It Takes a Family – A Reflection on Support Networks that Make Leadership Possible

A quote from Steve Wheeler on the importance of the village and support networks

Life can get busy, when this occurs, should leaders stand aside or do we need to stop and recognise that sometimes leadership involves the support of wider support networks?


In a post reflecting on leadership and the self, Paul Browning identified three aspects that great leaders are able to manage:

  • Emotions
  • Health / Sleep
  • Ego

The question I am left with is what happens when a leader can’t keep these aspects in tact? Not for the lack of trying, but rather that life does not necessarily allow for it. Maybe it is raising a young family, suffering from illness or balancing life situations. Should leaders stand aside or does it sometimes take a team?


Discussing the challenges of balance, Corrie Barclay shares a number of tips associated with raising a family while also being an assistant principal. These include doing what you say you will do, learning to say no, making time for you, mindfully moving around and living life to the fullest. Barclay’s post was a response to a post from Eric Sheninger on the same topic.

For Sheninger, worklife balance can be broken down into three areas: professional, family and personal. Some of his strategies for answering each of these areas is to consciously block out time for things, think about eating patterns and cut back on social media. He also states that sometimes you need to be selfish.

Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life.

When Sheninger was a principal he would leave early in the morning in order to fit in a gym session before the start of the day.

Chris Wejr provides his own take. His answer has been to remove email, as well as schedule his family into his calendar.

For Steve Brophy the challenge is the transition from one mode to another. He does this through the use of a routine when he arrives home, where he gets his clothes ready for the next day, writes a few notes and leaves his phone in the bedroom. This then allows him to give his best to his family.

Taking a different approach, John Spencer has his own solution to the personal problem. He and his wife give each other one night a week to pursue other interests. This means going somewhere else, whether it be Starbucks or a microbrewrey, and focusing on something unrelated to teaching.

What each of these situations and suggestions demonstrate is that there is no quick fix to finding balance. Whether it is food, scheduling or space, each approach is based on a particular context. Having said this, there is one thing that ties them together. The part played by our wider support networks.

Other than John Spencer, there is little mention of partners and their part in the play. Although Eric Sheninger identifies family as an area that is a part of the balance, he does not touch upon their particular influence. Steve Brophy recogises his wife’s role on his ‘learning board of directors’, but not necessarily what this involves.

Like Sheninger, I too used to exercise early in the morning. However, I now choose to help out at home, before dropping my children off at childcare. My wife is in leadership and I feel that it is important to help out where I can.


Returning to the beginning, Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.

Reflecting on guilt of not always being their for her children, Pernille Ripp recognises the role played by her husband in allowing her to do what she does. Maha Bali is another who explains the need to say no to various requests because she is also a mother. While when she does present, this often involves a team of carers or her daughter actually attending various events. Although neither are explicit leaders of schools, they are still leaders in their own spaces.

I wonder then if the greatest challenge we face in regards to leadership is realising we cannot do it alone and recognising those who help out to make it possible? As always, comments, criticism and communication welcome.


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Becoming a Connected Educator – #TL21C Reboot

 
This post and associated slides are for my TL21C Reboot Session addressing the topic of: Becoming a Connected Educator (22/7/2014)
 

Becoming a Connected Educator (TL21C) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
Becoming a connected educator is so unique. There is no rule or recipe to follow and no two stories are the same. The reality is that it is many things to many people. The biggest challenge is continually defining what it actually means to be connected and why it is important. I don’t wish to offer some cure, rather I hope to keep the conversation going.
 
Instead of providing a recipe, my approach has always been to share some of the choices that I have made and my thoughts behind them. Although signing up to various platforms is important, it is the journey associated with this that matters most to me. As +Tony Sinanis says, in reflecting on his own connected experiences, “the Twitter experience is a journey … it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected.”
 
It is important to understand that being a connected educator does not automatically make you a better learner. Just because you have a Twitter handle doesn’t make you special in itself. Although it may give you access to a global audience, this does not magically make you connected. As +David Weinberger points out in his book Too Big To Know, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” The question that we need to consider is not whether we are connected or not, but rather how we connect.
 
Too often people believe that being connected somehow leads to something more, a conduit to some higher form of being. They enter with the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ I am not sure exactly what I thought being a connected educator would be, however the one thing that I have come to realise is that networks are not constant, they are more akin to a verb, rather than a noun.
 
Too often people describe PLN’s as something we build. However this misses the organic nature. I believe that they are better understood as a plant which we help grow and nurture. Our networks will only ever flourish as much as we let them.
 
Associated with the focus on networks is a focus on learning. To get the most out of being connected I allocate learning time. In a recent post+Peter Skillen made the suggestion that the goal of a project should be to formulate questions, rather than starting with one. I think that this definitely applies to being connected. Sometimes you just need to tinker and play, wonder and explore, in order to know what it is you are looking for.
 
I feel that connecting and conversing is better thought of as sitting at a bar drinking pedagogical cocktails where we can mix different ingredients to come up with our own flavours. This does not mean that everyone should do Problem Based Learning or didactic learning should be banished, instead it is about choosing the right method for the moment, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.
 
One of the most empowering aspects about learning online is that there is always some form of learning just waiting for us. As +Alec Couros suggested, “some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not” I once described this as ‘hidden professional development‘, playing on the idea of the hidden curriculum, but I really like +John Pearce‘s notion of pop-up PD, that learning that can happen anywhere, any time, where there are people willing to learn.
 
One of the keys to learning online is actually giving back. If everyone just lurked from a distance, not only would this limit the depth of conversations that occur online, but it also limits how much you actually get out of such connections. There are many different ways of giving back, from simply sharing links to remixing ideas. The choice of how we do this is up to us.
 
Sharing should be thought of as a way of being. Many worry about whether there is worth in what they are sharing. However, only the community can decide such worth. As Clive Thompson states in reference to blogging, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” Surely then sharing can only be a good thing?
 
One of the most important elements to building relationships is having a clear and definable identity. After spending some time hiding behind various quirky images and username, inspired by +Anne Mirtschin, I took the steps to create a consistent digital badge that I ‘wear’ online. Associated with this, I developed an About.Me to connect together  all the different spaces where I exist. I feel that making these changes has aided with my connections.
 
In the end, there are many choices to be made when it comes to being a connected educator. For example:
  • Who do I follow?
  • What details do I provide about myself?
  • Which platforms should I work on?
  • Should I blog, vlog, create a podcast?
  • How many times should I re-tweet/republish links to my own work?

As +Chris Wejr points out, although it is easy to suggest that everyone should sign up and start sharing every last detail, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are.

 
I think that +Steve Brophy sums up the situation best when he makes the challenge, “Be the connection that gives other learners a voice.”
 
What has been your biggest hurdle in becoming a more connected educator? Can you provide an example as to how you are giving other learners a voice?

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How Far We’ve Come

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Trekking Rinjani: http://flickr.com/photos/trekkingrinjani/4930552641

Last Wednesday night I participated in a Hangout with the team involved in coordinating the Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century professional development program offered by the education department in Victoria. For whatever reason, I didn’t sign up last year. Subsequently, I looked on in awe and a little bit of jealously (if I must be honest) at all the awesome learning (and fun) that seemed to be going on. When it was offered this year, I was therefore keen to be involved, especially after sitting the backchannel of the ACCELN broadcast reviewing last years program. As things unfolded, +John Thomas got in contact, asked if I’d like to be a coach and the rest is history.

 
It is interesting thinking about how I got to this point. Actually when you stop and think about it, it is interesting considering how anyone got to where they got to. For me it has been a bit of long journey.
 
As I have pointed out recently, one is not born connected. I see it more as a choice, a decision, a mindset. Often it is easier to sit back and lurk online, but for me that simply wasn’t connecting. However, there is another side I feel to lurking that often goes ignored. For some it isn’t just about what is ‘easy’ or whether they have the ‘time’. Rather for some being connected is an ongoing challenge, something that +Chris Wejr touched upon in his great post ‘Not Everyone Is Able To Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. Sometimes this challenge is the stepping out into the great unknown. It was for that reason that I published a series of posts outlining by journey in becoming more connected educator, which culminated with my post ‘Becoming Connected: So What’s Your Story?‘ on +Peter DeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground.
 
My hope was that those who sometimes sit back out of fear or trepidation can take the next step on their connected journey. In seeing the varied examples of how different people have taken the next step and prospered, they too can step out and maybe share a little bit of their learning and in the process, themselves.
 
