Category Archives: Parkland School Division

Vision to Action

“If you do a good job of teaching your values and mission to the people at the bottom of your organization, then once you give them control, they will do the right things with it.” (Charlene Li, 2010)

Working with school districts all over the world, one of the things that I have noticed is an abundance of mission and vision statements within one organization.  There could be one at the district level, then at school levels, and even different departments (technology vision, curriculum vision, etc.).  Often people wonder why there is no cohesion within an organization, but don’t realize that the leadership is often inundating people with too much information.

One cohesive vision for an organization is hard enough to make a reality, let alone two or three.

In 2011, Parkland School Division moved away from the “multiple-vision” model, and went to one vision.  It was not implemented with a top down approach, but with input from all levels, and was co-created. Ownership of a vision is more likely to make it become a reality.

The vision is as follows:

“Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity, and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.”

Although the vision is compelling, without action it is meaningless.  The focus is not on repeating the vision over and over again (although that does help), but on helping others to make it become a reality.  As one of our superintendents said at the time, the goal is to help every individual realize that they are part of making this vision come to life within the larger purpose of the organization; it is not meant to separate but to bring people together.  How the vision looks in one classroom, can look different in another area.  The autonomy is in the delivery but the vision brings together a shared purpose.

It doesn’t make much sense for educators to move within an organization and faced with a change of “vision” each time they have a new position. Each community is unique but a great vision binds people together for a common goal.

In my opinion, a vision should have some common elements:

  1. Forward thinking.
  2. Inspiring.
  3. Short and succinct.
  4. Flexibility in delivery.
  5. Input from community.

If I asked someone in your organization what the vision was, and they responded with either “I don’t know what it is”, or “which one?”, then those “words” are not worth the paper (or website) they are written on.


What is innovative leadership?

In 2014, I wrote about the “8 Characteristics of an Innovative Leader“, and listed those characteristics as the following:

  1. Visionary
  2. Empathetic
  3. Models Learning
  4. Open-Risk Taker
  5. Networked
  6. Observant
  7. Team Builder
  8. Relationship-Focused

Although these characteristics are obviously a part of the equation, could the idea of an “innovative leader” be simplified?

In the book, “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity“, I define “innovation” as the following:

innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.

So what does “leadership” mean? Many people have different definitions of the word (this is a great article on “30 Ways to Define Leadership“), but for the sake of this post, I would say leadership is the ability to influence others to move towards positive results.  What is crucial about this idea is that leadership can happen from any position, in many aspects of what any organization does.

So what does combining these two ideas look like?  Here is a first definition:

Innovative leadership is the ability to both think and influence others to create “new and better” ideas to move towards positive results.

Here are the elements that are essential in this definition:

  • The ability to think differently.
  • The ability to create something from thinking differently (“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison)
  • The ability to model this in your own leadership practice.
  • The ability to also influence others to do the same.
  • That these actions lead to “new and better”, not just new.
  • “Results” should not simply read “test scores”; it can be providing opportunities for students to find and solve meaningful problems, finding positive ways to develop community, developing more effective assessments that serve student learning, developing positive inclusive practices in school, or a myriad of other positive ideas.

Leadership is not about “self”, but others, yet what one models to others is essential in leadership.  We cannot expect others to think differently without embracing this ourselves.

Just some thoughts on the idea of “innovative leadership” and how “The Innovator’s Mindset” below is embraced at all levels of our organizations.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Communication and Community

open culture

When people first jump into social media, specifically Twitter, there seems to be this inclination from administration to start a Twitter handle (ie @sampleschool) so that they can communicate what is happening in their school community.  This is a great idea and nice way to give an audience quick snippets of the day, but this is also limiting in the view of what we can actually do with the medium.

The way I compare the “handle” (@sampleschool) versus the hashtag (#sampleschool) is that one is about communicating, and the other one is about building community.

For example, a school might share events, things happening in classrooms, news, etc., to a hashtag, but the view of the organization is limited to the view of one or sometimes a few.  Yet encouraging others to use a hashtag says, “your voice matters in our journey and we want you to share it”.  I have been proud of the #psd70 hashtag (from Parkland School Division) that started with only a couple of educators in the district using it relentlessly, until now it has so many voices sharing a variance of samples from what is happening throughout the community.  Burlington Schools in Massachusetts uses #bpschat, but I remember the days when Patrick Larkin was the only one using the hashtag.  He wasn’t trying to control the message; he was trying to get others involved. Communication versus community.

