New, official leadership roles for the first time

For the first time in my teaching career, I am officially in a leadership position! I’ve always thought I’d work towards that eventually, but also have always said no, or shied away from working towards that type of position. I have had many reasons – children at home, Masters studies to complete, the desire to focus only on the act of teaching – and yet this year, for the first time, I find myself in not one, but two, leadership roles. I’m finding priorities are shifting and I have a few new things to focus on in relation to the number one priority of my students.

First Role: Connected Classrooms Coordinator/Lead Teacher

In June, Brooke, my amazing colleague and then lead Connected Classroom teacher made a parallel move within the district to become the lead Connected 8 teacher. That move resulted in a leadership shift in the Elementary Connected Classrooms with me becoming the new lead! I met with Brooke in mid-August to learn about my new role and was excited to see all that I would be responsible for. It’s a definite change in mindset and now I have a real reason to start learning about leadership. It’s something I’ve always thought I’d eventually turn towards at some point in my career and this is a great way to ease into it a little more gently. Interesting how personal relevancy can so profoundly change one’s perspective.

Second Role: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate (Student Teacher)

On the first day of school this year, for the first time in 16 years of teaching, I’ll have a student teacher (or, as she is called through her university, a teacher candidate). Although she doesn’t actually start her practicum until Tuesday, she and I have been working together all summer via texting, email, twitter, several sessions at the school and one evening tea in my kitchen. There is so much more to being a teacher than showing up at school. To me, and to many, it is a lifestyle, and that, I think, is one thing that I want to share with her. It’s a lifestyle that I love (most of the time!) and I want her to understand so much more than the curricular learning outcomes and strategies to use for teaching place value.

One bonus for me is that I feel motivated and excited already. I’m already benefitting from the opportunity to be a teacher mentor. She keeps thanking me for taking the time to involve her and communicate with her, but I keep thinking that I need to thank her for the injection of added interest and excitement she’s bringing to my practice. I think she is going to be a great teacher, and I’m excited to help her along and watch her take these last final steps into the profession.

Where do I start?

Leadership is one of those words that’s everywhere. I always paid attention, but always felt that it didn’t really apply to me. We all, however, can be leaders and I understand how I fit inside that definition, but personally it felt as if the real leaders were the administrators, upper district administrators and others in that type of position. Suddenly, I fit under my own umbrella and a whole new tangent of research, learning, reading, people and possibilities are meaningful. There is a lot that I want to learn, but with time becoming scarce as school goes back in next week, I need to choose my first few steps carefully.

So, books to read, blogs to find, tweeps to follow and a long talk with my dad (a high school administrator for 30 years and the president of a large teachers association for a few years too) to help me get going! What do you think? Any ideas on where I should start?


Imagery by Plug Us In and used with permission from Flickr.

Leadership Day 2011 – Risk, Trust, & Relationships

Today is Leadership Day 2011. Every year on this day, the creator of Leadership Day, Scott McLeod, invites bloggers to post on a topic related to leadership. This year, he narrowed it to effective school technology leadership. I’ve participated in Leadership Day before and at this time, this topic seems even more present in my life. Last week I completed my Masters of Education and one strand of my research focused on technology in the field of education. For the past eleven months, I immersed myself in learning about this topic and, as a result, I’m even more passionate about integrating new technologies into my practice, my classroom, my school, my district.

When I think about effective school technology leadership, I think about how best to encourage educators to bring new technologies into their practice. Here are my thoughts on how to do this and they aren’t related to the technology at all, but rather to the people involved:

