Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekly Updates for School Leaders, 3/29/2013

Here is a summary of some interesting articles for school leaders. Hope you have a great weekend.

1)    "7 Habits of Highly Effective School Administrators"

        An interesting article that promotes the basic patterns of effectiveness for school leaders. A must read.

2)     "What a school designed for your brain might look like"

        A 21st Century facility and learning plan that all leaders need to consider.

3)     "10 quotes from people who made a difference"

       Advice from 10 outstanding people whose lives made a difference in the world. Inspiring wisdom for school leaders.

4)     "5 Tools to Help Students Learn"

5)     "Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The science of creativity"

6)     "Are we too busy to imagine"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What We Learn from a Pig

In the television movie, “The Gathering Storm”, about the pre-war years of Winston Churchill, we learn that this once, noble, and dignified future leader of Great Britain, was susceptible to moodiness, anxiety, paranoia, and depression. In a poignant scene in the movie, after being ridiculed for a position he took on the floor of Parliament, he is seen sitting in the barnyard of his rural estate watching an adult pig “wallowing” and eating from a pile of grounded, and rotten apples. The scene itself is curious, but quite descriptive of the mood Churchill is in. He remarks in a calm, and sullen tone, while observing the pig as follows: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs treat you as equals.” (Ramin, 2002)
There is something poignant and heartfelt about that scene appealing to our blogpost today. We as school leaders, to be effective and impactful on our organizations, must use the example of the pig in creating effective learning organizations. I am not suggesting the imperious, denigrating or disgusting image of a pig, but rather the curiosity, and uninhibited ability to dig in and “wallow”, which implies an attitude of being devoted entirely to something, and taking pleasure in it.
In the Journal of Animal Behavior, researchers document that pigs learn quickly how mirrors work and “will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food.” (Angier, 2009) They use their uncanny ability to sniff, dig, and ply their way around their surroundings to understand and learn from the traits therein. Shouldn’t leaders be doing the same?
For those people who have been following my previous posts, you already know how I feel about the "closet" leaders that hide in their office, behind closed doors, leading from behind a desk. The example of the pig being a creature that “wallows” and is enveloped in a curiosity of learning about its environment is the kind of leader we need to become to make a difference for our school organizations.
Leaders such as former GE CEO Jack Welch have advocated a similar approach to running organizations by suggesting: "You have to wallow in it. Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you." (Comstock, 2013)
Nothing is more frustrating to a school of educators than to know their school superintendent or principal is not visible, among the school and the activities of the culture. The comment that a teacher has never met the superintendent, is a disparaging sentiment that reflects poorly on any leader that seeks to make significant change in their future. 
Leaders have been given a great opportunity to “wallow” in their organization in order to learn from it, understand how it works, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the system, and to reflect on a direction that meets the needs of the district and students. Take time from your role to “wallow” and be an active leader of your district.
Angier, N. (2009, November 9). Basics- in pig cognition studies, reflections on parallels with humans. New York Times. Retrieved from

Comstock, B. (2013, February 23). Best advice: What i learned from jack welch hanging up on me. Retrieved from

Ramin, L. (Writer) (2002). The gathering storm [DVD]. Available from

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Future Without a Vision

It was at an eye doctor’s appointment this week that I gave serious thought to this week’s blog. 
There was a unique poster in the examining room over the doctor’s ophthalmic chair which said:
 “Without vision, you will not know where you are going.”

How true that statement is for school learning organizations. Yet, many districts ramble on 
without a focus or vision to direct and govern overarching programs for school improvement.  

Recently, I reviewed a research study from the Journal of Research on Technology in Education 
and could not help but notice an interesting article on a district designed project to implement a 
technology initiative across the organization.

“The Southern Alberta School District in which this study takes place is both successful and proactive with respect to student achievement and satisfaction levels (students, parents, teachers, and administrators). In 2007 the district started a shared visioning process to restate the district vision for the implementation of technology and to integrate teaching strategies (ie. differentiated instruction and assessment for learning) over a 5-7 year span of time.
The purpose of the study was to implement and measure the impact of a district-led initiative regarding 21st century teaching methods, strategies, and pedagogies. Rather than engage in sporadic professional development, a thoughtful and systematic model was deployed over a 3 year period. Technological upgrading, intensive professional development, and strong leadership were central pathways for teachers to meaningfully adopt the necessary components of 21st century learning instruction.” (Gunn & Hollingsworth, 2013).
This district developed vision for implementing a 21st Century technology model for the organization was based on a plan involving planning and management, instructional support, and emerging and evolving technologies. The constituents of the district all had a part in designing the shared vision addressing those areas, which eventually lead to the onward progress of becoming a 21st century school district. It reflects that understanding that Kouzes and Posner have in describing the role of vision development in organizations, namely that constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations. They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled. (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).
The true leader of this type of organization needs to remember the key points for creating this drive for vision;
  • View your role as as chief salesperson of the overall vision.
  • Be visible and never be too busy with the project to sell the vision.
  • Break the project into multiple sequential phases.
  • Limit detailed planning to the current phase.
  • Establish review committees and hold frequent meetings.
  • Remember consensus rules. (Fitzgerald, 2013)

As for the Southern Alberta School District, and what they found in their efforts to work with that type of vision:
“By way of strong leadership and administrative support for 21st Century professional development, teachers within a single district were able to embrace the knowledge, skills, and strategies required for future student success in the 21st Century.” (Gunn & Hollingsworth, 2013).

Fitzgerald, D. (2003). Shared vision: A key to project success. TechRepublic, Retrieved March 25, 2013 from

Gunn, T. M. & Hollingsworth, M. (2013). The implementation and assessment of a shared 21st century learning vision: A district approach. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 45(3), 201-208. Retrieved from

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2009). To lead, create a shared vision. Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from March 24, 2013