Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How I Lead

My greatest strengths as a leader line up nicely with the last three chapters of Kouzes and Posner's "The Truth About Leadership": leading by example, being a continuous learner, and always having heart.  My greatest weakness, communicating the path forward, is what sits between heart and example.  I think the only solution for this is to not only be a lifelong learner, but to teach those I lead to also become better learners.

Grand Challenge Design is a great example of my problem.  I lead the class with lots of heart.  Deep down, I believe that the fully implemented version of this course will enable young people to develop new passions and useful skills, see school as serving both an immediate and a long-term purpose, and help our world actually solve huge challenges.  More immediately, I care deeply about the students I have today and have many 1:1 chats and small group conversations in order to better connect with them as people and help them grow.

As a vision-leader for the course, I can picture the kinds of thoughts and conversations that students are having in the fully-built simulation.  I can see them exploring a variety of business strategies, analyzing the tradeoffs between health and economics, deciding how best to organize a city, and trying to troubleshoot network problems on a handful of devices.  The problems they deal with are far above their head, giving them a great reason to connect with adult mentors who can support them in their learning.  In my head, all of this connects to a handful of experiences in my past in fuzzy ways that makes it hard to fully nail down exactly what the end goal looks like.  All I know is that it will "feel" right when we're close.  It is hard to get others, especially high school students in a small city in Minnesota, to see the vision in my gut.  Even for those who do have a decent sense of the end point, the path forward is fuzzy at best.

For me as one of the simulation designers, I am comfortable with the fuzziness because I know how to take the next step forward.  I am very confident in my ability to learning anything -- if there is something I need to understand or be able to do, I will use the internet and the help of the people around me to figure it out.  I am also comfortable with iteratively deploying an idea and adapting as I observe and hear feedback.  As an individual designer, that works great.  The problem is that I am a leader of a large class of co-designers who need direction and support.

In my math classes, I see the vision of the full course with a lot of clarity, break down the whole into units with testable end-points, and further break down every skill into its finest components so that every student can master it.  In GCD, I only lead by example.  I do a little bit of programming to blaze a path, then handoff the clearer tasks to a team of students who can create new things from my initial examples.  Two of our mentors lead in similar ways with our physical game board and our network control system, leaving lots for students to still learn on their own, but making the path forward clear enough to get started through their own examples.  The power in this model of learning is that students can learn side-by-side as other adults and I try things we have never done either.  The challenge is that we cannot give clear explanations or promise that the thing we're trying now is the best way to do it.  It is also a painfully inefficient means of transferring skills.  It prepares students for challenging, open-ended work, but it doesn't lead to students exiting the course with a great set of hard skills.

I believe that in an ideal education, there is a time and place for both.  The more skills that can be directly transferred, the better, as it enables young people to do interesting, professional-grade work.  The R&D and exploration help students learn how to learn and to handle the kinds of challenges that many employers need to solve: the problems that haven't been solved (well) yet by anyone else.  In GCD, we are trying to reinvent how classroom learning works, so none of us know the obvious path forward.  To actually teach students how to learn, I need to push them to try new things and use the online resources and people in their lives to support them in solving problems without me.  I need to show them frameworks for Design Thinking, Future Problem Solving, Entrepreneurial Thought & Action and Lean Startup approaches, the Engineering Process, and other approaches that make fast learning and broad thinking likely to take place.  However, I need to make sure that I build the need for these frameworks into the simulation or course so my advice and support come as a solution to a problem rather than an add-on to a busy day.  I'm making progress, but I have a long way to go yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment