It may seem as if I've been "away" for awhile. I write this, apologetically, to a community of connected educators that has welcomed and embraced my contributions, my interactions, and my synthesis of ideas.
Have you ever taken a road trip?
Throughout periods of my youth, I was presented with opportunities to venture out on a number of memorable trips: a drive cross-country, backpacking through Europe, and more.
I am a regular guy. I was born and raised in a good home, with great parents, and a strong value for family and doing the right thing. I was never spoiled, and I wanted for nothing. I'm grateful for this, realizing now more than ever, this is an exception not a rule, for most kids today.
But I've often gravitated towards situations that resemble road trips. I do this, because they make me uncomfortable. They make me nervous. They are full of doses of uncertainty, unexpected challenges that call on us to assess, evaluate, problem solve, and navigate. Road trips have created anxiety, uncertainty, self-doubt, physical discomfort, and surprises...both good and bad.
Road trips encourage spontaneity, stave off boredom, and create opportunities for human interactions with people with whom we may otherwise wouldn't meet.
In education, we just don't take enough road trips.
I've always thought this, but feel it now more than ever. Maybe it's because I've been involved in education, in the professional sense, for half of my life. So I took a bit of a road trip, from August until now.
Road trips can be exhilarating.
They create opportunities for reflection, for self-assessment and evaluation, and for growth, both in real-time and after the fact. They create life-long memories and become a permanent part of us. Road trips help us to see who we are. They challenge us and they help us determine who we aspire to become.
Road trips can be isolating, at times, and in a self-induced kind of way. Road trips can be lonely.
I ventured out for many reasons, some intentional, some identifiable. Some reasons, I can only speculate. And some reasons, I can am still learning. What I do know is, there are many things I learned while out on my "road trip".
I'd like to share what I've learned about leading and about learning, on both my road trip and since I've been "back".
Leadership is about...
Some of my fondest moments have come from enriching personal-professional connections I've made throughout my career. This year, our 2nd Annual Edcamp Long Island once again proved that when we make a commitment to offer a space and time dedicated to learning, learners will commit themselves to what happens in that space, with others who have the same commitment.
- How are we doing this in our classrooms and our schools today?
- How can we help our schools evolve to become more of an inviting space where this can occur, and with greater frequency?
This school year, I've openly committed myself to being a leader with three clear priorities: Communication, Collaboration, and Learning.
Daily: Each day, I have allocated time specifically to my own professional learning, aimed at curating resources that promote value for these three priorities. I engage with members of various learning communities, both in and out of the school building, some focused on middle school, both in and out of my geographical region. As individuals and in groups, we support one another, synthesize our practices, and accelerate learning together. We share the joys of learning and navigate the challenges of leadership. And so not to distract from my day-to-day responsibilities, this time is a scheduled segment of my daily commute. Each day also has a dedicated time to non-evaluative visits with students and with teachers. These visits provide context as to how teachers organize, manage, and monitor how to maximize the impact of sacred learning time, and create opportunities to see where resources exist and may be allocated for growth of our teachers.
Weekly: I share a weekly personal message in two different capacities: a Monday Memo for Faculty and a Parent Express Bulletin for parents. All of the resources that are shared serve to support adult learning that will build on our abilities to connect with one another for our students. For our teachers, the focus is on tools of efficiency. Maximizing time, promoting meaningful engagement, and accenting our appreciation for learners serves all members of our learning organization.
Monthly: Each month, I curate the collection of photos, messages, and images that are contributed by our dedicated staff members, so they can be shared with parents and community members. Technology is a tool, that when used in proper moderation, can invite our parents in, and create conditions in which a common dialogue is created and sustained, about the shared mission to be great for our students. Our schools want what's best for our students, and so do our families and our communities.
Tools such as Twitter and Voxer give users unique avenues for open communication. However, one thing that I continually keep in mind are the words of Stephen Covey: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." This is crucial to leadership, whether we are in a face-to-face conversation with a professional colleague, or interacting via social media. We don't learn through speaking. We learn through listening, asking good questions, making meaningful contributions, and listening some more.
- Are we listening closely to those around us?
- Are we asking the right questions, and listening in ways that lead to shared meaning with others?
Being part of different connected communities affords us access to generous experts, to boundless resources, and to unlimited time constraints. That being said, without a laser-light focus on our desired outcomes and the goals and action steps that lead to attaining our goals, this is pointless. But what are our desired outcomes? In our school, we focus on outcomes geared towards understanding and appreciating what it means to be an adolescent, or an adult charged with being an integral part of building a culture that supports the success of all learners.
The best educators proudly recognize the value and importance in sharing, celebrating, and showcasing our students' meaningful engagement in our schools. Our teachers recognize our obligations to our profession and our communities, and see the potential for using technology as a tool to open our doors to our students, our parents and families, and our communities.
There's a self-serving, self-absorbed side to taking a road trip, that if we're not careful, has a way of engulfing us and sabotaging our purpose. But when we keep our focus on what's most important - we uphold our responsibility as servant leaders. And that's what matters most.