My Leadership Inquiry – the New Problem of Practice

In our district, every educational leader pursues a leadership inquiry. It’s a way to investigate an area of leadership where you want to learn more. That said, it’s not just “pick a topic”! The inquiry must be rooted in continuous learning improvement, which means based on educator learning need, which is, in turn, driven by student learning need. This is difficult work, and one of the most challenging aspects is landing on an inquiry that is meaningful and practical.

Our work has been largely informed by Steven Katz‘s research. The tools we use are intentional interruptions to ways of thinking, such as an inquiry template and a learning conversation protocol. They interrupt that thinking so we can do some real learning.

The leadership inquiry also represents a small slice of our work. In other words, it’s not the whole job crammed into a learning template.  The inquiry is a series of small learning moves that help a leader reflect on how they influence others.

In the interests of transparency, you can view my leadership inquiry here. As I often say to the leaders I work with, it’s an example, not an exemplar. But it gives a flavour of the intense thinking and reflection that I go through with small learning moves. Let me know if you have any questions!

Photo Credit: melystu Flickr via Compfight cc

Let’s Have Classrooms Full of Books!

Photo Credit: Raphael de Kadt Flickr via Compfight cc

Creative, inquisitive classrooms are wonderful. But no matter how great the classroom looks, or how many provocations are employed, a classroom must have books.

I love to read. I’ve talked about it in this space before here.  Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  It’s the freedom to go anywhere and to learn anything.

When I visits schools and classrooms (hands down, one of the best parts of the job) I see lots of wonderful practice, tested and true and innovative. I love seeing cozy nooks and corners where students of all ages can curl up, lie down or relax and…read. And listen, they don’t have to all be paper books, because ebooks and blogs work too. But we need books!

Pernille Ripp blogs at Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension and her posts are full of literacy: reading, writing, listening and speaking. But not only that, wondering, thinking and creating too. Some of my favourite Ripp posts are the lists of books: picture books, fiction, non fiction poetry. Every day, she encourages her students to read and read and read, and they do, even the reluctant ones.

Every teacher, every educational assitant, every principal, every educator needs to make a literacy rich environment a priority in our classrooms and schools. Reading is for everyone. How can you help make this a reality?

A Simple and Powerful Leadership Truth

We love to ask grand questions. What was your best day ever? What was the worst part of your vacation? What is your favourite book of all time? These kinds of questions can be great conversation starters, but I always have trouble answering them. How can I choose one book of the hundreds I’ve read?

Then last December, Will Gourley posed a big question through a #tweetthehalls hashtag. (It’s a fun idea that promotes lots of interaction on Twitter.) Day 2 was to share your best new learning so far this school year. I jumped right in! Here’s my tweet:

Since then, I’ve also come to realize that making assumptions about anything is a pitfall. You might ask why it’s taken me so long to come to this. After all, that old chestnut says, “Don’t assume, because you make an ass…”, you know the rest. I think agreeing with a statement and understanding the impact of that behaviour are two different things.

An example might illustrate this better:  this year, I’m involved in a Pupil Accommodation Review, a government process initiated by trustees that takes a close look at a group of schools to decide what is needed in that area of city – consolidation, renewal etc. It’s where trustees can decide to build or close schools in the city. I’m facilitating this technical yet highly emotional process with a group of parents, staff and community members to provide advice to trustees before they make their final decision. And I can’t make any assumptions.

I’m immersed in the daily business of education at central office as well as the work of the Board of Trustees. I know the policies, background to decisions, staffing, and pretty much the inner workings of how it all happens. That informs my reactions and decisions. But of course, the committee mostly has none of that. So I can’t assume that they understand how decisions are made or how schools really work.  And why would they? They are immersed in their own contexts, whether at work or at home. So I have to explain clearly and make sure they have the information they need.

The need for setting context, checking in and explaining can be linked to the difficulty of communication. We’ve all experienced how hard it can be to truly make yourself understood. Because we cannot truly know what others are thinking and feeling, unless they tell us, we are often guessing how our messages are received – guessing through facial expression, body language, and words we hear. And all that is filtered through our own experiences and bias.

I’ve read many leadership articles and books that urge over communication and understood that on an intellectual level – sure, sounds great! Good idea. But now I’m getting it in a deeper, more visceral way. I’m paying more attention and seeing this powerful leadership truth. We all need repetition and explanation. All the time.