Longing for Endless Immensity

kiteIf you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This quote came across my Facebook feed this morning and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I am gearing up to moderate #slowchated this coming week (read more about it here), and my chosen topic is creating a culture of risk-taking, creativity and innovation among adults and students.

As an administrator, it is always my goal to support teachers – to unleash their powers for creativity so they can unleash the creative powers of the students.  I have run into a few problems with this goal, however, some of which I attribute to people (teachers, students AND administrators) unwilling to take risks.  What could be holding us back? What could push us further more quickly? I have several hypotheses myself, but will wait to write about them after the week is out.

The National Equity Project defines leadership as taking responsibility for what matters to you.  If we educators all agree that creativity, innovation and risk-taking are important in all aspects of school, how can we act as leaders to foster those habits?  I look forward to an interesting (dare I say creative, innovative and revolutionary) chat next week.

Join #slowchated starting March 3 for the discussion – join me in longing for the immensity of the sea.

In the meantime, here are some resources to get your thought juices flowing:

  • A TED talk by David Kelley about gaining creative confidence, and gaining self efficacy (also, if you have time, read the interview).
  • A blog from #slowchated Papa, David Theriault (@davidtedu), “Increase Innovation in Teaching and Learning by Taking the Low Road.”
  • A blog from Reed Gillespie (@rggillespie) about how administrators can encourage teacher risk taking.
  • Ed. Leaders Balance Risk Taking and Failure.” by Katie Ash in Education Weekly.
  • Blog post from  Ben Grossman-Kahn and the Children’s Creativity Museum, “Taking Creative Risks and Failing Forward.”
  • Blog post from Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), “Taking Risks and Breaking Rules.” (Source is unclear, but it is a thought-provoking read).

Making Decisions: Pins and Needles

CharlieMy oldest son had (minor) surgery this week to fix a metacarpal that had been broken by an errant baseball from a pitching machine.  We had a choice to make – the doctor could manipulate it with her hands, put a plaster cast on it and “hope” that it set properly, with the possibility we would have to re-break it later; or we could bite the bullet, and opt for a quick procedure where the doctor would put pins to keep the bone in place to ensure it healed properly.  Without thinking we opted for surgery – let’s make sure it is done right and that it sticks, even if that meant more pain at the outset.  His number one goal is to get back out on the baseball field and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there quickly.

As I was contemplating this choice, I began to think of education (of course – I know we ALL do it), and how this type of choice related to my job as a leader.  There are some decisions we make that model more the first choice.  We see something broken, and little by little we fix it, massaging it here, sticking a band-aid on there, and eventually whatever it is settles into place, maybe not perfectly, but close enough.

And then there are other decisions we have to make, where the goal is immediate and clear and where getting it right really matters.  Those are the decisions where the course of action might be painful and carry a higher risk to those involved.  As leaders we can make those decisions and work with everyone involved to make the pain as low as possible, but because of the high stakes – learning for ALL students – we know we sometimes have to endure the pain to ensure we’re doing what’s best for kids.

Obviously school leadership is not quite the same as a broken bone.  There are many more people involved at every level and at every step.  As people who chose to go into the helping profession of teaching or counseling, making hard decisions that cause pain to those we care about can be difficult.  But sometimes causing minor pain in the short term sets the systems up properly to support long-term gains in very important goals.

So when you’re making a tough decision in whatever area of leadership you find yourself in, ask yourselves – is a cast good enough, or does this situation require surgery?

Public Reflection is Leadership

reflectionLast Thursday Marin County educators were lucky to have George Couros as a speaker as part of the County District’s series on Innovation and Imagination (thanks to Mary Jane Burke and Raquel Rose for creating the opportunity).  George (if I may be so bold) was one of my first Twitter follows, and I blogged about his blog in my third post ever back in 2011.  On Thursday I was happy to share directly with George how he inspired me, but I also let him know that I pretty much had stopped blogging because I feel like I can’t find the time.  His reply was (and I use the quotation marks loosely), “you have to blog.  Reflection is necessary for learning, but public reflection is necessary for leadership.”

And just like that, the glove dropped at my feet.

When used to blog I was blogging for my classes, with assignments that my teachers gave.  I actually love to write and I love education, so I liked the challenge of maintaining a blog about education.  At that point, however, I was hitting the publish button but I never published in the true sense.  I rarely tweeted my posts and never with any hashtags.  I knew my classmates were reading because they had to, and that kept me honest and trying to make it good, but I most certainly was not reflecting publicly.  As soon as my classes stopped, my discipline waned, and I let that first blog die a slow death.  Subsequently, I started a short blog on my former school’s web page, but that was not deemed appropriate spot for my reflecting on leadership. In essence, I don’t reflect publicly except the odd times in a faculty meeting or with small groups, out loud and in person.

