culture

Bringing More Google to Schools

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I believe in “Google” schools. I want more schools to be “Google” schools.  When I think of a “Google” school, I am thinking beyond the world of Apps for Education.  Rather, I want my school and the schools of my children, to be filled with educators who would be equally at home working at Google.

It is no surprise that Google often ranks at the top of innovative companies in the world. It also frequently tops the list of companies that most college graduates want to work for.  Yes, the compensation that these top companies offer is undoubtedly attractive. In this respect, the world of education can’t and shouldn’t try to compete.  But there are some things that Google considers when hiring that we in education should try to emulate.

The first is “smarts”.  Being smart is important at Google just like it is in education and many other professions. But at Google, being smart is not enough.  Intellectual curiosity is considered even more important and is something they look for when hiring.  Think about it in the context of education.  The phrase “Life long learners” commonly appears in the Mission and Vision Statements of schools around the world. Yet how often is the idea of intellectual curiosity factored into hiring?

Quite naturally, Google wants every person they hire to be good at what they do –  be it coding, networking, marketing, or finance.  Schools are no different.  Kindergarten teachers need to be as good at what they do as a Middle School drama, or an IB Calculus teacher.  But a clear difference lies in the fact that Google expects everyone to be a leader.  They actively seek out people who will take control of a situation instead of waiting to be lead.  According to Tony Wagner, Google has a bias towards action.  They want their employees to always be asking the important question, “How can I make things better?”  In other words, If you see something is broken … fix it!

I like the Google mindset because it is what I think we need more of in schools. You can never have too many people working together to make the world a better place.  I think at its core, schools need to be incubators of intellectual curiosity, places where everyone is teaching and everyone is learning.  Schools benefit by being populated by professionals who lead without necessarily having the positional power. I guess that is why I am fascinated by the work of Dana Watt’s and her research into “Disruptive Leadership in the International Schools”.

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Leadership Lessons @ The GAP

Originally Posted May 2011

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Shopping, ugh!  It is not one of my preferred pass times, but my wife likes to shop.  Living in Saudi Arabia, this means I am her wing man and chauffeur for outings to the mall.  While waiting patiently in our local GAP franchise, I had the chance to sit and think.  I spent my time reflecting on the great professional learning experiences that I have had since my last post in February.  Over the past few months I completed an elementary math specialist course, attended a leadership seminar at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the NESA conference in Bangkok, Thailand.  It has certainly been a wonderful period of professional learning.

So, while mulling over some big ideas and reflecting on my practices and beliefs, I started to recognize that educational leaders have a lot in common with their khaki clad brethren.  Leadership, and change in particular, is a retail experience.  In order to establish an effective culture, change a culture, motivate a group, or shift a school, it requires “face to face” experiences, personal attention.  The staff at the GAP offer great leadership lessons.  Not only do they attend to the requests of shoppers (How can I help you? Let me know if I can get any specific.), they provide individualized feedback (That’s a great color on you! Those pants are a great fit!), and offer new perspectives (Did you see the new cotton tees?).  They make their customers feel valued.  They are out and about in the store, roaming the floor meeting customers, building personal connections, seeing how they can help.  Sometimes they are very active,  while at other times they step back, let individuals shop, and help out when required.

Come to think of it, as the educational leader in my classroom, I do this already.  My roles is that of a guide, helping guide differentiated student learning, providing individualized feedback, and offering new perspectives and ideas.  Effective teachers don’t hide behind their desk.  They are out and about, roaming the classroom, monitoring learning, engaging students, sometimes providing direct active assistance, or from a short distance allowing students to explore and build their own understanding.

I’m drawn to leaders who exemplify what’s best about the GAP’s sales staff.  As an aspiring principal, I want to be an educational leader who lives outside the office, who helps propel student learning by recognizing and supporting the needs of individuals.  If I want to encourage a change or implement a new initiative, I need to build relationships, make personal connections, and communicate clearly.  To accomplish this, I need to be present in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, yard, and faculty lounge; talking, listening, observing, and helping out … just like the best teachers and the people at The GAP.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

