Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Teacher Leadership’

The Cornerstones of TEACHer LEADership

In Classroom Teaching, Educational Leadership on 07/05/2012 at 5:16 pm


This morning, as I was doing a bit of surfing (you know, the virtual type), I popped into one of my favourite teacher sitesVenspired (from Krissy Venosdale aka @ktvee).

I saw the first few lines of her latest post:

“What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m just a TEACHer.”


OMG! This is not the Krissy I have come to know and lovehang on, the next line read:

Have you ever said that? It’s only true if you believe it.


That’s better – take a look at the full post – then, come back!


Didn’t you just love what her little “World Changer” did? Didn’t you just love the LEADership her little “World Changer” demonstrated…and how that made Krissy feel?


Palmer QUOTATION - Circle of Trust


A few weeks ago, I was running a session with a group of trainers-in-training – and we wandered into the whole area of teacher LEADership.

This was not really planned…at all!

One of the participants said she was a bit uncomfortable referring to herself as a “LEADer”.

“I’m not a leader…I’m just a TEACHer…who wants to be a TRAINer!”

She told me.

Many of the other participants agreed.

I stopped the session…we had hit a “LEARNing moment…but I wasn’t ready for it!


Luckily there was a “phone box” in the room (my hard-drive – with a few rough notes on it).


In 1989, a bunch of LEADership gurus / boffins decided to set up a series of what they called the “Leadership Masterclass” – the first one was led by John Gardner and he outlined his views on what LEADership was all about…

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Assertiveness
  • Capacity to motivate people
  • Courage and resolution
  • Decisiveness
  • Eagerness to accept responsibility
  • Intelligence and action-orientated judgment
  • Need for achievement
  • Physical vitality and stamina
  • Self-confidence
  • Skill in dealing with people
  • Task competence
  • Trustworthiness
  • Understanding of followers and their needs

Isa, Meryem and Yusef…no wonder so few educators have the kahunas to refer to themselves as a “LEADer” – the “Man of Steel” himself would struggle to fit into those tights and cape!

And, YES…I did have to place that text onto that image very strategically!


Fast forward 20 years (to 2009), the Masterclass boffins invited someone very different to speak to them. This speaker gave a much shorter definition of what matters in allthingsleadership:

  • Trust
  • Talent development
  • Openness and honesty
  • Learning from experience

That speaker was an EDUcatorSir Roy Anderson (ex-Rector of Imperial College, London)…

These were the two definitions I pulled off my harddrive…as part of this impromptu session.

I split the group in half and told each group to decide (in terms of the “definition” I had given them) whether they were LEADers – or not.

Do I need to tell you…really…what happened?


Many of us today still operate with “Superman model” of LEADership – and we forget that even little children can be “World Changers”.

The “Superman model” is also still very much based on “formal roles” – and this is one of the reasons we are often so disappointed with our “educational managers”. How does that old phrase go – “not all LEADers are managers, not all managers are LEADers”!



As Max Weber suggested, more of us need to start focussing on “acts of LEADership” (rather than “LEADers”). When we do this, we start to see that it is not only senior administrators that “do” LEADership

When we look at what LEADership is (through the eyes of an educator – like Sir Roy)…we begin to see that all TEACHers can (and should) be LEADers LEADers that are frequently only limited by what they believe about themselves…and what they do with those beliefs when they are with their own future “World Changers”.



So, here’s the deal – this is a set of thunks of what matters in Sir Roy’s definition of LEADership


If we look at this definition, we start to see a number of cornerstones



As another great man said (I have forgiven him for his unLEARNing rubbish):

Educators (along with nurses) are perhaps some of the most important “servant LEADers” we have on the planet – and we don’t have to “work at” as hard as those in other sectors. The whole purpose of education should be to help create an army of “World Changers” – as Greenleaf noted:

So, tell me again why we focus so much on “standarised tests”?



One of my favourite “World Changers” can be seen in the movie  Pay It Forward (yes, I do love the “boy genius” and old Kevin and the lovely Helen – and, remember that Kevin Spacy played a TEACHer in this movie).

If a “kid” can work out that he can touch 4,782,969 people in two weeks, and school managers can’t – we have got something seriously wrong in the “adult world”.

Caring for others is perhaps the best way to breathe life in to the role of the servant LEADer . This really comes out in the work of Mayeroff (1971) – who  defined care as “helping another grow and actualize himself…a process, a way of relating to someone” that involves development by

  • “being with” another
  • “being for” another
  • “being there” for another

All great TEACHers “get” this – so do many “World Changers”…



I think it was Albert Schweitzer that said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings”.

