Schools are big ships. Sometimes ships do exactly what they’re supposed to. Sometimes they run aground or sink. Sometimes old ships don’t really work as well as new ones, other times the old ones bring something qualitatively wonderful. All these ships have a couple of things in common.
First, if they’re not heading to a good place, they can be really hard to turn around.[su_spacer size=”5″]
Second, the ability to turn them around will depend on who they’re got at the helm, and who they rely on.
To my mind, you need three basic characters to lead this kind of thing. I unapologetically link just about everything I can think of back to some kind of pop culture reference. Sometimes I draw a reasonably long bow, and sometimes it’s only a part of the reference I’m talking about, but please, bear with me. A really solid motivational leadership team needs three characters. A Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a number of Frodo Bagginses, and some Robin, Boys Wonder. Get all three of them in place and making their respective contributions, and you should be ticking along nicely towards an infectious community learning spirit.
Big Damn Heroes
Captain Mal. Firefly fans will know what I’m talking about. To the uninitiated, that’s your homework. You’re welcome. Let’s ignore for the moment that he’s a cynical & damaged war veteran, cowboy, rabble-rouser & pirate. After all, we’re not talking about profession, we’re talking about his leadership qualities. No prizes for guessing that this role should be fulfilled by the more traditional and formal leadership figures in your school – Learning Technology Coordinators/Facilitators, Heads of Department, Deputies, and most importantly, the Principal. If the captain’s on board, it sends the message that it’s expected that all hands will in fact be on deck.
So, how do we lead like Captain Reynolds? We need to be bold & resourceful, but well-informed. We need to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with our crew, and we need to be open and transparent in our leadership wherever possible. Principles & values need to beat adhesion to rules & systems if those rules & systems are heading somewhere bad. Lastly, we need to assemble the right team.
Taking the Ring to Mordor
Remember when Frodo volunteered to go and throw the Precious into a volcano? Ok, so maybe nothing that happens in our schools is quite that heavy-duty and dramatic, and we’re probably not going to ask THAT much of our teaching staff. That doesn’t mean we can’t provide and encourage opportunities for small-scale volunteer-basis leadership above and beyond the call of the everyday classroom teacher. Technology implementation can be a scary prospect and a big undertaking for some teachers, so having leadership in some small way in the classroom next door can be both a powerful enabler and a powerful de-mystifying agent. Help them make a video for your online PL archive, encourage presentations at staff PD days or for the more extroverted staff, at conferences and events.
Foster this kind of collegiate leadership, and you’re on the path to having more Big Damn Heroes to head up bigger things.
Holy Mask & Tights, Batman!
Now, I realise that Robin’s maybe not the most inspiring spandex-clad figure from action-fiction. I realise that to most people he’s not really even superhero material (hell, I can identify with that. I was always a Marvel Comics kid), but Robin plays a very important role. Without Robin, Batman was just Adam West wearing overly complex pyjamas. Robin gave him some credibility. Robin said to the bad guys and their victims “hey, this guy’s chops are so good, I’m prepared to wear this ridiculous dandy-making costume and take a few hilariously labelled punches because I’m in his corner.” Robin made Batman look legit. Krunch, Zlonk, Kapow.
Think about it though. If you’ve been in this Learning Technology space for a little while now, you’re probably familiar with the being a very clear minority, and the feeling of being looked upon as some kind of arm-waving crackpot. This is where your Robin comes in. Your coworkers have been able to see the brilliant things the kids from your class are capable of, but being the first or second one to join that crackpot can be difficult. I could go on trying to explain it, but there’s a guy that does it better, through his TED Talk on starting a movement.
Following as Leadership – Derek Sivers presenting at TED2010, Long Beach CA