An underlying theme in Hacking Leadership is the idea of leading from the middle, which is symbolized in the book's cover image. The idea is that the blue fish--the leader in this case--doesn't need to be out front. She swims along with the rest of the fish, and they light up from the energy the leader provides, while swimming with them, rather than ahead of them.
These five leadership hacks, from Hacking Leadership, demonstrate the concept of leading from the middle. After reading them, reflect and ask yourself, "How do I lead from the middle?"
1 - Just listen. Block off at least two 15-minute times on your calendar each day for relationship building. During that time, you will check in with two different members of the community to find out how things are going. Open your ears to kids, teachers, parents, secretaries, colleagues, supervisors, and don’t just listen to them–you have to actually hear what they say, hear what they feel, hear what they need, hear what they perceive.
Pay attention to every word, because they will share critical information that will strengthen your relationship. Keep a list of the people you have spoken with so you can make sure that everyone is heard.
2 - Ask questions. Find out how things are going in general by sending a question to staff, students, or families. You can do this via a Google Form, a Twitter poll, a query to a Voxer group, or an email. Your question might be geared towards anything from getting a sense of staff morale to learning about community concerns. Follow up on the information you glean from the responses. We may not be able to connect on a face-to-face level with all members of the community each day but we can still allow them to be heard using digital platforms.
3 - Make time for lunch with kids. Informal, but planned, face-to-face exchanges with students can provide critical insight that is not available from any other source. At Cantiague Tony regularly makes time to have lunch with kids. Sometimes they ask for a lunch date; sometimes they earn it as a reward for something they have done in the classroom.
At other times Tony has a free block of time and he pulls a group of kids aside for some lunch and chatting. Although not all children feel comfortable having lunch with their principal, inviting students in a group (6 or fewer is ideal), will give them enough social support to loosen them up quickly and they will chat it up the entire lunch period.
Even though it’s great to talk about everything from weekend plans to the group’s favorite songs, make sure to be intentional about some of the questions asked during the lunch “meeting” to elicit information from the children about how school is going from their perspective.
Ask them about what they love about the school day; ask them about their favorite times of the week; ask them about the experiences they could do without; ask them how we could make school better for them. Remember, schools should be more about the kids and less about the adults.
4 - Celebrate in public. Construct a real-time narrative that shows the community how dynamic and relevant school can be. You can easily accomplish this right away by creating a social media account for your school. It might be Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other medium that you already feel comfortable with. Make a post a day to share something amazing that is happening in your space. This one account will initiate a re-branding of your school, allowing you to create an identity by telling your story. Your school’s positive social media presence will help to counteract negative impressions that your community might have about school. Even though the media typically bashes public education and the landscape of education is not always a pretty one, we can have a voice in the discourse. Publicizing daily celebrations can be your entry point.
5 - Get out of your office. Open your calendar and block out time in the day to be visible, engaged, and present. Altogether, aim to spend about an hour’s worth of time outside your office. Transformative leaders don’t change the world by sending emails or scheduling meetings. Get out and engage with students, teachers, and anyone else you encounter. Spend time in the classrooms asking children what they are learning and why it is important–those two questions will give you insight into class dynamics and allow you to collect data you can use to plan for future PD.