereed that same coach and he said something, I listened intently, and to be honest, he was most often right.  He picked the times that it was appropriate to say something, and probably let the little things slide because he saw a bigger picture.

Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum were the coaches that would yell or try to talk to you the entire game. Eventually, their voice became like background noise, and it was hard to pick out when their concern was valid, or to think that they were just yelling again.

I think about the comparisons a lot between these two different types of coaches. The first one that would pick and choose those moments, was also someone you enjoyed talking to because you knew they weren’t looking for every advantage the entire game, and if they said something, you should have listened intently.  I think about this in my work when I try to create an environment where we can challenge one another to be better for our students, yet if all we do is challenge, and show no appreciation for the work that is happening, when does my voice simply become noise?  If we constantly talk about issues but never focus on the great things happen, I truly believe we either tune those people out, or become tuned out ourselves.

It is not only the “message” that we need to think about, but how we are as the messenger.  Both elements are important.

-The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value.-

Finding the Good Problems

Working with a group of administrators in a workshop, the participants seemed to be evenly split into districts that were either “1 to 1” (1 laptop/tablet per students) and those that weren’t.  I was asked by one of the administrators from a “1 to 1” district, “How do you address educators that believe they do not have enough professional learning to effectively use these devices?”

Before I answered the question, I stopped and asked the group without a device per child, what was the most common complaint amongst educators in their district regarding technology. Their response?  That those teachers didn’t have devices.

So in one district with the devices, they didn’t have the professional learning, and in the other district, they wanted the devices.  No matter what side you are on, there is something to complain about.

There are a few things that are important here.  First of all, how we look at the world really matters.

But sometimes we have to call this out publicly.  I didn’t go back and answer the question to the first group, because they knew that they were blessed to have this opportunity and that this was a good problem to have, one that many wish they had.  What about the group without the devices?  The way I would look at it is that there is a tremendous opportunity to provide the professional learning where educators REALLY want those devices in the hands of the kids, and can see the power in using them to do something new and better for kids.

The other thing is that I think great leaders look for both the opportunities and obstacles in each opportunity, to try to understand how to move forward.  For example, I am very comfortable with technology and if I was to lead this with my staff, people might say, “Well that is a ‘George thing’ because he is really good with tech.”  That might not help them move forward. Maybe they need someone who is not as far as long so that they feel more comfortable going on their own journey.  Nothing is only positive or negative, but leaders need to try and understand both sides.

But here is what I truly believe and has been pushing my thinking a lot lately.

If you see obstacles, you will surely find them in front of you. Same goes for opportunities. What do you choose to see?

If you see obstacles, you will surely find them in front of you. Same goes for opportunities. What do you choose to see-

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

Not long ago, I was grabbing dinner with a principal friend who lives on the West Coast.  Let’s call him Carl*. It was a great evening, full of provocative conversation that challenged my thinking.  At one point, Carl mentioned that he was frustrated with the pace of change at his building.  “I’m constantly finding pockets of innovation […]

A Bigger Vision

I found this awesome story from a site called “The Happy Manager”, that has some great little leadership stories, about seeing the “bigger picture”:

One day a traveller, walking along a lane, came across 3 stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone!” Still no wiser the traveller turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.” A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveller turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am building a cathedral.”

This story resonates in what we are doing in education.  Often we get focused on going to sessions, in hopes of what we can do on “Monday”, but legacy is built not on one day, but every day.  The “quick fix” is often taken over a longer term vision.  Think about it, how often do we focus on the “next big thing” over going deep in what we are doing now.  Three year plans, are replaced with new three year plans, without looking back on what we have accomplished and where we need to go.

Take the same story above and replace it with a story that could be familiar with a teacher:

One day, a student teacher had time to observe three teachers in school. Each one was busy in their class with their students, but the student teacher wanted to know more about what they are doing. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first teacher what he was doing. “I am teaching students how to use this app.” The student teacher turned to the second teacher and asked her what she was doing. “I am helping students use this app to help them with their writing.” A bit closer to finding out what the teachers were working on but still unclear, the student teacher turned to the third teacher. She seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am shaping minds to become independent, lifelong learners.”

I am sure that many could write a better version of this story (and I encourage you to do so in the comments), but hopefully you get the gist.  It is more than just teaching “stuff”, but it is about developing people. This takes time, persistence, and vision.  It also takes us to look at every student in not only our school, but education as a whole, as our students.  Every conversation, whether it is in the classroom, on the playground, or in the hallway, can make a difference in shaping those minds and developing the leaders of today and tomorrow.

Reminder…legacy is not built in one day, but every day.  Vision does not become reality without our actions, but those actions and what we choose to do daily, is the only way any vision will come to fruition.

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