Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Unleashing the Teachers

The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been."
    Henry Kissinger

It is impressive to observe the number of people and organizations writing about 21st Century learning. It seems that daily there are more and more programs and ideas being written in a variety of resources and publications. Most recently, in an issue of Smart Brief in Educational Technology ( there are descriptions and stories about the use of social media in education, tablets in the classroom, or to iPad or not to iPad in PE.

What all this indicates to me is that despite the overwhelming push by the politicos to test, test, test, there are risk takers in education that are continuing the effort to move education forward.  People like Megan Palevich of Chester, PA using voice thread in her classrooms ( Or, Southfield Christian School in Michigan putting iPads in the hands of their teachers to enhance instruction (, or the Bethlehem Central School District in Delmar, NY that gave all of the administrators and supervisors iPads to enhance their work in evaluating and coaching faculty. 

There are many adventurous people in education, and sometimes the most daring and risk taking individuals are the teachers in a classroom that have the best interests and desires for their children to be prepared for the future. So what can school leaders do to encourage teachers to be risk takers:

1) Unleash a vision of curiosity.
    A principal or supervisor must announce a vision to be risk takers. They must take a stand on not being fearful of the political edicts that compartmentalize teaching into a cubicle of isolated learning. They should be encouraging and supporting teachers to venture from these cubicles of isolation.

2) Make professional development accessible to all faculty.
    Regardless of the economic times and lack of budgeted funds, teachers need professional development. They need to connect with ideas and people that have unleashed their curiosity to turn students on to learning.

3)  Connect your faculty to the global network of other teachers.
     When teachers learn to be connected to the global educators network they are more open to learning, attempting and trying new things. 

4) Lastly, be bold and willing to make a difference.

Here's hoping a new school year will bring about new thoughts about 21st Century School Leadership. And as Henry Kissinger reminds us, bring people to a new level of experiences and opportunities by your inspired leadership.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are We Able to Keep Creativity in the Curriculum?

The Sunday news blogs were rife for the continuing pressures and controversies of state governments slashing funding to public education. As we have inferred in earlier blogs, it is easier to slash education than other pet projects and initiatives that can return votes for our politicians. But in the end, the real danger is seen in how many of our schools are cutting back on programs to provide quality education experiences for our students. After battling another terrible year of budget cuts and reducing the work force in our schools, to hear this frustrates the intentions of all the people actively involved in saving education.
Over the past few months my school district has been engaged in developing a sister-school relationship with a district in China. From our meetings and preliminary contacts and discussions it is apparent the Chinese are interested in how we as Americans educate our children in being creative and innovating. I was taken aback with this inquiry until I discovered that they were earnest in wanting to know what we do to inspire innovation. They feel that the regimented educational structures in China prevent such things from happening more readily.
Considering how this investigation by Chinese educators occurred and placing it in the context of everything happening economically to our schools, I begin to question if  these ideas of creativity and innovation will be lost once our politicians get their way in fermenting a 19th Century system on our schools of tomorrow. As we gear up our schools to engage more testing and evaluation, the Chinese are letting up on such needs. Is there something odd about this turn of events?
In an excellent opinion piece by Michael Roth in the Huffington Post, he acknowledges the struggle is creating an abyss of opposition against the desires of our founding fathers that sought education as a primary right for each and every person in this country. I believe it is important we uphold those values always:
“As we wrestle with notions of "shared sacrifice" and "living within our means," let us not ignore our responsibility to invest in the future by supporting education. We must not allow our representatives to protect tax breaks for the most advantaged while ignoring our responsibility to give the next generation the education they need. Only education will allow the youngsters …across the country to protect their freedoms while competing in the world. Only by supporting their right to learn, will we have the chance to strengthen our country's economic, political and cultural future. As Jefferson said: "Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people." "No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness."[1]

[1] Roth,M. (July 11, 2011). “Preach a Crusade Against Ignorance”—Don’t Sacrifice the Future! Huffington Post.  Retrieved July 18, 2011 at

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reinventing Yourself for an Unknown Future

Here is a great opinion piece by Thomas Friedman, today. A phenomenal read that has potential for how we educate students in 21st Century Schools.

