Archive for February, 2014

creative commons image by Flickr user Frog and Onion

creative commons image by Flickr user Frog and Onion

So, I’ve been thinking about what George Couros said in the Ed Leadership session of ETMOOC, which was last school year. I started writing something and then I really can’t say what happened. The thing about important ideas is they stick with you. Anyway, I’m back. So, George said, “the higher up you are the more responsibility you have to share…” He wrote a blog post about it too. Then I read an Edutopia post on a slightly different topic, but the author said, “you’re a leader and you’ve never heard of #edchat. . ?!” (I swear I read this, and I can NOT find it. The link just goes to Edutopia generally.)

Although my posts began as a rumination on change and where it can come from, really what it turns out I want to talk about is the dual responsibility of leaders to gather and share ideas. Everyone, in all professions, has some personal responsibility to keep up with his or her profession. And, there are times, years even (the baby years come to mind for me) when that is just not happening. While everyone might need a few break, it’s really not ok to get out of the habit entirely.

At any given time in a school there are going to be teachers at all different stages of their careers and professional learning. Totally fine. Not everyone needs to be out there learning new things every minute. It’s time to sit back and reflect on the ideas I’ve gathered. Personally, I find it tempting to keep gathering and gathering. I am a gatherer by nature and find it hard to resist more collecting, even when I have already gathered plenty. While all that gathering is helpful, it doesn’t come to anything until I act. I don’t have to act on the exact idea I gathered. It could be that what I collected reminded me of something else and then got transmogrified into another thing and is not even recognizable any more. But, the action I took was still inspired initially by that new learning I gathered.

When I run into that Goldilocks idea (just right, not too big or too small) it’s easy to get right to the action steps. I automatically find the time, have the energy, and have no shortage of enthusiasm for the work. No need to mess with what happens when all the stars align and inspiration strikes.

However, what about when inspiration doesn’t strike? What about when I have collected and gathered and left it at that? No action to show for my basket of sparkly ideas. I imagine I am not alone in this. I’m wandering and gathering over here, others may be doing the same on their own paths or may have wandered off. We may have even found a bench that got a little too easy to sit on. The view was good; there were plenty of snacks. Then a few people join the bench, a few more. Next thing you know it’s the Land of the Lotus Eaters and no one’s going anywhere. Where is our Odysseus, or lesser mortal, to shake us out of our stupor? Who will model action and experimentation not just dreamy collecting? Who will model sharing and reflecting? Who will be first to expose not only grand successes but thoughtful struggles and shifting ideas?

I think what George Couros and my mystery author were saying was that leaders have a responsibility to be out there first, to signal that it’s important to gather ideas, to try new things, to share ideas, and to stumble. They need not only to read and gather themselves but to share and make their thinking and experimenting visible. I would add that anyone can be Odysseus for a moment, can be that person who says ‘hey, time to get moving.’ The jostler may sometimes needs a little jostling herself in return. If we build and nurture a culture of professional learning, supported and modeled by our leaders, as George suggests, then we should be in good shape even without Odysseus, who honestly doesn’t get anyone but himself home in the end anyway. And isn’t this the point. It shouldn’t take a the efforts of Greek hero to maintain ourselves as professionals. It might take some good old mortals showing the way though.

"Story Road"

Creative commons lisenced photo by flickr user umjanedoan

So, I’ve been thinking about storytelling and institutional memory. I’ve been thinking about these ideas for a couple of reasons.

I am a big fan of story telling. I see it connect my family. I see it connect my friends. I see it connect my class and mold it into a community rather than just a bunch of people who come together every Tuesday at 9:08. Now that I am part of the administration team, I am thinking about stories and the larger school institution.

First, the ETMooc course that I participated in (not very whole heartedly I am sorry to say)  spent time on (digital) storytelling. I’ve written about this before and I made a little glog as a story.

The Story of a Dress

Second, there was an article in the New York Times called The Family Stories that Bind Us by Bruce Feiler. In it the Dr. Feiler reviews some research that shows that children who know their families stories, especially their big master story (we’ve always worked hard, we always have each other, etc) are better able to deal not just with setbacks, but trauma.

The article also references Jim Collins‘work on moving from “Good to Great.” Collins spoke at last year’s NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) conference where the theme was “Revolutionary traditions: think big, think great.”

See how this is all coming together in my brain?

Well, my school has several people who have so much institutional memory; they are gifts to the community. They know all the details, but they also know the stories. And, we have a few new colleagues in key positions who  have to get to know our stories.

Anyway, this all got me thinking about schools and stories.

  • What stories can and should we tell students about ourselves as an institution?
  • How might the bigger school stories help provide some academic resiliency for our students?
  • Is that story about the great buzzer-beater shot that went in what we are looking for?
  • And, what do we do when we change as an institution in some significant ways?
  • How can we maintain the connections to the values in our core stories while recognizing that times have changed?

Extrapolating out from the article, which may or may not be a good idea, makes me think that not only are the stories that we tell about our school’s history important, but that by grouping these stories and drawing out themes of courage and grace (our motto is Courage for the deed; grace for the doing), determination, compassion, service, we can create a strong thread that will not only bind us together, but connect us to our history. Times may change and some of the old stories make us cringe a little (am I just thinking of my family stories here?), but if those big ideas are still being articulated through our stories, then we should be able to recognize the early version of who we would become.

Now, when do we do that?