Reflections on 21st Century Leadership

I have spent considerable time over the past year reflecting upon my leadership capacity as well as leadership in general. So when Scott McLeod sponsored Leadership Day 2010, I thought it would provide me with an opportunity to share a few of my own thoughts on what educational leadership means in the 21st century.

1.  Transparency. It’s easy to say you are a transparent leader. A previous educational leader for whom I used to work for was famous for starting sentences with, “In the interest of transparency…” which only made me wonder what thoughts he had that were NOT in the interest of transparency.  He was good at saying what needed to be said at the time to look as though he was being transparent, but those who really knew him, knew that there was more that was not said and his motives for transparency were simply politically motivated.  They were cowardly actions designed to only make him look good.

A noble leader looks at transparency not as a series of single calculated acts, but as routine behavior. Transparent leaders are not only uncompromisingly public with their thoughts, motives, and vulnerabilities, but as learning leaders they are transparent in how they learn. They allow their followers to not only learn with them, but allow them to teach them as well.  Transparent leaders are as steadfast in their willingness to learn as they are their core beliefs, and to do that, one of their core beliefs are dynamic and not steadfast.

2.  21st century ed leaders have to learn how to follow at times.  Education is more complex than ever.  State and federal  mandates, local politics, the rapid advancements in technology, and the growing demands of students and families for customized and personalized schooling are just a few of the changes that Ed leaders must confront on a daily basis.  Couple that with the ease at which a network of co-leaders can be built and it’s irresponsible of Ed leaders to think that that they have all the answers. As such, great Ed leaders learn from others, find friends to share beliefs with, and seek experts from whom they can get answers.  21st century leadership requires that one understands this fundamental belief, “I may know more about my school community than anyone else, but I am not an expert in everything, and because if that I need to seek out those experts and follow them.”. And by “follow” I mean, study, learn from, unlearn from, connect with, call, ask questions of and seek advice from.

3.  Last, but certainly not least, great Ed leaders distribute their leadership. I had dinner recently with Cathy Brophy.  She is a technology director in school district here in New Hampshire. She told me that she met one of her professional goals this year when two of the teachers in her district presented at the Christa McAullife Conference, New England’s largest ed tech conference. Understand that it wasn’t her goal to present, it was her goal for one of her teachers to present. That was the evidence that she needed to show herself that she had distributed her leadership. Her legacy as a learning leader is going to be carried by those that follow her.

When it gets right down to it, leadership is not a solitary process.  Great leaders learn from, teach to, connect with and celebrate the successes of others.  They understand that they cannot lead by themselves, instead they know their leadership is the result of a collection of many others, all leaders in and of themselves.

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Lost… And Found.

I was lost.  Literally lost.

55 S. 22nd St. Philadelphia, PA.

That was the address I plugged into my iPhone, but the building I was looking at didn’t look anything like the website.  Further, there was an adult bookstore across the street and I thought it was odd that they would put a high school across the street from that type of establishment.  The school was only 4 years old and this bookstore looked much older.  I could just see that high school junior sitting in English class looking down and watching people (neighbors?) walking in and out of this bookstore.

It was 8:55, I was supposed to be there by now.  I hate being late, so my blood pressure was raising, my anxiety increased, and I was pissed.  I’m not supposed to get lost.  Not today.  Not for this.

I pulled out my iPhone and searched for the school.  And I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The minute it took for the school website to download seemed like an hour.  Not that it was, but I was late and nervous.  Finally, the website popped up.  There was the address.

55 N. 22nd St. Philadelphia, PA.

North!  North!  Not South!  Uh, I was on the right street, but in the wrong hemisphere!  I started walking… fast.  Three block north and under the highway overpass, there it was, the building I had seen on the website.  I opened the door to the cafe, raced up the stairs and hastily opened the door and entered the library.  Twenty-two sets of eyes turned and looked at the “late” guy crashing through the door.

“Hey, someone had to get lost,” I said.  Will, looked at me and said, “No worries, join us.”

Will, of course, was Will RichardsonSheryl Nussbaum-Beach welcomed me shortly thereafter.  The school was The Science Leadership Academy, I was in beginning Day 1 of Powerful Learning Practice’s Web2.0 Bootcamp for Educational Leaders and my professional life was about to change.

