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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Collaborative Leadership: Do You Take 10,000 Steps a Day?

By Peter DeWitt — January 21, 2016 4 min read
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Leadership is important. We know that. Great leaders can bring people together and help build an inclusive school climate that focuses on risk-taking rather than rule following, and bad leaders can do the complete opposite.

Good leadership...strong leadership...Collaborative leadership is about meeting people where they are, and not where we think they should be. It’s about motivating them to move their own dial of learning, and modeling how to do that.

We need good leaders who will collaborate with others. Collective efficacy has too many strong implications to ignore that. Leadership isn’t about negotiating to get what we want, but it is about collaborating to make sure that we all figure out what we need to put a stronger focus on learning among our students.

And we can do that one step at a time...

So They Add Up to 10,000
A few months ago I decided to buy a Fitbit. I thought that by merely wearing it I would have lost some weight, but apparently for it to work you have to exercise with it...and of course...not eat bags of Sun Chips. I do like the concept, and many of us think it’s new, but it’s not. According to this article from CNN the 10,000 step idea really started back in the 1960’s in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics.

This probably seems like a strange story for Education Week, but it’s not. It made me think of how much school leaders walk around when they are in school. Do they hit 10,000 steps? Do they do much more than 10,000 steps because they spend so much time walking in the hallway, going out to recess and bus duty, and walking around the hallways to talk with students? My friend Dana Ziegler, Principal of Nate Perry Elementary School in the Liverpool School District (Liverpool, NY) once told me that she usually gets her 10,000 steps by lunch. How awesome is that?

Other leaders walk much less than 10,000 because they spend so much time in their office. They get bogged down with e-mails, paperwork and phone conversations. They say they don’t have time to get up because they have so many other things to do.

What if there was more of a balance?

Imagine if all school leaders walked at least 10,000 steps a day? But much more than that...imagine what could happen during those 10,000 steps? As we know it’s not just about the steps but what we do while we are taking them. In those 10,000 steps, school leaders could be:

Building relationships with students. In the work of John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, we know that teacher-student relationships has an effect size of .72. Imagine what that means for leaders trying to create authentic relationships with students. Imagine what those relationships do to foster a positive school climate?

Observing learning in the classroom. This doesn’t mean making sure teachers are doing their jobs. This means listening to the conversations of students who are engaged in learning. It also means leaders working collaboratively with teachers so they can best help support them. Observing classroom gives leaders ideas about what they need to focus on when they flip their faculty meetings.

Building relationships with parents - Taking steps to be outside during bus arrival and dismissal, leaders can build relationships with parents, especially those who try to drop off their kids quickly and get out because they are sometimes intimidated by teachers and leaders. Imagine taking steps to build more of a bridge with those parents so they would be less intimidated? It can help build family engagement which Hattie has found has an effect size of .49 (parental involvement).

Collective Efficacy - During those steps leaders could be listening to ways to bring teachers together instead of allowing them to work apart. Within those steps leaders could be looking for common themes that come in conversation that they could bring up in faculty meetings. Instead of just being visible in the hallways leaders can really see teacher instruction, and focus on which teachers excel in that instruction, and how they can help other teachers grow in their instruction. Collective efficacy, which is about bringing together the strengths of the group has an effect size of 1.57 which is nearly quadruple the hinge point of .40.

While researching through this idea of 10,000 steps I found this organization that worked on a 10,000 challenge with schools to focus on healthier living. That has important implications because it’s easy to be unhealthy on the job. However, I would like to add to that challenge and focus on building a better school community through 10,000 steps.

What if leaders put on their Fitbit, Apple Watch or Garmin and tracked the number of steps they take during the school day? I’m sure many leaders are doing this already. What if during those steps they made an effort to, not just collect steps, but made sure they were engaging in conversations with students and parents that they didn’t know as well? What if they walked into the classrooms a little more often?

I would love for leaders to use the hashtag #10000stepschallenge on Twitter or Facebook to say what they do when they’re taking the steps. Add pictures or links to videos to inspire others to take more steps and get out of their office in order to work collaboratively with students, parents and teachers.

Every step we take counts more than we may know.

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of Geralt.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.