Category Archives: Leadership

How to Avoid Unintentionally Sabotaging Your Shared Leadership Teams

So, if you are forming shared leadership teams for your initiative, you clearly want to reap the benefits that come from them: increased buy-in, soliciting stakeholder voice and choice, designing and planning strengthened by the power of multiple perspectives. And, if you are the one putting the leadership teams together, then you’re already a leader in your school or district (a little positional authority is usually needed to get them started).

So guess the most common cause of unintentional leadership team sabotage

Shared Leadership

You are!

Yup. In my experience the most common source of sabotage are the people who put the team together in the first place. They never intend to. It just happens naturally.

How?

You are leaders. You have postitional authority. The stakeholders at the table are used to your leadership. Probably, most of them appreciate your leadership. So what do they do? They do what they’re used to. They defer to you. And suddenly you have one leader with 14 people around a table, not a shared leadership team with 15 stakeholders expressing their diverse perspectives.

How do you know if you are unintentionally sabotaging your shared leadership team?

Pay attention to what percent of the talk in the shared leadership team (not counting the facilitation, just the real talk – sharing and examining ideas, designing components, developing plans) is from you or other school leaders with positional authority. If the answer is more than 25%, you have tweaking to do. If it is more than 50%, you’re in trouble (and won’t reap the benefits of shared leadership). If it is more than 75%, you are a master saboteur and are totally undermining your intentions of having a shared leadership team? (Ok, said a little tongue in cheek, but you get my point.)

In truth, we (school leaders) are good at what we do. To not do what we are good at is hard! It’s counterintuitive! But, in this case, it is also counterproductive.

So, what can you do to avoid the unintentional sabotage?

You will have to shift your leadership hat from directing and sharing your wisdom, to facilitating and soliciting wisdom from others. These strategies might help when meeting with your shared leadership team:

Wait Time: Just like in the classroom, sometimes you just need to pose your question or prompt and wait. And wait. And wait. Try not to be the first one to offer ideas, suggestions, or opinions. Just look around the room expectantly, someone else will eventually break the silence. The more the group gets used to actually expressing their ideas, the shorter the wait will be. But even when your group is at that point, try not to be one of the first ones to talk.

Actively Solicit Others’ Ideas: Just waiting probably will not be enough. The team might need nudging. Turn to team members and say, “Betty, what do you think?” You need to do it in a gentle way. It can’t sound like you’re trying to put anyone on the spot. Maybe start with someone who has been quiet, but you know is likely to have a good idea. Maybe do a “round robin,” where each person shares an idea in turn. Maybe after a couple people have shared ideas, ask an especially silent person what they think. When you see someone has a facial expression that says they have an opinion, say, “Mark, you look like you have something to say…” Spend more time getting others to share their ideas, than you spend sharing yours.

Save Your List for Later: It is likely that everyone is waiting for you to speak. Don’t. The quickest way to allow others to not share their voice or perspective is for you to speak. Save your input for later. (You do get to share it, just not first – or second!) I know you already have your own ideas about what needs to be done, how it should be done, and what the next steps are (you are a leader, after all!). So, keep that list to yourself! For now. Save most of your speaking for facilitating and getting others to share their ideas and opinions. But do keep the list in your head or on paper. Wait for others to share those ideas. Cross them off as they come up (from others). After the discussion has gone on for a while, and lots of ideas are on the table, then you can cycle back to sharing ideas from your list that aren’t crossed off yet. Maybe share them just one at a time, with ideas coming from others in between.

Frame Your Ideas as Questions, not Suggestions: Folks know you have ideas. They probably generally like your ideas. They are used to using your ideas, and probably even are accustomed to deferring to your ideas. The way to not allow them to simply wait and take your ideas is to avoid framing your ideas as ideas or suggestions, but rather as questions, “What do you guys think if we were to…?” This way, you are still soliciting members’ ideas and opinions, but ideas and opinions about the ideas you share. It says you value and are actively seeking their input and voice.

