“I Pity The Fool!” Leadership Advice From Mr. T

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Mr. T An opening workshop conversation I often have with school leaders around the world is to share three words of wisdom from a well-known figure—Mr. T. Even people outside the United States recognize the scowling muscular character from “The A Team,” and his signature commentary about his adversaries, “I pity the fool!” delivered in a menacing, rumbling growl. Of course, it’s not this four-word phrase I’m referring to. “Mr. T” is an acronym I use to remind us how to effectively advocate for, support, and sustain the integration of technology and learning in our schools (or any aspect of school effectiveness for that matter).

The “M” in Mr. T represents the need for school leaders to model what they want faculty, staff, and students to be doing in their classrooms. The importance of modeling is echoed in the famous quote “We must become the change we want to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. Leadership must be seen as leading by example. Albert Einstein stated that “Modeling isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way.” As the lead teachers in a school, administrators must use and integrate today’s tools and resources in their work with colleagues, staff, and students on a regular basis if they want this to happen in their schools. School leaders should learn about and use both online and offline digital tools and resources in daily work and routines. Using hardware such as laptops, interactive whiteboards, smartphones, and document projectors to share and communicate ideas should be business as usual. Principals who use software tools for presenting ideas, facilitating and archiving conversations, and collaborating are modeling what teachers and students should be doing in their classrooms. “Walking the talk” matters!

The “R” in Mr. T represents the importance of taking time in our busy schedules to pause and reflect. Our days, and often nights, are filled with meetings, deadlines, data, and emergencies. We seldom take the time to stop and reflect on the meaning and significance of our activities. Yet, we regularly pay lip service to the importance of being reflective learners and practitioners as we rush from one agenda item to the next. Or we admonish students to stop and think about the consequences of their decisions. We fall into bed each night then get up in a handful of hours and begin again.

Here again, if we want to implement learning technology in meaningful ways we must periodically stop, or at least slow down, and make time to consider what we are doing, why we are doing it, and its significance in light of our overall vision. The great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, advised us to keep in mind that “Learning without reflection is to become lost.” As educational leaders we must model reflection, and we must create space and the expectation that reflection will be a key aspect of the learning process. This can be accomplished as simply as pausing after an activity and doing a simple “think, pair, share” around the question, “What implications does this activity have for our vision as a school?” This can be accomplished in under five minutes, and can be extended using online tools such as a wiki.

Finally, the “T” in Mr. T represents the critical process of transfer. Transfer happens when we take an experience in one setting and actually apply it in a meaningful way in another situation. If we do not figure out a way to transfer and apply an experience in our own lives or work, that experience is soon forgotten. We can all complete the oft quoted aphorism, “If you don’t use it, you…” It is the responsibility to the leader, whether it’s the school leader or the leader of the classroom, to plan for, build in, and facilitate this transfer. Transfer is critical when it comes to integrating learning and technology where the interest is often focused on the novelty of the latest application or tool. The leader must take advantage of the interest and move the work forward by asking and requiring the staff to grapple with and answer the question, “How can we use this in our own work?”

So, take 30 seconds and ask yourself, “Am I like Mr. T when it comes to modeling, reflecting, and transferring what I want to see in my school?” If not, you know what Mr. T would have to say!

This entry is reposted from NASSP at http://tinyurl.com/NASSP-Mr-T

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