The Best Learner

Should one build on his strengths or shore up weaknesses? It's the eternal question for a leader, or anyone for that matter. Finding an answer you can live with can be a worthwhile quest, whether you are a school district administrator or a custodian and all the different roles played in between. And, this blog entry is going to fall

"Thank goodness," one principal told me recently at a conference, "that technology stuff doesn't count for AYP." I'm still in shock. The principal in question had not made any effort to learn how to use technology, whether to measure student progress or as a tool to facilitate professional learning. Technology for this person involves watching other people do something out of her reach. So, to bring the question home for this campus school administrator, should she build on her strengths--whatever those may be--or try to shore up her weakness to learn new "technical stuff?"

Skimming the oft-visited Around the Corner blog pages--pages that others have found worth visiting today--can be fun. I run into ideas and thoughts that once were mine but now have slipped away into forgetfulness. For example, in response to a question by Tammy Lenski (Conflict Zen, When you experience stress, what is it whispering to you? I took the time to write the following:
The urgent whispers ask, "Do you have the answers to these questions? Provide them NOW!" or the insidious, "You didn't really think you were good enough to do this job, did you? You're just pretending, aren't you?"
The second question--good enough to do the job--touches on a point that Dan Oestreich (Unfolding Leadership) writes about. I often wonder, do people who make utterances like the principal at the start of this blog entry ever ask themselves that question?
Yet, and this has also been the case, especially when I’ve watched clients over a longer period of time — and watched myself in the same way, too, I guess — the shifts people make through their growth over time don’t go against the natural style of their personality so much as they open up or “resolve” those styles. This happens in a way that the person naturally has more capability in exactly the places he or she would most like to grow...If we took the perspective that we do have a natural, internal learning curve, then it seems that we ought to pay more attention to that than simply pushing ourselves for adaptation that’s not likely to hold anyway. 
Maybe it doesn't matter for them. They baldly know what they're good at, and what they're not. "Leave the technology stuff to the techies," one with positional authority might say to an underling dingaling, "you focus on what you're good at." But don't we all have to be good at this tech stuff?

When I reflect on that point--that we resolve or settle into those natural styles of our personality rather than fight against them--I'm worried that schools will never change given the crop of leaders. If a school administrator chooses to build on his or her strengths--and those don't involve learning to use technology in a globally connected world that requires collaborative problem-solving from students--then what hope will students in that school have?

What are school leaders natural styles? If I had to make a list off the top of my head, it would be this (and I'm only going for top 5...what am I missing? Is there bias in my list?):
  1. Dresses well and "for the camera." It's the "wax the cabinet" instead of teach the kids because it needs to look good on the evening news when we feature this classroom.
  2. Makes decisions without consulting anyone and informs people AFTER the fact.
  3. Avoids learning new things, instead delegates those to others with greater aptitude.
  4. They accept orders without question and do what they are told.
  5. They can spout the latest leadership book psycho-babble and act like they care about it on Monday then switch to a different book by Friday.
Are those a bit negative? That's my perspective of poor leaders in schools. What should "good" leaders aspire to? You know, at this point in my observation of educational leaders, I'd go for folks like this:
  1. A real enthusiasm to manage well and do the tasks required.
  2. An excellent communicator who knows that collaboration with stakeholders makes the difference.
  3. A person who admits mistakes publicly, and 
  4. Allows others to see him/her learning new things, while s/he
  5. Encourages others to learn.
A few nights ago, dead-dog tired after getting off the treadmill and cooling down, The Best Man featuring Henry Fonda was on television. A black-n-white show, I couldn't help myself and forestalled my shower until the end of the movie. It was quotes like the ones in the video clip below that have made me reconsider the petty politics of school district administration. You can hear the best quotes at 25-47 seconds. After 50 seconds, you're on your own.

Can you guess which quote in the movie clip, in less than 50 seconds, makes me the angriest? The end of The Best Man comes as no surprise to me. Is the best man the one who seizes the power, ruthless to consolidate it and use it as s/he sees fit, or the one who realizes that compromising one's integrity and principles is not worth the effort?

It's a question I've been struggling with. You?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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