When Leadership and Learning Collide

Posted: July 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

I presented at the NCTIES Conference on March 3, 2011 in Raleigh about building new leadership paradigms in education.  The focus of the presentation was on how to embed leadership at all levels (student – teacher – principal – etc.) and move education into the paradigm of learning being constant and time being the variable.  I have posted the slide deck below for those who wish to view it.

I wanted to point out just a few highlights from the presentation as well as one prevailing theme of comments from participants that have really resonated with me.

1. Teachers spend too much time “managing” classrooms (i.e. discipline problems, paperwork, etc.) and too less time “leading” learning in the classrooms.  This is due in part to the culture that the school and district leadership has fostered.  A focus on the test vs. relevance and rigorous learning is present in most classrooms today.

2. Students’ voices are rarely heard in the scope of education transformation at the local level.  National student panels and data from surveys such as Speak Up provide great insight, but rarely does this translate into action at the local school level. Why aren’t we allowing students to take leadership roles in their learning? Why aren’t we embedding leadership principles into our teaching and learning?

3. The school environment should be reflective of the workforce environment.  You see, in order for us to do our jobs right, we need resources, support, relevance (why we do what we do) and rewards.  The classroom should be the same.  There is a huge gap between classrooms and the “real world workforce” – thus students “check out” when they get to school it seems.  The learn digitally and we still deliver school pretty much in an analog fashion.

4. Schools should foster a “risk/reward” culture in which failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Sir Ken Robinson talks about how schools are killing innovation and creativity.  I believe this is because we don’t foster a risk/reward culture in which students, teachers, principals, etc. are allowed to be innovative and try new things – – even if some result in less than desirable outcomes.

Quite a few participants agreed with the 4 main points, but a few instantly saw the disconnect between what universities are doing to prepare teachers, principals, etc. and what the school culture truly looks like today.  One attendee commented, “Project-based learning and innovation are all great in philosophy and application, but the public school culture doesn’t foster it.  What I was prepared for in the classroom was no where close to what I encountered.”   They also went on to say that some universities didn’t even model what the research says we need to be doing in public schools. So it seems to be a systemic issue with preparedness and relevance, right?  We say we need to prepare our students for the workforce, but we don’t model it or allow the learning process to connect to the “real world”.

As a testimony to “non-relevance”, I asked 8 elementary and middle school students over the past 3 weeks if they were discussing the top national/international news stories in their classes.  NOT A SINGLE ONE knew of the issues in the Middle East, the controversy in Wisconsin or even Charlie Sheen! A principal asked me how I thought this was relevant to the information students needed to know on the test.  Hmmm, well look at Goal 5 of the NC Standard Course of Study for Grade 7 Social Studies:

The learner will evaluate the varied ways people of Africa, Asia, and Australia make decisions about the allocation and use of economic resources. (Direct relevance to Libya??)

Look at Goal 5 from Grade 5 Healthful Living course of study:

The learner will choose not to participate in substance abuse. (Why not show Charlie Sheen clips and discuss the glorification by the media of his abuse?)

We have to foster innovation and the risk/reward culture that has a relevant curriculum and allows leadership at all levels.  So, don’t you think leadership and learning need to collide?


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