Every day is leadership day

Scott McLeod of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has declared July 12, 2009 as Leadership Day 2009. He’s been doing this for two years now, and each year I’ve participated with a post.

  • 2007 – Leaders of the Future where I focused in developing the leader in every learner.
  • 2008 – Just Do It where I urged administrators to stop waiting for the district reorg or the next version of Windows or that bandwidth you were promised 3 years ago and get moving. Listen to kids, don’t listen the teachers who can’t seem to manage an email account, damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.

So what to do for 2009? I still believe that leadership has to be nurtured at every level. I still believe that we can’t wait for some perfect storm to implement our perfect plan. So what’s new?

What’s new in my mind is that it’s all linked together with choice, and more specifically agency. I’ve become increasingly aware that there is no leadership without choice at every level. I’m not talking about the now politicized “school choice” nor a meaningless choice between two barely distinguishable options. This isn’t about picking a red or blue cover for your 5 page essay. Students must have choices and true agency over their own learning.

To accomplish this, you must also have teachers who have choices and true agency over their own classroom and a say in their own school. Administrators who are leaders must have agency, choice, and a vision that others can follow – if they choose. If they are leaders, people will follow. But only if there is a real option to not follow. You aren’t a leader if everything is decided in advance. You aren’t be a leader if your followers are just there for the paycheck, or if they are students, graduation credit.

Leadership is inextricably bound to free will, in the same way democracy is.

And to insist on choice and agency, you must believe that learning is natural and that most children want to learn. You must believe that most teachers really do want to reach children and nurture that amazing natural spark; you must believe that most parents love their children and want what’s best for them. To believe otherwise is to crush that delicate flower with the iron glove of control. That’s not leadership.

Unless the people who live in schools day in and day out, principally the kids and staff, are entrusted to use their intelligence on behalf of the task at hand, we’ll not get change for the better. Anything else is inefficient, a waste of our precious time and resources.” Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas 1995

I like Scott’s graphic for Leadership Day 2009 – but if it were up to me, every light bulb would be lit. That’s leadership.

Leadership Day 2009 logo


5 Replies to “Every day is leadership day”

  1. I do think that structured choices need to be provided. I think too often teachers (and administrators) see something at a conference or workshop, drink the Kool-Aid and see it as the next great thing, when it really doesn’t fit into a district philosophy. There has to be some sort of shared vision so that district buildings don’t all branch off in a variety of directions.
    Great post!

  2. Great Deborah Meier quote. Bridging differences is one of my favorite blogs. It sounds like your equation for a good leader is influence+engagement. I agree that top-down decision-making probably won’t lead to change that lasts.

  3. I agree that teachers need more freedom to experiment in the classroom. We have too much structure. Students need more individualized instruction and that is often in opposition of structure. I think we need to get past the idea that every student should have an identical education.

    Every student should learn certain core things, but this list should be the broad with the specifics and methods left up to the teacher. We are professionals, let us do our job. Don’t shackle us down because you do not trust us.

    @Josh What is the danger in buildings branching off in a variety of directions? Again uniformity is a myth. I quote @irasocol
    “If you don’t model failure you don’t model learning.”

    Teachers should be given the opportunity to experiment and fail. It is ok and students will learn more from that than boringly following a structured textbook.

  4. @concretekax
    Buildings don’t need to be clones of each other. As I said, structured choices. You can’t have 14 different philosophies in a single school district and expect it to be successful. I do agree that each child/classroom is different, so you can’t give one script to multiple buildings. Districts do need to be open to new ideas and not mire yourself down in how it’s always been done. But you can’t jump on the “next big thing” without some background research.
    Modeling failure isn’t necessarily fine when you are paying for failures with taxpayer money. That failure needs to be experienced after some sound thinking. I think you need to take advantage of failures and use them as learning experiences.
    Teachers should have the freedom to teach HOW they want, but not necessarily WHAT they want. Before you jump on me, the “what” is very broad and varies from district to district. For example, my opinion is each child should know how to add, subtract, multiple and divide (agreed?). However, I don’t think I should script out each lesson for our teachers. I should give them best practices, and should offer them some more guided suggestions if their kids aren’t “getting it.”

  5. Love this post, Sylvia, as well as the bit of debate that follows. Having just completed the Leading Innovation Conference at the Friday Institute, like you, I am absolutely convinced that everyone in a school entity must be agents of change in education (leaders)- everyone from the superintendent to the teacher. I do believe the teacher plays a special role as studies have shown that the single most important variable in student success is a great teacher. Because teachers must model the best of what learning is, I’ve come to believe that the litmus test for students entering any undergraduate education program might be a single question, “Are you first and primarily a learner who is constantly seeking better ways to learn? Explain and Demonstrate”
    A commonality I have found among teachers is that they feel quite powerless. In fact, I have often reflected that there are so many gifted teachers- often female teachers- who have such low self esteem due to the lack of nourishment and leadership they need. In spite of this, these gifted teachers are the names that come up over and over again as students reflect back on who made the “big” difference in their experience of education. Again, effective leadership must be at every level and focused on helping teachers do what they do best – bringing out the best in a child’s intellect and nurturing the passion of learning.
    I close with one of my favorite quotes- “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”- a Hebrew Proverb that rings all so true.
    It’s not about the teaching- it’s about leadership in learning.

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