Not the Only Way: Authentic vs. Compliant Learning

“Authentic learning is not discovered in a textbook, but rather at the crossroads of contemporary societal issues and student passion.”- Aaron Duff

When I (Joshua) tell people that I am a middle school administrator, I usually get the same responses.

“God bless you!”

“I could never do that!”

Which eventually leads to,

“Have schools and students changed much?”

Often, after hearing this line of questioning, I wonder how it would be to be a middle school student now.  As a middle school student, I viewed my school as an irrelevant and inapplicable entity due to the extremely monotonous exercises, which lacked an explanation of real-world application. Each class was a carbon copy of the other and the classrooms, teachers, and students participated in similar traditional patterns and rituals. Students were observers of a dictated, fact-based instruction, which relied heavily on the use of teacher lectures, packets, and textbooks. The lessons were linear with a determined outcome. The experience proved compliance was the greatest quality for a student to possess for success.

My view of school was extremely jaded until I took a class on Shakespeare. I really don’t know the reasons why I took the course since, at that time, my reading material consisted of sports magazines and comic books. My teacher, Mr. Wasmund, had an amazing way of reading the material with passion, explaining the meaning behind the language used in the text, relating the stories to current events and creating a desire to read more. It was very apparent that Mr. Wasmund was motivated by the love for the material, the relationships built with his students and the grit shown by his students on a daily basis. The learning environment was about sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, debating confrontational topics, and performing the Shakespearean plays. For the first time, I wasn’t worried about my grade in a class. The growth of knowledge was natural. After experiencing a new way of teaching, hope began to grow in the knowledge that learning could be fun and voluntary.

Aaron Duff’s quote depicts the direct relationship of authentic learning through societal events and beliefs with student convictions, passions, and interest. If teachers can consistently establish the relevant purpose of each lesson, students will create connections between their skills, personal talents, and current issues.  The classroom is no longer a setting only to gain information. Instead, the learning environment is an opportunity to relate to real-world problems, partnered with purposeful roles, current data sources and expanded audiences for immediate feedback.

I (Jeff) have had the opportunity to spend the majority of my education career working with middle school students as a teacher and an administrator. Middle schoolers have no fear in sharing their honest opinion for good or bad about a class or teacher, call it – no filter. They never seem to mind pulling back the curtain and letting you know the teachers and content that they connect with the most. Middle school is a time when students are motivated by self-interest and as educators, rather than seeing that as a deficit, we have a tremendous opportunity to tap into the power of that potential to engage learning. Students in these middle years are passionate, curious, increasingly reflective, and are starting to question the world as they develop their own identity. This is a good thing. As Josh shared, relationships are the gateway to unlocking learning for kids today, now more than ever. Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. Period. Once teachers foster the relationship, they have the power to move students towards authenticity. Let me share a few additional ways we begin to move students on the path towards engagement.

3 Ways To Encourage Authentic Engagement for Our Kids Starting Now…

Discover Rather than Cover

Often in education, we have covered a lot of material in the name of learning, throwing out curricular spitballs hoping something will stick. Great curriculum only becomes meaningful for students when the instruction engages them in the process. Using essential questions (Understanding By Design) is critical to keeping students grounded in the process of their own learning. Many educators may say they feel limited by the standards they must teach. I would suggest that we are only as limited as we are making for kids. It becomes a question of “how” you are going to teach a concept or skill that is most relevant.

One way to move students to personal engagement is through competition and gamification. For example, this past week I walked into a 6th-grade social studies classroom to witness latitude and longitude demonstrated in a friendly game of Battleship. This teacher could have used a worksheet and students would have been compliant, but instead, she met kids where they were at! They went home with a story and an experience that they will remember and ground their learning to apply to future situations.