So far I have already received some great responses:
Although some responses just a tweet, it still maybe the impetus someone needs to step out of the shadows and get involved.
 
So let me know, what did you do to take the next step? Who was it that helped you along the way? What event was it that made a difference? For surely once people see that they are not alone in their experiences then they can raise the next step with a little bit more confidence.

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Celebrating Other Voices in the Moment

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16109207045

 

In an insightful post, ‘Missing the Moments By Trying to Capture the Moments‘, +Chris Wejr spoke about the dangers of missing the moment by failing to just be there. Wejr’s issue is with technology and the modern trend to try and capture each and every moment. However, I think that it is not just technology which prevents us from being there. Sometimes the helter skelter nature of life means that even though we are there, we are not always aware of those significant moments that occur around us each and every day.
 

Final Moments

This was all brought to the fore with the recent passing of my mother. It is a strange experience being told that there is no more treatment that they can do, that the cancer is terminal. On the one hand, the doctor gives some indicative date, while others talk about how they were told that there was nothing that could be done for them and that was over ten years ago. Subsequently, every time that I saw my mum in the last few weeks of her life, I was never sure if it would be the final time. A part of you realises this, however I feel that there is also something inside that simply denies that it will never happen. This is something that I have written about elsewhere (‘Denial Never Worked for No-One’).
 
My last real one to one chat happened when I was least expecting it. With my step dad out picking up my brother and sister from school, I had a few moments with my mum. All of the sudden the tone of the conversation changed from being chatty, talking about this and that, but nothing in particular, to being more serious. I am not sure if it was something that I said or whether it was something that mum was just waiting to say, but she learnt forward from the couch and told me that I was a great brother, an amazing son and a fantastic husband and that I should not listen to anyone who says otherwise. In my usual manner, I tried to dodge these compliments. Like my mum, I just don’t like being pumped up. However, it didn’t occur to my till much later that these were mum’s last meaningful words for me. Although we had a few more conversations, none of them were as deep as this moment.
 

Being Aware of the Other Voices in the Classroom

This all got me reflecting about the conversations that we have in the classroom and thinking about the opportunities that we may let pass by because we were distracted by or more focused on something else. With so many conversations occurring in and out of the classroom, it can be so easy to fall into auto mode where we respond but we are not really there. Where we give a student answer, but fail to realise the intention behind the question. Where we may negatively respond to a student who is acting out, when the student in question may in fact be calling out for help.
 
In a post ‘Listening to the Other Voices in the Classroom‘ I spoke about the role of technology as being a vehicle for capturing all the voices in the classroom. Whether it be sharing ideas with Padlet or collecting responses using Socrative, there are many ways to collect information. However, what this overlooks is that the true other voice in the classroom is that voice whose response is incidental and unexpected, whose response doesn’t have a place in a daily planner, whose response is not necessarily easily resolved. The problem with this though is that we are not always ready for such responses, nor are we always willing to accept them.
 
So how are you making sure that you are listening to those other voices in the classroom? How are you making sure that students feel comfortable sharing those things important to them? Would love to know your thoughts and ideas.

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What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?

In a post titled, ‘The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media‘, +Chris Wejr suggested that schools need to do more to both model the appropriate use of social media, as well as promote more positive stories. Borrowing +George Couros‘ notion of ‘digital leadership‘, Wejr suggests:

Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online. When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap into digital leadership and model a positive online presence.
This got me thinking about some of the other things that we may do personally online , but not necessarily model all the time in school. One such practise is that of reading and responding online. So often students are told to use tracks and be active readers, to write regular journal reflections, but this usually starts and stops at the physical book. When are students getting the same opportunity to read and respond online?
 

