Create the Environment

The Networked Leader – #ASBA

My presentation to the Alberta School Boards’ Association.

I had the amazing opportunity to speak to the Alberta School Boards’ Association (ASBA) and share some of the work that we have been doing in Parkland School Division, and some of the things that I see happening around the world with innovation (here are some of the links that I shared throughout the presentation).  As an educator who works with schools and central office, it was a great opportunity to talk to the leaders of our schools and share the changes we are seeing in society and technology, and how we need to leverage this to prepare kids for not only their future, but in reality, their present.

As my first year in the role of Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, I have openly struggled with what this position is and what I need to be doing.  This is something that is totally new to our school division and is probably a unique role to schools, although we are seeing that similar positions are being created.  Although it is often easy to be seen as the “tech guy”, I would like to think that my position is much more than that.  Sometimes there is that role of sitting down with people and figuring out the technology, but learning should always be scaffolded.  I want my role to be more.

I have followed the final reflections from the Learning Leader project and feel that I am finally starting to understand what my role should be about.  Through my work with Connected Principals and Connected Canada, I have learned that I am so much better off tapping into the brilliance of others, and bringing their thoughts and ideas back to my own work.   The environments that we have created together to collaborate and share back and forth, influences all of our work.  I have been inspired watching the #ConnectedCA hashtag and seeing people from all over Canada and the world, helping one another to get better in what they do for  kids.  As I prepared for last night, I realized that my role is not to be “the innovative one”, but in actuality, it is to help create the best environments for our school division to allow the brilliance of others to create the innovation.  This needs to be an environment and culture that is created for every person from student to superintendent.  The more we tap into each other, the better we all are.

I used to think that we needed to make a shift in our classrooms from “teacher focused” to “student focused”.  But through my work, and then seeing the photo below, that statement wasn’t quite right.


The best environments are learner focused.  It is an “all in” idea that learning is something we do with our students, not to them.

From talking to so many superintendents and trustees in Alberta last night, I realized how dedicated they are to the work that they are doing for kids.  You get the sense that many of them are not willing to stop until they seen 100% success for their students and even if they were to achieve that, there would be a new average; they would still need to get better.  But as I thought about my role this year and how it is about creating those environments where innovation thrives, I realized that this is the work of the leaders in our schools/divisions/districts.  In fact, this is the work of all educators.  They need to understand how to do this as well.  We get so caught up in the idea of “social media”, but it so much more than that.  It is connecting and learning from one another.  I learn a lot more from a conversation than I do from reading an article and now, I have a lot more conversations.

A good educator can motivate a student.  A great educator creates the environment where students can motivate themselves.

So I challenged ASBA last night to not only share over the next couple of days, but to create the environments where they can continuously learn from each other, the world, and those that they serve in their own schools.  This video is one that has inspired me so I shared it with them near the end:

If you notice at the end of the video, with all the innovators and brilliant minds that were shown, it was a single child that was displayed.  In our work, our greatness will come from what our kids eventually do.  The best teachers know that if we prepare  students to not only survive, but thrive in our world, this is where their legacy will be.  Kids become great men and women.  Hopefully as educators, they are doing that because we empowered them, not becoming great in spite of what they experienced in school.

As I thought about how I should end the evening, I didn’t know what words I could leave people with.  So I did what any normal person in our world today would do; I asked Twitter.  Instead of trying to come up with the words on my own, I wanted to listen to the ideas of educators that wanted to be able to share what they think our leaders should be doing to make our schools better.  After reading all of the ideas, I decided to end with this:

Learn together. Lead together.

I have no idea who said it, or if it was just a mashup of thoughts that were shared.  To be honest, many educators aren’t worried about getting the credit.  Most educators just want to make a difference.  As leaders of our education system, we need to continuously make the best environments where that can happen for everyone.

7 comments for “Create the Environment

  1. Vicki Steer
    June 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Thanks George for these thoughtful reflections on leading and learning. As a Principal I encounter daily the challenge of creating time for meaningful conversation out of the myriad demands of the job.

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