Sometimes, especially in the world of business, we forget this:

Peter Koestenbaum hit a home run when he said true LEADership:

…is empathy, which means service. It’s an attitude of love and compassion, of caring, of including people, of valuing them, of hearing them, or suffering when they suffer, and of being proud when they succeed.

Education is about “moral purpose” – a notion best explained by Micheal Fullan:

Moral purpose of the highest order is having a system where “all students learn, the gap between high and low performance becomes greatly reduced, and what people learn enables them to be successful citizens and workers in a morally based knowledge society” (The Moral Imperative of School Leadership, 2003)

It’s often said that LEARNers pick up more from who their TEACHers “are” – than what they “TEACH”. Ethics matter!



 We all know that trends may come and fads will go but:

Covey talks about “true north” principles in his 7 Habits:

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First
  • Habit 4: Think Win/Win
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand
  • Habit 6: Synergize
  • Habit 7: Sharpening the Saw

Then he gave us “Habit 8”:

  • Habit 8: Find Your Voice & Inspire Others to Find Theirs

I have not met many people who go wrong when they “live” these types of principles. And, that last one is how we co-create more “World Changers”!


LEARNing (the final, but most important, cornerstone)

Did you forget the name of the blog you are reading? Sir Roy didn’t forget it…the best LEADers don’t either.



Emotional Literacy for Educators – the 12-step programme!

In Adult Educators, Classroom Teaching, Educational Leadership on 05/04/2012 at 10:45 am

In a recent post I talked about the idea of Emotional Literacy – one of the core human literacies that drive great TEACHing and also great educational leadership.

Some people call it Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI), educational leaders often use the term “Conscious Leadership” – I prefer to think of it as the “people STUFF” in LEARNing and TEACHing.

Call it what you will…it is here to stay! And, as a concept, it is attracting more and more interest in education as we all get to grips with balancing the “digital literacies” (and fluencies) of the 21st Century with the “human literacies” that are the very foundation of good LEARNing and TEACHing.

In an earlier post, I told you that Tom Peters believes that the world today needs “leaders” who:

OK , I might re-name that 6th one – “LEARN, LEARN, LEARN”!

You know me so well…


For me, all TEACHers are LEADersand Uncle Tom puts his finger on all the major elements that TEACHer LEADers (and their school LEADers) really need to emphasise as they work with 21st Century students. If we do not walk-the-talk, how can we expect our students to even LEARN the talklet alone “walk” it!

The internet is today awash with advice for 21st Century Educational Leaders – these leaders are not only 21st Century Learning Specialists, they are also:

These ideas are also reflected in the work of educators like Marcy Shankman and Scott Allen – who believe that all leaders (and there are many all over our schools and colleges) need to think more about their own “consciousness”:


…if we are to do the same with our LEARNers!


This notion of Conscious Leadership has also been around for some time.

Deepak Chopra tells us we are beginning to see, thanks to information technology (those damn computers, again!), a paradigm shift from a material worldview to a consciousness-based worldview. This makes a great deal of sense – after all:

  • What is consciousness, if not information and energy that has become alive with self-referral? In other words, consciousness is information that responds to feedback, which is also information.

This self-referred information, if applied to “what matters”, supports the process of “consciousness” becoming “intelligence” – and even more LEARNing.


This, in essence, is what we teachers call “reflective savvy”:

– the very process of what we all do to improve what we do with what we know and understand about LEARNing and TEACHing and adapt or transform ourselves as educators…yes, I know – a mouthful!


Being a great TEACHer in the 21st Century, to go back to Marcy Shankman and Scott Allen, is not just about the “tech” – it is not even just about LEARNing and TEACHing practice in the classroom (“virtual” or not). Though, I have to admit, the whole idea of LEARNacy is probably on a par with these:

It’s essentially about exercising our Emotional Literacy “muscle” – knowing and understanding more about our SELF, our OTHERS and our CONTEXT…and being “savvy” on the INTRAPERSONAL, INTERPERSONAL and ENVIRONMENTAL levels, too.

And…how we critically apply this knowledge to all our EDU understandings:


So, how should we exercise this muscle – to make it more emotionally intelligent and make ourselves more emotionally literate?


A while back, I tried to develop a “12-Step Plan” to help teachers set up their own D-I-Y professional development process (if their schools were not helping them out as much as they should).

I thought I’d try the same for Emotional Literacy:

STEP 1 – Read, learn and discuss more about emotional intelligence and conscious leadership (book learnin’ be good – sharing be better)!

