The year was 1995. The school had just installed its first Internet connected computer lab. I wanted kids to publish web pages and demonstrate what they had learned about the Vietnamese War. We (the class and I) worked at learning how to use a WYSIWYG HTML editor to make web pages. I assigned groups different aspects of the era and we published pages about what we had learned. The kids were astounded when they started getting email from veterans and students from across the world commenting on their work. Several of those students actually went to work in an industry where web publishing was part of how they make a living. They probably don’t remember much about the Vietnam war, but some of them started building a skill that was important to them. Because of this experience, I knew I had a new tool to get kids excited about what we were learning, and better yet, (I think?) my use of technology caught the eye of the superintendent and he soon took an interest in me and encouraged me to be an administrator. The great thing about this web page project was I did not have to be the expert, I just had to show a desire to learn. The kids really did the rest. A leader must learn and demonstrate the importance of a continuous commitment to it for the school community in order to be effective. I have since become a SmartBoard certified instructor, a Google Apps certified trainer and have written many grants for technology acquisition for our school. A commitment to learning is very important.
Not all of my endeavors as an educator have been great successes. I know that many times I have had the best intentions, but because I failed to understand the point(s) of view of those who disagreed with me, I alienated colleagues and staff which in turn impeded progress and several times caused an initiative to fail. Empathy is so important. If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of others, many times you will fail to gain the insight you need to motivate and move people toward an important goal. A good leader reflects and makes note of success and failure, analyzes their causes, and plans for the future based on the lessons learned.
A teacher’s time is so limited. There are so many things to do outside of teaching in the classroom to be effective that teachers have very little time to commit to a new initiative. Communication is so important when initiating any new program. If the staff does not understand the why and how of any new program it is bound to fail. I know, I might hold a record for the number of things that failed to take off because the staff did not understand why we were doing it or how they were supposed to do it. Finding a clear, effective, and concise way to communicate an initiative is a key component to it success.
Leading others is an amazing experience that presents numerous challenges and great opportunities for personal satisfaction. Leading is not demanding or making things happen. Leading is causing change by making it the product of others. Working to capitalize on the strengths of staff and letting them help plan the direction of the path to follow can make the trip worthwhile and the destination productive.