Do you lead like a conductor?

FreddyConductingIf you know me, you know that a good part of my career has been devoted to music education. I was trained as a trumpet player, taught middle school general and choral music, directed (and traveled extensively with) a high school select choral group (I had some fun digging up recordings) and was musical director of the Freddy Awards (a televised awards program recognizing high school musical theatre) from it’s inception in 2003 until 2012. My favorite part of this work was rehearsing and conducting. I often wonder if what I learned as a music director helped to develop my passion for educational leadership. It seems like there are endless connections between the two. I’ve written about this before, and there is even a TED talk devoted to it – Lead Like the Great Conductors.

A few days ago, I was inspired by this quote on the Leonard Bernstein Facebook page:

The conductor is a kind of sculptor whose element is time instead of marble, and in sculpting it, he must have a superior sense of proportion and relationship. He must judge the largest rhythms of the whole phraseology of a work. He must conquer the form of a piece, not only in the sense of form as a mold, but form in its deepest meaning: where the music relaxes, where it begins to accumulate tension, where the greatest tension is reached, where it must ease up to gather strength for the next lap, where it unloads that strength. These are the intangibles of conducting, the mysteries that no conductor can learn or acquire. And after he has pondered these mysteries he is a great musician, but not necessarily a great conductor. To be a great conductor he still must have one more attribute in his personality, without which all the mechanics and knowledge, and perception are useless: and that is the power to communicate all this to his orchestra — through his arms, face, eyes, fingers, and whatever vibrations may flow from him. In this way he develops a kind of technique of gestures through which he speaks or talks to the audience. – Leonard Bernstein (Omnibus Presents: The Art of Conducting, December 4, 1955)

Go ahead….read it again. If you’re a school leader – principal, supervisor, director, superintendent – ponder the parallels between these words and who/what you are as a leader. How are you like a sculptor? What are your most developed senses? What is your “work”? What is the meaning you wish to communicate? What are the points of tension? Are they balanced by moments of relaxation? How do you communicate this ebb and flow to your “orchestra”? Do you ever heighten the tension? What are the mysteries of leadership? What is it that takes you beyond the mechanics and knowledge of leadership into the realm of art?


Who will define you as an educator?

pointingfingerIn this age of bureaucracy and accountability , I see way too many educators submit to the idea that some external system will determine who they are as educators and what their schools are, as well. In Pennsylvania we have recently moved from “making AYP” to School Performance Profile (SPP), an accountability measure that “grades” schools on a scale of 0-100 (with the possibility of up to 7 “bonus” points – yeh, how ridiculous is that?). For educators, we have started the Educator Effectiveness System which provides an overall score for individual teachers and, coming this year, principals. You can view the Classroom Teacher Rating Form and the Principal Rating Form to see just how limited this system is. Despite such nonsense, I see teachers and school leaders believing that these are the “new” systems that will define their effectiveness as teachers and school leaders.

Not only are the systems flawed, but the thinking of educators is flawed…..and dangerous. It’s silly to think that as an educator I’m a 3.1. Really? That’s not very nuanced feedback, is it? Yet too many of us are OK with that and continue on with our lives, unchanged. It’s dangerous thinking because we surrender our agency to define ourselves and our schools. In the age of technology saturation, it is now easier than ever for us to take control and play a major role. Two suggestions for educators and schools to start, getting beyond limited government systems…

  1. CONNECT – Every educator should be connected on social media and engaging in learning with other educators. When we do this, we build a positive digital footprint, one that not only represents our learning but demonstrates our ability to be reflective, thoughtful and collaborative about our practice. Connecting defines who we are. There are all sorts of tools that can be used to connect. Twitter and Twitter chats are a great starting point.
  2. SHARE – Share what you are doing and what you are thinking. Share when you learn something so others can learn along with you. Share about your school and your classroom! Not only for yourself, but for your students. Model creating a positive digital footprint and provide them with opportunities to develop their own as learners. You can use the same social media tools you use to connect or you might start a blog and get your own domain name.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of annual evaluations or systems of school accountability (although the current systems in PA are hardly effective or adequate). But let’s not let these external systems be the only components that define who we are as educators. WE should (and can) be the ones that define who we are and what are schools are. Not some external system interested only in boiling down all that we do to a single digit (or may 2 or 3). We do need to “play the game,” but we can make enough noise to drown out the din of the bureaucracy. Sadly, though, we haven’t reached the tipping point in education where we’ve taken control from the bureaucrats and taken ownership ourselves. That requires new learning and effort, and most educators, sadly, aren’t ready for that.

For those who are taking ownership, connecting and sharing, let’s take our question a step further and ask our students – Who or what defines you as a learner? The state and it’s standardized tests?  I see a pattern here….




Summer Project!