STEP 2 – Know thyself (and know “others” and “context” more)! This needs a couple more steps…

STEP 3 – Try to become more aware of your own “emotional style”. Ask yourself – What do I do in more emotional situations? How do I try to avoid discomfort? What do I know about the emotions of those I work with (and how do I know this)? What role do emotions play in my institution (and how do I know this)?

STEP 4 – Get to know yourself better by trying out a few of the many EQ assessment tools you can find nowadays – to understand your strengths and “soft spots” a bit more. Be careful – there is a lot of “rubbish” on the web!

STEP 5 – Focus on your own “listening skills” as a priority – listen in to others (and yourself) and see what lessons you can learn from feelings and emotions. And, remember “listening is often the best way to get your point across”!

STEP 6 – Be the change you want to see in your leadership style (OK – slight modification on what Gandhi told us) and work to increase positive feedback to yourself (and those around you) and increase your appreciation of others (try counting how many times you say “thank you” – each day)!

STEP 7 – Just do it! 

STEP 8 – Start small, begin slowly and focus on doing a few things “differently” and “well” (Rome was not built in a day…)!

STEP 9 – Don’t use technology – remember what we said; the people “stuff” (and LEARNing) is not about the hardware, the software, or the webware…it’s the headware, heartware and careware!

STEP 10 – If in doubt (and you have some “spare cash”), try attending a programme on EQ (but watch out for “EQ sharks” – those buggers that read-a-book and tell-the-world). Hey, if you can do it (and we do not do this enough in education, at all) – get yourself a “coach” (but remember – you get what you pay for)!

STEP 11 – Remember “best practice” is seldom ever enough (and the attitude of “fake-it-till-you-make-it” is quickly sussed out by others) – it is, more often than not, about somebody else’s solution to somebody else’s problem. Surely, it’s better to heed what Covey tells us about the “end” and “bearing it in mind” – and look for “Next Practice” in ourselves! 

STEP 12 – Always my favourite – remember: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference…

Hey, I’m getting better at this “12-step thing”!


But, then again, I’m sure you have some other ideas!

Why we need more “Committed Sardines”…

In Educational Leadership, Our Schools on 04/10/2011 at 7:22 am

A couple of days ago I did a “lazy Sunday” post – but shared a poem from the guys at the 21st Century Fluency Project (Ian, Andrew and Lee). The poem clearly touched a nerve with many of you and showed me just how much we educators value allthingseducation – and “the need for change”.

If only our schools, colleges and universities were half as passionate!


Lee, Andrew and Ian have recently published their latest book – Literacy is Not Enough –and have kindly offered to share selected chapters of the book with you all. After I had posted the poem, I thought elements of Chapter 12 (the end of the book) would be the best to start their series of guest-posts for us.


We must immediately begin to rethink and reshape the current classroom learning experience. We must re-examine the way we teach, the way students learn, and the way we assess that learning. We acknowledge that this is a great challenge. What we are being asked to do is not like changing a small bad habit such as smoking or eating a bit too much chocolate or biting nails.

The challenge we’re facing in education at this time is that educators are being asked to reconsider our fundamental assumptions about how we teach, how students learn and how that learning should be assessed.

But when we’re challenged to rethink education, we’re not being asked just to change a few small behaviors or habits like how we spend our money, what we put into our bodies, or how we spend our time. What we are being asked to do here is reconsider some of the most fundamental, traditional, embedded parts of our life experiences and our habits of mind.

And that is the real challenge that educators face.

And yes, change is hard. Sometimes the challenge of change seems absolutely overwhelming. So where do we begin? How do we in education deal with a world of such fast-paced change? How do we deal with embedded traditional mindsets about teaching and learning and assessment? How do we deal with the digital generation?


Facing the Music

It may seem a bit selfish, but what we passionately believe is that this is not about us; it’s not about our issues; it’s not about our comfort zone. This is about our children and our hopes and our dreams and our prayers for their future. They may only be 20 percent of the population, but they are 100 percent of the future of our nation.

Put on a more visceral level, all of our pension plans depend on how well we prepare them. Three billion new people entered the world economy in the past ten years, and if even if only ten percent of them have skills and opportunity to compete with us, that’s still 300 million people—about twice the size of the entire U.S. workforce and twenty times the Canadian workforce.

In the work culture of the 21st Century, everything from the neck down is going to be minimum wage. Everything that can be automated, turned into hardware, turned into software, or outsourced or offshored will be. So we have a choice. Either our students and workers have high skills or they get low wages. And if they don’t get those 21st-century kills in our schools, where will they get them.

We hear complaints all the time that kids today are different, and that our schools aren’t what they used to be. Frankly, we believe the problem with our schools isn’t that they aren’t what they used to be. Culturally and socially they are different, but structurally, they are just like they were when students were released for 3 months in the summer so they could harvest the crops based on a European agricultural cycle from 150 years ago.

No, the problem is that our schools are what they used to be. So if we’re going to prepare our students for their future and not just our past, if we’re going to prepare them for their future and not just our comfort zone, we’re going to need new schools—and more than that, we need a new mindset. We need new schools for the new world that awaits them. We need schools that will prepare students for their future—for life ahead of them after they leave school—for the rest of their lives. We know this is hard, but as educators, we must understand that our job is not just to serve what is or has been. Our job is to shape what can, what might, what absolutely must be.

Once again, change is difficult, and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the changes required. But this is normal. Little has ever been understood or achieved in one blinding flash of light. The process of change is messy and doesn’t happen overnight.

Honestly, in writing a book like Literacy is Not Enough, and in creating a project as large as the 21st Century Fluency Project, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed, and we certainly do feel that from time to time. But when we do feel overwhelmed, there’s a place we like to go to decompress. That place is the Monterey Aquarium in Monterey, California. Some say it’s the world’s greatest aquarium.


The Joy of Whalewatching

A few years ago, Ian took his wife Nicky there for the first time. After they paid their fee, they walked inside. Immediately on their right was a gift shop that was playing a DVD about the blue whale, the largest and, at 190 decibels, the loudest mammal on earth—much louder than a person can shout (70 decibels) and louder than a jet (140 decibels). The video was full of amazing facts. The blue whale weighs more than a fully loaded 737. It is the length of 2 1/2 Greyhound buses put end to end and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It has blood vessels that a human adult could swim down, and a tongue 8 feet long that weighs 6000 lbs. One particularly amazing fact was that in its first year of life, a baby blue whale was estimated to gain 15 pounds an hour.

One other amazing fact caught their attention—a blue whale is so mammoth that when it swims in one direction and it decides it needs to turn around, it takes three to five minutes to complete the turn. There are a lot of people in our world who draw a strong parallel between the blue whale and the school system. And there are also a lot of people who believe that all the calls for charter schools and vouchers are being made by people who are wishing and hoping that we just won’t be able to turn public education around in time.

But if you walk past the video on the blue whale, turn to the left and walk about 50 yards down the way, you come to what we consider to be the absolute centerpiece of the Monterey Aquarium. It’s a 10 story, all-glass tank inside of which have been placed many of the creatures that are native to the Monterey Bay. If you’ve read ever John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, you’ll know that a century ago, twice a year, in the inner Monterey Bay, there used to appear—out of nowhere—schools of sardines that were the length, the width, and the depth of city blocks. These immense crowds of the tiny fish had the mass not of one, two, or three blue whales, but of rather thousands of them.

But there is a fundamental difference between the way a blue whale turns around and a school of sardines changes its direction. How do they do it? How do they know? Is it ESP? Is it Twitter? Are they using cellphones?

Because we were quite curious, we pressed our noses against the tank and looked at the gigantic school of sardines swimming around inside.

At first glance, it looked like all the sardines were swimming in the same direction. But when our eyes adjusted to light, we began to realize, slowly at first, that at any one time there would be a small group of sardines swimming in another direction. And when they did this, they inevitably caused conflict, discomfort, collisions, and stress to each other.

But finally, when a critical mass of truly committed sardines was reached—not 50 or 60 percent who wanted to change, but 10 to 15 percent who truly believed in change, you know what happened? The rest of the school turned and followed. And that’s exactly what has happened over the past few years with things like out attitudes toward smoking, our unwillingness to tolerate drinking and driving, or politicians who lie. It’s exactly what happened with regime change in the Middle East. Each and every one of them was an overnight success that was years in the making. Every one of them started with a small group of people who were willing to make the change despite the obstacles and resistance.

You All Need To Be Committed!

On the 21st Century Fluency Project website ( is our blog, which we call “The Committed Sardine Blog.” When we first started posting we had a vision of building a following and providing world-class books and free resources that would help to transform education to be relevant to life in the 21st-century. We had a trickle of subscribers, which has turned into a flood. Today we have tens of thousands of Committed Sardines in dozens of countries. The blog and resources have been accessed millions of times. Shortly it will expand into a personal learning network where you can create and share unit plans like the ones in this book.

So the big question is:

who amongst you is willing to become a Committed Sardine?


Who amongst you is willing to swim against the flow, against conventional wisdom, against our long-standing and traditional assumptions and practices in education and begin to move schools from where they are to where they need to be?

American anthropologist Maragret Mead put it this way: