Leader-Leader: A Mindset Needed to Transform PD

imgresCurrently I am reading a book entitled “Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders”by L. David Marquet.  Marquet is a former nuclear submarine captain in the U.S. Navy and this book tells his evolutionary journey and views on leadership.  His general premiss is in an older era the leadership model of “Leader-Follower” worked because the style of work that was needed, emphasized compliance and simple production.  Furthermore, it is because of this success over multiple generations that we still see the “Leader-Follower” so pervasively in workplaces around the world.  However, Marquet opines, that our ‘times’ have changed and the type of work that is needed has dramatically shifted and therefore the traditional leadership model of “Leader-Follower” too must change.  That in an era of innovation and rapid change we need to adopt a “Leader-Leader” model.  “Image a work place where everyone engages and contributes to their full intellectual capacity.  A place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work – a place where everyone is a leader.”  (Check out his TEDx Talk on this topic – How Great Leaders Serve Others)

This blog post isn’t about this book, although I am enjoying it very much and would recommend it to others, this blog post is about leadership and the need for us in education to look at our leadership model differently.  Specifically, I want to frame this issue through our school’s approach to professional development (PD).  Over the past three years our school (Bay View Middle School) has ‘flipped’ staff meetings and PD.  Gone are the days of staff meetings being largely informational in nature and exclusively are both led and driven by the ‘leaders’ (e.g. administration).  Also gone are the days of PD opportunities only being twice a year, where the ‘students’ (e.g. teachers) go through a ‘sit and get’, lecture style approach by the ‘teacher’ (e.g. administrators) on topics selected by the ‘teacher’ (e.g. administrators) without any/to little input by the ‘students’ (e.g. teachers).  Now the informational parts of these meetings are done through screencasts where teachers can watch on their own time, because we believe the time we are together is too scarce and too valuable for approach. That the time we have together should be maximized working together, learning together, growing together on topics that we all need, led by each other. Leader-Leader.

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While I could go on and on about us ‘flipping staff meetings’, which I will blog about in the future, right now I want to frame the importance and effectiveness of the “Leader-Leader” approach we have been taking with our staff meetings and PD.  At our monthly staff meeting tonight, we had ‘flipped’ all of the informational stuff to our staff a week prior to the staff meeting, so that we could take the 90 minutes we had together to learn, grow from and with one another.  We called tonight’s staff meeting “Edu Fest”.  Earlier in the year we surveyed teachers on topics/areas of professional development they wanted/were interested in, as well as topics/areas they felt they could teach their colleagues about.  Based on that learner-centered input, we developed “Edu Fest”, an un-conference, where teachers signed up for sessions (like at a professional conference) they were interested in.  These sessions were led by their colleagues and were designed with our school, our students, our initiatives, our staff, our direction, and real-life application specifically in mind.  Attendees got to learn about various topics – ranging from technology programs like EduPuzzle and Actively Learn, to pedagogical approaches like Problem-Based Learning, to classroom community/culture building like Tribes and STRIDE activities.  All that were taught in a manner that could be used in their own classrooms right away.

You might be thinking well that’s nothing too revolutionary, right? This approach is analogous to good, effective teaching.  We all know passive, lecture style teaching, where students have no voice, no choice in what and how they learn is woefully disengaging and ineffective.  And yet, for far too long it is THIS VERY approach that we have been using in staff meeting/professional learning in education.

Instead of approaching staff meetings and professional development in the ‘old model’, our professional development at Edu Fest was fully leader-leader.  All staff members had “more control over their work” because they got to pick the topics they wanted to learn more about.  This format allowed a place “where everyone engages and contributes to their full intellectual capacity” – whether as session teachers or as actively engaged session participants.  Ultimately because of this leader-leader approach our teachers get better and more impactful professional development.

WHY?

  1. Our teachers are experts in all kinds of areas.  Embrace and empower them.
  2. Teachers want to be recognized for their leadership and expertise.
  3. Teachers often know more and will be more effective in understanding and teaching certain technologies, approaches, and philosophies about teaching/classroom areas than any administrator ever will.
  4. Teachers will be more engaged when its about something they care about, they need, and they can apply to their jobs right away.
  5. Teachers will be more engaged and receptive to new concepts that are presented by their colleagues – rather than their bosses.
  6. Learning, growth and change is infectious…if your staff meetings/PD are places of real, quality learning, the need for and openness toward more learning spreads.
  7. Empowerment is infectious…other teachers will also want to step up to take on leadership opportunities.
  8. Teachers who are given leadership opportunities are more engaged in all areas of their work.

Put simply, the leader-leader approach, especially given the rapidly changing times we are operating in, is a better, more effective approach to leadership.  We saw in action tonight at our Edu Fest and we are seeing it in the change that our building has undergone over the past three years.

Our staff meeting (Edu Fest) ended tonight at 4:15.  I walked around the school after that and the majority of the sessions were still going.  With our staff still working, still discussing, still learning…when does that ever happen at a staff meeting/professional learning time?!?!?!?  I’ll tell you when…when you have a staff of outstanding, passionate, dedicated professionals, who are empowered, supported, challenged, recognized and are operating in a leader-leader environment.

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Why am I blogging?

“I don’t have anything to say…”

“I’m not a writer…”

“No one will read, nor care what I write…”

“I don’t have time to blog…”

Yup…I had all of these thoughts and reservations about starting my own blog.  However I was challenged by others around me and I challenged myself to rise above these trepidations and TRY.  I realized that my efforts to blog should not be motivated or impeded by these hesitations, rather my reasons for starting a blog should be driven by my own belief in the importance of professional self-reflection, driven by my belief in the importance of professional dialogue, and driven by my belief that I always want to be a part of the solution, than part of the problem.  So I’m going to take a chance and try something new.  Paul Hermes, father, husband, administrator, teacher, learner…blogger? Why not?!?!  🙂

My intent is have my blog be a platform where I can engage myself and others in a dialogue about things I have dedicated my life to – education, change, leadership, solutions, and our future.  I have set a goal to myself to submit a new blog post at least once a month.  And as a ‘theme’, you will notice the use of analogies.  I have developed a bit of a reputation, both as a teacher and as an administrator, around using analogies to explain a point.  I find them to be a creative and effective way to connect ideas and situations that may be complicated, ‘loaded’ and/or new to others.  So I have titled my blog “Analogies from an Administrator.”

So I finish my first blog, which means I can say that I am an veteran blogger, who now is in a position to give advice and can criticize all those who are not blogging 🙂 – I challenge others to join in this process.  To read my and others’ blogs, to start your own blog, to share your ideas and the ideas of others, to get connected, to get ENGAGED.  Unfortunately my profession, public education, has a long history of being controlled and driven by others, outsiders, non-educators.  As much I blame these ‘others’ and criticize their motives and decisions, we have to be honest with ourselves, WE have allowed this to happen and, in some cases, we have earned this condition.  However we NOW have an opportunity – emboldened by the platform of technology and social media (e.g. Blogging, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.), to begin to change the public discourse and view of what we do and why we are important.  Ultimately with the hope that for the first time our profession will be led by the proper professionals – US!  However for this to happen we all have work to do.  We have to get engaged, we have to effort, we have to add to the conversation, demonstrate expertise, leadership, ownership for our profession and as Ghandi said “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I am nervous, guarded, curious, determined, excited, optimistic…and nervous about my blog and what’s next.  But I’m looking forward to the journey…I hope you will join me.