Friday, July 6, 2007

The Timing is Always Impeccable

It never fails to amaze me that just when my thinking is diverging slightly, albeit not all that much due to the fact that it is centered around education, I find others out there who are thinking, and better yet, creating along the same lines.

I offered to teach a class this summer within our district, something I called Administrator 2.0, and as I began to pull resources together and thought about the message that I wanted to send, the rash of posts (Steve, Chris, Ben, and Scott), including my own, brought to my attention that we are an overwhelming bunch to those who are not in the echo chamber. Our enthusiasm, while contagious amongst ourselves, is just the thing that can turn off someone with any amount of trepidation when it comes to change. Who among our stakeholders has more angst about launching students into online collaborative environments than those people who are ultimately responsible for the students in our buildings: the administrators.

So I thought some more about it, and bang! There is Scott McLeod's post in my Reader this morning: "Professional Development for the Leaders." I was a little creeped out, honestly, because this happens all of the time. Not just with Scott, but because I think we are all moving in directions and ricocheting off one another. Inevitably, we are going to cross the same points at similar times, and for that I am grateful.

Now, as I look at the list of suggestions that Scott put together, the process of creating this presentation is much less daunting. Of the 11 suggestions he makes, here are my favorites:

  1. Change their mindset: For me this is about asking them to suspend disbelief for just a few moments, until I can sink a hook using some form of media that has turned our heads. I am not looking at tools here--no bells and whistles--just something that will force them to see their schools and school culture through the lens of the 21st Century.
  2. Ensure that training is authentic: We have all sat through training, especially technology training where the last thing the presenter wants you to do is to touch the machines and play. Aside from a brief hook in the beginning, I want them involved in the applications, creating, reading, trying to break whatever it is we are doing.
  3. Make their lives easier: Exposing them to RSS and setting them up with an aggregator is a sure winner. From here, they will be more likely to buy into what you are selling. RSS is truly the killer app for most people new to web 2.0, and educators should be no different. Create a reading list for your next faculty meeting? No problem--use your shared articles from Google Reader.
  4. Respect their time: In my case, this will not be a voluntary workshop, so they will be looking at me under the lens of scrutiny from the start. I need to quickly do three things: show them that there is a shift occurring, show them how to make sense of the shift, and give them some confidence that they are capable of existing in this new environment.
  5. focus on leadership, not tools: Most of them have probably seen the tools in some form or another, or at least will not be too surprised at what they can do; however, I would like to get them thinking about how these things affect the way they lead. What will they expect from their staffs?
  6. remind them of the importance and power of modeling: Scott mentions the phrase: "Do as I say, but not as I do," and there may not be a more damaging phrase in all of education. Administrators, as teachers and students alike, must be able to throw away old fears of ignorance and jump into what is happening in their schools. The best way to influence school culture in a positive way is to be positive as a leader, and make sure that everyone sees that energy.
From those of you out there who are either administrators or are in a situation where you work for an administrator who has embraced these new paradigms and the School 2.0 philosophy, what are the aspects you would like to pass along to those just coming into the fold?

Image Credit: The Plaintive Wail
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Barbara said...

Hi Patrick,
I read your list of favorites and agreed with them but found myself pondering what each one would look like and sound like. I have been struggling with the practical aspects for my staff and for my district. In the interest of not making assumptions I wanted to suggest that the newly remixed Did you know video ( see Scott's blog) would be one part of what I would/will use.
We need to begin com[piling some resources to accomplish our goals so that we are not all re-inventing the wheel.

Patrick Higgins said...

Practical should be the new buzzword for this community. I will echo your desire for something tangible to give to staff members, especially to admins like yourself. What kind of resources are you looking for? Examples of successful practices?

Scott Elias said...

I think the biggest "a-ha" (I hate that expression...) for me in terms of presenting is that your audience does not usually share your passion for the material. Sure, some of them are interested and that's why they signed up (if it's optional), but some of them signed up just because they need the continuing education credits to re-certify.

I really don't mean that to sound negative - we've all done it - but it helps to think that most folks in your audience don't share your enthusiasm for the content.

Now, you can leverage that to your advantage. You've already hit on something I try to do - and it's no different with adults or kids: Hook 'em. RSS readers are a great starting point because we all read the news.

When we did our "Internet study" this year, I tried to demo a bunch of tools and try to generate conversation around how (or whether) people saw a particular tool as being useful in a classroom setting. I think empowering them to say, "Nah, that won't work for me," gave them the feeling that we were just exploring tools to see what would/might work -- not 'mandating' anything.

Of course, your audience is very different, but I did find that the "sampler" approach worked quite well. You may find that the group naturally gravitates toward a particular tool anyway.

Good luck!

Patrick Higgins said...


Well said. There is no stranger feeling than realizing that you are selling something to people who have no interest in buying.

However, I have good experiences with the reluctant crowd via exposing them to RSS and social bookmarking, two very practical applications.

Good news for me just arrived: I will be doing this presentation for two districts, my own and a district I used to work in. That gives me a chance to see what the uptake is like.

I like your sampler approach to this, though. When you did it, was it with a group of teachers or admins? My experience with administrators is that if you don't get them right away with something valauble, there are a million other things they want to do, especially if you put them in front of a machine.

Page said...

Patrick - Well put. My biggest issue is the "respect their time" issue. I struggle with this one. Especially with the three points you noted, "show them that there is a shift occurring, show them how to make sense of the shift, and give them some confidence that they are capable of existing in this new environment." I agree that RSS is a good tool to focus on. But how do we get them to see there is a real, significant shift occurring in education - in a half-hour conversation/presentation. "Did you know?" is a great presentation but I found that the focus on the worldwide figures turned off my administrators because they want to keep the focus on the students (and not what others are doing).
I'll be interested in hearing more about what you are doing and the results. Keep us posted and thanks for the post.

Scott Elias said...

Patrick -

Here is the wiki we set up for the study group. We did well keeping up with it from the beginning, but it died a bit toward the end of the study.

I no longer work for that particular school, but the wiki is at

Patrick Higgins said...


Great questions--thanks for furthering the conversation. I agree with the focus in "Did You Know," being a bit too global; it makes it easier for them to tune out almost because it doesn't focus on something tangible and immediate for them. I am going to try to frame it in more local terms for them by pointing to existing district projects that showcase some of the highlights.

Luckily, in this presentation, I will have at least two hours to pull this off, so I am thinking of making it two-fold: one mini-presentation on personal productivity using some web 2.0 tools, and one mini-presentation on leadership, with a focus on the rise of social networking and how it may affect leadership and learning.

I don't know if it's possible to show them the shift on one sitting. My personal experience has shown that the more you try to stress the change that is happening, the more holes people want to shoot in it (the "yeah, buts.."). A focus on personal productivity and information management has been a good place to start for me. It gives them a personal stake in the change.