As a leader in my classroom, I am keenly aware of the culture I want to establish and build throughout the year.  I know that it is my responsibility to make this happen, much like my back yard garden.  At the moment, my backyard garden is in a bit of disrepair. Nothing is doing particularly well.  In moving to Saudi Arabia and settling into a new house, it keeps falling to the bottom of the to do list.   I  know that it is not doing well because I’ve been neglectful.  I’ve provided minimal care, done little to help the garden grow.  I am certainly getting out of my garden what I put into it.  Very little.  I am proud to say that this isn’t the case for the culture in my classroom.  Establishing and then maintaining a learning focused, positive classroom culture has been extremely hard work.  It is flourishing because of the constant attention and persistent effort that I devote to it through recognition, relationships, resources, rewards, and rituals.  In thinking about leadership, I recognize that these principles are easily applicable to a principal’s efforts to develop a culture within their school community or even within smaller collaborative groups.

People inherently crave recognition and positive reinforcement.  It’s the reason why schools are filled with gold stars, Student of the Week, and Honor Rolls.  So as a leader, how to do you routinely recognize what is valued in your community? Do you routinely drop a small note in an email or mail box?  Do you regularly laud and applaud the great people and learning that is taking place, both privately and publicly? There are innumerable forms of recognition.  What is important is that you be specific about what you observed and student learning.

Recognition certainly helps build relationships.  In the ever changing landscape of education in the 21st century, the relationships necessary for effective  collaboration is a key to success. So, as the educational leader in your school, how do you build relationships with and between the colleagues you are working with?  Do you begin meetings with opportunities for people to meet and greet?  Do your routine forms of communication include personal details so that faculty can learn about each other?  Is wandering part of your daily routine?  Wandering the halls, classrooms, yard, and lunchroom has tremendous virtues.    Not only does it enable you to develop relationships, but it also provides you with the opportunity to  encourage collaboration and connect different community members with each other.

The reality of teaching is that no one enters the profession because of the end of year bonuses and plush perks.  But like teachers who use stickers, pencils, and recommendations to help motivate students, principals can harness resources at their disposal for a similar effect with their faculty.  Passing along professional resources is an easy step.  It might simply be a book, an article, or even a website, but their is great power in sharing.  Using deli.ci.ous to building a collective library of learning links is inexpensive tool.  Share your time.  Use it to take a moment to drop off a new resource to a teacher you know might find it of interest or cover a class so that a teacher can attend a particular PD session.  Arrange for your teachers to visit other innovative teachers or schools in your area.  Pass along any invitations or tickets that you might receive.    Connect teachers and classrooms with the greater community … a local historian, athlete, or charity that can support learning.  In the same way that the kindergarten student who proudly leaves school with a pencil they received for their birthday helps contribute to a positive learning environment, by being creative about sharing resources, leaders can achieve similar results in their school.

Recognition and rewards are closely tied together.  Rewards need not be expensive or extravagant.  What is important is that rewards are used to motivate and cultivate a positive culture. Offer Starbucks cards to the first three faculty to submit their report cards.  When interest, energy or enthusiasm drops during a long PD session or difficult faculty meeting take 5 to raffle off a movie pass, potted plant, or even a “Get Out of Recess Duty” pass.  Order subscriptions for the faculty lounge or professional library.  Food is always a hit.  This might be healthy snack during parent conferences, holidays treats in mailboxes, or even little cupcakes to celebrate a colleagues birthday.  Place a bouquet of flowers or potted plant in the office or faculty lounge and then raffle it off or award it to a winner at the end of the day.  LIttle rewards can help brighten the day of just one person or the whole community.  Either way, rewards are a powerful tool in helping a principal develop, maintain or change the culture of their school.

Rituals are an essential piece of a community and of culture. They slowly bring community members together through shared experiences.  Repeated celebrations brings new and old faces in a school together.  They become something that a group of teachers remembers and look forward to.  What do you do to build rituals in your community?  How do you welcome new community members or say good-bye to departing ones?  Do you recognize important milestones like birthdays and other personal celebrations with cakes, flowers, or cards?  What do you to to recognize professional accomplishments?  How do you begin or end meetings …. with sharing, reflection, a reading, or food?  The business world goes to great length to build community identity with bar-b-cues, family picnics, charitable work, or sporting teams (softball, bowling, curling, etc.).  Do you?

As a classroom, team or school leader, you can help develop the culture you desire.  With a little effort, you can establish a positive morale, build strong personal and professional relationships, while highlighting the values of your community.  What gets recognized and rewarded, is what get’s done.

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