Category Archives: TDSB

Why a Compelling Vision is Not Enough in Leadership

Early in my career, I remember a math teacher who was brilliant in the subject. His knowledge and understanding of the subject was astounding, yet his students struggled. Concepts that were easy to him, his students struggled with, and it seemed that he struggled with understanding why they had a hard time.  He struggled connecting his knowledge to his students.  Great understanding of content, does not make you a great teacher.

The same can be said with leadership.  Having a doctorate in the field of leadership does not necessarily equate that you are a great leader.  Although it is admirable to go through such a process, knowledge about being a leader, doesn’t make you a great leader.  Connections are key.

Yet something that I have seen often in education is “Dine and Dash Leadership”.  The head of an organization, or a political figure, will come to an event and share an amazing “vision for the future of education”. They will share their thoughts to try to inspire the group or set a direction, and then as soon as the rest of the learning begins, they leave.  Often the reason shared is that they have so many other commitments and are busy, but isn’t everyone in education?  Can you imagine a learning environment with students where we said we are too busy to make time to connect with them?  What value does that show to the people that they serve?  If we are not able to connect with those they serve, no matter how amazing the “vision” is, it is unlikely that it will ever come to fruition if we do not build relationships with those that we serve.


The past weekend at #TDSBCamp (put on by the Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in Canada), John Malloy, the Director of Education for TDSB (highest level in Ontario School boards),  shared a wonderful vision for education that both celebrated and pushed educators within the room.  To me though, this was not the important part of the work.  John then stayed and learned alongside teachers, tweeted his thoughts with the rest of the group, made connections both online and offline (while sitting in the room and also earlier in the day when he was not able to be there), and talked to every single person in that room that wanted to connect.  He was not only there to share his thoughts, but to learn from the thoughts of others as well.  The vision was compelling and impressive, but not as much as the execution of leadership.

What we have to realize for leadership is that creating connections is the work.  No matter the knowledge, the accolades, the position title, administrators will not be able to lead, if we do not create those connections and model the servant leadership that is so needed in our schools today.

You might be ready to lead, but is anyone ready to follow?


Switching Between Roles

Yesterday, I had the chance to speak with educators from the Toronto District School Board.  It was a great opportunity to share ideas on “The Innovator’s Mindset” and I had to address this in an hour keynote to about 500 people.  The talk was well received, and people seemed to have a lot of questions after.  I think a keynote can be a VERY powerful way to learn, if you are open to it.  Some people will say that a “keynote” is a bad way of learning, but personally, I love hearing stories and connecting them to learning. If you are a good story teller, you can have my attention for an hour easy.

After the keynote though, I did a session on “digital footprint”.  Lately, I have been starting off these sessions with a blank agenda and encourage people to ask questions so we can start from what they want to learn, as opposed to what I want to teach.  The beauty of this for me, personally, is that it is not the same thing every time, as the needs of each group of learners is unique, and the questions are so interesting. Obviously I have knowledge in this area, but I have to be open to being flexible to what the group needs.  Every time I have done it this way, we have gone over time, with few people getting up to leave.  It shows an engagement that is powerful.  Sometimes I am doing a lot of talking, and sometimes I am sitting back and letting participants go where they need to.  I answer questions with questions, to try to spark thinking in the room.

The reason I am sharing this is that in a short time I am going from the role of  “sage on the stage”and the “guide on the side”.  You can call me a “facilitator of learning” or “architect of learning experiences”. It is not about being one thing as opposed to another, it is figuring out when to move into each role. Great teachers do this.  It is important that educators do not feel guilty about standing up in front of students and sharing knowledge, only if they are the only ones to do this all of the time; that’s a different story.  Being able to go out of these different roles is why teaching is both an art and a science.  To me, the “art” is in making those connections and tapping into something personal, but the “science” is understanding when and why you need to do this.

Teaching is truly a beautiful profession.