Scientific Literacy is Key to Understanding Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking Skills-1

I’ve been examining the concept of systems thinking within the context of how public education operates today. Systems thinking focuses on how various components within a system interact with one another synegistically to produce a certain outcome. The underlying assumption within the framework of systems thinking is very Gestaltian in nature: that the whole of the system is greater than the sum of of the contribution of each of the elements that comprise the system.

As I read some articles on the topic of systems thinking, I realized my undergraduate and graduate coursework and research experiences in the sciences of biology, chemistry, and neuroscience were really driving my understanding and comprehension of the systems thinking appoach. I kept thinking of example after example of how systems thinking is used in science.

For example, consider the human body systems that we all learned in elementary school science. The nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), as well as the neurons that extend from our spinal cord to all other parts of our body (peripheral nervous system) that control our sensations and motor movements. The brain is an important element of our nervous system and the rest of the nervous system could not operate without the brain. However, the brain only functions by interacting with the other elements of the nervous system by sending and receiving electrical signals from those elements. Therefore, all elements within the system are essential to the system and the system could not function without each individual element, but the elements cannot individually function without interacting with the other elements in the system.

Similar parallels can be observed all other body systems, as well as within so many other areas of science: at the atomic level in terms of chemical interactions and essential chemical reactions, at the cellular level through the contributions of cellular organelles, at the body systems level, within the organism, and at the ecological level.

I teach biology and one of the more challenging projects we have our students complete is to design and maintain a fully self-sufficient ecobottle. In this project, students must research, create, and sustain a fully functioning closed ecosystem within their bottle. They must consider the roles and contributions of many abiotic (water, air, soil, etc.) and biotic (microorganisms, plants, animals) factors and how those elements work in harmony with one another to sustain a balanced and healthy ecosystem. The project is challenging as students learn about the many interactions that occur and must be balanced for the ecosystem to function properly.

If we are asking our students to engage in such authentic critical thinking and and problem solving, why aren’t we doing this more to tackle the many challenges we are facing in public education?

Traditionally, and even in its current reality, public education reform efforts have arisen from reductionist thinking in which so-called educational “experts” have separated or identified smaller and smaller individual pieces that make up our complex system and designed “fixes” to make those small pieces work better. In such methodology, the underlying assumption has been that by making that one small part work better, the whole system will work better.

If one were to track the various educational initiatives enacted historically in any school system, they would find that much training and valuable time has been devoted to the adoption of these piecemeal approaches to educational improvement. When we separated out elements and ignore how these elements interact with one another, we are engaging in reductionist thinking. We assume the etiology of an educational challenge is derived from one small problem that we need to fix. Our thinking rarely is outside the box as we work within such confined parameters. As a result, our solutions are often too simplistic and unlikely to yield meaningful results. In other words, the reductionist structure we have been using for so long has limited our capacity for developing more transformative solutions.

Ultimately, we must try to shift our approach to be less reflexive and more intentional and forward thinking. We must seek ways to optimize the relationships and interactions among all the elements that influence the system, but also between the system and the environment within which it functions in.

Scientifically speaking, we must improve our evolutionary fitness and our ability to rapidly adapt and integrate into new environmental realities with success. To do so, we must seek ways to allow multiple elements within our system to evolve and improve simultaneously and be always mindful of how changes to one element in the system will impact other elements in the system and the system as a whole. Engineered most effectively, our system will be able to creatively address and adapt to constant changes by embraching new niches and being solutions-focused in a way that allows us to build our capacity and complexity over time.

Great Articles on Systems Thinking:

~Brad Hurst

Sustaining our TLC Model

As I am no longer a President of our Association, I will not be giving a speech to our staff this August, but that doesn’t mean I can share some of what I would have¬†said if I was still in that role. ūüôā

Fellow Members and Distinguished Guests:

As you all know, our district’s TLC grant was one the 39 approved by the Iowa DOE in the Spring of 2014. This approval would not have happened if not for the hard work of many dedicated teachers, administrators, and parents in our district. Last¬†Fall, the much more important work of implementing our model began. As we continue¬†this new journey together, we must remain mindful of why we are engaging¬†in this work in the first place: our students.

Our TLC model and funding continues to provides us with many new and unique opportunities and resources we did not have   at our disposal as a district prior to the Fall of 2014. Perhaps the most valuable resource of all is the additional time we have to collaborate with one another, get into the classrooms of our colleagues, and collect data to inform our instruction. We will continue to share our high-yield instructional strategies with one another, learn a great deal from one another, and experience both successes and challenges that we will navigate through together. Through all of this, our students will learn more effectively.