Cross Curricular Connections

The learning becomes more authentic when it doesn’t “stand alone” for students. Our kids can easily compartmentalize content if we do not create connections or applications across broad subject areas. For example, I can remember a student saying, “ why are we talking about science in our history class? The greater question should be, “why are we not?” Our students are grounded in deeper learning when we create transference of an idea or skill across multiple contexts. Our goal should be for students to see concepts that move freely in and outside of one content area to the next. If you are not already doing this, consider how your team could move towards this alignment at least 1-2 times this school year. This could be a skill you want to strengthen such as writing across the curriculum or conceptual collaboration that all content areas can explore.

Learning Beyond the Threshold

We don’t have to struggle to create connections for our students. On any given day you can engage students by creating real-world connections through novelty and current events. We do not need to be afraid to integrate everything from fidgets to pop culture to societal struggles in our conversations with kids. They are looking to help us make sense of their world. We don’t have to act like the standards are separate and apart from kid’s experiences, because they are not. For example, are you using writing prompts that pull in current events or grappling with ethical questions that stir healthy discourse between your students?  In Denis Sheeran’s book, Instant Relevance, he further expands the practical ways to engage learners and I would encourage you to check it out!

Ultimately, students are hungry, eager, and deserve to move beyond “compliant” at worst and “comfortable” at best to embrace learning as their own. We have a captive audience every day in our schools for upwards of 8 or more hours, don’t waste a single minute. This year, let’s set a goal that we will not bore students with one more piece of seat work that is about ensuring we are keeping kids busy. Our learners need to connect their passions with meaningful experiences that translate into authentic engagement! Embrace the challenge and commit to never going back to just “ok.”

-Jeff and Josh

*this is also cross posted as a featured blog at leadupnow.com


Joshua Stamper is currently the Assistant Principal at Renner Middle School in Plano, TX. For further reading by Joshua, check out his posts at joshstamper.blogspot.com or on Twitter @Joshua__Stamper

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Relationships Over Rules

Then…

I (Brent) am a former student pastor turned public educator. Upon leaving vocational ministry, I moved into a position as a teacher and coach in southeast Texas. I taught science at the seventh and eighth grade levels for seven years and loved it. However fun my science classes were to teach, science was never my passion. My passion is in helping students learn from their choices (good and bad) and grow from one day to the next. During my time that I was in the classroom, I told my students on a regular basis, “My goal is for you to be a better person on the last day you walk out of my class than on the first day that you walked in. If you learn some science along the way, that’s awesome too!” Obviously, I wanted them to learn science and I wanted to do a great job of teaching it to them. After all, that’s what I was getting paid to do and I want to be great at my job. That doesn’t mean that science was my main goal for my students.

Like Brent, I (Jeff) spent 11 years as a student pastor before I transitioned into public education. I knew the call into the classroom was about relationships and helping kids to be better today than they were yesterday. Having taught both elementary and middle school students you come to find out that meeting the basic needs of students is universal. I can remember my first year teaching 4th grade, I had a parent of one young man indicate to me that it was the first year in his young school career that he had not been sent to the office. During that year we had several one on one conversations, where being 6’ 4’’ I would crouch down to eye level, and remind him what he could do. I always shared that  I expected more because he was capable. The power of high expectations seemed to resonate equally somewhere deep inside this little guy’s mind and heart. We developed a strong relationship by the time the school year finished. Though I was teaching english language arts we were all learning what it meant to live out the art of doing life together – what it means to become better with the help of another.

Now…

As administrators, the main focus has not changed for either of us. At all. We want our students across the campus to be better people on the last day they walk out than on the first day they walked in. How in the world can that be accomplished in the role of an Assistant Principal? Don’t we just stick them in detention or suspend them from school all the time?

Behavioral struggles are something that we all deal with in our professions as educators. Do not get us wrong, mistakes will be made and there are processes in school by which we must follow. However, there has also been much damage done in the name of “enforcing the rules” which had there been a relationship pre-established would have potentially turned out very differently.

When it comes to student behavior we must separate what is fiction so we can get real about the facts.

Separating Fact From Fiction

Fiction: Kids are looking to break the rules for the fun of it.

