Is there a monkey on your back?

monkeyThere’s a polish proverb, Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpyLiterally translated, you get, Not my circus, not my monkeys. Basically, “not my problem.”

Over the holiday break I read the quick read by Todd Whitaker, Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and other Slackers At first the title may seem a little jarring, but it actually has several valuable nuggets for all school leaders.

We all deal with monkeys. Whitaker describes a monkey as, “the responsibilities, obligations, and problems everyone deals with every day. You can easily handle your share of normal monkeys, but you can just as easily become overwhelmed when you get stuck shouldering other people’s inappropriate monkeys.” The challenge comes when people within the organization try to pass off their monkeys to other people who they know will solve the problem and do the work for them. Dealing those who like to pass their monkeys is a leadership challenge! Leaders actually do a disservice when they allow the non-slackers to take on the problems of the slackers because it robs the slacker of the opportunity to develop and demonstrate leadership within their particular role. Allowing the passing of monkeys reinforces a leader/follower culture rather than a leader/leader culture.

So how do you know when someone is trying to pass a monkey? Whitaker suggests leaders must always be asking themselves 3 questions:

  1. Where is the monkey?
  2. Where should the monkey be?
  3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

And what can leaders do when one of the liars, criers and/or slackers is trying to pass the monkey? Whitaker, again, suggests three things:

  1. Treat everyone well.
  2. Make decisions based on your best people.
  3. Protect your good people first.

In the book, Whitaker details numerous scenarios, but following these three suggestions will place the responsibility for the monkey back where it belongs. As a leader, if you are intrigued by this idea of the slackers passing monkeys, be sure to check out Whitaker’s book! I found it very thought provoking. Reading it has provided me with a new lens through which to inquire into my world.

As leaders, we want to serve the people we lead. But a disposition to take on every monkey of the organization will overwhelm us. How can leaders still be servants and make sure the monkeys stay where they belong?

Twitteracy, Literacy and Generation Z – a few more presentations

sharelearnPresentations benefit both presenter and attendee as opportunities to share and learn. I enjoy sharing ideas, and developing a presentation always helps me to clarify my own thinking. And if others can benefit in that process, that’s a bonus! In the last post, I shared a presentation I did for the Keystone Technology Innovators/Integrators group in the Lehigh Valley. After writing that post, I realized there were a few other presentations I gave the past few months but did not share on this blog. So I thought I’d share them here as some may find the information useful and interesting.

Generation Z: It’s Complicated – – For this presentation we engaged in a conversation around two resources: a presentation on Generation Z from the marketing firm Sparks & Honey and the recently published book by danah boydIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

Twitteracy: The What, Why and How – How can Twitter be used to develop and reinforce literacy skills? In this presentation I started with basics about Twitter and ended by sharing practical examples of how Twitter can be a powerful (and relevant) tool in developing the literacy skills of our students.

Approaches to Literacy for Generation Z – My colleague,  @lfuinihetten, and I presented this session to the Colonial Association of Reading Educators and the Moravian College Education Department. During the session, we explored the potential for technology-rich literacy instruction in four areas: (1) analyzing and discussing literature; (2) reinforcing reading and writing through digital storytelling; (3) crafting effective persuasive and argumentative writing; and (4) engaging social media to improve reading and writing skills. A podcast recapping the session is available on TLTalkRadio.

In February, @lfuinihetten and I are looking forward to our next presentation, Evaluating and Assessing Your Digital Learning Initiative: Keys to Success at both the AASA National Conference on Education and PETE&C. We will also be presenting The SAMR Framework: Leveling Tech Integration at PETE&CWe’ll be sure to share those as well! 

How do you share your knowledge with others? What is the value to sharing your knowledge with others at conferences and other professional gatherings?

3 considerations for transforming classrooms


What is the greatest challenge schools face using technology for teaching and learning? As a practitioner, the data I’ve collected both formally and informally suggests one of the greatest challenges is to use  technology in ways that transform the teaching and learning process (as defined by the SAMR model). It is often easy for students to use technology in ways that enhance the learning process. For example, using presentation software to create a final product or using online software to develop specific content area skills (such as math). It is often more challenging for teachers to design learning that is transformational, where technology is embedded in the process of inquiry for learners to connect and collaborate with other curious minds inside and outside of the classroom.

While technology can be a catalyst for change, merely placing digital devices in the hands of teachers and students will not bring about transformation to teaching and learning. We need more than devices. We need new thinking that combines proven practice grounded in the learning sciences with current technology tools and the leadership to support transformation.

