I've known Brad Gustafson for a few years. He's an amazing principal leader here in Minnesota, and I'm proud to be part of his PLN. Check out his blog here to learn about how he is the epitome of a connected leader. I've participated in many of Brad's social media challenges, including the Squiggle (using #StuConnect) and ConnectED Bingo. I started a monthly Twitter chat called #stu2stuchat a few years ago to connect students, discussing a range of topics. Read about it's beginning in this post from early 2015. Brad also tapped into #StuConnect to do the same, and his chat exploded due to the wide reach of his social media platforms. I've watched and voted in his #30SecondTake Touchcast videos, and I even have an Augmented Reality MN Voxer shirt, where Brad used the app Aurasma to play videos of MN Voxer members when the image was scanned. Recently, I made the Final Four for my contribution to his #30SecondBookTalk challenge that he runs with Library Girl (@jenniferlegarde).
I'm no stranger to the wonders of being a connected educator. I started my Twitter journey four years ago, and have never looked back. Here's my post about lunch breaks for connected educators. Here's another one, touting the benefits of having a connected PLN. And another post about putting yourself out there and saying yes. I'm a proud member of the Teach Like a Pirate and Ditch That Textbook communities, and as you can see, my blog is titled "Going Against the Grain."
I'm no stranger to pushing the envelope and trying new and innovative ideas. However, after reading this book, I'm again reminded of the magic of connecting and living the Renegade Code. Brad calls the Renegade Code a "relevant and connected pedagogy that clearly establishes how relationships fuel four tenets in innovative schools." These tenets are Collaboration, Ownership, Digital connectivity and Experiential learning.
I am an English teacher, but on a 3 year special assignment as an Instructional Coach, so I read Brad's book from a coaching lens. Always on the lookout for ways to encourage colleagues and inspire movement towards innovative practices, here are a few of my takeaways.
- Brad reminds readers that Renegade Leaders are intentional about celebrating people. I started a school hashtag #OrioleShoutOut to tweet the engaging learning experiences I witnessed when I visited classrooms. Brad offers many different ideas, but emphasizes the need to be authentic. My mind is spinning with other ways to celebrate and share the great work in my school and district. Maybe a back channel during staff meetings, or sharing blog posts with colleagues that relate to their professional learning goals.
- I hope to encourage more collaboration in and out of my school. Both via teachers connecting and developing experiences with other teachers, and students connecting with other students in different parts of the country. There are so many opportunities that exist already, like the Global Read Aloud (GRA), student Twitter chats like #StuConnect and #stu2stuchat, Global Cardboard Challenge, Global School Play Day and World Read Aloud Day. Plus, there's a student pen pal group that organizes via Facebook, and many students who connect via Kidblogs or other platforms.
- Adding more choice to my mentoring meetings with new staff will help to personalize PD. Teaming with coaches from other buildings to differentiate our offerings, trying a few breakout sessions, and possibly adding an edcamp component will better meet the needs of more staff members. Also, encouraging peers to share with each other will likely create a more collaborative environment. As Brad writes, "Isolation is one of the biggest impediments to innovation." I plan to be more intentional about offering ideas for connected PD whenever possible.
- Like Brad mentions in the last section on activating your renegade leadership, I want to make my own learning more visible. Last year, I shared some opportunities and relevant blog posts with staff. However, I can do more to make my learning transparent by modeling, sharing, and leading with curiosity. My choice of professional development is usually not what's provided by the district, but I gravitate towards movers and shakers in the education world who have so much to offer. I need to be engaged in the "heavy lifting of new learning" as I pave the way for others.
Throughout the book, Brad includes both Real-Life Renegade Profiles (famous renegades throughout history) and Renegade Profiles of connected members of his PLN. I was honored to contribute my profile on pages 106-7. These profiles are such an important addition, and offer concrete models of people and educators exemplifying one or more components of the Renegade Code.
As I wrap up this book review, I can't leave out some of the best advice related to leadership. Brad recalled the time he was a chili cook-off judge. He said that he made the mistake of sampling every type of chili (and some more than once), because he lacked focus. When we become so enamored by by all the tools, initiatives or educational buzzwords, we run the risk of never doing anything well.
Brad's call to action asks us to explore what's even better for kids, instead of justifying why current practice is best for kids. A subtle shift in thinking, but a very impactful one.
I look forward to this upcoming school year. A year where I'll encourage more collaboration, share ideas for student ownership, provide opportunities for increased digital connectivity, and inspire experiential learning,
What are you waiting for? Start by reading this book. To connect with other renegades, follow them and share your Renegade Leadership journey, using the hashtag #RenLead. Here are a few to get you started.