Education leaders such as George Couros and Stephen Harris are always seeking ideas and examples from beyond the education arena to develop and strengthen learning and leadership in schools. I think there are many lessons to be learnt from corporations as they continually reflect upon what contributed to their success or their failure.
I am not suggesting in any means that schools should fashion themselves entirely on a business model – our core business is kids, not making a profit, but I do think the more that business looks at building success on the basis of developing relationships and connection, the more we can learn from their change journeys.
This morning I read this article by Alexa Clay – “5 Tips for Growing Changemaking Communities in Your Company“. Clay puts forth the importance of building an entourage which she describes as;
“people who bring you energy and ‘get it’ Your entourage is what gets you through the darker times and plays a much needed role in keeping you going when things appear stuck”
Clay says the following in which I have added the alternative (schools) or (classrooms) substitute:
And corporations (schools) aren’t merely collections of individuals. Corporations (schools) are communities. Behind every business (school) is an environment where people are looking to find connection, fulfillment, and identity. And yet, within and across cubicles (classrooms), it can be so hard to connect on a human level. So how do we bust through? How do we generate communities to really unleash game-changing innovation within big corporations (schools)? And how do we grow our entourages into truly powerful networks of change.
For each of the 5 tips Clay suggests to move towards developing changemaking communities I have included a ‘school’ alternative.
1. Visualise your relationships
Company model: …. go beyond the usual suspects and think about organizations or communities you might never engage with …Map out these actors and understand their competencies and points of leverage within the system. Then spot areas where a shared agenda could emerge.
School model: there may be people in your school that have a passion or interest in what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t assume it will always be the same people who put their hand up for everything, develop opportunities for support staff, parents, families, ex students and others to be involved in what you’re trying to achieve.
2. Find your counterparts
Company model: …make sure that you connect with like-minded intrapreneurs within these organizations. Systemic collaborations require an enterprising spirit to be ignited and sustained. So find the right allies in other organizations that you can rely and depend on to accelerate these types of initiatives. You’ll save time and energy by working with others who share the same mindset as you.
School model: Connect with people who share your passions both in and beyond (local or global) your school. Develop a network of educators on the same journey and share and build from each other. Utilise #twitter , google+ or other ways to connect and share and forge the development of your community.
3. Practice code-switching
Company model: Be able to shift how you communicate, depending on your audience–know the right language to use depending on your stakeholder. Part of building community has to do with knowing how to translate your prerogative into the language of others.
School model: depending on whether you are engaging with your allies, leadership or those whom may be resistant, your communication will need to change. No point going full blown excitement on a peer that is reluctant to change anything at all, save that for your ‘counterparts’
4. Foster a subculture
Company model: …at times, it might feel like the culture you’re trying to create is not reconcilable with the culture of your organisation. Ask yourself what is the delta behind the culture that is and the culture that you are trying to create. And the delta should be fairly small. Most people don’t like massive change.
School model: Change is hard! Start by developing a small culture which you can cultivate and grow eventually infiltrating the rest of the school.
5. De-couple your entourage and your ego
Company model: Communities don’t revolve around one person. Nor should the success of an idea or innovation be dependent on one person. To be successful you need to be able to democratize ownership of your ideas. Beware of isolating yourself with a community of enablers. Get the “scary people” within your organization or from the outside to champion your work. They are key in getting your ideas to scale.
School model: Make sure there are people within your community who are willing to question and challenge ideas (critical friends). Success will be measured not by what you envision on your own, but by what is owned within a vision.
“most game-changing ideas are 10% epiphany and 90% relationships and community building….People don’t just lean in to ideas; they lean in to communities where they can discover purpose and meaning.”
When I introduced the concept of Passion Projects to our team, I described it as an opportunity for our students to learn and explore ANYTHING they wanted. This may have been a little intimidating, as I was immediately fielding questions of how we could possibly support our students to learn completely different concepts and showcase them in completely different ways. Most of our students need significant support to complete anything out of routine (we work with students with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities) so these questions were fair and justified.
Fortunately I work with extremely passionate staff, but most fortunately they are willing to hear me out and give things a go.
One of the plans we set in place was to group our students with an adult mentor based on the category of their interest. This was very successful and meant we could support our students on their passion of choice and they could learn from each other as they worked to problem solve and manage their projects.
Reflecting on this process has me wondering why we wouldn’t facilitate the same opportunities for staff.
What if at the beginning of the year, we;
1. asked “what is it that you want to learn?”
2. grouped people into PLCs regardless of their experience/faculty/position but based on their learning interest and
3. allowed them time to support each other and direct their own learning
I wonder then if the word “Professional Development” would continue to be a dirty word?
It is hard to believe that it has been a year since I began this blog and in recognition of some people that have influenced my online learning, I decided to devote a post to acknowledge some whom regardless of their popularity deserve a hat tip.
Dean Shareski (@shareski) – embarrassing father and voice of reason.
It seems he wears many hats (but perhaps not so many pants) if you follow his twitter feed. They include taunting his wife and her shopping habits, animal photography (mainly dogs) and of course golfing. Sounds like a “dad” to me!
Dean’s twitter feed is a place for a giggle, interrupted intermittently by work stuff. Dean’s blog Ideas and Thoughts takes a more serious tone and I always find that he strikes a nice chord between being agitated by inaction and maintaining a rational productive approach to improving education and communities. If I actually played golf, I imagine a round with Dean would be littered with laughter and Seinfeld references.
George Couros (@gcouros) – “The Principal Of Change” no doubt
George is the reason I started this whole blogging caper. George writes regularly and is reliable for both humourous and educational gold on twitter! He came to our school a year ago and facilitated several sessions over the day. As anyone who has seen George speak would know, he always includes humour and speaks from personal experience in his presentations. Whether adressing a small group or an entire hall, George makes you feel like he is talking to you alone.
I amongst many of my colleagues were inspired by George and started our own blogging journeys. For me it was his actions beyond that day that impressed me most. George continued to follow our progress and respond and retweet the birth of our online presence over the following months. George is as generous as it gets online and I am truly grateful for his continued support, inspiration and guidance.
Chris Lehman (@chrislehman) – the educator I would like most to be at a dinner party with!
Whilst I have never met Chris, his openness across his twitter stream which shares his sporting passions and his family, means I feel I have an insight into who Chris is. I have not seen Chris present live, though I have watched his TEDxPhilly talk Education is Broken which is definitely worth a view. His blog Practical Theory comes across with such honesty and passion that it is hard not to include in my reader. If you want examples of how to celebrate student success, take learning from homogenous to personalised, then Chris is your man.
Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) – Radical Uncle Bill, I can hear his accent in every word he writes!
I was fortunate to meet Bill in Melbourne this year when I attended his workshops at the annual Hawker Brownlow Teaching and Learning Conference. Since then I have followed his twitter feed and added his blog The Tempered Radical to my reader. Bill is a passionate and dedicated professional with much generosity and spirit. I have gained a great deal in regards to building and maintaining PLCs and how to provide meaningful learning experiences for students from his examples. His accent is something else too y’all.
Justin Stortz (@newfirewitihin) – still a teacher (though not currently practicing) who is honest and extremely humourous – wins teacher I would like to sit in class with!
Whilst Justin is not practicing in the classroom at this point, his honest reflections about his nine years of teaching before he walked away are inspiring. Justin writes warts and all which is unfortunately something of a rarity online. Any educator will benefit from his writing as too would anyone living with or around depression. You can find him here Pursuing Context .
All of the educators above have an online following that reflects their connection to others and are by no means my only source of inspiration online and make up a small part of my reader. What they do provide is a written honesty that draws people to them, a regular presence online and engagement with their online community. If you don’t already include them in your PLN then I encourage you to do so.
I have also chosen to include one of my own students among this online inspirational group. Her name is Gemma and you can find her blog here. Gemma is an amazing young lady who also happens to be Aspergers. Her passions and interests are unique and not shared amongst her peers. Blogging has enabled her to connect with others who share in common and establish connections she can develop in a non-confronting way. Gemma needs no encouragement to write honestly, in fact her writing can be somewhat confronting at times but always refreshing. My hope for Gemma, is that she continues to maintain her writing space beyond her time at school and continue to connect with people all over the world.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
I am already convinced that we need to surround ourselves with people who challenge and/or inspire us. I have written about it several times on this very blog. When I read this quote from Jim Rohn though, it really struck me that we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to the people we work closely with. By this I mean we need to support those around us to develop and grow to raise the average among us.
I often hear criticisms regarding attitude or performance of faculties/groups within schools and I wonder how many individuals within that group actually “fit” (deserve) the criticism. If removed and placed within a more positive environment, would they then rise to the average of the new group? Is it our responsibility as leaders to ensure people who find themselves in a group that is resistant or negative get opportunities to engage with others outside this group, to be inspired or to see the grass can be greener?
As I have written before, I believe a positive culture must be intentional. It needs a belief system that is chosen and specific actions put into place to support these beliefs. I think it starts with a group of people agreeing to have a conversation about their vision and deciding ways to construct this together.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)
The past 2 days I have attended the Hawker Brownlow Teaching and Learning Conference in Melbourne, Australia. This has thus far been a great experience for myself and five other staff from my school. I have in the past attended conferences as part of a group of staff however this experience has been substantially different. This conference has seen all 6 members of our staff using twitter and the result is that our learning and discussion is amplified.
With each of us attending different workshop sessions, twitter has enabled us to share the ideas and expertise in the room with each other and those back at school. The discussion this has created when we reassemble and the connection we have with staff back home who are joining the discussion has been compelling.
In the past, my reflections at a conference would be limited to chatting with those in the room or reflecting with my peers at a later time. Twitter has provided the avenue to connect with people across the room, outside the room and beyond the building. I can’t help but feel a genuine appreciation for how it has increased my learning potential and opportunities to connect with people beyond my school, region and state. The last session I attended today was led by Bill Ferriter (@plugusin). I have followed Bill on twitter for several months and today in his session he promoted twitter as a powerful tool for developing a PLC. It’s not often you get the chance to connect with an international presenter, yet Twitter certainly facilitates this in a way which otherwise would not have occurred.
Looking forward to more learning and connecting in the next two days!