3 Steps to Creating Empowered Leadership in Your School

All too often in education – whether that be at a conference, in a professional learning workshop, or even at a faculty meeting, we have become used to one person in the room being the “expert”, or the “Oz” around a particular topic. While these leaders are certainly needed to help us shift our thinking and culture around teaching and learning, they should not stay the only authority on a topic for long. As educational
leaders; superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals – are we investing the time to build leadership capacity in others? It is my belief that the best leaders create more leaders. We should all strive to be a 
“multiplier”, someone who wishes to increase leadership capacity in others.

So, how do we do this? I would like to offer a few suggestions.

  1. Help others realize their influence potential.

In my experience as a leader in the world of educational technology, I have watched many teachers over and over again not give themselves enough credit in terms of their ability to influence their colleagues. This usually starts with a fair amount of fear followed by self-doubt of their ability to offer anything substantial to their fellow teachers. We have to diligently keep encouraging educators to try moving forward with one thing at a time. More often than not, teachers attend some type of professional learning event and come back to their classroom not knowing where to begin; feeling overwhelmed and therefore not doing anything. This is the worse possible post-event outcome I can think of. Pick one thing, get really good at it and boom! You’re now in a position to influence others; whether that be in a face to face setting, writing a blog post about it, or just sending out an email to colleagues for some healthy “Hey check out this awesome thing I tried!”.  In being a connected educator for just over 8 years now, this is such a rewarding thing to witness for me personally, to see other teachers have success, and be excited to share it with others.

2. Create opportunities for others to spread their genius.

Are you making time for others to share their stories? During that next professional learning workshop, faculty meeting, or even in that next electronic newsletter, is time being devoted/given for your own people to share the great things they’re doing? If no, then why not? As someone who leads presents conference sessions and workshops quite often, one of my upfront disclaimers is always something to the effect of, “By all means, please not only stop me with questions, but please also stop me to share your own story about how (insert topic here) has changed teaching and learning for the better in your classroom.”. Make a commitment to give a teacher 5-10 minutes of your next staff meeting to share something awesome they did. You’re not only creating the opportunity here for a teacher to spread their genius, you’re creating a tremendous sense of empowered leadership in them too!

Have you looked at digital options for people to share? What about creating a professional learning blog for your school or district and having a guest author each month? Just like our students, some teachers feel way more comfortable expressing themselves electronically than they would if you ask them to speak face to face to their peers. Create a district hashtag for sharing professional learning (our district’s is #GVEaglePD) and get teaches sharing their learning out loud on Twitter. It not only gives a voice for others to share the great things they’re doing, but it also creates an online learning community within your school or district that can be a source of learning for others.

3. Commit to a plan of sustainability

The bottom line here, is that this can’t be a “flash in the pan” thing. None of what I’m sharing with you in this blog post is meant to be a “one and done” event. It must be ongoing, and become the norm; an everyday component of how we grow as educators to be the best we can be for our students. We’re at the verge of 2017 and we still are talking about “21st-century skills” or creating “21st-century teaching and learning environments”. How about it all just becomes “teaching and learning”? Don’t we owe it to our teachers and our students to see the importance of learning from each other on a regular basis?

Have you ever thought about creating edcamp style professional learning opportunities for teachers? The chances are really high that at least one person in your school or district has been to an edcamp before. Creating your own edcamp learning event is a prime way to get people sharing the great things they’re doing. I promise you that after you do this once, teachers will be wanting it again and again so just plan on doing this at least a couple times a year. I have seen this offered in the summer before the start of a new school year, and also as part of a district professional learning day when students are not at school. It’s awesome!

We have so many teachers doing great things in our schools. That knowledge and expertise can’t remain contained within the 4 walls of their classrooms. To keep it that way is a professional disservice to our colleagues and a learning disservice to our students. It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time.

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Inundation Does Not Create Innovation

My job is to support teachers with technology integration. Sometimes it’s technology that they’ve learned from me, and sometimes it’s technology they have sought out on their own via a conference, Twitter, a colleague, or some other avenue. I really enjoy sharing new tech tools with teachers. It’s important for teachers to be equipped with a reasonable amount of options for how they can infuse more technology into teaching and learning. The end goal is to positively impact student achievement. That should be the #1 driver of anything we do with technology. I want to help build teachers’ capacity so that they leverage technology to bring innovative learning experiences to students.

I’ve discovered through my experiences being the provider of support and a facilitator of learning opportunities, that teachers don’t like to feel overwhelmed any more than students do. That is certainly the last thing I want a teacher to feel. A barrage of too many edtech tools will leave teachers feeling confused as to which one is best and without a clear plan of action going forward. It can feel like you’re trying to take a drink from a fire hose. In my role I follow a simple rule: If I’m sharing it with you, that means I’ve vetted it and it’s worth your time.

firehose
https://www.flickr.com/people/cne-cna-c6f/

If a teacher is initially overwhelmed with this firehose style delivery, it can cause real damage to that teacher’s willingness to try out new tech. ~Kerry Gallagher

Why do so many conferences and other professional learning events offer so much of the “firehose” style experience?  You can easily see it with a quick glance over any conference program. We see so many sessions like “842 edtech tools in 60 minutes” (I admit this is exaggerated) or “72 ways to use Google Forms in your classroom”. I sincerely appreciate the willingness to share, but is that what’s best for teachers that want to become comfortable with new ideas?

If you’re leading professional development you have to be cognizant of your audience’s needs and make sure to have adequate sandbox time sprinkled throughout.

If you were having students create a multimedia presentation we wouldn’t throw an unnecessary amount of tool options their way. We’d give them a few and if they find others and want to give one a go that’s great too. I’m all for options and not being locked into just one way to show mastery, but I think an overabundance of options doesn’t make for a good learning experience for teachers either.

Less is more, right?

 

 

Seizing Opportunities

Another school year has begun or it will begin soon. This is my 13th year as an instructional technology specialist/coach. I am sitting here reflecting on the teachers, students, administrators, parents, and other staff members I have had the honor of serving. It’s such fun meeting people here in my new school district and also when I get the opportunity to travel and speak in other places around the country. What many don’t realize is that while they might be coming to learn from me in a formal setting, I am enjoying learning from them just as much. I learn new ideas for how teachers want to have their students learn with technology, I learn new ways of providing students more opportunity to learn outside of a traditional classroom space, how to redesign classroom spaces, how technology can level the playing field for learning opportunities regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, and new ways to provide meaningful learning opportunities for educators and other staff. The list can go on but I think you get the idea.

rocket launch
https://www.flickr.com/people/gsfc/

The really cool thing is, I’m getting to help people and learn at the same time. Helping them is my passion; to help educators grow in their use of technology by providing meaningful learning experiences for them and the students we serve.

These are all opportunities worth seizing. I want to take as many as I can within reason whether they’re local, national or international. Sure, there are limitations on how much I can be gone from my full-time job and family, but that doesn’t lessen my desire of wanting more opportunities to grow. Sometimes I want opportunities I can’t have for one reason or another. Maybe the timing isn’t right or I’m just not the right person in a particular instance.  I can always respect that but it still bums me out from time to time. When that happens it’s a missed opportunity to help others grow and an opportunity for me to grow as well.

As you start a new school year, what opportunities are you going to seize? Sometimes they’re right under our noses, and sometimes we have to see bigger and shoot for the moon. Either way, don’t stop seizing opportunities to bring growth to yourself, your colleagues, and your students.

Have an outstanding school year.