So, George, I’m going to get all meta on you and publicly reflect on public reflection as a form leadership.  Challenge taken.  I have read many, many blogs by educational leaders, so I am ready to try to write my answer to the question: What is the role of public reflection in leadership?

Vulnerability

My sister is going through a separation this year and has been reading a bunch of self help books.  She has been talking about Brené Brown a lot.  A lot.  I have been smiling and nodding as I do through much of her self actualizatin talk, but that name won’t go away – I keep hearing it from many different people in many different places.  Finally, as I was clicking down the TED talk worm hole, I ran into Brown’s TEDx Houston talk on vulnerability.  (This video has 12 million views). Her point is in essence that the key to human connections is the ability to be vulnerable. Leaders need to show their own vulnerability as learners if they expect that anyone they are leading will have the courage to try something new, share with colleagues and collaborate.  Not only is blogging as a leader modeling, it is actually reflecting to make adaptations in leadership strategies.  And here, I leave myself vulnerable by showing a Brené Brown TEDx Talk in my blog:

Vision

Doug Reeves defined seven dimensions of leadership, visionary leadership being one.  However, Reeves cautions, “Visionary leaders are not grandiose, as their visions are more likely to be the blueprints of the architect than the uncertain and cloudy visions of the dreamer.”  A public reflection is also a way to convey your vision as a leader by detailing and showing examples of great work that meet you vision, as well as creating a shared vision by interacting with others through comments and co-authorship. In choosing what you write about, how you comment, what media you share, you convey your vision of a school community even if you never state it explicitly. The National Equity Project defines leadership as “taking responsibility for what matters to you.”  By blogging, anyone, first grade student to superintendent, can lead by sharing what matters.

Collective Competition

A blog also allows a leader to engage in collective competition (a term I first heard last Thursday from George Couros).  Leaders can showcase greatness on their blogs and can get others to copy and improve on their ideas by sharing it publicly.  Other examples of collective competition include the #edurivals Google+ community which advocates the “use of #edurivals on Twitter to call out a fellow teacher and see if they can TOP THIS.” The multidimensional relationships created by public blogging allow for learning from the interactions with others, building on each others’ successes.  Couros points out that every time you post a blog about an idea and a colleague comments, you are in a sense getting free consultancy to make your idea better.

Committment

Spending three hours in the presence of such a real, creative, funny, and energetic educational leader was inspiring, as was the collegiality in the room and continuing on Twitter since (#mcoe).  (For a great summary of all that George covered, see Eric Saibel’s post). I’ve said it here before – and I’ll say it again.  I am re-committing to blogging as a necessary and important part of my leadership.  I hope my colleagues near and far will continue to challenge me to be my best.

What are your ideas about learning and blogging?

Starting Over

diplomaphotoAfter a year and 10 months, I can say I am done with school (at least for now).  When I began my adventures in formal post-collegiate education it never occurred to me that I would become a blogger – and in fact I didn’t.  Though I maintained a blog, I almost never wrote except in response to a prompt or assignment.  I enjoyed writing for an audience, and I enjoyed the multimedia aspect a blog allows, but with two kids, a full-time job and the demands of my courses, I never actually had the time.  When I  finished with school I pulled off the road for a bit and easily returned to my web 1.0 ways of consumption without production or interaction.  My Valentine’s resolution (takes me a bit longer sometimes) is to pick myself up and rejoin my PLN, returning myself to a producer of content and reconnecting with my colleagues around the world.  I decided that rather than dust off my old blog (ifyoucantbeatem.wordpress.com), I would think about my current work context focus more on my day-to-day reality.

So here it is. I am a leader interested first in education at a means of maintaining an educated and productive citizenry in a large democracy. I have worked in high schools my whole career, first as a social sciences teacher, and now as an assistant principal.  I began my career in the urban setting of the San Francisco School District, and 3.5 years ago migrated to an affluent suburb where I am living the culture shock of the Savage Inequalities that Jonathan Kozol so aptly described in his 1992 book.

This blog is dedicated to the fact that all students deserve an excellent, high-level education that enables them to be productive global citizens. This is my moral imperative – what gets me up every morning. As I lead for learning and I learn to lead, I will be writing about my journey in a way that will help me reflect and join a larger conversation about schooling of the future.  Strap yourselves in and let’s go for a ride.