2011 has been an amazing year for me professionally – a year of great change at NBCS and a year of outstanding opportunities, travel and thinking for me. It has also been a year of new connections. I am going to try and capture some of the main insights during 2011 gained in a sequence of blogs.
2011 Lesson #1 - Vision has to trump administration
One of my recent trips was to speak at and attend the Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis. As I always seek to do, I took the opportunity to visit a few additional schools with some of my team. As I listened to a range of speakers at the conference and as we visited a range of schools, a number of new lights gradually went on in my mind. In any organisation, vision has to be the driver. People will not jump at joining a ‘task’. In any context, if change is a goal, then vision has to be cast as loud, as high, as deep and as clear as can be. People will join in with vision. They will get excited by it; motivated by it; extend it; grow it; spread it; share it. The trouble is in so many situations, administration or administrators and policy has been allowed to become the driver.
Vision has to trump administration. Resourcing needs to follow vision. Visionary people should be allowed to thrive and lead change. Vision should be an umbrella covering the whole organisation and it should be the strategy driving even the smallest component of the organisation.
Stop for a second: Who do you think is visionary? Who do you know is visionary? What vision do they cast? Why do you regard them as visionary? Would others see them in the same light? How is their vision supported? Does finance follow their vision?
Be bold. Don’t be frightened to cast fresh vision that ripples change through the organisation
Vision needs to be led by school leaders. That is because no one else is doing it. I tried to think back to when I last remember a visionary statement about education coming from politicians or policy makers in Australia. Sadly, I can’t recall anything for about 25 years or more. That’s a worry. I shouldn’t be surprised because in the last decade we’ve had about half a dozen education ministers. Politicians are going to be concerned about votes – and their statements about education are going to be focused on gaining votes and maintaining the status quo. Tony Blair once said the policy of his Labour Government was ‘education, education, education’. That’s probably the most visionary statement I can recall from anywhere in the world.
I made a decision about five years ago to only speak ‘vision’ on those occasions when all the staff are listening to me – or when addressing parents or students. It has worked. People now expect that at the rare times when everyone is gathered together, they will hear about ‘next’ practice or hear a vision of the future. If as a leader I am going to get everyone together (only a few times a year), then it has to be visionary – otherwise the staff would be far more productive working collaboratively as hands-on learners themselves, not passive recipients of information that could be far more effectively conveyed to them in other ways.
Vision engages people. Vision excites people. Vision activates people. I have seen situations where visionary people seem to be literally ‘kept in a box’. Their great thinking and inspirational ideas have not been given play and as a result they have not been able to contribute to the growth of an organisation. Their talent and potential contribution has been squandered. They will probably be bored and champing at the bit for change.
Takeaway Tip - a strategy for growing vision:
Something I have found to be extremely practical is to take teams of people to visit other schools. In the early days, I had to be highly creative to do this with limited funds – but it could be done. When a team visit multiple inspirational workplaces, they will quickly and passionately begin to think new ideas. They will be freed to consider the ‘what ifs’, rather than the ‘have to do list’. Even better, once you have set the ball rolling with school visits to consider ‘next practice’, work out ways to take a team overseas. There will be nothing quite like that to unleash fresh vision and passion. For the first time in 2011, the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (www.scil.com.au/studytour) expanded its vision for ‘innovation tours’ and included external educators on one of its annual ‘study tours’. The focus was to look at, or visit, innovative, inspirational and visionary people, places and/or programs. It certainly worked.
Include team members in the vision creation process. Do this as often as you can. Encourage your team to submit a paper for a conference or take their own teams to inspirational places. Replace whole group professional development days, with group visits to inspirational places or spaces and then allow them or expect them to innovate. (On the budget side, if a person is to participate on an overseas trip, I ask them to commit to at least three years at our school. I know I cannot always expect that, but money invested in people needs to be allowed to grow dividends within the sponsoring community.)
What people do you have on staff who are visionary? Do you encourage them? Do you grow them? Do you allow them to influence others? Or are you wasting one of your greatest resources? Do you leadership team operate from vision or administration? Are your key team players bogged down in systems, routines and reaction or are they required/allowed to work on the ‘vision’ component of their role? What can you do as a leader to facilitate people to work from vision?
Lesson #2 - Leadership is IMPORTANT
Lesson #3 - “Do then think”: take risks
Lesson #4 - MIXed mode learning – “way to go”
Lesson #5 - Make teamwork, collaboration, and relationship building a habit
Lesson #6 - Invent new creative structures to enable deep and passionate learning
Lesson #7 - Educators can learn from entrepreneurs
Lesson #8 - Knowing and growing the tribe – some amazing educators I have met this year