Fact: Kids will test boundaries and want to see how the adults in their life will react.

Tip: Be patient and extend new grace every day. All kids deserve a fresh start daily. How we respond may have a ripple effect on that kid’s future actions.

Fiction: If you aren’t firm from the beginning kids will just run right over you.

Fact: Kids, not unlike teachers, will follow a leader, not a war lord. You have to build credibility and know your kids.

Tip: Build credibility with everyday conversations. As Aaron Hogan says in his book Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, “Everyday interactions are the relational foundation that much of our work rests upon.” Know kids by name, their interests, passions, and fears. It is then you understand them when they may perhaps sit across a desk from you having that much harder conversation.

Fiction: Administrators are out to get kids.

Fact: Administrators want to support kids with a learning opportunity when they see them make a mistake.

Tip: Be on the lookout for the great things students are doing and make some noise when they do. Focusing only on what students are doing wrong will push them away.

Fiction: Rules are black and white and so the consequences should be as well.

Fact: When it comes to behavior and kids there is lots and lots of gray.

Tip: If we truly take time to get to know our students, we will begin to understand what types of conversations and consequences will best accomplish the goal of “heart change” (rather than temporary behavior modification).

Fiction: Parents are harder to deal with than the kids.

Fact: As with the kids, relationships matter. We must remember that no one will advocate for their child like that parent. It is their job.

Tip: Put as much focus on relationships with the parents as with the students. They are one of the most integral parts in a child’s education, especially when it comes to behavioral support. Students need a team.

Fiction: Kids hate rules.

Fact: Kids thrive when reasonable rules are in place. Much like an unregulated game of football, daily life would feel pretty chaotic without boundaries.

Tip: Put firm boundaries in place and follow through with them. Ensure that ample time is spent building relationships, especially with your more challenging students.

We are not advocating that rules should not exist or not be followed for the sake of building healthy, positive, authentic relationships with our student population. We simply believe wholeheartedly that the relational piece has to play a major role in the disciplinary process. If it doesn’t, you’ll never reach the heart of any kid and the result is merely temporary behavior modification. We can do better.

Leadership That Moves Beyond Me to We

Beyond Me to We

Have you ever heard someone say, “one day when I’m the leader” or “when I can make the decisions things will be different.” They believe that the ability to influence decisions happens across a desk or podium. Many abdicate their influence by getting stuck believing that they can only truly influence other through a position. Your leadership doesn’t begin when you get THE position. If you believe you will become a great leader once you get that instructional coach position, department chair, administrative job, or central office gig, you are missing the point. We grow the capacity of our leadership and influence by the choices we make today, not tomorrow. You become a great leader because of your relationship with people, not the position in relation to others. Your leadership role isn’t about your job, it is about how you position yourself in the lives of people, your investment in them, not your actual position. Our capacity as leaders is best expressed when we understand that our position can support our effectiveness, but our effectiveness is never dependent on our position. We move others when we see that as our primary role, not to build our name but others. Allow me to share a few ways that our leadership can move others…

Connect

Every opportunity that gives you an opportunity to connect with someone you should take it. If as leaders we are inaccessible or set ourselves up that make us unrelatable then we greatly diminish our ability to be effective in other’s lives. This doesn’t mean I will be everyone’s friend, but I certainly shouldn’t attempt to make myself unlikable. There are those who would say, “I don’t need to be liked but respected.” Reality – people won’t respect you if they don’t like you. People won’t follow you if they don’t like you. People won’t stay at your school if they don’t like you. Let us not confuse fear with respect. If I stake my leadership based on what others are doing or not doing, results driven rather than relationships, it communicates a culture that values performance over people. In that type of system, people will never be able to perform enough.

Bottom line: Am I giving a compelling reason for people to stay connected and committed to our mission, school, district?

