Monday, September 24, 2012

Mistakes that Leaders Make, Part 2: Betrayal of Trust

We live in times of extreme pressure in our society, our organizations, and in our schools. Everyone wants to regulate all aspects of our schools, from the teacher evaluation system, to the food service program, to transportation  of students, operations and maintenance, and let’s not forget student achievement. For years I have described education as the “whipping post” for every societal ill and misfortune.

What people tend to forget is that  schools are “human organizations”. And, in that kind of environment there will always be a need to build relationships, support needs, and nurture a caring  environment for kids, as well as the adults in the system. Thus, the need to build trust will always be  paramount  in human organizations.

Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. It is a key element in the leader relationship with others. For a new leader to assume a new position in a new organization, there will always be some kind of a “honeymoon” period, but it is also the opportune time to develop a trusting relationship with all staff members, ensuring in a long-lasting leadership role in the organization.

“People today have a need for connection with their coworkers, and trust makes that connection possible. People have a need to understand others and to be understood in return; to use their skills, talents, and full range of capability; to challenge and be challenged; to share information
and receive information; and to count on others and be counted on” (Reina & Reina, 2010, p.5)

Nothing sours the trust relationship more than the perception that “betrayal” exists. In schools and other human organizations," betrayal" can be found if trust waivers from leaders unable to handle the pressures of their positions, or their ability to manage the political landscape of the environment they are responsible for. Unfortunately, “betrayal” is seen as a compilation of many factors, such unmet expectations, disappointments, broken promises, and misunderstanding statements or communication. Reina & Reina describe that betrayals are not relegated to big issues only, but to incremental actions that snowball into a dismaying and confounding perception of mistrust or betrayal.

“What gradually erodes trust and creates a climate of betrayal in our workplaces today are small, subtle acts that accumulate over time. When we don’t do what we say we will do, when we gossip about others behind their backs, when we renege on decisions we agreed to, when we hide our agenda and work it behind the scenes, and when we spin the truth rather than tell it, we break trust and damage our relationships.” (Reina & Reina, 2010, p.7)

Being vigilant about maintaining trust requires leaders to do the following:

1)      Honor agreements
2)      Invest in staff by providing honest feedback about work performance and personal actions that disturb the organization.
3)      Cultivate shared decision making as a tool to demonstrate willingness to listen to staff and community members.
4)      Keep staff and community members informed of everything pertinent to the needs of  students.
5)      Never talk behind the backs of others.
6)      Keep the lines of communication open for everyone
7)      Hold everyone accountable, do not play favorites
8)   Admit your mistakes, be honest with yourself and your community.[1]

“Trustworthy leaders are safe—safe to talk to, to share problems with, and to share fears and concerns with. They are safe to be human with. As a result, people are safe to challenge the system and perform beyond expectations. Employees feel more freedom to express their creative ideas. They are more willing to take risks, admit mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.” (p.10)

The most important role of a 21st Century School Leader is to maintain the trust of the organization in facing the challenges and pressures of change. Fight the good fight.

[1] Reina, D. & M. Reina. (2012). Trust and betrayal in the workplace: Building effective relationships in your organization, 2nd Ed. New York: Barrett-Koehler Publishers. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mistakes That Leaders Make, Part 1: It’s Not All About You

Welcome to another week of 21st Century School Leadership.

As I try to get creative with this blog that will, hopefully, support school leaders in their work of advancing education and student achievement, I will be attempting to write a series of articles over the next few weeks on the topic of ‘Mistakes School Leaders Make”, and how to correct them to keep your leadership and school organization working in the right direction…supporting student achievement.
 I call this series Mistakes That Leaders Make.

I am posting my first chapter in this series called: “It’s not all about you.”

Nothing paralyzes an organization more than a school leader that is on an ego trip. Learning communities become polarized when the arrogance, self-centered, and narcissistic attitude of the leader gets in the way of running the organization.  The cohesiveness of  wonderful school communities can be destroyed when a school leader thinks in this manner.

