What the Dancing Guy Tells Me about School Improvement

Before reading this post, I suggest you watch the video “Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy” narrated by Derek Sivers (shown below). It will help get a context of where I go next…

In the video, Derek Sivers speaks about how the “dancing guy” and his followers demonstrate some interesting aspects of leadership.  I suggest that the same follows for school improvement and system change.

I have the great pleasure of taking a masters class from Gonzaga University with Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) as my instructor.  The class is focused on leadership and school improvement, and we have had some very interesting conversations from the first weekend alone about school improvement, who owns it, why it takes so long and where the change comes from.  And for me, this is a topic that I rarely think about because (“let’s be honest, Andy”) teachers don’t control school change – that is for “administrators and central office”.  At least, that is what some small part of me liked to think, even though I know somewhere deep down in the recess of my mind that school improvement depends largely on teachers.  And I asked the question… “why does it take teachers so long to change?”

Then it hit me.  The Dancing Guy.  That’s why.

School improvement, to me, is a shift or change (in some form or another) that takes place from the grass roots.  It is not a top down, results driven, centrally localized process.  It is owned by the teachers and students, and members of the community.  Before any change or shift occurs, there needs to be that nudge or push or shove into the other direction.  Dan Rackwell, from his Leadership Freak blog, describes leadership as sometimes that sideways movement  in an effort to free ourselves from the rip current.  A sideways movement makes sense to me, especially when it comes to school improvement.

And this is where the dancing guy makes sense.  This is the first person to take that sideways step out of the “rip current”.  This first step, however, is not quite as important as the first follower, as emphasized by Sivers in the video.  For school improvement to occur, there needs to be those that take the initiative, but it also takes (in my opinion) the trust and willingness of others to follow.  In the video above, Sivers says the following:

“[The movement] started with the shirtless guy, and he will get all the credit.  But you saw what really happened.  It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.  There is no movement without the first follower”.

Let me emphasize that last point.  There is no movement without the first follower.  I see school improvement as much the same way, in that the first steps towards improvement are not as important as the steps by those that follow.  Real school improvement is supported and acknowledged by teachers, as well as students, administrators and the community, and gains momentum as more people see the need and benefits to improvement.  The first steps are the hardest, but the ones that follow are the most important.

Your thoughts?


Why do I teach?

I have a confession to make...

I have a confession to make…

As part of the introductory course requirements, I have asked many of my pre-service teachers to reflect on why it is that they want to teach or why they have chosen to teach?  After reading so many great reflections, thoughts and writings, I felt that it was time that I revisited my roots as to why I began teaching so many years ago (nine to be exact… I know, an eternity).

I love school.  I still love school.  And I think that comes from my love of learning.  I cannot tell you where this love of learning comes from – my mothers inquisitive nature, my grandfathers amazing knowledge and understanding of how things work, or my teachers and their passion for their subject.  What I can tell you is that in the 8th grade, my science teacher, Mr. Sikora, made me love science.  For me, that was a turning point in the first step towards teaching.  I began to dig deeper into the sciences, asking more questions about more topics and more ideas.  This carried into high school where a few more of my great teachers continued to excite and inspire me with more questions.  And not just about science – about reading, writing, thinking, knowing and collaborating.  I think that by the time 11th grade hit, I was set on teaching.

My love for learning has not stopped, I can promise that.  In such a few short weeks in my new position, I have learned so much from not only so many incredible and truly amazing colleagues, but the reflective process and the questioning with the students has been incredible.  I knew coming in that this was an amazing growth opportunity – I just don’t think that I thought I would see how big this opportunity was so soon in the school year.

The decision to teach was never really a question for me – I wanted to work with kids to help them gain perspective, knowledge and understanding about the world around them and to ask critical questions.  I wanted to, and continue to want to, help them to grow.  However, I can honestly say that I do not think that I ever would have ventured to guess about how much it teaching would change me and how much I would grow personally and professionally.

“We Have Ignition….”

My masters program journey has been, for the most part, enjoyable.  Doing the classes through video conferencing between two sites can be difficult at times, and frustrating, but the learning that is happening and the sharing is quite something.  There are 18 of us, myself included.  We have discussed, debated, agreed, shared and discussed some more on many topics relating to leadership, education, culture, organizations and brain research.

And today, we touched once again on the brain.  And I was ignited with excitement about the topic – why didn’t I remember this excitement??


I had actually forgotten about a book that I had read until today.  The book, 12 Brain Rules by John Medina, was used and referenced extensively today in my class.  The topic: the art and the science of teaching.  The rules are simple, and I wont take the time to review them in this post.  I remember at the time reading them that it was sort of that “well duh!” but at the same time thinking “no kidding!” .  And now today, the same thoughts ran through my head, as well as thinking “how can I use this with my university classes?” and “do I follow these same brain rules in my teaching?”.  

The 12 brain rules got me thinking about my own teaching.  It got me thinking about the way that I want to teach and continue to teach.  It made me reflect.  Something that I have (I think!) done in my teaching… but certainly not enough.  I recently began to follow a very interesting and unique pre-service teacher on Twitter (@jbechthold) who has, though his own reflections and writings, made me paused and reflect once more on many aspects of what I am doing.  It has also

emphasized to me the importance of reflection in our business of kids, and ensuring that I, as an educator, am continuing to look for ways to grow and for areas of improvement.

A New First

This is my first blog post in quite some time, and I actually have guilt over it.  So…. here it goes!

This year, I am no longer teaching middle school.  I am not teaching high school and not elementary school either!  I have the amazing opportunity to each at the University of Lethbridge in the Faculty of Education.  This opportunity is a secondment position – it means that I am “on leave” from my school district and “on loan” to the Faculty of Education.  My teaching assignment this year has me working with not only amazing faculty members (such as @hewsonk27, @rmarynow, and @mombouc to name just a few) but working within the professional semester one with the first year education students!

If there was ever a time when professional growth was at its peak for possible potential, I think this would be it.  Collaboration is not a buzz word, I am living it.  The collaboration thus far in the first two weeks before class has been OUTSTANDING!  I have worked with collaborative individuals before, but I never actually thought that it would be to the extent that it is in advanced education.  No slight there – really!  I just am surprised at how willing everyone that I have spoken to is willing to share and work with this newbie.

Now, back to the “kids” for just a moment.  The new teachers.  The “raw” teachers, if you will.  Another amazing professional growth opportunity for me AND them.  I am so excited to share everything that I can about my teaching, the teaching of others, pedagogy, theory, practice and new ideas.  And in turn, I am looking forward to the energy, creativity, enthusiasm and excitement that they will bring to the class each day.

I should have thought about posting this much earlier in the day when I had more time to write (believe me – I have lots to do before tomorrow and few hours before bed!), but I thought that if I am having mys students do some reflecting while in their student teaching round, then I need to be modelling the same.

So count this as the start of (hopefully!) a much busier year to blogging, sharing and Tweeting.  And here we go….!