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Educated By Design Blog

The Forgotten Stakeholder In Education, And What We Can Learn From The Business World.

Michael Cohen


There are so many places to start when trying to shift the culture of leadership in a school. Before I share where we should start, let’s get where we shouldn't start out of the way.

“Successful educational ventures do NOT start with the top down dictating how the bottom up will succeeded.”

So where should you start? Should you focus on grassroots bottom up passion, or a veteran top down approach? To truly innovate education, I see both are required. That also means looking at what and who is a leader a bit differently. In my experience in education, I have been a teacher, director, and even for a second was a final candidate for a principalship. What my experience in and out of education has shown me is that there are two ways to approach leadership. A leader can lead through their own strength, or lead through nurturing and empowering the strengths of others. At the end of the day, people only want to invest in something when they feel they are part of the process. Especially when the process directly affects them. You want all individuals to feel invested and inspired to contribute to the success of the venture. When people are involved at that level, they tend to be more passionate, driven, and willing to go the extra mile. While leadership that is about control and hierarchy can work, it only succeeds in the short term. I am not talking about toxic environments where power and submission are the goals of leadership, where schools have high turn over rate and a culture that is full of negativity. My only recommendation is that you either figure out how to fix it or get out. I feel most for those students who can "find a new school". So back to the positive. Successful organizations without a doubt have clear leadership who ensure the vision and mission are inline with progress, but they understand that they cannot be successful without the unique skills of others. It is time that education looks outside of education to find progressive and successful models on leadership, development, and implementation. 


Imagine a construction site with one of those 300 ft. cranes. They are set up and ready to go, but the foreman isn't talking to the crane operator and the material isn't ready because the architect and the contractor are busy fighting over the ratio of steel and concrete. What happens if the surveyor thinks he should be the lift operator, or one of the construction techs feels the foremen doesn't support him? Is this building going to get built? The cost, time, and quality will all be in jeopardy if they cannot act as a true team. The challenge in education is that we are not building something. Rather, we are nurturing and preparing someone, and the final results are only seen long after they have left the four walls of our school. If the school leadership isn't on the same page as the faculty, or giving a clear message of support. When teachers are not empowered take a risk to do something that would impact student learning in an amazing way, then how can success be met? How can we value test scores without losing focus of other ways to assess value and quality? Are we looking at students as people or as processes? 

So how do we build out an awesome leadership approach? It goes like this:



 You do not need to be an expert in all areas of technology and innovative methods of teaching and learning, but you do need to be open to it. You need to listen to your teachers and take time to research and find resources to help you and staff better understand technology and creativity's role at your school. Or better yet, you should empower your faculty to research and present their findings, so the research is on their terms with their experience and outlook taken into account. That is also empathy FYI. When we are empowering others to solve their problems, that can be just as impactful as you solving it for them. It's not enough to use an iPad or a Chromebook, you need to ask faculty the right questions. The good news is that there are dozens of amazing educational leaders on social media like Twitter. Just search "principal" or "life-long learner" and be amazed at who you can follow, and more importantly connect with. 

One action item is discovering how to support risk. The lightbulb wasn't perfected, the computer wasn't developed and we sure didn’t land on the moon by playing it safe. There was a plan, but it was open to change based on how the process unfolded, and it is absolutely critical that you help guide and mentor your teachers to balance risk with planning that can lead to awesome learning experiences. 

Educational Leaders are like...

You are the captain of the ship, just remember, the most majestic ship you can sail on your own is a row boat. Hashtag #LeadLAP


To reside here you must think outside of the box. You must believe that there might not even be a box to begin with. The question is why aren't you sharing the wealth? Doing awesome work in your classroom is not enough, you must get the word out and share! Faculty leadership is a role that focuses on helping your colleagues who do not understand the purpose behind things like technology use. Faculty leadership is about helping colleagues that are intimidated by the "consequences" (It's honestly sickening to imagine a school where teachers get consequences for trying to do something awesome for students) if they risk shifting their instructional practice. There are so many places to start lets say when considering technology’s role in a school. Where should you start? If you are reading this post, I assume you are on Twitter. It is the dominant medium in which my thoughts are blasted out. How many of your colleagues are NOT on Twitter, or social media beyond Facebook, because they don't see how it ties into their professional toolbox? Get them on Twitter! A friend of mine who is a huge force in Education on social media shared the following thought with me. "People think I am big in Education because I have X thousand of followers. That is .01% of global educators. How are we connecting with the 99.99% of educators that are NOT on social media?" Social Media is a goldmine for educational resources and professional friendships with other passionate educators. Education programs in Higher Education MUST engage future teachers in how social media can support their development. Thankfully some forward thinking professors like Dr. Terri Cullin at University Oklahoma are incorporating this into their teacher programs.

We should strive to help our colleagues reach breakthroughs and have their minds blown by how epic student learning can be with technology and student empowering strategies. When I succeed in this area, I get something called “nachas” which when translated means a totally epic rush of sheer enjoyment and happiness. The reason your colleagues aren't pioneering isn't because their lack skills, or creativity. They are teachers and that means they are awesome, passionate, selfless, and thrive on helping others be successful. So lets support them and help them grow.


Faculty Leaders Are Like...

Your role is not just an innovator for yourself and your students, but a mentor to your colleagues in a way that an administrator simply cannot support.


Strong educational and faculty leadership are crucial but we tend to forget the most important member of the team - the students! As someone with years of experience in design and marketing (they call it storytelling now), I was shocked to discover that education the role of the student is almost identical to when I was in school. I thought as the world progressed, the role, responsibility, and input of students would have shifted as well. I am not sure how many students will read this but as their teacher you must understand the loss occurring in education today. No other industry on the planet engages with their “customers” the way schools do with students. A company that informed their clientele how things are and that they must conform would be bankrupt before year one was even done. Yet in education we dictate to students as if they are completely incapable of anything without our direct instruction. Yes, students need to learn to read, write, research, and learn to solve problems, but why does it have to be done via a worksheet??!? Why does it have to be done through passive experiences of lectures and transcription? Students need to be heard, take part, and help create their learning experiences. Even in 1st grade this can materialize, and students should be encouraged to take an active role in their learning. Anytime someone voices concern of the ability for a faculty member to master iMovie, I always look back to a video I saw years ago produced by year two kindergartens. We do not give our students enough credit when considering who is capability of being responsible to take charge of their education. 

In design, the motto is client is king. If you want to keep your sanity, and be a successful designer, you must be empathetic and design to help your clients succeed through your designs, rather than you succeed through your good design. Students are the forgotten stakeholders. If they are part of an educational process, program, or new venture, they must be consulted via a panel, student council, or some sort of voice. They must be given a say to charge them with accountability, since in the end their follow through is the measure of success. 

Today in education, whether it's technology, learning strategies, or learning spaces, adults make the decisions of what's best, and expect students to engage, embrace, and ultimately succeed through our decisions, not their own. 

 We must change this to truly innovative to scale in education. 

Student leadership is like...

It doesn't matter if your team has the best coaches, at the end of the day the players are who make the runs, scores the goals, and make the wins. 


So where do we go from here? I would hope that schools would be open to develop a culture of multitiered leardership that involve students as a significant stakeholder in their education process. This isn't a quick fix, or a semester project. This is a 24 month process that will have ups and downs, wins and fails, and might even shift along the way. We need to look at that long term when the short term is overwhelming us. We want change now but that's not how the world works. We need more patience in education, that's for sure.