The difference between a manager and a leader: “Many educational scholars distinguish management from leadership with the focus of the former on efficiently maintaining a current system and of the latter on influencing others to engage in innovative change. In general, a management orientation relies on positional authority, whereas a leadership orientation is based on moral authority.” (Henderson, 2010)
No less than ten times have I been called a hippie in the last year for a variety of reasons ranging from jabs at my food preferences (including homemade granola bars, chia seed oatmeal, and entirely fruit and veggie-based lunches), to my obnoxious positivity (which unfortunately, seems to wax and wane at times), to my “free spirit” (ironic, if you knew how Type A OCD I tend to be) to my approaches to leadership and curriculum work. I noticed that I was the recipient of a “hippie” designation for the first time last summer at the #OHEdChat Tweetup when my response to a question about curriculum involved comments like, “We have to trust teachers to do what they do best,” and “Why can’t we talk about and come to a mutual understanding of what should be taught?” The response to these comments involved the hippie title and a short-lived Twitter hashtag #curriculumhippie.
Since then, I’ve found myself referring to my own hippie-like tendencies, those which I tended to think were typical of curriculists and administrators (in general) before progressing in the profession. I am learning that I tend to think differently than most–that it may not just be my awkward food preferences separating me from others…
To avoid becoming too self-indulged in this post, let me rephrase where I’m going here (I’m literally on the verge of a “This is everything I think about how things should be run” diatribe). Instead of a “you should do this” speech, let’s try thinking in hypotheticals centered on what I am learning are “hippie” ideals:
- Imagine curriculum meetings that begin with no real agenda and end with common understandings. What if, instead of prepping many copies of standards, courses of study, and pacing guides, developing powerpoints laden with trending instructional practices, approaching the meeting as an opportunity to train (which, by the way, is what you do to a dog) attendees, and preparing to lead attendees down a certain path from A to Z with a set end product in mind….What if curriculum meetings began with conversations? What if the goal wasn’t a product, but an understanding or shared vision? What if the aim wasn’t always to react to shifting tides of standardization, but to develop curriculum out of real thought and exchanges among professional educators? What if, and this is (apparently) a BIG hypothetical, what if the curriculum director or administrator wasn’t the leader, but served as one of many in the development of ideology?
- Imagine teaching freed from constraints of textbooks and programs. There are good programs, and I’m the first to admit everyone wants guidance. But what if teachers were given the time to develop their own programs, and what if these programs were flexible and revisable over time? What if collaboration time was found so that our most knowledgable resources (our teachers) had the ability to create something just as effective and valuable as the prescribed go-to programs we find because we don’t have the time?
- Imagine a completely different approach to curriculum “adoptions.” I still don’t understand the idea of a single “adoption” or an adoption cycle. What if things (resources, tools, equipment, technology, interventions, etc.) were purchased as needed rather than once every ten years? What if we trusted (HUGE leap of faith) that our teachers would not take advantage of a need-based system? What if “adoption” was ongoing, dynamic, never-ending? And, even more, what if “adoption” wasn’t for things? What if it was to buy time, provide space/resources for collaboration to take place? To promise real learning opportunities for teachers? (Why not pay for classes so teachers can improve their content knowledge? Why not encourage teachers to go to state and national conferences?)
- Imagine being motivated every day by the myriad successes around you–those of your colleagues, teachers, students, and an entire district. Imagine setting ego aside and finding validation not in your accomplishments, but in the celebration of everyone else’s accomplishments. I can be honest in saying I struggle with this, personally. Who doesn’t want validation and credit for accomplishments you either helped facilitate or led? What I am learning, though, is that I am best at what I do when no one knows I did it. I am happiest when I see others standing a little taller because of a contribution I made. So, what if….what if the mark of a leader isn’t his/her actual and/or tangible contributions, but in the legacy he/she leaves behind? What if fulfillment comes not from awards, rewards, recognition, acknowledgement, and validation, but from knowing your presence in a certain position allowed someone else to rise to his/her capacity?
- Imagine building relationships and becoming a go-to person because people trust you, not because of your position or authority. Every day, I learn over and over again that relationships are the cornerstone of continued growth. I have developed anxiety issues over time; I find myself often rubbing my hands, unable to clearly articulate my way through sentences, looking off/away from the person to whom I am speaking as I try to formulate the right words. Despite this, and through it, the relationships I have built with those around me keep my anxiety in check. I depend on others for their support as I am learning they depend on me for mine. I am not “above” anyone simply because of the word “administrator” in my contract. I am one of many. How would a school/district/community look and feel if we all admitted our humanness and supported one another.
- Imagine listening, being truly, nonselectively present, and hearing the perspectives of others. People just want to be heard, and really, truly heard. They want to know that what they say has impact; that it mulls around inside of your head and influences your thinking. What if every single conversation was one of real presence? What if we all actively worked to hear what others say to us? What if we mulled around every viewpoint, even those with which we absolutely think we disagree?
- Imagine all the people….(lol, just kidding. Throwing a little Lennon out to go with the hippie and imagine theme. Couldn’t resist.) Imagine the kinds of learning that could result from a shared vision, a shared system of trust, a common understanding of the why’s, what’s, and how’s of instruction. What would a school based on this kind of culture and community look like? Would it be data-driven? What would the conversations look like? How would staff meetings operate? Would there be staff meetings? Who would be in charge of such a school?
If my own tendency toward these ideas make me a hippie, then it’s a title I am certainly happy to accept. Peace 🙂
Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net