Contribute 

If all you do is the minimum to satisfy your job description that minimum is exactly is what you will get. Consider ways to add value to your school or organization. Lately, we have been in a series with #Leadupchat about moving from me to we, what is your critical contribution that adds value to the “We?” Take responsibility for the critical area in your position or on your team and lead with excellence. Make it a point to get better every day at what you do, guess what? You will. Why? Because it becomes a focused area of relentless pursuit.

Bottom line: How does what I do contribute to what we do as a school? Does this move the dial?

Capacity 

Building capacity in others doesn’t mean giving your people more tasks or work. Just like students can smell out an extension activity that is nothing more than busy work to keep them busy, we must be careful not to do that with our current or emerging leaders. Leaders understand that momentum will be maximized when one delegates authority, give decision-making permission to those around us. Let us  not confuse tasks with authority. To truly build capacity are you allowing others around you to actually make decisions. A team can never win on the shoulders of the coach, decisions and implementing those ideas have to be made on the field or court. Our ability to build capacity fundamentally starts with believing the best about others and trusting them to do their jobs. Trust your people, allow them to make big decisions with you. As a leader, you should be able to focus on fewer decisions because you are empowering others to make decisions. If you feel exhausted having to make all the decisions it may be time to reevaluate your effectiveness in building capacity in others.

Bottom Line: Do I delegate tasks or do I delegate authority?

Don’t wait to become a great leader tomorrow, start today. As Simon Sinek says, we should be the leaders we wish we had.” Commit to be a leader with high standards, who believes that your greatness is defined less by your name but through others. Why? We need you now more than ever!

10 Defining Characteristics of a #LeadUpTeach Teacher

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A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious

A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. -ing the Status QuoThe LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. 

Adds Value to Others

LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues.

Empowers & Celebrates Strengths

When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility. Model Risk Taking The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement.

Reflective Practitioner

Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. LeadUp teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn.

Habitual Learner 

The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Life Long LearnerBeing a lifelong learner is never cliché for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompasses a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life.

Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts 

The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. -ing the Status Quo (1) With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning.

Demonstrates Courage & Voice 

Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice.

Positive Outlook & Impact 

The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.”

Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven 

“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown

LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They commit to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence!

100% Student Focused

Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.

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Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?

Leading Up, Elisabeth & Heidi

 

The Joy of Boys

Joy of Boys

     Boys bring a certain level of verve to any setting. Day or night, they are ready for action and movement. Boys have a natural curiosity that fuel their hunger for learning about our wonderful world. They instinctively want to experience their environments in a kinesthetic fashion and are never truly satisfied with a “because I said so” answer to their questions. In short, they are explorers and doers of the best kinds. Relentless in their search for adventure and always ready for a good ole’ ruckus. I know this is true not because I was a boy, but because I am the mother of two young boys, 8 and 4 years old. Maurice Sendak was never more honest and true when he penned the sentences “Let the wild rumpus start” and “Inside all of is a Wild Thing”. Sendak had such a knack for channeling the essence of our boy explorers!

     Knowing that these are the hallmarks of healthy, growing boys why is it so many schools struggle to educate boys in a fashion that engage their full selves and optimize their many innate talents and characteristics? Below are my ideas for answering this question based on my own learning and experience as a mother and educator and a recent interview I participated in with Ruth Morhard and Richard Hawley, both experts and gifted authors on this topic of educating boys.

When teaching boys please remember…

Play is Their Work                                                                                                                      What may look like a simple act of play is a boy’s way of working out the intricacies of their ever expanding world. They need space to explore and opportunities to make messes, pretend, be loud, crash things, interact with peers, and imagine. Their job is to wonder, our job as the adults in their lives is to nurture their wonder and help provide outlets for their wonderings to expand. How and where can we offer increased opportunities for play in our schools, not just for boys, but all students?

Build, Destroy, Rebuild, & Repeat                                                                                                    I recently learned a new word: Thinkering! This concept is based on the book by Michael Michalko Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Thinkering experiences are the kind of learning experiences boys crave at school! Boys are often on a quest to know how things work. They figure this out by employing the tried-and-true Build, Destroy, Rebuild cycle. Their visual-spatially bent minds crave experiences where they can put together and take apart. In a school setting, this can look like providing open ended time for building with blocks, creating in a pretend and play station, putting together and taking apart puzzles, construction and deconstruction opportunities with mixed materials, and maker-space experiences.

Relationships are Their X-Factor                                                                                             Show me you care and I’ll care about what you know! This is true for any person, be it a child or an adult, but it is essential for growing and developing boys in educational settings. Think of it this way, educators must build a relationship with a boy to open their avenues for learning. On a practical level, this looks like getting on their level (literally getting down, on the floor with them), engaging them in activities that are preferred for them, and really listening and responding to their ideas, questions, and needs. Nurture a respectful relationship with a boy and he will let you mold and teach him for a lifetime!

Relationships 2

What tips, ideas, and strategies do you employ to capture the hearts and minds of the boys in your world?

Learning & Leading, Heidi

*This blog post was inspired by a recent pod-cast conversation “Getting Boys to Love School” I had with Rae Pica, founder and host of BAM! Radio Network’s Studentcentricity,  Ruth Morhard, author of Wired to Move, and Richard Hawley, co-author of Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys. The topic of our pod-cast is “Ensuring Success for Boys”. 

 

 

Jump Start Growth

Jump Start Growth

Recently, a mentor I respect greatly said something that deeply resonated with me. It was as if he said it just for me and me alone. He put words to something I often feel, but shrink away from admitting out loud. He declared, “I often feel weighed down by my own disappointment over my past failures to grow.” I thought to myself, “Yes… me too!” So often, I have such grand intentions about committing to growth in the form of stacks of enticing books to read, professional journals to digest, podcasts to explore, and past professional learning experiences to revisit.

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As I thought about my mentor’s admission, I was reminded of this truth: Past disappointments don’t determine future outcomes. Anything is possible if I want to change! Andy Stanley wrote about truths associated with change in his book The Principle of the Path. Mr. Stanley explained, “To get from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction.”  

As I continued to reflect on these ideas about change, I was inspired to brainstorm a plan to jump start my own growth and came up with the steps below. I hope these steps may help you on your own journey towards continual personal and professional growth!

Jump Start Growth

Set a goal with milestones – A good idea is just that, an idea, but a goal with tangible milestones is attainable.  When considering a growth goal, set out steps that lead to the goal. Those steps serve a guideposts to where you want to go.

Celebrate small winsIn her blog, Meg Selig explains that, “Charles Duhigg used the term “small wins” in his book The Power of Habit to refer to modest behavior changes that can set off a chain reaction of more and better changes.”  When you accomplish a small win along the way toward your goal, celebrate! Plan to treat yourself to a pedicure with a friend or a special meal out. Share accomplishments along the way and enjoy the satisfaction of small wins knowing that small wins add up to big wins in the long run!

small wins

Be Accountable – Reach out to a trusted individual and tell them about your goal for growth. Ask this person to help hold you accountable to your commitment and empower them to check in on you at scheduled, agreed upon times. Be sure to communicate what your milestones are along the way, what you hope to gain on your journey of growth, and invite them to celebrate your accomplishments with you be it the small wins or the big kahuna!

Share your learning and growth – What do you plan to do with the learning you acquire and the growth you experience while on your journey? Your growth will be so much richer if you will commit to sharing your learning with others! Do this by tweeting one thing a day related to your goal, blogging your experiences and sharing out your blog, or creating a face-to-face forum such as a small study group to reflect with as you grow.

Seek opportunities to apply new learning – Look for new and different venues where your learning may take you. Could your learning be leading you to meet new people, to try new things, or go to new places? Achieving your milestones along the way requires applying what you are learning to reach your goal for growth.