We must also be mindful that in Iowa teachers¬†have been given a very unique opportunity to lead our schools in ways that haven’t been done before, at least not as part of a statewide initative. Iowa is leading the way in the conversation around school redesign and teacher-powered schools. Our work must be successful. We must show growth, both in our students and within ourselves. If we can do the hard work neccessary to make our model successful, other states are likley to adopt similar models and before we know it, there will then be a national movement that rethinks K12 education and that embraces the importance and neccessity for teachers to take more ownership over what is going on in our classrooms.

We know what our students need to be successful. We are in the classrooms working with students directly every day. We know their individual needs. We know how they learn. We need to own that. We need to use that to help our students be more successful.

Let’s embrace this opportunity to grow as professionals, learn from one another, and to help our students. Let’s lead the change we have wanted to see in the world of education!

~Brad Hurst

Teacher-Powered Schools

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I have posted about this several times, but in case I missed  anyone, the state of Iowa is in a great place to lead the nation with our statewide teachers leadership and compensation model. Last Fall, 39 districts in Iowa (including my district in Johnston, IA) began implementing their models. For more background, visit:

TEACHING LEADERSHIP: More Schools Add Instruction Model

Johnston Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant

I took the time to watch a video on Collaborative Leadership. It made great points about building an organizations capacity for collaborative leadership, specifically given the reality that there is a shortage of leadership, especially in emerging areas. We must avoid looking for leaders in the wrong places and must not fail to recognize the leaders of tomorrow when we see them. We cannot afford to disenfranchise passion or potential.

Clearly, teacher leadership and teacher-powered schools represent such an emerging area in education. This also resonated with me also within my local union in the sense that we are always looking for ways to develop local talent. More to to the point, we must rexamine what qualities comprise effective leadership and compare traditional definitions of leadership to needed qualities within our new leadership reality.

Effective leadership now requires leaders to “lead from behind”, meaning they are unleashing the talent and potential of those from around them, as opposed to leading from the front where only the leader is making important contribution. This leadership style is more inclusive, innovative, and collaborative, building the capacity of those around them to full inclusion and embraces the concepts behind¬†The Multiplier Effect, where leaders seek out opportunities to recognize those around them and harness¬†their¬†talents and ideas. By so doing, effective leaders understand that the people around them will feel empowered¬†and will bring their whole selves to work everyday. Ultimately, in today’s current reality, effective leaders are only effective to the extent that they can build and sustain effective and fully engaged teams of people around them.

As I work within my district in a role as one of 7 lead teachers at one building with nearly 100 teachers and nearly 1600 students, my leadership role within that building appears small; however, all teacher leaders should not view ourselves in this way, as we they are not alone. We are part of a team and every member of that team has important contributions to make for the betterment of our team and for our students.

It is also encouraging that the momentum to embrace teachers as educational professionals is growing. Its about time! We are the ones that work directly with students every day in our classrooms. We know their learning needs. We know they have social/emotional/psychological and many other needs that are met within our schools as well. We ought to have a seat at the leadership table and our voices and perspectives should be valued and more fully utilized. I was encouraged by the Math and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, CO. This teacher-led movement needs to grow across the country to be more than a pilot project in Denver. I am fortunate to be in a state that has embraced this and hopefully we will experience enough success as a state that other states will take initiative to develop this as a state as well.

I also took a look at many of the Teacher-Powered Resources as well. I had no idea so much work had already been done in this area! It was very encouraging and hopefully the momentum for teacher leadership will continue to build. More great articles to explore around the concept of Teacher-Powered Schools Include:

~Brad Hurst

Taking Ownership Over the Teaching Profession

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I just read a great post by Kim Ferris-Berg calling for teachers to stop waiting and start calling the shots in Education. I totally agree! Given the anti-teacher, anti public school political landscape in the United States today, its time for teachers to start actively taking ownership over our own profession. We need to give ourselves the freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling and have the power to do so much more than is widely believed. As my district continues to implement its Iowa TLC model, our teachers needs to establish more comfort and voice with advocating for their own profession and for what is best for our students. We need to change that mindset of being too dependent on needing to get direction from our administration and lead our own profession collectively as teacher leaders.

