Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beyond Digital Strip Malls

Lately, I have thought a great deal about networks and communities, and the differences between them. Learning, in particular, needs to take note of the differences to be effective.

Networks, or networking, have a purpose.  LinkedIn and Twitter connect you to others of like interests, who work together informally to utilize services.  And that's fine.  In my personal life, I need services ranging from a loaf of bread to an oil change, and I have a location in mind.  Similarly, any number of websites provide some digital equivalent for that immediate need, including or for a first look at most teaching strategies or infographics

If you drop off the network, though, the network will go on as long as a base of users remains.  Think of the local power company, a supermarket chain, education websites and blogs, or even much of social media.  If the service is not utilized, the media valuation of an ID may go down according a product, or Klout, but the ID is not penalized.

There are deeper networks as well.  A preferred appointment at a monthly stylist, or a group of 338 friends on Facebook makes for an end user.  And yes, that's exactly how it is defined in the Terms and Conditions 

Which really shouldn't be surprising to any of us.  After all, random pictures on Instagram are perhaps interesting in terms of photographic composition, or principle of design, but we aren't invested in them, any more than we are interested in stock photos or a brand of toothpaste we don't purchase.  A bigger connection is between two acquaintances sharing photos or cousins sharing pictures of the kids. It just doesn't matter to us as individuals unless we are personally connected into a community and we put ourselves out there.

That, my friends, is an entirely different proposition.  There's risk involved in becoming a community member. A person can take issue with your position, share more evidence, or enter into a discussion with you about the minutiae of what

you are attempting.  Or they can try to change your mind.  Whatever.  They still are interacting with you, and it's a different mindset that will change you both.  There's a different sense there than there is from the 40% of Twitter users who only lurk.

More and more, I'm not convinced that lurking does, well, anything.  You can lurk at professional meetings, listening to the speaker explain a power point.  You can lurk as a student, keeping your eyes down as a big lecture focuses on facts and figures.  You can lurk as a teacher, as long as the administrator operates a permissive culture and you keep under the radar.  Unless you are leading WITH your people, sitting and sharing, that trust you want as a board member with your district, as an administrator, and in your classroom will NOT happen. Trust is built from the bottom up, not created from power structures that are top down.

So this year, let's do something different as a result of #leadershipday14.  
Let's think about how to transform lurking on networks into real community.  

Ask people for their ideas  
Listen to them, rather than looking for confirmation bias.
Admit your mistakes. 
Practice servant leadership.

That includes in your online space as well as your bricks-and-mortar building. Because networks don't fix anything.  There is a difference between users and givers in terms of purpose, investment, and personal potential for growth in the endeavor.  Networks are run on units of influence, including personal power, money, personal glory, or social standing.

Digital Community Leadership Can Translate into Trust-Building in your School
How?  By giving up fear and replacing the culture with openness, in person and online.

1. Host a school Facebook page.  Update it at least ever 48 hours and allow comments.  
2.  Check the stats on the paper newsletter.  How often is it utilized?  Is it a venue worth keeping?
3. Engage your students and teachers via a one question, 15 minute, Monday morning Twitter chat.  Post the topic in the halls, on your Facebook page, and make it real.
4. Encourage your staff as a whole (janitors, paraeducators, nutrition workers) to become digitally-savvy
5. Discuss digital citizenship with kids, not to and at kids.
6. Allow blogs that promote student voice.
7. Create login-based, collaborative communities where people can experience shared visioning.
8. Make it about the school voice, not your voice.

You. Me. Us.  We'll be stronger together when we start listening.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Collaboration: From Me to We

The Iowa Teaching Leadership and Compensation symposium took place on 8/4/2014 at DMACC in Ankeny.  It really was an amazing experience, with more than 500 people in attendance, talking about collaboration, teacher preparation, and re-imagining schools.

The Honorable @TerryBranstad and the Lieutenant Governor, @KimReynolds, as well as Department of Education leadership showed their commitment to the process by spending the entire day, listening to noted speakers talk about a shift in schools.