According to Robert Church: “I have witnessed leaders in organizations repeatedly put their own personal interests above the interests of the organization. There are many challenges with this behavior. The most concerning however, is that the organization cannot reach its potential unless its leadership puts the interests of the organization ahead of their own interests.[1]

The trail of problems that can occur because of this self-centered leadership style can create ethical and moral consequences as well. “It is easy for corporate scandals to reach the public within a short time. Organizations often have policies that facilitate ethical behavior within the workplace. The challenge for managers is to promote an ethical organizational behavior and culture such that employees will not put their individual interests ahead of organizational interests. Personal interest is an aspect of organizational behavior and managers face the task of encouraging group interest over personal interest so as to preserve ethical values.”[2]

Shawn Murphy (2010) describes this phenomenon as a leader that is suffering from delusions. He lists the following symptoms of this delusion:
1.     Erratic and inconsistent behaviors on important organizational topics that are high-profile or important at the moment
2.     Decisions are made by the delusional manager to increase his visibility within the organization or with the Board
3.     Wildly different behaviors surface when with other leaders compared to a one-on-one or in small group settings
4.     Politicking to advance the supposed leader’s projects but cloaked in language to support the good of the organization
5.     The delusional manager is incapable of seeing the impact of his or her ideas on the organization, the employees, and the customer
6.     Rhetoric and big promises are commonly shared with senior executives AND are accepted
7.     Other managers avoid saying anything about the delusional manager
8.     When it comes to the delusional manager’s work area, staff are confused about what’s going on
9.     Employee satisfaction in the delusional manager’s area is low
10. The CEO is unaware of the impact the delusional manager is having on teams, groups, and individuals
11. Deadlines are missed and quality of work is often poor
12. Staff do not speak up about the delusional manager’s excuses for missed deadlines, effect on the work environment, or poor work quality[3]

So, how do leaders correct this posture of self-centered leadership? Learn to become a people-centered leader or organization. Learn listen to others. Develop a sound shared-decision making model that demonstrates that your ability to listen and follow through meets the needs of the people you work with. Unfortunately, often, the self-centered leader never fully sees himself/herself as being this way, thus continuing to be part of an allusion of self-competence. The onus then is placed on the organizational Board of Directors to make it clear to the CEO or Superintendent that their leadership style is contrary to the good of the organization. Sometimes, it may even mean replacing the individual.

The things that should be looked for in a leader for a school organization is someone that embodies the ideas of principle-centered leadership, where values and goals are based on organizational needs and strengths. As Stephen Covey reminds us, the heart of quality organizational leadership is based on the following: 1) the primary purpose of the organization; 2)  its desired future; and 3) its core beliefs about itself and others.[4]

Schools are about kids, not the leader. Get it right.

[1] Church, R. (February 12, 2012). Leaders in your association put the association interests or personal interests first?. [BLOG] Associations, Volunteerism, and More. Retrieved September 15, 2012 at
[2] Wicks, D. (Date?) What are the challenges faced by organizational behavior?. [BLOG] Retrieved September 15, 2012 at
[3] Murphy, S. (2010). The delusions of a self-centered leader. Retrieved from September 18, 2012 at
[4] Covey, S. (n.d.). Principle centered leadership. Retrieved from 2 principle centered leadership.pdf

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teaching 21st Century Literacy...

“The questions worth posing here are: Does literacy have the same meaning it had in the last century? Do we need a new literacy? What is it to be a 21 st century literate? Is reading text and communicating a good and clear spoken language enough to define literacy? What are the prerequisites of the 21st century literacy? Is digital literacy part of it? Are we in front of one literacy or multiple literacies?[1]”. These questions frame the continuing debates that encircle professionals dealing with educational renewal and student achievement in a 21st Century context. If it is not, then people are not focusing on preparing children for their futures adequately, and expertly.

