Tag Archive for leadership

Qualities of School Technology Leaders

To become technologically sophisticated, a school must have at least one person employed who possesses high competency in three areas: education, technology, and leadership.

Mastery of education is essential so that a school’s technology program always serves the school’s educational mission. People who are experts in technology and leadership but not education may lead their schools down false paths, committing to technologies that do not ultimately serve the school, and perhaps alienating teachers and school administrators along the way.

Mastery of technology is essential in order to navigate the many technology offerings that purport to improve education, and in order to keep pace with this rapidly changing field. People who possess education and leadership skills but not technology may appear tentative or skeptical about adopting technology tools within a school.

Mastery of leadership is essential in order to guide a school through change processes and build support among the school’s leadership team. People who possess education and technology skills but not leadership may have great ideas but become frustrated when others do not adopt or support them.

This person’s position will depend strongly on how the school’s leadership team is designed — the relationships and distribution of responsibilities among the different school leaders. This person could be a technology director, academic technology director, division head, head of school, academic dean, dean of faculty, or director of innovation.

The school that lacks such a person will struggle with technology, for example by exhibiting marked inconsistencies in how technology is used or hardly adopting new technologies at all to support teaching and learning. School leadership would do well to identify whether the school already has someone who fulfills this role, whether an existing faculty or staff member could grow into this role, or whether the school should hire someone new to introduce this role.

 

Implementing “A New Culture of Learning”

"Team Sisyphus," from Nichomachus on Flickr

Independent school staff recently gathered for an online chat about A New Culture of Learning, which addresses the growing gap between real-world and school-based learning and considers the implications for schools. In the first part of the chat, participants summarized some of the book’s recommendations: teaching 21st-century content domains, emphasizing play as a form of inquiry, and teaching and assessing creativity, communication, and collaboration. Individuals noted some positive, incremental curricular innovations at their institutions.

The conversation quickly turned to a popular topic among school technologists: how to facilitate  significant program change toward the ideal expressed in the book. Some participants expressed frustration at low teacher enthusiasm for change, lack of administrative support, and the difficulty of finding allies for change. Some characterized teacher reluctance as “fear.” We explored the concept of urgency and its relationship to the pace of change. One suggested that external factors were more likely to create urgency than internal factors.

Those who had experienced some success in facilitating change cited the following techniques: connecting innovators, forming critical friends groups and professional learning networks, sharing examples, building collectives. These methods have something in common: gathering professionals in highly personalized, trusting learning environments with a commitment to introspection and change. In other words, change occurs within individual, group, and schoolwide contexts.

Today, Pat Bassett, President of NAIS, published a view of school change titled “Change Agency Leadership.” Bassett plumbs family therapy and other sources to compile what I find a fairly pessimistic view of institutional change. He likens school change to stages of grief, including mourning and depression. While school staff may react to top-down, unexpected policy changes in this fashion, I do not think that school change must proceed through these steps.

The grief model for change presupposes that the change is external. Highly personal, inclusive school change vehicles such as critical friends groups and professional learning networks alter this equation. Internet connectivity provides more opportunities for individuals to find external affinity groups and other models for change.

School leadership has the greatest responsibility to help a faculty internalize change. Leaders can help define the essential questions and create the necessary time and space for school staff to adopt meaningful steps toward change. Leaders can facilitate the formation of affinity groups and sharing of their work so that school innovators can build the necessary momentum for meaningful change. Leaders can help prevent a few fearful individuals from blocking a proposed change that most staff find acceptable.

NAIS provides several case studies of schools making meaningful change in A Guide for Becoming a School of the Future. James Tracy and Cushing Academy are earning attention for their international studies and leadership programs and other student-centered partnerships. Jonathan Martin and St. Gregory School have molded their program around 21st century learning content and skills. I would like to add Catlin Gabel as we grow our innovative co-curricular programs and think seriously about what it means to call ourselves a progressive school.

It will be exciting to watch new CFGs and PLNs work together with school leaders on change projects. If they are successful, we may expand our set of great examples of effective school change.

The God Complex

Tim Harford, economics writer, explores the hubris of experts and the role of experimentation in innovation and problem solving (by way of Gary Gruber). How might one work to encourage experimentation and open-mindedness in a school?

In Conceptual Theory We Trust

Now that I have attended a five-day leadership institute, it is time to return to school and put newly learned team-building strategies into practice. To have the courage to try them, I must trust the wisdom of experts more knowledgeable and experienced than me. It reminds me of the classic pendulum demonstration (video below). Will these techniques work, or will I take a blow to the face?

The Importance of Team Preparation

While at the Santa Fe Leadership Center institute, I noticed the the theme of team preparation through personal sharing repeatedly receive emphasis. Invest time and energy into the personal histories and goals of team members, and the team will perform at a higher level and accomplish more.

Tomi Nagai-Roethe shared the Drexler/Sibbet team performance model with us. The model provides a detailed framework for understanding team functions and dysfunctions. Built around the metaphor of a bouncing ball, the model emphasizes the importance of personalized team preparation to the later performance level of the team. Early phases of teamwork include individuals sharing who they are and why there are on the team. This precedes articulation of the work to be done or the methods to be used. The floor represents organizational support. With strong support, the ball bounces faster and higher. The vertical axis represents different behavioral dimensions — intuition, feeling, thinking, and sensing. Exploring personal histories and purposes require intuition and feeling skills. The more work a team does to explore the background and motivation of each team member and their reasons for being on the team, the more momentum the team builds to accomplish great work.

Carla Silver put this theory into action through a wallet building exercise. The ultimate objective of the activity was to build the perfect wallet, but before we were even given our task, we were told to show and explain each of our wallets. This individual sharing of the wallets we had chosen for ourselves gave each person the opportunity to speak, make their preferences known, and show their chosen wallets before group work began. As a result, the group was more trusting and collaborative throughout the entire process.

Debbie Freed explored systems causes for conflict and crises in schools. Similarly to the other speakers, she explained how issues framed around personality conflicts are really about the assumptions that people bring to their jobs as a result of their personal and institutional histories.

IDEO had us practice design thinking to design a better recess for kids. They emphasized personal history through “user-centered design,” asking interview subjects open-ended questions and conducting observations to identify user needs and brainstorm possible solutions.

The idea of personal experience in teamwork seems readily applicable in our work in schools.

Leading from the Middle

I am attending this seminar organized by the Santa Fe Leadership Center, whom I help as an advisor. We have had a great first day and a half. Carla Silver, Tim McIntyre, and Gary Gruber know how to create the group dynamic and space for reflection and individual growth. Many participants have come with a colleague from their school, creating the potential for solid work when they return to their schools.

We have explored concepts of leadership as they relate to our personal histories and profiles. We have heard seasoned veterans provide perspective on the essence of leadership and the unique dynamic of middle management in an independent school. We have been instructed on the importance of relationships, particularly with our institute cohort.

Mark Silver encouraged us to: 1) play position; 2) leverage informal authority; 3) build alliances. We explored Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of teams and Tuckman’s stages of group development. We revisited the importance of personal relationships and trust for professional work and the positive qualities of well-functioning teams.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, we hear from The Grove about visual planning and IDEO about the design process.

Complacency

Ryan Bretag writes:

What happens when organizations begin to settle for a “business as usual” mindset? What are signs that an organization is heading towards complacency? Has your organization become complacent? Have you?

Ten Potential Indicators of Complacency
Difficult Conversation Are Avoided
Fishing Down the Hallway (Risk Taking and Innovation) is Met With Cautious Tones
The Status Quo is Celebrated
Learning is No Longer a Priority
Management and Day to Day Tasks are the Focus
“Hubris Born of Success”
Areas of Potential Growth are Ignored
The Creative Spirit, Energy, Joy, and Passion No Longer Exist as the Norm
The Hairball Is Celebrated and those Orbiting It Are Dismissed
External Influences are Utilized as Excuses

I like to put it this way: excellent institutions are always working hard to become more excellent.

Does your institution demonstrate these signs? How can you gain sufficient perspective to know whether this dynamic is pervasive within your organization or just present in places?

Independent schools accept students who have previously demonstrated success. It is no surprise that those students continue to succeed within our schools. It is quite natural for independent school faculty and staff to conclude that their teaching or the school program is largely responsible for the success.

We need better measures of the quality of our schools, such as how often struggling students experience later success, the school program has adapted to the needs of students, and students praise course content, not just teacher relationships.

