Un-Book Clubs and Un-Conferences
lead to Un-Leading
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education
Anymore, Leadership has become an embedded component of the Educational landscape for teachers, and to suggest otherwise may seem absurd, even ludicrous to some. Yet, ask most educators what the term Teacher Leader conjures up and they still fall back on traditional titles like mentor, coach, coordinator or chair. However, it’s the day-to-day, informal gatherings, impromptu conversations and un-leading that move initiatives and people forward - and, usually by someone other than a designated leader. Below are some examples of how non-traditional leading can be highly effective while adding value to the profession through innovative interactions.
Inspired by the work of former colleagues, the concept of an Un-Book Club takes the pressure of the one-size-fits-all book club off of participants’ already full plates, and opens up conversations to authentic, relevant discussions with goals and outcomes applicable to all. The basic premise starts with an idea, theme or issue proposed ahead of time to participants, then when the group gathers to discuss said topic, peers share a reading, TED talk, podcast, conference take-away or own experience (the list is endless) with colleagues. Dialogs often start with the whole group and then break into spinoffs, or simultaneous discussions, based on the trajectory or momentum of the conversation. Depending upon time constraints or scheduling, the group can wrap-up a sessions with summary statements and next-steps proposed to continue the dynamic exchange of ideas. George Bernard Shaw’s quote sums up an Un-Book Club:
Un-Sessions for Professional Development
Loosely based on the concept of Un-Conferences and Open-Space Technology events, an Un-Session imbeds the tenets of choice, time and ownership into professional learning opportunities. For educators unfamiliar with the structure of a full Un-Conference, the Un-Session introduces participants to the ideology and practice through a snapshot experience. Topics are generated on-the-spot and drive the direction of discussions; interactions are fluid and follow the law-of-two-feet principle; and the range of participants’ takeaways can be as specific or general as desired. For teacher leaders, participation in an Un-Session models an effective way of engaging colleagues at the school level, while invigorating (possibly dry) professional learning experiences. And, while participants may initially be weary of the activity and outcomes, most find ways to incorporate the practice into their own learning environments once exposed to the range of possibilities!
Un-Leading as a Teacher Leader
Sheryl Sandberg, FaceBook’s COO, has been quoted with stating, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”; not unlike Thomas Carruthers who also shared, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. In both statements, the ultimate goal is for the leader to help the followers find their own way by setting up opportunities for success and ongoing growth - even after one’s original influence has passed. Likewise, teacher leaders - many of whom prefer to remain in the classroom or at the school level rather than pursue administration - are eager to share insights, innovation and enthusiasm with others who value common goals.
So in order to lead - or in this case un-lead - one must first identify goals and outcomes for professional growth. By determining a starting-point, a teacher leader can expand his/her wings into opportunities which will influence others, while adhering to the philosophy of: Leadership is never about the role, it’s always about the goal!
Queries to ponder for Un-Leaders:
- Who else is willing to share expertise and collaborate for professional growth?
- Where can I find opportunities to showcase best practices, while also adding others’ talents to my own bag of tricks?
- As I identify effective leadership traits in others, what skills/experiences can I incorporate into my own work to hone these attributes?
- How can I broaden my communication skills to include various audiences and situations?
- Where can I experience structures/models for effective learning in order to replicate at my own school level?
By beginning with queries, similar to those above, an individual will start to seek out resources and opportunities to grow, and, expand one’s circle to incorporate networking with other like-minded professionals. From there, the lead-by-example model filters through a school or learning environment for others to observe, emulate and eventually begin their own query journey.
Un-Leading may not be common in the lexicon of educational conversations, but un-leading is easily visible in dialogs between colleagues, debates within professional circles and think-tank-type discussions aimed to move learning forward. And, if un-leading can support, empower and validate one’s ability to advocate for stellar educational experiences, then let’s not let syntax or language rules get in the way!