An Interview with Berj Akian – CEO ClassLink Inc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.28 PM

Join me for an interview with Berj Akian, CEO and founder of ClassLink Inc.. Berj set out to improve education by creating world class technology tools for students and teachers. What started out as an effort to help one local school integrate a cutting edge technology environment became a stepping stone that led to the establishment of ClassLink, Inc. Prior to paving a new foundation for technology in the educational realm, Berj was with Technology Crossover Ventures, a leading venture capital firm. Previous to TCV he specialized in restructuring and attest services for large technology and educational publishing clients with Arthur Andersen. Berj graduated cum laude from Baruch College in New York

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

Berj discusses a wide range of topics including:

The Key Elements of Effective Leaders


The Teacher’s Burden




See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart


What is ClassLink?  ClassLink solves the problem of too many passwords, and too many files scScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.40 PMattered about. It’s a one click single sign-on solution that gives students access to everything they need to learn, anywhere, with just one password. Accessible from any device, ClassLink is the perfect tool for ensuring the success of a 1:1 or BYOD initiative.


Administrator or Leader?

I believe that each of us has a leader within and that educational leadership is not the sole domain of school administrators. I’ve see classroom teachers step up and lead incredible school transformations without the authority of a title or degree. But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to examine the not so secret, ‘secret’ among educators:

While every school has at least one administrator, few have leaders.

A recent workshop participant paraphrased Peter Drucker and said it this way,

“Administrators do things right. Leaders do the right things.”

While that simple statement captures some of the gulf between leadership and administration, I think it falls far short.

I have a long list, developed over many educational leadership seminars, that outlines the differences between administrators and leaders; but today I’ll start with the one element that seems to encompass so many others…

Leaders deal from their hearts as well as their minds; administrators work almost exclusively from the mental framework.

We’ve all encountered administrators who kick off the school year with speeches stating the districts goals and objectives, or by reciting well meaning mission statements; but it’s rare to find leaders who articulate a vision and inspire their staffs to embrace that vision.

Administrators are comfortable speaking from and appealing to the cognitive domain, hoping others see the logic of their goals and objectives; while leaders want to stir the hearts, as well as the minds of those they seek to lead.

It’s the power of the heart that injects a special energy into the team. Leaders who use their hearts and minds when they speak have an authenticity that creates trust. Administrators who speak only from their heads may say the right words; they may have perfect scripts; but they appear less authentic, less fully committed, and therefore they create less trust.

Without trust it’s difficult to lead effectively.

I remember the Principal at my son’s eighth grade graduation ceremony speaking to the audience of proud parents and students. His first words were,

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here with you tonight.”

Unfortunately, he spoke these words in a monotone with no emotion (heart). Even worse, there was no smile, no crack in his bland and blank façade. He continued this way through the entire speech.

While I have no doubt that deep inside he meant every word he spoke; because he closed off his heart when delivered his words, it destroyed his message. It reeked of an administrator fulfilling his job requirements, when it could have been a leader expressing gratitude to his victorious 8th grade troops and sending them off to the high school full of inspiration and hope.

Not every leader needs to be a charismatic speaker. Even speakers who speak haltingly and uncomfortably, if they speak from the heart, touch the hearts of those around them; their authenticity comes through and with that, trust flows. We feel their commitment.

One of the first steps in the transformation from administrator to leader is to access the power of the heart. Tapping into the heart shows up in every aspect of leadership, not just in speaking. It is a way of tethering ourselves to something deeper than just our ideas and thoughts. It ties us to our purpose, values, and beliefs.

When we work from this place, we’re grounded. We don’t change directions every time the political breezes shift. We are more apt to go the extra mile, even if it seems risky. We walk our own talk. We don’t have hidden agendas, they’re all out there for people to see. When we work from the heart, we don’t make decisions based solely on complicated political calculations; but we factor in our beliefs and values.