Another post by¬†Ariel Sacks considers how we can best measure teacher effectiveness. It‚Äôs a valid question. Have we operationally defined effective instruction? How will we ever possibly reach consensus on what qualities make up a great teacher? Do we want our teachers to have a homogeneous set of skills that can be characterized as ‚Äúeffective‚Ä̂Ķand by what measures? How diversely can we define what qualities define a ‚Äúgood‚ÄĚ teacher? Must we not consider the diversity of needs that our students need in their teachers? I would venture most students want more from their teacher than a better test score, but how do you accurately measure those intangible qualities that make teachers effective?

As a teacher leader, I am also left to consider how we will continue to define those qualities that make up an effective teacher leader within our Iowa TLC model. What qualities make an effective teacher leader? I think we must consider, paraphrasing Stanford Professor David Labaree, that measuring a newly emerging role of teacher leadership will be extraordinarily complex and not measured accurately by a simple metric.

As we consider these measures, we must really keep the idea of engagement in mind. If we are to take ownership, how do we create and demonstrate leadership that recruits followers? In other words, how do we sustain effective teaching and teacher leadership? How do we maintain buy in and a continuous growth mindset among our students, fellow colleagues, and our community? How do we implement a vision for teacher leadership and involvement that can grow and keep reaching these key educational stakeholders?

These factors are at least partially considered in a post I read by David Cohen. Cohen outlines 4 steps that we as teacher leaders can take to help ensure engagement in our teacher leadership model, including: ongoing collaboration with our stakeholders, building our professional learning networks to share ideas more broadly to shape better ideas, engaging politically to reshape to current conversation about public education, and focusing on the positives.

I particularly identified with the last one, as I think the more we can focus on the goals and purpose of our work being for the benefit of our students and highlighting the good work students and teachers are already engaging in helps establish a scope of work and effort that is hard to criticize.

The engagement in the political process is also something we as teachers need to do a much better job at. Too often, our politicians best embody the classic ‚Äúeveryone‚Äôs an expert at education because everyone went to school‚ÄĚ phrase. Due to public funding through tax money, school districts too often bow to the authority of the almighty politician or taxpayer. In reality, we provide a service that is woefully undervalued and underappreciated by many politicians today. We are taken for granted, at least partially, because we have allowed ourselves to be silenced and intimidated for too long. We need to take that power back through our collective voice and expertise in education. We simply must not accept our current reality as unchangeable. Already, the national conversation is shifting to embrace teacher leadership as a pathway to better instruction and student learning. Now is not the time to shy away from our moment in the spotlight.

To do so effectively, we must write our politicians, call our politicians, learn about political action groups, etc. We must also better educate ourselves. In Barnett Berry‚Äôs article about Advancing the Teaching Profession, he mentions value-added data. I have heard this phrase several times, but I don‚Äôt know that I could really confidently describe what value-added really means to a colleague. It made me question how many other important policy proposals and conversations that I need to learn more about if I want to engage in debate and conversation with purpose and actually know what I am talking about. As stated by Bill Ferriter: ‚ÄúWhy must we sit idly by to wait for some disconnected bureaucrat to change the system that only we know so well?‚ÄĚ

We must also seek out advice from those already effectively leading our profession. I was reminded of this as I read Barnett Berry’s post on building inspiration for building teacher leadership. In it, he lists a few of his favorite teacher leaders that are blazing a path for teacher leadership, including Sarah Brown Wessling. This caught my attention because Sarah, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, teaches in the same building as I do as an English teacher. Here is this great resource within my own building that is doing amazing teaching every day and I talk to her maybe only a few times a year because we are in different departments. It made me really consider how small my education bubble has been. I work with some great colleagues in my own science department, but I do need to branch out more. I am hoping this blog will give me an opportunity to do so.

“Be the Change you want to see in the world.” –¬†Mahatma Gandhi

~Brad Hurst

Collaborative Leadership Teams

As part of my experience in the Teacher Leadership Initiative, we had to complete a Collaborative Leadership Primer. Collaborative Leadership was defined as: “the intentional and skillful management of relationships that enables others to succeed individually while accomplishing a collective outcome.”

