Sunday, February 21, 2016

Going from Zero to Zone!

Going from Zero to Zone as a Teacher Leader
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist, Hawaii Dept. of Education

A former colleague - also an avid runner - would often talk about going from “zero to zone” while preparing for a race.  When asked to elaborate, he would say the beginning stage was always slow-going, as he tried to find his rhythm, momentum and pace - all while working toward “getting into the zone”.  He would then describe the earliest struggles of fighting excuses over motivation, and losing steam when progress or improvement didn't materialize as anticipated. It took almost a full year before he finally experienced the euphoric state of a runner’s high.  Through further prodding, I was able to acquire his secret for reaching the zone, and the guiding principles applied to other aspects of life as well. The methodology aligned with the acronym ZONE, and made me wonder if similar structures could apply to educational leadership :

    Z = Find the Zest or passion to pursue a goal. Ask what feeds the soul and inspires continuous learning, drive and motivation. Without enthusiastic diligence, the goal can become an insurmountable chore weighing one down, and producing feelings of defeat, failure or disillusionment. 

    O = Seek Opportunities which provide support, resources and partnerships to encourage growth along the way. Opportunities may be hidden in small, insignificant moments, or as obvious as a “V8 hit-on-the-head” occasion, bringing clarity to one’s direction.

    N = Identify Necessities fundamental for achieving a zone-like state. For this runner friend, the right shoes, apparel, hydration & nutrition supplies, coupled with a loaded iPod, were vital. Every role, job, hobby or passion require customized tools and thoughtful preparation for achieving set goals. 

    E = Locate the optimal Environment. Is it important to go alone or collaborate with others? Is it necessary to proceed in the same setting, or does rotating environments offer stimuli too? Identifying the proper surrounding is key; without it, perspective can be diminished or even compromised.
    As a teacher leader, how does one go from zero-to-zone at the classroom or school level? And, if similar principles were applied, could an educator achieve the same level of euphoria as a runner? Zest is innate for educators who are lifelong learners seeking new knowledge and experiences to grow professionally. Opportunity reveals itself during a chance conversation with a colleague, a random online query, an invitation to participate in a think-tank un-session, or silent reflection after a motivational quote. Tangible Necessities include peer-reviewed journals, reflective practices, and access to ongoing professional development; while the less-noticeable necessity of time - to hone one’s craft - is imperative for any practitioner. Finally, effective Environments grow effective leaders. Whether it be the physical, cognitive, developmental or collegial space a teacher leader functions within, the dynamics for growth are the same - support, guidance, resources and time - promotes efficacy for any leader.

    The metaphor of a runner’s high may provide suggestions for educators adapting to their position of role model, coach, mentor or leader, but as with any great teacher, an idea should fit the needs of the learner in order for it to be effective. Thus, the zero to zone strategy is simply one approach - if it works, great! If not, seek what does…. and then share!

Monday, February 1, 2016

What does Leadership look like?

What Does Leadership Look Like?
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist, HIDOE

Does Leadership have a set definition, a permanent structure or standardized guidelines? Is Leadership based on the nurture or nature philosophy? Is it necessary to lead the same way as colleagues do, or vice versa? How does one know if one is leading correctly? Are individuals, in leadership roles, automatically viewed as leaders by others? When one looks in the mirror - does one see a leader? What should Leadership look like?

In his 2010 Toronto TEDx Talk, Drew Dudley, defines leadership by the "lollipop moments" in life ( His dynamic presentation - viewed by 2.2 million and counting - reminds us of how Leadership has been over-glorified, hierarchical, and relegated to positions of authority; when in reality Leadership is developed, sustained and shared by valuing experiences with others, through everyday moments.  I won't spoil his "Lollipop Leadership" story here - but encourage anyone who is struggling with understanding effective Leadership to watch Dudley's TED Talk.

As a survivor of educating middle level learners, I had the opportunity to teach a course entitled, "Student Leadership" - the successor to traditional student government. The main goal was to empower any student to have a voice, without being elected, and to find a purpose in representing peers through service-learning projects. During the early days of any given semester, when a new group of student leaders began the term, I would invite them to identify a leader - famous or not - and to venn-diagram the selected person and him/herself, by comparing & contrasting positive attributes. The task always became an eye-opening exercise when students struggled to find similarities between themselves and their chosen role model. Often times I would hear, "I'm not a leader like her because I'm not powerful" or "We don't share any similarities because I'm not famous". However, the most common of reactions was, "I can't be a leader like him - no one listens to me".  Usually that last statement was followed by simultaneous nodding from peers in the room, which soon prompted Socratic-like conversations (and debates) about who can be considered a leader, or not. In early-adolescent terms good leaders listened; and, if others don't listen to you, then you cannot be a leader. These 12 & 13 year olds were echoing what adults often say about elected officials, employment supervisors or those whom they look up to, in various Leadership capacities, but the students were also articulating: We simply want to be heard, seen and valued by those leading the way.

As a reflective practitioner (then and now), I ask myself the same questions - is a leader one who is listened to, by others? Can I be effective if I'm not heard? Is walking the walk enough, or does messaging need to accompany actions? Was I born with leadership traits, or have certain skills been honed by experiences and opportunities? When I venn-diagram my own role models, do we share similar characteristics, and if so, do we get similar results? And, when I study the mirror, what image is reflected back?

I've come to the conclusion that anyone can be called a leader, whether by others or self-proclaimed; however, Leadership is not a solo act, but a collective one which focuses on the good of the whole.   So while I do not pretend to have all of the answers to the initial questions posed, I do believe leaders - with effective Leadership styles - are artful and compassionate listeners, who create opportunities to  guide and empower others, and look like the embodiment of trust, respect, humility and compassion.

A Leader empowers self; Leadership empowers others.