A year ago today and upon returning from Philly, I started a journey that has made a profound change in my life, I started this blog.  Geared to chronicling my journey toward transparent leadership, it has ebbed and flowed, shifted focus at times, generated discussion (yeah!), shared many personal vignettes of my life and been read by more than 6,500 readers all over the world – which blows my mind.  It has become a sandbox of sorts, a place where I can share my thinking, express my concerns, offer praise and reach out to a community which has embraced my presence so much that I regret not doing this earlier in my career.  Combined with Twitter, this blog has afforded me the opportunity to cultivate my thinking more than any formal graduate class ever did and connect with similarly passionate learners.  Moreover, it has allowed me to find my voice and I am incredibly humbled and indebted to all of you who have pushed me to do so.  It is not a stretch to suggest that I have learned more about what it means to be a global and lifelong learner through the informal connections that I have made over the past year than I did in 10 year I spent in post-graduate programs.  For that, I offer a heartfelt, “Thank You”.

I was lost a year ago.  No, not as describe above.  I was lost professionally.  Worse, I was rudderless.  I’m not sure I have completely found my way, in fact I think I have a long way to go but, I now have a voice and I have a growing community of learners to lean on for support.  That humbles me and pushes me to continue to learn and grow more than any formal program ever did.

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What Does it Mean to be Gifted Now?

This post was cross-posted from:

What excites me about the shift in education away from the classroom-centric model we have all been a part of over the last century, is the fact that students are less dependent upon the teacher and/or the system for all knowledge.  Students no longer have to attend school to attain their knowledge, they are as Nagel describes, “free agent learners”.

Because of that, students have the opportunity to break from the long-standing categories we so often use in education.  Terms such as “slow learner”, “hands on learner”, “troubled student”, “active student”, “solid student”, “middle-of-the-road student”, “talented student”, “straight A student” and yes “gifted student” are simply constructs of our educational system and they most often only provide clues as to how the student learns within the narrow confines of that system. The “straight A” student may be intelligent, but I’ll bet they are also also very compliant and diligent in getting their homework done and being attentive in class.  They are very good at playing the part of the industrial model school student that the “conspiracy” of school was intended to create but are they good at solving problems, being creative, unlearning that which they have previously learned so they can be relevant?  Do we really challenge these students to use their gifts to their fullest potential or do we simply moved them along the conveyor belt, sending them off to college with the tools to continue to be “good” students?

The “active” student is one that doesn’t fit our system well, yet fits in the world’s chaotic and unpredictable system very nicely.   To make that student fit within our educational model, we drug, punish, and belittle the student until they either comply to a degree in which they can be tolerated, or are pushed out of our system all together.  The real shame here is that many times there is an assumption that these students are not gifted, when in fact they are, they simply don’t play the game by the industrial model rules that were established a century ago.  Our choice has been to change the student to fit the model instead of changing the model to fit the student and by doing so, we have missed an opportunity with a whole bunch of gifted students.

How often do we work to control our students?  Think of that student who challenges our systems.  Think about your reaction to that student.  Now think about your reaction to that student when you know they are right and our system in wrong.  Unfortunately, most of us squelch that student and often without a true explanation as to why.  We say that it is, “complicated” or “for their own good” or “they will understand when they are older”, instead of embracing those students, their ideas and their input.  Instead of acknowledging that they are rightfully challenging the way we educating them because our system is not working for them and they want it to.  Their “challenges” are pleas for help, not the acts of betrayal we so often portray them to be.

My point here is that we have so narrowly defined what it means to be “gifted” in our system of education, that we fail to either see the gifts within each student, or we fail to push students beyond the model we have been a part of for so long.  I fear that as long as we define “school” and “learning” so narrowly, we will continue to miss the the opportunity to cultivate the gifted student found in all students.  As long as we continue to define what it means to be “gifted” by the system which so narrowly defines how we learn, we will not truly find each of our students’ gifts.  It is why this shift toward free agent learning, with the categorical freedoms and the power to self-define our gifts, is so intriguing.