School Change Through Experiential Programs

Independent schools have increasingly created specialized positions to lead or facilitate new, experiential learning opportunities for their students. Do you have these positions at your school?

Director of service learning
Director of global programs
Educational technology specialist
Urban studies program director
Director of student life
Outdoor programs coordinator
Director of diversity

These programs feature a common thread: experiential learning. Students engage in hands-on activities grounded in an authentic context such as service, the outdoors, global travel, or multiculturalism.

Where do experiential programs live within the school? How do students access them?

One model: students experience two separate courses of study, a “core” of discipline-based study plus a “peripheral” set of experiential programs.

This structure implies an “influencer” model of school change. The school creates new positions for experiential program leaders. Students participate in these special programs outside of the regular class schedule. Most teachers observe from a distance. If the experiential programs are exciting and the program specialists effective at outreach, then teachers may increasingly partner with the programs to introduce more experiential elements into subject-based instruction. Experiential programs only affect the core as much as they influence from a distance.

The contrast of teaching methods may send students unintended messages. Discipline-based classes may use more recognizable forms of teaching: holding classes, facilitating class discussion, assigning readings, and assessing student mastery through papers, presentations, and tests. Experiential programs may take place in the woods, on Skype, or through a blog. They may emphasize student construction of the learning environment, partnerships with local organizations, special events, and interdisciplinary study. Experiential programs may gain a reputation for being optional or less rigorous.

Another model: students experience a “core” program that incorporates experiential components.

This structure adopts a rapid, comprehensive model of school change. The school makes a decision early on to broadly adopt specific experiential learning themes. All teachers are involved, and all courses integrate experiential learning in some manner. If the school creates special program director positions at all, then these individuals are few in number and partner closely with teachers to create student learning experiences. They do not offer separate programs to students. The weekly timetable is organized to facilitate experiential learning opportunities. Students experience a relatively consistent learning experience across the school program.

How may an existing school integrate experiential programs without completely reorganizing itself?

1. Assign experiential program responsibilities to core teachers. Partly discipline-based teachers, partly program specialists, they are more likely to influence their colleagues to try something new.

2. Mandate special, schoolwide initiatives to introduce more experiential learning, supported by program specialists.

3. Facilitate democratic, teacher decision-making processes to introduce specific types of experiential learning into the school program, facilitated by program specialists.

4. Provide program specialists greater access to school change vehicles, such as administrative leadership and curriculum review committees.

Case studies: schools trying different experiential programs

I would like to list these schools now and write short case studies in the future. What other independent schools would you add to this list?

Urban School: Innovative Teaching

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences

Lick-Wilmerding School: Public purpose

“Leading from the Middle”

A summer institute offered by the Santa Fe Leadership Center

Global Trips: Student Leadership

A number of us are working to make this year’s global trips a whole-community experience. Previously, we made a strong push for teachers to include Botswana and HIV/AIDS in their course curricula. Now, we turn our attention to community events.

Botswana trip participants planned and presented an assembly to Upper School students last week. It was such a pleasure to sit in the audience and absorb the accuracy, significance, organization, and style of their presentation while playing no direct role except capturing it on video. This was for me the first realization of our ultimate goal of conferring as much trip planning responsibility as possible to the students. There is no need for the two adults to act as tour guides. This trip is for the students, and they will benefit so much more when the trip is also set up by the students.

The assembly included:

  • “Stand-up” activity for audience members to learn some key metrics about the effect of HIV and AIDS on the Botswana population. For example, the number of people living with AIDS is increasing, since antiretroviral treatment is now widely available, but the rate of new infections has not decreased significantly.
  • Skit adapted from a chapter of Saturday Is For Funerals (“the driver”), with a short introduction about the role of stigma in the AIDS crisis. I was so impressed with how two students selected a scene, memorized, and rehearsed the skit in a week’s time!
  • Presentation about the basic structure and activities of the trip. Without a comment from the adults, they did not at all mention the recreational portions of the trip — kept the presentation focused on the business.
  • Explanation of how students can help raise funds and send school supplies to villages that need it.

At least seven of the 13 trip participants got up on stage, and they completed all of this within 15 minutes. Transitions were very crisp, and for the most part, students avoided digressing while on stage.

Next up in our month of community presentations:

 

Leadership In Technology

The Santa Fe Leadership Institute has dedicated their monthly newsletter to technology. Check it out.