Sunday, October 26, 2008

The past and the future......

In 1916 John Dewey wrote a book, "Democracy and Education" that has sort of become my educational bible.  I believe strongly in most of what he says in this text.  Let me share a bit with you.... "A community or social group sustains itself through continuous self-renewal, and this renewal takes place by means of the educational growth of the immature members of the group." He goes on to say that the "problem is to discover the method by which the young assimilate the point of view of the old, or the older bring the young into like-mindedness with themselves. The required beliefs cannot be hammered in; the needed attitudes cannot be plastered on.   We must also consider how the social medium nurtures its immature members." Unfortunately, "in too many cases - the activity of the immature human being is simply played upon to secure habits which are useful. He is trained like an animal rather than educated like a human being."  Shortly thereafter, Dewey suggests that, "Making the individual a sharer or partner in the associated activity so that he feels its success as his success, its failure as his failure, is the competing step" (pp 10-14).  As Dewey continues, "The only way in which adults consciously control the kind of education in which the immature get is by controlling the environment in which they act, and hence think and feel. Any environment is a chance environment so far as educative influence is concerned unless it has been deliberately regulated with reference to its educative effect.  An intelligent home differs from an unintelligent one chiefly in that the habits of life and discourse which prevail are chosen, or at least colored, by the thought of their bearing upon the development of children." And, "Example is more potent than precept" (pp 18-19).
These words were written almost 100 years ago.  I wish we had leaders that would take them to heart as we build our society into the 21st Century.  As you design those learning environments of 25 years into the future, don't forget the value we can bring from the past.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Begin with Policy

As we look at designing new learning environments, we need to first ask ourselves how we want that environment to feel to the participants - students, faculty, staff, community.  If we want a supportive, safe (to encourage some risk-taking!), engaging environment then we need to decide what our "culture" will be like and thus we need to decide how we will "do things."  That is the point of all policy - to explain how things will be done.  I use the term policy because we don't think in terms of local policy much, since we typically call local policy "rules."  I call it policy so that we understand that ALL policy is about telling us how to do things.  And, what that policy is determines how it "feels."  Just look at the Federal and state policies that make no attempt at considering how those policies might feel by the participants (NCLB anyone?).
Thus we start by designing the affective environment by determining the policies that will provide for that positive effect.  This is the true soul of leadership - determining policy that will give you both the positive affective environment that you want, but also get your team focused on the appropriate results.
I'll tell you a little about how I did that as a Superintendent.  I had walked into a very contentious environment where teachers felt little support. I told them that the one thing we do every day in schools happens in their classrooms and that all of the rest of us are here to provide support (my "policy").  Appropriately, their response was, "we look forward to seeing that."  Trust would come only with consistent behavior over time, both by me and my admin team.  Fortunately, we were ultimately able to see the results of these layers of trust developing.  That was when I made the next "policy."  That was, all teachers will have laptops and projectors for their classrooms (among many other things...).  Added to that was all teachers will be able to choose their own professional development and those choices will all be available in monthly PD series.  My policy was clearly based on my belief that the teachers were professional enough to choose wisely, knowing their own needs.  And without having the technology they couldn't integrate tech or project-based learning as easily into their classrooms.  These decisions were clearly policy decisions in that they identified "how we will do things here" thus establishing a particular culture and climate.  The result of these policies was that a huge percentage of teachers engaged technology and project-based learning in their classrooms.  Since we did not force anyone to "change," they were much more trusting of the policy and felt supported in their willingness to try new things.
So, when I ask, what policy will you use I think you can better get the point.  1. What do you want your folks to feel about the environment, and , 2. what policy will help you with that? And, remember, it is the years 2030-2035!  DREAM!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Character and Leadership

Dov Seidman wrote a book entitled, "Why How We Do Things Means Everything in Business and Life."  He makes the argument in the book that how you do things matters more than ever, because so many more people see how you do things and so many more are affected by how you do things.  That might be called character. How we do what we do, how we keep promises, how we make decisions, how things really happen in our organizations, how we connect and collaborate, how we engender trust, how we relate to our employees, our clients (students/parents), and to the communities in which we operate.... this is the character of our organization.
Today, in our very connected world, this issue of character is more important than ever.  Would the recent financial crisis have happened if the organizational leaders were in tune with the character of their organizations..... or was it just a case of failing to pay close enough attention?
As educational leaders we must not let these patterns dissuade us from our calling. We must be absolutely intentional in our approach to the character of our organizations.  Check out his web page:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Emotional beings in a social setting

We are emotional beings in a social setting, regardless of whether in a classroom, department, school, district, church or business.  We humans must have emotional well-being as the core to our existence.  The first four layers of Maslow's hierarchy all address this issue.  The first four layers are called "deficiency needs."  If these needs are not met, the body may give no indication externally, but the individual feels increasingly anxious and tense. As leaders we must build environments of trust and security - FIRST!  Thus, all learning is emotional.  
I want to use the term intentionality here.  We must be intentional in our approach to building these safe secure environments and that approach is most controlled by the language we use in our communication with others.  Linda Lambert, in her book, The Constuctivist Leader, explains, "The function of leadership must be to engage people in the processes that create the conditions for learning and form common ground about teaching and learning. Leadership must address the need for sense-making, for coherence, for seeing educational communities as growth-producing entities."  Lambert goes on to define Constructivist Leadership as "the reciprocal processes that enable participants in an educational community to construct meanings that lead to a common purpose about schooling."  These "reciprocal processes" might more simply be defined as trusting relationships.  Considering that
we are emotional beings in a social setting encourages us to remember the importance of relationships in our communities.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Our final project is,  in small groups, to design a multimedia presentation that showcases a learning environment for the years 2025 to 2035.  Please allow yourself extreme creativity in thinking and designing, the more creative the better!