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.