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Reflections on My Last Day

Today is my last day with SAU 16, the School Administrative Unit that serves the towns of Brentwood, Exeter, East Kingston, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham, New Hampshire.  I was hired by one of my mentors, Bill Perkins, in the summer of 1999 as a middle school science teacher.  Truthfully, I didn’t want that job, I wanted the high school biology position that I missed out on earlier in the spring, but I figured, if I could just get in the district, I can transfer to the high school later.  I had no idea that the next decade-plus would  provide so much for me.  With deference to one of my favorite sports writers, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, here are the 10 things I think I think of my time here in SAU 16:

  1. I think the generosity and support of the professional community I served, which allowed me to acquire two advanced degrees and countless other professional development opportunities, is something I took for granted early in my career.
  2. I think the friends I have met and the mentors I have found, will continue to influence my decision making for years to come.
  3. I think I owe Andy Littlefield more credit for insisting I attend a WebCT workshop in the summer of 2000 – that was the start of my shift toward instructional and connective technology.
  4. I think I learned most when I made mistakes and I know that it would not have been possible if I didn’t have the support of my superiors.
  5. I think I had no idea how lucky I was to find employment in SAU 16 in part because it provided the stability I needed to establish roots and raise my kids here.
  6. I think I learned more from the nearly 50 teachers who joined my in PLPTristate this past year about how inherently social learning is than I ever did in any graduate course I ever took.
  7. I think I worked for and with many courageous and visionary leaders who made decisions based on the needs of kids, and some who were only interested in what was politically “doable”.  I know that I will work to be more like the former in an effort to reduce the impact of the latter.
  8. I think I will always consider myself a middle-school teacher at heart, and I will always be proud of that.  I can always learn more content, but the compassion and student-centered approach that I learned by teaching middle school will forever impact my philosophies.
  9. I think, or perhaps I wonder if, the challenges I encountered in SAU 16 in trying to enact change were unique to SAU 16.  I’m interested to find out.
  10. I think the most important thing I learned in my time in SAU 16 is that school should be about learning and less about teaching.
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The Risk of Publishing

I got my iPad last week.  <pause>

Okay, I may have been the last in my PLN to have one, but none the less, I do.  Much like Will Richardson and David Warlick, I am happy with mine, but understand its capacity to do much more will come with newer versions of the operating system.  Knowing that the ability to multi-task is coming, I was able to get over the lack of a camera pretty quickly once I held it in my hands.  It’s a wonderfully comfortable device with the incredible ability to help me to connect to my PLN.

One of the areas of personal development that I have been slow to join has been the use of eReaders and while I have never been an avid “book” reader (have much preferred magazines over books and the ability to watch a documentary over reading its script) I do have a moderate sized library, many of the same books that other educators have, but I knew that it begged for expansion.  Purposefully, I’ve been slow to expand it with traditional paper books, instead waiting for the opportunity to use an eReader, which my iPad has now afforded.

The first app I put on my new iPad was the Kindle app (following Will and Scott Mcleod’s suggestion) with the first purchase shortly thereafter being Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognative Surplus.  First, I want to comment on my reading experience, then I will comment on something Shirky wrote in his book.

I’m not sure I will every by a paper book again.  First, the text is so easy to read, the light is perfect (and the amount light in the room is irrelevant)and the iPad fits very comfortably in my hand either as I sit or lay down.  Physically, it is pleasing.  When folks talk about not wanting to give up books, they speak longingly of the physicality of holding the book, of turning the page, of being able to put their fingers between two pages to hold their spot.   While the iPad doesn’t fulfill any of those tactile needs, I didn’t miss them.  In fact, because of its size and its crystal clear screen, I found it very comfortable and easy to read in a variety of reading positions.

When I used to read a paper book, I would write notes, mark it up, highlight, dog ear, etc.  There was a learning piece to all of that for me.  Those tactile events helped to keep me active and engaged in the learning.  What most excites me about the Kindle App, however, is the ability to not only highlight and take notes just like a physical book, but, as Will points out, all of those notes and highlights are saved to my personal webpage at  Additionally, however, not only can I see my notes, but I can see all of the highlights and notes from other readers of the book.  Reading with my eReader is more social than reading with a physical book.  It’s the equivalent of a 24/7 book club, except that everyone is actually reading the book.  All I can think about is a class of students equipped with iPads loaded with the Kindle App reading, highlighting, taking notes, and more importantly sharing their points with every other person reading the same book (regardless of location).

Now, on to Shirky’s book, which I am enjoying thoroughly.  Early in the book, Shirky lays out his argument for amateurism and how it eventually leads to increased productivity, creativity, and a higher level of overall professionalism (He makes an abridged version of that argument in this Wall Street Journal article.)  As Shirky wrote, the printing press increased the production of books, not just old stories being reprinted, but new stories (novels) that no one had ever heard of or read before.  This lead to the possibility that books might not be popular to which Shirky wrote, “Indeed, shouldering the possibility that a book might be unpopular marks the transition from printers (who made copies of hallowed works) to publishers (who took on the risk of novelty).”

The parallels to what I am trying to do through Transleadership are remarkable.  The arguments made by professional writers is that us “amateurs” do not have the expertise to vet, write and publish and while I agree that I am not the writer that most columnists and “professional” bloggers are, I assume the risk of publishing through this blog.  It is, in fact, that risk that drive me to continue to write and write as well as I can.  It is that risk that forces me to reflect, write, rethink and rewrite.  It is that risk that forces me to continue to think and write harder than I ever have before.  Knowing that friends and foes alike are reading, thinking and commenting on my writing reminds me that I need to write as flawlessly as my capacity allows, reminds me that my PLN is my classroom and it’s members are both fellow learners and teachers, and it reminds me to continue to push my son to write in his blog, and to get my two daughter’s writing their own now that they are a bit older.

Publishing on Transleadership was a risk, one that took me some time to assume, but as I approach 1 year of blogging, I can’t help but realize it has made me a better writer, thinker and learner.

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Teacher Assignments – The Worst Day of the Summer

Yesterday was one of those days that I dread as a parent.  It was the day my children received their final report card for the 09-10 school year, which included the name of their respective teachers for the 2011-2012 school year.  Of course, the kids and their parents were excited to not only learn who their teachers are going to be, but also which of their friends will be in their class.  As a result, our cell and home phones were buzzing with calls, texts and emails all afternoon.  My wife, who was sitting in a Pittsburgh airport, had partial list of students for each of the kids classes, all based on incoming texts and emails.  (We do not solicit lists of names from others.)

I have no problem with the kids calling (and texting when older) their friends to find out “who has who”.  The social side of school is very important to them and they need to satisfy that part of their lives. They are trying to find out who they will be close to next year – not necessarily in a learning sense, but in a social sense.

The problems come when parents call other parents, send out emails with comprehensive lists of students, start wikis for other parents to add their child’s name to class lists or simply barrage their friends with a series of text messages seeking the placement of each child.  Their reason may be social as well, but I know that that is not always the case.  Unfortunately, some are not looking at the make up of their child’s class as an opportunity to learn from a diverse set of learners, instead they are looking for potential road blocks – the kids in the class that are going to impede their child from getting an “A”.

This bothers me in two ways:  First, there implies that the success of any child is dependent upon the make up of the class.  I admit that it’s too simple and naive to think that classrooms don’t have personalities and that some can be more challenging than others, but learning, whether individual or social, is very personal and requires an acceptance of ownership on the part of the learner.  Students need to own their learning.  By introducing classroom dynamics as a hurdle to personal learning, I think we begin to deflect that ownership away from the student and more toward the class.  I tell me kids all the time, “your success in school is under your control, regardless of who is your class.”

But, here’s my bigger issue, when these lists are created and disseminated, limits are created.  As of today (June 25, 2010) there is a list of 20 kids in each of my kid’s classrooms and for the next 9 weeks, the assumption will be that those are the only learners in that classroom.  As Will Richardson will say to teachers, “You are not the smartest person in the room if you are connected to the internet.”  The same should hold for our students, “You are not the only learner (and teacher!) in the room if you are connected to the internet.”  My fear is that kids and parents will only see the 20 names on the list as the only learners in their classrooms without understanding the learning needs to occur in a “global” classroom.

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A Collection of Thoughts to My School Community

The following is a collection of thoughts I am sharing with my Joint School Board next week:

“…There is no question that reading no longer just means consuming. It’s all about pulling out the most salient, relevant pieces and doing something with them that potentially makes other people more knowledgeable as well.”

-Will Richardson

  • Reading is no longer a passive process.  It is quickly evolving into an active, participatory and collaborative activity.  With ubiquitous access resulting in the rampant amateurism of web publishing (which may not be a bad thing – see Clay Shirky’s article in the June 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal) literacy education needs to be more than just teaching our students how to  “consume” information simply because not all information is ready for consumption.  Our students need to be able to find, vet, assimilate, remix, create, and publish new information.  They need to know the difference between “good” and “bad” information and they need to know how to use such information to challenge tired dogmas and create new constructs.  In the words of Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
  • Tools like iPods and iPads with their associated apps allow individuals to read collectively, collaboratively, and conceptualize what they read in multiple dimensions.  To teach reading for the 21st century learner, we can no longer teach it as a solitary event.  Many of our teachers understand this and as I leave the SAU, I hope that the respective boards continue to encourage participatory reading within their districts.
  • As a parent of three children who attend schools within the SAU, I am most pleased that SAU school boards have passed the new Responsible Use Policy.  Not only does its acceptance validate the expertise and hard work of the teachers who collaboratively wrote that policy, but it also provides immense opportunities for students to learn using these 21st century technologies.
  • The teachers who engaged in the courageous conversations and worked hard to build expertise through Powerful Learning Practices (PLP) have the potential to shift teaching practices.  While there is, understandably, some discomfort that comes with such shifts, it is widely recognized that students not only learn differently than they did a generation ago, but they also need skills that did not exist until relatively recently.  The teachers involved with PLP now have the capacity to lead that shift.  I hope that the SAU is able to capture and harness their collective expertise.
  • My most proud moment as a member of this learning community was the day CMS was awarded the “EDie’s” Middle School of Excellence Award.  Having now served on the “EDie’s” middle school visiting committee for two years, I more fully recognize the rigor behind the selection process, which only enhances my pride in being a part of the team that won that award in 2008.  For me, it acknowledged the collective work associated with the transition from a “Jr. High School” to a “Middle School”.  I recognize that all members of our community do not share my passion and beliefs associated with “Middle School”, but I can’t help but be grateful for an award that punctuated the efforts of the faculty and staff of CMS.
  • I agree with Superintendent Morgan’s (and many others’) assertion that we need to challenge the status quo and find ways to personalize education, create experiences that foster the exploration of passions within our students, and support alternative methods to cultivate an educated citizenry.  All too often the institution of school gets in the way of its purpose, or worse, the institution of school becomes its purpose.  This SAU has had a history of doing just the opposite, creating institutions to meet its purpose, and for that it has the well-deserved reputation of being a forward-thinking, progressive school community.  I hope – soon as a simply a parent and taxpayer – that this SAU continues to earn that reputation.
  • My biggest regret over the past decade is my role in developing an over-reliance on standardized test data throughout the SAU.  Having embraced the title of the “data guy” during my time at CMS and early in my time at the SAU, I am concerned that in doing so I may have inadvertently shifted the focus away from where it needs to be.  I’m afraid that through my influence, standardized data has been used to narrow opportunities and create limitations.  Learning, and school, is fundamentally very personal.  Our students only have one opportunity to be a k-12 student, so by default it needs to be very personal for them.  But, how personal is it to us as an institution?  How do we step away from the easy assumptions made through standardized data and make infinitely more difficult yet meaningful constructs using the multiple qualitative measures that come from personalizing education?  Further, there is a bigger standard that we need to be striving for; it is the performance of our students and graduates as collaborative members of society, a standard in which progress cannot be measured by standardized test scores. Instead, it is measured through the opportunities we create for students to grow, explore and achieve.  Ultimately, our job as a learning community is to create foundations for our students, not ceilings.  We do that by making learning very personal and by teaching students, not grade levels, not test items, and not subjects.  We do that by allowing students the opportunity to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  We do that by encouraging students to take risks, fail, reflect, and proceed.  We do this by personalizing and customizing learning for every student so that they can engage in learning that is meaningful and worthwhile to them. We do this by understanding that the variables in education are time and resources, not expectations.  We do this by not putting a stopwatch on learning, using standardized test scores to institutionalize the process, or trying to fit all students into a single system.  Learning is a uniquely personal process and we need to ensure that learning and the systems we build to support learning are equally personal, and equally dynamic for every student who attends our schools.
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When the Culminating Event is Just the Beginning

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting our Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) Culminating Event at the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter, NH.  Nearly 50 teachers and administrators from SAU16 participated in PLP during the 2009-2010 school year, and yesterday we convened to have a day long celebration of our efforts.  Both Will and Sheryl flew in for the event, which they do at the beginning and end of each PLP Cohort.

