Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

While watching Game of Thrones has provided me with much entertainment over the past few years, it did not teach me a single thing about becoming a better leader. In fact, I learned more about leadership from a five-minute rereading of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree than I did from the forty plus hours I spent watching kings and queens jockey for position. Leadership is about giving, plain and simple.

What I got I gotta give it to the teachers…

Leaders have so much to do in the course of the day; the last thing they have time for is micromanagement. When we give power and decision-making ability to teachers we free ourselves up to actually get in the classrooms and see some of the amazing things that are taking place every day. This is being done in places like New Milford High School where principal and digital pioneer Eric Sheninger is giving his teachers what he calls Professional Growth Periods, during which they can explore their own learning passions.

Of course there will be times when teachers make mistakes. But when this occurs, it gives us the opportunity to sit down and discuss what could’ve been done differently. It affords us the opportunity to have meaningful conversations about ways for us to move forward and improve as a team. When teachers feel empowered they become powerful. Why wouldn’t we want the most powerful teachers possible working with our students?

“The courage of leadership is giving others the chance to succeed even though you bear the responsibility for getting things done.” Simon Sinek

What I got I gotta give it to the students…

Students are told what to read, how to read, what to write, how to write, when to use the restroom, when to line up, etc. While I do not believe for a moment that students would excel in an environment in which they were able to do whatever they wanted, I do believe that giving them some ownership and choice would increase engagement and retention exponentially.

Think back to the last time you were told exactly what to read and exactly how to respond. Do you remember much from that experience besides the fact that it is over? Me neither. If we want to truly compete with what is going inside our students’ heads, then we better start changing how we operate. For great advice on how to successfully navigate through these changing times I highly recommend reading Starr Sackstein’s prescient piece titled Times they are a changin’… Are You?.

“I am standing before you today with a troubled heart. I’ve insisted on taking responsibility for your lives that I am really, just like a first time parent, who makes mistakes and learns as he goes along. And like that parent I find myself at that moment when I have to decide, do I hold on or do I trust you to yourselves. Do I let go and hope that you have understood my lessons? If we don’t start trusting our children how will they ever become trustworthy?” Footloose

What I got I gotta give it to the parents…

As educators we are the ones that give students the tools to help them navigate the world. But students’ parents are often the ones that give them permission to keep them, or not. Let me explain. We have an enormous impact on our students’ thinking when they are with us. Then they go home, and whether or not what they learned and what they gained “sticks” can depend on their parents’ impression of us.

Parents’ impressions of us often depend upon how much we have given them. Do we give them their anger when they call us upset about something that has happened to their child? Or do we indignantly explain away their concerns, as if they had no right to them to begin with? Do we give their valid questions the time they deserve? Or do we act as if they should’ve have already known the answer. Have we forgotten that it was only yesterday that we posed that same question to our PLN, from the comfort and safety of our keyboard? Pernille Ripp wrote a very honest piece a month ago titled Do You Ask For Their Opinion? in which she reflects on the power of giving parents a seat at the table.

“If you don’t like someone, the way he holds a spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over in your lap and you won’t mind.” Irving Becker

What I got I gotta give it to my PLN…

My only regret with becoming a connected educator is that I didn’t become one sooner. The power of a PLN is immeasurable! I have only dipped my toe in the water, but what I have experienced in the past ten months is phenomenal. Educators give freely and honestly of themselves in ways that I have never experienced before.

Furthermore, what I have noticed is that those that give the most seem to be surrounded by people that are incredibly positive and uncharacteristically happy. Simply read the posts and tweets sent out by folks such as Jimmy Casas, Ben Gilpin, Pernille Ripp and Todd Nesloney and you will begin to see what I mean. Several months ago a highly valued member of my PLN, Barry Saide, wrote a piece called Rise Up: 99 Problems But a Mentor Ain’t One! about the power of connections and giving.

Final Thoughts

Not until we realize the power of giving will we ever fully accomplish that which it is we were hoping to achieve. As leaders I believe that we must be willing to coronate others. Step down from your throne and take your crown off. Because to be quite honest, the throne was uncomfortable and the crown looked silly!