After a year as a Lead Teacher, I believe the following qualities must be present in an environment where effective collaborative leadership is present:

  • Intentional and skillful management of relationships. This can’t be overstated. Leadership that is more collaborative,¬†distributed, and inclusive¬†is much more challenging to build and facilitate than more traditional leadership models that are essentially top-down and exclusive. Clearly there is momentum building across the country and especially in my own state of Iowa towards building the leadership capacity of teachers and including them as key stakeholders in educational leadership and decision making. However, a key piece of making this shift in leadership to be more collaborative involves building and maintaining productive and trusting relationships among teacher leaders, teachers, and administrators. The more this collaboration can become constructive and focused on improving student learning, the better it will be.
  • A focus on the process as much as the outcome. There is a tendency towards dysfunction when collaborative groups only focus on results and are not intentional in outlining a workable pathway to get there, realizing that the paths toward accomplishing our goals are often winding and full of obstacles and opportunities to grow together through adversity. Much like an effective sports team builds chemistry through adversity, the same is true for collaborative groups. They help teams actualize strengths among the group, and ways in which the whole of their collective efforts in challenging times is greater than the sum of their parts.
  • Collective ownership and shared accountability. My district has done much work over the last few years to align our instruction to the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. One of the key components of this model is Productive Group Work and within¬†this component derives the need to have clearly¬†defined group¬†roles and responsibilities. The best groups work when all members of a collaborative group have individual and group accountability. Ideally, these roles rotate to allow for fresh perspectives and ideas, and ultimately a high level of innovation and trust among the group. This approach ensures the sustainability and productivity of the group is maintained over several years.

Collaborative Teams are often given ask themselves:

  • Who do we¬†need on our Team? The most important variable to a productive collaborative group may be diversity: diversity of ideas, perspectives, opinions, experiences, personalities, priorities,¬†areas of expertise, etc. A group where all members are relatively homogeneous leads to complacency and stagnation. These types of groups rarely challenge one another to grow professionally and are likely to be the least innovative.
  • What do we need to know about our¬†team members? I want to know what the members of my team are passionate about.¬†What skills do they have? How do they want to grow professionally? What needs do they have from me and the other members of my team? What roles might they excel in within a group? What kind of leadership style do the demonstrate and need within a group to be most productive? How do they motivate others and how are they themselves motivated to reach their potential?
  • How can we best¬†utilize¬†the talents within¬†our team? Talent without grit and work ethic is rarely successful and often leads to dissapointment when its potential is not actualized. Rather, we should be asking how we can build and facilitate needed skills among the existing members of a team. If we believe that all our students can learn and grow, we must also maintain the same perspective among members of a team of adult learners. A better question may be: Wow will¬†we build that?
  • What prior experiences are my team members brining to the table that could be effectively leveraged within our collaborative team?¬†These experience ought to be be variable, but also able to be learned by other members of the team. It can also become a cautionary tale when teams begin to “divide and conquer” based on skill areas and prior experiences. Ideally, team members will want to learn skills from one another that can be used more holistically to help all team members become more flexible and adaptive to evolving needs of the team, and able to fill in if a team member is absent.

How can we build better leaders within a collaborative team? According to the Ohio Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement, effective leaders within effective collaborative teams have the following characteristics:

  • The ability to manage conflict, to compromise and to build trust between multiple constituencies
  • The ability to network and build relationship between a wide range of community partners
  • The ability to exercise non-jurisdictional power – the power of ideas, the power of the media and the power of public opinion
  • The ability to discover new ideas of agreement and opportunities to talk and listen
  • The flexibility to react as circumstances change and opportunities emerge

In my opinion great leaders within collaborative groups actively seek out advice and guidance, carefully listen to others, demonstrate a clear passion and vision, share and give credit to others, are inclusive and positive, and have the courage to take risks and ask difficult questions to push the team forward.

I do not pretend to have all the qualities above, but I know these are qualities I must build upon and develop to become a better leader. I know as least some of the targets, now I must practice, grow, and continually seek to improve to get there.

~Brad Hurst

Adult Learning Theory

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The topic of Adult Learning styles has much relevance in Iowa TLC Districts.

As I have discussed in earlier posts, the school district I work in was selected by the Iowa DOE in March 2014 to receive ongoing grant funding for our Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant.

The model outlined in our TLC plan includes 3 Teacher Leader Roles: Instructional Coaches (100% released), Lead Teachers (25% released), and Model Teachers (no release). In all these roles, teacher leaders are working with other adults and in most of the roles; teacher leaders are also still working directly with students in their own classrooms.

