Tag Archives: Leadership

Let’s Make Tech All About Learning

I have found myself lately in several conversations about the price of technology. The conversations have focused on laptops and tablets and folks wondering if we could find devices that were less expensive.

And I realized that, in their thinking, all laptops and devices were created equal, in such a way that the only variable is cost (and, if this were true, I would have to agree).

But it made me realize that we were having the wrong conversation completely. The conversation shouldn’t be about price; it should be about value.

Further, I realized that we miss the boat on the value conversation when we spend too much time talking about the technology and the tools, or about providing technology and procurement. We need to spend most of our time talking about what kinds of learning we would like to make happen with the technology. You can only get to the value conversation when you can discuss what you want to do with the devices and compare different devices around how well suited they are to those purposes.

I used to teach with a really wonderful professor of elementary educational technology, named Ralph Granger. He used to say, when you go to the hardware store to buy a new drill bit, you don’t really want a new drill bit. You want a hole. When it comes to educational technology, we need to talk less about our “drill bits” and more about the “holes” we want.

Or as Marc Prensky says, we need more verbs and fewer nouns.

And, as TPACK reminds us, when we align our educational arrows, we are talking about content, pedagogy, and technology (What instructional strategies might we use to teach this learning target, and what role could our devices play?).

I believe that part of that conversation needs to be around student engagement and motivation.

So I was very happy to see that the National Association of School Boards of Education is pointing out that student engagement needs to be a critical criteria for judging the value of our educational investments (including technology). One article on their recent report starts, “Education is a $600 billion a year industry, but that investment means little unless students are physically and mentally present and engaged to benefit from it.”

How are you prepared to help make our educational technology conversations focus more on learning?

 

Shared Visioning in Action

I recently started a new job: Policy Director of the Learning Through Technology Team (LTTT) at the Maine Department of Education. It’s essentially the state tech director position, and its largest responsibility is managing the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI – 1to1 in 7th & 8th statewide – since 2001! – and making it easy for districts to buy in at other grades), and supporting schools as they think about how technology can support learning.

I have a small (but awesome!) team of 7 colleagues that help make all this happen. If you follow this blog, you already know I’m a strong believer in “Leading Beside” which includes both shared leadership and working from a shared vision. So it won’t surprise you that one of the first things I did with my new team was set aside a morning for us to build a shared vision.

We used the same process that Bette Manchester introduced to districts at the very beginning of MLTI: To think of a preferred future for young people we care about (the Preferred Future), then think about about what students need to start doing today to get ready for that Preferred Future (the Vision for Learning), then think about what teachers, schools – and the Learning Through Technology Team – need to do today so students can do what they need to do (the Strategic Plan). (A process Bette would credit to Bruce Wellman’s work.)

Building a Preferred Future

We started by thinking about a young person we care deeply about. Then thought out into the future, beyond middle school, beyond high school, beyond college or job training or military, and then a few more years, until that person was getting settled in their jobs and, perhaps, their family.

And then we thought about three questions:

  • Where would we like them to be able to work?
  • Where would we like them to be able to live?
  • Where would we like for them to be able to learn?

Here’s what the team generated:

These charts represent the Team’s Preferred Future.

 

Identifying Our Shared Vision Vision for Learning

The next step was to think about these same students today. If the charts above represent our preferred future for these young people, what do they need to do today to get ready for it?

Here is what we generated:

So, these charts represent the Team’s Vision for Learning.

 

Creating Our Strategic Plan

So, if this is what we believe students need to start doing today to get ready for the Preferred Future, what do do we believe teachers need to do, so students can do what they need to? Our thoughts:

 

And then, what do we believe schools (principals, tech directors, district administration, etc.) need to do so teachers and students can do what they need to? The Team’s lists:

These charts represent what we hope teachers and schools might adopt as their strategic plan.

But they also lead us to think about our own work and responsibility for making our Vision for Learning a reality. What does the Learning Through Technology Team need to do to support the work of students, teachers, and schools?

 

Prioritizing

Accomplishing 3 pages of strategic steps is a daunting task! (Actually, self defeating! We need a little focus!) I gave each Team member 6 dots to place on the charts. The prompt was, “Which are the most important pieces for us to work on right now.” All of them are important, and should be tackled as some time, but we needed to identify where to start. Team members could distribute their dots in an way they wanted (all 6 on one item, or spread out across items, etc.), but they each only had the 6 dots.

You can see where they placed their dots above.

