Freelancer or Entrepreneur?

I must admit that I love idea man Seth Godin. In the reading and learning I do regularly online, he is one of my favourite writers. Even though he relates his ideas mainly to business, he has helped me see leadership, organizations, innovation and human behaviour though new and exciting lenses. Using these new lenses, I am able to look at and reflect upon my own practice at school and they have provided me with many “aha” moments.

Recently, Seth has started a podcast series of a session that he did with some start-up companies. It is been posted here weekly on earwolf. In the first session, Seth talks about the importance of understanding if you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. This made me think about being a school principal and myself as a leader, are we freelancers or entrepreneurs?

A freelancer is someone who does work and then gets paid for it. Every time we as leaders are doing things that we are the only ones doing we are freelancers. It is very important to be a freelancer when you are trying to create innovations for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, because you need to truly understand the innovation. George Couros talked about this in the first Leadership 2.0 session. He knew a digital portfolio would be beneficial for all learners in his district, but first he had to have his own digital portfolio so that he could truly understand and explain the benefits and pitfalls to others.  Secondly, it is important because we as leaders need to model the risks you have to take to innovate. This reminds me of when one of my educational leadership teachers taught me that if you want teachers to truly collaborate on improving instruction, you must be the first to volunteer to have a colleague observe your lesson and give you feedback.

An entrepreneur is someone who creates something bigger than themselves. These leaders create systems that can scale, so that even if they left the organization, it would sustain itself and hopefully continue to grow. Every time we as leaders are building structures that create sustainability in our schools we are entrepreneurs.  It is very important to be an entrepreneur when you are trying to sustain innovations.  A good example of this was explained by Jeff Delp in the second Leadership 2.0 session. He talked about how his school created a core values document, that describes how they foster positive relationships in their community.  Leaders who facilitate the building of cultural norms, visions and/or missions based on shared values are truly entrepreneurs creating something that is bigger than themselves.

I call Seth an ideas man not just because he is full of ideas but also because he causes me to have new ideas as well. Here I have learned that we as Principals need to be freelancers when we want to lead a new innovation and entrepreneurs when we want to create systems that sustain changes that are important beyond our term as leader.


I’m a “kids do well if they can” guy

“He does not want to do anything, he just doesn’t care.”

This quote came from one of my excellent teaching staff.  It let me know that it is time for us to work together as a staff to decide if we believe that kids will do well if they want to,  or if we believe that kids will do well if they can.

As an alternative school, we see a lot of kids who present themselves as having the skills to learn, but it seems like they lack the motivation (or have zero motivation.) These “skills yes, motivation no” kids do no exist according to Ross Greene.  He believes that all kids (and all people for that matter) want to do well, they are just lagging some skills or have have unsolved problems that get in their way. That is, kids do well if they can. Our job is to help them discover their unsolved problem(s), the thing getting in their way, and get to work helping them fix it.

The problem with the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy is that if you believe it, you immediately put yourself in the motivation business…make them wanna. How often do we fall into this trap? We try to motivate with rewards and with punishment, pouring extrinsic motivators on them, always having to one-up the last motivator. If you write two paragraphs I will give you two stars instead of one! Does that make you wanna write more?!!

This leads us to an alternative to the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy: Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving method. Well, it’s not really a method, more of a way of being. In this way of being, we start with the firm belief that all kids will do well if they can.  Now your role just changed. You’ve gone from the motivation business to the problem solving business. Once you get to work and help these kids solve their unsolved problems you will see kids doing well, because they are already motivated to do well. We all are.

Ross’ ideas have been going through my head all day and night, they resonate.  As a leader of an alternative program, I see many unsolved problems and lagging skills. I am tired of being in the motivation business, so I’ve changed.  I’m a kids do well if they can guy.

Leadership 2.0 Session 1

I recently attended/watched the recording of a leadership learning session called Leadership 2.0, organized by George Couros.

This is my homework…start blogging again.

I was exited about blogging when I created this blog back in 2010. When I started, I had just discovered twitter and was introduced to many leaders that were writing excellent blogs and it really accelerated my professional learning. I threw my hat in, but I never really got hooked on blogging.

But George made one point in the opening session that I really liked and made me rethink this blog. He said do not think of blogging as showing off, but rather think of it as sharing your learning in a very open way. So that’s my new lens: I will think of this place as a place to show, think about and share my learning…openly.

He also provided a framework that I think is excellent, using your blog as a portfolio for your professional learning around the Principal Quality Standards. I am very excited to frame my professional portfolio around our BCPVPA Standards. I see this an excellent scaffold to build my practice on. See Georges blog, Principal of Change, and click on the Quality Standards Tab to see this framework in action.

I look forward to the upcoming sessions in the Leadership 2.0 meetings, every Tuesday for the next few weeks. I invite you to join us. What a beautiful idea George: gathering anyone who wants to learn about leadership, free, and record the sessions so that we can watch them later if we cannot make it at the live time. Flexible, personalized, collaborative learning, love it.

Here’s the link:


Classroom Circles to Increase Learning

This past week, I started using the circle process in my Math 11 class. I have a challenging class, the kind that you talk about for many years to come. So far, they have been almost as tough as when I taught most of them two years ago, in Math 9. Things have not been going that great so far, so I decided to pull out the circle as a strategy to improve learning in the class.

Now I have used circles before…to get to know a class, I usually do a few circles in the first week, but then quickly abandoned them as it is “time to get to work.”

I was so excited about project based learning using technology at the start of this semester that I forgot about the get to know you, build relationships, build trust, establish norms part of teaching that I usually start with. I jumped right into my projects…only to discover that a majority of my class wasn’t that excited about using a wiki, creating an online portfolio project about taking a trip, or blogging about their learning. Go figure.

As a new VP, I have been learning a lot about Restorative Justice and the circle process over the past three years. I run informal Restorative circles with victim and offender on a weekly basis in my office. As a reaction to the way things were going in math, and as a way to increase my own learning through experience, I decided to run a daily circle in math.

At first, the students were apprehensive, but they quickly learned that not only is circle a way to get out of doing math for 10 minutes a day, but it can be fun to listen to others stories and experiences. It’s also a great way to work out classroom problems.

Four girls who were consistently loud, overly dramatic and off-task have noticeably settled down in class since we started circle. They have had the opportunity to see how their loud and off task behavior affects others in the class. To hear a peer say “when you guys are so loud it bothers me” has way more impact than another teacher saying “be quiet please.”

So we will continue with circle this week as a way to increase learning. This weeks focus: work as a group to establish classroom norms for behavior in class. Hey, better late than never…

Check out the Circle Spaces blog on my blog roll, it is a blog I came across today that looks like like a great resource for running circles.

Project Based Learning

Projects have been on my mind these last few weeks. Mostly inspired by reading about High Tech High in Tony Wagner’s book Global Achievement Gap.

High Tech High is a school in San Diego that provides students with meaningful and purposeful projects that integrate curriculum. They start with the student’s own interests and design the project around them. These projects are multi-disciplinary and end with a presentation of learning by the students for a panel of important audience members.

There are so many gems in what Larry Rosenstock CEO says in this video…watch it more than once.