Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Case for Shared Leadership

Over the past several weeks I have engaged in a period of reflection on leadership. This reflection resulted from my own desire to refocus for the second half of the school year as well as conversations with people about my own leadership beliefs. Many of these conversations centered around a core leadership debate - should we dictate or facilitate? 

In truth, there is probably no "correct" answer. There are moments where each style of leadership has its merits. I can make a strong case that dictated leadership is necessary in our schools. In a crisis we must be decisive with little time to spare. In the case of a personnel issue we must make decisions based on policy and procedure. However appropriate, these are very specific moments. They are the moments that define our ability to lead but do not define our school. 

So...what is the right leadership for our school?

I believe leadership that facilitates is essential for our schools. Too often we forget that the smartest people we have to solve the issues facing our school are already in our school. Our role as building leaders is to locate those who can provide perspective and help move us forward. The goal is not to stand tall at the end of the day and declare "I solved that." Our goal at the end of the day is to know that we moved forward and will do so again tomorrow and the day after that. 

How do we keep moving forward?

It starts with building the capacity of others. The long term success of a school (or any institution for that matter) is the ability of its people to continually grow in their professional practice. Dictating responses does little to improve others as leaders - rather, it serves to weaken our ability to build shared leadership and capacity. As leaders we must facilitate opportunities for others to lead so that they may grow. We must find opportunities for teachers to be instructional leaders. We must find opportunities for staff members to lead school-based teams. We must find opportunities for parents to be active and engaged voices in our processes. We must find opportunities of students to take a leadership role not just within the student body but the school as a whole. We must be willing to cede control so that others can shape the path forward.

As a leader I strongly believe that we must seek out the best in others to better ourselves and our institutions. Schools only improve when we welcome the leadership of all. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why I Lead

Recently I have started a rigorous self-reflection on my own leadership. Shouldn't we be doing this at all times? Yes. However, I believe that often leaders fail to take the time necessary to rigorously self-reflect. I am defining rigorous self-reflection as a piece by piece, long-term look at my own professional capacities and deliberately planning actions to address the deficiencies that I identify. In order to do this I needed a starting point, a place where I could center the reflection. I decided that I wanted to look through the lens of questions rather than ratings. Fortunately, Principal Baruti Kafele just released his newest book, The Principal 50. This book poses 50 essential questions for school-based leaders centered on leadership - the real leadership paradigm, not just management. Using Principal Kafele's book I am now embarking on a self-reflective journey. I firmly believe that for my self-reflection to be meaningful I need for parts of it to be public. Writing a series of posts that address core issues not only allows me to reflect but also to share my own growth. The post that comes below is the first in that series.


Why do I lead? On the surface a pretty simple question, but once one starts to dig into the roots of his/her own leadership it can get rather lengthy. Let's take a stab at it. I lead to...

  • Help students learn
  • Help teachers learn
  • Connect communities and their schools
  • Promote equity and fairness
  • Foster learning as a process, not a product
  • Facilitate professional learning for ALL
  • Support parents in their role
  • Celebrate the positives, redirect the negatives, and soothe the hurt
  • Work to make sure that EVERY student, educator, and parent feels valued
See? This list is just a starting point. It sounds more like a sermon than a list. So I find myself looking to summarize my leadership purpose. After several weeks of reflecting on this single question I have come a simple conclusion. 

Why do I lead? I lead to build schools for them, by them.

In his book Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, Kevin Carroll, suggests that inside each of us is a passion statement - a driving force in what we do. The above statement is my passion statement (my red rubber ball). I lead because I believe that I have an opportunity to enact positive change. I lead because I want to empower "them," staff, students, parents, community members, to be better. I want to empower them to be their own leaders. I want to empower them to improve their school and their community. I want to empower them to build the school that serves them, not me. I want to empower them so that they can pass it on an empower others and change the world. That is why I lead. The school I serve is not about me. The school I serve is about them.  I lead to make sure it starts with them and ends with them. This is my purpose for leading. 

As I continue on my reflective journey my purpose for leading will be the center of my reflection. It is a chance to ensure that I continue to grow and stay true to the leader within. I hope that along the way some of you may jump in and join my journey. Together we are stronger, and your voice makes me better. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Feel Good and Learn Well

Source: Mom Blogs
In education we learn early that the ability to borrow great ideas from other educators is what makes ourselves and our schools better. Unlike the business world, in education borrowing good ideas is encouraged. Last week one of those moments came to fruition in my own school.

Two weeks ago I was engaged in a professional conversation with some colleagues from other high schools in the district. One of the participants mentioned "Feel Good Friday," a weekly occurrence at her school. On Feel Good Friday the administration plays one or two songs over the school's speakers in order to create a more positive atmosphere. I opted to take it a step (or two) further - we played music before school, at every hall change, and after school during dismissal. The reality is that the actions to pull this off were minimal, but the impact was immense.

Throughout the day I received emails from teachers asking for specific songs. Students stopped me in the hallway to ask if this was just something special or something that could happen every Friday. Several staff members informed me that impromptu dance parties were breaking out during hall changes and in classrooms before the mod started. The best response from a staff member came in towards the end of the day and summed it all up: "This is the best idea ever. I have not seen students so positive in a long time and the learning as a result is incredible." After school I stopped by several practices and the talent show rehearsal and the response was the same - can we please do this every Friday?


When I say success I am not referring simply to the positive comments that came back from students and staff. I am not even claiming success because there was such a positive feeling to the day. I am claiming success because it had a noticeable impact on students and staff in the classroom. Teachers came out of their shells a little bit more on Feel Good Friday and the authenticity led to better classroom teaching and learning. Students started off class on a positive note and that translated into positive learning experiences. Success in this instance comes from knowing what we did changed the atmosphere for learning in our building. It was a subtle shift with a minimal activity, but the impact was noticeable.

It got me thinking, why don't we have this feeling everyday in our classrooms? When I taught I used to play music as students entered the room. Students were able to program the playlist as a reward or I matched it to the learning goals for the day (teaching US History makes this easy...Economics not so much). I took the idea from watching presenters who played music before they began. I had noticed that those who played music had a different vibe in the room than those who did not. My classroom culture evolved because of this subtle change. Learning was more vibrant, students more positive, and engagement more evident.

So here is my takeaway and challenge - we need to find ways to integrate this into each of our classrooms each day. Our goal should be to make the classroom as inviting and positive as we can. Students come to school with baggage that is often unseen but weighs them down beyond measure. Playing music is a simple strategy and more many students it is their release. After all, Feel Good Friday is great, but school and learning should feel that way everyday.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What I Learned in San Diego (Besides a Love of Mole Sauce)

There are moments in our professional year that annually produce an opportunity to refocus, reflect, and reengage. In my professional life, the NASSP Ignite Conference is an (if not the) annual professional event that most recharges my professional battery. This year's offering in San Diego was no different. I walked away feeling renewed in the mission of serving the school community, focusing on learning, building lasting environments for creation and collaboration, and connecting our community of learners. In the next several paragraphs I am going to attempt to summarize my learning takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Learning Does Not Always Happen in 75 Minute Blocks
I chose to start with this takeaway because it comes with a mea culpa of sorts - I failed to attend more than one complete session during the conference. Two reasons: 1) I was very busy with my own presentation schedule and found it difficult to balance; and 2) the EdCamp model of moving between sessions has become a part of my learning culture. However, I don't leave San Diego feeling as if I missed out on something or failed to learn. Instead, I leave San Diego with a clear belief that professional learning does not fit neatly into scheduled blocks. There was plenty of learning that took place outside the scheduled windows of sessions. Informal conversations, Twitter exchanges, dinner discussions, and hallway introductions produced a number of opportunities to engage other leaders and to learn.

Takeaway #3: The EdCamp Model Rocks!
I am a dedicated EdCamper having taken part in over 15 as of this week. There is a reason I keep going back...it works for how I learn. What added affirmation of the power of the EdCamp model was the organic growth that was witnessed at EdCamp NASSP. We started with roughly 80 registered participants. By the end of the day we were WAY beyond that. During Session 1 the Twitter feed was on fire with EdCampers sharing resources, posting reflections, and sharing the wisdom of each room. As the Twitter stream caught fire there was a visible growth in the participant group. People were leaving their original agendas and heading to EdCamp for the remaining sessions. The learning was too strong to ignore and the organic nature of the event made everyone an active learner.

Takeaway #3: Connection Makes Learning Stronger
I have long credited my growth and fortune as a leader on my level of connectedness. The NASSP Conference is made up of amazing school leaders and I am fortunate to call many of the rockstars my friends. Connection has introduced me to these rockstar leaders and their willingness to share their wisdom to benefit my students and school never ceases to amaze me. I had the privilege of reconnecting with some of my closest connected colleagues in Dwight Carter, Daisy Dyer Duerr, Jimmy Casas, Jason Markey, Joe Mazza, Eric Sheninger, Derek McCoy, and Dan Kelley as well as connecting for the first time personally with leaders like Dennis Schug, Dan McCabe, Erik Buckholtz, Bill Ziegler, and John Bernia. Together, we not only improve each other's capacity as leaders; we also improve the capacity of the schools we serve.

Takeaway #4: Remind is a GREAT Company
This shoutout may not be a traditional takeaway, but Remind deserves their own space. They not only provided some great swag for EdCamp but also did an amazing job of engaging the leaders they met in San Diego in conversations centered on learning. Often in education companies are focused on profit (hi, Pearson) or brand; Remind is focused on learning and that is why they are rockstars!

Takeaway #5: Leaders See the Need for Meaningful Digital Leadership
In my travels between sessions I stopped by a number of session rooms to see where the people were. Attendance in sessions often tells the story of the learning culture of a conference. In past years I noticed that many session were equally filled. This year was different. The session focused on digital leadership were PACKED! Sessions in the Tech Studio and Learning Labs focused on digital learning were standing room only. The message was clear in San Diego - today's leaders recognize the need to be active and effective digital leaders in their schools.

Takeaway #6: All Conferences Should Be in San Diego
I am just going to leave a few photos for this one...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Walking the Walk and Owning It

Source: The Greatness Mind Network
If you have ever attended a presentation of mine, heard my keynote, or spent more than 5 minutes discussing education with me you know my stance on risk and failure. I believe it is essential in the learning process. As learners, doing or getting it right the first time is not always the best indication of learning. Real learning takes effort, patience, reflection, and perseverance. Failure IS an option, as long as it does not result in giving up or moving on. It needs to result in reflection, retooling, and renewal to the task at hand.

Over the past several months I have been on a professional journey. I was raised in a home where my parents have both worked for their current employers for 25+ years (my father is 60 years old and just completed his 44th year with the same company). There have been other opportunities for them, but they are from a generation where employer loyalty is a cornerstone. Growing up in a house with that structure has embedded the belief in me as well. As such, I struggle with the idea of leaving the current school system I serve. They gave a non-certified teacher a chance to start his career, provided me opportunities to grow and lead, and trusted me to serve as a leader within the district. Over the past two years I have been blessed beyond measure professionally. During that time I have also had a good number of voices telling me to move on, market myself, and step out to a larger role. I struggled with that decision because I come from the "wait your turn" mentality (hard for anyone that knows me to believe but it's true).

So...earlier this month I made a difficult decision. I informed my supervisors that I intended to look outside our school district to grow professionally. I felt I was in need of a new challenge. I strongly believe I have a lot to offer a school and I want to see what I can do in a larger role to promote student voice, teacher leadership, and community empowerment. With that in mind I submitted my first application outside of my district. In this case it was to the district that I grew up in from Kindergarten to graduation. My parents still live there. My daughter plays hockey there. My family still spends half our free time there. It is and always will be home for me. I spent a good deal of time on the process and clicked "submit." I had taken a leap, one that I encourage in my student's daily.

Last evening I received the following response:

"We have received a number of applications from qualified candidates. Unfortunately, you were not selected for an interview at this time."

There are two directions this can go: 1) Anger and rejection; or 2) Opportunity and Renewal. The initial human response internally is response 1; I admit...I started there. I struggle to look at my qualifications, accomplishments, and accolades and see where a clear deficiency exists. I struggle to look at the work I have done in my school to bring learning opportunities to our students, staff, and community and see where I am short of "being ready." I struggle because this is "home." I struggle because I do not want to view myself as better than others. I struggle because this attitude is not what I teach my students.

I teach my students to see moments like this as an opportunity to reflect, recharge, improve, and forge ahead. I teach my students that just because a door doesn't open doesn't mean we recoil. I teach my students that moments like this are what make us stronger. I teach my students to stand up and go forward.

So, after my initial internal response I know I am better from the journey. Maybe going home is not the destination I am supposed to seek. I believe there is a place out there that can benefit from my leadership. I believe there is a school that has the pieces in place to move from good to great and I am the leader to help build those pieces into the bigger picture. I believe that there are great educators who can benefit from my leadership to help facilitate a new vision for empowered learning in their school. I believe that this is one small step in the path forward. I believe this is not failure, it is opportunity.

I choose response 2.