Invite others to join you on your journey – I have found that my most meaningful times of growth have happened when I do it on a shared journey rather than strictly on my own. When I decided to go back to school to get my masters in Educational Leadership, I knew I did not want to do it alone. I found a colleague who was ready to tackle grad school too and we dove in together. My learning was so rich and profoundly deep because I had a friend to reflect, debrief, work, and laugh with throughout our courses. Spur others to join you on your journey and enjoy the added bonus of learning and growing in community with others.

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I have decided, I am not going to let my past disappointments stop me from pursuing future growth and accomplishments. I am recommitting to growth, one milestone at a time. My current goals include reading at least one book relating to professional growth each month and blogging at least once a month about my growth.

 What would you add to these ideas for Jump Starting Growth? I am also curious, what are your growth goals in 2016? 

Leading From the Edge

Many people like to live life in the center, choosing to stay away from the unfamiliar or the extreme. There is something about being in the mainstream, and going with the flow that feels “nice.”  There is a certain comfort afforded with this perspective.  However, what begins to develop over time, especially in organizations, is group think; or worse unquestioned conventional thinking that arises.  It becomes easy to hang out in the middle, not pushing back or making waves.  Questioning is replaced by complacency, an acceptance of business as usual.  In time organizational morale and engagement suffers.

As leaders, our ability to influence growth and change doesn’t happen from the center, but the edge.  Though the edge brings uncertainty, it also has the opportunity to bring clarity when we have a well-defined purpose and established values to lead others forward.  The edge affords a particular vantage point for effective leaders that differentiates them from managers or maintainers.

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Vantage Point 1:  People Over Programs

You affect change or culture by impacting people, not programs. We miss when we spend time and money trying to motivate students and teachers through programs. School initiatives come and go, but what will always endure is the relationship potential that walks through our doors daily. Leading from the edge is an uncompromising commitment to develop your top talent.  In the era of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, there is a significant amount of time spent on developing the marginal amount ( 1-5%) of teachers who are in need of improvement.  Leaders should challenge this conventional thinking.

What if we invested the majority of our time in our most effective leaders?  Consider the multiplying effect of influence that result in developing those top people who in turn develop others.  Leading from the edge means-growing people, not bigger programs.  Your number one job as leader is to grow the capacity and skills of your top people.  In turn, as you grow your teacher leaders – student achievement rises as well.

Vantage Point 2:  A Culture of Permission

As leaders, one of the most powerful words we can ever say is “yes.” Our school cultures begin to thrive as leaders give permission and ignite ownership Effective leaders hire well from the beginning, ensuring they have only the best people and BELIEVE the best about their people.  In turn, it is easier to trust teachers to lead initiatives we believe in and can support.  Today’s leaders serve less as supervisor’s and operate more as coach.  Autonomy begins with supporting our people to have not only self-direction but also decision making.  Leading from the edge requires that today’s educational leaders are not managers of people but connectors.  Our job is to help our teams effectively connect, collaborate, and support them with resources necessary to thrive.

In the 21st century, edleaders are rejecting compliance-based systems because they realize how unmotivating it is for themselves and students.  If the goal is for self-efficacy of students and staff then our practice must reflect the rhetoric.  Students and educators alike increasingly want to be a part of a bigger story, to add value.  Leading from the edge means giving up control so that others can thrive, explore, and discover how they can leave an imprint.

Vantage Point 3: Risks Are Rewarded

Our culture does not stand up to celebrate failure.  We give trophies to winners and feel sorry for the loser.  This win/loss mentality is not an indicator of leading from the edge.  We are most effective when we foster a mindset that rewards risk.  As a leader, do you focus more on the problem or solution?  Solution focused leaders identify the issue and develop processes towards a solution.  By asking guiding questions such as –  “What do you need to do next time?  What do you need to do to move this forward?  What do you think we need to do to be successful?” allows an individual/team to feel supported and take next steps.  Great leaders will spend their own capital to support others failing forward on the road to success.

Are you willing to stand on the edge?  Standing on the edge can get windy, even downright frightening at times, but the view is worth it.