Most importantly, when we’re grounded in the heart, we have the courage of a leader. Interestingly, the word courage comes from the French root ‘cour’ or heart. As leaders we don’t avoid difficult conversations, or put off difficult decisions out of fear. We address them because they need to be addressed. The heart gives us the strength and passion to do the difficult things.

The transformation from administrator to leader is largely a journey of the heart.


Shutting Down the Machine

My last post elicited a passionate response from David Truss advocating that we do more to support young teachers, ANY teachers, for that matter, that take the risks that are involved in transforming teaching and learning.

The educational machine is powerful and it can be unforgiving. A teacher who ignores the status quo will soon learn about ‘institutional homeostasis’. It might come in the form of scorn from their colleagues, admonitions from supervisors and administrators, or in the form of parents complaining because they want the same experience for their children as they and their own parents had as students. My first year teaching I experienced two of the three on the list.

So, what will it take to transform teaching and learning? What will it take to shut down the pleasant hum of the machine that is so good at turning out 20th century students even though we’re entering the second decade of the 21st century?

Leaders with Courage and Commitment!

I think this clip from Norma Rae is both inspiring and informing. In it, her supervisor, security police, and the factory boss himself, try to intimidate her. She gets fired from the job she holds so dear.

Norma is leading from the front, by example. Pushed over the edge, she takes action. She steps forward with no assurance that anyone will stand with her. Norma Rae puts herself on the line.

She is all in!

Whenever I see Norma Rae’s face, and the faces of her co-workers, I see fear and hope co-mingled. It inspires me to take a stand for what I believe in! By stepping forward with all she had, Norma Rae eventually gives others the courage to follow her lead.

When we set about following our hearts and doing what we think is right; we hope that what we are doing works, that other people see that it works, and that everything turns out for the best. Sometimes things work out and, unfortunately, sometimes they do not. We don’t have to look further than the assassination of Martin Luther King to understand that.

Leaders, whether they lead from the classroom or the district office, need to understand that there are powerful forces aligned against change.

So, it is our blessing and our burden to have the seeds of leadership in each of us.

There is no tiptoeing around this thing. Those who truly desire a transformation of educational system will have to endure many of the same trials and tribulations as those who fought and fight for change in other domains. While educational change agents may not endure the physical pain that so many activists experience; it should come as no surprise that some will be intimidated, or refused tenure, or shunned by colleagues.

If we are going to shut down the momentum of the educational machine, if we are going to transform the factory floor, we will need to be “all in”.

Courage and Commitment!


Transformative Change

“For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
– From the National Educational Technology Plan

There are several elements involved in transformative and systemic change. First, there is the content of the change message; second, is the condition of the audience who will be receiving the message; and third, is the the condition of the person who will be delivering the message and leading the change.

For the purpose of today’s post, let’s pretend we all agree on the content of the message. We believe that technology can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning so that students are more active and engaged in their learning. Now, let’s explore the environment into which this message, or any message of change, is being delivered.

The Environment- We all know that a school building culture can be complex environment and like any organization one description of the culture does not fit all. However, it is clear that some buildings, over the years, have devolved into an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. The ‘us’ being the teaching staff and the ‘them’ being the administration. In these situations there is a feeling that administrators are nothing but political animals who want to look good; but don’t understand or truly care about how difficult the teacher’s job is, nor are they fully supportive of the staff. There is little trust.


The building may be experiencing destructive levels of triangulation on a daily basis. The Principal holds a faculty meeting, or the technology committee or the curriculum committee holds a meeting and the staff participates; but as soon as the meeting breaks, there are people in the hallways or lavatories complaining about the Principal, the presenter, the committee chair, other members of the team, or the entire committee process. Rather than raising these issues in public where they can be discussed and remedied, they are relegated to private conversations. When people aren’t being candid with one another it erodes trust.


The teachers are open to the leader’s message; but they are overwhelmed. There are multiple initiatives going on and many committees meeting. The teachers feel like they cannot take on another thing. They don’t have the time or the intellectual shelf-space for another ‘high priority item’.


