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Today's newsletter reflects some thinking that will challenge your assumptions about leadership and how you do your jobs.

The book of the week was recommended to me by Ms. Nicole Dice, the superintendent at the Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District in Pennsylvania. I listened to it this week and found it inspiring and challenging all at the same time.

Have a great week and embrace the chaos!


The Definition-Deficit Problem

I recently heard a school administrator say that they were looking for "rigor" in how learners are taught. 


Good for them.

Now what?

Just because you say words that sound good, doesn't mean they will have any impact on how learners are taught or how your school is run. Too many times we say words with the assumption that everyone agrees on the definition. Thus, you fall into the definition-deficit trap.

What you will find out in real life is that there is seldom agreement on a definition of a word unless you purposefully work to create a collective definition.

Let's list some "education speak" words that everyone thinks there is a collective definition, but there really is not.
  • Rigor
  • Relevance
  • Creativity
  • Value-added
  • Formative assessment
  • Growth
  • STEM
  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Learner-Centered (I'm guilty of a lot of assumptions with this term!)
  • Student-Centered
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Personalization
  • Courses
This is a list I created in just a few minutes. Think about some of the education jargon you have used just within the past week. How many of those terms did you assume people agreed with your definition of the term?

One way to overcome the definition deficit problem is to actually work to create collective definitions of the terms. I have created the "Define-Action Cycle” to help think through the process.

Say you have a desire to increase rigor in your school. The first step is to define the term with all stakeholders that will be affected by it.
  • Create a definition with the school board (if you are a superintendent)
  • Create a definition with your staff
  • Create a definition with your learners
  • Create a definition with your parents
  • Create a definition with your business community
  • Create a definition with the important groups within your unique community.
Once you have all of this raw data, work on a definition that incorporates the similar themes that ran through the definitions. This is called "wordsmithing" (thank you Dr. Pat Crawford for teaching me this). Once you have created a collective definition, share it back out with everyone. You now have a collective definition.

The next step is to align actions and/or tasks to accomplish goals that align with the definition.

Sometimes, we get anxious and we start with action steps before we have a definition. If you start with actions steps before you have a collective definition, 3 things will happen
  1. No one is clear about the "why" of the actions
  2. There is little "buy-in" for the actions steps
  3. The action steps will become "compliance tasks" and not lead to meaningful change
To avoid this fate, you start with the collective definition and work your actions steps around the definition. You create feedback loops to make sure the actions are leading to what the definition is. 

Think about the definition of important words for your school and community. Are they collective definitions or just your definitions?

Education Leadership Or Education Administration?

When I was about halfway through my Ph.D. program at Penn State we were informed that they were changing the name of the degree from "Education Administration" to "Education Leadership". They told those of us in the program that we could choose which degree name we wanted. I chose "Education Leadership" because...


I have to admit...

It just sounded more important!

So what is more important or relevant for the betterment of learners..."education leadership" or "education administration?"

In some ways "leadership" suffers from the "definition deficit" that I talked about above.

After all, what is leadership? What does it mean for you? What does it mean for your community?

Something to consider:
  1. Are those of us engaged in "education leadership" really better classified as "education administrators?"
  2. What role does "bureaucratic navigation” play in what we do?
  3. Does the term leadership so closely align with business leadership that it is not that relevant for educators?
  4. What percentage of "education leaders" that you know actually lead...or are they administrators (bureaucrats) doing compliance work to keep the education train on its tracks?
  5. If we viewed ourselves as "education administrators" would it change how we approach our jobs? If it does change how we do our jobs, is that better for learners?
  6. What are the expectation differences between administration and leadership?
We know that leadership has an administrative aspect to it. However, in our system of education within the United States with so many directives and compliance orders coming from the Federal and State governments, it seems our "leadership" opportunities are limited to a very narrow scope.

Just some thoughts. 

I want to hear from you on what your thoughts are about the education leadership versus education administration debate. Please reply to this email to share your thoughts!
4 Questions To Help You Make Tough Decisions

Have you ever perseverated over a tough decision for too long? The paradox of always learning is that you realize the more you learn, the less you know!

So you don't get caught in a never ending stream of thoughts when considering a big decision, author Suzi McAlpine suggests asking yourself these four questions.

From her blog post:
  1. Is there a third option? In their excellent book Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath warn us to ‘beware the binary’. Narrow framing is a common decision-making trap.  To escape narrow frames, we need to be aware of “whether or not” decisions. Instead, they suggest that when facing a decision between two options, ask: “Is there a third option? Or “is there any way we can do both?”
  2. If this was happening to a good friend of mine, what advice would I give them?
  3. If I was following my values in this decision, what would they say to me?
  4. What decision-making biases might be at play here?
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