  1. Risk – The first thing that comes to mind is risk taking. For most adults using new technologies, it’s often necessary to extend well beyond one’s comfort zone. Learning can be messy and uncomfortable. Mistakes are often made. Profound learning often involves an element of risk if gains are to be made.
  2. Comfort and Safety – In order to feel comfortable taking a risk, a person has to feel safe, supported. I learned this as an art teacher. The few students who were unsuccessful in my art classes were those, for whatever reason, unable to risk doing something they couldn’t do or had never done before. Strong support and an environment perceived to be safe and secure is vital in situations in which learning is risky.
  3. Vulnerability – Once a safe learning environment (or school atmosphere) is in place, most can be encouraged to be vulnerable and step outside of the comfort zone. Vulnerability is a tricky thing. It’s raw and within a realm of human experience that many don’t feel comfortable being in. Some don’t need much coaxing, some do – every learner is different regardless of whether they are a grade five student learning how to upload photos from a digital camera or an educator striving to learn how to use Twitter for professional development. If you haven’t seen it yet, Brene Brown’s talk the Power of Vulnerability is well worth the twenty minutes.
  4. Trust – In my opinion, trust is essential to enabling people to be vulnerable enough to risk learning something new and intimidating (I don’t know about you, but technology can be pretty intimidating at times). If someone trusts you, they are more willing to listen and take into consideration your opinions, beliefs, vision. Trust is earned. It’s tentative at times. It needs to be maintained. Which brings me to…
  5. Relationships – It always comes back to relationships, with ‘it’ being just about anything in education. Out of 19 thesis presentations last week in my MEd cohort, most included the theme of relationships as a central part of the learning that occurred. The best way to create trust is to establish and build a solid relationship with someone. That relationship will shift depending on the people involved, but making the effort to show care for, and consideration of, another human being goes a long way in creating and maintaining relationships that can enable powerful learning to take place.
  6. Modeling – My last point for today is that it’s important for the leaders in this situation to model all the points mentioned above. A great example of someone who embodies this is an administrator I’ve recently ‘met’ through Twitter. Tia Henriksen recently burst onto the social media scene and she is a great example of a person role modeling her learning about and increasing understanding of how to integrate technology into the field of education. I was delighted, and not at all surprised, to find a Leadership Day post on her blog today too.
Finally, outside of my list above, but still central in my thoughts, when I think about effective school technology leadership, I think, as I often do, about the students. I think about kids and their use of technology in and out of the classroom. They (usually) aren’t intimidated by new technology. When technology doesn’t work, they just figure out the problem or ask for help. Yes, they get frustrated, I’ve seen it many times in my classroom full of the latest technology, but that just seems to be an accepted part of working with technology. Even though they have never lived in a world without computers or the internet (like many of us who will be writing these posts for Leadership Day!), I think that we should remember to always learn from them too.

Tech Corner – Wordle

At the start of every staff meeting I present a short (~5 minute) agenda item called Tech Corner. During Tech Corner, I introduce something related to using technology in education. My overall purpose is to advocate for the transformative integration of technology into the school. With a positive approach, I show items of  interest to colleagues to get them thinking about how they could use technology to enhance the learning in their classrooms.My Wordle

The last Tech Corner focused on Wordle.  I’ve used Wordle in my blog posts before, but after seeing it used at the local elementary school I decided to share it with colleagues.

Using the laptop and LCD projector, I started with a quick demo introducing the Wordle website. I then showed two different ways to create a Wordle: paste in a chunk of text or type in a URL for a webpage that has a RSS or Atom feed. I then shared a few examples, some from online sources (Obama’s speech to students at the start of the school year) and some from students in my own school (a colleague had used it for the first time earlier that day). Ever the art teacher, I finished off with a quick demo of how to change the design using choices of language, font, layout and colour. It was a typical Tech Corner – lots of info through visual examples, some demonstration and me talking through the whole thing.

I often wonder about how Tech Corner is received. Do staff really enjoy and learn something useful from my five minute technology blitz? Or are they tuning out and marking while I talk?

This time, I learned very quickly what the teachers at my school thought about the Wordle Tech Corner. The next day, a teacher came into my classroom because he was having difficutly using Wordle in one of the computer labs. We soon discovered that one lab has Java installed on the machines so Wordle works properly, the other lab has machines without Java and with Deep Freeze, so installation is a problem.  Although we had to solve that problem, I was thrilled that he was using the website with his students!

In the next few days, a Wordle sensation spread throughout the school. A bulletin board appeared with student Wordles all over it. The secretary called me in because she needed help creating a Wordle for a card for her brother (brilliant idea actually – she brainstormed words about her brother to create the Wordle and made it into the front of a card for him). Another teacher asked me questions about it. And students in my classes asked how to use the site and started creating their own Wordles out of curiosity!

This Tech Corner had a positive impact on the students, teachers and secretary at the school. I wonder, though, why this one was more successful than Tech Corners of the past. Was it the striking visual impact of the Wordle itself? Perhaps it was the use of elements and principles of design that only an art teacher would know about? Was it that the non-stop Tech Corners at the start of every staff meeting for the last three years have opened up people’s mindset? Was it that the staff are becoming more receptive to using technology over time?