There may be a few staff members who are not meeting the teaching profession’s basic standards. In some cases these folks have been ignored and tolerated for years because engaging them will take an enormous amount of effort and has the potential to generate lots of political controversy.


The pedagogy in many classrooms within the building, especially secondary classrooms, is fairly traditional: teachers have the answers, they follow the curriculum, they talk a lot, while students listen and then take written tests. Also in the realm of pedagogy and transformation falls the ‘personality driven classroom’, where teachers who like to exert control or be the center of attraction find that the personality traits that have made them so successful, do not serve them as well in a more creative, project-based, student-centered classroom.

The point here is that bringing a visionary technology message, or systemic change initiative into these building cultures will be exponentially more difficult than bringing the same message into a building with a healthy, trusting, culture that has shared values and a shared vision.

“When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can’t just legislate more rules and regulations,” says Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.”  “You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the  inside, inspired by shared values.”

Tthere are many elements of existing building cultures that need to be addressed before we can move ahead with transformative technology initiatives. Think of it as tilling the field before planting a new seed. We need to deal with existing building cultures so that our staffs are open to creating a new shared vision and implementing it.

The Leader – Last, but not least, there is the messenger; the leader. How prepared is the building administrator to lead systemic and transformative change? No doubt a challenge like shifting a building culture and introducing systemic change will be the challenge of a lifetime. Have we trained for this? or are we stepping up to the starting line of a marathon without having done any roadwork ahead of time?

If the building leader is like most of us, he learned on his own, and through his studies as part of his graduate certification program. There were courses in School Administration, School Law, Business Administration, Personnel Management, Supervision of Instruction, and School-Community Relations.  He read, he attended class, he discussed, he wrote, and occasionally he presented; but little of his certification work had to do with leading transformative and systemic change.

Take just one of the scenarios above…If there is even one staff member who everyone in the building knows is not doing their job and the leader ignores them and lets them continue with business as usual, how much credibility will he have when he lays out his vision for the future? The staff will look at him and say to themselves, ‘Sure, he says he wants to make this school ‘world class’, ‘the best it can be’; but he turns his eyes away from the people who aren’t doing their jobs because it’s too much work to confront them. It’s too politically risky. Why should we stick our necks out if he won’t?” They’re right. In order to build trust with the staff the leader has to walk his own talk.

I am not trying to discourage us from moving forward. I have designed my life to help lead the effort; but if  we are serious about transforming teaching and learning, we need to get serious about identifying the enormous challenges we face; and once we have done so, we need to take some serious steps to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to meet them.

It’s my belief that we’ll never get there if we continue to prepare our leaders in same manner as we have in the past. As the National Educational Technology says…”leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

Where will these leaders come from?


The Mirror


Our local PBS station is having its annual fund drive and recently ran a lecture by Deepak Chopra. The entire show was thought provoking; but one concept stood out for me. The idea went something like this; I paraphrase…

“Your life is a reflection of you.”

Now that seems innocuous enough; but there is more to it than meets the eye. What I believe he is saying is that if your life has lots of drama, conflict, frustration, and anger. It’s a reflection…not of others; but of you.

Wow! Now that hit a nerve!

For the last month or so, I have found myself with a bit of a negative outlook. I’ve been complaining about some of the folks in the consulting engagements I’m leading. I can feel myself getting increasingly frustrated with the dysfunction I am finding in so many schools and school districts. I’m discouraged with the pace of educational change, and I have been more easily drawn into non-productive conversations.

Is this all a reflection of me?

I think it is. I have been out of touch with my daily leadership practices, so I find myself more easily falling back to my old and familiar, automatic behaviors. These old habits of thought and action don’t work for me anymore. In fact, when just a tiny bit of my old self-righteousness or arrogance shows up, it creates a big mess.

In truth, I have been restless with the pace of my own personal change. I keep getting close to breaking through with a book I am writing and then I choose to let myself get distracted with lots of commitments and consulting. Weeks go by and the book slips out of sight, except that my inner voice won’t let it disappear completely. The more I ignore it, the more I am aware of it. Sounds crazy; but that’s the way it is for me.

