Leadership Day – the hangover

To some, this may come across as a bit whiny, to others, a bit egocentric and to a few in the crowd, it will be , like, WTH. That’s okay. As an administrator, I’ve learned that many people do not see the full picture of what takes place in schools – no matter how transparent you try to be because that is the nature of what happens. Also, it’s been on my mind for a while and needs to be put out there.

It all began 5 years ago when Scott McLeod began Leadership day. Check out the link to see what that is all about. The one thing I will steal from his post are the bullets he outlines for his reason for promoting such a day.

Many of our school leaders (principals, superintendents, central office administrators) need help when it comes to digital technologies. A lot of help, to be honest. As I’ve noted again and again on this blog, most school administrators don’t know

  • what it means to prepare students for the digital, global world in which we now live;
  • how to recognize, evaluate, and facilitate effective technology usage by students and teachers;
  • what appropriate technology support structures (e.g., budget, staffing, infrastructure, training) look like or how to implement them;
  • how to utilize modern technologies to facilitate communication with internal and external stakeholders;
  • the ways in which learning technologies can improve student learning outcomes;
  • how to utilize technology systems to make their organizations more efficient and effective;
  • and so on…

Administrators’ lack of knowledge is not entirely their fault. Many of them didn’t grow up with computers. Other than basic management or data analysis technologies, many are not using digital tools or online systems on a regular basis. Few have received training from their employers or their university preparation programs on how to use, think about, or be a leader regarding digital technologies.

5 years ago when I first read this, it kind of irked me because, as an administrator, I guess I was one of the few who understood the power of technology and the need for collaboration. In fact, in my Master’s Thesis of 11 odd years ago, Teacher Professional Development in Saskatchewan – Meaningful Transformation – I argued for the following:

  • Teacher led, school-based pd focusing on: curriculum renewal, technology, teaching strategies and assessment.
  • The need to harness the use of technology to have teachers share and collaborate and work with students – guides/coaches
  • Collaborative collections of resources to assist with curriculum renewal – in Saskatchewan we have a resource based provincial curricula that really is geared to the use of multiple resources – perfect for technology integration.

That was 11 years ago, give or take a few months. As an educational leader, I have strongly advocated for school-based pd where teachers share their resources and ideas with one another. I have promoted the need for teachers to gather, just like the Edcamps that are currently taking place, to share their learning and build their knowledge. I even tried to organize one this past spring in my own province to no avail. As an educational leader, flipping the classroom was something I have done for the past 7 years, using technology – delicious, wikis, mind maps, LMS like HotChalk and more recently twitter, Survey Monkey, EasyPollRemind101, diigo , Youtube and various other websites when teaching because, well, I still teach. Middle years and high school. Different subjects each year. It’s been part of they way I’ve taught before there was these “technologies” – asking students to create videos, documentaries, doing cross-curricular units to help students make connections.  I’ve been using UbD for years –  am well versed in PBIS, RTI, PPP’s and Assistive Technologies because every school where I’ve worked as an administrator was inclusive. Period.

I’ve been online for some time – Educational Discourse  ,  Educational Discourse and Ed Administrator2.0 plus my blog – Educational Discourse all examples of how I try to share with others – well plus my twitter @principal_kelly.  Our school has a FB Page, twitter account and the staff uses Livebinders, pbworks wiki, skype and other online and in-school software to facilitate learning, sharing, collaboration and integration with students. This past year we have developed online blogs for our K & 1 classes hoping to add our 2 to 8 student portfolios via Class Blogmeister – which I’ve used with classes to have students blog about their learning – to facilitate discussion and to hopefully encourage them to speak to an audience other than me. I was a teacher support for the flat classroom project, have presented at conferences about the use of SM tools and technology integration.  My work in 9 schools with a few  hundred staff has focused on changing their paradigms, helping to move each one forward with the integration – not use – of technology and moving to a student-oriented view of teaching and learning.

But as a leader, I have also felt the repercussions of not following the prescribe path. I’ve been overlooked and passed by – outspoken about the need for schools to make changes which doesn’t always sit well. I’ve been chastised for technology use amongst a group of peers and used as a negative example of technology use.  People ask for example about SM or online discussions that have had a negative effect – I have personal examples which caused me to – make my online SM accounts non-public, close and delete a number of my accounts and always use previewing for comments. Having received a Master Degree that was mostly online plus several other classes through Harvard Graduate School of Education, PLPNetwork and other online educational providers – some focusing on business, I’ve seen some very good online teaching and some not so good. Schools where I have been administrator have been providing online classes for years – some synchronous and some asynchronous. No one has ever come to me and asked me to share or lead an inservice.

