Archive for the 'Learning' Category

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

Do the best that you can…

Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now. — poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom

That’s wonderful advice for all of us that applies in many situations.

And it’s likely an approach to life used by many resilient people.

But because resilient people are resourceful, consider these additions to it:

Do the best that you can by expanding what you know and can do through lifelong learning

With what you have, and with what you can acquire by using your learning and resourcefulness to provide additional tools to more effectively accomplish your goals

Where you are right now, and, when appropriate, by changing your physical location or your mental perspective about the place where you are.

What do you do to continuously expand the boundaries of your best self?

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

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

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

Growth is optional

Dennis

A simple but profound truth: Change is mandatory.

Buddhists would say the cause is “impermanence,” and they would add that human suffering is caused by resisting it.

Scientists might say the reason is entropy, which my dictionary defines as “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe.”

While change is inevitable, learning and growth are optional.

I am thinking about the kind of learning and growth that takes us to the edge of our comfort zone and a step or two beyond.

Some people seem to lean into such learning as if it is a part of their DNA.

Others may grow because a significant change in their personal or professional lives pushes them into it, even late in their careers or lives.

But for every person who steps up to the challenge of significant change there are others whose default settings seem to be denial and resistance.

Which begs the question: What are the internal or external conditions under which people stay the same or grow?

Commonly-cited reasons are “grit” or “resilience” or a “sense of efficacy” or a “growth orientation.”

But that doesn’t explain why some people have those qualities and others don’t.

What is your experience—what nudges you toward meaningful growth rather than entropy?

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?

Learning our way forward

Dennis

College students have anxiety-filled dreams about taking a final exam in a class they never attended.

My recurring nightmare is about being poorly prepared to teach a high school class, although I haven’t been a high school teacher in decades.

As they say, Sigmund Freud would have a field day with that….

What does it mean that, at least in my sleep, I am anxious about doing something I haven’t done in years and am not likely to do again?

Perhaps it simply means that part of being human is that from time to time we will unexpectedly be asked to do something for which we feel poorly prepared and that our dreams reflect that reality.

A new responsibility at work. A relationship challenge with a partner or child. A significant life change in our lives, like caring for a loved one or requiring care ourselves with the sense of dependency that creates.

Life hands us many things for which we feel ill prepared.

But another part of being human is that we step up to those challenges and responsibilities and learn our way into doing things we previously may have thought were impossible.

And then many years later we may dream about them and realize how far we have come….

Deep work

Dennis

A man sits alone in a courtyard with a pad of paper in front of him.

He writes and then pauses, looking off into space. He writes again.

As I watched I realized that those are the essential ingredients of “deep work” – solitude, a process that allows us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking (in this case, writing); thinking about what we think (metacognition); and then beginning the cycle again. Deep work is essential in classrooms and meeting rooms. It is also an essential ingredient of professional development that leads to professional learning.

Because focused conversation enables us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking, it is important that schools provide generous opportunities for well-designed group work in classrooms and among teachers.

But it is also important that schools value the solitary activities that are often a prerequisite to the deep work that is the foundation of meaningful learning, teaching, and school leadership.


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