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Tuesday
Apr222014

Do you lead with your heart or your head?

Edmund Burke once wrote, “The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.” Burke was emphasizing that leadership is a passionate activity. It begins with a warm gratitude toward that which you have inherited and a fervent wish to steward it well. It is propelled by an ardent moral imagination, a vision of a good society that can’t be realized in one lifetime. It is informed by seasoned affections, a love of the way certain people concretely are and a desire to give all a chance to live at their highest level.

This kind of leader is warm-blooded and leads with full humanity. In every White House, and in many private offices, there seems to be a tug of war between those who want to express this messy amateur humanism and those calculators who emphasize message discipline, preventing leaks and maximum control. In most of the offices, there’s a fear of natural messiness, a fear of uncertainty, a distrust of that which is not scientific. The calculators are given too much control.

The leadership emotions, which should propel things, get amputated. The shrewd tacticians end up timidly and defensively running the expedition. David Brooks "The Leadership Emotions," NYT, April 21, 2014

It's rare in day-to-day school operations when you see an adult speak with passion about a deeply-held belief.

Yes, emotions are often seen in schools - but too often they are fear, sadness, or anger. And we certainly discourage kids expressing these emotions and behave as good little robots whenever possible. Teachers are expected to model this. Acting from the heart gets a bad rap.

And I would say that the higher up the leadership level in a school, the less likely leadership from the heart occurs - at least visibly.  I often come away from meetings feeling somewhat embarrassed because I get passionate about ideas and philosophies and policies - either yea or nay - and showed this through public comment. With most of the administration in the district being more my children's age than my own, I'm quite sure I'm written off a senile crank. And I recognize that being eligible for retirement without enormous personal financial risk and not having to worry anymore about climbing any professional ladders allows me to be brave. 

Dispassionate decision-making is a dangerous virtue, as Brooks suggests. Especially so in education. 

At your next meeting speak out, just once, from the heart. The feeling embarrassment passes.

Eventually.

 

Tuesday
Apr222014

I'm curious - and therefore creative?

Kids are born curious about the world. What adults primarily do in the presence of kids is unwittingly thwart the curiosity of children. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Is there a relationship between curiosity and creativity? Many writers make one, despite a lack of research supporting the connection*. Even people who don't link curiosity and creativity still view curiosity as a positive disposition - misogynists and fabulists who write about overly nosy cats aside.

When I think about curiosity, I tend to look at what people are actually curious about. Historians, archaeologists, and similar professionals seem to want to know more about the past. Political scientists, educators, and journalists want to investigate the present.

Both these forms of curiosity call for convergent thinking. One gathers lots of information together and then comes to a reasoned conclusion. While there is a form of creativity inherent in forming new conclusions, investigations into the past or present seem less likely to produce original thinking than those learners who are curious about the future - the scientists, the engineers, and the inventors - the "let's just see if this idea floats" type of people. 

Divergent thinking - coming up with a lot of possible solutions and then testing them - is the hallmark of people curious about the future and therefore obviously creative. Creativity is often linked with mindful observation and that observation results not just in imagining possible solutions - but in recognizing problems to be solved as well.

Do educators, as deGrasse suggests in the quite above, "thwart" the curiosity of children? And if so, how? Is it our concentration on convergent, rather than divergent thinking? Is it because research is too rarely tied to personal interests and real-world problems? Through insistence on adherence to academic standards of writing, do we kill kids natural curiosity?

How do we encourage creativity in our students, our peers, and in ourselves?

Curious minds want to know.

 

* See: Did Curiosity Kill the Cat? Relationship Between Trait Curiosity, Creative Self-Efficacy and Creative Personal Identity, Europe's Journal of Psychology. Volume 8, Number 4 (2012)

Monday
Apr212014

How much should we be willing to pay for a use?

We pay around $5000 for our annual World Book Online subscription* here in our district of 7700 students. It is a resource we've had for many years, is prominently displayed on our student resources webpage as well as all media center pages, has a great reputation, is accessible from students' homes as well as at school, is a required resource for elementary library classes, and includes instructional resources for teachers. Most of us, even old guys like me, grew up with World Book so it's a sentimental favorite as well. 

But we may drop the subscription. Here's why: the usage just isn't there. 

We're paying $.70 a search. With less than one search per student being done in the past year.

When teachers were asked how important World Book Online is the response was underwhelming:

I can think of a number of reasons for the lack of the use of this fine resource:

  • It's been replaced in many searchers' tool kit by Wikipedia
  • We as librarians simply don't remind teachers and students of its availability and usefulness
  • Teachers just aren't asking kids to do much research

Yet I am reluctant to drop this resource, despite these numbers. Children and adults alike, my library school professors beat into me, need access to vetted, authoritative information sources. Dropping paid database and reference subscriptions would be throwing my learners and researchers to the commercial Internet dogs**.

How do you determine if you are getting your bitcoin's worth of use from a paid resource - whether it is a reference source, full-text database, e-book subscription, or set of teaching products?

Inquiring minds want to know. This to me will be of growing importance as we build and balance our K-12 e-resource collections.

* This is for the Advanced Reference package which includes 5 products: TImelines, Kids, Student, Advanced and Spanish.

** OK, we do have some state-wide resources available as well, so it's not quite that dramatic.