Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What is a Learning Leader?

As we move into the third year of Collegiate Renewal, people who have been Learning Leaders and administrators are starting to offer a vision of what this form of distributed, teacher leadership looks like. Marshall Whelan cc-d me on his version. He says that as a leader he tried to do these things and was not always successful, but he figures this is what the the job needs:
Whether you are Right Brained or Left Brained or double dominant, learn to enjoy the practice of holding yourself professionally responsible in a widely divergent community of thinking that seeks to converge into the most engaging conversations about learning that you are likely to experience. This could be and must be a mix of the Philosophical and Practical - a steady diet of one and not the other makes for frustration.

Sincerely believe in the power of WE: a We staff, a We school, and WE classrooms.
Be prepared to learn from your fellow Learning Leaders, staff and students. You have something to contribute, but it may be at times no more or less important than that of anyone else. The real power is in Group Thinking.

Believe that Excellence is a process and not a state. We are never finished/fixed products, we will never "arrive", and we can only get better if/when we decide it is for everyone's progress.

Be prepared to see messy change: always ask people to explain their version of change , as they may be on to something that you in your omniscience may just have not realized.

Recognize that we are not just changing practice for the betterment of students, but also for ourselves. Collegiate Renewal is first and foremost about changing/ empowering teachers.

Know that you are not and will never be the ONLY fount of all wisdom and knowledge on the staff.

Listen often, ask questions, do not pontificate (This is a hard one for me, or so my wife and daughter tell me.)

Demonstrate a willingness to be judgmental: about practice, but not about people. (This is the starkest change for those who have never had THOSE conversations about people behind closed doors. And yet, it is reality!)

Do not seek this job if you are thinking that this is about ladder climbing to the higher echelons of power: others will reject your motives as base. Instead, roll up your sleeves and get at it! There is beauty and worth in this noble cause in and of itself.

Be critically minded: about reading and points-of-view: Always ask "Does this make sense?" "Who could use this?" "Who needs this?" "How much of a change is this from OUR collective philosophy or practice?" "Is this something I can be the first to try?" Don't be a bandwagon leader. Remember: you not only sipped the Kool Aid; you mixed it! So drink deeply!

Lead by example....Be consistent in all your practices and schedules. Inconsistency is perceived at best as lack of organization; at worst, it is seen as lack of conviction.

Be a detective when it comes to trying to understand people's reasons BEHIND the reasons they give. Everyone is an individual and comes with a learned set of experiences and ideas and situations. Yours are not theirs.

Always be willing to look forward in both vision (where are we going?) and immediate steps in the process ( where are we headed tomorrow/ next week/month? and HOW do we get there?)

Never be afraid to look back and check if you have gone off course or gotten sidetracked. While you look back, always check for stragglers to come along beside. Be positive and be willing to compromise, but exact commitments to proceed in the process. As we say: "Permission to try, and permission to fail and try again. BUT NO Permission to NOT try."

Always look for others who can be of like mind and can take your place in offering suggestions to any and all, especially the stragglers. Someday, you will need to be replaced.

Try as much as possible to create a like minded progressive staff that can begin the process of Mindset change through seeing as many people as possible at the front giving exemplars.

Celebrate often the small victories and little changes in practice.

Never be afraid to ask "Howzitgoin'?" the worst that can happen is they'll tell you the truth! BUT before you ask, remember that the answer to the question: "when I ask you 'How is your AFL journey going?', is that pressure or support?", the answer is YES.

Look for the weary staff as a whole; know and sense when to take your foot off the gas pedal. Remember that taking one's foot off the gas pedal doesn't mean you have hit the brakes or stopped moving forward.

Be wary of the nay sayers that they do not spread poison. Enlist their participation wherever possible (make them sip the Kool Aid too). You just might be surprised at their growth!

Enjoy reading and thinking .......a LOT!!!

Seek ways for people to spend time in collaboration: it is better if they learn HOW and WHY themselves than by being told by you.

Small groups are easier to work with. They are the best blend of all that is good about individuals and all that is Good about large group thinking without the Bad.

Remember to seek feedback....carefully. You have the right to find out what you need to know and the responsibility to let others tell you what they want you to know.

Be reasonable and realize that while you may not have a life, others want one. Don't be a Collegiate Renewal Nazi.

Recognize that you will get to work with some incredible people in the Learning Leader community: some days will be terrific and some days won't. But there will always be progress made if you learn something new every day.

Collegiate Renewal is NOT a contest between schools.

Always ask superiors to explain their rationale for why they believe or do what they do. They usually have a good reason for what they want!

Strive to explain the message of Collegiate Renewal as often as possible to those who know less about it. But do it in a manner that dignifies them, and try it in plain layman's lingo.

Hopefully, you'll do yourself out of a job as We all become independent and co-operative thinkers.

Lastly, BE POSITIVE and realize that this initiative of change will take years to effect. In fact, it will and should never be over, as this is the true culture of learning civilization we are attempting to inculcate. In retrospect: I do not like the term Kool Aid: this is really a vintner's dream. We are not trying to grow the definitive grape or the best year. We are seeking to become the best vintners who grow the best varieties of grapes for any and every climate and region, adapting on a continual basis.

Marshall retires this year and he says the white hairs in his beard are stress highlights. He also says that the work of Collegiate Renewal has been the richest work of his career. I think it is the richest because of what Marshall brings to the work. He is a linchpin as Godin describes them, and his growth mindset is in all his suggestions. Adaptation, learning by looking at what is working and what isn't, and being the change you want in world are all a part of what Marshall recommends. Marshall's ideas are similar to my own, if more eloquently expressed, and I know some people find them daunting. They ask how anyone can be all that and be a full time teacher. I think maybe we miss the point. We want you strive to be these things - it isn't a destination, it is a way of thinking.

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