Monday, March 29, 2010

Music as a Metaphor for Leadership and Learning

Itay Talgam gave an incredibly interesting presentation this morning, on the last day of the Apple Education Leadership Summit. I have written about Itay Talgam and his TEDtalk about great conductors and their different leaderships styles several months ago in a blog post called Doing without Doing. There are some extra points I want to mention here though.

This morning one of the things discussed was planning - it could be planning for anything, but in fact we were really dealing with planning for learning. When you get a new plan or perhaps a new curriculum you have to interpret it. This interpretation gives you ownership of it and it is the ownership of the interpretation is important - and where you can see the culture of the organisation. It is important that this ownership gives you the freedom make mistakes as you try to interpret the plan, as without the possibility or the "permission" to make mistakes there is no room for experimentation. Without experimentation there are no lessons you can learn. However some organisations or schools don't want experimentation - for them it's all about control.

Of course leadership of a school or the leadership involved in teaching a class, just like conducting an orchestra, does involve control. But there is a delicate balance between control and trusting that the teachers and students know what they are doing. This trust can be very energising and the best teachers know that you can give control to the students without losing control yourself. It's all about engaging in a process that everyone can understand.

This morning's session was a long one - a total of 3 hours with a short break about 2/3rds of the way through. Right before the break we had watched a movie of Leonard Bernstein conducting. Itay Talgam had worked with Bernstein and he told us that what was really special about him was that he was so empowering - that he made you feel that each and every person can be a leader and that real dialogue was possible. That he allowed and encouraged individual interpretation - which is what leads to dialogue. Each person is responsible for his own side of the dialogue. It's more of a partnership. We were told "You have to become a soloist to become part of the orchestra". You have to be an individual to be part of the group. Your work is bigger than you and your job is to add meaning to it.

After the break we came back and Itay showed us what he meant by working with 4 students playing in a string quartet and then 2 jazz musicians. He asked them questions about what they were doing, had different members of the quartet take the lead and interpret the music in different ways and eventually just all improvise together to see what the result would be. The students were incredibly brave doing this in front of hundreds of people.

This session was truly wonderful and very thought provoking - I am going to mull over these ideas for quite a long time.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful metaphor, and very neat that you actually got to see this played out before you. You are right, it is each of our interpretation of what we are teaching that gives us ownership over it. This is important for teachers to do, particularly teachers who have to teach scripted, mandated curriculum. We have to have some sense of ownership in it in order to make it something special for our students.