Monday, July 27, 2009

Extreme Leadership: Power to the People

It’s not uncommon these days during a quick channel surf, (which I’m really good at), to encounter shows like “Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “What Not to Wear.”  These programs, with their promises of rapidly transforming one’s home, body, and wardrobe, indicate that the mood is ripe for changing where we live, how we look, and what we wear, especially when these things are lacking or insufficient for survival and satisfaction.  Is it surprising then that a new style of leadership is being prescribed for school leaders in the 21st Century, i.e., “transformational” leadership to replace “transactional” leadership?  I think not!  Maybe that need to change and adapt was always part of our psyche and culture, and is only now making it to the pop charts.  But when it comes to school leadership, it just makes sense that if the tried-and-true ways of doing things aren’t working, then it’s time for us to change, and I mean radically change, to transform, to make something new out of the old, even to the point where the original is indiscernible, as long as the results are better and constantly improving. 

Let’s consider a new show, a spin-off, and call it “Extreme Makeover:  School Leadership Edition.”  Instead of architects and carpenters, we have principals and teachers.  Just as the design team is completely comfortable allowing the demolition of the old structure to make way for the new, our school team is okay with letting go of the old ways of doing things as leaders.  Instead of power relationships, unidirectional interactions, and linear thinking, they welcome a democratic approach among teachers and students, lots of relationships and interdependence, and “thinking outside the box.”  The task is laid out:  we need a new way of doing school to improve student learning.  What can you give me?  The outcome is uncertain, but the leaders trust that their players will support and enhance the vision because they have been given a role in developing it.  There’s more to be gained when they buy in and celebrate what they bring to the table rather than backing down and complying to policies and procedures from on high just to get by.  Where are the innovation, creativity, and transformation in that?  Give them a voice and a chance and watch what happens!

I think this transformational leadership has great potential in the area of technology integration in schools.  However, it will take a very daring leader to make it happen, one who appreciates standards but doesn’t enforce them in a lockstep fashion.  One size doesn’t fit all!  Schools are not assembly lines.  Giving students the same textbooks, lining them up in the same rows, and following the same course schedules year after year hasn’t quite worked.  The results have not been spectacular or radical.  Do we repeat this mistake by doing the same with our technology tools?  Do we give every student and every teacher the same set of tools and software and show them exactly how to use them to get exactly the same results?  How boring and unimaginative!  I think the time has come that we give up our control and give over the power. Stop wasting time obsessing over the training manuals, user guides, and policies, and making sure everything is in working order.  Try everything!  Don’t rule out the latest gadgets because “we’ve never done it that way before.”  Imagine the possibilities if we gave teachers and students the tools and just let THEM figure it out, let them discover how it applies.  Is this extreme?  I don’t think so.  It's what our current situation demands!  Who’s ready to take a chance?

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