The Other “I” Word

Image result for impact

With lots of focus on innovation, let’s not forget about focusing on impact.

In her book, Student-Centered Leadership, Vivane Robinson reminds leaders that how we label our leadership style (i.e., transformational, authentic, innovative, etc.) is less important than the IMPACT our leadership practices have on our colleagues and students:

“Leadership styles, such as transformational, transactional, democratic, or authentic leadership, are abstract concepts that tell us little about the behaviors involved and how to learn them. The current emphasis on leadership practices movies leadership away from the categorization of leaders as being of a particular type to a more flexible and inclusive focus on identifying the effects of broad sets of leadership practices.”

Amy Cuddy, an Associate Professor at Harvard, has studied the significance of focusing on incremental impact, and found that it leads to more long-term success on goals. Certainly, many nonprofits understand that measuring impact is important, at all levels:

“On a macro or micro level, devoting less energy to a grand outcome and more energy toward incremental impact is key to true and sustained transformation.”

If you have 24 minutes, take a listen to a podcast on CauseTalk Radio, where the hosts talk to Leslie Engle Young, teacher and Director of Impact at Pencils of Promise. You’ll hear about why the organization created a position specifically focused on impact, and the measures used to focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Don’t have 24 minutes? Take 6 and watch this video of John Hattie, who loops it back to Vivane Robinson and others in “knowing thy impact”:

(If you’re a Roger Federer fan, listen for the reference)


Join the conversation…how have you focused in impact, and what are your experiences?

Adapting in a Fast-Paced World: 4 Tips for School Leaders

Next to a highly effective teacher, nothing has a greater impact on student learning than a highly effective principal. As the instructional leader in a school, a principal is directly responsible for adult professional learning and growth, which in turn drives increased student achievement.

This is much different than the historical role of a school principal, and the last 10-15 years have seen much change. As such, the role of a principal has transformed from “administrator/building manager” to lead learner and instructional coach. For some, this adaptation pushes on identity, and may not be a welcomed change. For many, the transformed job expectations feel positive and meaningful, yet perhaps still a bit unfamiliar. Adaptation is not always easy, even with high desire.

So exactly how might a principal (or aspiring leader) shift his or her identity to that of lead learner and instructional coach? While acknowledging that each school and person are unique, here are four general, interdependent tips:

1. Lead With Ignorance: That sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? What I mean is to never, ever be afraid to show your ignorance about an issue or to learn more about a differing perspective. Ask questions to seek to understand. When you model the trait of an inquiry learner, you demonstrate that no one person is expected to know it all and that multiple perspectives exist. Renowned education researcher Dr. Richard Elmore explains it as follows:

“Effective leaders make their own questioning—hence their own ignorance—visible to those they work with. They ask hard questions about why and how things work or don’t work, and they lead the kind of inquiry that can result in agreement on the organization’s work and its purposes. “

Most of us are used to advocating for our position. Learning to be an inquirer is a paradigm shift. As Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania offer in The Dawn of System Leadership: “Leading with real inquiry is easy to say, but it constitutes a profound developmental journey for passionate advocates.” We have to be intentional and purposeful in this journey.

2. Align Decisions With Organizational Values: Every learning organization should have a set of guiding principles or values and beliefs that are in place for all to see, hear, and internalize. As decisions are made, be they big or small, adaptive leaders work with their teams to align those decisions (and the decision-making process) with the organization’s core values.

It is vital that teachers see an authentic connection between aspirational language and their daily work. Not only does this promote motivation, it also avoids cynicism. When teachers  find their work meaningful, a sense of achievement is instilled, and they are empowered to achieve even more (Nautin, The Aligned Organization, 2014).

3. Build Relational Trust and Authentic Space for Teacher Voice: A study done by the Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations, published in 2016, shows that “less than half (48%) of teachers agree that ‘I have a voice in decision making at school’.” The logical conclusion for a leader is to never make an important decision without input and processing with those who will be impacted.

As Jane Modoono suggests, principals need to say the following out loud to their teachers, and align behaviors to match: “I trust you, and I see you as professionals.” Moreover, improvement won’t happen “if principals can’t take the staff along the journey.”   For a short video on building relational trust in a school setting, check out the thoughts of researcher Dr. Vivanne Robinson.

4. Grow Publicly: In professional learning with Carolyn McKanders from Thinking Collaborative, I first heard the phrase “be willing to grow publicly as a leader.” It resonated with me, and has great interplay with “lead with ignorance.”

Being vulnerable with those around us is not easy, nor does it necessarily come naturally. Many of us feel as if our presence must always be strong, confident, and error-free. Please consider an alternative — researcher and author Dr. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as a courageous act of leadership. Indeed, she believes that groups are “hungry for people who have the courage to say, ‘I need help’ or ‘I own that mistake’.”

The impact on those around us is detailed by Stanford University’s Dr. Emma Seppala:

“Why do we feel more comfortable around someone who is authentic and vulnerable? Because we are particularly sensitive to signs of trustworthiness in our leaders. Servant leadership, for example, which is characterized by authenticity and values-based leadership, yields more positive and constructive behavior in employees and greater feelings of hope and trust in both the leader and the organization.”

So, when you think you must always present a strong, unwavering front, remember that displaying vulnerability actually enhances trust in you, your school, and your district.

Join the conversation…what other adaptive tips would you suggest for school leaders?

Change is Good

Over the last few years, I have written many posts via Conversation Innovation. After much reflection, I’ve decided to begin anew. Most recently, I’ve been pushed by Mike Schmoker’s article, Why I’m Against Innovation in Education (don’t let the title throw you). In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the impact of innovation done merely for the sake of innovation, on both teachers and students.  As Schmoker writes:

It’s time for education to make the leap to a more authentic professionalism—by giving innovation its due, but never letting it supplant or precede those practices that would produce “stunningly powerful consequences” in our schools and in the lives of students.

So, this change in my thinking is not about shunning innovation, but rather, emphasizing “adaptation” to empower teachers. In becoming adaptive, we will be ready to provide great teaching and learning for all students, both today and tomorrow. And, I’m wondering about the accuracy of this corollary: All those who are adaptive can innovate, but not all those who innovate are adaptive.

The Business Dictionary defines “adaptation” as the

[m]odification of a concept or object to make it applicable in situations different from originally anticipated.

Science Clarified offers that

adaptation is a term used to describe the ways in which organisms change over time in response to the changing demands of their environment.

Nonprofit Quarterly provides that the development of adaptive capacity enables one to have the

skill to take the initiative in making adjustments for improved performance, relevance, and impact. Fundamentally, it is the ability to respond to and instigate change.

Long term survival in education, and indeed, thriving, depends on adaptation. Being adaptive allows each teacher to have autonomy in the exercise of professional judgment for the students sitting in front of him or her. It is grass-roots work, based on best practices and intimate knowledge of each student. If there is no current best practice to produce “stunningly powerful consequences,” then it might mean implementing an innovative strategy or method that we believe will do so.

Going one step further, adaptation can create systemic organizational change. One possible framework for collaborative adaptation is an inquiry cycle. The continuous, cyclical nature of an inquiry process provides enough structure to guide new learning without stifling creativity or professional judgment. It allows teachers to improve their practice through reflection and collaborative analysis of evidence of student learning. In some instances, it may even provide students with opportunities to co-create their learning experiences.

In closing, I offer a final “definition” of adaptation in education, from the Thinking Collaborative. Being adaptive means

developing the resources and capacities of the organizations and of individuals to cohesively respond to the changing needs of students and society.

Join the conversation…what are your thoughts?