Education, Leadership, and the Art of Dancing
There is a Youtube video (First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy) of a young man dancing with his shirt off at a concert who appears to be entirely on his own and looks more like a crazy person than a leader. That is until another person slips into view and begins dancing with him. Before long, another person joins in with the first follower and then another… and yet another until an entire crowd is dancing with the shirtless boy who moments ago looked like one crazy person in the company of the sane.
In education leaders can cause change on many levels, big and small, but it is not by mistake that change occurs. If positive change is going to occur, schools need leaders and first followers who are willing to join forces and share ideas. During my time as a teacher I have found inspiration from my colleagues that has led to very positive and sometimes radical changes in my classroom environment, and has even led to positive changes in our department and school, as well.
This past year I walked through the door of a colleague and began a discussion about a coming Research Paper. She told me she was thinking about changing her approach to the paper and shared an article with me that told a story from the point of view of an informed inanimate object. I was intrigued and excited, and the two of us began working on an idea that would transform our approach to the research paper. By the end of the assignment we had heard stories from the planet earth about the greed of mankind throughout history, a soup kitchen told the story of poverty in America, and a microphone delivered its opinion on important political speeches of the past. Students were inspired to use their research in a creative way and other teachers on our team saw the value of the paper and joined in.
In another instance, a lead teacher inspired others to join her in what she referred to as a Reading Initiative. She had piloted a program in her classroom based on Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide where student choice in reading became the central focus of the classroom. Together, we solicited the principal for money to buy classroom libraries of high interest books for young readers. The outcome: over the course of the year student response was overwhelmingly positive, and hundreds of our students discovered a newfound love for reading.
On an even larger scale, another group of teachers got together this year to discuss ways to positively affect our students as writers. One teacher recommended that we invite “real writers” into the school and conduct interviews and workshops with them throughout the day. Writers on an EHS Stage produced four events throughout the year where students had a chance to listen to and meet with people who write for a living. Our last guest was Stephen King, the famed writer and novelist! The entire school community was affected by this single idea and hundreds of students had the opportunity to meet and work with writers.
Whether we analyze leaders and their followers in videos such as “Dancing Guy” or our schools, there is a basic recipe for change. Someone has to be willing to share his or her good idea and a first follower has to be willing to support it. If the idea is as good as its supporters believe, it will build momentum and flourish. We grow towards a community of change when a leaders and their first followers start with an idea and willingly share it with others. This is a basic tenant of education, isn’t it? We are here to lead our students to work together as a community of interested learners. If we are going to lead our classrooms towards positive change we must learn to practice the fine art of the leadership dance ourselves.