I’ve been having a conversation about The Power of Pull with fellow VFLR blogger Lyn Hilt. This is the third and final post. If you’d like to start at the beginning, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Dear Lyn,

I’m chuckling at your notion of remembering when we were “pushers.”

Pushers lead from the top down. In the edu world, we’re inundated with push, aren’t we? Mandates by the feds and the states have turned us into a test taking nation. And I see firsthand how a single minded focus on the test quashes teachers’ and students’ flexibility and creativity. In a recent tech team meeting, one teacher worried whether we should take the word “play” out of our statement on technology, teaching, and learning, “because people will think we’re not serious in the classroom.” So sad.

You ask how the ideas in The Power of Pull have transformed my leading. I’m not so certain about that yet (I think leadership is a blend of pull with an occasional nudge). I am sure, however, that Pull ideas have transformed my learning. For me learning means “changing my mind,” that is, reshaping my thoughts and my worldview. Several new-to-me ideas from Hagel, Brown, and Davison have changed my mind.

Creating serendipity

That sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But, the authors write, “Our actions can materially alter the probabilities of valuable encounters.” Pull thinkers become findable. As we’ve experienced, we can’t stay cloistered. Will Richardson tells us to become Google-able, and that’s not egoic. It’s a way to meet people who share our passions and with whom we can learn. A web presence is one action that can alter the probability of valuable encounters. Just as you and I were writing about Pull, a Toronto educator Peter Skillen (whom I had never met) was blogging about intentional serendipity and Pull. He read about our posts via twitter, re-tweeted with a comment to which I responded. And voilà, a serendipitous connection was made and I met someone with whom to learn and create “knowledge flows.”

Knowledge stocks v. knowledge flows

Here’s the difference: teachers still bound to textbooks, worksheets, and fill-in-the-blank are working with knowledge stocks. Admins who work with check-off-the-list pacing guides are working with knowledge stocks. Standardized tests that require bubble sheet answers are working with knowledge stocks. Knowledge flows, on the other hand, are knowledge creation. Knowledge flows are about collaboration to create anew, especially on behalf of problem solving. Knowledge flows involve connecting, discovering, reshaping and 21st centurizing (as my friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach would say) our teaching and learning.

Moving from the core to the edge—and back again

Pull thinkers move to the edge to get a different perspective. When we do by habit, follow the flock, complete repetitive tasks, and stay within our comfort zone we are working at the core. Sweet as the core feels, growth doesn’t occur there. To learn new strategies, hear from opposing viewpoints, try out innovative ideas, we have to move from the center to the edge. But then, for institutional change to occur, we have to move back into the core again. (A great example is the fashion industry. What is “out there” this year, becomes mainstream the next.) Lyn, I love how you shared your edge experiences and how they changed you. But you recognize that your change alone doesn’t change your school. You brought your edge experiences back to your staff—where the real change occurs as they move out themselves, and back again.

Understanding leadership as talent development

The authors suggest that talent development is something that corporate execs espouse but rarely provide. Is this true for school administrators, too? I believe that leadership is teaching. I’d say we need to move from lip service to real inservice. An authentic meaning of the word would convey embedded professional learning: inservice time reimagined as creation spaces for solving real problems. The authors say, “Individuals have aspirations and needs that extend far beyond the roles that any centrally scripted program can define.” Can you imagine inservice that is relevant and passion-driven? Why can’t we 21st-centurize professional development, too? We are digitally positioned to differentiate to meet the needs and the passions of our colleagues. The authors ask:

• How effectively is your institution mobilizing technology to help people engage in on-the-job problem solving in order to develop their talent more rapidly?

• Is social media embedded into the daily work performed by the employees in your organization?

• Regardless of your tenure and position within the organization, what can you do to become a more effective catalyst for efforts to develop talent more effectively?

Managing our time toward ROA (Return on Attention)

The flip side of our digital, networked world is resource overload—info, links, people, products, opportunities. One critical skill for Pull is managing our time and attention. It’s a skill I am still working on. How do I filter the noise, discern and select? When to tune in, when to tune out. I can go down many a rabbit hole seeking information, hyperlink after hyperlink. The authors talk about amplifying our knowledge flows by focusing less on information and more on learning networks. But these are not pull networks if our return on attention is only transactional (“what’s in it for me”):

Pull only works when a given action or interaction is in the interest of all parties concerned.

That, I think, is the most attractive thing of all about Pull.

So now, how to recap our conversation? I’m going to take the authors’ advice to “master new forms of communication” via “visual presentation and mobile presence” (p. 171). Here I go—a bit out of my comfort zone—to visually capture these ideas and post them on Slide Share.

M.E.

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The Power of Pull by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lange Davison (Basic Books, 2010) is available in print, audio, and electronically. You can explore some of the book’s ideas here.

About the author
M.E. Steele-Pierce works at the intersection of policy and practice as a district superintendent for West Clermont Schools in Ohio where, she says, it’s all personal. An alum of the Harvard Change Leadership Group and currently a member of Powerful Learning Practice, Steele-Pierce considers herself a creative bureaucrat interested in how individuals and systems change. She is a contributor to the blog TLC: Teaching. Learning. Community. and is on Twitter at @steelepierce.