Among the basic philosophies of the JCSD TLC plan are that teachers and teacher leaders are engaging in reciprocal learning and coaching over the course of the year. An embedded assumption within our model is that teacher leaders will be able to effectively collaborate and learn from other teachers and vice-versa. However, the transition from facilitating learning for students to learning for adults likely will not be as seamless or effective in the first few months and years of the implementation of our model as it will eventually be.

I found the articles to provide some insights that will be important for our district to be mindful of as we continue to implement our TLC Model.

The key points from the first article on Adult vs. Adolescent Learning Styles by Dave Bissonte were:

  • Adults need to be provided with a rationale as to why they are learning something.
  • Adult learners¬†are self-motivated.
  • Adult learners like to have a choice and voice as to how they will learn.
  • Adult learners like to share their expertise and contribute.
  • All learners need feedback to grow.

The second article (Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Systems Design) by NHI also raised a similar point about how adult learners have much more self-awareness than adolescent learners. It really stressed more about the need to consider the learning domains, learning styles, and why adults learn. The 3 primary learning domains discussed were: Cognitive (knowledge of a body of subject matter), Affective (attitudes and beliefs), and Behavioral (practical application). It also asked the reader to consider various learning styles that may characterize adult learners, focusing primarily on 3 types of learning styles: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Several universal assumptions of all adult learners were presented in the context of the acknowledgement of the existence of different learning domains and styles. Perhaps these were of the most value to me as far as new points of consideration. These assumptions included:

  • Adults want to know what they should learn. They need to see the benefits to learning something as outweighing the costs of not learning it. As a result,¬†facilitators of adult learning need to be able to answer the classic “What’s in it for me?” question on a regular basis.
  • Adults need to take responsibility. Adults are already in charge of their own lives and are responsible for their own life decisions. They desire to be seen as capable and responsible learners. Adults want to learn in ways that are active and not passive. They loathe “sit and get” sessions.
  • Adults bring life experience to learning. Adults self-identify through their life¬†experiences.¬†These¬†experiences can be an asset¬†for the facilitator and other adult learners, providing real life context and relevance to learning. However, life experiences can also be a liability among adult learners as the may lead to biases and assumptions that may hinder or taint their learning and that of other adult learners. Facilitators of adult learning¬†must carefully balance these assets and liabilities.
  • Adults are ready to learn when the need arises. Adults have much power and control over when they choose and commit to learn. Perception and prior experience with employer facilitated¬†training¬†is a huge factor to buy in from adult learners. Adults need to see the training more¬†as job-embedded and not job-required. They need to see the value in the learning.
  • Adults are task-oriented. While education is subject-centered, adult learning must be task-oriented. What is the purpose of the learning? What will the adult learner use this for? What task will this learning enable them to better complete?

The last article I read was What is the Collaborative Classroom?, by Tinzmann et al, 1990. This article focused on the characteristics of a collaborative classroom, specifically focusing on teacher and students roles in the collaborative classroom. It also shared some of the research base for collaborative learning as well as providing some exemplars of collaborative classrooms in place.

As I read this article, I found myself pondering how effective collaborative learning can happen at the adult level within the context of our TLC model. It cannot be overlooked that the learning styles and needs of adults are necessarily divergent from those of adolescents. In many ways, there is a different dynamic in place when working with other adults. These are your colleagues, your peers. Teacher leaders should never lose perspective that they have much to learn from their fellow colleagues, likely much more than they can reciprocate in return.

In closing, perhaps it is best to see adult learning as a process. Much can be learned in the journey and the pathway to successful adult learning is winding and full of challenges and obstacles that will lead to opportunities for growth. In many ways, this is much like how we have become better classroom teachers!

~Brad Hurst

What is Action Research?

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Wikipedia defines¬†‚Äúaction research‚ÄĚ as:

‚ÄúA reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a ‚Äėcommunity of practice‚Äô to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research involves the process of actively participating in an organization change situation whilst conducting research.‚ÄĚ

It strikes that me that this is exactly the kind of outcome we are hoping our students are walking out of our classrooms being able to do. Essentially, we want our students to be able to use a variety of problem solving strategies, individually and collectively, to arrive at workable solutions and strategies for addressing progressively-difficult, authentic, real-world problems. Clearly, this desired state of students applying their learning in such a way isn’t necessarily already occurring, at least not universally and to the extent defined above.

