To stay heart healthy, I started swimming laps one summer. For a while, the first ten laps left me tired and weak. But the next twenty-five were easier. It taught me a valuable lesson: Being a leader may involve learning to push past initial pain.
The greater your capacity to overcome pain, the more you can achieve. Could the same be true of learning? In this blog, we’ll explore the ISTE Educator Standard for Leaders.
He who learns must suffer. And … against our will, comes wisdom.
Influence Is Not Leadership
Of the seven standards, the Leader standard expects more than just learning. It shifts your focus from what you want to achieve to what others can learn to do. Instead of empowering your own change, it forces you to ask, “What can I do to empower others with technology?”
As part of the goal of supporting student empowerment, the standard demands you improve. That improvement must be on behalf of teaching and learning. To achieve that, you must:
- Shape, advance, and accelerate a shared vision for empowered learning. How do you achieve this? Through engagement with education stakeholders.
- Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content, and learning opportunities. Why do you advocate? To meet the diverse needs of all students.
- Model for colleagues the identification, exploration, evaluation, curation, and adoption of new tools. This includes new digital resources.
Wondering how to start your journey? Here’s a road map.
Guidepost #1 – Create a Shared Vision
Creating a shared vision can be tough. Often, we perceive it as convincing others to adopt our vision. After all, we have a worthwhile aim, to transform learning with technology. But each person has a different perspective. Some people may not want anything to do with technology. For others, technology is an unwelcome distraction.
To create a shared vision, you need to set aside your pre-determined goals. I like to begin the journey with a three-step process. Some of this process I’ve adapted from the book Crucial Confrontations.
Step 1: Build Mutual Purpose
Mutual purpose means understanding others’ goals. Then you work together to find a purpose broad enough to encompass key goals for each person. During this stage, you also work to unearth hidden agendas and avoid blind accusations and defensive behavior. In short, you want to ensure that you can answer two questions:
- Do others believe I care about their goals?
- Do they trust my motives?
You must be sincere about caring for the goals of others and being transparent. People know when you are less than sincere.
Step 2: Build Mutual Respect
Miscommunications, misunderstandings, unvoiced fears, and anger can bar the way to mutual respect. Previous conflicts may haunt future relationships. To get past those, you have several options, including offering a sincere apology for causing, or not preventing, pain.
When apologizing is not possible or appropriate, use contrasting. Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:
- Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or have a malicious purpose
- Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose
Here’s an example:
Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I do think you’re doing a good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I’d like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive to that, there are no other issues.
Don’t be afraid to admit that this is a tough issue. Even though it is a difficult issue, agree that everyone will stay in the conversation, that you will keep talking until you come up with something that works for all.
Step 3: Sort Priorities and Solutions
While you are working on developing mutual respect and purpose, you may need to dig deeper. One way to do this could involve bringing people together and asking questions.
As a leader, one of my favorite tools is two wishes and a star. This translates as “What are two things you think ought to be happening? What is one thing we’re doing right?” This easy-going set of questions engages stakeholders. Once you have responses from key stakeholders, you can combine them into a list of priorities and use them as a road map to craft solutions that work for all stakeholders.
Match priorities with action steps, problems with solutions. Not sure which is the best solution? With your mutual purpose in mind, get a small committee to review the options, then make a decision as a team.
One example might be deciding on what platform to go with. Should you choose iPads, Chromebooks, or Windows devices. Let’s apply some contrasting, here, with planning in mind:
This is tough. I don’t want you to think I want Chromebooks over Windows 10 tablets. The G Suite for Education ecosystem has so much to offer our children. Finding the right set of tools for our common goals is important to me. Why don’t we work together to figure out what our objectives for this goal are? With those in mind, we can decide what best reflects our common objectives.
Guidepost #2 – Advocate for Equitable Access
Connecting equitable access to mutual purpose is critical. For example, my own experience in Texas public schools shaped my understanding. Students from a ten-thousand-student district faced a lack of technology access. In that situation, affluent students could go home to work on connected devices. Poor, high-performing students could not. This meant that students who would merit access to technology had little to no hope of it at home. The school district leadership knew of the problem, but had no idea on addressing it.
Changes to Texas law in 2001 recognized that school districts had old technology. This technology worked fine in non-academic settings with a little re-fitting. With a goal of equitable access, I worked with school district leaders to re-purpose old technology.
The mission was to enable students to develop critical, high-tech skills. Other school districts, like Weslaco ISD, Arp ISD, Abilene ISD, and others had similar programs in place. My district’s Tech4Hornets Program involved collecting equipment deemed obsolete but still serviceable. This equipment would issued to students for home use. Learn more about the program online.
To make the program a reality, I worked with district leaders to obtain board approval of a new district policy and with the technical team to ensure the best technical solution. Ensuring equitable access can be challenging, but the results are well-worth it.
Leaders Trust the Water
As I got better at swimming laps, I learned that, to keep from exhausting myself, I had to give myself over to the science of floating and rely on the fact that the water would support me. The same is true for all of us. Leadership is more than knowing what moves to make. Leaders trust that buoyancy is a part of the experience. They are in touch with who and what they are, their relationships with that experience. Trusting the water means absolute surrender to the effort, no holding back.
In part two, I’ll explore a third guidepost for achieving the ISTE Education Standard of Leader.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith.