…and that is why most people cannot handle it. The funny thing about leadership, however, is that it requires that a certain amount of unadulterated truth be spoken. There is really no other way to affect change if you cannot admit, see, or speak the truth. In my admittedly short time in this new role, I have tried to walk the fine line between speaking truth and balancing the politics of leadership…which is another ugly truth that no one likes to talk about.
I wish I could tell you that this post will walk you down the road of successfully navigating this unspoken part of education, but unfortunately it will not. I don’t have any of the answers that will get you to the other side. I’m still learning myself. And the justice-seeking, advocate for the little people, who is perpetually standing on her soapbox that lives on the inside of me is becoming more and more impatient with the career-driven, office-politic-balancing professional that lives on the outside.
In moments like these I want to scream. I want to rail against the powers that be…the “THEY” that is so often referred to but never identified. But I don’t. Because I have 4 children to feed and a mortgage to pay. And that makes me sad. Because I vowed to myself that I would not conform…that I would not lose myself in the process of becoming a leader.
So tonight I will take a step back. I am choosing self-care. Because protecting the core of who I am is more important to me than fitting in the box and being the person I am expected to be. Because Soapbox Ashley needs to know that she has value and is appreciated. Because Career Driven Ashley is going to burn out if she doesn’t slow down. Because Mom/Wife/Friend Ashley needs a moment to relax and de-stress so that work doesn’t bleed over into home. I encourage you all to do the same.
This weekend on Twitter, I was made aware of the fact that our beloved Padlet is going Freemuim. For those of you who are unaware, Padlet is a service that has been free for the entire 9 years that I have used it. They have continued to make updates and improvements and have a very quality product. To be completely honest, I’m quite surprised that it hasn’t gone to a paid option before now. (It’s nearly impossible to support video and audio file storage for free with no ads, and they have been doing it for years). Teacher Twitter has been in an uproar since the announcement was made, and I have largely stayed silent…that is until now.
If you know me, then you know I have been on my soapbox about shiny new tools for at least the past 3-4 years. Every time I attend a conference, it ends up being 95% free advertisement for shiny new tools and it drives me insane. It’s so bad that I literally won’t even go to most conferences anymore. And here’s why…
Education does NOT need another shiny new tool. Not that tools like Padlet and Flipgrid aren’t amazing; they are. I have never said that they were not. The problem is that for far too long, the Ed. Tech. community has spent much too much time focused on the tool(s) and not on the pedagogy behind their use. Transforming classrooms will never happen if we continue to focus on the what and not the why. Simon Sinek is widely famous for asking us to “Start With Why” and I’ll be the first to admit that I drank the Kool-Aid. If we don’t understand why we are doing this, what’s the point??
Giving students choice and leveraging technology to maximize all students’ learning must be our continuous goal. There is no single tool that will do that. It will take all of the tools, being made available all of the time, in order for all of our students to be able to choose the correct tool to enhance their learning experience. There is no magic formula, there are no magic beans, and there have never been any magic words that will make it easier.
At this point, you might be asking me “so what do you propose we do instead?” because that is exactly what I would be saying in my head if I were reading this. I offer you the same advice that I have been spouting for the past few years from the top of my soapbox: Group tools by what they can accomplish. Presentation, Organization, Movie Making, etc. The groups can be created depending on your instructional setting, as long as you create the groupings. And then…let the kids choose what they want to use.
And to all of the Ed. Tech leaders who may be reading this, I’d advise do the same for your teaching staff. Why buy a site license for one tool? Does everyone need to use the same tool? Do the kids all need exposure to the same tool? Of course not! Group your suggestions based on the instructional needs of your campus. One of my current projects at work involves doing just that. We are recommending digital resources & tools to use for presentations, organizing information, video production, participant feedback, formative assessment, graphic design, etc. Teachers and staff will be able to choose what tools work best for their needs from a list of tools that have already been vetted.
And believe it or not, we do not offer professional development for individual shiny new tools! It would be impossible to sustain. Instead, I am encouraging teachers to utilize Twitter, YouTube, and their PLNs to explore different tools and examples of how they can be used with students. In this way, teachers are choosing their tools and being empowered to take control of some of their professional learning. Imagine that – modeling for teachers what we want them to do with the students!! It’s a win-win for all parties involved.
In the past few days, months really, I’ve been faced with several ‘impossible’ tasks. As a leader, I do my best to tackle these problems head on and I strive to make the best decisions possible. Most of the time I do, and sometimes I don’t. My saving grace has been that I always own my mistakes. I’m quick to apologize and ask for grace when needed. Most of the time, people are generally forgiving. I end up being a lot harder on myself than anyone else. This week, however, I found myself in a slightly different situation.
One of the aspects of being the leader of a team means that you cover them. My Six Word Story coming into this school year was “We take risks; I take blame.” I meant every word of that. I was (and still am) fully prepared to take the blame for anything that could possible go wrong as we are working to build an atmosphere where it is safe to try innovative things and safe to fail. It was important to me to let my entire team (both centrally and campus-based) know that I would cover them. I would own their mistakes. I wanted them to try so many new ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas that people would forget there ever was a box. For the most part, I would consider this endeavor a success. Are we 100% where we want to be? No, but we’re so much closer than we were when we started.
This past week, I was introduced to a new perspective on taking the blame for the team, and it caused me to pause and really reflect on what I needed to do and how I should respond. I was totally prepared to take the blame for my team, but was I prepared to take the blame for the previous team?? I mean, I was a part of it. And while I didn’t make certain decisions, as the new leader I am holding people to many of the same expectations. So when I was approached this week with a new mistake, initially I didn’t know how to respond. The accusatory tone in which the message was sandwiched immediately led me to want to become defensive. And I’ll admit, in my initial response, I failed. I failed pretty miserably. I heard myself saying “I’m sorry if you feel like….” and even I was immediately appalled. I DESPISE FAKE APOLOGIES, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing there about to give one. I did rebound though. Thanks to the ability to think on my feet, I was able to ‘clean that up’ and offer a real apology. I revisited the same point of concern, and this time my words were “I apologize if our actions made you feel this way. It was not intentional, and was honestly just an oversight on my part. I will own this error, and we will fix it. While I can’t change the past, I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again going forward.”
I wish I could tell you that my words were able to change the mood of the offended party, but I don’t really know if they did. I do know, however, that my ownership of that mistake changed my mood. I went from being defensive, to being proactive and solutions oriented…trying to prevent the same mistake from being repeated. I was able to think clearly, offer factual information that supported my statements about the previous leadership team’s decisions & actions. I was able to counter the negative influence of the instigator who felt that they could prove that we had intentionally kept information away from certain people. At the end of the day, I feel good knowing that I handled the situation with integrity and honesty.
I know that leadership isn’t always fun or pretty. It’s definitely not all roses and sunshine. It’s perfectly imperfect. It’s messy and beautiful. It’s joyous and stress-inducing. And I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. If I could leave you with anything as a big take-away or ‘aha’ moment it would be this: When you operate in transparency, you build trust. And when you have earned trust, people will hear your heart, not just your words.
I’m thankful for each opportunity that I have to build and earn the trust of my team. I look forward to a continued trust relationship as we charge forward, working together to transform the lives of our students.