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High Ed and K-12… can we share even more?

I embarked on a new professional development journey today volunteering my time to give evaluative feedback to graduate students working towards a k-12 principals license.   After spending several hours pouring through footage of principal candidates in simulated experiences and typing up notes for the candidates to work through with a university faculty member, I was here to share, debate, and come to consensus on the score each student would receive.  The team was made up of 5 highly educated and passionate individuals who had each served as a teacher and principal and some who had served as a superintendent.  Two members of the team were university faculty members.  What a great experience!!

Solid leadership training for leaders in public education is a significant black hole that must be addressed if student achievement is to improve.  Most school districts train leaders by throwing them the keys and wishing them good luck…  This is mostly due to not making it a priority that school boards and state legislators dedicate resources to – afterall, find me a school principal ot teacher leader that feels s/he has free time to participate in regular reflective sessions on leadership!!  So how can this kind of leadership training - training that includes video footage, reflective writing, reflective coaching, and high stakes scoring – be embedded into the culture of a school district learning community?  Where can the resources be found to make training teacher leaders and administrative leaders a priority?  If universities want students (and the tuition that they pay) and school districts want real, authentic training for their leaders, might there be a win-win in some kind of real partnership that delivers to both organizations?  If districts pay for the graduate level teaching that aligns specifically with district goals – and follow up with performance expectations as a result – could universities provide the expertise in training that I participated in today?  Are there partnership models out there to replicate?


Does constant training lead to enabling?

Today is Leadership Day 2009 on Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant weblog focused on technology, education, and leadership.  Fittingly, Scott presented a leadership question on July 10th that resonates loudly with me as I work on our school improvement plan for 2009-10.  At point do our efforts to train staff become a vehicle for enabling apathy and/or co-dependence?  What should school leaders expect staff to know and be able to do simply because they are considered to be, and often advocate to be referred to as, "professionals."  Does the term "professional" assume a certain level of self-driven pursuit to perform at a high level including the necessary training to do so?  Do employers really need to offer support and training in areas a particular employee is deficient before taking disciplinary action or are there some performance areas in which competence can be assumed to be the minimum expectation for keeping a job?   

The larger leadership questions regarding the performance of professionals is a topic I wish to explore further in future posts.  For this occasion of "Leadership Day 2009," I'll do my best to stay focused on the topic of technology in public schools. 

The role of technology in public education needs to be split, at a minimum, into a couple of discernable areas for this conversation:

  • How technology is used in classrooms and taught to students as a 21st century skill

  • How technology is used for adult/institutional/adminstrative purposes in public education

The first area is of less concern to this school principal than the second.  While the children of today need to learn, understand, and use technology to be productive citizens in the 21st century, I do not believe these skills are contigent upon putting laptops into the hands of young children or putting a smart board in every classroom.  I've witnessed many 14 years from poor households, with little or no access to computers of any kind, catch up to speed on using modern technology simply because it is easy to figure out.  The natural incentives for a junior high student (with junior high priorities) to figure out how to navigate social networking tools far out weigh the cost of time and effort needed to learn how.   Yes it's important for us to make sure those who need instruction to catch up in these areas receive it, however dedicating resources to teach students how to use technology prior to the middle level grades isn't worth the resources and efforts necessary to accomplish the task.  This first area is more about equity and less about being "up to speed" on the most cutting edge productivity tools. 

The second area identified is of far more concern in the realm of leadership in education and an area I invite dialogue from other leaders.  At some points in my leadership journey I have felt that the institution of education is far behind the times in using technology to pinpoint successful strategies, to streamline operating systems, and to analyze the cost effectivess of programs, curriculums, the work of particular staff members, or specific initiatives.  We have seemed prone to contracting with different vendors for all kinds of operational systems so cross-correlating and analyzing performance data is nearly impossible.  Maybe most importantly, we have a shortage of technicians in public education who seem capable of crunching the numbers to "cost out" different aspects of our organizations.  So where now??  We are constantly barraged by vendors with products that claim to have all of the answers yet it seems the answer lies less in the tools used and more in the focus and the leadership. 

For Leadership Day 2009, I ask educational leaders to join me in a life long effort to bring extreme clarity to the purpose of public schools, to articulate methods of measuring performance against this purpose with extreme clarity, and to find ways to create a culture of discipline where we say "no" to any effort distracting us from that mission.  This journey requires savvy use of technology to track, analyze, and communicate performance to stakeholder groups and the public at-large.  It requires the use of technology to reduce inefficiencies, and it may require that competent use of technology be a requirement to simply keep a job.  When technology is used as a tool and vehicle for moving an organization into greatness, it comes as a follow up to excellent leadership and a culture of discipline.  Jim Collins writes about "Technology Accelerators" in his book Good to Great only after making the bedrocks of greatness very clear.  Technology is not the answer to greatness, but savvy use of the tool is necessary for success in today's market. 

Coming full circle on the topic of leadership and technology, leaders indeed must pursue personal growth in the use of the tool to be considered competent.  It's not ok to blame the district or the demands of the job for getting in the way of your own performance.  Like others in the school organization, principals, superintendents, and district administrators need to be held accountable for learning new technologies and using them to enhance job perfomance.  So… How do we determine when we are enabling co-dependence?  What technology skills "should be a given" in 2009 and what technology skills should addressed in training opportunities?  What your thoughts?


A great dinner leads to thoughts about accountability

Yes, I admit right out of the shoots, that my mind was not where it was supposed to be…  Sitting in the gorgeous dining room at Burntside Lodge in Ely, MN for a romantic anniversary dinner with my wife, I couldn't stop from thinking about the incredible serving staff attending to us and how the resort management maintained such a "high bar" of performance.  Evidence of the normal principal's sick obsession with improving education, I began to think (and of course discuss with my all too forgiving wife) about how this standard is communicated and maintained – and if their formula has application to running a public school.  The dinner was spectacular (which I gather is par for the course) and I was allowed a few moments to make some observations about how the room seemed to operate:  

  • One woman seems to "run the show."  She greets every guest at the entrance, introduces them to the menu, and gauges their level of comfort with the routines of the restaurant. 
  • This person who ran the show earned the title "Mother Hen" between my wife and me.  This was due to her constant attention to every table and employee in the dining room.  If she perceived that "something was not right," she was quick to get a staff member onto this situation immediately. 
  • Mother Hen's sense of what was going right and what was not was accurate all of the time. 
  • The serving staff seemed focused on impressing Mother Hen by impressing the guests – and eliminating the need for Mother Hen to have anything to attend to.

So how does this apply to learning and public education?  How can we make sure that students and the community feel that their needs are attended to at the high standard set by Burntside Lodge?  How can principals equip staff to the level of not needing the attention of "mother hen?"  Is the sixth sense of Mother Hen learnable or simply a gift?  Is their a connection between earning fat tips with top notch performance and trying to get top notch performance from educators? 

While my thoughts were not nearly romantic enough for an anniversary dinner, I do believe the comparison is something to wrestle with…  How can the level of service delivered in public education be improved to the highest level - where top notch performance becomes the norm?  

And yes, I do recommend a stop for dinner at Burntside Lodge!!