A Digital Leadership Journey (Part 2): From Defining Myself as "Just-A..." to Redefining Myself as "Bring It On!"

"It's time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only YOU can do it, and YOU MUST!"
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"It's time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only YOU can do it, and YOU MUST!"

If you are not already, please start following the work of Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and Leslie Fisher (@lesliefisher). Both are amazing and brilliant, and their wise advice will help you to develop a path as a "Digital Administrative Leader!" Both presenters will challenge you not only to be a better leader, but also to take your personal journey to the next level! Thank you, Eric and Leslie, for your WONDERFUL keynote presentations here in Indiana, and for being a fantastic part of our Summer of E-Learning Conferences!

Looking back at the 2013-2014 school year, it makes me smile to reflect upon not only the journey of my first administrative year, but also the journey that brought me here in the first place! The journey began with a "Just-A..." Teaching Philosophy, and has now turned into a Redefining "Bring It On-Linchpin Mindset!" Let's take a journey...sprinkled with a few quotes from "Digital Leadership," by Eric Sheninger! 

"Just-A..." to "Bring it On!"

  • "Just-A..." Scenario #1: When I started my teaching career as a Music Educator 9 years ago, I always thought of myself as "a general music teacher, a high school band director, and a choir director." I loved what I did, and I prided myself each year on knowing every one of my 650 students' names and having meaningful relationships with each and every one of them! Life was great, and teaching music was my passion! ��In my 5th year of being an extremely LOUD and ENERGETIC teacher who dedicated her life to putting on shows for crowds of literally over 1,000 parents; however, fate eventually caught up to me in the form of 2 voice surgeries. The doctors said I needed a career switch or risk losing my voice for good due to bloody and paralyzed vocal cords. Reality hit...2 surgeries in and $12,000 later, the only thing I thought I knew was how to be "just a music teacher."
  • At that point in my career, I really wish this quote from Eric Sheninger's "Digital Leadership" would have existed: "It's time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only YOU can do it, and YOU MUST!"
  • What happened? I had to start thinking beyond viewing myself as "just a music teacher." What were my other attributes and talents? What would be the next logical step in my teaching career? I had to come to the realization that we are all teachers first and foremost, and then teachers of a content area! Once I started realizing that I could do more than be "just a content area," I became brave enough to focus on what it was that I was doing every day in teaching that spoke to ALL CONTENT areas. A Technology Coaching position was posted, and I focused on showcasing my K-5 Digital Set of Interactive SmartBoard Lesson Plans (100's of Smart Notebook files), my experience being a K-12 leader (having taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels), and my "Modified Flipped" classroom, showcasing a digital video library, or vault, of modified-flipped lessons! I knew it was time to draw a new professional map for myself, so I worked tirelessly to demonstrate and showcase why I was the right fit for the new position! When I was offered the position of "District Technology Coach," it was the first time I finally believed that maybe I was more than "Just A Teacher Confined to One Classroom."
  • "Just-A..." Scenario #2: I was a typical young teacher, ponytail and all. I started thinking...who am I, who do I want to become, and what is it that defines me now that I am a technology coach? For my whole life, "perky ponytail and personality" defined me, and I felt that I would always be "Just A Perky Ponytail," or that people would view me as "just a music teacher" who may or may not be able to offer me adequate technology professional development! So, despite my husband's clear objections, I cut off all my hair and became "spiky crazy hair lady." Although this seems ridiculous to even write about, it was actually an important defining moment in my professional career.
  • After chopping off my hair, I started to think that if I could be brave enough to do that, perhaps I was a lot more brave than I had always given myself credit for! I started asking for more leadership responsibilities, building a district website from scratch, using Quality Tools to analyze staff and stakeholder feedback, spearheading crazy district-wide projects and improvement processes, and creating as many tech integration resources as I mentally and physically could for my K-12 staff! Crazy Spiky Hair helped me realize and see for the first time that I was a risk taker, a bold & brave technology coach, a passionate leader of technology integration, and a person who was no longer going to limit her career to being "just a technology coach." I felt like I was ready to spread my wings and