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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading

Implications for School Leadership

By William Brennan

Over the last few years there has been a big debate across the country on 21st century schools. I believe that most schools are simply doing that, debating about what it means to be a 21st century teacher and student. The actual federal and state learning outcomes do very little in helping districts address these skills which is why we dont see many other districts moving away from the Standardification of American education. So lets begin by asking ourselves, what does it mean to be a school LEADER in the 21st century? According to Heifetz and Linsky, To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility. (Heifetz, 2002) I want to pay close attention to two very specific items in this book and I expect that by understanding these, I will be a more effective school leader. The two of interest are adaptive challenges and exercising personal pacing by allowing (or causing) issues to ripen. As noted in this book, Adaptive challenges require leadership. Adaptive changes are problems that are not solvable through expertise or standard operating procedures. As the Director of Technology for a quite progressive school district I am in the midst of a major adaptive challenge and its certainly up to me and my colleagues to exercise pacing by allowing issues to ripen. Our goal is to create conditions that will

allow the faculty to transform teaching and learning so that two things will be accomplished. The first is that all schools and teachers will create conditions for students

to be master learners. The second is that by providing students and teachers the necessary tools they will become proficient in the use of technology and develop an appreciation and understanding of how it will help them in life after high school. As I speak with the faculty and many of my colleagues I often explain that this initiative has very little to do with technology, but all to do with creating conditions for learning. You see, I often preach that we must stop using this word technology so much, because things like laptops, cell phones and the Internet are not technology as all these things existed prior to when our students were born. Take a second and imagine speaking to a nine year old today about how revolutionary the Internet is. Students today are not amazed by this stuff. They were born into it. Its a part of their life and how they live. Yet, when students walk through those doors into school we shield them these powerful learning tools. This continues to be the cornerstone of an adaptive challenge that is happening in our schools. In education we are faced with a plethora of difficult situations as we move down the pathway of change. I look forward to addressing these issues deeper in later discussions. So what it is I am asserting? I am offering my students and faculty the possibility of Universal Design for Learning. How we get there requires some well thought out planning and resources. UDL is a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all. (Center for Applied Special Technology) This initiative is combined with another major initiative called, 1:1 Laptop Computing which has attracted much debate and speculation. Imagine trying to convince a group of teachers and parents

that children will no longer have textbooks, but will carry a laptop with them at all times. Over the last two years I have lead this adaptive challenge and I have had to deal with the drastic resistance. In some cases, there has been outright disgust among staff and parents. This is not quite an easy task. My challenge though is to break down the mental models that teachers, parents and school leaders have on what it means to be a learner today and how we best go about that? I must change their thinking, develop new understanding and inspire learning across the organization. Senge explains "Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action." (Senge, 1990) Do parents, teachers and school leaders understand the world our students will enter is different from when we went to school? So while technology is making a major impact on the way we do business, construct new knowledge and connect with others to solve problems, we should remember that the following from Senge, "If any one idea about leadership has inspired organizations for thousands of years, it's the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create." (Senge 1990) I believe it is about painting this picture and recruiting the right people, obtaining the proper resources and carrying out a plan that will help our students become the leaders in the 21st century.

C.A.S.T., (2009). Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/index.html Heifetz, Ronald A. and Marty Linsky. (2002). Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive the Dangers of Leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing. Kotter, J (1996). Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Senge, P (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, NY: Doubleday. Through