To say that the event was moving would not do it justice.  I knew going into the process that teaching and learning would look differently to us at the end of our year.  Robin Ellis assured me constantly that the transformation would occur somewhere about the midway point and, although I saw it begin to develop then, yesterday’s event was simply stunning – not because we were using web 2.0 tools, but because the transformation was in the conversations we were having. They weren’t around tools.  They weren’t around technologies.  They weren’t around the lessons we were going to teach tomorrow.  Instead they were around terms such as “empowerment”, “leadership”, and “culture”.  We were having conversations about being agents of change and distributing our new found capacity to lead.  In effect, we saw past the glitz and glam of the tools (although they are cool as heck) and pushed our thinking toward how these connective technologies are changing the very landscape of education…  and this is a good thing because, as Will said in his closing remarks, educators should not be “getting comfortable”, in fact we need to keep asking “what’s changed” relative to our ability to teach skills necessary for our students to be active participants in today’s world.  We can’t afford to think that our conversation, our learning and our need for discomfort is done.  In fact, this culminating event was more like a kickoff with Will, Sheryl and the extensive PLP network simply giving us the direction and capacity to do so.

But, this has been a very personal journey for me as well.  Last August I asked nearly 60 teachers to join me in PLP.  I asked them to get uncomfortable, to be willing to be stretched, to unlearn that which they thought they knew, to show their vulnerabilities in order to develop new strengths, and ultimately to lead their colleagues, students and learning communities in the use of connective technologies moving forward.  Nearly 50 agreed to join and the work that they shared yesterday was very moving, so much so that I felt compelled to share that with them in the following email:

Good morning.

From the very bottom of my heart, I want to thank each of you not only for your participation in PLP, but your willingness to learn, unlearn, stretch, grow, produce and ultimately lead this SAU in the use of connective technologies.  You were willing to take a risk with me, to be transparent as a learner, to share your insecurities and to come to revelations you thought not possible before.  Your decision to do so was very meaningful to me and I want to thank you for being willing to take that leap.

As I said yesterday, I believe that leadership is not something we are born with, it is something we achieve, and each of us now have the capacity (and the responsibility) to not only lead, but to distribute that capacity to lead to our colleagues, our students and our learning communities.  PLP is not about technology, it is about practices, cultures, communities and the belief that leadership is not meant to be monopolized, it is to be shared, celebrated, challenged, and redistributed.

As all of you know, the use of connective technologies to direct learning is something that I am very passionate about, so to be a part of a movement towards thier implementation within the very schools that my children are attending, and in a more broad sense, change what it means to teach and learn, is very exciting.  Yesterday’s culminating event was very moving for me.  Your efforts touched me deeply – and it is very important to me that each of you know that.

I offer you my deepest thanks, my highest congratulations, and my very best for your continued growth as a learning leader.

Thank you….


I have not been shy about what PLP has done for me and my personal transformation. (Full Disclosure:  I have recently been hired to be a Community Leader for PLP)  The capacity to share that with the professionals in whom I work with most closely and in whom I trust the education of my children as well as the children of the community in which I live is only strengthening that transformation and further igniting my own passion to explore how I can continue to build leadership capacity in this area.  While I will be leaving my job as Assistant Superintendent, I can’t help but think that the work we did as a learning community, with the facilitation of Will, Sheryl, John Pederson and the rest of the PLP Network is only the start of that capacity building process here in Exeter, NH.

Useful Links:

Our PLP Projects (see New Hampshire – SAU 16)
PLP Flickr Group
Our new RUP
Video:  RUP, 123

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What Should My New Job Title Be?

As of July 1st, I will be working full time at The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School and I need your help developing my new job title.  My primary role will be to develop a staff evaluation process, peer coaching program and oversight of student caps and individual teaching assignments.  I will also be working with our Director of Academic Support to develop and oversee teacher development opportunities and the Chief Learning Officer in the year round hiring of new staff to meet the demands of the school’s open enrollment.  And while everyone’s job at VLACS includes a little bit of everything (there is a true team culture there) my job will most likely evolve over time to include all facets of Human Resources in education.  My boss, the Chief Executive Officer has suggested the title of Chief Personnel Officer, but is open to other ideas.  Below are several other titles as well as an opportunity for you to suggest an alternative.  Your feedback is welcome…

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Leading and Learning in the 21st Century

One of the great byproducts of my transformation into a transparent, connected learning leader has been the terrific relationships that I have built along the way.  In many ways, this guest blog series has only strengthen those relationships, which is exactly the case with today’s guest blogger, Deron Durflinger.  Deron and I met on Twitter, quickly realizing that we were both passionate about transforming schools away from the factory model that we are all too familiar with, to one that utilizes connective devices to make learning available anywhere at anytime.  As Principal of Van Meter High School, Deron is doing just that as he not only shepherds their move to a 1:1, textbook-free environment, he is helping oversee the development of a virtual program at the  school as well.  Van Meter is one of only two high schools in the world known to be doing both.

What I really appreciate about Deron is his willingness to share with colleagues around the world and students at Van Meter.  His blog is chock full of current research, trends and opportunities and lately he has been asking his students to guest-blog as well.  A true learning leader, I am honored to have Deron contribute to TransLeadership.

Leading is all about learning.  If we keep that as our focus, we can transform schools of today into what is needed for tomorrow. If all stakeholders (including administrators) are true learners, change is still difficult, however, it is not only possible, it is inevitable.  We must be willing to practice what we preach.  Changing and adapting to the world around us must be a  major part of how we do business as educational leaders.

There are certain skills an effective leader must possess to truly have an impact on an organization.  Most of these skills have been used by superintendents and principals for decades.  A leader must be:

  • Moral and Ethical
  • Trustworthy
  • Courageous
  • Energetic
  • Committed
  • Dedicated
  • Passionate
  • Inspiring
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Data-Driven
  • Organized
  • Visionary

There are many other characteristics one could add to the list.  Each of these skills are still critical to be an effective leader in schools today, but there are other skill sets required today that maybe were not needed by building principals and superintendents of 50 years ago.

Right or wrong, the world is different today, and it will continue to change. This means that schools must also change, and the only ways schools will change is if the leaders of the educational system are willing to make the necessary alterations to their leadership skills.  An effective leader today cannot just manage the people of the organization, but he/she must also be able to do the following:

  • Develop a Shared Vision
  • Empower
  • Collaborate
  • Communicate
  • Adapt
  • Build Relationships

As I think about the characteristics above, all but one of them have to deal with working on a team.  Empowering all members of the organization to be a leader by developing a shared vision through collaboration, communication, and building relationships.  Today instead of one person leading the charge, it takes a team effort for schools to change.  If a leader today is not able to get its team members on board with the needed changes, it just won’t happen.

Locally, effective leaders can have a significant impact on its students.  Students need to be empowered to control their own learning within their passions, so we can develop global, digital citizens who can THINK, LEAD, & SERVE.  At Van Meter, we feel we have made significant steps in improving our already high-performing school. We have created a shared-vision, and we plan on being a total transformed school by 2012.

What will this look like?  Our school will put the student at the center of all decisions, and adjust according to his or her needs.  This is the gist of the plan:

  • We will see the use of flexible time for students to take classes. We plan on using asynchronous scheduling for a hybrid learning environment of both face to face and online classes.
  • We will be more flexible with our space as well.  Students will not necessarily meet at school for classes. We want to provide as many learning opportunities as possible for them, so classes will be just as likely to take place off campus as on.
  • We want student learning to be as personalized as possible, and we envision all students helping develop their own learning plans based on their individual passions.
  • Students will have a voice equal to that of the adults in designing this system. They need to be empowered to design this new system.
  • There are other components involved, and technology will be a key aspect to any change we make. Through our one to one program, students are able to connect, create, and share what they know on a whole new level. This has empowered our students in ways we would not have imagined a year ago. By using the tools available for our staff and students, we have created an environment totally focused on the learning of all stakeholders. Not only has this empowered our students, it has empowered our teachers and it has led to a better relationship amongst students and staff.

To learn more about how Van Meter Schools is hoping to help lead the change in our own school for now, and on a broader scale in the future, check out the conversation going on at the #vanmeter hashtag. To see some of the things we are doing now, be sure to check out some of the links within this post.  We look forward to being a part of the conversation.

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