Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leadership: Permission to Influence Others. Do you have it?

Leadership Redefined
Far too often leadership is conceptualized as an act that requires a big ego, a high level of arrogance, and false confidence that leads others to believe the leader has the answers to an organization's complex problems. I beg to differ. Leadership isn't about any of those things. It's about the exact opposite. It's about shedding your ego. Being relational, yet inspiring others to set high expectations of themselves to benefit the organization. It's about appreciating the value everyone brings to the organization, no matter their role. It's about being vulnerable enough to say I'm sorry, I made a mistake, and I need your help. It's about people. Leadership is about people. I am convinced, more and more, that the greatest leaders among us, have a precise understanding of the human condition. That is, they understand that human beings need to feel connected, valued, appreciated, and inspired. They are clear that the success of any organization is rooted in the ability to build commitment to create a collective vision, put forth collective effort, to ensure collective efficacy. They build teams, they inspire and motivate others, they set an example in their words and in their work.

Leadership is Influence
Influence requires permission. We don't just let someone influence our behavior and our actions because they hold a position of leadership. At some point in our interaction, we make a conscious, sometimes unconscious, decision to grant them permission to influence our work and our thinking. If they haven't gained our permission, we don't allow them to influence us. Regardless of our title, our position on an organizational chart, or who reports to us, permission to influence someone else is not given. It is earned. That is because before we are leaders, chiefs, executives, directors, or whatever, we are HUMAN. And because we are human, we ought to realize the flaws that come with being human, no matter who you are or what you do. We choose to allow others to inspire us, to push us, to influence us to do more, grow professionally, and increase our effectiveness.

Leadership Lessons in the Human Condition
Leadership requires we accept that much of our work is to help humans be better humans. When it comes to school improvement, we can't take people out of the equation. Our ability to get better is predicated on our ability to help those who carry out the service of teaching and learning to get better. Our work is about building the capacity in people to achieve their maximum potential. We are dealers in hope, in help, in improving lives through education with a commitment to giving children the very best of ourselves, and you can't quantify that, no matter how much some may try. We commit to continuous improvement, because we know perfection is not attainable. We expect to have to work to improve day in and day out, month after month, and year after year. We embrace accountability for our actions, but we also celebrate our strengths. We recognize that our work is too important to spend all of our time on discussing what's wrong. In fact, we ought to be moving the conversation past problems to solutions. We need to avoid getting soaked in the what's wrong down pour that is so prevalent in education. If our students need problem solving skills to be successful contributors in this global society, should we not be modeling the same? Let's make a renewed commitment to counter the what's wrong rhetoric with a what's next, problem solving, mentality. Instead of drowning in deficits, let's elevate the profession by bringing solutions to the forefront of conversations by simply asking: How do we solve this problem? What ideas do you have? What do you think we should do about it? What do we need to get it done?

Selflessly Lead
Above all, we ought to be sure to shed our egos, open our minds, and open our hearts to doing what is best for students. There is no competition in doing well when what you are doing is for the good of all. Education is for the good of our world, our society, our democracy. How do you compete at that? Accountability, while necessary, must not divide us. It must not turn us into fierce competitors, fighting against one another, but for the same goal. Instead, it ought to drive us to being so willing to be collaborative and collective in our efforts, because collectively is the only way we reach the lofty goals set for us. I dare you to ask those you serve if you have their permission to influence them.  Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment on this blog.

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Let's Elevate the Teaching Profession Now!

Is There Really An Educator Shortage?
If you're an educator, you may have heard folks talk about the dwindling teacher and principal pipeline or the decrease in the number of students choosing education as a major at institutes of higher education. Maybe you are aware of the vacancies in your own school, district, etc. that seem to be more challenging to fill because perhaps the demand is greater than the supply for your particular district or school.  If you've read the recent articles related to teacher shortage, you may see mixed reviews. In an April 2016 US News article by The Hechinger Report, the case was made that the shortage varies state by state, district by district, and school by school and in some places there is no shortage of educators to serve students at all.  As you might guess, it all relative to the geographic area and/or subject matter that is being referenced.  

I've yet to meet anyone who did not think that being an educator was a noble and honorable way to serve others. There may be some, but I've not had that experience. Responses vary from "I don't know how you do it" to "Thank you for what you do because we need good teachers and principals". While the majority of those I've interacted with collectively express a healthy level of respect for being an educator, I find it quite interesting that even with that level of respect, there seems to be a challenge in the recruitment and retention of educators affecting schools and districts, and most of all children, in many places. So upon further inquiry, reading, and research, this interesting tidbit of information stood out to me. Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is quoted in the article noted above as follows: "Turnover is the big driver of the shortages," he said. "The problem isn't that we don't produce enough new teachers. The problem is that we're not retaining enough of the teachers we already have." Is the root of the issue retention instead of recruitment and if so, what can we do about it?

