Emergent Leadership for Learning Organizations

The conversation over at EdTechWomen on leadership sparked a reflection as to what characteristics are needed to be a leader, not a manager.

During my career as an educator, I have led professional development with a keen eye on servant leadership. Teacher voice and input is critical and often overlooked in traditional hierarchical organizations, which must give way for DIY learning and the push of market demand in an ever-increasing learning landscape of choice. In interviews with Tom Friedman and Adam Bryant, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, noted several characteristics that are very important in emergent leadership, which is critical in the hyper-connected, morphing world of learning:

Stepping In & Out of Leadership
Bock observes, “’What we [Google] care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?’” The ability to step in and lead but also step back, letting others lead is key for we tap into the energies and thinking of others to tackle a problem, design new programs, or re-imagine what is possible.

Humility: Relinquishing Power
Bock believes humility is essential for learning by relinquishing power “’to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.’”

Consistency, Fairness, Predictability
Another key characteristic Bock cites is consistency: “’We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.’” Being a leader is quite different than being a manager, and consistency, fairness, and predictability in leadership is an imperative to avoid the restrictive environment Bock mentions and critical for shepherding creativity and freedom to develop effective “moving forward” strategies for any organization, including schools. If team members are not sure of a leader’s (or manager’s) behavior on any given day, “moving forward” strategies are either stifled or never realized out of fear of backlash.

What do you think of these emergent leadership characteristics? Are learning organizations ready for them? Does your organization embrace emergent leadership?

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The Disaggregation of Education (Beyond Disruption)

We have just crossed – in the past few months – the cusp of The Disaggregation of Education. Even though evolving, the working definition of the disaggregation of education is, after disruption, the education market breaks into smaller pieces. And, the smaller pieces that meet a changing market demand will be the successful ones, impacting all education venues, including higher education. As part of this disaggregation of education, higher education as we  know it just died. While schools of higher education play a role in the immediate future in providing teacher preparation, that will change..

Currently, the change is evidenced by the following:

These are only a few of today’s observations; each day brings more.  It is the Disaggregation of Education, incubated from a merger of market demands and technology power – beyond online learning, beyond disruption – that is dismantling our current thinking and approaches to education, and it will be learning that triumphs, hopefully, in the end and not solely the quest for large profit margins. But, know that the Disaggregation of Education will have – and has already – a profound effect on every aspect of education, learning, and teaching.

What are your thoughts? What observations would you like to share on the disaggregation of education?

Running the digital river of learning with you,

Emily Vickery

The Future of Teacher Preparation & Social Entrepreneurs

This TechCrunch post Pathwright Launches Platform To Let Anyone Create, Sell Branded Online Courses is a must read.

Each course comes with a built-in social network for every student taking the course, allowing students to share notes, ask or answer discussion questions, and receive grades and feedback from teachers. Teachers can then publish their courses is a built-in, branded catalog and sell them directly, make them invitation-only, or offer monthly subscriptions that unlock all the courses. Educators can also offer online-only or location-based courses, or both, may be self-paced, or on a schedule with varying degrees of teacher interaction.

Now, what is described above is happening today. Thinking towards the future, perhaps teachers are prepared, not with courses, but with modules of experience embedded where learning happens – wherever that may be. Higher ed as we know it just ended; so, teacher preparation as we know it just ended as well.

In the future, teacher apprentices work with mentor teachers. Perhaps approach action research in conjunction with (or leading) “social entrepreneurs” by challenging them to solve a problem of Equity. Perhaps teacher mentors and teacher apprentices work with the future equivalent of today’s Stanford’s Innovations in Education course or those at Harvard Business School in Social Innovation Lab? (See Social Entrepreneurs Try to Offer Solutions to Problems in K-12) (Let’s don’t forget MIT’s Media Lab.) Instead of Race to the Top, perhaps it is Race for Equity?

Three examples of challenge sets (action research) put forth for these teacher apprentices and social entrepreneurs in the Race for Equity could be (1) close the Participation Gap (Pew Internet Report Digital Differences: Separate and Unequal in Digital Media); (2) reboot the public library system to continue the democratic ideal of free access to information and ideas by creating ebook or emedia repositories not tied to one format, such as Apple or Amazon, and checking out ereaders and mini-WIFI connectivity (See ZDNET series on the Digital Underclass); and (3) link economic development with education and wrap-around services in rural areas, including reservations for Indigenous populations and under served urban and suburban areas, e.g. lighting up dark fiber, National Broadband Plan, and the Summit on the Role of Education in Economic Development in Rural America, at which Education Secretary Duncan recently spoke. Further, numerous applications for special needs through universal access could be thought of, especially with the rise of Autism.

It is important to note that standards (Common Core or others in the future) not be used. Why? It’s important that standards not be used if going to scale and designing relevant, engaging curriculum (HOTS), global reach/partnerships, and application of Equity solutions on a worldwide market that are “made in America” AND can be replicated elsewhere. (See EdWeek commentary Does the Common Core Matter?) A universal language in learning products can be used. Digital Bloom Verbs provide a solution in content/product development and distribution would be the solution. Products could be tweaked considering the availability of infrastructure and mobility, e.g. low-tech, high-tech, bandwidth, etc. Ultimately, benefiting all children.

Thoughts?

Teacher Collaboration: The Missing Link in School Reform

The Missing Link in School Reform is a must read. Using research, Carrie R. Leana identifies the predominant ideology (human capital) in public school reform (Power of the Individual; Wisdom of the Outsider; Principal as Instructional Leader) and outlines the reality (social capital) of how sustained, successful reform (The Power of the Collective; Reform from Within; and Principal as Protector) can be designed.

She writes:

These three beliefs—in the power of teacher human capital, the value of outsiders, and the centrality of the principal in instructional practice—form the implicit or explicit core of many reform efforts today. Unfortunately, all three beliefs are rooted more in conventional wisdom and political sloganeering than in strong empirical research. Together they constitute what I call the ideology of school reform. And although this, like all ideology, may bring us comfort in the face of uncertainty and failure, it is unhelpful and perhaps dangerous if it leads us to pursue policies that will not bring about sustained success. Our research suggests that there is some truth to the predominant ideology. Teacher competence does affect student learning. Outsiders can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to tired systems. And principals do have a role in reform efforts. At the same time, our findings strongly suggest that in trying to improve public schools we are overselling the role of human capital and innovation from the top, while greatly undervaluing the benefits of social capital and stability at the bottom.


Her findings will not surprise teachers, who are very often marginalized from school reform policy development and understand the power of collaboration. However, the results may cause those who hold the predominant ideology to become defensive and dismissive.

What are your thoughts? Do the research results surprise you? Would you add another item to the list of successful school reform based on social capital?

Running the digital river of learning with you,

Emily Vickery

Remixing Teacher Preparation

Over at Learning Matters regarding teacher quality and training, Barnett Berry wrote, “Jettison traditional three-hour course credits in favor of performance-based pedagogical modules and assessments: This nimble, practical approach will help recruits to develop specific teaching skills and will better identify who is ready to teach, when, and under what conditions.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. For quite some time, I’ve been an advocate for remixing teacher preparation. How can teacher preparation be remixed? To answer that question, I began asking the following questions:

(1) Can post-secondary institutions truly support what today’s teachers need to be successful, especially if they are looking at an implosion of the very institutions attempting to prepare teachers? Can an institutional model be successful when a blended, network model is supplanting traditional organizational structures? Should we not explore ideas, such as the one Howard Rheingold, in his post Democratizing Learning Innovation, examines of how “learning can be liberated from its industrial, factory-model roots”?

(2) Should teacher preparation be undertaken in three-hour, silo courses, which are isolated from the realities of a teacher’s experience? Or, should teacher preparation be designed considering badges, as defined by Digital Media and Learning, and learning and performance assessment undertaken by mentors, teacher leaders, and teacherpreneurs?

(3) Would it be a better idea to remix teacher preparation by embedding the experience in real learning communities, including face-to-face, blended, and cyber learning environments? (The idea isn’t necessary new, but does it require a fresh perspective?) Would a multi-disciplinary approach be a better design to prepare teachers, such as has been done at the Yale School of Management in its Organizational Perspectives, which was created under the direction of the then dean now turned director of Apple University Joel Podolny?  Perhaps close scrutiny of the Organizational Perspectives experience will prompt a remixing of teacher preparation? (And, don’t overlook downloading the PDF of the Integrated MBA Curriculum Diagram.)

(4) How can teacher preparation programs ready teachers for new and emerging roles as teacherpreneurs, such as Web Curator, Learning Architect, Network Sherpa, and Community Connector?

What are your questions? What are your ideas? What directions intrigue you? How would you remix teacher preparation?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Running the digital river of learning with you,
Emily Vickery