That translates into the following as the Learning Through Technology Team’s Strategic Plan for the coming year:

  • Collaborate with our Vendors/Partners to give life to our Vision
  • Foster Postive Collaboration with School Leaders
  • Know the Field – where are their successes and challenges?
  • Improve Communications (Organizations, Schools, Partners)
  • Capturing data / Evidence of Impact

 

Where We’ll Go Next

It’s not enough to capture a Vision on paper. It needs to be used as a filter and a compass.

In order to do that, we’ll have to polish our Vision for Learning into a shareable document (it’s a little too rough for sharing in this current form), and create a mission statement. Then we can put together a “Compass and Filter” document (that includes our vision, mission, and strategic plan goals). We will use it to help us decide how to prioritize and do our work, and help us decide which new opportunities to take on. We can also share it with the schools, organizations, and other partners we work with (or might start working with) to see where there is alignment between our work and theirs.

But I’ll save that for future blog posts…

 

Shared Leadership Teams – The Series

The multiple perspectives, the buy-in from diverse stakeholders, shared leadership teams are a powerful tool in your arsenal for making large-scale school change stick. Shared leadership teams focus on the strategic work of the school. They focus on school change and improvement. They are not simply an advisory group. They are the decision making body.

Shared Leadership Teams: What They Are and Aren’t

Schools already have lots of groups that they call leadership teams. But many of them are not what I would refer to as “shared leadership teams,” not in the sense we're talking about here. I would probably call them “management teams.”

Schools frequently have teams that are used to help share information between building administration and teams or departments, or to decide how and when to transition between terms or trimesters, or how to handle lunch on days with special events, or how to schedule fundraisers from various groups, etc.

I am not implying that these management tasks are unimportant, because they are. Further, I believe they are best handled with teacher input and representation and not by administrative edict.

To me, however, management teams handle tasks related to the day to day running of the school.

Shared leadership teams focus on the strategic work of the school. They focus on school change and improvement.

Students learning with tablets

In Auburn, we call them “Design Teams” because of the design and planning nature of their task. Another district I work with calls them “Implementation Teams” because they will lead the implementation of their strategic initiatives (and their “design teams” serve a specific function in school construction projects). Other folks call them “Work Groups.” It doesn't matter so much what they are called, as the work that they do.

Design teams assess where in the implementation process your educators are, identify timely next steps, assist in providing formative feedback to those educators, help troubleshoot and problem-solve the challenges of implementation, and facilitate the sharing of ideas. It's roll-up-your-sleeves strategic work. It's about assessing what needs to be done right now to help your initiative be successful. And it's about collaboratively crafting the overarching systems and structures that will guide your project.

Leadership Teams

For example, when Auburn started their 1to1 iPads in primary grades initiative, the design team for that initiative met periodically to plan various aspects of the program, including: what grade level we should begin with (kindergarten); the original name of the initiative; how to handle a small exploration program in 5 classrooms to figure out how we wanted to move forward with the program; how to craft a small randomized control trial (research study) at the beginning of the project, to insure we were collecting and analyzing data on how we were doing. Later, the role of the team evolved to focus on both on-going support of teachers and the special needs of rolling out 1to1 tablets to a new grade level each year.

As stated previously, shared leadership teams are made up of diverse stake holders. The power comes from these diverse perspectives.

But they are not simply an advisory group. They are the decision making body.

And, as much as possible, decisions are made by working toward concensus. Not everyone has to agree, but, as much as possible, everyone should be able to live with a decision. And lots can be learned by asking (nicely) someone to clarify their dissenting point of view. I find that often they have some concern many of the rest of us haven't thought about, but that we should consider and plan for.

Keep in mind that lots of perspectives and shared decision making does not mean letting folks do what ever they want (if that's worrying you). If you are the administrator, you still help set the non-negotiables and parameters of a decision. As a member of the team, your perspective is one of those shared in the discussions.

So shared leadership teams are not advisory groups, management teams, nor information dissemination groups (even if these are important tasks that need to be addressed somehow within the school or district).

What shared leadership teams are is a driving force to do the following:

  • Work Out Details
  • Solve the Problems
  • Invent the Next Pieces
  • Systematic Change and Continuous Improvement

 

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.

 

Another Wonderful iPads in Primary Grades Institute Completed

It has been a (VERY) busy fall, but the (wonderful!) culmination of it all was last week's Leveraging Learning Institute.

This was Auburn School Department's third year running the institute focused on lessons learned from our first-in-the-country iPads in primary grades initiative. We had about 130 participants, mostly from across Maine, but also from North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

We had some nice press coverage:

Look over the whole Institute website here, but you might be especially interested in the resource documents from this year's sessions (we're still posting resources, so check back in a week or so to see what other resources are shared) or info about our presenters.

We don't have any details for you yet, but we have already started planning the next Leveraging Learning Institute…