Obviously, we want our students to be able to do this, but how often do we as educators engage directly in a similar process? To what extent are we working collaboratively with our administrators and one another with a level of trust in one another necessary to be a productive collaborative group?

Too often, we view our various roles as classroom teachers and administrative leaders too dichotomously. Therein lies the promise of initiatives such as this program and what is being implemented with the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation Legislation adopted by the Iowa State Legislature. If we can blur the lines of teacher leadership and distribute leadership roles and responsibilities more broadly across a school district and engage more stakeholders, we can develop better solutions to the challenges we face.

Another positive outcome would be a greater staff buy-in to such a collaboratively developed leadership vision where teachers have a direct role in shaping the vision for education taking place in their classrooms daily. Giving teachers more ownership and responsibility for leadership outcomes holds educators to a higher standard, but also values their professional expertise and experience as those who work most directly with our students.

Action research therefore, has the potential to create a more collaborative and inclusive culture of educational professionalism where income does not determine the outcome. The merit of your ideas has more value than the title behind your name.

As teachers, we must also accept that with more power comes more responsibility. This new way of thinking will not arrive with universal acclaim from teachers and without missteps along the way. In reality, some teachers are too comfortable with the current model of top-down educational leadership. They have grown accustomed to being given little opportunity for investment and input in developing ideas and visions for educational initiatives. As a result, their buy-in to new ideas is low and they are quick to find even the most minor of flaws in an idea and are quick to point their fingers at their administrators.

With a model of distributed teacher leadership in place, teachers may now be pointing at a fellow teacher, or even themself when ideas don’t go as planned. I think this is a great and necessary consequence of action research. This shared accountability among teachers and administrators breaks down the walls that separate us unnecessarily and allows us to work together to construct common solutions and shape better ideas. Over time, we build a more reciprocal understanding of the challenges each other faces in their roles, develop more trust of one another, and best of all, continue to build a better educational experience for our students.

For those more interested in action research, another great article is: Using Action Research In Online Communities to Effect Building-Level Change

~Brad Hurst

Leveraging Diverse Leadership Styles

Within the scope of any teacher leadership system, we must understand that not all teacher leaders will lead in the same way. Different styles exist and various styles can be used very effectively if we as teacher leaders can learn to leverage our leadership styles and strengths. Before we can do that, it is important that we assess what style of leadership we possess, as many teacher leaders may have not undergone such an exercise.

Many different leadership style assessments occur. One such example is the Directional Leadership Assessment, which can be found here. I have facilitated a more comprehensive leadership style assessment for teachers and administrators through my work with the Center for Teaching Quality as part of my participation in the inaugural cohort the Teacher Leadership Initiative. This training was also used in our preservice training last August for all teacher leaders.

It will probably surprise none of you that know me personally that these were my results:

My Leadership Style

Leadership Style

Your Result: Organizer (North)
86% You are an organizer. You like to be in charge and are good at it. You are assertive, active and decisive. You like to take charge of people and projects. You enjoy challenge and difficult situations. You are comfortable in front of people. You focus on results and meeting goals
72%Teacher (West)
42% Visionary (East)
14% Nurturer (South)

So what do we do once we know our leadership style? First, it is important to note that no one leadership style is superior or better than another. All 4 leadership styles can be used both effectively and poorly. It is also important to know where our gaps exist in our leadership style and that our staff, much like our students, need us to adapt to their learning and professional development needs.

We must also seek opportunities to best utilize and leverage our leadership styles by asking ourselves:

  • What does our leadership style most contribute to a project?
  • What do others turn to our leadership style for?
  • When taken to an extreme, what does our leadership style look like?
  • How might we create balance so we don‚Äôt reach that extreme?
  • What‚Äôs something we‚Äôd really like people with other leadership styles to know about working with our style?

Based on my leadership style, I have a clear deficiency in being supportive and nurturing as a leader. I must seek out opportunities to better develop my leadership capacity in those areas to more effectively reach people that need that type of leader.

The below pictures are captured from a training I co-facilitated last summer on Leveraging Leadership Styles. It helps us to better understand our fellow colleagues and how they prefer to lead, as well as be cognizant of how our leadership styles can be detrimental to our objectives and goals as a team when taken too extremes.

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Other great resources to consider when assessing and seeking ways to leverage the leadership styles and needs of any team:

~Brad Hurst

Diving into NEA’s Teacher Leader Model Standards

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I am not sure how many TLC districts in Iowa are aware that NEA has developed Teacher Leader Model Standards.

As I was reading over these skills, I noticed how frequently the word “facilitate” appeared across all of these standards.

Facilitation Skills

1c) Employs facilitation skills to create trust among colleagues, develop collective wisdom, build ownership and action that supports student learning;

2b) Facilitates the analysis of student learning data, collaborative interpretation of results, and application of findings to improve teaching and learning;

4a) Facilitates the collection, analysis, and use of classroom- and school-based data to identify opportunities to improve curriculum, instruction, assessment, school organization, and school culture;

6c) Facilitates colleagues’ self-examination of their own understandings of community culture and diversity and how they can develop culturally responsive strategies to enrich the educational experiences of students and achieve high levels of learning for all students;

As teachers, our learners are typically students under 18. Through our collegiate coursework and via practicums, student teaching, and classroom teaching, we have all become specialized at the facilitation of learning among students within a narrow age range. For example, I am very competent at facilitating dicsussions, labs, and other activities among high school science students in chemistry and biology. However, outside that narrow range of learners, my skills quickly diminish.

Effective teacher leaders must be able to facilitate the professional learning of their colleagues, who are all adult learners, with various levels of experience, expertise, and need for and buy-in to your leadership style. Preparation for this type of role among teachers is limited or non-existent in a collegiate setting. Like teaching itself, teacher leadership skills are primarily built through on the job practice.

Looking at these standards more closely, it becomes evident that trust is a large component of success when leading other adults. They have to trust that you are competent and willing to listen to their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Even if you are leading them, it must be a collaborative leadership, where they are given a voice, their input is valued, and you are willing to learn from them as they learn from you.

Yes, analysis of data, and other neccesary tasks must be accomplished and are important, but without buy-in from the people you are leading, your efforts will be minimally effective. I feel more is accomplished in the power of the collective than in the peripheral role of a single individual or in the sum of individual efforts done in isolation.

~Brad Hurst

Teacherpreneurism

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Teacherpreneurism

Awhile ago, I read the book Teacherpreneurs by Berry, Byrd, and Wieder. I am often a non-traditional reader so I started with Chapter 2 because why not?

Chapter 2 is entitled “Defining the Teacherpreneur”. There were many insights provided that I could really embrace. Perhaps the largest obstacle we are currently facing as educators is that it seems like so many initiatives and ideas to improve student learning are done to us by those far removed from the classroom. We need to create a new expectation that teacher leaders¬†are active participants in the process to lead schools forward. We are the ones working with the students every day and the book makes a great point that we need to “no longer be controlled by meddlesome advocates and rigid bureaucrats.”

Ultimately, this is really a novel idea. For too long, the roles and responsibilities of a teacher have been narrowly constrained to in-class instruction of students. This is by far our most sacred responsibility, but by adhering to this narrow definition of ourselves, we devalue our years of educational expertise to inform the future direction of large-scaled systemic educational reform.

Adding the role of ‚Äúentrepreneur‚ÄĚ may seem an unnatural fit within our current professional reality, but teachers need to insist on acting more like an entrepreneur, ‚Äúlaunching new initiatives and accepting the full responsibility for the results‚ÄĚ. The second part of that quote really made me think. Teachers want a more of a voice and influence, but how often do we remember, ‚ÄúWith more power comes more responsibility‚ÄĚ?

In my district, some teachers are often quick to criticize administrators and others launching new ideas and are really great at finding the flaws in the ideas of others, but rarely take intellectual risks of their own that are open to critique of others. If I am truly honest, I am guilty of this myself at times, but if we truly want to be teacher LEADERS, we have to accept that not all ideas we develop will be seen as ‚Äúgreat‚ÄĚ by our colleagues. We need to be open to critique and responsibility and accept feedback from our fellow colleagues to shape better ideas.

The chapter also made me reflect upon the current reality of educational leadership that exists in many districts across the country. Basically, school leadership in many districts is a ‚Äúrigid, pyramid-like organizational structure‚ÄĚ. As teacher leaders we need to seek to transform this outdated model to distribute leadership more evenly, allowing more voices to be heard to shape better ideas. The idea of collaboration is often stated be an effective model of instruction. Why can‚Äôt it also be true for educational leadership?

We must also rethink the way we encounter challenges we face in our profession. Often, these are seen as obstacles, but we need to imagine them as opportunities. That I think is the essence of teacherpreneurism.

~Brad Hurst