Monthly Archives: August 2009

Comments Conundrum

cake

My blog is now one year old.  Well, the official birth date was actually August 2nd.  Sadly, I did not make it a cake and allow it to be consumed in epically sloppy fashion while I stood by snapping photos of the moment.  I just let it roll by quietly.

The reason I even bring it up now is because I’m reflecting on the process.  On what I’ve learned as a blogger.  On what I want to do better.  On what I don’t understand.

The thing that jumps to mind most readily concerns comments on a blog.  Are they the reason I write?  Do I hope my thoughts will prompt your thoughts, and in turn, compel you to leave yours upon mine?  And by so doing, provide what I truly want, an opportunity for me to learn from you.  What is it that I assume or expect or even desire of comments?

I’m not really sure.

Will this post garner any?  I have learned this year that as I write this, I have no idea.

Is it taboo to even talk about comments this way?

Are the comments on a blog how I assess the usefulness or value or importance of a post?  What does it mean that one post this year gathered 46 comments while many drew less than 5?  Does it mean anything?

I know this entire process, the act of writing and interacting with an audience, is a very organic experience.  Things happen as they will.  I also know they say that only 5-10% of your audience, on average, will post a comment.  But that on average was very busted at least five times this past year when, statistically, over 50% of my audience commented on a post.

I’m wondering what that should tell me.  Everything communicates something.  What is it that my comments are communicating to me?

Thanks to AriCee for use of the Flickr image.

School Culture

pillars

*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.

This post is in response to the following two questions.

* What impact does the creation of a positive school culture have on school reform?
* How has what you have learned so far in the course shaped your concept of an effective leader?

As one of the most pragmatic of tasks on any administrator’s agenda, I believe addressing the school culture is one of the most important.  If a building administrator can take some time to absorb the current culture when he or she arrives afresh at a building, and then determine what it is that bears keeping and what needs reculturing, I believe the opportunity to enact overall reform will be made much more powerful.

In thinking about culture, I believe many people discuss the idea as the gauging of the history of an institution.  Acknowledging that we stand on the shoulders of giants is important, but I fear that sometimes we become enabled or entrenched by the remembrance of those shoulders upon which we are standing.  Assumptions are made that what was established before is good, and must remain good, for the very fact that it still remains.  The reverence debilitates the capacity to look critically and gauge which still stands because nobody dared kick it a bit to see if it was sturdy enough to build years of effort and value upon.  To give the foundation a bit of a prod with fresh eyes from time to time is invaluable.  And it could directly lead to the kind of reform that lasts.

When then moving to reculture, I believe it is much more important to look at creating an effective culture rather than just a positive one.  A positive culture can simply mean a general getting along of all groups in the building.  Everyone gets along with everyone else smashingly and people feel very positive about the educational institution as a whole.  This kind of environment can be an enjoyable place to work, but it doesn’t mean that anything meaningful is actually taking place within the walls of the institution.  I’d like to establish a culture where the needs of students supersede all other needs.  Where it might be uncomfortable or trying or even difficult for a teacher to do what is best for the learning of a student, but in the culture I’d like to foster, teachers would recognize that the effort and pain and frustration are worth it when it directly benefits the students.

There is no way I can transition smoothly into the second question.  It is simply too broad and tangental to the first.  It would be nice if the three paragraphs above held that which has come to most greatly impact my concept of an effective leader, but it isn’t.  To this point, what has most shaped my concept of an effective leader is the reading of the Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership.  Each chapter I have read has left an indelible mark, and I simply can’t recommend the book enough to anyone who is thinking about engaging in a study on the topic.  It’s most certainly worth the purchase, and I know I will be returning to it time and again in the years to come as there are so many excellent ideas and concepts worth revisiting on a recurring basis.

And, I still maintain that I don’t want to be an effective leader.  I’m still of mind to be exceptional.  Again, not for the sake of what that could mean for me, but rather, for what that would mean to those within the building where I might have the privilege to lead.

Thanks to Pixelmaniac for the use of the Flickr image.

A Polarized People

canyon

I was eating breakfast with my dad last weekend, just sitting enjoying the beautiful Sunday morning meandering through the topics of our lives, when half way through my plate of banana nut pancakes the conversation turned to politics.  My father, never one to hold back an opinion, began to passionately engage the conversation.  He worked hard to prove his point, and when the “it’s a matter of fact”s came out, I knew all was lost for our peaceful breakfast.  But I noticed, more than I ever have in the past, that his matters of fact were, in fact, matters of assumption.  I raised the point with him.  He didn’t care much for the point.  And I realized there, in that moment, how bad things have really become.  Because we’ve pushed our assumptions of others to the point of assigning them the value of fact.  I fear that while that has likely always been present in human logic, it is becoming more prevalent.  And I realize…

We are a polarized people.

Let’s try an experiment.  See how bad it is.  Read both of the following observations.

