Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state, Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran. I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.
Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran. In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”
Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader? She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.
- Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
- Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
- Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
- Measuring what matters most, using technology.
- Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
- Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
- Putting in place the necessary tools
- Documenting & Sharing.
Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.
I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.
Sterrett goes on to write that
She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies. “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”
Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.
Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice. By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.
Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship. Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading. Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.
One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing journey toward quality learning:”
Pam’s tweets are another communication tool: a sample stream:
Irresistible learning comes from a keen focus on what we do to build positive relationships, create relevant learning work, and design attainable challenges that engage learners’ interest, curiosity, and thought. In a performance conversation last year, a principal described it well, “I want kids to continue to engage after they leave a class. They scratch their heads. They go home and they can’t stop thinking about what they’re learning. They want to do more. I don’t want them to walk out and leave their learning behind.”
Pam wrote two years ago about the value she finds in using social media as a tool for educational leadership:
I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning, become skillful in the use of new tools that accelerate and advance our learning work, and share with others what we are learning. It has not been that long ago since I wandered with some fear into the social media world, a parallel universe to the natural environment that I love. I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to choose between these two worlds since the mobile device in my pocket untethers me from the computer on my desk or the laptop I used to lug around.
I can, within reason, access and even produce information anywhere, at any time. Our young people have figured all this out, but we adults in some cases are choosing to be left behind. Mobile devices may be the most powerful learning tool that we educators have the potential to develop and use to sustain engagement, move students to high levels of Bloom’s, keep kids connected with learning when they are away from school, and communicate with them in multiple ways.
Sterret writes that Moran uses social media and technology not just to communicate her vision but also to
share images and work samples of her 26 schools, providing collaborative insights from the division that can help teachers and principals synthesize the learning that is occurring in other schools and adapt it to their own learning environments.
I love this quote from Moran about social media communications as essential to leadership:
You can be a leader anywhere if you are active on the social media stage.
He adds that Moran takes influence from the work of Ira Socol, and his vision of human communication as evolving through the use of social media to be more collaborative, engaging, and socially constructed.
Step Three: Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes. See again the above video from her district, which, in part, exemplifies this step.
Step Four: Measuring what matters most, using technology. In a section entitled Share Meaningful Data, Sterrett says that
Moran uses Keynote and Prezi technologies to share student achievement data and emphasize key points related to instruction and learning…. Moran’s school district uses a centralized online server to consolidate data… Teachers are able to look at achievement data in the database by particular area, or strand, with a few clicks of the mouse.
Step Five: Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures After communicating vision, supporting the development of teachers in every way possible is critical to educational leadership. Last fall, the New Yorker magazine featured her leadership in this way in an article on coaching.
In 2009, the Albemarle County public schools created an instructional-coaching program, based in part on Knight’s methods.
Good coaches, he said, speak with credibility, make a personal connection, and focus little on themselves. Hobson and Harding “listened more than they talked,” Knight said. “They were one hundred per cent present in the conversation.” They also parcelled out their observations carefully. “It’s not a normal way of communicating—watching what your words are doing,” he said. They had discomfiting information to convey, and they did it directly but respectfully.
Sterrett too talks about the importance she places on teacher learning.
She equips teacher leaders to lead workshops on how to use such applications as SMART boards, video cameras, or PREZI, and encourages principals so show their entire staffs how to infuse technology into the learning process.
Time for teacher development is essential. From Sterrett:
Another challenge to integrating technology is finding adequate time and an appropriate manner to share the applications with colleagues in the field. As Moran notes, “you can have all the resources in the world, but if they are sitting there unused, then they are not effectively moving the organization, or learning, forward.”
Step Six: Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning. Returning to Socol’s influence on Moran, Sterrett writes that her leadership promotes student as “technology user and innovator to use ‘high Bloom’s taxonomy’ tools, such as creativity, application, and evaluation, rather than relying solely on lower-order cognitive skills such as memorization and comprehension.
Step 7: Putting in place the necessary tools. Sterrett:
Moran has strategically planned for technology infusion throughout every facet… From supporting virtual e-resource innovations and 1:1 computing projects… Moran has committed to improving the educational experience of each student by equipping students with technologies that save time, and enhance universal access to crucial information…
Step 8: Documenting and Sharing. Returning to the epigraph from Pam which opens the chapter, let me share its final phrase: “Share with others what we are learning.” We also saw her commitment to sharing in an earlier quote, reprinted here:
She shares images and work samples of her 26 schools, providing collaborative insights from the division that can help teachers and principals synthesize the learning that is occurring in other schools and adapt it to their own learning environments.
My thanks to Bill Sterrett for his excellent reporting and analysis of Moran’s leadership in his highly recommended new book, and, of course, to Pam Moran for her inspiration modeling of innovative, technologically empowered, reflective, educational leadership.