fly as a leader, and it was up to me to once again create an opportunity! Remember, if you change nothing, nothing will change! It was risky and even somewhat scary, but I applied for an Administrative "District Technology Coordinator" position at a nearby school district. I started wondering how I could utilize my skills sets to create a unique application. So...I took it upon myself to create something unique, and spent many hours late at night dedicated to building "Clifford's Tech Hub," an educational technology integration hub full of resources for staff, that I debuted at my job interview! Maybe I had too much faith in the Field of Dreams quote, "If you build it, they will come," but it worked! The offer came, and I happily accepted the invitation to a wonderful journey as a first time District Administrator! (District Technology Coordinator)
  • Eric Sheninger suggests that "Successful leaders are those who are "smart enough" to recognize and take advantage of the unique opportunities that present themselves... It is about seizing the opportunity to pursue any possible learning path or area of interest to improve the schools we work in and ourselves!" If I had NOT bravely jumped on the opportunity presented, I possibly may have never found my path into Administration. If I had stuck with the old "I'm Just A...." mentality, my journey would never have gone in the direction that it did. I would have missed out on what I now consider to be the most amazing year of my professional career! Also, The Tech Hub has since grown exponentially, and so has my love for MSD of Steuben County!
  • "Just A" Scenario #3: My professional goal as an administrator is to never be "Just A Typical Administrator!" Because I have no desire to be typical, I have set a personal goal to "Lead from outside the office" as much as possible! What does this mean? It means being with and around the people who I am leading at all times! It means constantly maintaining a physical presence at all 6 buildings across the district. It means dedicating time to being with students, teachers, and other administrators. It means walking the walk and talking the talk. It means MODELING every step of the way, and SHOWING staff district-wide that I am dedicated to collecting their feedback, showing them what I am doing to address their feedback, and providing & putting support systems in place for them! I have worked night and day (sometimes 24 hours a day) to build relationships & trust, and to focus on a mindset of "listen to learn, ask to empower!"
  • As I reflect on my goal to NOT BE TYPICAL, I would like to share another Eric quote for all of us to think about! BE A LINCHPIN Administrator!
  • According to Eric, "Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. Linchpins are indispensable, love their work, understand that there is no playbook, and challenge the status quo. Every day, linchpins set out to turn each day into a work of art! Linchpin leaders are creative, see or are able to discover solutions to issues, develop strong connections with a variety of stakeholder groups, and help others solve problems! 
  • Perhaps it is the former music teacher in me, but when I go to work each day I truly feel inspired to try to turn each day into a work of art! It feels like each day we are getting closer and closer to making something beautiful happen! In that journey, each step is important, as is each mistake! Mistakes teach us how to pick ourselves back up, how to look at different perspectives, and how to keep the will to try alive! During the 2014-2015 School Year, I will dedicate myself to the continuation of the Stakeholder Journey we started in 2013-2014. Click Here to see our Journey! 
  • Eric also suggests that, "Digital leadership is about inspiring students and teachers to THINK rather than follow rulebooks and ace tests. It is about making a profound difference, and it begins with acknowledging the shortcomings of the system, building a plan to lead schools differently in the digital age, and then doing something about it!"
  • As I listened to Eric's keynote presentation at #WISE14 (Wabash WISE Summer of eLearning Conference: Indiana), his message came through loud and clear! "TAKE ACTION!" To me, it seems that more than anything else in this world, whether people follow all of his digital leadership advice or just some, the goal in the end is to actually TAKE ACTION and to follow through! 
  • I hope that over the next few years I will clearly demonstrate my dedication to "Taking Action, " to leading my school district differently in the digital age, and to continuing the process of Redefining myself as a Linchpin Leader who wakes up every morning and says, "BRING IT ON!"
  • Whenever things seem impossible, I promise to look at them as "opportunities" to do something great!
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cross-posted at cliffordtechnologycoach.blogspot.com

Kelly Clifford is the Technology Coordinator for Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, Indiana. Read more at her blog cliffordtechnologycoach.blogspot.com



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