The Obama Administration recently set up an email account the public can use to report misinformation they hear about the present health care reform initiative.  The White House blog explains that a great deal of erroneous information is being disseminated through “chain emails or casual conversation”.  The blog maintains that the White House can’t keep track of all this misinformation, so they would like for us to help and report anything we hear that “seems fishy” to the email account they have set up.  Because of the current laws with electronic communications and the requirement that all such records be held permanently, the White House will ultimately have a list of people who have reportedly disagreed with their policy.

The Bush Administration set up a list of suspected individuals who could potentially commit acts of terror against America.  The list was collected through various means, including phone taps and individuals who were reportedly observed engaging in suspicious activity.  Many of the individuals on the list were prohibited from flying within the United States.  The Bush Administration ultimately collected a list of people who they then monitored based on suspicion.  The ACLU maintains the list has grown to include over 1,000,000 names.

Consider your reaction to both stories at this moment.  I’m nearly certain you are currently forming an argument in your mind defending one of the two scenarios and finding fault with the other.  There’s a good chance you might even be working on your rationale to post below in the comments.  You might have even found yourself, at some point through your reading, uttering a “come on” in your mind or even aloud.

And that’s my point.  Think about it.  You are forming a position very likely based on the administration you believe in and support.  You might even find yourself irked at me for bringing up the scenario, or even in your estimation, misrepresenting one of the two sides.

The scenarios aren’t the point.  The point is how much we assume when we read them.  It seems we’ve become a polarized, perpetually skeptical people.  We believe in “our side” and view the other side with an air of uncertainty to the degree that we assume the worst of their intentions.  And we convince ourselves we’re right to do so.

I had the incredible pleasure of hearing Deborah Meier speak a month ago, and one of her most poignant points was that we’re failing to teach empathy in our pursuit of democracy.  I believe she’s absolutely correct.  We’re forgetting that there are multiple sides to a story.  We’re losing our perspective.  And it isn’t just happening in politics.

I see this mindset increasing from a trickle to a torrent in education.  Each interest group grows increasingly more skeptical of the others.  Teachers assume administrators are determined to fleece them at every opportunity.  Administrators assume teachers want to preserve only that which is in a teacher’s best interest.  Parents assume teachers want to take the easy route.  Teachers assume parents don’t respect teachers as professionals.  Technology administrators assume teachers won’t do what it takes to properly use available technology.  Teachers assume network administrators only want to lock down a network to make their job easier.  It goes on and on.

It’s quite sad, really.

Where is the empathy?  Where is the perspective?  Where is the consideration in our own position for those who maintain another?

I earnestly believe we have the capacity to change.  Quite honestly, I earnestly believe we have to.  We can’t continue to allow this state we’re in to perpetuate to the point of eventuality that it has started.

We have to start seeing both sides of the coin.  And I would hope we would feel compelled to allow this lesson to be learned by our students.  Because if we don’t, the polarization might well turn into sure schism.  It’s dangerously close here where we now stand.

We have the means to be better.  I hope we’ll exercise those means.

Thanks to jonr for the use of the Flickr image.

Effective Leadership

geese

*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.

This post is in response to the following two questions.

  • How has what you’ve learned so far in this course shaped your concept of an effective leader?
  • Based on what you’ve learned so far, what are the top 3-5 characteristics you believe a successful principal must possess?

John W. Gardner (2007) defines leadership as “the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers” (locations 323-27).  To me, then, effective leadership would mean simply having a group of people pursue my objectives.  Because being a leader, according to Gardner, is simply the act of getting the people to follow objectives, and by doing so, I would, in the simplest form of the term, be effective.  The thing is, I don’t want to be effective, and I don’t want to be an effective leader.  I want to be more than that.

I want to be an exceptional leader.  If I’m being honest, I’d like to be one of the best leaders in education.  I don’t mean that to sound prideful or arrogant in any way, and I fear many people are greatly trepid to speak of themselves in such terms because it makes it sound like it’s more about us than anything else.  But it’s not.  I want to be one of the best leaders in education because of what that will mean for the staff or district I’m leading.  And I want to lead for the sake of people, not for the sake of leading.

I want to consider the work of Robert Evans as he discusses leadership.  I want to lead with integrity and always stand for the value of learning.  I want to allow Thomas J. Sergiovanni’s work on servant leadership to drive me to consider the needs of the constituents I lead through serving in a way that builds the capacity for leadership in every person in my building or district.  I want to keep my mind focused on the differences I can make rather than the minutia I will face.

I truly want to find a way to capitalize on the work of Chris Argryis and build within my institution the ability to engage in organizational learning.  I want my institution to do this in a manner that will move us forward together and in a direction that will prove to be valuable for our students.

And I don’t want to call it my institution.  I want it to be ours.  And I want us to be one of the best.  Not the best on test scores or athletics or technology utilization or the best for the sake of being the best.  I want to be the best for the sake of our students and for what that will mean for their lives and future.

For that, I want to be more than effective; I want to be exceptional.

Gardner, J. W. (2007). The nature of leadership. In The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership [Kindle]. Jossey-Bass teacher series. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Thanks to ashley.adcox for the use of the Flickr image.

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