Final-Logo copyAbout two years ago I suggested to my colleague, Lynn Fuini-Hetten (@lfuinihetten), that we needed to do more sharing and that we should start a podcast. After learning how to record something that sounded decent and purchasing some equipment, I was ready to go. Well, not so much! (And I’ve been harassed for the past two years!) Life and work got in the way and it just wasn’t happening. Until I decided that this was going to be THE big summer project!

Today we launch TLTalkRadio, a podcast where Lynn and I will share out and engage listeners on a whole host of topics related to education – leadership, teaching and learning. We will definitely have guests as well! (So let us know if you are interested!)

Here is our elevator pitch:

Regardless of role, we all face many of the same leadership challenges every day. To be the most effective educational leaders, we need to design a balance between managing the operational side of our roles and the creativity and vision needed to challenge the status quo. To do that, reflecting on what we have done in the past, why we have done it, and whether or not it still meets the needs of our organization is essential. Join TLTalkRadio hosts Lynn Fuini-Hetten (@lfuinihetten) and Randy Ziegenfuss (@ziegeran) weekly as they share leadership stories, feature guest interviews and inspire you to lead for the change we need in schools for the digital age.

Our 1st episode is an overview of what we want the show to develop into – our vision. In the 2nd episode we share out about the Bucks Lehigh Edusummit a conference that took place this week – how it came about, how it comes together and how it benefits the educators that participated in the two-day event.

Lynn and I want to interact with listeners so we will share out one or two questions each week designed to engage. Comments can be posted on our blog at on on Twitter using the hashtag #TLTalkRadio.

We are also looking for listener input into show topics. If you visit the site, you will notice a red button on the right to leave us a voice mail with your ideas.

And of course, we’re on Facebook, Twitter and you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes U.

Lynn and I are very excited about this new venture! We are committed to sharing out our work and learning from others interested in the conversations. Come learn with us!

EduSummit 2014

logoI’m looking forward to sharing several presentations at this year’s Bucks-Lehigh EduSummit in Center Valley, PA (@ Southern Lehigh High School). EduSummit is a collaboration between Quakertown Community School District, Southern Lehigh School District, Salisbury Township School District, Palisades School District and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. It’s not too late to REGISTER for this FREE professional learning opportunity taking place on Monday, August 11 and Tuesday, August 12! There will be some awesome keynote presentations and lots of educators sharing and learning from each other! This year’s hashtag for the Bucks-Lehigh EduSummit is #bles14. Follow it!

I’m excited to be a part of three presentations:

Monday, August 11

Core Six -10:50-11:45 – Room 142 – This session involves a discussion of 6 key strategies identified in the text – Core Six by SIlver, Dewing, and Perini. Learn about the six essential strategies for reaching skills embedded within the PA Core. As a collaborative group, we will brainstorm ways these strategies may be used in multiple content areas. Co-presenting with @lfuinihetten. Download the presentation (PDF). Download the Core Six Book Study Guide (PDF).

Using the SAMR Framework to Elevate Instruction – 11:50-12:45 – Room 142 – Not all technology integration is equal. Collaborate with others to learn the basics of the SAMR framework developed by Ruben Puentadura. This framework provides a common language for all teachers and administrators when discussing instructional technology integration. Co-presenting with @lfuinihetten and @wdovico You can view the session document here.

Tuesday, August 12

Generation Z…It’s Complicated… – 10:50-11:45 – Room 134 -Today’s youth are growing up in a world that is very different from the one we adults inhabited. Come and explore adults’ assumptions about Generation Z and some of the recent research. We’ll generate strategies for moving this important conversation forward back in your school and district. You can view the session document here.

Hope to see you at the Bucks-Lehigh EduSummit!

Generation Z…It’s Complicated…

generationzIn danah boyd’s recent book, It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, she interrogates several myths regarding teens’ use of social media.

  • Why do teens seem strange online? (Identity)
  • Why do youth share so publicly? (privacy)
  • What makes teens obsessed with social media? (addiction)
  • Are sexual predators lurking everywhere? (danger)
  • Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty? (bullying)
  • Can social media resolve social divisions? (inequality)
  • Are today’s youth digital natives? (literacy)

The book and conversations I’ve had in several courses I teach at Moravian College have gotten me thinking about Generation Z from a leadership perspective and how schools must change to best meet their needs. To propel my thinking even further, I recently discovered this presentation (Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials) by the marketing firm Sparks & Honey.

If we are to make our learning institutions places of connected learning to meet the needs of Generation Z, we as leaders will need to confront some or all of the myths boyd shares in her book (depending on our varying leadership contexts).

Which of the bullets above do you find most pressing to address in your current leadership context? How are you addressing these myths, or how might you address them in the coming school year?

Resources that are worth the time to check out: