Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Focusing on the Next Light

Photograph by Jim Richardson
School starts at Plymouth High School on August 14. Yep in less than two weeks we will welcome our second class of WSOI learners into our amazing new learning space. We will double our student body and double our staff. We were appointed Co-Directors of the Weidner School of Inquiry @PHS at the end of May, while still teaching. Needless to say we had our work cut out for us this summer.

So many things to do, so many lists to make, tasks to complete. It can be very OVERWHELMING. Fortunately our leadership team is comprised of a West and a South.

Two Wests as Co-Leaders would surely have sent sent us into panic mode (Jen’s words). Two Souths would have a hard time staying on task, being efficient and paying attention to the details (Michael’s words).  Have you figured out who is which direction?   The ebb and flow of our work throughout the summer consisted of compromising our own individual ideas of priorities and tasks and ultimately understanding that our work should be focused on the journey and not the destination, because it will ultimately evolve on a constant basis.

As we debated for awhile on our blog title, just another thing on our to do list this summer, this article on leading in the present, provided the perfect analogy for our title, The Next Light. South has frequently reminded West that WE WILL not get everything done on our to do list. And that is ok. THAT IS OK!  We will get done what needs to be done! We must focus only on the next light. There really is no light at the end of a tunnel when you are leading.  

Leading is more like a child chasing after fireflies.  Can you see it?  Better yet can you remember it?  “There’s one -  Oh there’s one over here.”  Sometimes you caught them and often times you didn’t.  However, in a child’s eyes the whole experience (journey) of finding and catching the next firefly was challenging and fun (for the visual learner).   Especially when you were doing that with a friend or family member because you could share the joy and excitement of the success of catching one.  

In our journey thus far, we have come to realize that  if we frame success through the completion of an ultimate to do list, we are going to end the day frustrated and unfulfilled.   That mindset is not only frustrating, it’s ultimately unsustainable. Our current lens of leadership is not to create the larger “to do list” of next lights but simply prioritize and focus on one(maybe two since there are two of us) at time.   

We also have discussed the importance of when we successfully reach that next light, we must mentally give ourselves credit for that success. Just like a child that catches that first firefly and puts it in the jar.   The focus for that brief moment is completely on the successful capture not the unsuccessful attempts prior to that point nor is it on the fireflies yet to be captured. After that moment of admiration and wonderment, the child’s attention returns the to field and THE NEXT LIGHT.   

There is a whole field of lights/fireflies/TO DO’S.  If we focus on the entire field, productivity is nearly impossible.  An individual person that focuses on two lights at the same time often finds that process slow and extremely unsatisfying.  Focusing on the pursuit one light ultimately produces either success or failure.  With success - celebrate.  With failure - reflect.  EITHER WAY YOU LEARN.  

The beauty of Collaborleading is that you can at times focus on two different lights.  In addition, if you practice distributed leadership among your staff and students (which is our goal), you can focus on even more lights at one time.  When those successes start piling up in the jar, the light gets brighter and brighter.  The brighter the light the more people are attracted to it.  So just like we have focused ourselves, we challenge you to find the joy in the journey(especially if you can share it with others) by focusing on THE NEXT LIGHT.  

Again please share your any thoughts, even if you disagree (especially if you disagree). Healthy conflict and debate leads to reflection and refinement.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo
shared by jonny goldstein

We thought attending the annual New Tech Conference in New Orleans would be a logical place to start our blog on co-leadership. As new Co-Directors in the New Tech Network, but not new to the network, the inquiry and comments on our new positions have been interesting and even curious. For example “ two are Co-Directing?”(usually in an inquisitive tone with perhaps a little skepticism mixed in)  Our response in every case, “Yes we are and we’re very excited about it.” To our knowledge, we believe we are the first Co-Directors in the network.

To the two of us, there is nothing perplexing about our form of shared leadership.  If you could partner with someone to lead a paradigm shift in education and completely transform a school into a learning organization, wouldn’t you want someone who could brainstorm with you, problem solve, build staff and student culture, question/challenge your views and share a vision?  Perhaps we are an anomaly, but pioneering change requires not only a different method of instruction but a different way to demonstrate leading and learning for a future where collaboration and communication are the anchors to success.
John Maxwell puts collaboration this way in his book; The 17 Qualities of a Team Player
Great challenges require great teamwork, and the quality most needed among teammates amid the pressure of a difficult challenge is collaboration.  Notice that I didn’t say “cooperation” because collaboration is more than that. Cooperation is agreeable.  Collaboration is working together aggressively. Collaborative teammates do more than just work with one another.  Each person brings something to the table that adds value to the relationship and synergy to the team.  The sum of truly collaborative teamwork is always greater than the parts.
That excerpt, in short, encapsulates how we feel about this co-directorship opportunity.  If we ask our learners and facilitators to collaborate and communicate on a daily basis, why can’t the same be asked of the directors?  Do we buy into the model or don’t we?  If we do buy in, then as many parts of the learning organization as possible need to have collaborative partners that both challenge and support the others thinking on a daily basis.  We consider this to be our own personal hybrid of adaptive and distributed leadership.
Last year we were facilitators in our school and this year we are still facilitators. We are also now co-leaders to a staff that is doubling in size. These double roles bring about many challenges but enormous possibilities for maintaining instructional credibility and replicating the very team-based skills we support our learners in on a daily basis.

As we thought about the launching of this blog, eventually the conversation led to who should write the first post.   It didn’t take us too long to come to the conclusion that if we are going to co-direct a school, it probably would be best to communicate in a unified voice.  We anticipate some individual entries going forward but this just seemed more appropriate for the first post.   We know that there are at least some eyes watching us out there.  Some are quietly doubting others are audibly supporting.  We welcome both.  At our core, we both believe the sum of our strengths is greater than our individual contributions.  We look forward to the challenges and obstacles that lay ahead, because it is through adversity that the greatest growth occurs.  

We are both new at all of this(directing, blogging, etc.....).  We welcome your feedback or your questions.  If you have topics that you would like us to speak to in the future, we would love to hear those suggestions as well.  Next post will most likely include the inspiration for our blog title.