For many years, we have attempted to encourage teachers to think in terms of what “21st Century Literacy” means, in light of the changing environment of education and technology. But, on a broader level, how can we get students ready for the future and be trained in this new literacy. As Jones-Kavalier and Flanagan (2006) point out, “prior to the 21st century, literate defined a person’s ability to read and write, separating the educated from the uneducated. With the advent of a new millennium and the rapidity with which technology has changed society, the concept of literacy has assumed new meanings. Experts in the field suggest that the current generation of teenagers—sometimes referred to as the E-Generation—possesses digital competencies to effectively navigate the multidimensional and fast-paced digital environment.[2]

According to the National Council for Teachers of English, they offer an excellent definition of literacy from this perspective:
“…technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies- from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms- are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to:
·         Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
·         Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.
·         Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
·         Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
·         Create, critique, analyze, evaluate multi-media texts.
·         Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.[3]

If these guidelines in this noble mission statement are to be held valid and tenable, then we need to foster and encourage the discussions and professional development needed to see them become a viable reality in our schools, sooner, rather than later.

Traditional classrooms view literacy through a two dimensional model of print media. They read, write, and analyze the media on assignments provided by teachers presenting a narrow focus of expectations. While traditional media will always be necessary and required in our world, it is being overshadowed by the reality of student experience in a different model of three-dimensional learning, and the use of a variety of established media that are non-existent in the teaching repertoire of some traditional teachers.[4] “The new media literacy technical skills catapult traditional learning methods into orbit—traditional chalkboards and overheads with pens do not occupy the same realm as current capabilities. As an example, now teachers can do a PowerPoint presentation with streaming video, instant Internet access, and real-time audio-video interaction, and they can do it with relative speed and ease.[5]

Leaders need to move faculty toward this vision of expanded literacy opportunities, and find resources on the Internet a first-order activity. One place to start is the Center for Media Literacy ( which has a variety of resources that can assist teachers in understanding how these expectations can be developed. One such source is Media Literacy: A system for learning anytime, anywhere. Advertised as “an ideal resource for administrators and staff what want to implement a comprehensive and systematic media literacy program in their district or school with a research-based framework.”[6]

For a vivid presentation on how a school district moves ahead with this vision, check out the Henderson County School District, Hendersonville, NC website on their application of the 21st Century Literacy skills throughout all curricular areas.[7] There are excellent examples of projects, reports and curriculum maps that could serve as a starting place for teachers and schools to adapt accordingly.

We are in the 12th year of the 21st Century, and time for people to get moving with preparing kids for the future.

[1] Kharbach, M. (September 17, 2012). What teachers need to know about 21st Century literacy? [BLOG] Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Retrieved September 18, 2012 at
[2] Kavalier-Jones, B. R. and S.L. Flanagan (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. Educause Review Online, Retrieved from
[3] The ncte definitions of 21st century literacies. (2008, February 15). Retrieved from
[4] Barnwell, P. (2012). Evolving forms of literacy. Retrieved from
[5] Kavalier-Jones, B. R. and S.L. Flanagan (2006).
[6] [Web log message]. (2012). Retrieved from

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smartphones Everywhere....

With the announcement of the iPhone 5 last week, I am fairly certain we can proclaim this time period the age of the smartphone!  Who would have ever thought 20 years ago, that people would be walking around with a phone that could access Internet data, make calls, receive email, and could be used as a GPS, texting/messaging service, can hold a library of books, music, artwork, recipes, and provide a quasi-human assistance in seeking information for whatever query one would need?
Well, maybe Gene Roddenberry[1] thought about it!

But, here we are in the year 2012, with virtual micro processing-like phones capable of all that and more, clipped to our belts, or in our pockets. And, you can assume students are carrying all of this technological know-how around, as well. So, why are some educators hesitant to find a way to use this knowledge power and incorporate it into their instructional experiences?