The main issue of this piece instills the idea that people may need to reinvent themselves to take advantage of the future career opportunities that exist. The manner that the government is managing the jobs crisis only points to the lack of clarity from their perspective to view the problem with renewed thinking.

In an earlier blog I wrote this week I spoke about innovating and re-thinking our teaching profession and our schools. As we continue to appease the government's desire to throw education back into the 19th Century assembly lines, we also need to continue the battle to prepare students for that elusive and unknown future, where assembly line thinking will not be the direction.

Creativity, innovation and incredible thinking will need to be encouraged for our students' future. Inspiring them to be connected to the unknown future is something we must not refrain from doing due to the narrow-minded government edicts that win the simple minded over to vote for a politician.

As Mr. Friedman reminds us that the future careers and jobs will be given to "people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can't, but also people who can invent, adapt, and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever."1

1. Friedman, B.T.L. 2011. The Start-Up of You. The New York Times, [online] 12 July. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 July 2011].

Friday, July 15, 2011

Light Bulbs that Don't Work...

There's a common story that circulates about "success and failure" regarding Thomas Edison and the discovery of the light bulb. In his words:

..."I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have
succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have
eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will
work." ?Edison.[1]

As we are in the summer months between school years, educators across the global network are probably steeped in all sorts of summer recreation and activities. But, I assume some are actively engaged trying to figure out some new professional development or even are planning for the fall.
Over and over again I hear and read from many leadership gurus that there is a greater demand today for innovation than ever before. Some are even requiring their employees in the private sector to set aside one hour a week to generate new ideas. Todd Henry, creativity and innovation leadership consultant writes in his book, How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice: “This is not time to do work. This is time to think about work.”
Our public schools guarantee faculty members the “prep period” or that time to plan, make copies, and prepare for instruction. It’s hard to imagine how a teacher can actually take that small segment of time each week to sit back and reflect or innovate. But, that is the necessity of the work we do. We have to find time to innovate. In fact, if every teacher in a school district took the time to try one new idea from an innovation perspective, how much farther ahead would we be in assisting students to achieve?
The truth is, many teachers do create and innovate on a regular basis. And, as 21st Century School Leaders we need to encourage and support teachers in their desire to be innovative. It may not always be in the budget, but innovation is a premium we cannot afford to sacrifice if we hire the best and brightest teachers to work in our school districts.
And not every innovative thought works, as we can attest from Thomas Edison’s perspective, but what if one idea leads to another idea that somehow engages children to accomplish and achieve?

Peter Senge (1999) calls that continuous learning in organizations. Planning for time to continuously improve and experiment should be in every school administrators agenda, and hopefully setting the time aside will create more teachers like Thomas Edison!

[1] Retrieved from the Internet on July 15, 2011 at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is it easier to move a cemetery?

We struggle with change in every aspect of school leadership. For the 37 years of my professional life in education I have personally struggled with this, and have often thought to write a book on the topic. But, there is no need for another mindless book, when there are such great thinkers in the world that have been dealing with this dilemma for many years. You see, it is not just school leaders that deal with implementing change, but the concept also runs aground in business and the private sector.
To paraphrase Shakespeare: “To change, or not to change? That is the question.”
After a long career studying this issue and the challenge we all face when we attempt to bring about 21st Century school communities, “change” takes on a new picture. In an excellent blog by Richard Bevan, adjunct faculty member from the University of Washington, he describes a different point of view worth considering. That is, to implement change, one must consider the impact and supports needed by the employees. [1]
In his post, Bevan outlines the three myths that organizations deal with when managing change. I took the liberty to paraphrase them and frame them with school organizations in mind.
Myth #1: “People have a built-in tendency to resist change.”
“The reality: People resist change that they don’t understand, see as poorly managed or think doesn’t help customers [students or themselves]. Organizations [School Districts] that start with the assumption that change will be resisted might fail to explore what those involved think, feel and need — and can contribute.”[2]
School districts are people organizations, usually in the public eye. With increased accountability and political pressure for more mandates, teachers feel overwhelmed and unable to steer through the myriad number of demands that await them. Initiating a new vision to change a program or move the district in a new direction could grind the educational program to a halt, unless implemented with sensitivity and support from school leaders, first.
Bevan recommends that in order to overcome this myth, leaders should:
·        “Develop a brief summary to drive clarity and consistency.
·        Identify key stakeholders, and conduct an assessment of their concerns, questions and ideas.
·        Support managers [principals and subject supervisors] by providing discussion guides, talking points, frequently asked questions and training.[3]

