Actions speak louder than….talk?

action-talkI remember first bumping up again Argyris and Schön’s theory of action – espoused theory and theory-in-use – when I was studying my administrative team for my dissertation back in 2009.

A simple explanation of the two components:

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use. (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7)

At the time, I was studying how school leaders conceptualize teaching and learning in the 21st century and how they act upon that in their schools. In addition to several other interesting findings, there was one related to theories of action:

Data analysis revealed a preponderance of espoused beliefs and theories of teaching, learning and leadership as opposed to in-use examples of the teaching and learning the participants were attempting to define. (p. 137)

Essentially, the participants in the study were able to articulate conceptually a vision for teaching, learning and leadership in the 21st century that closely mirrored the literature. The challenge was actually implementing that vision in their schools – turning that theory into action.

Fast forward five years…. our educational partners from Apple, Inc. sat down with the administrative team as we were trying to answer the question, “What next?” with our 1:1 laptop program. During the time we spent together, they brought us back to thinking about three questions:

  • What does the LEARNING look like?
  • What does the TEACHING look like?
  • What does the LEADERSHIP look like?

Here is a condensed version from our notes of what our team discussed. At this moment in time, this is how we conceptualize teaching, learning and leading in our schools. It’s what we believe. But is it what we are doing? How do we bridge the gulf between the espoused and the in-use? How do I as a central office administrator support our principals and teachers?

Here are some ideas I have been thinking about to help bridge the gap:

  • Map out the change – What are the benchmarks for curriculum, instruction, assessment, digital leadership and professional learning in the next three to five years? Collectively, as teachers and leaders, we need to come to consensus, plant a stake in the ground and document benchmarks.
  • Define the actions necessary to meet the benchmarks – What steps will students, teachers and leaders actually need to take to meet the benchmarks and achieve the change? How do we move forward incrementally?
  • Provide the supports – What professional development or new learning is necessary for everyone to meet the benchmarks? What do we need to do differently to support the change?
  • Build in accountability mechanisms – Along with support comes some pressure to follow through. Accountability isn’t a bad thing, but what should it look like? Organizational and individual goals?
  • Share the progress – Model digital leadership using the tools we have in place to celebrate the accomplishments of students, teachers and administrators. Tools might include blogs and social media, used to engage the community through transparency. Also, share progress through regular updates to the school board.

How change management strategies have  you used successfully? How do you bridge the gulf between espoused theory and theory in action? What would you suggest changing or adding to the ideas above?


#Edleaders and the Myths and Truths of Social Media

myths-socialmediaAs an educational leader, social media has become a significant part of my daily work. I set time aside every morning to learn something new, whether it be from my RSS reader (Feedly), numerous blogs or Twitter. There are also various other unscheduled times throughout the day when I’ll check in on these resources for even more new learning. As a consumer in the information age, I find social media to be transformational – changing the way I approach and think about my own practice and ways in which I connect with other people, both virtually and face-to-face. Social media is very powerful!

I stumbled upon (yes, serendipity is one of those fine qualities of learning through social media) a presentation by Dionne Kasian-Lew, author of The Social Executive. The presentation is on Slideshare and titled the 6 damaging myths about #socialmedia for leaders & the truths behind them. I was hooked from the 3rd slide… “…and executives are missing in action.” Well, yeh…school leaders are, too. It sounds like a lack of interaction on social media by leaders is not simply a problem in education – it’s everywhere.

Kasian-Lew suggests that leaders are misguided by 6 damaging myths, which she balances with 6 truths (be sure to check out the Slideshare for more detailed explanations of each):

  1. Myth: Social media is a fad. Truth: Social media is here to stay.
  2. Myth: Social media is for posting what you ate for lunch. Truth: Social media captures human moments.
  3. Myth: Social media is for code monkeys. Truth: Social media is for everyone.
  4. Myth: Social media is for people under 25. Truth: Social media is about relationships.
  5. Myth: Social media is for marketing. Truth: Social media is about immediacy, connectivity and impacts the whole of business.
  6. Myth: Their is no ROI on social media. Truth: ROI is complex to measure but social and digital deliver measurable value.

As I reflected on the content – both myths and truths – I wondered how we get more school leaders engaging with social media. Sure, I see more and more use of tools like Twitter at conferences, but unless it’s a technology conference, it’s the same dozen people engaging through the conference hashtag. How do we get leaders to at least give it a try?  How do we get to a tipping point? What is holding leaders back? Time? Some of the myths?

In my work at Moravian College with both pre-service and in-service teachers, learning and connecting through social media has become central. The students initially struggle with understanding the technical aspects of the various tools, but once they invest the time, they begin to see the power of the knowledge and people they can connect with. Many then reflect on the power of these tools for their students’ inquiry and learning. They begin to see how technology can actually transform the learning process rather than simply make it more efficient. But to get there, they have to give it a try, and they have to persist over time. They have to experience the power for themselves and then take the time to think and reflect upon how it can benefit their own learning as well as the learning of their students.

