There is a sea-change happening in the realm of educational leadership. I feel that Cohort 21 is a big part of that change. Sarah McKibbon’s article in ASCD’s publications is entitled “Following Lincoln’s Lead“, and it resonates with many of the actions that I, and others, are taking in their schools towards a more open form of leadership. In her article, Sarah McKibbon writes that “After eating breakfast, catching up on news, and signing documents, Lincoln would throw open the doors to his home at around 10:00 each morning. Senators, farmers, fans, and foes all shuffled in for a word with the president.” It is a given that running the country, particularly during Lincoln’s presidency, was a complex and all encompassing affair; unfortunately, it can be this way for educational leaders as well. However, Lincoln made the time and used his team around him effectively, and today’s leaders must do the same. Schools are an integral part of human interaction and humanity: teaching values, behaviours and character that should be reinforced.
To understand what values, behaviours and character that I believe in, I reference the article “Character as the aim of Education” as my foundation – it has been given to my entire staff by our principal a few years ago, and I am using it as the foundation of our advisory program. This article lays out what many educators believe: that education is more than just surpassing your classmates, but more about surpassing yourself. The article lays out 4 elements of character: Civic, Moral, Performance and Intellectual character, and challenges educators, and leaders to set up experiences to build these 4 elements of character.
Lincoln sought our public opinion, much to the dismay of his Secretary of State Seward. “Through this vigorous pursuit of public opinion, Lincoln practiced active leadership accessibility. As leadership expert Colleen Kettenhofen explains, active accessibility occurs when leaders go out of their way to seek out and engage employees in meaningful conversations about their challenges, needs, and perspectives.” I believe that we, as leaders, must be active in engaging those that we work with (teachers, students, staff, parents and community stakeholders). One of the ways to do this is to leverage social media. In his blog, Connected Principals, George Couros cites the merits of how Connected Principalships positively impact teacher capacity and student learning. His blog HERE outlines why educational leaders can/should be connected. Among the key points are:
Why is being involved in social media worth the time for administrators?
- Principals like to lay claim to the “instructional leader” title, but convincing teachers that you have the intellectual curiosity to serve as an instructional leader is difficult when they have no evidence of what you know and can do.
- We need to lead by example. If you want to get your teachers and students connected, you need to be connected and share the value of these connections.
- It’s a way to connect and converse with people who are thinking deeply and taking action in education. Those connections and conversations make your own learning more efficient. Professional growth in a social media spaces can save you time in the long run.
- Is it reasonable to ask teachers to be intellectually vulnerable when that same expectation isn’t modeled by their leaders? Social media spaces make it possible to model that intellectual vulnerability.
So where does Cohort 21 fit into this? I believe that my work, and the work of everyone in the Cohort last year and this coming year, serves as an answer to George’s question. We are putting ourselves out there, shoulder-to-shoulder with our students, we are connecting, and we are showing what we know. These are the key ingredients to establishing informal leadership – we are becoming hubs within our own schools, and in the wider CIS Ontario community. And as a result, we are helping build capacity behind the changes that are happening in education – this sea change for transparency, distributed leadership, and improvements in student learning. George Couros goes on to answer this question:
How will administrators being connected improve opportunities/learning for students?
- When principals see value in the kinds of tools and services that make social learning possible, they’re more likely to work to provide access to similar tools and services for their students. The flawed perception that learning in social media spaces is risky quickly disappears when you spend a bit of time in the digital pool.
- Being connected opens your eyes to experiences beyond those in your district, county, or state. If you don’t pick your head up and look around, innovation will pass you by (therefore passing your teachers and students by).
- It shows our students we are not stuck in the 1950 modality of instruction. It models appropriate behavior for our students. I think it’s important to teach them responsible usage and not just lock them out.
In making our selves more connected, and intellectually vulnerable, we can also empathize with our students, of whom we are asking to do the same things. In McKibbon’s article she writes that “As “Lincoln used observation and dialogue to stay in touch with reality,” principals can gain valuable insight by becoming more active participants in learning.” So, get tweeting, get blogging and get LinkedIn to build networks of learning and practice, and become a student of life-long learning.