So why all this? Well, to be truthful, it doesn’t seem to matter. (This is where those who think I’m bragging and those who think I’m whining will be WTH?)

You see, I’m not an educational leader who thinks that everyone needs to tweet, blog, pin, chat, google+, plurk or whatever to be a good teacher. I don’t believe that, as an educational leader, my role is to impose my vision upon them or what they need to do – I don’t believe being a SM Star makes you a good teacher and I don’t believe that SM is deep PD. If 140 characters capture the essence of your thoughts, how deep can it be? What it does is provides you points of reference on your individual journey – connecting you with others who, hopefully, will cause you to stretch and think, to pause and reflect and building your own learning and allowing you to create something total new and you – much in the same way that teachers do with students.

Some teachers are there but others aren’t. As an educational leader, I need to put my time and resources where it’s most needed, much the same as we do with students – with teachers who need assistance to improve. For some, all they needed was the okay to go ahead and, bang, off they went. They need to continue to have our support. Others, it’s not so easy for them. But instead of talking about how much they gripe or how many excuses they give (no time, not proficient at it, too hard, too old, too young, too many kids, not enough kids, too early, too late, etc and writing lists about how these aren’t valid or how they aren’t good teachers and live in caves or how, if they’d just listen, they too could be great) it’s about meeting them where they are and moving them forward – sometimes through working with them one-on-one and sometimes by providing a mentor but all the while fostering a belief that they can do anything – there is a leader within them and they are capable. I could finger wag, give them a list of 10 reasons they need to be on twitter, provide them with blog posts of how technology is necessary for learning or I could go to them, see where they are and walk along side them until they can do it themselves – “look ma, no hands!” Just an aside – teachers are professionals but they are people too and if you set yourself up so that there are good/bad teachers with particular criteria – they’ll live up to your expectations – or down to them. Being able to talk about how great technology is might be wonderful – showing how others do it might get them interested but being able to walk with them – having them see how you use the technology – not as an administrator but as a teacher – will go farther than any keynote speaker in making changes in a school’s culture. Leaders who don’t have this might be able to talk and show but they lack the walk – that actual ability to do what they say others should do – not through incidental demonstrations but day-to-day, week-by-week. Really, if you can’t demonstrate that you can walk the talk, as a leader, I won’t listen to your talk. That’s what so many reformers don’t get – it’s not a class or pd session that will convince people – it’s the real results that people can see. Look at the infomercials for fitness and weight loss – it’s about real people getting real results. The more teachers, not those 3 and 4 degrees removed from the classroom, can demonstrate the results and share it with colleagues in close proximity, the greater the change and the swifter the movement. (Psst – that’s why more and more teachers are willing to make changes – the teacher next door is too!)

I don’t think you need to be online, barring your life to the world to be a successful educator – others might think differently and that is okay – but if it’s okay to think that, why isn’t okay to not be hardwired, soul-barring? Why isn’t it okay to question the technology reformists just like I’d question any reformists? Why is it when  many technology reformists are questioned, they dismiss the questions as coming from someone ill informed, not with it or uneducated or unknowing about the way of the world today?

As a leader, I think I’ve the right to be able to question and expect to be answered not dismissed or given a generic, all encompassing general answer, patted on the head, told how educated/informed the person is, how much they know/have researched and how, apparently, uniformed/uneducated I am. Yet, surprisingly, this happens quite often, especially in discussions involving technology reformists – so much so that I often don’t get involved in discussions when it involves technology or reformists. In fact, I don’t encourage teachers or leaders to follow them – I give them other contacts who I know are walking the talk and can provide them with some insights or connections to others who are doing the same thing.

So why did I write this?  Mostly, because it’s been on my mind for some time and a few incidents in the past week have kind of pushed my buttons enough to make me want to give voice to my thoughts. Hopefully some will read this and reflect, give pause and maybe comment, maybe even positively. Mostly, because as an educational leader that has been in the doing this for years, working to improve the learning of students, it’s deeply frustrating and somewhat disheartening to be constantly dismissed, openly ignored and routinely passed over.  Why do I keep at it? Well, really, because it’s about the students, teachers, parents and community where I live and not the rest. And, sadly, that’s what seems to be lacking from much of what is presently going on – creating teachers/leaders who are SM Stars – not helping teachers to connect with students and build relationships which help students to become leaders and be the best they can be.

I’ll end by linking to this post by Dr. Rodney S. Lewis – from the heart and deeply true.

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