5 ways to increase student learning through leadership

Step One

Understand all teachers and administrators are on a hero’s journey:

Maybe they’ve just received the call to adventure to change students’ lives for the better. Maybe they’re in a crisis. Maybe they’ve been transformed by the adventure but are now back in the status quo. It’s important to recognize we’re all in different places.

Step Two

Determine your “Why”. Why do you do what you do? Not “How” or “What”, but “Why”?

Many institutions start with the “What?” Others have a large number of “Why’s”, and this results in a lot of implementations. When there’s no coherence between “Why’s”, things tend to get out of hand. The drivers for decision making become out of whack, and it’s possible the wrong drivers surreptitiously sneak into even the best well-intentioned program implementations.

The “Why” should lack boilerplate jargon and cliches. A great “Why” I heard from a colleague recently was: I want to teach every student as if he or she is my own child.

What a wonderful “Why”! It says so much in so few words. People understand what you mean when you say a “Why” like that. It means every decision is for the benefit of the child. All things will be done (or not done) because it’s good for the kids.

Step Three

Once the “Why” has been established, it’s time to spread the word. You need to find someone to follow you.

Notice how important the first follower is. The first follower is the person who turns what the “lone nut” is doing into a movement. This person is responsible for getting the “Why” adopted. Leaders must tell themselves the following statements:

  • My position of power does not guarantee followers.
  • My first follower will become just as important as me.
  • My authority may diminish as others are empowered.
  • Everything in the above bullet points is fine with me.

Step 4

OK, you have a “Why” and a following (or at least a first follower). How does the message spread? If the message is spreading fine on its own, what can you do to help refine it and move to the next level?

Tell your story (Why) in a simple, direct, and supercharged way.

Communication is important and frequently overlooked. Oftentimes, leaders believe there’s good communication when in fact there isn’t. I recommend telling your story (Why) over and over in a way that’s simple, direct, and supercharged.

Step 5

When everyone has an approximate visualization of where he or she is on the hero’s journey… when the “Why” has been established… when the first follower is attracting others to the tribe… and when the story is being told in a simple, direct, and supercharged kind of way… then capacity can be built.

Here’s the equation I believe will help a school or district build capacity:

Common “Why” + shared skill = Capacity

“Shared skills” is where coherence is so key–all members must understand the common tools and programs being used to help students learn. The only way this is possible is to have a small number of programs, simple systems (lowercase “s”, by the way), and an established way of teaching teachers and administrators.

Steve Jobs once said the following:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

To be a leader, you must say no to a thousand programs, interventions, devices, apps, and philosophies before saying one “yes”. This sentiment, in conjunction with the five above steps, will create an outstanding leader in the field of education.

Skills and products

One of the best memories I have from the book Let My People Go Surfing is Yvon Chouinard’s emphasis on developing a skill–whether it’s crafting a surfboard or tailoring a jacket. Learning how to do something that’s valuable for society will always put food on the table and provide a sense of self-worth.

I’d also add that it’s not just important to learn a valuable skill or two, but to also work on a creation or object that can be perceived. In the field of education this has often been elusive. Yes, an educated student can be considered a “product” of instruction, but teachers in the past rarely had lesson plans or assessments that stood the test of time. And at the end of the day, the chalk board was always erased.

Not anymore. Now teachers can produce a YouTube video that teaches viewers worldwide about photosynthesis. Textbooks can be written and shared as ebooks. Students can read blog posts as often as they want. Websites can be created. Podcasts can be heard.

The main struggle now is what product of learning should be created first.

Get busy learning

I’ve been a proponent of teaching students how to code. It will always be important to provide young people with the most recent technological skills so they can have a foundation to build upon as they progress through their education until the day they enter the workforce.

It’s also apparent, however, that computer programming is changing–perhaps to a large extent even disappearing. The tools that are being created now such as Adobe’s Muse, which allows designers to create websites without writing a line of code, can very well make website creation much more ubiquitous.

Here’s what’s happening: The tools for communication, creativity, and production are becoming more sophisticated and easier to use. Programming will be important for creating these tools, but more and more people will be given the power to create professional websites that they couldn’t have created years, or even months, ago.

It’s because of this that we need to teach students how to think, not necessarily how to do a particular skill. I repeat, I’ll always support teaching students how code, but there are important goals educators must have, and they include:

  • Developing a love of learning
  • Being able to teach students how to learn, unlearn, and relearn as times change
  • Teaching students how to have the wherewithal to think critically and on their feet

These are the foundations we build skills such as coding upon, and it’s important to note that coding can help train someone how to think, so there’s definitely a duel purpose there.

The bottom line, however, is that students must know that the learning never ceases. If I can be so bold, I’ll change what Andy and Red say from The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy learning, or get busying dying.”

Fire hydrant

As far as technology is concerned in education, we’re standing on ground that’s shifting, and we might as well get used to it.

Learning management systems are being created and changing at incredible speeds. Tools such as Google Apps for Education and Adobe’s Creative Cloud need to be learned by educators, even as they evolve. The necessary skills for bringing value to a school site are growing, which is uncomfortable. No one knows everything, but it’s important to try to learn as much as possible.

It should be noted that the information won’t come in tiny sips of water. If you start researching how to develop skills, it’ll feel like you accidentally opened a fire hydrant as the resources hit you like a blast of water. This is the same feeling everyone gets.

Work hard, don’t give up, and amazing things will happen.

Keep on learning

As I said last week, there are many ways to expand your skills and learn to be more effective at your job (or aspiring job). For educators, there’s still time for a great opportunity…

The Adobe Education Train the Trainer course is available for enrollment. It’s free, and signups close July 16th.

The course just started its 3rd week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump in right now. Adobe is the premiere way of bringing creativity to the classroom, and I truly believe it would behoove every educator to know how to effectively use Photoshop, Illustrator, and more.

Plus, Creative Cloud has to be the coolest thing out there right now.