27 June 2011
We started the day yesterday by just hanging at the hotel and not really getting out until after noon. We took a very short walk to Penn's Landing and had a Taste of Philly, part of the events leading up to the 4th of July.
We got over to the Convention Center and checked in just in time to hear the opening keynote speaker. He was a molecular biologist named Dr. John Medina. A molecular biologist? Yes. He was really great. A very dynamic speaker, in fact. He talked specifically about how the brain process information, a terrific topic for a room (gigantic room) full of teachers interested in how to be more effective. I guess I'll have to read his book, Brain Rules.
Before I knew it, 7am arrived and I had to be up, have some breakfast, and get to the convention center by 0830 to hear Dayna Laur talk about "Meeting the Common Core: Rigorous, Relevant, Project-Based Learning." The presenters talked at length about this site, the Buck Institute for Learning. I was afraid it was going to be about how we needed to pay for their stuff, but it wasn't. In fact they talked about some free resources we can use for PBL stuff, in addition to the fact that all of their stuff if free. I am working to move my class more toward a PBL model. I think my students would all benefit from the model as they are mostly honors students who "just want the answer." This particular demographic is one that has been taught to value the "right answer" above the method by which that answer was ascertained. In PBL, the goal is to have students show their mastery of skills instead of arriving at a pre-determined answer. In fact, in a good problem-solving environment, the teacher won't know the answer since it hasn't been solved yet! A great strategy they talked about was one in which a class is connected (via Skype) to a professional in the field (pertaining to the problem) to give critique and expertise throughout the process.
I then moved on to "Technology to Improve Staff Morale" with Rushton Hurley, a Japanese-language teacher from California. He had some great tips for sharing technology and moving into a true collaborative model with colleagues. The "take-away" for me from that session was to try and share something with my colleagues and let them come ask questions if they want to move beyond just an introduction. My vision for this is to share a 2 minute tech tip during faculty meetings. I can start it and then see if I can get my colleagues to start doing it as they find something they like and feel is "share-worthy." I'll then become the facilitator. I could even begin to video these and post them to "Tech Tools for Teachers."
During lunch, I got to go to the OTA Affiliate booth and sit for an hour to "pay" for my trip here. I am here as a result of being named Technology Teacher of the Year by the OTA. However, it comes with a price. I have to work our booth for two full hours. I say that with a smile on my face, because I would gladly work that booth for an entire day or two to get to come. I met several folks stopping by to say hello. I got to tell them about the OTA meetup at the The Field House from 1630 to 1800 on Tuesday evening. It will be lots of fun, so if you are around, stop in and say hello.
After lunch I had some free time so I went down and sat in the blogger's cafe and tried to process some of what I had learned. As I was doing this, I began to realize that this conference would benefit so many people who are not here. For someone like me who has been to technology conferences before, I am able to get a few ideas to use tools I already have to be better, but there are people who aren't here who would be much more willing to use this stuff in their classes after hearing success stories. If you are reading this and have never been to ISTE, go ahead and plan to go to San Diego next year. It's overwhelming and one of the best things a technology adopter can do to get out of their comfort zone. During this time, I also got spend some time with @mishelleyb since we both had a little time with no sessions, this was clearly one of the best parts of the day.
The last session I attended was #teach with #tweet. These 3 guys (@joebender, @crafty184, and @brueckj23) shared how they have used twitter in elementary/secondary/higher ed classrooms. They had some great ideas and I was able to think and process about how I would like to integrate it into both my high school physics and university geography classes. I got to attend the session with a colleague from SNU and we talked about online classes over the summer. I'm stoked to collaborate with her (and @mishelleyb) while I teach online during the upcoming summer session. I'm a little nervous, but it should be fun! I almost forgot, there was also a flash mob during this time. A little crazy.
Finally, the kids came in from the hotel and we walked over to the Reading Market. @mishelleyb had been wanting to go and sample the Amish stuff in there and we were all pretty excited about the eats we had heard about. If you want to see what we experienced, click here. We had a great culinary adventure. It seems that much of our travel is driven (no pun intended) by food. We are a foodie family and have some of our best times around the dinner table, whether ours or some restaurant.
The fact is these two days have been a tremendous amount of fun, work, and learning. I'm sure many people think "Who in the world wants to go to Nerd Camp for 4 days? Especially with your own kids and wife?" I do! These trips are some of the most rewarding of my life, both professionally and personally.
22 June 2011
Section 5 of the book discusses leading down. This is where my interactions with students come into context. The very first principle in this section is “Walk Slowly Through The Halls”. As teacher-leader, how in the world can you get to know your students if you never leave your classroom? Great relationships are the key to great teaching. Our administrators constantly tell us to “stand outside your door between classes.” If teachers are being excellent (refer to section 2) that should not have to be said. Teacher-leaders need to learn who their student are outside the context of a single classroom.
Also in that section, Mr. Maxwell says we need to “Model The Behavior You Desire.” Whether you are a teacher, parent, or account executive, that is great advice. No one will follow someone who says one thing and then does the opposite. Our actions speak much louder than our words and this is especially true in education when students are watching what do and learning from our actions. They are not only learning our content, they are learning how to interact with people through their interactions with us.
Finally, Maxwell is explicit in the way 360-Degree Leaders are valuable. This part of the book was the most redundant for me. I felt like it was a summary of the rest of the book, or maybe it is just common sense. The main point here is that leaders are needed at every level of every organization. Experience at one level of generally leadership prepares us for leadership at the next level. In fact, the opposite should also be true: if you cannot lead at a lower level, why should you be trusted to move to the next level? He points out that every organization needs the qualities that 360-Degree leaders possess.
The take-away idea from this entire book is the concept of teamwork. People who want to see an organization or idea succeed will put the needs, wants and desires of others above their own. We certainly need more of those kinds of people in education. Without them, we will never see any change. We will keep stagnating in an out-dated system of educating our youth instead of moving forward toward returning as a world leader in education. Everyday I need to ask myself, what can I do to support the mission of my school, my leader, and my colleagues? That will drive my decisions.
Section 4 deals with leading across. To me, this means leading other teachers while still a teacher. Because of my experiences in my building, there are three points that really stood out in this section, “Put Completing Fellow Leaders Ahead of Competing with Them,” “Be a Friend,” and “Let the Best Idea Win.” I really dislike competition. I was never an athlete, not matter how hard my parents tried. I prefer to lift others up and remain hidden. That is just a personality thing for me. I am not saying it is a better way of doing things, it is just how I work. However, Mr. Maxwell believes this is the best way to go about leading across. Thank goodness I already do that!
I am a non-confrontational person. I really dislike conflict, so being a friend to my colleagues works well for me. If someone needs a good listener or a helping hand, that is me. These actions build relationships with people. They go a very long way toward investing and being able to draw on that investment when you need it. Everything in this book points toward good leadership being a two way street, not so much a “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as it is a “make a deposit, make a withdrawal” situation.
I have never been the type of person to think I have all of the good ideas. Occasionally, I do come up with a great idea, but usually that is the result of teamwork, not me as an individual. I only point this out because I freely admit others are capable (and do) come up with better ideas than I do. I firmly believe that as teachers, we need to buy-in to whatever the best idea is. The best idea is the one that benefits as many students in the most positive way. In education, if that focus is lost, we have lost. When teachers or administrators begin to put their personal agenda ahead of student learning, everyone will lose.
I only have 2 more sections, so don't worry, this is almost over. Its a great book and I highly recommend the read, whether you are a teacher, pastor, account executive, or whatever!
Section 3, “The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Up,” impacted me the most, because I could see how I was already doing what I was supposed to be doing. It is funny because most of these strategies are accomplished through my interest in technology and reflection, two of my “soap-boxes”.
I am supposed to “lighten my leader’s load, be willing to do what others won’t, and become a go-to player”. When I see something needing done, why go ask to see if I should do it? I would rather just get in and do the job. This year I implemented the use of Google Calendar for scheduling the computer labs in our building. This lightened the load for one of my leaders because she did not have to worry about it. It also was a job no one else wanted to do but needed to be done. Additionally, it made other teachers begin to come ask questions about integrating calendars either on their phones or websites.
This idea goes right along with my work ethic. If there is something needing to be done, I would rather just do it instead of waiting on someone else to do it. This is especially true when it will streamline a process. I tend to be an “ask forgiveness” instead of “ask permission” kind of guy. The risk involved here is finding yourself in a place where you do not have enough hours in the day to get everything done you have committed to do. Once you start doing a job, then it becomes an expectation.
20 June 2011
The second myth was the very next one in the list, “When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead.” This reminds me of the parable of the talents when the worker who is given a single talent decides to bury it so he will not lose it. As a result, the master is displeased with him. However, the others who had a little more, made their talents into even more. The master says to them, “You have been faithful with a few things, now I’ll put you in charge of even bigger things.” Leaders must learn to lead before reaching the top. Experience teaches best of all. Who is going to make the decisions concerning curriculum? An inexperienced “yes-man” hired by the Department of Education? Rarely will that happen. The best person for the job would be someone who has a little bit of experience but has the capability and ideas to affect change on a wider scale. That describes someone who has been leading from the middle.
There are many challenges faced by someone leading from the middle. Colleagues may be intimidated by a young (or just new) upstart coming in with new ideas, affecting change. Being aware of these challenges ahead of time can save a lot of distress and angst a less informed middle-leader might experience.
One of these stood out to me the most: “The Ego Challenge, You’re Often Hidden in the Middle.” As a teacher, it does feel easy to be lost in the middle. It is kind of a squeaky wheel situation. You begin to wonder, “Will I ever get noticed for my hard work?” Honestly? Who cares? I am not in this job to get noticed by anyone other than my students. I was selected as Teacher of the Year by my colleagues this year. That was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I am not the kind of person who enjoys being in the spotlight. I tend to be a behind-the-scenes person. However, when my many of my colleagues told me they voted for me because of what they heard students talking saying, I began to feel as though I was doing something right. Honestly, it gave me a huge boost in self-confidence, although it took my “self-pressure” to a new high, as well.
If teachers are teaching for the right reasons, they should be “leading down” to their students and not be worried about whether or not they are being noticed from above. Mr. Maxwell gives several strategies for dealing with this challenge, the most important being to appreciate the value of your position. As a teacher, I am given the opportunity each year to affect change on the future by helping shape the way students view the world around them. I really appreciate that.
Mr. Maxwell has packed so much into this book, its very difficult to summarize it in just a few pages. However, there were several points that really stood out to me. The first was covered in section 1 and dealt with the myths associated with leading from the middle. There were seven myths in all, but I picked the two that applied the most to me.
The first, and for me, most important, is “I can’t lead if I’m not at the top.” Impossible! Good leaders emerge and generally move to the top, but where would we be in education if we did not have teachers who are good leaders? I mean are we not leading students? Students look to me as the instructional leader of our classroom. I am making decisions that affect how well prepared they are (or are not) to meet the demands of college and the workforce.