Simply, some teachers teach as they were taught, and do not venture into that realm called “best practice” or “instructional experimentation”. The rationale you may hear from these people is that they are fearful of demonstrating what they do not know in front of the students, maintaining that aura of “the teacher as all-knowing omnipresent know-it-all”, instead of a mentor for self-directed learning.

This needs to change, sooner, rather than later, for 21st Century children. We owe it to their futures to prepare them for a different kind of world that none of us can even imagine. If we are continuing to teach using 19th century learning models, than we have virtually doomed their future access to all that they are capable of achieving, or better yet, forced them to regard school as a waste of their time, and go off on their own to discover the world.

So, how can teachers learn to harness this capability that lies in their students’ hands?
There are a number of organizations offering opportunities for professional development, such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Many states have their own professional organizations that can offer regional opportunities as well. But, the best way to adapt this model is to be creative and design something that works.
1)      Paul Wallace, assistant professor of instructional technology atAppalachian State University(NC), taught his students to use the Scvngr application as a way to apply their classroom knowledge to benefit the local community. Students partnered with Watauga River Conservation Partners, a local community organization, to create mobile scavenger hunts to help the community learn about wetlands and conservation. Not only did students learn to use mobile technology, they were also able apply their classroom knowledge in the field.
2)      Another demonstration of smartphone-enabled learning is Project Noah, which is based on the premise that students can create and share knowledge using their mobile devices. Students use the app (iPhone or Android) to document and take photos of sighted insects, birds, and bushes, and then share their findings with an online community.[2]
3)      How about using iPhones to replace the graphing calculator? Yes, the governing board of regional education trustees will have a conniption fit, but the reality is that forcing students or having school purchase these dinosaurs of ancient technology for use in one or two classes is an extraordinary waste of resources. A smartphone can become a graphing calculator and become more practical a tool. This can be seen in the Onslow County School District in North Carolina, which has been using smartphones for the past few years as classroom calculators.[3]
4)    Description: in the fifth grade are Cimarron Elementary School are getting the chance to work with smartphones in their classrooms. Phones are issued to the students with the messaging and calling capabilities disabled, but students can still connect to the internet, schedule assignments, and send emails to their teachers through the phones. Students use the phones to do their homework, often on-the-go, and to keep in touch with teachers. The students also use the mobile devices to do web quests, scan QR codes linked to vocab and reading websites, make excel spreadsheets, create quizzes, and even graph their science lab results. The pilot program seems to be doing well, with an increase in students' math and science scores from the previous year.
5)      Description: Glen School District is taking part in program this fall called Learning on the Go, that puts netbooks, smartphones, and mini-netbooks into the hands of students. The program has been used at the school for two years now, but has only now just expanded to include the use of netbooks and all grade levels at the school. With 40% of the student body not having internet access at home, educators hope that the mobile devices will help to better prepare students for the challenges of an increasingly globalized and digital world, allowing students to gain familiarity with using the web for a wide range of educational tasks.

6)      Description: Mary's School in Ohio is one of the schools leading the way in using smartphones in the classroom. In 2009, the school began providing more than 2,300 third, fourth, and fifth graders with their own PDAs for use in the classroom and at home. Loaded onto the devices are educational programs that allow students to do everything from write an essay to study math through flash cards. Teachers at the school want to embrace mobile technology and help students to understand that mobile devices can be a valuable tool in education, when used right, of course. Students at the school have enthusiastically embraced the program, and many report great excitement at the thought of being assigned their own mobile device.

7)      Description: many schools on this list are providing students with their own phones and mobile devices, Edmonton school is taking a different approach to bringing smart phones into the classroom. The school isn't providing phones or other devices but encourages students to bring their own, allowing everything from smartphones to iPads to be used during class time. Students are allowed to employ their phones and tablets as calculators, dictionaries, planners, and even sketchbooks depending on the lesson. The school employs a technology coach as well, who works with teachers to help them better integrate these and other technologies into their curricula. As for students, they love the new rules and many feel lucky to be able to bring their favorite tech devices into the classroom.