This is not to say that communication isn’t important and that we shouldn’t try to reach people on the mediums in which they use. It is saying that we can (and should) do more.

One school in West Fargo is using the #legacyK5 hashtag to share their story from many perspectives, which also builds community.  Leyden School students use #leydenpride to share the great stuff that is happening from the viewpoint of students, and I bet if you asked principal Jason Markey about this, it has been a great way to build community.

A challenge I have been giving schools is to encourage their community to use a hashtag for the rest of the year. Share things they are learning, things happening in the classroom, and compile them into something like Storify to make your newsletter with many different perspectives and viewpoints.  Educators can share what they are learning at conferences by tweeting back to their school hashtag. There are a million ways that this can be used, and what I have encouraged these same schools is to start off their next school year with a poster in the front of their school encouraging the entire community to see and share to said hashtag.

What impact would that have?


Promoting Divergent Thinking

I still smile when I remember the first administrative position I ever had and the interview that got me the position.  Archie Lillico, a great friend, mentor, leader, and all around human being, was hiring for a new assistant principal and I surprisingly received an opportunity for an interview.  Not knowing Archie at the time, I remember going into the interview and it quickly turned into an argument, where he started challenging me and then I started challenging back.  It was nothing like I had ever experienced before and I chalked it up to a learning experience and really never thought twice about actually getting the job.

A few days later, in what I thought was a simple courtesy, Archie called me and offered me the job.  My jaw hit the floor at the surprise and I remember wondering if this would work.  We obviously had disagreed on things already, and that was only the interview!  I accepted the position, and I remember having one of my first conversations with Archie soon after.  What he had told me is that as the principal, he was not looking for someone to agree with him, but for someone to be able to challenge his thinking yet support him at the same time.  His focus was on helping kids, not solely on being right.  You could often hear us arguing in the office, and then walk out soon after with smiles on our face.  I understood what he expected from me, and he understood that I thought different.  In fact, that was probably one of the reasons that he hired me and I still am close with him to this day.

What he had taught me early on in my career is that hiring your clone might be good for your ego, but not necessarily for your organization.  Encouraging divergent thinking in your organization is not usually about going from one extreme to another, but mostly about finding a better middle.  This lesson was something that I carried on when I hired my own assistant principal later, knowing that she had different viewpoints than I did, while also being willing to challenge me.  This is commonplace in Parkland School Division and part of the reason I have grown so much in the district. If we are truly about being successful as individuals, we need people to both support and challenge us.  It is important to know that people are in your corner, but being in your corner doesn’t mean always agreeing with you.

If we want innovative organizations, we can’t just challenge the “status quo”, but we need to be able to challenge one another.

Why are we doing that again?

Years ago, there was a practice in my school division where all administrators were provided a BlackBerry, when cellular phones just started to become the norm.  The thought process behind this was that if there was an emergency, this would be a great way to connect with the leaders in the building quickly.  At the time though, people probably hesitated at the idea of carrying a phone with them all of the time.  Why would you want to be contacted when you were not at work?  Obviously there would have been reluctance, yet this became standard practice.

Fast forward to today, where this is still happening in many school districts.  Money is spent on providing the phone that works best for the organization, not necessarily the individual.  As the world has become more personalized, many administrators are carrying around their “work” phone and then the phone they actually want for themselves.  So instead of saying there was no chance they would carry one phone, some are now carrying two.  Yet why is this happening? Is there some underlying “best practice” here, or just what we have always done?

This might not only be a poor stewardship of resources, but it might also be bad for learning in schools.  If we have a device that is provided for us, do we see learning as personalized or something that is provided for us as well?  That is why the notion of having “fresh eyes” is so crucial to what we do in learning and leadership.  If we just accept, this is the way it is, then we are not being the critical thinkers that we want our students to be.  It is not only important to know “how” to do things, but to ask “why”.  If we aren’t willing to question the processes and systems of our organizations, why would we challenge teaching and learning in our classrooms?

What things do you wonder about in your own organization?