Moving Towards a Digital Literacies

One of the big challenges faced in the move towards 21st century learning is how to best embrace and engage with digital literacy. One of the first challenges though is actually defining what is meant by ‘digital literacy’ in the first place. Often digital literacy is simply assumed as the reading and writing of texts that involve in some shape or form digital technology. Although this may be true in part, it does not capture the whole picture. What this sort of definition misses is the different activities involved in dealing with digital media. For example, it fails to properly account for the ability to search for information, critically engage and evaluate it and subsequently curate it afterwards. As Patricia White suggests in her blog post, ‘Digital Literacy and the Australian Curriculum‘:
Digital literacy enables students to critically engage with technology, forming an awareness of how social and cultural understandings can shape how information and meaning is conveyed. It allows them to communicate and represent information in different contexts and to different audiences by re-contextualising their knowledge.
The reality though is that digital literacy is many different things to many different people and is constantly changing. +Doug Belshaw elaborates on this in his thesis on digital literac(ies). The best way, Belshaw suggests, of understanding digital literacy as an ever evolving set of subjective practises defined by contexts, rather than as some sort of stagnant concept. The most important thing is often the actual “process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’”, rather than the actual definition itself. Associated with this, Belshaw identifies eight interrelated elements which each play their part when it comes to digital literacies.
These are not things in themselves, nor do they all come into play with each example, rather it is all dependant on context. For a more in-depth explanation of the each of the elements, see Belshaw’s slideshare.

Going Beyond the Book

Although, as Belshaw argues, there are many different contexts associated with digital literacies, I would like to focus in particular on the internet and how we consume web content. Continuing on from Patricia White’s extrapolation, I would argue that there are three general steps involved with working with the world wide web:
  1. The identification of content
  2. The critical engagement with this information
  3. The sharing and remixing of new ideas
Although we all may have different ideas as to what each of these steps mean, I will use them to provide a simple framework on which to discuss the whole affair and what it means to read online.

Content

The first place that most people go when searching for information is the search engine. In addition to simply typing in the request as is, there are many ways of emphasing words or using various filters to focus these searches and requests. For a great resource in regards to searching online, see +Richard Lambert‘s ‘Digital Search Progression of Skills‘.

On the flip side, a lot of content we find online, in some way of another, actually finds us. The most obvious place we go to are sites and spaces that we trust. This includes news sites of one kind or another, often news of a specific nature. In addition to this, there are those sites and applications which help find information for us based on our history and preferences. This can include ‘following’ or ‘liking’ other users or pages on such sites as Feedly, Pinterest, Edmodo, Educlipper Youtube, Diigo, Google+ and Twitter, or news aggregation applications, such as Flipboard and Zite, which adjust the content based on your choices and interests. Services such as IFTTT and brower add-ons also make it easier to capture this content.

One of the biggest problems with dealing with digital content is what you do with it once you have found it. One of the catches with mediums like Twitter and Feedly is that they are not always about reading everything in the moment. Applications like Pocket, Dropbox and Google Drive allow users to properly digest content at a later date across any device.

Critical Engagement

Associated with capturing online content is the act of organising it. Sites like Diigo, Educlipper, Youtube, Pinterest, Evernote and Delicious allow for the curation of content. This often involves categorising and tagging, as well as adding annotations and comments. Whether it be commenting on a blog, repinning an image, liking a post, sharing a link, there are many ways to contribute ideas and information to keep the conversation going.

Creating and Remixing

One of the biggest differences between traditional and digital literacies is that we are all now a part of an open dialogue. Unlike in the past when we depended upon others to provide content for us, such as book publishers and media producers, these days we are all a part of the creation of content. There are many ways to creatively engage with content, to add back to the online community. This can include anything from posting a tweet, creating an image, writing a blog post or recording a podcast.

What is interesting about consuming online content is that unlike reading a traditional book, there are many ways of going about engaging with the Internet. For example, some may not use applications like Pocket to store content for later, while others may not necessarily create their own new content, instead continuing the conversation by commenting on blogs rather than writing their own. In the end, everyone has their own way of doing things, their own personal work flow, and that is what makes it all he more so special.
 

Quiet Digital Reading Time

I love reading books, but I also love reading online. In my view, we don’t give enough opportunity for this in schools. As +George Couros suggests, “Whatever you are looking for online, you will find it.” I think that the big challenge is what we do with dearth of information, how we choose it, how we sort it, how we manage it, that matters in the 21st century. Instead of getting students to always close their laptops or put their iPads to sleep during reading time, maybe we need to give more opportunity for them to develop their digital literacy, to stumble upon new ideas and information, to critic it, to share it and to remix it. 

So how do you help students develop their digital literacy skills? Do you allow them to stumble upon information or is their time online more structured? Would love your thoughts in the comments.

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