So, it’s a vicious cycle. If I let it, my mood gets very self-critical.

Which leads me back to ‘life as a mirror’. Is it any wonder that, when I am frustrated with myself, that I would express frustration with others? And, if I feel negative and discouraged with my own pace of change, that my dealings with others would mirror that negativity and discouragement? Yes, I believe the conflicts and the drama I am experiencing in my life right now, are simply expressions of my own inner drama. It is my own inner ‘critic’ wreaking its familiar havoc.

I know better than to let this happen, I guess that is part of my frustration. It’s so easy to blame the folks that seem so dysfunctional, because in some cases, they ARE. It’s easy to blame the bureaucracy of schools because they ARE bureaucratic and slow to change. It’s easy to blame the administrators who manage rather than lead, because there are so many of them.

All these problems and issues are very real. They exist on their own; but how I choose to deal with them is MY choice. I can be critical, angry, negative and discouraged; which creates conflict and closes doors; or I can choose to deal with these issues with an open heart, with understanding, self-confidence, and gratitude… which opens doors.

Fortunately, I can choose to take a different path at any time. Yesterday, I began my leadership practices again. I believe it was the return to those practices that opened the way for me to write this reflection. Each new day, each moment, is an opportunity to make a different choice for myself. I think that that is extremely empowering and filled with hope.

It’s very easy to get lost on our journey. Sometimes all we need to do is look in the mirror, the mirror that Deepak Chopra talked about… the mirror that is our life, for clues to locate ourselves in our travels.


The Big 3 Bailout and Education

It occurs to me that the institution of education is like the Big 3 automakers. For years they kept churning out gas guzzling, big cars and SUV’s even as the world around them was changing. Today, they sit in front of Congress being criticized for not making cars that people want, for not changing with the times, for not paying attention to the warning signs that were everywhere.

“A Nation at Risk” came out in the ’80’s and indicated that our system of education was broken.

Experts keep telling us that our schools are not preparing kids for the 21st century. They warn us that NCLB is merely an attempt to perfect the educational approach of the last century. But on we go, much like the BIg 3, ignoring the experts and churning out the same familiar products.

Isn’t continuing on in this mode analogous to building Escalade SUVs during a time of major economic transformation and climate change. The icecaps are melting, weather patterns are shifting, droughts, floods, and hurricanes are larger and more forceful than ever and yet we keep building those Escalades and other SUVs, getting 14 mpg, spewing Co2 into the atmosphere, and paying no heed to the kind of car that is really needed.

And we technologists…is what we consider meaningful educational change akin to adding a 9 speaker stereo system to the Escalade, or redesigning the ashtray to a cupholder? We think we are making educational progress, especially in educational technology; but are we merely adding Onstar, a GPS, and a voice activated radio, to a polluting hunk of metal, in a time of $4 a gallon gas.

It’s not nearly enough.

Our industry is in the same shape as the auto industry but because we are not market based, (we have a captive audience) we are not feeling the effects the same way the Big 3 are. They have finally hit the economic wall. It’s brutally black and white for them…change or go out of business!

It is either our good or bad fortune that because of the way education is funded, we won’t hit that economic wall the same way the car companies have. Yes, finances have always been tight for us, but schools aren’t going out of business anytime soon. This allows us to keep making the same mistakes over and over without consequences.

Pumping out dis-empowered learners into a world where manufacturing jobs have disappeared, where we are competing with others globally, where the jobs of tomorrow require curious, self-directed, self motivated, collaborative workers, and confident, life-long learners is analogous to pumping out Hummers in a time of great global transformation.

The “Sshh! be quiet and listen” approach to education is deeply dis-empowering.

Think about our public schools. How do we empower students? What control do students have in regards to their own learning?

The curriculum is predetermined. The sequence of teaching is predetermined. The pedagogy is predetermined. The teachers are pre-selected, as are the textbooks, tools, activities, assignments, and homework. Most seating arrangements are pre-determined. Students rarely are part of any decision making body in the school including the school board, or tech planning, or textbook selection, or software selection. You name it, if it’s important to the overall learning environment, students aren’t involved.

