Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strong Leadership

This morning, after a discussion with a colleague about how good principals should be modeling the behaviours they want to promote among their teachers, I was prompted to go back and re-read the T.H.E. Journey article entitled 7 habits of highly effective tech-leading principals.   These attributes are those that principals have identified as being those that an effective technology leader should demonstrate.  I felt that they all actually apply to any sort of educational leadership - both to school heads, department heads, tech directors and even to classroom teachers who want to demonstrate good 21st century skills.  Here are the 7 habits with a few comments on what I've experienced.

  1. Encourage an atmosphere that inspires innovation:  teachers and students will be prepared to take risks and try new things if they know that they won't be sidelined if these aren't always successful.  A good leader knows that people learn from mistakes, that no matter how many mistakes you make or how slowly you seem to be making progress, you are still ahead of those who are not even trying.  It's important for all leaders to make sure that their classrooms and schools are ones where  people feel safe to experiment in order to learn new things.
  2. Foster collaboration:  the PYP is all about collaborative planning and this involves respecting everyone's input, suggestions and points of view.  I remember a couple of years ago I was told that it wasn't my place to question the central idea of a unit of inquiry since I was just "the IT teacher" - actually the person who said that was wrong.  It was my place, as part of the planning team, to unpack the central idea and the lines of inquiry to ensure that the students had something authentic to inquire into.  For me, collaboration goes a lot further than just working together in our school teams.  As teachers I think we should be collaborating with other teachers globally and our students should be too.  I love it when I see school leaders walking the talk, using social media to learn with and from others.
  3. Be open to new ideas:  the PYP also promotes devolved or distributed leadership - which is important in international schools where principals and teachers are constantly moving.  Pedagogical leadership involves being reflective and valuing feedback.  It also involves recognizing that some teachers may have a great deal experience in a variety of international schools and that they bring with them great ideas that have already been tried and tested in other places.  Strong leaders value such expertise and ideas and do not feel threatened by them.
  4. Be a connected learner:  this is the key to keeping abreast of new technologies and how they impact on student learning.  Principals need to be connected and learning so that teachers and students have confidence in what the person can do, not just what they say.  
  5. Provide adequate resources:  these could be actual devices, websites or tools that allow collaboration.  Hardware and software can be expensive, but there are also many Web 2.0 tools that are free and there is an amazing amount of information in many different forms such as podcasts, videos and so on that students can access for free.  External professional development can also be expensive - perhaps it's cheaper to bring in a consultant for the whole school, perhaps there are people on staff with expertise that can be shared.  This year we've also explored using Skype to have our students connect with authors and other experts.
  6. Take risks:  today in our team leaders meeting we were talking about how challenges can be turned into opportunities given the right support.  The expression "if you don't risk anything, you risk everything" is true.  One of the attributes of the IB learner profile is risk-taker.  All leaders should be modeling this if they want students to develop this quality, as students are more influenced by what they see you do than by what they hear you say.  It's Ok to fail - this can be a powerful lesson to yourself and to others who see you cope with temporary setbacks.  You don't drown by falling into water, you drown by staying in it.
  7. Focus on your vision and your goals:  for me these goals involve empowering teachers and students to use the technology available to them to transform their learning.
Photo Credit:  Pebble Balancing by Bemep, 2007   AttributionNoncommercial 

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