Some Thoughts on Distributed Leadership

I think in reference to HWDSB, we believe that it is the role of the board to remove as many barriers to success as possible. EG: Providing a device, rather than leaving it up to the families to BYOD something sufficient is a barrier we feel is worth removing. I recognize that other boards have opted for a different route. We certainly don’t dissuade students from bring in their own devices (although the recently rescinded Personal Electronic Devices policy had sections to suggest as much), but see more power (and equity) in provisioning a standard tool .

See the new 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy for more details

Providing consistency across the board in terms of the tools available to teach and learn ensures opportunities for more organic distribution of leadership and mentorship. Those who want to emulate what others are doing can more easily start, because not only is the pathway forged, but transportation is provided (if you will allow the metaphor).

When we apply this idea to software, specifically in the case of the HWDSB Commons, providing windows into the classrooms in HWDSB increases the number of available exemplars, and raises the bar in comparison to perpetuating silos, cut off from the types of examples that push better practice forward. Teaching “out loud” also forces reflection in a way that hiding bad practice within a closed door classroom does not. I recognize that a number of the blogs on the Commons were not built to share practice with other teachers, but were created to connect students or to connect to the home: despite this, the by-product is access from around the board, creating leaders who may be operating oblivious to the impact their posts –intended for the home — are having on their unknown colleagues.

External expertise can sometimes be utilized to help contribute to the vision. Apple has referred to it as “providing bandwidth”. I like this analogy because it infers that they understand the message, they are just helping to amplify it, or providing alternative ways to gain traction. External expertise is a double-edged sword. Bringing in confident development teams that can connect with the culture already existing in a system, providing a wider dispersal, can provide a helpful boost. That said, external trainers who struggle to connect with the momentum already existing in a board, or fail to “speak the language”, can turn off participants, and create animosity. It’s important to ensure that internal resources are being maximized. External partnerships are only worthwhile if they provide something that doesn’t already exist internally. We must be careful not to value the opinion of the outsider more than internal voices when deciding what we need in order to move forward.

Communication Technology “can” remove the hierarchy of communication to allow all stakeholders to see themselves as leaders. Platforms that allow inter-dept/school sharing can provide leadership opportunities. I think we still struggle with this as a board, having spent too much time in First Class, without reasonable alternatives. We see this happening on blogs in the Commons, and within some conferences in FC, for those people who know where they can be found; but it could take on a larger role in our movement forward when we provision those social network elements into the workplace on a corporate platform.

As a final thought, for some reason it is still acceptable for people to say they don’t “get” technology. I think this is something that can be leveraged. Individuals who are just starting to “get” it, feel able to help their peers in ways that other subject matter demands expertise (it isn’t acceptable to stand in a room and say I don’t “get” teaching literacy). We are seeing a greater willingness from people just starting out, to share what they know with others, when it comes to technology integration in their practice. This may be due to what Fullan describes as the “irresistibly engaging” properties of current technologies. I also find there is a greater willingness to opt into technology PD. Perhaps we are beginning to recognize that this isn’t a “nice to have” anymore, but a moral imperative if we want students to meet with success in the future. I say this cautiously, because if one were to use the “I don’t get technology” utterance as an excuse to not learn, it’s an issue: it is only when it provides fertile ground for those just a bit further along the path to intercede that it is an environment that should be embraced rather than disparaged.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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  1. Your post touches on all the issues you’ve been talking about for a while. It’s great that you are able to reflect so deeply and synthesize that reflection.

    I also appreciate you looking at ways technology can enable teacher leadership. What conditions can formal leaders create to facilitate it?

    1. A number of people answered this when John first put it out on Twitter with the idea of enabling people to take risks. I think that this is a big part of it: creating a culture that allows for exploration and the ability to attempt new things. I wonder if we allow ourselves to take risks. If it is perhaps the role of the administrator to ensure that we understand that it is okay to try something new.

      I’m lucky that all the administrators I’ve worked under have never conveyed a sense that I wasn’t allowed to take risks. I wonder sometimes if that inability to take risks is something we put on ourselves. Is it that when the Principal is walking the halls, it would be easier if the kids were all sitting quietly, despite the fact the admin would probably be open to seeing the hustle and bustle of a more active learning environment. Although it is easier to identify “working” students if they are all craned over their desks filling out a worksheet, I would hope that admin would take the opportunity to walk in and ask questions, and that teachers wouldn’t be held back by a traditional belief in what someone should see when they walk through the room.

      The other piece, is to “buy in” and co-learn with the teachers. Having an administrator who opts out of the learning initiatives in the school because they no longer have a classroom invites others to find an opportunity to remove themselves. I’m not saying that you can’t admit that you aren’t “there” yet, but don’t use your position as an excuse to opt out of learning new things. If you give excuses, you open the door to others giving excuses. Be open and excited about new learning opportunities: it will infect others.

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