It goes farther than that. Students aren’t even involved in the little things like lunch menus or the colors of the walls in the hallways.

BTW we have also dis-empowered parents from any truly meaningful role in the education of our kids AND parents are all too happy to abdicate all the responsibility for their own children’s learning to the schools.

John Taylor Gatto says that we have constructed our schools so that they re-enforce the message that students, our children, have nothing important to give to the world until they reach the age of 18. We treat them like parasites. If we want to teach them responsibility we need to give them real responsibility. Homework? Gatto considers that a phony responsibility.

At whose feet do we lay the blame for the horrendous lack of decisive action? Who will we call before Congress to explain why we kept doing things the same way when we, as educators, knew better? Who will explain why we were so out of touch with the times? Why did we keep manufacturing Hummers in our schools? Why didn’t we re-tool and build more fuel efficient cars, the one’s needed for the 21st century? How did we lose our worldwide dominance?

Why didn’t someone step up and say, “Stop!, This is madness?”

Where were our leaders?


Why We Can–And Should–Teach Leadership

Whether one is born a leader or not, I have no doubt that leadership can be taught. And, most importantly, it can be learned.

Many business schools tend to jump right to organizational leadership and focus on strategy. Very seldom do business schools get personal with their students and really help them take a hard look at who they are and why they’re leading. You can only lead somebody else, a team or an organization, if you have your own act together–effective leadership starts on the inside. -Ken Blanchard, Forbes, October, 2007

More and more of the most successful and well-known business leaders are beginning to see that our present approach to leadership development; one that focuses on organizational strategy, and leadership tips and techniques; does not get at the heart of what it takes to lead others effectively.

Successful EMBA programs begin with lessons on self-leadership. Once students understand themselves and develop their own leadership point of view, the next phase of their transformational journey should be leading others.

When you look at yourself, you gain perspective. When you learn to lead another person, you learn about building trust. Without trust, it is impossible for an organization to function effectively. Trust between leaders and their people is essential for working together. As leaders develop a trusting relationship with people in the one-on-one arena, they become trustworthy. This is great preparation for managing a team. Leading a group is more complicated than leading an individual, because the focus becomes building a community. -Ken Blanchard, Forbes, October, 200

In order to develop the leadership we need to transform education we are going to need amazing leaders at all levels. If we continue to develop leaders by focusing on everything external, organizational strategy, and tips and techniques; not much will change.

The emerging approach to leadership development described by Ken Blanchard is one I invite each of us to take seriously. We can’t continue doing leadership development the same way and expect different results. By looking within we have the opportunity to strengthen our own leadership abilities. It takes an authentic leader to build the trust needed to lead others. This is the foundation on which most successful organizational transformations stand.

If we are committed to educational transformation, then we need to develop the leadership attributes that are within us.


The Journey…Step One: Look in the Mirror

The Director of Technology’s face was drained of all joy. She was sullen and unsmiling. Donna’s office was a sloppy mix of cables, computers, boxes, and papers. On her desk were a phone, a computer, keyboard and mouse. They where freckled with yellow sticky notes, each one with an urgent task to be completed. If her inner life was anything like her office, she was in trouble. It was obvious to me that she was in complete overwhelm and was suffering greatly.

Less than a week ago the superintendent had attended a meeting with some other superintendents and had returned to request that the entire district’s data and management resources be updated. He wanted a new student information system, and a data warehouse. He wanted parent and community connections and teacher web pages. All of this was great; but Donna was already tapped out, and sinking in overwhelm.

She had been putting in long hours and staying late, very late. She had a family; but she was sacrificing her home life for the job. She kept telling herself that they’d understand; and they did. But every time she missed dinner or one of her children’s school or sporting events, she felt terribly guilty. She justified it by telling herself that if she could just get this or that cleaned up, she would be on top of things again.

And then the superintendent threw all this new data stuff at her.