Warning #1: You might be a little mad at me right now (maybe deep down inside – maybe just a little – admit it!). Why can’t you share your ideas? You have tons of experience working on initiatives, and with running schools and educational programs. Isn’t that experience valuable? At the very least, as a shared leadership team, shouldn’t you be participating as an equal partner in the team, and chime in just as everyone else should chime in?

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

But not right now. This post isn’t about you or your expertise. It’s about developing the capacity of a shared leadership team. Do you want to sit around a table of silent educators, where yours is the “only” voice? Or do you want to sit around a table with lively discussions, ideas flying, and good thinking being applied to the work? This post is about how you get the other stakeholders to stop being silent. Once they stop being quiet or hesitant to share their opinions and ideas, that’s when you get to start participating as a regular team member.

Warning #2: It will be painful at first. It doesn’t matter what you tell folks about how we will do this together and we are all leaders in this initiative and that this team was formed so we could get everyone’s perspective. It still violates the leadership paradigm they are used to. Folks will stare at you and wonder why you aren’t telling them what to do or what you’re thinking. In fact, the first couple suggestions that come from folks who aren’t used to shared leadership may even be delivered with a tone that sounds a little spiteful with an undertone of “This isn’t brain science! Why didn’t you say this already? Why am I having to say it?!” They might even treat you (for a while) like they don’t understand why you aren’t doing your job or why you’re just sitting there.

The good news is that once teachers, students, or other stake holders start sharing their ideas and see that those ideas are wanted and valued and even used(!), they will be much more willing to speak up. And at that point, not before, you can say (if you feel you need to), “That’s why I was just sitting there. To get you folks to start speaking up!”

 

Shared Leadership Teams: The Power of Diverse Perspectives

If many hands make light work, many minds make smart work.

Shared Leadership

Bette Manchester taught me long ago, at the beginning of MLTI, not only that leadership was everything, but that shared leadership teams performed better for an initiative than single leaders did.

Years later, I worked for a small, private, educational development organization. We created non-traditional schools for underachieving students in good sized cities. There were four of us. Two came from the business world and understood the business side of education and how to work with executive-level decision-makers in large districts. One was a former high school principal who had also worked in the corporate world as a VP for Education for a large, national cable company. He understood school leadership and administration, and community and business partnerships. And there was me. I understood pedagogy, student motivation, and professional development. And we were all Type-A personalities!

It made for the most interesting phone conversations (we lived all over the east coast and when we weren't onsite at a school, collaobrated online and on the phone). My wife would come home from work to hear the tail end of one of my conference calls, grimace, and say when we were done, “Wow! That must have been hard!” I didn't understand. The conversations were lively, but we weren't arguing or disagreeing, really. We were strong personalities, passionate about shared work, critiquing an idea or plan from our own perspectives and areas of expertise. What made it not arguing was that we actually listened to each other, and revised our ideas and plans with our input from each other. We always ended up with a much stronger plan because it stood up to scrutiny from multiple perspectives.

Since then, whenever I've had an initiative or project to work on, I have started by putting together a shared leadership team (or convinced the folks I'm working with to put together a shared leadership team).

These teams are made up of a spectrum of shareholders: students, teachers, administrators, school committee members, parents, and community members. But you aren't just looking for a diversity of positions, but also perspectives. And you don't want all “yes-men” on the team, either. While you might not want too many active blockers, you certainly want some of the folks who are looking critically at the work and coming to the table with their “yes, but”s to be addressed.

Auburn's iPads in primary grades

As an example, when we started our first-in-the-nation 1to1 iPads in primary grades initiative, one of the first things we did was put together a “Design Team,” the folks who would design the initiative. In addition to getting input from teachers, the Design Team included the following: Superintendent, Asst. Superintendent, Curriculum Director, Tech Director, Multiple Pathways Director, Principal, Elementary Technology Coach, District Grant Writer, School Committee members, parents, and leaders from several related community and educational organizations, such as the Auburn Public Library, the Career Center, the Chamber Business/Education Committee, City Council, ETC, NEREL, and the Maine International Center for Digital Learning.

