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The Learner-Centered Leader: Reflect and Renew

4 Mindfulness Tips For Learner-Centered Leaders

  1. Allow yourself to be bored. Americans work less in the 21st Century than our parents and grandparents did 50 years ago. However, Americans feel as if they have less time to get done what they what to get done in a day. It is instructive to look back at what was happening 50 years ago. People would go to each other's houses and share slides of their vacation. they would have neighborhood picnics. They would join book clubs. What has happened over the past 25 years is that Americans have become obsessed with "efficiency" and we believe that we can not have one second in our day that is not leading toward reaching a goal...and we all know how important goals are! (This one hurts a little). Let's all take a collective breath and SLOW OUR BUTTS DOWN! Allowing yourself to be "bored" actually increases creative thinking. So the next time you are feeling restless because you are not engaged in an activity that is going to "lead to something", give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the boredom!
  2. Set aside time for "Deep Reading". We have trained our brains to skim when we read. This occurs because we have increased our reading times on devices and many times the content does not require all of our attention. Our brains are trained not to read, or think, deeply about what we are reading! Set aside 30 minutes every other day for deep reading. This happens when you concentrate on one book, article, or other writing to the exclusion of everything else. I am going to reread East of Eden by John Steinbeck using this method. 
  3. Do something good for someone. Do something nice and unexpected for someone every day. The world needs more people just being nice to each added benefit is that science is coming around to the fact that doing nice things for people decreases your stress and anxiety levels.
  4. Take more breaks. Professional athletes schedule time for their bodies to recover and you should schedule time for your mind to recover. Give yourself permission to allow your brain to wander. You will actually start to think more clearly when you give yourself a break!

Something To Ponder: Bureaucratic Psychosis

"People suffering from bureaucratic psychosis obey bad incentives not out of cynicism or self-interest, but because they’ve been deluded into thinking that obeying bad incentives is good." (this quote comes from the article linked below.

Assuming this is the definition of bureaucratic psychosis, what are examples of bad incentives in your school that deludes people's thinking? 

Here are few examples to warm-up your brain.
  1. Better scores on an evaluation for a teacher if their students perform well on a high-stakes test
  2. Following a curriculum pacing guide
  4. Using "Time and effort logs" to defend your work
What are some examples of bad incentives that lead to delusion thinking in your organization?
How can you overcome these bad incentives...better yet, how can you change them?
Read the Blog Post
3 Ways Learner-Centered Leaders can Give Freedom to Your Staff
Author Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, discusses what actually motivates people to do things. (I have included a 10 minute RSA Animate video of Pink's famous TED Talk.) Without getting too much into the weeds, we can think of an acronym to help us remember the three things that motivate people: PAM. PAM stands for purpose, autonomy, and mastery. 

Purpose is knowing why I am doing something.
Autonomy is the feeling of being autonomous, self-directed.
Mastery is the feeling I am getting better at things that matter, by getting feedback.

How can you use PAM to help your staff become the best they want to be?

1. Meet with every staff member that directly reports to you and talk with them about their purpose. Why did they get into education? What does a day look like when they walk out of the building on cloud 9? What happens during the day when the opposite happens? These are questions that can start the conversation.  

The importance of purpose lies in the fact that the best motivation for knowledge workers is intrinsic motivation. Understanding what a person's purpose is to help you help them achieve what they want to achieve. 

2. Allow your staff to have freedom. Do not micromanage them by relying heavily on compliance activities. For example, creating a poster with the 6 activities every teacher must follow when monitoring a study hall, is NOT an example of autonomy. Set the expectations for what needs to be accomplished by everyone and allow your staff to figure out a way to "get there." Poor leaders micromanage. Learner-Centered Leaders give their staff a roadmap and allow them to use creativity on how to get to the common destination.

3. Set the conditions for positive feedback. All of us need feedback to improve what we do. Here is the kicker: feedback that does not lead toward a person's purpose is criticism, and we all know no one likes criticism. Purpose provides the context for necessary course corrections in a positive environment.

Another key component for mastery is making sure your staff has the resources and knowledge needed to accomplish their purpose. You cannot skimp on PD that is self-directed and targeted to help people achieve their goals.

One final thought. Your staff's individual purpose, autonomy, and mastery cascade down into the purpose and goals of your school and school district. 
Daniel Pink on motivation: RSA Animate
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Book of The Week (Or 3 Ways Learner-Centered Leaders Can Navigate The Parent's Rights Movement)
The two presidents Adams' were contrarian thinkers who absolutely DID NOT aim to gain popular support through "politicking." They were first and foremost thinkers who wrote extensively about the best form of government.

My big take-away from the book.

John Adams, and his son John Quincy Adams, thought deeply about the theory undergirding our nation's government. They believed in representative democracy which is a form of government where representatives are elected to make decisions for constituents. This is also called "indirect democracy.' Without getting too much into history, there has always been a tension between those who believe in representative democracy and those that believe that the electorate should decide on every individual policy initiative (called direct democracy). 

Both Adams' believed that governing would be made impossible by allowing direct democracy. Thus we have the form of government we have today. However, throughout American history, there have always been times when the definition of democracy moves away from a representative form of democracy to direct democracy. John Q. Adams lost his presidency to Andrew Jackson when the pendulum swung to a more direct democracy approach. When direct democracy becomes popular, "the will of the people" becomes the rallying cry for populist politicians. 

I think it is safe to say that we are living through a time, right now, where direct democracy is popular.

What does this mean for learner-centered leaders?

During these times of direct democracy, the electorate ("the people") demands a say in a broad swath of government policy decisions. We see this in the "parent rights" approach being trumpeted by many on the political right. Parent's rights is a radical approach to reframing the relationship between school boards and schools. Proposed laws in many states require all teachers to post all their lesson plans for the year so parents can review them. Parents will demand their students not be required to participate in lessons they disagree with. And, of course, there is the increased banning of books in schools. 

In order to stay focused on our learners, Learner-Centered Leaders must take three actions when confronted by parent's rights activists:

1. Give concerned parents grace and dignity (even when they do not reciprocate). Approach parents and students with even more empathy and consideration than before. Be curious and understanding of their concerns and allow them to voice how they feel.

2. Help parents see the big picture. Many times the "facts" as understood by parents are not grounded in what actually happens in your school. Correct these mischaracterizations with a sense of grace.

3. Communicate clearly and with compassion. No matter what your role is in the school system, make sure you overcommunicate what is happening while you are working with a parent. Being a caring human helps bring understanding. 

I am not sure the authors of the book expected their book to start a conversation about the parent's rights debate...but if you take the time to read or listen to the book, I think you will see parallels to our present day.
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