The state has taken its first steps to re-imagining education, with 39 districts already funded, and a large funding pot to come over the next three years.  In the morning, speakers like Vivien Stewart and EE Ling spoke about transformation in other countries; the afternoon showcased some #stuvoice, teacher, and principal panel discussions.  A final session with Barnett Barry from the Center for Teaching Quality reimagined what Iowa would look like if one-of-four teachers becoming a teacher leader. Tweets throughout the day provided a variety of perspectives and Scott McLeod curated an excellent synthesis of the resources shared. 

Over and over, we heard words like leadership, but by far the biggest word out there was simply:


The word echoed through my brain during the day, and later as well.   
More collaboration time.

But that's a truly hyped word.  WHO needs more collaboration? WHAT will they do with it?  That's where it gets sticky.  Because it has to go beyond department meetings.  It has to result in teams that know that they depend on one another. That's a two way street, and it requires a special type of transformational leadership.  It is also fraught with some strong challenges.

Challenge #1:  Teams are not built on superstars.  Win as a team, play as a team, lose as a team.  That means that the coach generally has some authority, but that comes from the respect of the players, not the operational definition of a title. I often wonder if teachers realize that they are a sleeping giant; with ten times the number of  teachers as there are administrators in the country, what happens when teachers collectively demand change and opportunity to lead without leaving their classrooms? Administrators sharing leadership create win-win solutions that allow teachers that desire nontraditional leadership while still staying in the classroom to do so.

Challenge #2: Changing our beliefs about time. As a partially online teacher for the last four years, my paradigm has shifted.  I no longer believe that teaching is a job or an 8-4 passion or even that I am the only one who can teach students; neither do I believe you can make analogous statements about administrators.  It really is a vocation, a profession, a mindset.  As a result, the answer is not to say,  "Teachers cannot lead.  They are a teacher 100% of the time" any more than saying,  "Administrators must lead.  They are an administrator 100% of the time."  We all juggle some of these multiple roles constantly, with no break:  serving as parents, community stakeholders, caretaker, board member.  Teachers and principals and superintendents often work sixty hours or more when school is in session, melding work and life together.

Challenge #3:  Shifting boundaries. What if administrators surveyed their to-do lists, collaboratively matching and asking for help with those tasks meshing with the passions of staff members (as well as their certifications and licensure)?  What if that time that Adam Hartung calls 'white space' was really carved out as a way for improvement and innovation to occur?  What if, as he says, there were opportunities for blurred or flattened leadership, where multiple individuals attended conferences and the administrators could get back into the places where they used to teach?  The alternative often involves ego or what Dan Heath cautions against in his WRAP decision-making process,  where talented people are boxed in, labeled problematic, and isolated from leadership based on emotional factors, including a challenge to the status quo.  

Challenge #4:  Transparency and Shifting Roles.  Teacher leadership, or perhaps starfish leadership,  will have to go two ways:  from the bottom up, as well as from the top down, to become nimble and flexible enough to radically change the ideas.  That's doesn't seem transparent, but it is, in the same way clear water lets us see the entire depth of a still pool.  What happens in interactions among staff members, stakeholders, administrators, and students spreads out in ripples, undercurrents, and ideas.  And so the districts that succeed in this opportunity will know that muddying water obscures the starfish, and trust comes from listening and remembering that we might not have all the answers.. 


Collaboration: From Intent to Practice

It appears that many things need to be present to shift a system from one that has followed us through the industrial model to something new.  One thing all of them will have is ever-increasing collaboration.

Current PLCs are the starting point of leadership to something else, but it will vary.  District DNA and culture, of course, give us multiple pathways, including the pilots for TAP in VanMeter and Central Decatur, teacherpowered schools, efforts by ISEA to inspire and develop new leaders, or applications of flex time and online courses.

One thing seems clear, though: we know what doesn't work:  the current system.

Capacity building opportunities across the state will need the creativity of all to carve out these types of positions, and to go beyond the current method of  100% teaching responsibilities.

There must be teacherpreneur stories across Iowa waiting to be curated; I'm excited by the possibilities of looking for them and showcase how they are invented in Iowa.  After all, I was inspired by the vision set forth on Monday's conference: