Every year in many school districts around the country teachers are asked to create a goals for themselves. They vary in titles, sequence, and scope but when all is said and done, goals are made for the upcoming year. In my district, these are called Professional Growth Plans or PGP (we love our acronyms). Last year I chose to look at mentoring and try to expand my ability to help teachers and their ability to use technology. I did my PGP and as the year passed I thought about it, but to be honest, it was kind of lost on me. Basically, life got in the way and pushed my little plan to the back burner. I completed it and learned a lot about mentoring, but it wasn’t part of my regular thought process. My focus became working with teachers and students… you know… my job.
This year, I’m making a more concerted effort to think about my chosen topic and try to put it into practice. I know it’s early in the year, but if I continue to remind myself about the purpose of creating a plan and the benefit that both my teachers (and in turn their students) and I can get from it, I have found many opportunities to use what I’ve learned.
I have chosen to look at leadership skills and strategies this year as my PGP. My plan is to share my thoughts and readings here as I reflect on this personal professional development. My first step in this process is the reading of the book Diamond Quality Leadership by Mark Hinderliter. Mark is a consultant from St. Louis and is known by an administrator in my district so brining this book into my PGP seemed to be a natural fit.
Diamond Quality Leadership, like many leadership books, is organized with an initial story outlining and illustrating the leadership concepts and skills that the character “learns” through the course of the book. At the end of the book the author discusses the implications and theoretical context presented through the story. In my limited experience with these kinds of books, this seems to be a fairly common approach. The story is fictional, but brings the concepts up in a fairly transparent way.
In the Diamond Leadership Model, Hinderliter outlines six different points:
· Create clarity
· Build trust
· Work with passion
· Serve others
· Fully engage people
· Act with courage
Each point can be expanded upon and they all have a place in both leadership and education. Many of the aspects of the book were not really new to me, but it has reminded me of some of these techniques.
There are many lessons that can be taken away from this book. Hinderliter’s discussion of his fourth point, “serve others” struck me because it changes the focus from the “leader” to the “follower”. Leaders are those who insist on giving those who follow them the responsibility and support to (in this case) do their jobs. I couldn’t help but put this into the perspective of the classroom. In today’s classrooms, teachers must hand the learning over to their students. We are there to support our students and give them what they need to be successful. In doing this, we must trust them to take responsibility of their own education. Rather than being the purveyors of knowledge and holding the responsibility for “educating” our students, we must guide and coach them in their endeavors. This means that we must relinquish some of our control and let them explore and work through posing problems and solutions for each other. I think that too often we want our students to “serve” us by completing assignments that we give them, write papers on topics that we determine and assess grades from our perspective. By making a conscious effort to “serve” our students and giving them responsibility for their own learning, we are not only educating our students but modeling leadership skills that will serve them in the future.
The second point that Hinderliter brings up in his book is one that I’ve been thinking about for a number of years. I haven’t acted upon it yet, but the more I come across the concept on the web or in books, the more I think that it’s a good idea. In the book, the main character asks 4 of his professional friends to meet once a month to discuss various aspects of their careers and personal lives. The idea is to bounce ideas off each other and spend some time helping each other. To do this, there must be a great deal of trust between members of the group as well as a strong desire to help each other. They meet for 1 hour in an informal setting and simply talk. If there are specific topics that a member would like to discuss, an email is sent out in advance so that all members have time to reflect and are prepared to help. I have thought of bringing this idea to some of my friends but I have yet to do so. I do have a network which I trust and will talk to, but the idea of getting together in a planned way and with an implicit reason intrigues me. I haven’t decided if this is something I want to pursue, but the more I read about it, the more I think it’s a good idea. In the world of IM and video, the geographical limitations of this are less important. However, I think this is one activity that I’d like to do face to face.
While there are many points from Diamond Quality Leadership that are valid for education and the classroom, these are the two that stick out for me. I write this as a reflection but also to help me think about and remained focused on my plan. Now to determine what action to take.