on life and leadership lessons from the middle …

We are four weeks into the school year and, I think, it is time for an update!

This year has been quite the adventure thus far!

We launched our 1:1 laptop program with our seventh graders; I took what I thought was a pretty moderate and reasonable position on the controversial author Orson Scott Card on a librarians’ listserv and in a blog post here which, well …, went downhill quickly (because Mr. Card is, in reality, PRETTY FAR out there …) and which I decided to private because I wanted to participate in discourse on it, not be controversial library guy; and I have been working as part of a team of Technology Integration Specialists to support teaching and learning with technology.

A few bumps in the road, but mostly, life is good and I am having a ball!

Here’s the thing bouncing about with the most energy in the cavern that is my head right now. Our TIS team has been wrestling with just what it means to support teaching and learning with technology. At first blush, it doesn’t seem like something that should be difficult to resolve, but in the messy world that is school, neither is it easy. In a rather curricularly traditional school like ours, for example, is convincing a pedagogically traditional teacher to try collecting assignments electronically via the school LMS a tally in the win column or is it just a mile marker on the way toward more transformative change that we hope will come at a time further down the journey? Is it both? Is it something else entirely?

To make the matter even more complex, I don’t think that we yet have a consensus about what the mandate is for our team and whose vision of teaching and learning it is that we have been charged with supporting. Don’t misunderstand me, as a team (along with other wonderfully forward thinking teachers who are walking the walk with technology integration in their classrooms everyday ) we have done some very exciting technology training, feedback from faculty has been wonderfully positive, and there is a palpable excitement and energy among the faculty that I haven’t seen or felt for a long time–things are moving along really well!

Ultimately, though, when trying to bring about a change in culture within an organization, what matters? Does governance matter? Does leadership matter? Whose leadership matters? In a recent team meeting, we had a very spirited discussion about change in our school culture. How does a school change its culture? If we could, indeed, change it what should it be changed to?

For me, it comes down to figuring out how one leads from the middle. I don’t sit in a big office with a sign that says, “Here Sits the Leader” on the door. But as librarians or as technology integration specialists do we not lead? As a librarian, I’m not anyone’s boss. When a teacher arrives at the door to my office and asks for help with a research assignment, I’m not in a position to mandate a change to a project. My role (at least the way it works here) is to suggest ways that an assignment can be tweaked in order to help students best engage with the research process, with the content, and to practice the information skills most appropriate to the task–I get to lead, but I have to lead from the middle.

On good days, I like to think that I’m one of the first few people running up to join in the dance in this great Ted Talk from Ted Sivers on How to Start a Movement.

On less good days, I can also feel like Sue Heck, the character of the incredibly awesomely awkward teen-aged girl on the sitcom The Middle. Sue strives for greatness.  Indeed, she always misses the mark by quite a bit, but in spite of it all she just gets up and tries again. In last night’s episode, Sue, hoping to be selected as a peer support adviser, submits an essay titled, “How to Lead When No One is Looking, Listening, or Letting You.”

Sometimes, leading from the middle feels like that, too!

I think that there is also a dynamic at play here that assumes that one of the worst things we might ever do is to tell people what to do–that we should let people determine where it is that they want to go. While I don’t think it is good to micro-manage that which people do, I do think that most people appreciate someone up front telling them, “We’re heading toward that mountain over there. There’ no way to know for sure, but based on our best predictions, we think that there is likely ample milk, honey, and shelter for all in the area to which we’re heading!” … Many of us want to be lead by those in front that we trust.

That … And to be among the group of cool kids running up and joining the dance if we’re fast enough!

#IThinkImSueHeck

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