Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Step Into the Learning Zone

How is it possible to operate at your best even when you are doing something for the first time?  In a new book, Rookie Smarts, author Liz Wiseman shows how, with the right mindset, it is possible to recapture the enthusiasm, curiosity and fearlessness of beginners.  In a rapidly changing world, experience can actually become a curse as it allows us to operate in our comfort zone. Some time ago, operating in the comfort zone worked for people the span of their entire career, but with the pace of change around us that is no longer the case. For many types of roles, constant learning is now more valuable than mastery. For a short synopsis of Rookie Smarts, you may enjoy watching this short video.  In her recent work, Wiseman reveals the different modes of the rookie mindset that lead to success:
  • Backpacker: Unencumbered, rookies are more open to new possibilities, ready to explore new terrain, and don't get stuck in yesterday's best practices.
  • Hunter-Gatherer: Rookies seek out experts and return with ideas and resources to address the challenges they face.
  • Firewalker: Lacking situational confidence, rookies take small, calculated steps, moving fast and seeking feedback to stay on track.
  • Pioneer: Keeping things simple and focusing on meeting core needs, rookies improvise and work tirelessly while pushing boundaries.
What might Rookie Smarts look like in the field of education?  While writing the book, Liz reached out to people across different industries and challenged them to help create a specific learning itinerary for someone wanting to take on the rookie mindset in their world of work.  I had the opportunity to collaborate with Elise Foster, co-author of The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius in Our Schools, to create a learning itinerary for educational leaders.  Our challenge was to create a learning itinerary that would “Help Recharge a School’s Leadership Team.”
As any school leader knows, the daily pressures of leading a school can be exhausting and time consuming.  The constant pressure can make it challenging to lead and execute on a bold vision for a school. Here are some experiments school leaders (or really anyone in education) can try that may help unleash their inner rookie and actually bring new insights to their work:

Make a Map:  Try seeing your school through the eyes of a student.  Sit in a student, teacher or colleague’s seat and walk the school as they do.  How do these observations inform the work of your team?  How do they inform your teaching?

Talk to Strangers:  Connect with other principals or educational leaders outside of education together.  Recharge yourself by learning what is happening in other schools, districts or industries.  
Try to Get Fired:  List the top ten changes you would make to improve student learning if you weren’t afraid.  Share the list with your Principal, Superintendent or School Board.  How might these ideas spark discussions that lead to improvements for students?

Risk & Iterate:  Set up a playground for your team, where everyone can experiment with procedures, processes and the status quo.  Let your staff meeting be your sandbox - change the location, invite students or frame the agenda with three big questions to encourage collaboration.

By stepping outside of our daily routine and challenging ourselves to take on new learning, we actually become happier and do better work.  This new perspective can even help us be more present with staff, students and community.  A fresh perspective and recharge may be just what you and your team needs to deliver on that bold vision (or make it even bolder).

There is a lot of evidence of the Rookie Smarts mindsets and practices in play at Los Altos School District. In fact LASD Superintendent, Jeff Baier is acknowledged in Wiseman's work for introducing a new hiring criteria for teachers. "They (LASD) have established a specific set of qualities beyond a teacher's technical skills, which include: open-minded, adaptive, growth-minded, sense of humor and joyfulness." With this new hiring criteria we are finding that new teachers are better able to innovate and adapt in the perpetually shifting field of education.

How can you stay fresh in your role at work? I encourage you to read Rookie Smarts and challenge yourself to adopt the practices of a rookie. I'd love to hear about your journey, especially anyone who "tries to get fired" with a top ten list of changes needed in education.

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

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