Myth #2: “They can make the time to work through this and get it right.”
“The reality: “They” — [principals & subject supervisors], for example — already have a heavy workload. They are being asked to take on another huge set of tasks and challenges, including dealing with questions and concerns from employees and customers [faculty, staff, students and parents.]”[4]
To overcome the myth, school leaders need to be considerate of the middle managers such as building principals and subject supervisors.
·        “Acknowledge the new workload: Adjust priorities, or engage additional resources, such as contractors consultants and temporary transfers.
·        Assess key processes and systems, such as rewards, information technology and accounting, to ensure they align with and support the change.
·        Ensure senior leaders the superintendent & assistant superintendents are visible, involved and remain open to questions, ideas and discussion.[5]

Myth #3: “If we explain it carefully, everything will fall into place.”
“The reality: Explaining the purpose and the process is certainly an important early step. But sponsors of the change also need to address others’ questions, concerns and alternatives. Effective execution is hard, sustained work. It involves multiple cycles of assessing, adjusting and continuing to course-correct.”[6]
Overcoming this thinking requires principals, supervisors and others engaged and informed through meetings, brainstorming sessions, e-mail bulletins, online forums and webinars. Providing support through a feedback loop that involves interactive and engaging discussions before and during the change process reinforces and supports all of a district leadership team.
There is nothing more painful than suggesting and attempting to implement change in a school.
President Woodrow Wilson once said it was easier to move a cemetery than to change a school curriculum. Hopefully, we will continue to encourage and support our faculty and administrators to be tolerant of people enduring  change.

[1] R. Bevan. (2011, July 12). Struggling with change? Stop telling and start listening. [Guest Post] Smart Brief on Leadership. Retrieved July 12, 2011 at
[2] Bevan (2011) with text substitutions by Tebbano in brackets
[3] Bevan (2011) with text substitutions by Tebbano in brackets
[4] Bevan (2011) with text substitutions by Tebbano in brackets
[5] Bevan (2011) with text substitutions by Tebbano in brackets
[6] Bevan (2011) with text substitutions by Tebbano in brackets

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Up to Your Neck in Alligators

In yesterday’s blog on leadership style of successful school leaders, I shared a wonderful commentary from a practicing school administrator from Kentucky. As we are further examining the qualities and the framework for schools leaders I thought I would share another inspirational guide by Rick Lash, Director of Hay Group’s Leadership and Talent Practice in Canada.
Using the interesting comparison with the cave drawings of Chauvet and Lascaux, he portrays a model for leadership that focuses on very basic beliefs and understandings.
“• Know yourself: The tree that survives the strongest winds has the deepest roots. What are the qualities that characterize you personally as a leader? What values most define you? What are your non-negotiables? What deeply energizes you and motivates you to action? What is your purpose? Answering these questions may provide you with some profound insights into who you are – your self-image – and will help you build a compelling vision that others will recognize and feel in themselves.

 Know your role: When we love what we do, our role is perfectly aligned with our self-image. Who we are and what we do are one and the same. The truth is some leaders don’t see themselves as leaders even though the job title says they are. To create stronger alignment, leaders first need to build a deeper understanding of their role. Get multiple perspectives on what others expect from you. What does your staff want from you? What about your boss and your customers? Finally, look for ways that you can incorporate more elements of your self-image into your role. It will help you feel more alive, motivated and inspired. 

 Change your context and relationships: Hang out more with the people who can see the leader in you. Other people’s image of you can inspire you to greatness, but it can also hold you back. Choose your role models carefully and surround yourself with people who will show you the leader you can become.[1]
Everyone involved in school leadership confronts ambiguity, especially when dealing with the cultural habits of educating children. Unless you have a thorough background in “chaos management” nothing truly prepares a young administrator for the issues and concerns that may crop up in a typical day. We often ask new candidates for administrative positions how they hold their heads above water when they are up to their necks with alligators?
Unless a school leader is grounded in core beliefs that serve as the foundation of their work ethic, they will flounder and be unable to do the important work of school leadership that is supporting the education of children. Adhering to a belief system is necessary and serves as a model for others in a leader’s school to keep the ambiguity of issues under control.
What are your values and core beliefs?

[1] R. Lash. (2011, July 11). Timely Guidance from 25,000 years ago[guest post]. Retrieved July 12, 2011 from

Monday, July 11, 2011

Characteristics of Great School Leaders

About a month ago there was an interesting blog started on the AASA Linked-In connection on "What are some of the characteristics that great school leaders possess?". I was taken with the thread of comments that followed but one struck me as outstanding and a model that we should all adhere to in our lives as educational leaders. The following comment was submitted by Dr. Diane Hatchett, an Assistant Middle School Principal from Owensboro, Kentucky:

I believe that great school leaders possess a sense of urgency and with-it-ness that contributes to their ability to motivate others to do great things. They take ownership for their actions, while maintaining accountabilty and knowledge of best practices in the areas of teaching and learning. Notably, they listen to the stakeholders, invite others to collaborate and share in the decision-making process. In my opinion, these leaders have vision, clarity, openess, visibility and high expectations for themselves and those around them. 

Great school leaders
utilize data to make informed decisions. They are not afraid to admit when they are wrong. They do not pretend to have all the answers. They ask questions and consult experts. They set goals, monitor progress and celebrate achievements. These leaders give others pat's on the back. They create a positive learning environment. These individuals are aware of their strengths and weakenesses and address them accordingly. They give credit where it is due. They share the joys and the sorrows. They never give up. The greater the obstacle, the harder they fight to overcome it. They look for win-win solutions.

Ultimately, leading by word, deed and action. Leaders such as these are both thinkers and doers who bring out the best in those around them. Great school leaders are effective communicators.They are able to speak the lanquage of students, faculty, staff and the community at large. They engage in partnerships. Great school leaders are never left behind. They utilize technology to captivate 21st century students. They are on the cutting, creative, innovative and willing to take risk. Above all great school leaders put students first."

I love the model that Dr. Hatchett describes, and I offer it to others around the world that seek to be invested in the educational lives of their students and their faculty. I hope it inspires others as we prepare for the 2011-12 school year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Jump to Light Speed: Life is a Highway

ISTE 2011 is over. The crowds have disappeared from the Philadelphia Convention Center (and especially the Reading Terminal Food market!). I am back in my office trying to put it all together for what it means for my school district, and how we will begin the new school year. Then, while driving into school I hear the Rascal Flatts song "Life is a Highway".

"Life's like a road that you travel on
There's one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind"

 Then, it suddenly hits me, that we are all engaged in a journey with many bumps, turns, and speed variations. Despite the dinosaurs that refuse to consider change, we are still on that journey, anyway.

A journey on the open road of education is similar to Walt Whitman's poem the Song of the Open Road:

"AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose. "

So, some educators wonder, how they can begin that journey with students that are already engaged in the voyage.  Kim Cofino ( created some interesting suggestions for those that would attempt the change: 
1) Learn to become a user of Web 2.0 tools. There are many different "apps" for every platform that will make a teacher's work so interesting and rewarding.
2) Organize a PLN (Personal Learning Network) with colleagues in your district or around your region that will support each other in this wonderful journey.
3) Join a social network such as My Space, Facebook, Twitter, or Classroom 2.0, Next GenTeachers and learn to become engaged with the net generations. As a school superintendent I have been actively engaged in these networks and have connected with hundreds of colleagues around the world, struggling on the same journey as well.
4) Learn how to use an RSS feed (Real Simple Syndication). I use Google Reader and subscribe to hundreds of different publications, including newspapers, magazines, and blogs. It has become my new Sunday paper, so to speak.
5) Attend conferences with other educators and see the world anew.

Dinosaurs don't really exist, but people do. It's ok to have your fears about all of this stuff, but take a chance, test the waters, and jump to light speed.