Leading by Example

The Big Question
The Big Question

The Learning Circuits Big Question this month is about learning professionals, leadership, and literacies. Tony breaks it down as several questions, but the Learning Revolutionary summed all the questions up nicely:

Should learning professionals be leading the charge around new work literacies such as social media and informal learning?

Because I’m outside the corporate world, I’m going to look at this from the perspective of 21st century literacy skills rather than “work literacy.” Granted, I think there’s a lot of overlap between the work literacy ideas and the Framework for 21st Century Skills. I see this as similar goals but different contexts.

Let’s start with the idea that K-12 students should be supported in learning 21st century literacy skills. This should not be a controversial starting point; after all, 80% of American voters agree that the skills students need now aren’t the same as the skills needed in the past.

If students need to learn these skills, then their teachers need to have them too, right? Granted, some students will learn the skills outside the system, in spite of whatever the schools teach. But we’re looking at what we want to happen, and I want these skills to be supported by the schools. That means teachers need to have the skills. They have to be able to model the skills for students.

Where will the teachers learn the skills? I don’t think there’s a single answer here: professional learning communities, workshops, conferences, university courses, and mentoring all play a part. Since I work in the higher ed realm though, that’s where I’m going to focus. I think our instructors should have 21st century skills. These are the people who are teaching the teachers, who pride themselves on being the “best of the best” in the field of education. They’re the next group of people who need the skills.

But where are they going to learn? From me and the other people on our team. We have to lead by example for these skills. Our team is leading the charge, and we are making progress. It isn’t nearly as fast as I’d like, but when I look at how far we’ve come in our little corner of the world, it does give me hope.

I want the K-12 students to learn those 21st century skills, but I don’t have access to them directly. Therefore, my responsibility is to work on my own sphere of influence, starting with our online course development team leading by example for our facilitators. When the facilitators have strong 21st century skills, they’ll pass those skills on to the teachers, who in turn will be leaders for their students. If I want others to lead in these skills, I have to do my part to lead by example too. It would be hypocritical to ask them to teach technology skills without practicing what I preach (that is, after all, why I started this blog in the first place).

If I had to focus on one single skill, it would be lifelong learning. Perhaps this isn’t a skill so much as an attitude. It drives me crazy to see educators who think they’ve learned all they need to learn and aren’t willing to even try to learn anything new anymore. Cultivating a culture of learning, where people expect and enjoy continuous learning, is the underlying solution for everything else. We’re never going to get teachers to use technology if they’re determined they don’t need to learn anything anymore. Until they accept their role as learner as well as teacher, we won’t get the changes to happen. Creating a culture that supports lifelong learning needs to start with the professionals who lead by example.

If you had to focus on one skill for this leading by example, what would it be? What’s the underlying skill that supports all the rest, the one where you will concentrate your efforts first?

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4 thoughts on “Leading by Example

  1. Kia ora Christy!

    My focus has never changed since I first saw my children use the Internet. That was at the turn of the century – seems a long time ago🙂 I built a work web site for student use in 2001 and maintained it ever since then.

    Early last year my daughter Hannah started a Bebo account. I couldn’t get a Bebo account with the same email address as the one Hannah and I share without creating an email account that I was unlikely to use. So I immediately created a Facebook account for myself. I did that over a year ago now.

    Since then I’ve watched and dabbled in the things they (my children) do just to keep abreast of how they think and play. It paid off, for I can communicate in graphic ways with the rest of my immediate family, three of which live in Britain and Ireland and a fourth who is about to travel the world.

    Recently I started a blog and I also opened a Flickr account. Odd that all my recent skill acquisitions are to do with so-called Web 2.0 technology.

    So what’s the one skill?

    Simply keeping up with technology. It builds on itself. Metaphor? First a tricycle, then a bicycle, then a motor-bike then a car, then a . . .

    Acquiring the extra bits to keep up-to-date with present day developments is like eating an elephant.

    How do you eat an elephant?

    You’ve got it in one!

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  2. The idea of the “one skill” of keeping up with technology makes sense to me. I think it’s broader than that though; it’s the idea of “learning to learn” and to learn all the time, bit by bit. Learning the technology is a big part of it, but so is learning how to build relationships in a virtual environment or how to view all sources of information with healthy skepticism.

    I heard a complaint from someone recently about small group collaboration on a wiki. She was struggling with the idea of editing the work of another professional or changing someone else’s words. Their project ended up being just a bunch of individual pieces of content around a theme, not a unified document. The problem wasn’t with the technology, which they all mastered. It was with the social and cultural part of using the wiki and those relationships. Those skills are just as important as the technical ones.

    Some time ago, Clark Aldrich asked this question:

    If we could change just one thing in the U.S. school system, what would it be?

    If I had to condense it to one change, it would be a focus on lifelong learning. I don’t think that applies just to the US; I expect your situation is similar there. If we can get students to learn how to learn, bit by bit, for their whole lives, we will all be better off. People like you and me can be leaders and examples for others though, and blogging makes our examples more visible to others so they can learn.

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