Added to all of this was her feeling that he and the rest of the staff had no idea of the amount of work she was putting in, and no idea how much of her home life she was sacrificing. She sunk in on herself; resigned and drained of spirit. She felt there was no way out. She showed all the signs of a growing depression.

At first Donna blamed those around her. The superintendent and staff didn’t “get it”. The demands on her time were inevitable and there was no way she could say “no” to he many requests that swamped her. If she said, “No” she might get in trouble or fired. People might think she didn’t care or wasn’t committed.

There was never money to increase staff or to get outside help.

“God,” she exclaimed in frustration, “if they only new how much time I spend updating the web page for them. Being webmaster around here would be a full time job for most people.”

I offered to coach her through this.

In our first meetings we talked about the predicament in which she found herself. Who was accountable for it?

Over and over, she fell back into the victim’s story. It wasn’t her fault. There was nothing she could do.

It took some time, more than one meeting with her; but eventually she began to see that it was she who had said “yes” to the requests that had plowed her under. It was she who created the unrealistic expectation that she could do everything, be everything to everybody, as if she had some magic abilities that no one else possessed. It was she who was unable to verbalize her value or take a strong stand for more staff, more resources, and outside help.

When “push came to shove”, she de-valued herself. She subordinated herself to others, and rationalized it as being dedicated. It was she who was willing to sacrifice her home life for her work life. She had lost her way. Her purpose for entering education was long forgotten.

As she began to see the role she, herself, played in creating this situation, she began to feel ashamed of herself.

“I can’t believe I am so weak that I let this happen to me. I am a loser.” was her general feeling.

Shame is negative self-judgment and added nothing to the situation except to make her feel worse about herself.

I continued to work with her.

“The past is done. We can’t change it. It just is. What we do from here is filled with possibility. You’ve taken the first step. You’ve recognized your own accountability. You’re looking at yourself, the one person involved in this drama that you can control; and you’re saying you can do better.”

She smiled for the first time since we started working together. It was a smile of recognition of some inner knowledge that she was remembering,

“I’m changing my story from ‘Oh woe is me! I’m a victim of people who don’t understand me; to a new story … I have a choice about how I do my job, and how I live my life!”

“How does it feel when you say that out loud”, I asked.

“I feel a little afraid; but overall it feels like a weight is off my shoulders.” she paused, “I feel hope for the first time in years.”

Her face dropped back into doubt, “But what am I going to do? What’s going to happen if I…”

I interrupted, “You’re slipping back into doubt again. Whose life is it, Donna?”

“Mine, Pete. It’s my life!”

Donna had taken the first step; she had looked into the mirror.

And so began this leaders journey


The Tips and Techniques Approach to Leadership

In seminar after seminar I encounter educators who are looking for a simple ‘tips and techniques’ approach to mastering the art of leadership. Talk is cheap. Advice is plentiful. Yet, effective leadership remains rare. For those of you looking for the secret shortcut to being a great leader, I took a few minutes to pull together the highlights from just a small number of the books, blogs, and other resources that are happily giving you the road map to success.

Seven Habits of Successful People -Stephen R. Covey
1. Be pro-active
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think Win/Win
5. Seek to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergize – collaboration
7. Sharpen the saw – balanced self-renewal

The Eighth Habit – Stephen R. Covey
Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

The Six Secrets of Change – Michael Fullan
1. Love your employees & your customers
2. Connect peers with purpose
3. Capacity building trumps judgmentalism
4. Learning is the work
5. Transparency rules
6. Systems learn

The One Thing You Need to Know – Buckingham
Narrowing your focus is a fundamental element of success.

