Archive for the 'Leaders Change First' Category

“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?

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?

Good advice

Dennis

In Louise Penny’s mystery, Bury Your Dead, a senior police inspector tells a junior colleague that he will benefit in his career if he learns to say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.”

With the U.S. Thanksgiving Day on the near horizon, I would add: “I am grateful.”

Many problems in our personal and professional lives would disappear or be significantly diminished if we learned to regularly say those things, one at a time or in various combinations.

What do you think—good advice?

Skillful leadership

Dennis

Early in my professional development career I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching. I enjoyed those conversations except when…

Teachers were angry, cynical, or otherwise emotionally unsuited to have such conversations. Without exception, those teachers were…

Poorly led. They were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three. Over time that led me to…

Focus my work on leaders, particularly principals and teacher leaders because their skillful leadership was essential to meaningful teacher professional learning, particularly the kind of professional learning that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

• The emotional tone of a school.

• Whether the school’s culture focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching and learning for all students or on maintaining the status quo.

• Whether teachers primarily work in isolation or benefit from strong, effective teamwork.

What is your experience? Is it possible to have continuous improvements in teaching and learning for all students without skillful leadership?

Beliefs matter

Dennis

Beliefs matter because they have a profound and often invisible effect on what teachers and administrators say and do each day.

Beliefs are also habitual, which means they are often applied to new situations without a full understanding of their consequences.

My three previous posts addressed professional learning, school culture, and teamwork, each of which has implicit beliefs that channel them in productive or unproductive ways.

For example:

• If school leaders believe that good teachers are born, not made, high-quality professional learning will have a low priority.

• If school leaders believe that new ideas and research-based practices should be sufficiently compelling in themselves for their full adoption, they will ignore the influence of school culture on innovation.

• If school leaders believe that professional learning and instructional improvement are the sole responsibility of teachers, they will fail to create the necessary structures and incentives that enable strong teamwork.

Left unexamined and unaltered, some beliefs may have a profound negative effect on student learning.

Here are several such beliefs I proposed in a previous post:

• Some students cannot be expected to learn very much because of their families, economic status, or race.

• Teaching is delivering, “telling,” and performing. Leadership is directing and motivating.

• Because teaching is telling/performing, content is “delivered,” leadership is directing, and the primary challenge of leadership is motivating teachers, continuous improvement results from telling/delivering/directing/motivating.

• Most significant questions and problems of teaching and learning have one right answer, and an “expert” knows it.

• The best means of “delivering” professional development “content” is through speakers, workshops, and courses. PowerPoints are essential to such delivery.

• It takes years to make significant and demonstrable improvements in the quality of professional learning, teaching, and student achievement.

Another example is leaders’ beliefs regarding teachers’ capacity for growth, which I wrote about here:

“Just as it’s essential for principals and teacher leaders to believe that student learning can be improved by skillful teaching, it’s essential that principals and teacher leaders believe that through well-designed professional development and teamwork virtually all teachers can become effective, if not masterful.

“Believing in the capacity of students to learn at higher levels without a parallel belief in the capacity of teachers to successfully teach them — given appropriate support — can only lead to frustration and failure.”

Yet another example is leaders’ beliefs regarding the qualities that are important in new teachers, a subject I address here.

(Other posts on the subject of teaching can be found here.)

Administrators and teacher leaders are not powerless to affect colleagues’ beliefs. In a post on “frames” I wrote:

“Put simply, frames are the mental frameworks we use to think about things. Our thinking, and hence our ability to change, is limited by these deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface systems of beliefs and ideas. While difficult to dispel, frames can be changed. The process begins with awareness of the dominant frame and its influence on practice and the ability to conceptualize alternative frames that better serve student learning.”

In that post I suggested two frames that I believe interfere with change and offer alternative ways to conceptualize them.

I closed that post by inviting readers to identify an existing frame that may be unconsciously preserving the status quo in in their setting.

I encourage you to do the same.


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