How do we not only recruit, but retain those who initially choose to become educators? As I pose this question to those I meet, who share similar interests and work, the same puzzled response and furrowed brow comes across their face, with the same response..."That's a really good question. It's the one everyone is asking too." While I certainly don't have the answer to that question, I do have some ideas about how we shift the conversation around being an educator to help with this challenge.  While those of us who have been in the field can attest to the complex challenge of being an effective educator, the level of dedication and commitment needed to do so successfully, and the difficulty in doing so, what else can we do to elevate the profession and reshape the narrative regarding the teaching profession?

Shifting the Conversation & Reshaping the Narrative

So what is it that we can do right now to assist with elevating the profession?  Can we shift the conversation to what an honor and noble opportunity it is to teach young people? Can we spend our time in informal conversations in the grocery store, in conversation over dinner with friends, with each other in the teacher's lounge or work room talking about how proud we are to be a part of a field where our work is as critical to a student's ability to change his or her own trajectory as a doctor's ability to save a life in the emergency room? Can we relish in the moments when we can affirm without a doubt that we are making a difference or have made a difference and publicly document and share it? As educators, do we have a responsibly to elevate our profession by speaking openly and honestly about the value, nobility, and honor that comes with our work and being acutely aware of our participation or silent intake of conversations that emphasize the opposite? If we shift the conversation and reshape the narrative around our own profession, will we somehow elevate the perception that others have of our field and ultimately would that help us retain more teachers because the feeling of being a part of something so special would be accompanied by a feeling of appreciation, value, and dignity? 

I believe there are important questions for us to think about in this regard. In my experience, my best work has always been driven by the posing of more questions rather than answers. It is my curiosity, inquiry, and thinking of what could be, what might be, and how to do what I am questioning, that has helped me as a learner, a leader, and an educator. I believe that identifying what is wrong will never be more important than what is next, and that is why I pose such questions to you.  I'd love to know your thoughts on shifting the conversation and reshaping the narrative to elevate the teaching profession. Leave your comments, thoughts, and ideas on this blog or share them with your PLN via face to face conversation or via your social media network. Above all, honor our work by your words, your work, and your sharing of the incredible stories and rewards that come with being an educator! Remember, making a difference is not a slogan. It is a real, action packed, daily to do. Keep doing just that for those rewards you can see right now and for those you've yet to see, but know are there.

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!



Monday, August 8, 2016

The Value of Teacher Leadership

For far too long some of the most important people in the school improvement process have been left out of the conversation. Perhaps left out is the wrong term. After all, teachers have been and are told repeatedly that they need to improve and improve everything. They need to improve their teaching, planning, questioning, assessments, and most of all improve student learning. However, it seems to me that teachers are often secondary conversationalist when it comes to school improvement. School improvement begins and ends with a great teacher. That's why I believe we must do a better job of valuing and utilizing teacher leadership! .

With an ever growing complex accountability system, we need teacher leadership like never before. We ought to be developing teacher leaders in every capacity. Many teachers desire to lead, but not from the principal's office. They're perfectly happy leading their peers in data analysis, improved instructional strategies, in creating rigorous assessments, and desire to do so right from their classrooms. But so often when we begin the problem solving process, teachers are not at the table. Formal or informal, we have a tendency to fill the table with administrators and coaches first, bringing teachers in as secondary folks to help problem solve.  If school improvement begins and ends with the teacher's execution of agreed upon strategies and interventions, shouldn't teachers be seated at the problem solving table first?  

We must create deliberate and intentional opportunities for teachers to lead in our schools. We must capitalize on the strengths and talents of all. School improvement does not rests on the shoulders of the principal alone. It's a banner we all must carry. My challenge to principals as we embark on a new school year is to answer this question: How are you creating opportunities for teachers to lead? 

No one should have to leave the classroom to lead if that is not their heart's desire. Allow teachers to lead from where they are and practice collective effort in its purest form.  Principals don't have to do the work of school improvement alone. When teachers are provided the opportunity to lead, collective effectiveness has the potential to significantly impact student achievement. Our work is too grand for one and too complex for a few. School improvement takes all of us. So put some extra chairs at the table and invite your teacher leaders to sit down and problem solve with you. You might just find that the road to creating your very best school is clearer than you thought. 

With respect for teachers everywhere, let them lead!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!