Decreasing the Hierarchy in Leadership
In our leadership roles we are expected to oversee and manage operations. Trying to make sure that everything is running smoothly, while constantly putting energy towards reaching expected responsibilities passed down from leaders above, is very time consuming. This leaves very little time for school improvement plans or growth plans. As a leader, our job is to create an environment that works. Leaders literally shape their organizations. The shape of the organization influences the shape of the team. There are limitations to the ‘Lone Ranger’ leadership approach. Lone leadership practice is done to followers. If followers are not part of the leadership practice then sustainability is limited. As Guy Shearer stated, “School is rather like air travel – trust the person at the front and switch off all electronic gadgets”. This quote also applies to the leaders of our education community. Principals, superintendents and teacher leaders are also in the pilot’s seat. Do we trust everything they are doing? Do we just switch off our ideas and let the leader up front make all the decisions? Isn’t that why they get paid the big bucks? You may be a great leader with super skills, but is it sustainable? A good collaboration model can build strong relationships and a level of trust that may not exist without this teamwork. Leaders may lose out on many insightful or different perspectives that resonate through a shared leadership roll based on collaboration. If I leave my leadership role as the Vice Principal responsible for the daily operations of the ELC, will it run smoothly and continue to grow without me?
How do we reduce the hierarchy that pre-exists in our leadership roles? These roles may be Provincial Superintendents, District Superintendents, Principals, Teacher Leaders (department heads) or Teachers. Sometimes the answer to these deep questions are more simple than complex. I was very fortunate in my leadership role at the Energetic Learning Campus (ELC), to find some ways to answer this hierarchy question. I would like to share how, we the staff of the ELC, sort of stumbled upon this solution.
When we started our PBL campus three years ago, because of a building delay, we met in a common room everyday before school started. The actual ELC space was not ready and for 6 weeks we lived and taught in the common areas of the Pomeroy Sports Centre (PSC). At the beginning of everyday we had to create our temporary teaching spaces by rolling out our student desks, chairs and our teaching carts. At the end of everyday, we disassembled our teaching spaces so they were available for public use in the evenings. We had one common meeting room where we stored our carts and supplies. For these 6 weeks, while anxiously waiting for the news that our PBL campus was ‘move in ready’ we all met in this common room 15 minutes before the day began. We were able to plan the day and week and as issues arose, we were able to address them as a team. When our ELC space was finally ready on October 19, 2011, we were relieved and overjoyed to move into our beautiful new campus. However, after a couple of weeks of working in the new space, we realized that we missed each other. We came to the conclusion that the short 15 minute time, that previously had brought us together each morning, was extremely valuable.
We decided to make a commitment to meet every morning before school started for 10-15 minutes. From that point forward, for the next three years, we have not missed a day and because of these simple grass root meetings the growth of our campus has blossomed. This total buy-in has led to the development of wonderful relationships and extreme levels of trust. This, in my eyes, is an example of shared leadership. We at the ELC lead together.
Now, how did we extend that leadership role to our student population? Again, the answer to a seemingly difficult question is more simple than complex. The ELC has no staff room, no bells and very few doors. The open concept of the ELC allows teaching and learning to always be on display. We have a common kitchen and common washrooms that are shared by staff and students. All of these simple ideas have led to a community that is accountable to each other. Sharing this common space has helped create a community where wonderful relationships between staff/student and student/student exists. An extreme level of trust has also developed throughout our campus. Many students do not even lock their lockers, lost or misplaced valuables (money, phones, jewelry, etc) are almost always brought to the front desk. What I see, hear, and feel in the hallways and open spaces before school, at break, at lunch and after school is a great community atmosphere that is led by the green zone students. The red zone students (students who act out because of their troubled lives) do not rise to the top and control the hallways. They actually become part of the green zone students. This trustful atmosphere has allowed us to invite our students in on decisions that concern their community and education. At the end of every PBL project and presentation of learning (POL), we have our students critique the project so we can improve it for the next year. We have also had our grade 11’s tune new projects for us. Every May we have a “Planning Day” where we as a staff spend our non-instructional day planning our education goals and visions for next year. During this day, we invite our students to spend 2 hours of that day with us. The students openly critique us (kind, helpful, specific) on our campus expectations and our educational methods. We take this very insightful information and reflect, revisit and revise our campus for the coming year. We are constantly looking for ways to fine tune and improve the ELC.
In my eyes, this is an example of shared leadership. We (staff and students) at the ELC lead together.
We need to continue to find ways to help achieve growth in our education system. Growth can come in many forms. I am looking at growth that leads us out of the “traditional” modes of teaching to a model more conducive to preparing students for the 21st Century. If we put a doctor in an operating room today, using the same skills and training that doctors received 100 years ago, would you notice? Would you allow a pilot to fly a plane today with only the skills learned by pilots 100 years ago? The answer here is obvious – these professions have progressed and grown immensely over the past 100 years. However, if you take a teacher from 100 years ago and place her/him in most classrooms today, they would fit right in. Why is it that we expect change and growth in other professions but fight change and growth in education?
Great leaders build future leaders and leave their legacy with team members they have challenged, nurtured and grown. I cannot say, with certainty, that we at the ELC are transforming education. I can say, with certainty, we have transformed our campus into a learning environment more conductive for developing 21st Century skills. I do suggest that we all consider implementing these small simple ideas that can lead to a shared leadership and possible significant educational growth. Eliminating the hierarchy in our classrooms, schools, districts, and provinces is something I feel is needed to help us create change that is sustainable in education. The level of certainty is not always desirable when taking risks in trying to change or transform education. However, the opportunity to be a part of something that I strongly believe in, is all that matters. I would like to believe that the ELC would continue to grow and prosper if I were replaced today.
If you would like to see what a ‘day in the life’ of an ELC student looks like, take a look at this student produced video!
A Day in the Life of the ELC