When we don’t know what we don’t know

Dennis

Many teachers and school leaders are largely self taught. For the most part, their training was on the job.

Their teacher and administrator preparation programs were inadequate. So, too, was (and is) their professional development.

They received little or no mentoring and have had few opportunities, if any, to learn with or from their colleagues.

One of the problems with being self-taught is that there may be significant gaps in knowledge and skills. Another problem is that educators are often unaware of those gaps.

Such blind spots will persist without skillful supervision and a strong system of professional learning that includes meaningful and sustained teamwork, peer observation, and instructional coaching that reveals what teachers and administrators don’t know about what they don’t know.

A strong system of support and learning will not only reveal gaps, but will identify and build upon educators’ strengths.

What do you think? What’s the best way for teachers and administrators to determine what they don’t know and to fill in those gaps?

Intentionality and habits

Dennis

People do things because they want to (intentions). Their motivation comes from a desire to create something that does not now exist.

People do things because they believe they have to (obligations). Their motivation often comes from guilt.

And people do things because they have always done them that way (habits). Often those habits are long standing and were not consciously chosen, which means they may not support current intentions.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if

  • people did more things that were motivated by intention rather than obligation,
  • and if antiquated habits were replaced by those that were consciously chosen to serve intentions.

What do you think—are intentions and consciously-chosen habits trustworthy sources of guidance and energy?

“Done is better than perfect”

Dennis

“Done is better than perfect.” – Guiding principle of Facebook

Similarly, sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.

Delaying action until something is perfect (for example, perfectly understood or perfectly expressed) can slow momentum and squander energy and goodwill.

Knowing when something is “good enough,” subject to future iterations of improvement, is a hallmark of skillful leadership.

What is your experience with applying the idea that “done is better than perfect”?

Thinking with the best

Dennis

“Did you do the reading…? The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand. The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.” – Seth Godin

Sometimes the most important things are the most fundamental. Reading, writing, and learning-oriented conversations are the fundamental processes that enable school leaders, as Godin puts it, “to do the difficult work of learning to think with the best….”

To that end, I recommend that leaders:

Read widely in education and beyond. Make certain that at least some of the things we read stretch our thinking through the effort they require.

Write about those things we read that have the greatest professional and personal implications to deepen our understanding.

Have extended conversations about what we read with colleagues who will help us think more deeply about the subject matter.

Write about it again.

Apply our deepened understanding to new behaviors and habits, when appropriate.

Reflect on the results of the new behaviors and habits, perhaps by writing and/or conversations with colleagues.

Repeat all of the above as necessary…

Of course, many leaders would say that their professional lives are too full for such time-consuming “difficult work.”

What do you think?

Conversations for learning

Dennis

Some of our most important learning occurs in conversations. And because learning is a prerequisite to sound decision making, good decisions are often preceded by good conversations.

Conversations for learning matter so much that virtually all meetings and even one-to-one discussions with colleagues, parents, and students within the school community should be designed to maximize learning.

Unfortunately, some leaders believe that effective leaders make decisions independently. Such decision making, they think, is a sign of decisiveness and strength.

For these leaders the purpose of meetings is to tell others about their decisions.

Their subordinates are so accustomed to a passive role in which they simply receive what their bosses tell them to think, say, and do that it may be hard for them to even imagine participating in conversations for learning and decision making.

But not all conversations are created equal.

Conversations for learning require: 

• Intentionality;

• Deeply-attentive listening;

• A willingness to go beneath the surface of conventional assumptions and understandings;

• Slowness that provides space for thinking and elaboration (think “wait time”);

• An openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others; and

• A belief that everyone has something worthwhile to contribute….

How is it in your setting— are conversations for learning an essential part of professional learning and decision making, or are “conversations” more often monologues that communicate what has already been decided?

The power of storytelling

Dennis

Stories are a wonderful way to teach and to influence people.

That’s particularly true when the stories are drawn from our daily lives and reveal the storyteller’s attentiveness to things that  the rest of us often overlook.

Here’s an excellent example from David Fife, a school administrator in the Thames Valley, Ontario, School Board.

I encourage you to read David’s post because of what he notices in the interaction between an “elder” and a young trainee in a grocery store and the important lesson he extracts (take pride in everything you do) that has implications for both our professional and personal lives.

Setting limits

Dennis

Work will happen 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, if you let it. We are all in that place where we are all letting it…, and I don’t know why. – Shonda Rhimes

To be the best teacher or leader we can be requires that we pay attention to all aspects of our life, not just to the hours that we are at work.

One important aspect of taking care of ourselves is setting boundaries about what we will and will not do at home.

The beginning of a new year provides an opportunity to think more deeply about and establish goals for limits that we will set in our work lives.

Cal Newport’s blog post, from which the quote above is drawn, provides a broader perspective on this problem as it relates to the ceaseless email that can eat up personal and family time.

Newport notes that Rhimes has the following signature appended to all her e-mails:

“I don’t read work e-mails after 7 pm or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest you put down your phone?”

Like most important things in organizations, leaders set the tone and establish the rules through their own example and the work culture they help create.

What do you think? Can we set limits to the work we will do at home, and, if we are leaders, help others in our organizations do the same?


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