My graduate diploma mentor said that quality learning often results in more questions than answers. Although I’m on the teaching side of Tech Corner, I’m obviously still learning, albeit with different outcomes than everyone else.

Wordle above of this blog post and courtesy of Wordle

Tips on Creating Effective School Technology Leadership

Thanks to Twitter and Scott McLeod, I learned that today is Leadership Day 2009 (#leadershipday09) in the blogosphere. The idea is for bloggers to share ideas related to effective school technology leadership. These posts are then linked back to Scott’s original post in his excellent blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, for everyone, including school leaders, to read and comment on. Sounds like a great way to share ideas, start a complex conversation and learn from others!

To start, how is leadership defined in an educational context? I like Mintzberg’s definition:

“Leadership is…about energizing other people to make good decisions and do other things. In other words, it is about helping release the positive energy that exists naturally within people. Effective leadership inspires more than empowers; it connects more than it controls; it demonstrates more than it decides. It does all this by engaging – itself above all and consequently others.”

Leadership goes beyond school and district administration. In every school, there are usually teacher leaders too. According to Harris and Muijs (2003),

“(t)eacher leadership is not a formal role, responsibility or a set of tasks; it is a form of agency where teachers are empowered to lead development work that impacts directly upon the quality of teaching and learning. Teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom, they identify with and contribute to a community of teachers and influence others towards improved educational practice.”

Based on those ideas, I think the first step in creating effective school technology leadership would be the creation of a team of administrators and teacher leaders. The purpose of this team would be to work collaboratively to enact constructive change towards increasing effective use of technology within the school. I think it’s important to note that the team members all need to be willing to participate with school staff in formal and informal professional learning activities. A metanalysis conducted in 2007 by Professor Viviane M. J. Robinson suggests that the most effective leadership dimension is “promoting and participating in teacher learning and development.” Leading by example and being active participants in the process is key.

Once you have a team in place, the next step would be to ask some questions:

  • How is technology being used to enhance learning in school?
  • What needs to be done to more effectively integrate the use of technology in the school?
  • Where are teachers ‘at’ with the use of technology in their practice?
  • Where are students ‘at’ with the use of technology in their learning?
  • What do people know?
  • What do they want to learn?
  • What do they need to know?

After getting some answers (and probably even more questions!), staff could work on goal setting. I think it would be important for a few school wide goals to be decided, but I also think that personal goal setting on how to more effectively use technology in one’s own classroom would be useful too. From there, the original team could take on the responsibility of planning some professional development activities, and then the learning, and hopefully, positive change, could really start.

Technology is intimidating to many, as is change. To increase success, I think it’s vitally important that the team adopt a respectful, supportive, patient, and encouraging approach throughout the entire process, from asking the initial questions of staff members, to all pro-d activities. In my experience, the approach is often the deciding factor in whether or not one is able to really engage and motivate the learners and create a community of learners.

Now that I’ve written this out, I think I might just try it. What do you think?

Planting Seeds and Bubble Wrap

It was definitely a Monday today, the kind of day when bubble wrap (thanks Heidi!) is irresistible, even if it is virtual!
I’d like to clarify my title. I found creating a blog title frustrating, and in the end settled for ‘Just a Thought’ because that phrase often appears at the end of my journal entries. It also, however, represents significant professional growth as an educational leader during recent graduate coursework through Field Programs at SFU.

In my second year of coursework, I focused on developing my capacity as an education leader. Not surprisingly, my emerging leadership style is similar to my teaching style. I’m ultra-organized and try my best to be engaging. I use little tricks to catch peoples’ attention and then hold it, but not for too long because I think timing is key. I like to be subtle and plant little seeds of thought and watch people think.
After I grab peoples’ attention, after I get them thinking and really engaged with whatever it is I’m presenting to them, just when I’ve got them really hooked, that’s when I like to cut them loose to think on their own. That’s when I’ll suggest that “it’s just a thought…” or something similar, effectively (I hope) handing the ownership of the discussion or activity or workshop from my control over to that of my audience, whether they are students, a PAC group or a room full of teachers.

So, “Just a Thought” is my way of handing the ownership of various topics over to any visitors unknown and from anywhere. Even if you don’t choose to comment, hopefully something made you think…or smile, as may have been the case with bubble wrap!