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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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have used the phrase ‘#ittakesavillage’ for a quite while. I’m not sure when I started, maybe it was at the ICTEV conference a few years back? Maybe it was my exploration of Reggio Emila. Whatever the beginnings, I’m not sure that it matters. The real question is what it actually means? In response to one of my tweets where I included the phrase, Steve Wheeler unpacked some of the origins of the term. Touching on the work of Marshall McLuhan and notion of the global village, he spoke about what it means to be a part of the community. In some ways this post captures what is significant, but as Roland Barthes says in Mythologies, once myth is translated into symbolic use, origins no longer really matter. This had me thinking that I could add my own twist on the tale. However, even this overlooks something. For meaning is better understood as a communal act. Therefore, to properly define it, I put it out to the village to get a better understanding of what it meant collectively. I was astounded by the wealth of responses. I have subsequently taken these ideas and elaborated on them in order to once again personally make sense of the intricacies of what it might mean to be in the village.


Andrea Stringer spoke about confidence and the importance of standing up. This attitude shows itself in so many ways. For some it is a willingness to exist in the unknown, to be open about process, rather than always stuck on the product, and to reflect on what has been learnt. The problems that often exists is a confusion between confidence and arrogance. For example, for some when an early career teacher puts their hand up to present at a conference or share their learning online, it is arrogant, when in fact it takes confidence.


Coming from a similar perspective, Anne Del Conte spoke about the courage that is needed to exist in new spaces and networks. One of the things that is guaranteed in the chaos of an online environment is that you will make mistakes. There are so many new habits and nuances to get our heads around that it takes courage to step out and work through them, to learn openly and make mistakes. The reality is though that education and the world do not stop evolving, so to think that we do not need to change and adapt misses something. Therefore, we need courage.


Jacques du Toit spoke about the power of having a PLN. Maybe this is personal? Maybe it is professional? Maybe it is both. What is important is that in today’s day and age you are not alone. It must be remembered that a PLN is not merely a collection of business cards or follows online, it is not simply the staff you may work with, rather it is the organic network that you participate within, something that you grow, that means choosing where you choose to plant your seeds and how you cultivate this. Networks can be done offline and on, but it always involves purposefully engaging and participating.


In the form of a poem, Margaret Simkin captured the importance of sharing across the pond. This takes many shapes and forms. Maybe it is a resource. A perspective. It could simply be time. What matters most is that such giving is done without expectation of reciprocation. That is the strength and power of things like Creative Commons. Such communities are built around people who share openly as a mindset, a way of being. That is, giving back for a greater good.


From across the globe, Maha Bali spoke about the importance of being spontaneous. This might mean sharing personal thoughts or creations, but it also includes the way we go about things. David Culberhouse talks about spending regular time at the well, while Pagan Kennedy describes the need for a new area of serendipitous study, which carries across subject and learning areas. For some having a network is all about branding, the problem with this is that it is limited. We need to tactically allow time and space for new ideas, for it takes serendipity.


Adding his voice to the mix, Matt Esterman spoke about the importance of connections. It can be so easy to get caught up in discussions about networks. However, there would be no networks without connections. In his seminal post on Connectivism, George Siemens explains that,

“The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

With this in mind, connections then become about holding onto ideas loosely. I think that Steve Brophy sums this up best when he says, “be the connection that gives others a voice.”


Kevin Hodgson talks about appreciating those around us. Just as we need to listen and share, sometimes all that is required is to recognise those voices and contributions around us. Maybe it is sharing someone’s post or a shout-out using something like #ff (Follow Friday). Maybe it is buying someone a coffee (IRL or via a button on a website). Maybe it is just sending an email or leaving a comment on a post. There are many ways to show people that you care and that you appreciate what they do.


Bob Schuetz referenced Reed’s Law which talks about the exponential possibilities of network learning. However, this cannot be achieved without contributors. Lurking has its place, but the problem  is that without participation, networks would not exist. David Weinberger sums this up best when he explains that, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smart.” Being in the room is about participating in the room.


Reflecting on his connected journey, Chris Munro touches on the importance of dialogue. It can be easy to sit back and consume content. Maybe have one of those Twitter accounts which follows hundreds of people, but never actually posts anything in return. However, more often than not growth and development occurs when their is wondering, reflection and responding. Sadly, we are often adverse to critical conversations, confusing them with being confrontational and negative. However, with this in mind, it is important to continually come back to empathy and active listening.


Jon Andrews reminds us that in a village it is important to question things. It can be easy to drink the koolaid. To RT everything in support. However, tribes are not always helpful. Sometimes what is needed is a degree of pessimisism and scepticism. This is about being constructive.


Eric Jensen spoke about the importance of the village idiot. That person seemingly labelled mentally incapable or somehow inconsequential. Although this is often seen as a negative, I would argue that removing expectations of labels can in fact be liberating. It is so important to have those people who take on the beginner’s mindset, asking the seemingly stupid and naive questions. More often than not these are questions that many others are wondering, but are just too afraid to ask, burdened by the expectation of knowledge. Like the court jester or a comedian on a Friday night, such a perspective often affords provides voice that otherwise goes unheard.


Steve Brophy touched on the importance of learning together. One of the unique conditions of the village is that they are often flat. Fine there are some people who take on the monicker of Thought Leader, but more often than not this is often applied by those outside or contradictory to participatory intent of the network. Instead it is about the co-creation of content. For this to happen, there needs to be Co-Learning. Such an environment means providing feedback, willingly sharing and being open to debate and discussion.


Ian Guest captures the heart of the digital village with a discussion of intertextuality. A term coined by Julia Kristieva, intertextuality refers to the interrelationship between texts. This comes in many forms, whether it be paying it forward, linking with hashtags, connecting through hyperlinks or transforming texts into our representations. It can be easy to forget, but at the end of the day, it takes a text to connect and grow.

So what about you? What does the village mean to you? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to share a comment, your own post, a tweet.

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