Leading a school to where it has never been

20 Mar

As leaders, whether in the capacity as a teacher or administrator, it is our duty to be agents of change. 

In 1995 Henry Kissinger lectured across Australia and spoke of leadership within society and politics.  Akin to his references about society is leadership of our schools.

The hardest problem for a leader is to take his school from where it is to where it has never been, and that is a lonely task.  If he gets too far ahead of his people he will be destroyed; if he is too cautious, problems will overwhelm him.  How to find that middle ground is the overwhelming problem.  It is a problem that has yet to be solved in our schools.

So can effective change be driven by the students, rather than dragged along by the leader?

Dr Gary Stager spoke at the 2012 National Association of Secondary School Principals in Tampa, Florida addressing this issue, as summated by EricSheringer.

We must collaboratively develop and implement our own ideas to improve the learning process in a way that emphasizes our student’s cognitive growth, passions, and strengths, while challenging them to push their own boundaries.   

It is difficult work to transform a culture of learning that has been embedded for nearly a century, but every problem in education has been solved sometime or somewhere before.  The time is now for all of us to critically analyse our respective schools and take a stand against the status quo in order to do what is best for our students. 

Best ideas in the world don’t succumb to incrementalism or any other type of excuse or challenge.    As Gary stated they evolve around the following:

Respect for each learner:  We need to have actual conversations with our students.  They must be part of transformation efforts and their voices can provide invaluable feedback in efforts to reshape everything from curriculum, to pedagogy, to technology purchases, to how time for learning is allocated.  Respect also entails we will consistently seek paths to grow professionally in order to discover and implement new ideas on their behalf.

Authentic problems: This is as real world as it gets.  In my opinion there is no other powerful learning strategy that to have students exposed to and tackle problems that have meaning and relevancy. 

Real tools and materials: Students are using technology to solve problems outside of school.  They are also creating their own technology in some cases.  As Gary emphasized, learners are capable of incredible things if they are placed the right environment.  It is our responsibility to create these environments.  To do so we must relinquish control, provide support (purchasing the right tools and providing quality professional development), encourage calculated risk-taking, exhibit flexibility, and model expectations.

Expanded opportunities:  All students should have the opportunity to be exposed to authentic learning experiences, online courses, specialized field trips, independent study, credit for learning experiences outside of school, and internships. 

Collegiality: Let’s face it, as educators we need to work together in order to successfully implement the best ideas in order to improve teaching and learning.  We must overcome personal agendas, bring the naysayers on board, implement a system focused on shared decision-making, and move to initiative a change process that is sustainable.  The best ideas will only become reality through collegiality.

The best ideas in the world can and should be cultivated in our schools.  As leaders it is our responsibility to see that they are.  The time is now!

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