Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leadership is a non-negotiable

I'm working this week with the 20th different district of my 2009-10 year. There is some variance in the level of involvement I have with them, but generally it is very similar: visiting with teachers about need for change in schools, the Iowa Core, 21st century skills, project-based learning, and technology integration. Universal themes that each school is dealing with.

By asking me to visit with teachers about those things above, you can safely assume that all the districts feel they are important (that's the way I feel... I'm sure there are more jaded responses).

But, let me tell you, there is a dramatic difference in the leadership at these schools. And I don't say that as someone who has worked closely with the district or has quite a bit of data over many years to tell me that, because I don't. Here's what I got:

• At some districts, the superintendent is taking it all hands-on. They initiate the contact themselves. They have taken the pre-requisite steps and gotten key people on board. The technology coordinator is in the loop. They have a vision of where they'd like to go, what they'd like to see at their district, but are open to meshing that vision with other people's thoughts. They use the professional development opportunities to highlight successful things teachers are doing to reach that vision. They are not only at inservices, but they are fully participating, active in the small group breakout sessions, sharing their thoughts openly during discussion. And, they have a plan on how this will be implemented, with specific steps, supports for teachers, set expectations, and opportunities for evaluation.

• At some districts, another key figure has taken the initiative, perhaps a curriculum director or technology coordinator. The superintendent is on board, but the vision is shaky. They are more interested in hearing my vision for their school than they are of crafting their own vision. The administrators attend the sessions, but aren't necessarily taking a prominent role. They agree that planning for how action will be implemented is important, but they are likewise not sure how they will get there.

• And finally, at some districts, while a key figure has initiated the contact, the superintendent is absent. There is never really a desire to talk about vision, but only "could you visit with teachers about x and y?" There is no plan nor a discussion of a plan... the expectation is planting the seed will lead to magical sprouting of teacher development. And most telling, no administrator attends the session.

Even though that's all the data I see, I know which districts have strong leadership and which do not. Actually, so do you, even though you've had no contact with these districts. What's more, I know right now which districts are changing to meet the changing times, which will continue to be reactive instead of proactive (tottering with the initiative du jour), and those that my visit was a complete was of time for nothing will come of it. Note, nothing is said about an administrators actual knowledge of the initiative (in this case, technology), only their participation.

If you are a school leader reading this, here is your takeaway... leadership is a non-negotiable for change to happen. You need to take an active role in planning this before it happens. You must create a plan for afterwards. You must not only attend, you must not only participate, you must advocate.

If you cannot attend, cancel the inservice. That's right. There's no point in requiring a presenter to come in and teachers to attend if you are not there. Nothing will be picked up, and if by some chance something were to be picked up, it cannot be acted on. The message of having no administrator at the session speaks unbelievable volume about either a) the important of the topic, or b) the quality of leadership... and perhaps both.

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