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.

Reflecting on Professional Momentum

Just over one year ago, I was very concerned that I was about to lose the professional momentum that I was experiencing as a result of graduate coursework. At the time, I was finishing a graduate diploma which had completely transformed my teaching practice and I worried that the end of the coursework would coincide with the end of my professional growth spurt.

Now, a little over a year later, I am confused and indecisive as to which way my professional life is headed, hence the reflective nature of this post. I did not lose the momentum as I’d feared; in fact, there is too much momentum and too many options before me to choose from. Time seems to be speeding by and more and more opportunities are piling up. I need to slow things down. I need time to process, time to think, time to listen to my intuition…it’s a good thing summer holidays are right around the corner! I need time to find that inner map and decide which road to choose.

Road #1

The first road leads a year of coursework to complete the Masters in Education degree. The application is submitted and the waiting has begun. If I am accepted, I have one intense year of academic study during which I’d love to explore how to use technology to improve the critiquing process associated with an art program. My art class blog is inspiring me to investigate this topic more fully, more completely and with proper academic perspective. I like the art class blog for many reasons. I think it’s a great idea with wonderful potential and I would love the opportunity to explore it as an action research project. I feel like this year my first attempt was just a taste of what I could really do with blogging in an art program. I want to finish the MEd and I am excited about the idea of one more year of intellectual overload. I do not look forward to the negative impact from the travel and time away from home life, but it’s only one year and timing is right, so it’s manageable.

Road #2

I’ve been asked to participate in a shared instruction project within my district. This involves team teaching with another teacher from a school in a different community using video conferencing, Elluminate and Smart Boards as tools to allow such a project to work. This is exciting, innovative stuff. This would be a great project to be involved in, especially from the beginning when one could have a lot of input into the initial planning and shaping of the project. The problem is, I’ve already submitted the Masters application. I can’t do both the Masters and the Shared Instruction project. I’m hoping that even if I drive by the off ramp to Road #2 this time, that I can circle back and take that route a year from now, provided it’s still open for me to take.

Road #3

I won’t get to this road for awhile – this is the route to administration. I would like to move into administration 8-10 years from now. This will be a difficult road (at first, anyway) but one I’m interested in exploring and one I’m sure that I can do, and do well, with the proper training. Perhaps 5-10 years as a Vice Principal to learn the job from an exceptional mentor (high expectations, as always) then finish off my career as a Principal before retiring to do a PhD in Education. That’s as far as I’ve thought along that route, but I think it’s a good option to keep in mind as I move along in my career path. The MEd route fits in nicely along the way, as does Road #4…

Road #4

This is a side road to leadership. I like this route. I was asked to participate in a Leadership Series that started several months ago. This project involves developing leadership capacities in teacher leaders within a tri-district group working under the direction of the British Columbia Education Leadership Council (BCELC). There’s some action research involved (I think mine’s leading towards encouraging teachers at my school to increase their transformative uses of technology with their students – sound familiar?), a great deal of collaboration with others and guidance from a few well respected experts in the field.

Road #5

Family circumstances being what they are, a move is inevitable at some point in the near future, near future being no more than two years away. The move would need to be to a new community, which means securing a new job. I’m pretty sure that my teaching experiences thus far is unique enough to at least make districts take notice of my resume and it allows me lots of options in terms of what teaching positions I can be successful at. The problem here is that I strongly dislike not knowing where I’m headed. Which road above, #1 or #2, will most likely lead me to Road #5? And then what happens to #3 and #4 along the way? And what happens when I turn down the road that leads to a new home and a new job and all the changes that go along with relocating? There, at least, my sense of adventure kicks in and I get excited. Once I find the route, I can relax and enjoy the ride. I’m also playing with thoughts of a major change – international school? teacher exchange? So many routes there, I don’t know where to begin…

Road #6

The last option is more like a parking lot than a road. I could do nothing and just stay where I am. No MEd, no shared instruction, no move. I could just let the career car idle for awhile. Not very environmentally responsible, and not really me either. So, not really an option, but I need to be aware of it as a choice so that I don’t get stuck idling and then five years from now realize that I’m still sitting in the parking lot trying to decide which way to go.

There are other smaller side roads branching out along the way too – maintaining and building on my web log, CEET (another project I recently became involved in) and others. The further I travel, the more branches there seem to be along the road. I guess that’s better than the alternative, but frustrating for someone with an open and sometimes indecisive mind.

I need to keep the professional momentum moving, not too fast, and not too slow. Any ideas? Which road(s) look the best? Which route would take? Feedback, thoughts/ideas, or any maps you know of would be greatly appreciated…

Imagery from – Too fast by raysto, crossroads by StuffEyeSee, and Private Parking Only by Shrued

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!