At least one of the Design Team members was not necessarily supporters. But her concerned position about how we were going to use iPads with young learners insured we were addressing those concerns early in the design process. Further, seeing how we going about designing the initiative in thoughtful ways alleviated many of her concerns. (In the end, she became a supporter of the program, even when she continues to be critical when we aren't as good about living up to our high standards for the program as we might be.)

And a key learning from our using shared leadership teams? No one of us is as smart as all of us together. The secret is the power of diverse perspectives.

 

We’re Looking for a Wonderful Middle School Principal

Auburn Middle School

Are you looking to be the school leader of a terrific middle school, with a strong staff, who are working to implement innovative work around developmental responsiveness (see here and here), teaching and learning with technology, and customized learning? Would you like to be part of such a school that didn’t stand alone in its work, but was in a district doing strong innovative work in the same areas, and with strong, supportive leadership at the top? Do you know of another educator who would be interested in such a position?

Then please check out the Auburn Middle School Principal job posting on School Spring (use 809452 as the Job ID).

But move quickly. We are already reviewing applicants and hope to start interviewing soon.

Frankly, we’d love to find another team member, who is enthusiastic about driving and leading meaningful school change through shared leadership, might have some experience in one or more of our three innovation areas and could come up to speed on the others quickly (they aren’t trivial initiatives!), and is just plain fun to work with!

Did I mention that you’d get to work with an innovative district, making exciting progress on implementing innovative programs to help all children learn at their peak, a district that actively supports and empowers its educators in their professional learning, leadership, and educational entrepreneurship?

Learn more about Auburn Middle School or Auburn School Department. And don’t hesitate to contact me, if you have questions about the position, the school, our work, or the district.

Please share this post with your network and help us find a terrific principal for our innovative school!

 

 

Another View on iPad Keyboards

Note: This is a guest post by Auburn Middle School (AMS) Technology Integrator, Carl Bucciantini. The article originally appeared in the Dec. 2013 Issue of the Auburn Middle School Newsletter.

Over the past few days I’ve received several phone calls from parents wondering what kind of keyboard to purchase for their children. While there are lots of options available, I find myself wondering if a keyboard really necessary and what is the driving force behind the “need” to have one?” I think decisions such as these are often made based upon perception or personal experience. Further, as adults I think we assume that our children can’t possibly “type” as well using a touch pad as they could on a keyboard, partly because of our own challenges with touchpads.

This controversy has been swirling around for a long time, so I recently posed the keyboard vs. touchpad question to Dr. Ruben Puentedura, a consultant to the MLTI project since its inception, asking if he is aware of any research which indicates that one is better than the other. Here’s what he’s found:

The research to date is pretty clear-cut: there is little to no significant difference between using a physical keyboard and a virtual keyboard, particularly as users become more experienced in the use of the iPad. Here are some relevant recent references:

Brady Cline did a nice small-scale study with students in grades 3-6, which showed no significant benefit to using the physical keyboard.

Some people criticized that study, saying that none of the students were particularly fast typists. So, it's worthwhile seeing how well an adult who is a reasonably experienced typist performs with the iPad. A 2010 study by Chaparro et al. (when the iPad had just been introduced) showed that people who had never typed on an iPad performed at around 45 words per minute (wpm) right off the bat. The same people typed about 15wpm faster on a netbook keyboard – but they had a higher error rate on the physical keyboard, and overall reported higher typing satisfaction on the iPad. A 2013 followup study by Chaparro et al., this time using a dedicated external keyboard on the Microsoft Surface, confirmed these results.

Needless to say, practice improves iPad keyboarding speeds. I don't know of any study that has final numbers on improvement, but light regular use is reported to get you to about 54wpm, and there are multiple videos on YouTube and elsewhere of people typing 60wpm to over 100wpm on an iPad without breaking a sweat.

