Sharing Knowledge (or why I’m bad at Algebra)

I am still waiting for the day when I will have to pull a (3x-5) out of my pocket and multiply it with a (2x-1). I keep one in my bag in case of emergencies – thankfully I haven’t had to use it yet; its been so long I’m not sure if it’s even any good any more. Do polynomials go off? I honestly wouldn’t know – I never understood what polynomials were although I apparently knew enough to get a pass in high school algebra.

Fullan’s (2004) Leading in a Culture of Change asks the reader to consider the statement “Information is not pertinent until people decide what it means and why it matters.” Also to consider “It is a mistake to focus on information rather than its use.” Oh how I wish someone had explained that to my maths teachers way back then. If only they had thought to spend time sharing the ‘secret’ of the why as well as the how. Without a use, the information on how to do the procedures never turned into learning, I gained no knowledge from the time spent in class.

Education is now making the shift from an emphasis on distributing facts (information) to creating and sharing knowledge. And creating a culture of sharing is one of the jobs of a leader. Fullan suggests that the conditions have to be right in order for this to occur. Quality relationships is the key, of course.

What interested me the most in this chapter  was Fullan’s take on the relationship between good relationships and a culture of knowledge sharing.  He cited Dixon’s observation that

… the exchange of knowledge happens only in organizations that have a noncompetitive or a collaborative culture. It follows that the first thing you have to do is to fix the culture and then get people to share. But I have found that it’s the other way around. If people begin sharing ideas about issues they see as really important, the sharing itself creates a learning culture. I have, of course, inserted an important caveat in that sentence: “about issues they see as really important” (Dixon as cited in Fullan, 2004, p. 124).

It interested me to compare it with an earlier blog quote I had

… many persons express the conviction that effective human relationships improve communication far more than communication improves relationships. (Savage, 1989, p. 109)

Do they contradict each other? If so which is right? What needs to be tackled first; relationship-building or communication/sharing?

Its one of those cyclic issues and perhaps that’s one of the reasons that collaborative cultures don’t develop easily. No one knows if its OK to start or where to start. In fact my own experience (tacit knowledge!) has been exactly that, no one wants to be the first. This is one of the places in which TLs can really take a lead. Someone has to break the ice, step up to the plate, lay their cards on the table and we have the training to do it.

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/salmon/463619313/

Fullan, M. (2004). Building relationships. In Leading in a culture of change: Personal action guide and workbook (pp. 77-114). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Savage, W. (1989). Communication: Process and problems. In C. Riches & C. Morgan (Eds.), Human resource management in education (pp. 103-119). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Leadership as a Practice

Everybody loves a rebel with heart. And reading Sergiovanni‘s book Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, reinforces for me something I’ve always believed and is so succinctly summed up by the author — “[there is] doing things right and doing right things (Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 19). Sergiovanni talks of how systems can sometimes lose the point of leading and leaders — focussing too much on the managerial, authority role of leaders. He suggests that in order for schools to thrive, leadership must be re-examined, redefined and re-distributed so communities can be formed that lead and learn together. His definition of leadership has further clarified for me how TLs (and other teachers) can truly be leaders, ‘leading from the middle’  —

… thinking about leadership as a practice makes more sense than thinking about leadership as an expression of individual agency. Practices may be singular or group. Regarding leadership as a practice helps us to see teachers and principals as members of communities of practice within which knowledge is used  and exchanged to achieve goals with little regard for roles and positions. Within communities of practice, for example, leadership activity takes place at the level of the community rather than at the level of individuals. (Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 49)

As a faculty member of an alternative, democratically aligned school, this definition interests me greatly. It fits very well with what happens in the classes and amongst the students. However this is not practised amongst the staff and wider community. (At times it becomes obvious where we have not applied the philosophy of the school beyond the students and it always hits me hard. Q. How can this be? A. No time to consciously examine this issue, complete focus by teachers on student/class day-to-day issues.)

Sergiovanni’s definition of leadership I find strengthening. It is not about someone giving you permission to lead. It’s not about getting out in front and saying, “I’m going to lead you.” Its not about roles and positions or positioning at all, it’s about action. I can relate to this, I have quietly taken action this year and begun to lead by walking the talk, and by saying, “I’d like to [do] … ”

What would our school be like if we all adopted a leadership of practice? Well it would improve, it has already. This year I’ve won a literacy grant, I’ve got parents now raising money for the library, I’ve got library sessions for the classes on a weekly basis, … things are changing and for the better. How to encourage the others? Well it always seems to come back to building relationships. Sergiovanni quotes Lambert as suggesting that leadership is a ‘pattern of relationships’.

Leadership is a reciprocal process that enables participants in an educational community to construct meaning that leads toward a shared purpose of schooling’ (Lambert as cited in Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 51)

Building trusting relationships and sharing, acting with moral purpose always …all very hopeful business. =)

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Photo from: http://www.morguefile.com

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Leadership as entitlement. In Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools (pp. 41-54). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.