When I attend a conference I’m looking to do three specific things: 1) connect with people, 2) learn stuff, and 3) get fired up. The Oakland County Effective Practices Conference gave me opportunities at each.
Over the course of two days I connected with many familiar colleagues from around the county and met many others who I hope to collaborate with further. I learned more about building capacity for effective teaching through shared leadership and professional learning, and I was introduced to a unique look at standards based grading that I’m excited to continue exploring.
Finally, I got fired up indeed! I left the conference energized and ready to apply/extend the learning and connections. It was a good way to start the summer. It helped me frame the wrapping up of another exciting school year as a kick off rather than a finish line. This reflection is meant to keep me headed in that direction. If you’re a reader I hope that some of the thoughts and ideas herein are meaningful and motivating as you move along whatever learning path you’re on this summer.
Building Capacity in Individuals and Groups. As a building principal I work hard to support the adults I serve in positive progress and meaningful development. It’s a part of my job. In considering ways to do that part of my job well I think about strategies I use to support my own positive progress and meaningful development. How do I target and address my own potential? In what ways do I work to maximize my teaching, learning, and leadership chops? In extension, and with the same in mind for those I serve, what can I do to make sure that my school community is firing on all cylinders as we move continuously through persistent change (a standard in education)?
On the opening day of the conference I attended a workshop featuring Michael Fullan during which he highlighted a focus on internal measures, teamwork, and pedagogy as a viable triad for leading meaningful development through impending change. He reminded me that targeting external measures, individualism, and tools (rather than pedagogy) as comprehensive solutions moves us away from accountability, diminishes our individual and collective ownership over growth, and clouds the heart of the matter – positive progress in teaching and learning, and even more specifically, the ongoing wellbeing and achievement of kids!
What is it that we should be looking at as we seek to enhance our classrooms, our schools, and our districts? The complexities of school leadership can seem daunting at times. There’s lots of stuff to do outside of targeted professional learning. Fullen suggested that we focus, but how can we when there’s so much to do? Does focus have to come at the expense of task fulfillment? How do we narrow our attention to a singular or moderated frame of progress while maintaining crossed “t’s” and dotted “i’s?” In what ways can we identify connected and meaningful internal measures, bring individuals together for genuine collaboration, and zero in on teaching and learning while getting it all accomplished along the way? This is were the ideas of shared leadership and delegation come in.
Generating v Celebrating. I want to do a good job…a great one even. I want my students to have an engaging and joyful environment in which to learn and grow. I want the parents I serve to feel valued and feel able rest assured that their children are getting a world-class education. I want the teachers I work with to be comfortable with confidence; I want them to love their jobs, to thrive on learning and growth, and to understand that they’re trusted as professionals and experts. I suspect that all educational leaders want the same; to make sure that everything we do leads to great stuff for kids. We all want to do a good job. Though my consideration of shared leadership and collaborative progress I’m starting to understand a distinction between doing a good job and fostering a culture in which a good job can be done.
The fact is if I’m doing a good job we’re doing a good job. Better yet, if we’re doing a good job I’m doing a good job. The ideas don’t have to be mine. In fact, any idea that’s going to drive positive progress in any school community is going to eventually have to become shared. Without widespread and collective ownership over ideas they’re likely to end in ashes. Even when ideas are implemented with fidelity by individuals in pockets, what good are they for the benefit of the organization? I left Fullen’s workshop reminded that it’s more important to support and celebrate progress than to be the one generating it. Real and sustained progress is made with opened hearts and minds through a lens of collaboration by way of genuine partnerships.
Fostering Ownership/Sharing Leadership. Some things are easier said than done. How do we connect multiple ideas and visions to a common, focused, and connected purpose and direction? On the second day of the conference I heard a riveting keynote address from Tom Shimmer in which he spent some time addressing the idea that we each learn ways unique to our individual backgrounds, styles, and abilities as defined by a myriad of other factors. He offered his insights as they relate to the connection between standards based instruction and traditional vs. standards based grading. I found a meaningful connection to learning and leadership as it relates to the adult learners that I serve.
One of the great and ever-present leadership challenges in educational leadership is generating and maintaining buy-in for programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Teaching and learning is a highly researched and continuously developing field. We’re constantly exposed to updated information about what works and what doesn’t. Ironically, some of that information is cyclical. With regard to best practices we often see assertions coming down the pike that have come in and out of the educational lexicon repeatedly. How can I take into count the learning styles, readiness, and abilities one each teacher in my building as I work to help them decipher this cycle of information from learning through implementation and adaptation?
Adults are similar to children in the sense that we’re each moving along unique learning paths. I can’t imagine a space and time where a group of adult stakeholders in any organization are comprehensively in line or holistically “bought in” to common programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Is it possible that buy in exists along a spectrum defined by a spark of curiosity at one end to a deep understanding and appreciation at the other? Should I look at buy in as a series of milestones rather than a end point? Could I? Am I doing a disservice to positive progress by wanting to everyone to buy in at the same time? Would it not be more meaningful to look for progress by seeking to understand, respect, and support the varied paths that each individual is taking? Might I even discover new and potentially enhanced pathways for myself along the way?
The Bottom Line. Some of what I’m grappling with as I process this conference into connected and applicable learning is how to comprehensively remove the message of speed from my communication and efforts related to progress in my school community. Along with so many of my colleagues in organizational leadership I talk about going slow to go fast. I need to continue finding impactful ways to put my money where my mouth is.
I know that learning and growth takes many forms and that collective development must bear individual nuances in mind. I know that my leadership practices must honor that people are on different developmental paths? I know that as a manager, a coach, a mentor, a leader, a learner, and a partner I must strive to increase the level of optimism among my stakeholders.
I’m committed to continue giving all of it my best efforts, and as I learn how to do it better by engaging in ongoing learning experiences like this conference, I’m committed to meaningful reflection and connected adaptation. Where is your leadership and learning path leading you?
Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.