I was disappointed to discover that I had missed the sign up deadline for George Couros’s newest project the ‘School Admin Virtual Mentor Project’ (#savmp). After a brief moment of feeling sorry for myself, however, I decided to try and participate anyway (minus the mentor) as the course is exactly the framework I need right now to help me process my current position and what I want to make of it.
I teach at a small independent school in British Columbia. Part of working in a small school is that you get to wear many hats. Two of the hats that I currently wear as those of Technology Coordinator and IB Middle Years Coordinator. From a technology integration aspect this is an awesome double hat to wear as I get to have a say in how we integrate technology AND in how we structure teaching and learning. My challenge so far as been that I have also been wearing lots of other hats (a big one has been the teaching hat) that eat into the time I can allocate to my Coordinator positions. That will change in the coming year when I will actually have the time I need to really focus on my leadership positions and as a result I am feeling the need to do some reflection on how I function as a leader and on what I would like to accomplish.
I have never seen myself as a leader. I don’t even like the word very much because in my mind it always seems to imply that I need to be telling people what to do. In the past few years however I have started to appreciate the more nuanced variations of leadership that exist and have reluctantly realised that they appeal to me.
It is in this context that I found myself biking around Ottawa yesterday reflecting on ‘Why I lead?’
I am in Ottawa for three weeks with my 8 year old daughter and my wife. We have rented an apartment that overlooks the Rideau River bikeway. Once we arrived it didn’t take me long to start pouring over a map of the city’s bike paths looking for good adventures to have with my daughter. You see there is nothing I like more than exploring and the bike map was covered with tantalizing green lines that represented potentially awesome bike paths and the chance to discover some beautiful parts of the city. As soon as we could my daughter and I found some bikes and headed off on our first adventure. We had a great time, but I was excited to discover more so I started getting up at 6 am every morning to scout out potential trails for us to explore as a family later on.
And that is how I ended up deciding to bike clear across town yesterday morning to have coffee with my mother-in-law. My trip did not go quite as planned. It turns out that not all of the enticing green lines on the bike map represented beautiful bike trails. Some of them were dirt paths, some of them included stairs, and at one point I misread the green lines on the map and ended up on a busy street with construction and no bike lane in site. At this point I considered turning around, but realized that would be a waste of a great adventure so instead I revised my plans and finished up my ride with an amazing cycle along the Ottawa river and behind the Parliament Buildings.
What does all this have to do with why I lead? Well, I read a #savmp blog post just before leaving on the trip by someone that described themselves as a learner first and leader second. I was mulling this over while biking and realized that I consider myself an explorer first and a leader second. I love to explore. Learning is part of exploring but not all of it. Exploring includes having a vision and not being sure how to get there. Exploring usually involves a map covered in tantalizing green lines but the explorer needs to be willing to go out and use the map and find out what the lines really mean. The explorer needs to be comfortable with uncertainty and confident in their skills to handle adversity. The explorer needs to understand the big picture so they can make informed decisions when lost. Above all the explorer needs to be always looking around the next corner.
In my professional life I am an explorer. The green lines on my map are things like blended learning, digital citizenship, mobile devices, podcasting, blogging, google apps, digital portfolios, PBL, Inquiry etc. My map is my online community. I love exploring the possibilities of new tools and the new ways they allow our students to communicate, collaborate and share. Discovering a new teaching technique or online tool that will let my students do something transformative is, for me, akin to discovering a new bike path that traverses a beautiful wood and ends at a stunning waterfall. But just as I wouldn’t expect my daughter to come with me on my early morning jaunts I have come to realize over the course of my career that not everyone is as comfortable exploring the physical and virtual worlds as I am. And in a sense I am starting to realize that the leadership positions that I now hold are a result of my innate need to explore, because after a while other people want to know where I have been going and I take great pleasure in helping them discover what I have discovered.
Upon reflection there are two different ways that I like to help others discover their own paths; guiding and map making. I will be guiding my daughter over the next few weeks while we are on vacation. In this role I will try and put myself in her shoes, judge her biking capabilities and temperament and will take her on the trails I think are a good fit. Steep enough to challenge her, but not so hard that she gives up. For the most part in my role as Technology Coordinator I have so far been mostly a guide. I have been working with teachers to see what role technology could have in their classrooms and scheduling time to visit their class to help them get up and running. I am judging their skills and temperaments and offering advice and assistance that I think is appropriate. Ideally as a guide I slowly take a back seat and become less and less involved in the activity as the person being guided becomes more and more empowered. In practice however I have had a difficult time stepping back from this role and as a result in the coming school year I am very interested in how I can be more of a map maker.
I see a map maker as someone who draws the map with green lines representing possible paths and adds the notes in the margins that give others the confidence to launch off on their own explorations. I am not sure yet what this will look like next year. I imagine there will be regular opportunities for small groups of teachers to meet and share, a number of different online support tools, and quite possibly another blog. In the long run I want to be a map maker. I want to provide the tool and supports for others to explore, take risks and be successful. This is why I lead.