Raise The Heat
Leadership is inherently about change. CEOs won’t last long if there is no push for new or better, no politician runs on a platform of the status quo, and school leaders don’t keep master binders of the lesson plans used each year. Leaders who fail to seek positive change are, simply, not leaders, they are managers. We must all be change agents; for our students, our staff, and each other.
My position as district technology integration specialist holds no real leadership capacity. Quite literally, there are no branches below my name on our organizational chart, and I have no students to guide through the year. Thankfully, my efforts to push the status quo are supported by excellent district administrators, who support our teacher leaders in doing the same.
Last year, my first year on the job, I planned to affect positive change as an instructional partner, technology coach and trusted colleague. While this was effective to some extent, I came to realize that I was tossing ideas into the wind, hoping that they would stick to a teacher who would bring the idea to fruition. I needed to “raise the heat” in order to create positive change. “Raise the heat” is a concept I learned at the Kansas Leadership Center last spring with fellow administrators and teacher leaders. It means to apply pressure that causes a desire to change.
In high school, the “heat” I needed to train for cross country was an upcoming race, in college I needed a too-soon deadline to create that “heat.” Many adults need the “heat” of a demanding boss to motivate them to complete work. It takes a very different type of heat to create a “need to change” mindset in teachers who are already excellent at what they do.
Relationships Come First
We had a celebration of new staff to close out the year and we were asked to tell what helped the most throughout the year. One by one, every teacher mentioned how positive relationships with students impacted their ability to do their job for the better.
The same is true of working with teachers. Each opportunity to visit with teachers is an opportunity to build a relationship that helps me do my job better. This cannot be stated enough. Relationships must be the foundation of everything we do.
A big part of developing the relationships needed to create positive change is visibility. I have an office in our central office building, but the relationship that is needed in order to trust a colleague cannot be forged through email. Teachers need to see their leaders often, or human nature takes over and they wonder what leaders are doing in their offices all day.
It is not only about being seen in schools but about being seen and respected as a high-quality educator. I worked last year to develop lessons to co-teach with my colleagues. Because I have no students and directly lead no staff, to demonstrate my trustworthiness as a quality educator, I need to be in the classroom in order to be “seen.”
How to Raise the Heat
Jimmy Casas speaks about the “Fall to Average.” It is a natural human tendency to trend toward the status quo, rather than pushing ourselves to work harder to change our lesson plans, call just one more parent, or spend extra time with that one student we know could really use it. This is a constant battle, as one minute we will be committed to excellence, and the next we are exhausted and just trying to get through the day. So how can we raise the heat to create lasting, intrinsically motivated change without using any leadership authority to speak of? Below are three ideas.
Just as in the classroom, asking the right questions makes people think. Leaders often feel a need to explain their vision in very specific and detailed terms. Asking questions to make colleagues think relieves this pressure, but points them in the right direction. Here are a few examples:
- What will you change your classroom this year to make it more student-centered?
- How will you continue to build a culture of risk taking in your students during this unit?
- How could technology empower your students with voice and choice in their learning next semester?
Notice that each question is open-ended, hints at the core change you would like to see, and assumes that the teacher already is, or desires to improve in that area. These can also be asked of any teacher or PLC, regardless of how far along they are on the path toward your goal for them.
- Positive Peer Pressure
The thing about teachers, and humans really, is we want to be good at what we do. Often if a teacher is trying something new, teachers around them will see the impact and want to jump on board. Peer pressure can be an excellent heat raising tool to spark ideas and change in whole groups of teachers. Watch the positive change spread like wildfire.
Seeing is believing and modeling is an excellent way to show rather than tell. Fill in for teachers so they can observe a colleague that models the change you would like to see. Once the teacher sees and believes it, the heat comes from within because they want to be better for their students. Better yet, plan and co-teach a lesson with that teacher so she sees you as an instructional partner as well!
Those are just a few of many ways to raise the heat. Creating positive change requires no title, deadline, or evaluations. People want to be great at what they do, but sometimes need help to get there. Raising the heat allows us to become inspired from within and creates a shift in mindset that leads to lasting change. How will you raise the heat to push your colleagues toward positive change this year?