Just before the holiday break, I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of about 30 Keystone Technology Innovators/Integrators at Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit. In the presentation, I proposed 3 ways educators can take action to move classrooms away from the culture depicted in the video The Testing Camera and toward the culture of inquiry depicted in the video A Question, Waiting to be AnsweredYes…every school likely has pockets of transformation. The challenge to overcome is transforming learning on a systemic level.

The 3 considerations I proposed:

  • Inquiry – We have to fundamentally change the model from a push model of knowledge acquisition to one where student curiosity is a central focus and learning is a process.
  • Social media – We have to use the tools at our fingertips that will allow our learners to engage with a world of like-minded inquirers. Social media coupled with inquiry is very powerful.
  • Leadership – We educators need to take action. We need to stop talking and start doing. We need to be leaders in our schools.

Developing an understanding of effective pedagogy coupled with new technology and taking action to implement our new learning in the classroom will propel us toward transforming our classrooms system wide. For the presentation, I opened with a brief set of slides:


And then provided more resources and a few activities around the 3 considerations, working from this Google doc:


How are you working to transform your classrooms? Is there anything you would add to the 3 considerations? What are you doing to lead the change?


Measuring Leadership

measuringleadershipIn our measurement obsessed culture, the words of Simon Sinek are a breath of fresh air. This from The 21st Century Workplace podcast – Your Leadership Echo – with Simon Sinek and David Marquet:

Leadership, like parenting, is like exercise. It cannot be measured on a daily basis. You can go to the gym and work out, and come back and look in the mirror. You’ll see nothing. You go the next day, you come back and look in the mirror, and you see nothing. Leadership and parenting are exactly the same thing. We don’t always see daily results. But if you looked at a photograph of yourself from three months prior, the results are stark. The problem is that good leadership takes patience, it takes belief and it takes commitment. Bad leadership may look good on a daily basis, but over the course of time we might find that the organization, and more important, the will of the people, is being destroyed.

Processing these words reminds me of the importance of daily reflection. But every so often it is important for us to reflect on larger increments than our daily work. What are the resulting changes over three months, six months, years? In our data obsessed profession, the cycle of analyzing and judging with immediacy needs to be broken. I’m still processing the meaning of the last sentence.

Actions speak louder than….talk?

action-talkI remember first bumping up again Argyris and Schön’s theory of action – espoused theory and theory-in-use – when I was studying my administrative team for my dissertation back in 2009.

A simple explanation of the two components:

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use. (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7)

At the time, I was studying how school leaders conceptualize teaching and learning in the 21st century and how they act upon that in their schools. In addition to several other interesting findings, there was one related to theories of action:

Data analysis revealed a preponderance of espoused beliefs and theories of teaching, learning and leadership as opposed to in-use examples of the teaching and learning the participants were attempting to define. (p. 137)

Essentially, the participants in the study were able to articulate conceptually a vision for teaching, learning and leadership in the 21st century that closely mirrored the literature. The challenge was actually implementing that vision in their schools – turning that theory into action.

Fast forward five years…. our educational partners from Apple, Inc. sat down with the administrative team as we were trying to answer the question, “What next?” with our 1:1 laptop program. During the time we spent together, they brought us back to thinking about three questions:

  • What does the LEARNING look like?
  • What does the TEACHING look like?
  • What does the LEADERSHIP look like?

Here is a condensed version from our notes of what our team discussed. At this moment in time, this is how we conceptualize teaching, learning and leading in our schools. It’s what we believe. But is it what we are doing? How do we bridge the gulf between the espoused and the in-use? How do I as a central office administrator support our principals and teachers?

Here are some ideas I have been thinking about to help bridge the gap:

  • Map out the change – What are the benchmarks for curriculum, instruction, assessment, digital leadership and professional learning in the next three to five years? Collectively, as teachers and leaders, we need to come to consensus, plant a stake in the ground and document benchmarks.
  • Define the actions necessary to meet the benchmarks – What steps will students, teachers and leaders actually need to take to meet the benchmarks and achieve the change? How do we move forward incrementally?
  • Provide the supports – What professional development or new learning is necessary for everyone to meet the benchmarks? What do we need to do differently to support the change?
  • Build in accountability mechanisms – Along with support comes some pressure to follow through. Accountability isn’t a bad thing, but what should it look like? Organizational and individual goals?
  • Share the progress – Model digital leadership using the tools we have in place to celebrate the accomplishments of students, teachers and administrators. Tools might include blogs and social media, used to engage the community through transparency. Also, share progress through regular updates to the school board.

How change management strategies have  you used successfully? How do you bridge the gulf between espoused theory and theory in action? What would you suggest changing or adding to the ideas above?