Tag Archives: leadership

Forgiveness or Permission?



My career has offered me many unique perspectives. First I was a teacher, teaching students in every grade from 7-12 for 13 years. Then I was an assistant principal for two years, and now I am an Educational Technology Integration Specialist (the title has a lot of syllables I know). In each of those roles I have been able to view public education from a different point of view and they have all honed my current thinking about the state of school.

When I was a teacher I distinctly remember being frustrated by speed at which things moved. I was always excited up to try new things in the classroom, particularly when it came to technology. I got to a point where I would consistently ask forgiveness rather than permission from my administration when it came to pushing the envelope with technology in my classroom. One example of many was when blended learning was brand new I saw its potential right away. I found an LMS platform that was free called EDU20 (now called NEO). I brought the cart of laptops into my room and had all of the students create accounts for the service. I tried to have the kids use all of the safety measures that I knew, ensuring that they did not use their full names or birthdays. But I did not consult with my principal about it, I didn’t explain to him why I thought it was powerful and what it was going to do for the learning in my classes. He did not even know that I was using it until he saw it in an observation of my teaching. Because he trusted me and he could see its value he was not terribly upset with me, but he did have privacy concerns that I did my best to assuage.

When I was a principal I got to encounter a similar situation when one of my teachers was interested in using Minecraft in the classroom. He came in to have a conversation with me about the research that he had done on the program and how he was specifically going to use it. I remember thinking how grateful i was that he had come to me before starting the program so that I could be a part of the process. I had to think about the legalities of the matter, both in terms of protecting the students and the teacher, and we worked together to hash out a way to use the program in a way that was copacetic for everyone.

No matter where I go I am still saddened when I see a confrontational culture between administration and teachers. Public schools are a huge organization with many stakeholders, and everyone has skin in the game. If I had to go back and do it again I would surely have a conversation with my principal before I used the program with my students because I understand that I am a part of something very big and that transparency and communication are an important part of earning and retaining trust, especially those of use that are pushing the envelope with educational technology.

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What Educators Can Learn From John Wooden


Following up on my post about Steve Jobs, and given the death of the great John Wooden I thought it was timely to write another post about what we can learn by listening to great thinkers. I never knew a lot about John Wooden when I was young. My dad was always a football guy so that was what we watched. But when I moved to Syracuse about twelve years ago to begin my career I became quite a big college basketball fan, and began through conversations about the game to learn about the great coaches including John Wooden. Take a look at this TED talk he gave in 2001 (when he was 91 years old).


Here are some of the important lessons I pull from this speech:

  • “And that’s not right. The good lord in his infinite wisdom didn’t create us all equal as far as intelligence is concerned, any more than we’re equal for size, appearance. Not everybody could earn an A or a B, and I didn’t like that way of judging it.” – This seemingly simple statement has profound implications for me as a teacher and as a person who is interested in education reform. How would the educational landscape change if this philosophy were adopted everywhere?
  • “Never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others.” – More than anything this is a character lesson that we have the responsibility of conveying to our students and it seems to be a perfect companion to the point above. It is also absolutely essential in this era we are living in. It is a lesson I have learned this year through the interactions with my PLN, we should encourage all of our students to form their own PLNs. Students need to learn who they can learn from.
  • “Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control. If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.” – This is one that is easily forgotten. Nothing causes us more stress than spending valuable and finite energy worrying about things over which we have no control. This energy can be redirected to things that we actually can control.
  • Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable. –This is his famous definition of success. There is an image of his pyramid of success above.
  • I think it’s like character and reputation. Your reputation is what you are perceived to be; your character is what you really are. And I think that character is much more important than what you are perceived to be. You’d hope they’d both be good. But they won’t necessarily be the same. – This is simply one of the most profound things I have ever heard. Of course it is something we have always known but rarely considered. In the age of digital literacy this lesson is as important as ever. As students build online reputations are they losing sight of who they truly are?
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Are Teachers Leaders?

Is this leadership?

Is this leadership?

The other day I read an post by Russ Goerend (@RussGoerend), which raised a question by making this statement: Teachers aren’t leaders [Self-fulfilling Prophecies]). Russ wrote this post in response to a conversation he had with Scott Mcleod, where Dr. Mcleod stated that teachers are not “leaders and policymakers who have influence/power.” This statement was in reference to an event in Iowa where Will Richardson was meeting with a handpicked group of ‘educational leaders’ (which appears to include two graduate assistants, not sure how much power/influence graduate assistants have, but that is neither here nor there). I commented on the post and tweeted about it, provoking an interesting conversation with members of my PLN.

Mr. Goerend had a bone to pick with Dr. Mcleod and I am glad that he did. Teachers, particularly young or new teachers feel powerless enough when they voluntarily become a cog in the machine that is education, then to have someone as well respected as Scott Mcleod omit them from a meeting of educational minds because they have no influence or power does nothing to help moral. Dr. Mcleod commented on Russ’ post and even invited him to the event after there was a cancellation. But to be clear, although he states that he sees teachers as leaders in this comment he hosted an event touted as an educational leadership conference and deliberately left teachers out.

Or is this?

Or is this?

My beef is only with part of Dr. Mcleod’s statement, and that is the part that asserts that teachers are not leaders. The truth hurts sometimes and the bottom line is that teachers are not policy makers, and probably never will be in my lifetime. No matter how visionary I feel when talking with like-minded teachers on Twitter, YouTube is still blocked at my school and will be until my Superintendent decides to unblock it. No matter how useful it would be to my students, I cannot unilaterally purchase a laptop lab for my classroom. Furthermore, no matter how much time I think we are wasting preparing students for tests, to the detriment of other essential skills it is my professional responsibility to teach the curriculum given to me by the state education department; the policy-makers.

It is the differentiation of those two phrases that must happen for teachers to maintain their sanity, and hold on to the faith that they truly are making a difference. Teachers are not policy makers, but they certainly are leaders. Conversely, many policy makers I know are poor leaders yet they are given the power to affect the futures of a great number of young people.

Here is my advice to teachers to assert your leadership:

  1. Be a role model. – Lead students and colleagues by example, practice what you preach (don’t be afraid to preach), and always be true to you word.
  2. Build real relationships. – Build real relationships with every other member of the system you work in including; students, parents and administrators. If others can trust you, they will listen to your advice. You might not make a policy decision but over time you can have great influence over them.
  3. Acknowledge & congratulate success. – again with all members of the system.
  4. Be persistent & pervasive. – insert squeaky wheel adage here, don’t give up!
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