August 16, 2011

Start Change Because There Are No Excuses

"Change begins with a no-excuse mentality. Don't waste one more minute pondering what could be. There is a revolution going on right now in learning, and it is up to us to lead the way."

This visual and quote are from a recent article by Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) entitled "An Open Letter to Principals:  Five Leadership Strategies for the New Year" published in Edutopia. Sheninger is the principal of New Milford High School and the subject of a recent article in USAToday on social media in the classroom. He is the co-author of Communicating & Connecting With Social Media with Jason Ramsden (@raventech) and William Ferriter (@plugusin).

The big idea is simple and hard:  we are the people we are waiting for; it is up to us, as the responsible adults in schools, to make new and great, relevant and revolutionary, radical and transformative things happen!

I cringe to think too long and too hard about the energy many spend repelling the ideas that are at our fingertips and the calling we are responsible for which is to match a changed world with a changed education experience -- especially leaders! "What we are doing is working -- why change?!" "We do that!"  "That is not really my thing."  All types of excuses like these and more fill the air at our schools in pockets of the faculty and administration, and at some schools, with an entire blanketing organizational mindset.

It's too bad.

Sheninger offers in five parts a directive and a challenge to leaders of and in our schools :

1. Make no excuses
2. Model a vision for excellence
3. Embrace 21st century pedagogy and curriculum
4. Breathe life into professional development
5. Stay connected

I suggest that any leader - positional or emotional or peer leader - do a few important things with this article as the launch point:

1. Print it out and post it in a place you can't ignore. The point in doing this is to take to heart the responsibility we have to make a revolution happen.

2. Share it widely.  Sharing this article internally and externally will create opportunities for conversations. Conversations create opportunities to create shared vision and shared responsibility. Conversations forge partnerships and emotional connections to the meaning and importance of the work, for ourselves, our students, their families, and our institutions. Conversations beget all of the details and specifics of what each directive means for our particular school, division, department, grade level team.

3. Use the 5 directives as the infrastructure for a strategic plan for transformation.  You can't force other people to change. You can only control and change yourself. But, you can influence the prevailing culture of an organization such that the dominant cultural habits and mindsets are those of dynamic learning, inquiry, experimentation, reflection, and conversation. You can create a sub-culture of learners and do-ers who threaten the status quo and become The Group to be a part of and soon grows to the majority mindset. Once the sub-culture becomes the majority mindset, those who are the conformers, (and in school cultures there are many) have an ironic choice to make.  Change the tune, change the rhythm, change the assumptions, chance the habits, mindsets, and protocols, procedures, expectations, evals, and skills. These are the strategies of the leader and one leverages these to change the culture. Changing the culture changes everything, which changes the learning experiences and outcomes we create for our students and their parents. It is an active process, only for the brave.

4. Plan generative conversations and take notes.  Conversations will happen, but they are ephemeral. Planning specific times and places for generative conversation during which we capture the big ideas and sort the details into a map of sorts will help structure and provide momentum to these directions. A conversation is not a formal meeting with an agenda and a board room table. A conversation is much more open, vulnerable, casual, and human. A conversation is less edited, structured, and power politics oriented. A conversation, however, should be purposeful and meaningful. Post one large question at the start, and guard the boundaries so that the energy and ideas stay focused. Check the naysayers and derailers, and if they don't respond to the correction or pointed awareness of their lead balloon qualities, don't invite them back. Creativity hates naysayers; our revolution is a call for creative and imaginative problem-solving. You can invite the naysayers back into the conversation once your vision is better established and most resilient to past-pushers.

5. Do something - lots of somethings.  This is counter-cultural for school folks because we are so hooked into right answers, right plans, and mistake-free actions that we are often paralyzed. So, jump, try, initiate, ship, share, partner, test, delete, edit, trust, observe, reflect, and repeat. Don't do what we usually do because that will get us where we usually go. Do something different. Be inspired by Bucky Fuller - be a verb! Get out of your heady planning and perfecting mode. Fail often and fail early, and start modeling what learning by doing is.

I thinking using this great article as a starting point is a great first step towards revolutionizing our own experiences in school, and also our students' experiences. 

If it is to be, it will begin with me.

Why not?!  (time to retire your why not's / your excuses - they are flat worn out!)

Be counter-cultural and see what happens.

No more excuses.

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What do you think? How do you interpret this idea in your environment?