8)      Description: teachers don't allow cell phones to be used in the classroom, but high school science teacher Bob Kuschel isn't most teachers. Kuschel permits students to use their smartphones in his class, and says he finds them to be an effective learning tool for students. For the past three years, he has allowed phone usage while students are working on labs or class assignments, though the phones must be put away during lectures. Kuschel believes that it's important for students to be able to access information easily and reports that allowing students to use them has not only improved grades but also student interest in their coursework.

9)      Description: North Carolina high school is also taking part in Project K-Nect, a pilot program that's working to bring smartphones into the classroom with the hope that it will improve test scores and help students at some of the states most under-funded schools. Sponsored by Qualcomm, the project is providing smartphones for a few trial courses, though it could be expanded in coming years. Administrators at the school hope that the phones will not only improve scores, but help to better prepare students for using new technologies, as many in the district don't have access to the internet or a computer at home. So far, the program seems to be working. A study found that students with the phones performed 25% better than their classmates on an end-of-year algebra exam. Yet teachers report that the phones have a downside, too, as teachers must spend a good deal of time monitoring how the students are using them in their hours away from school.

10)  Description: at this Twin Cities school got a chance to bring some of their favorite technologies into the classroom this fall. The school is allowing students to use personal electronic devices in the classroom, including smartphones, PDAs, and tablet computers. While the school acknowledges the potential drawbacks of allowing tech in the classroom, they think the educational opportunities outweigh the risks. They may be setting a model for schools in the region, as the Minneapolis School District just approved a similar measure for bringing tech into the classroom.

11)  Description: sixth grade classrooms are taking on a trial program at this middle school, allowing mobile devices into the classroom. Given phones through a donation by Sprint, educators are now using them in sixth grade science courses. Students use them to graph, track the results of their experiments, write essays, and even look up information on the web. The phones don't offer students free will, as the texting and calling features are disabled, and internet access is limited and closely monitored, but that's OK with students. A study of the phone usage at school showed that they increased the level of student engagement and motivated more students to complete assignments. While the district doesn't have the budget to purchase more phones at the moment, teachers say they'd love to see the program expand.

12)  Description: at this high school no longer have to hide their phones to use them in class. The school is now allowing phones, laptops, MP3 players, and iPads in the classroom, provided students have the OK of their teachers to use them. Over the five months the program has been in place, the school hasn't seen in increase in students cheating or misusing the technology, perhaps because students are afraid of losing their right to use the tech in the classroom. As of this fall, the program expanded to include the entire school, a change which the school hopes will help not only students but their bottom line as well. Students who are able to bring their own technology to school can help reduce the costs of maintaining a computer lab on campus, and making it easier for students to take notes and look up information is a great added benefit.

So, you see, it can be done.

[1] Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek where in 1965 had the characters exploring new worlds with something called “a tricorder”, about the size of a smartphone.
[2] Frydenberg, M., W. Cecucci, and P. Sendall. (2012, January 31).Smartphones: Teaching Tool or Brain Candy? [Web log message]. Retrieved from
[3] 10 Innovative Schools Allowing Smartphones in the Classroom. [Web log message]. (2012). Retrieved from

Friday, September 14, 2012

Validation...Key to Human Success

Webster’s Dictionary defines “validation” as : the act of making someone or something “valid”; to substantiate, affirm, confirm; to approve. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all feel the cloak of approval, or to be affirmed for the work we do in our organizations?
What ignited my interest in this theme was an unusual YouTube clip entitled “Validation” by Hugh Newman. In fact, I highly recommend you take the time to view this clip, and hopefully, you will catch the bug to validate others in your lives, in your schools, in your communities.

Everyone wants to feel validated. Some people go through their lives without ever hearing anything positive for the work they complete. Schools have plenty of opportunities to validate employees, but do leaders take advantage of this chance to validate faculty and staff.

