Learner-in-Chief: Leading in 21st century education

My contribution to Leadership Day, 2010:

I have had the incredibly good fortune (for which I am so grateful) to be an educational leader for 13 years now, but only in the past several years have I sought to be come an educational leader– and it’s been a great ride, one I wish all my school leadership colleagues will take!  Here is a smattering of thoughts on techniques for 21st century ed leadership, with one most important message: today more than ever, leadership is about learning, and those of us who aim to lead learning must be ourselves Chief Learners in order to be Chiefs of Learning.

Focus on yourself.   You must become the change you wish to see in your schools.  Unfortunately, this can be hard if we are, as I think I was, trapped in a fixed mindset.  Carol Dweck’s book Mindset was critical to me; she explains how there are only two mindsets, fixed and growth, and many of us, students and even more so adults, are trapped in a fixed mindset.  In this, we think we are what we have been, and cannot become something different.  We think that to seek to grow, to learn, to change will demonstrate weakness, flaws, or failings.  We think that if we have not been, in our past, digitally savvy, then we cannot change ourselves.  But if we take Dweck and adopt a growth mindset, there is nothing we cannot become.

Having adopted a growth mindset and made the pledge to learn and grow, start and don’t stop learning.  Reframe your own self-image as Principal, Head or Superintendent; you are not just Chief of Learning but you are Chief Learner, you are Learner-in-Chief.

Learning is not just about reading more widely, or attending more conferences (though those aren’t bad ideas).   We must also learn in the field, visiting other schools with all the frequency we can possibly find, and make it a priority to do so.   Visit widely, and do your research: where are the schools that are doing the kind of work you most want to do in your own schools?  Go and see them up close and personal, and don’t just rely on an administrator to tour you around, showing you what he wants you to see– shadow a student to see it their way.

But we must also learn socially.   Solitary learning doesn’t cut it.   Collaborative learning is more stimulating, more challenging, and more current; fortunately we live in an age which dramatically enables ongoing social learning: the internet.   Twitter is the go-to place for this, but you can also use facebook or Nings.   The key thing is to identify a PLN, a professional learning network of folks with shared interests, and start participating in their conversation.

Learning is about just taking in new ideas, but about processing mentally that input, and the best way to process and integrate is to write about your learning.    Blogs are amazing platforms for exactly this, and allow us to be learners and teachers simultaneously.

Blogging also does something critical: it shows your community that you are learning.  To be learners-in-chief, we must be public learners, and blogs offer this platform to say look what I learned, look what I am trying to learn more about.   This will inspire everyone in your organization to become a better learners themselves.

Focus on the world. To be an educational leader, you must be concerned with the world our students are preparing to enter (and have, indeed, already entered).  How is it changing, what are the changing demands, what are the changing values, what are the changing tools?  Our world is not our grandfathers’, and our schools shouldn’t be either.    This is true even if you wish it weren’t: it may be the world is changing in ways you would prefer it didn’t, but that is no excuse for ignoring these changes.

Think hard about the world around you.   Are you preparing yourself for its changes?   You can’t even begin to think about whether you are preparing your teachers or your students for the changing world if you are not preparing yourself.

Focus on Outcomes: What do you want your students to have learned; what do you want them to be able to do when they leave your school?   What kind of learning experience do you want for them, and do you think will best prepare them for their future.  Perhaps you have primarily thought in terms of mastery of basic skills– and certainly our students still need them, no doubt.   But is that enough in this changing world?     Articulate a 21st century skills list for your school;  value creativity, collaboration, communication in what you do and what you measure.   Use excellent 21st century assessment tools like the CWRA and HSSSE.

Lead your Learning Community.   Leading is modeling, first and foremost.   You cannot ask your teachers to teach with digital tools if you are not modeling the same.   Practice digital leadership, by blogging, tweeting, on-line surveying, and  forming on-line communities.   The digital world of tools is so broad that I think it’s foolish to think you must be master of every such domain– that is impossible.  But choose one or a few, show yourself to be learning, and your colleagues will join you.

Promote collaboration among faculty, and between your teachers and those outside your own school or district.   Time is of the essence; there is no way to encourage or expect greater collaboration without more time provided.  Kids need more sleep anyway, and to sleep later in the morning, so why not start school later and create a win-win for kids and teachers.   Don’t use the time for meeting, but for a focus on professional growth and collaboration, and give tools, guidance, structure to make this more possible.  (we are using especially the CFG model).

Talk about outcomes, talk about the future, talk about what you want for your school, and find measurements to fit and to guide.  What gets measured gets done; be choosy about what you measure and how you talk about what you measure.   Then use the results to guide ongoing improvement.

Share your enthusiasm for active learning, innovation, experimentation, and growth.  Remind everyone you’d rather see risk-taking and mistakes than flawless repetition of the same old same old.   As you observe teaching, ask yourself as adult and educational leader: Am I learning?  Am I engaged?  Do I care about what is happening here?   If you don’t, maybe there is a problem.   It is not fair to ask our students to endure and to benefit from what we cannot ourselves easily find meaning and rewards in.

Promote transparency and help hold a mirror to teaching.  I am not doing enough with this, but we need to shift from a culture of rare administrator observations of teaching to a place where our walls are windows.  (High Tech High does this literally, and brilliantly).   Teaching should be in theaters, not cloisters.   Visit often, but not necessarily for long.  Even better, promote teachers visiting other teachers often, and giving feedback, and then take the next step (haven’t done it myself yet, in all fairness) of helping teachers videotape themselves and then scrutinize their own practice.

Promote technology use, but maintain a focus on what students do with tech, not what teachers do with tech.   The point is to empower our students to be more effective researchers, investigators, and, even more so, be effective communicators, collaborators and creators on-line and digitally.    Be a Web 2.0 advocate.

Empower and listen to students, and encourage them to advocate for their own learning.   Urge students to ask their teachers for ways they can use their technology to learn and to demonstrate their learning.  Include students on technology committees, and discuss with them ideas for next steps in technology adoption.  Ask them what they think they need to learn.

2 Comments

  1. Check my summary of “Mindset” and other books as DrDougGreen.Com. Let me know what you think.

    August 9, 2010
    Reply

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