Do Schools Kill Creativity? – Sir Ken Robinson
“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Turnaround Leader – Michael Fullan
Relentless instructional focus
Leadership depth
Capacity building
Data Driven
Define closing the gap as the goal
Attend to the basics
Tap into people’s dignity
Be sure the best people are working on it
All successful strategies are socially based
Stay the course through continuity
Build internal accountability
Establish conditions for the evolution of positive pressure
Use the previous 9 strategies to build public confidence
Effective leaders are energizing – not just innovative
Recognize you are dealing with well-qualified and well-educated group of folks that deserve to be treated like mature adults
Don’t be afraid to compliment people for their efforts
Keep your ego in check
The term ‘principal’ used to mean ‘principal teacher’. Try remembering what it was like to be a classroom teacher.
Never use your authority to threaten, intimidate, or demean.
Lead the school with moral conviction.
Be humble.

If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat Students – Neila Connors
1. Care and be concerned for others
2. Desire to be successful
3. Handle stress
4. Be in good health
5. Think logically

Leadertalk Blog
One can’t overemphasize the value of building relationships with colleagues
Taking notes makes a difference – simply ask to take notes during a conversation
If you don’t know something don’t try to fake it
Roles and value are not the same. We may have different roles but doesn’t mean we have different worth.

LeaderTalk Blogger’s Advice for New Administrators
I will do it. Volunteer to do just about anything
Tackle a major project
Get involved at the District/State level
Understand your School’s and District’s priorities
Model online collaboration and enabling others
“Staff your weaknesses” John Maxwell

National Ed Tech Plan
“For educators to get the most from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level; must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

There isn’t much to argue with in all this advice. It’s like ‘mom and apple pie’.

The problem is, even if you memorized every one of these points, even if you discussed them for hours with other prospective leaders, even if you wrote essays about them and gained a deep understanding of their meaning; it would not make you a better leader.

Knowing the elements of leadership is not the same as embodying the elements of leadership.

There are no shortcuts.

For example, (and this applies to most of the items on the lists above) knowing that you should be ‘humble’ does not make you humble. If, in fact, you are not humble, you won’t become humble by just ‘wanting’ to be humble. The insight itself isn’t enough to change a lifetime of behaviors make up the person you are. Embodying what it is to be humble takes a serious commitment to personal change. Personal change comes through ongoing reflection and daily practices.

I’ll never forget the Principal who raised his hand during one of my sessions and proclaimed emphatically,

“I already know about leadership!”

I’m sure he could recite the “7 Habits” or the “6 Secrets”; but as the rest of the class looked at him, it was clear that his leadership journey was going to be a very long one.


The Three ‘R’s

I recently listened to WIllard Daggett, Ph.D., founder and President of the International Center for Leadership in Education talk about the three ‘R”s.

What are the three ‘R’s’?

According to Daggett: Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor.

Daggett was referring to teachers working with students in the classroom; but I think there is something useful that we can take from this as educational leaders.

Daggett’s point about relationships was that learning is personal. When teachers have strong, trusting relationships with their students, they work harder and achieve more. The same is true with leaders. We may have lot’s of ideas about what needs to be done; but without trusting relationships with those we wish to lead, we will find ourselves charging up San Juan Hill alone. It’s so common and so human to get excited about the Rigor (this could be technology, new classroom pedagogy, etc.) that we forget to build strong foundational relationships before setting off on our journey.

Once there is trust we can move to Relevance. The more students understand how what they are learning is relevant to them, to their community, or to the world at large; the more motivated they will be to learn.

As leaders it is important to create change narratives that address Relevance. The most powerful narratives address Relevance in two ways: 1) How is this new action or way of doing things going to affect YOU, as an individual? and 2) How is this new action or way of doing things going to affect the world outside yourself?

Leaders who can create narratives that express the ways change will take care of the stakeholder’s personal concerns, and at the same time explain how the change will be making the classroom, school, or world a better place; have set the scene for great things to happen

I’ve known people with great ideas (rigor) that never get implemented because they have lousy relationships or have overlooked relationships with people that are important to their success. I’ve known people who can’t articulate their vision in a way that makes it seem relevant to those they wish to lead. I’ve seen people who focus on nothing but relationships. They are glib, backslapping, political types who want to be liked. They have the relationships but don’t use them to accomplish a larger goal.

Like most things in life it comes down to balance.

Relationships and relevance make rigor possible.