A few months ago I had dinner at a restaurant in Sarasota, FL, and we were being served by a young girl who happened to be from Macedonia. Her mannerisms were troubling to us in that she seemed troubled, unwilling to smile, or lend some cheerfulness. When I learned that she was from Macedonia, I promptly got out my Google Translator and looked up a few phrases in Macedonian. When she returned to the table with our salads, I tried to say a few of the phrases for her, and instantly, a smile came over her face. (Either she was laughing at the way I was attempting to speak her mother tongue, or she was touched!?). It turned out she was appreciative that I took the time to connect with her personality and personhood. The rest of the evening was quite enjoyable, and she was so happy to be with us as our waitress that she gave me a hug when we left. How about that for validating someone?

Your weekend homework assignment is to try validating people you meet. And when you adapt the right style of affirming another person, take it into your school on Monday.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Working With the Board

One of the paramount concerns that educational CEO's face is the never-ending struggle to work effectively with overseers, such as a Board of Directors, or a Board of Education. Micromanagement from the governing council of an organization is a disease that can spread faster than a mutant virus if allowed to fester, unchecked. Of primary importance in any relationship between a CEO and a Board is to communicate, and keep the dialogue open, frank, and honest.

Such was the problem in the University of Virginia this past summer when the President of the University, Dr. Teresa Sullivan was dismissed by the Board of Visitors for the institution without much warning. The faculty and campus community were in shock and dismayed by the decision of the Board, so much so, that through an orchestrated campaign of revolt and protest, Dr. Sullivan was reinstated to her post, two weeks later.

At odds in this relationship between the university president and the board were the differing perceptions that the CEO and the Trustees had for the institution. The Board wanted a more aggressive leader that would venture into dynamic strategic plan. The CEO was an "incrementalist" that adapted to the changing environment within a constrained budgetary climate. The perspectives clashed and caused backroom dialogues and a quasi coup d'etat, so to speak.

In analyzing this situation it is apparent the relationship between the CEO and the Board lacked a true working relationship. A mentoring of the minds that gauged the hopes, fears and goals of a true vision for the university was obviously missing. And, it was not until this crisis that all the parties could address the situation in a constructive manner, creating a new agenda for the university.

How is your relationship with your Board, or if you are a building principal, how is your relationship with your PTA/PTO council? DO you address the open and honest issues that confronts your leadership? Or, do you sidestep controversy in order to keep everyone happy.

In all relationships acrimony and crisis occurs. Leaders need to learn how to support and encourage the process.

Here's hoping to your efforts to cement that positive relationship.

Rice, A. (September 12, 2012). Anatomy of a Campus Coup. New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012 on the Internet at

Friday, September 7, 2012

Connecting With Kids

In the school district I worked in as superintendent, we had a dynamic, energetic principal that fulfilled the model of the outstanding elementary principal. Mr. K. was the first person at the buses in the morning greeting each and every student by name, and he was the last person ushering them off to their buses to go home at the end of the day. In between he was in the classrooms, the lunch room, the hallways, and as much a part of the school as every employee in the building. His personality radiated throughout the elementary school neighborhood community and he was an important role model for the entire school community.

In many ways his model of school leadership is desirable and wanted more and more by parents in our schools today, than ever before. The warm, affable character of a principal-leader is what inspires students and faculty.

In a wonderful blog post on August 25, 2012 called the The Principal of Change, George Couros outlines the "6 Ways Principals Can Connect With Students".

  1. Welcome the kids when they arrive. Wave goodbye when they leave.
  2. Your first interaction with a student should be a positive one.
  3. Talk as little as possible.
  4. Use humor to deal with situations any chance you can.
  5. Do the walk.
  6. Kids will love you if they know you love them.
These simple suggestions will make a big difference to your leadership.

Here's hoping every child will feel welcomed in your school this week.