One of the major advantages to using the iPad is that it’s so easy to use it on the go. Dr. Puentedura continues:

There are some very interesting studies coming out on using the iPad “on the go” (Trudeau et al., 2013), where using a regular keyboard is difficult or impossible. As you might expect, typing speed goes down in these scenarios (to about 23wpm on a split keyboard layout, 25wpm on a regular layout), but the split keyboard layout (mostly thumb typing) was found to be considerably more comfortable. Given that in these scenarios the physical keyboard performs at about 0wpm, I would consider those numbers quite respectable.

My personal belief is that whether they use a touchpad or a more traditional keyboard, kids have an uncanny ability to adapt. My advice is if you’re looking at purchasing a keyboard, ask your child why they think they need one, how it will make things better for them and suggest that they borrow one from the AMS library for a week or two to try it out.

 

We Need Keyboards With Our iPads. Not!

This past summer, Maine's schools got the choice for the first time to purchase tablets as part of the statewide 1to1 learning with “laptop” initiative (MLTI). It has spotlighted an interesting demand related to tablets: we need to get keyboards so students can use the tablets.

I kind of understand why people might think this. The virtual keyboard on the iPad does take a little getting used to, especially if you're a pretty good typer on a regular, physical keyboard. Also, adults and students hear other adults say, “we need keyboards for our tablets.” And the idea is reinforced by the TV ads for some tablets that state theirs come with a keyboard “so you can do real work.” Locally, we even have an owner of a call center claiming (while pounding his fist on the table…) he won't hire any of our graduates because they won't be able to type on a physical keyboard.

My own experience with a full sized iPad is that it took me a couple weeks to get used to the virtual keyboard, but now I type on it as fast or faster than I do on a physical keyboard. And I have heard similar stories of parents or community leaders in other districts demanding keyboards because of the hard time they personally are having typing on the onscreen keyboard, but a couple weeks later saying “never mind” when they have developed familiarity with it.

Admittedly, if I'm doing any quantity of writing on my iPad mini, such as writing this post, I do use a bluetooth keyboard. My hands are just too big to do anything more than a modified hunt and peck on the smaller keyboard. But the core of this debate is not about the size the keyboards on the (smaller) screens, but rather about onscreen vs physical keyboards.

I do believe that some folks really do need a different keyboard or sometimes need a physical keyboard. MLTI provided keyboards in something like a 1-to-10 or 1-to-7 ratio to the number of student iPads. We have put those in a keyboard lending program in our school libraries (students can check them out as needed), and a few students with a specific need have one permanently assigned to them. We even have students and families who have bought their own keyboards or keyboard cases (but that was a personal choice rather than a universal demand).

But the real issue that keeps coming up is the question, does everyone (or even just most students) need a keyboard? Districts in Maine that have experience with 1to1 iPad initiatives had interesting things to say when the question of keyboards was posed on the state technology email list.

The Cape Elizabeth tech director reported:

In our high school, we bought around 40-50 iPad keyboards for use in English and Social Studies, and also in our Library. This was in response to concerns from teachers, rather than from students, and although they did get used, they got used primarily because the teachers wanted them to be used rather than students needing to use them. They certainly got used less and less as the year went on and even teachers who borrowed them stopped using them as they ended up finding the onscreen keyboard just more practical.

The high school in RSU 57 has had a 1to1 iPad initiative in place for about 2 years. Their tech person talked about the keyboard cases they had provided students:

This was based on concerns from the administration and staff that student's would need a keyboard especially for typing long papers. Two years later and (my opinion) most students do not use the physical keyboards. Last year's class used it less than the previous class. What I am seeing is that the more the iPad and its virtual keyboard become mainstream the more the students are used to virtual typing before they are ever issued an iPad. Had we stayed with our original plan, I was not going to purchase keyboards this year.

In South Portland, the high school has had a 1to1 initiative for about 3 years, involving about 400 iPads. They have had “almost zero 'real' keyboard use/demand for the few we had purchased to allay concerns.”

Similarly, folks from Falmouth shared:

We bought 50 keyboards for our Elementary School iPads when we started the program 2 years ago. The thought was that 5th graders were going to need them to be able to type papers. 48 of the keyboards are still sitting in a closet unopened because they just have not been needed. The other two I have loaned out to staff but they always bring them back because they don't use them.

Foxcroft Academy has had one of the first high school 1to1 iPad initatiives in Maine. Their Assistant Head of School for Academics pointed out:

We're beginning year 3 of our 1:1 iPad program for all of our grade 9-12 students. We bought a few keyboards in year 1…They've received almost no use. There are plenty of barriers to student writing, but I can assure you that the virtual keyboard is not a substantive one. And, with built-in speech-to-text on these fancy new MLTI iPads, the virtual keyboard is even less a barrier. In short – buy a few (no more than a handful) if you must, to show that you're listening, but know that they are very likely to gather dust.

The Tech Integrator from Bar Harbor responded this way:

We plan to disallow external keyboards for iPads in school, unless the school determines that a student needs one. The thinking is that students will learn the iPad quickly enough, and that we don't want to set up for “have's and have-nots,”…. also the experience of our teachers using iPads, is that even an adult can learn to process text on an iPad.

That educator went on to say that when parents inquire, they have been referencing the articles here and here.

The issue is primarily an adult issue. Surprisingly, much of the demand for keyboards came before any of the schools even had their iPads! As one educator stated in the online discussion:

Some can't understand how you can interact in an educational setting with a device that does not have a keyboard with keys on it. An English teacher here, who was using Edmodo, had a student submit a lengthy paper the student had “thumb typed” on their iPhone!! Don't worry, the kids are all ready there or they will adapt very quickly. We just need to get out of the way.

I am empathetic to folks having fears and concerns about “new” technology they have only a cursory understanding of. This keyboard issue is a common perception about iPads.

But being a common perception does not mean that we have to respond to it, especially if we have adequate reason to believe it is a MISperception. (Nor do we have to respond to a concern just because it is stated repeatedly, or loudly, or with confidence, or by condemning those who disagree, etc.)

It is on us to make the argument (politely and diplomatically) about what works (not what is perceived or guessed or intuited or philosophized…) and provide the evidence that it works (such as through the stories that have been shared here).

 

Communicating with the Community: Getting the Message Right

I attended messaging training this summer while at the Association for Middle Level Education Affiliate Summit. The training was put on by the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 leading education associations all focused on improving learning in America's schools.

I know we are facing some communication challenges presently, and I suspect some of you are, too, so here are my notes on that session (cleaned up a little).

Key Questions to Shape Your Messaging:

  • What's your issue/messaging challenge?
  • Who should you be reaching out to?
  • What's your ask?

Key Findings from National Public Opinion Polls and Survey Data

  • Recent growing support for teachers
  • A belief that there is a lack of adequate funding
  • Rank local schools high but think country's schools are in trouble
  • Parents want to know how their child is progressing

Common Assumptions (from that national data)

  • The community can be influenced primarily by parents, students, teachers
  • Top education problems & issues: motivation, character, discipline, effort
  • Student success and teacher effectiveness = caring
  • Choice is good
  • Reforms need a lot more money
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college
  • Individualization is needed to strengthen basics (not for innovation)
  • Education is a limited commodity (there is only so much to go around)

Common Agreements (from that national data)

  • Public schools are key to a nation's economic future
  • High quality pubic education is a right, not a luxury
  • Public education benefits society
  • Innovation is important, but don't experiment on my children – we need improvement
  • Goal of pubic education is the preparation needed to support our country's quality of life

Values That Work in the Community (from the national data)

  • Education is a shared investment
  • The current system needs updating to prepare students to live in a rapidly changing world
  • Improving education requires a practical set of iterative steps toward an ultimate goal
  • Issues of equity are about the distribution of resources, not about bad people (maybe about unlucky people, not bad people)
  • Don't say “my child” say “every child”

 

Deliberate Leadership for School Change: an Overview of the Lead4Change Model

Large-scale school change often involves both complex systems (lots of different people, schools, organizations, etc.), as well as, things that teachers have never experienced themselves.

That's why schools need a model of deliberate leadership for school change. One such model is Lead4Change.

Lead4Change grew from early learnings from the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) about what strategies successful schools were using, and were often missing at schools having less success. Working with a variety of schools designed to motivate students, it became clear that the lessons generalized nicely to all kinds of school change, not just 1to1 laptop and tablet initiatives.

This 16 minute video provides an overview of the model.

My school district is applying this model to our technology initiatives, MLTI & Advantage 2014, and several districts, including mine, is using it to help shape our work around Customized Learning.

 

The Series on the New MLTI: Choice, Auburn, and Learning

Maine has long had the first (and, unfortunately, only) 1to1 learning with technology initiative: MLTI.

The MLTI contract was up for renewal this year, and, for the first time, Maine is allowing each district to choose from 5 finalist proposals, producing a lot of conversation about the choices and how to choose.

Below is the series of blog posts I have written about the MLTI renewal, Auburn's choice and choice process, and my interest that MLTI selection focus on learning:

 

Strengths of the Early MLTI Program – Let’s Keep Them Going

Maine's learning with technology initiative (MLTI) is going through changes this year:

  • The contract renewal framed it not as a Maine contract, but as a multi-state contract, in hopes of making it easier for other states to do their own statewide initiatives.
  • When our governor announced the new contract award, it wasn't for our 12-year partner, Apple, but rather for HP.
  • The governor is allowing districts to select from any of the 5 finalist (Apple is included).

I'm not sure how all these changes will play out. My hope is that Maine's educators will rise to he occasion and take MLTI to the next level. My fear is that this will eventually kill what has been an internationally recognized learning program.

But it has made me think back on MLTI and what we identified that made the early MLTI such a powerful initiative. I found a couple old articles that address that question:

What we identified then as the strengths of this initiative include:

  • Access to technology
  • A focus on learning
  • A focus on leadership
  • Context-embedded professional development
  • Technology as a tool, not a curriculum area
  • Thinking how technology can change/improve teaching and learning

I hope Maine's educators, including the DOE and MLTI staff, continue to place an emphasis on these areas, and, despite the changes to program, MLTI continues to be the strong impactful initiative we had 8-10 years ago.

 

What We Want from Technology – MLTI, Customized Learning, and School Vision

There have been many discussions around Maine since the Governor announced schools would have choice over which solution they select for MLTI for the next four years. But most of those conversations have focused on the device, or its capabilities, or why it is “my preferred device,” or why people are worried that the device they aren't that familiar with will not be sufficient for the task at hand…

I wish so much more of those conversations had instead been about school visions for learning, and what we hope to get from technology for learning. What role can technology play in learning? What is your school's or district's vision (ours is here), and what is the role of technology in fulfilling that vision?

And for Auburn, as I would guess for other districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, we are concerned about technology's role in helping us succeed with implementing Customized Learning (such a critical part of our vision).

Here is what we think the roles for technology are for learning, especially for Customized Learning:

  • Instructional Resources for Building Foundational Knowledge
  • Instructional Resources for Using Knowledge, Creating, Complex Reasoning, and Projects
  • Learning Progress Management
  • Supporting Independent Learning
  • Assessment
  • Home School Connection
  • Student Motivation

How are you currently using technology for each of these? What are teachers doing (maybe in your district, but maybe in another) that shows you exciting ways technology could be used for each of these? What is best technology practice for each of these roles?

But much more importantly, as Maine's districts think about selecting a solution for MLTI, how does each proposed solution measure up against each of these roles for technology?

You don't have to be interested in Customized Learning to be interested in these roles. But I don't beleive a school can make a satisfactory decision about which solution to select if they are only thinking about the device or the operating system…