Sunday, July 11, 2010

Leadership is ... Starting a Fire!

A Leader? A Firestarter!

When I was young, I remember researching about how the first IBM computer came about. I remember reading about how large they started out and how much information they could store. I also remember reading horror stories about computers taking over the world and becoming smarter than humans. Today, all the computers in the world cannot find a solution to an oil spill in the Gulf or a cure for Cancer. Are our future citizens up for the task? How can we prepare them for what lies ahead? Clearly, our schools need to foster creativity, ingenuity and 21st century skills to tackle the problems of the world through collaboration, cohesion and changing the way they operate. A successful leader can be the firestarter for change.

A leader? A Change Implementer!

So onto practical matters: How can we implement change in the school system? Michael Fullan was quoted saying that “practice informs theory” and not the other way around. If this is so, then careful and thoughtful experiments in schools can produce real solutions to change the way our students learn. Experimenting with the way a course is delivered, or scheduled could be an example. Collaborating with each other, not only in the same school, or board, but around the world (via twitter or blogs etc.) will give us the data-driven decision making that we need to inform our theories about education. In other words, if a school board has just changed what a school day looks like, part on-line, part in-class, then the success of this approach could incite another leader to try the same approach. An informed leader is also a reflective one, who gauges the success of a particular program, or decision and if necessary, alters direction.

A Leader? A Thought Provoker

A leader provokes critical questions such as: Does the age of a student in a particular grade, indicate the probability of his/her success? Are December babies less likely to be successful? And if so, how can our school system better accommodate their needs? Questions are important because they provoke thought and possible solutions by stakeholders who include but are not limited to: teachers, students, parents & community members. A perfect solution may not always be present, but having courageous conversations on the issues, is productive and eventually leads to change.

A Differentiated Leader?

Just as a teacher would differentiate learning to suit the learners of his/her class, a great leader differentiates leadership roles for staff to suit their interests and talents. Many teachers are aware of their interests and talents and a good leader knows how to encourage teachers to share those talents for the betterment of the school and students. Conversely a leader can also integrate differentiated professional development to help staff along their own learning continuum. Differentiated Leadership also allows for more lateral decision-making, since decisions are shared. By collaborating and sharing our ideas, decisions can be more thorough and cover more contingencies because more people with different expertise are working on them collaboratively. In this way, the fallout from unsuccessful decisions are shared by a group of people rather than solely resting on the laurels of a select few or one person.

A Leader and the box of chocolates:

I have always believed that information is powerful. The more we have, the better informed our decision becomes. This information should not solely remain in the hands of one person. Information should be shared just like a box of chocolates. What better tool to share information than through digital media? It should be a leader’s role to share information and encourage others to share. Starting up a facebook or twitter group or a blog or google document specific to a school or issue at a school may be a start to sharing information online. Involving outsider input is also beneficial, even if the context may be different. I often send out a monthly or bi-weekly article, blog or video to all the staff concerning a hot topic in Education. Some have even generated a discussion or two, which is the hope.
I admit that I don’t always like to share my box of chocolates. But information sharing has always been second nature for me. As society shares more and more information via online media, so should our schools, as micro chasms of society. An ideal school has staff and students who are digitally literate; who work together utilizing their individual strengths for the betterment of the school; and last but not least, who ask and attempt to answer questions which bring about change. Lighting the match that starts the fire is the role of a successful leader.

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