Experience. Time. Persistence. Reflection. From my work, these are some ways we can overcome the myths of social media.

What are your experiences engaging school leaders with social media? What strategies have you used to lead your leaders to an understanding of the power of social media? How do we model and transfer this new way of inquiring to our teachers and students? As Kasian-Lew suggests – social media is here to stay.

5 Ways to Make Our Leadership Work More Like Art

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 1.58.00 PM“If it’s work, we try to figure out how to do less. If it’s art, we try to figure out how to do more.” ~ Seth Godin

Our work can either be “work” or it can be “art.” But what exactly does that mean? What is art? To that question, Godin adds, “Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.”

For people like myself, though, education has not only been a career but a life’s passion. It’s what we live and breath, and, like Godin says, the art of this work not only resonates with the “creator” – ourselves –  but also the “viewer” – the people we serve as leaders.

What can we do to make our leadership work more like art?  It’s not easy, especially in the current climate of over-testing, misguided accountability and ever-shrinking resources. But if we extend ourselves – even a little bit – we can do this, and make a difference. Here are 4 (somewhat sequential) ideas to get started.

  1. Find at least one close collaborator….more than one is even better. Educational leadership these days is complex and uncertain. There is so much to know that no one person can know everything. The best and most gratifying work comes when we don’t go solo, but create a synergy with equally passionate minds. You’ll find these collaborators in the traditional workplace such as a school but also virtually online.
  2.  Embrace technology, particularly social media, as a tool for connection. Online connections can feed your art with a nearly constant flow of ideas, resources and learning. Once connected to others via social media, you’ll see your work amplified and resonating with others you never knew had similar challenges and passions. Take that learning back to your workplace collaborators and watch what happens.
  3. Stay on top of “edge” thinking by reading, listening and learning about “disruptive” trends in education. Subscribe to blogs, set time aside daily to dip your mind into your Twitter feed and check out new books on Amazon. One of my favorite blogs for “edge” thinking is Educating Modern Learners. While some of their best content is behind a paywall, quality free content is also available.
  4. Write about what you read. Start a blog or send your thinking out to Twitter. Or both. Share what you are learning and doing with the world. Writing allows you to process your thinking in unique ways. As you develop your thinking around the “edges” of education, use your emerging vision to guide your leadership practice. Provide the space for others to tinker with unconventional ideas and push back, challenging you to think even more deeply about the practicality of changes in your unique environment.

When you embrace ideas such as these and take action, you will be spinning artful leadership in no time – creative, passionate and personal. You’ll know it because you’ll want to do more…and more…and more! More importantly, the work will not only resonate with you, but with those you serve – your teachers, students and parents.

What other ideas can you share to make our leadership more like art?

VUCA and Educational Leaders

VUCAThis school year I am participating in the Pennsylvania chapter of the Education Policy Fellowship Program. We meet monthly as a group and hear from informative speakers on issues related to education policy. In October, we spent a day at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA. It was a fascinating day hearing about leadership  from the perspective of those in the military. In one of the presentations on preparing strategic leaders, we were introduced to an acronym, VUCA, to describe the challenging environment we live and work in:

  • Volatility – We live in a world of rapid change driven by an overwhelming volume of information.
  • Uncertainty – Our environments are characterized by our inability to know everything for certain, making it difficult to predict outcomes.
  • Complexity – Multiple parts/components of a problem make it difficult to understand.
  • Ambiguity – Different interpretations of events are further blurred by cultural differences and diversity of thought.

As educational leaders we are operating in a similar environment to those working in the military. What is our changing landscape, our VUCA? Teaching. Learning. Governance. Policy. Funding. Leadership. Careers. Technology. And on, and on. As strategic leaders, how do we buffer the effects of the changing landscape on our principals, teachers, students, parents and community? How do we make the space for innovations to happen in a VUCA environment?

I find myself asking these questions in my role as assistant superintendent and one of the people managing the seemingly endless array of policy mandates from PDE: educator effectiveness (including teachers, principals and specialists), PA Core implementation and new testing, new graduation requirements including remediation and alternative assessments such as the yet unveiled Project-Based Assessment. And anything else they push down the pipe. I find most of these initiatives needlessly complex (…this is how we evaluate educators in Pennsylvania…), thoughtlessly implemented, and a huge distraction from the conversations and work we ought to be doing in our schools and districts.

As I’m learning more about how the policy bureaucracy operates, I struggle with putting my energy into (1) working to change the bureaucracy or (2) finding ways to minimize the negative impact at the local level. Either way, it seems to be a lose-lose. How do we as educational leaders turn this from an either-or into a win-win, managing the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current environment?