photo art of path in rural area


Lyn Hilt continues her chat with M.E. Steele-Pierce about The Power Of Pull (2010), which began here.


I believe you are right: the path from push to pull begins with connections. Hagel, Brown, and Davison remind us,

“At the center of pull, remember, are people.” (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 1314)

It’s hard for me to recall what my life was like as a “pusher.” I must have assumed this role in my first years as a classroom teacher. After all, wasn’t it my duty to abide by a set curriculum, deliver instruction in a systematic fashion, and push content and learning onto my students? While I learned how to better provide opportunities for my students to take ownership of their learning, it was my own professional growth that went neglected. It was not until my transition into administration that I first began to appreciate the power of pull.

Much of this personal transformation was born out of necessity. A new principal often exists in a world of isolation and operates in survival mode. The same factors that contribute to high administrative turnover rates and burnouts confronted and consumed me on daily basis. How long could I possibly keep my head above water?

No amount of push was going to help me flourish as an effective educational leader. Something, someone, somewhere, had to be experiencing the same conflicts, using the same (or better) resources, and could lend a supportive, critical perspective to my daily work with teachers, students, and families. I needed to access that collective wisdom. I needed to attract others who could add to my learning in order to achieve.

Pull starts with passion

The path to pull begins with a personal passion and a plan to pursue it. Finding a vocation that ensures you can follow that dream. Analyzing your choices. Knowing your strengths, building upon them. Seeking new perspectives.

The first time I heard myself answering the question, “How do you like being an elementary principal?” with “Best job in the world,” and meaning it, I dedicated myself to thriving in the principalship.

Set the trajectory

Determine the path toward your destination, one that is meaningful and passion-driven. This will help focus efforts and initiative.

I needed to ask myself some important questions. “Where am I? Where do I want to go? Where do I want my teachers and students to go?” I was new to administration and wished to dedicate several years to this role, but also knew my future goals included working in a supervisory capacity with curriculum/instruction and/or working with pre-service teachers in a collegiate setting. I started researching certification and doctoral programs and keep those goals on the horizon when contemplating future decisions.

Building relationships was my number one priority. I immersed myself in getting to know my students, staff, and school community. What gifts did they possess? What did they value? How would I address their needs? This process involved a lot of observations, conversations, and both formal and informal surveys: beliefs surveys, surveys following professional development sessions, and meetings where open discussion was expected.


“Pull is not a spectator sport. The choices each of us makes about the environments we participate in and the practices and behaviors we choose to pursue once we’re there will make a crucial difference in what we’ll experience and the extent to which we can shape these experiences or simply let random experiences shape us.” (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 1553)

The tools were available. I just needed to get off the sidelines. In 2007 at an educational technology conference, I opened a Twitter account. I tweeted about four times, thought, “This platform is sheer ridiculousness,” and didn’t revisit that account for two years. 2009: the year I decided to revisit Twitter and participate in #edchat.

I started dedicating more time to examining the Twitterverse. I reconnected with some of the educational technology connections from 2007. Follow. Follow. Follow. #Edchat? What’s that? Did my homework. Figured out what hashtags (#) were all about. Downloaded Tweetdeck. Posted some links to resources I’d found. Hey, look! People are following me now. (Why?!)

My mind was blown when I participated in my first #edchat. I was terrified people would disagree with me! What if someone recognized my name and determined which school district I worked in?! Why were these tweets moving so fast? We are conversing! This is crazy. I was hooked.

Shortly thereafter I moved into blogging. My first posts were personal and sometimes snarky. Quickly realized that if I wanted to develop a readership, while honesty was certainly important, professionalism was of utmost importance. Still didn’t reveal a lot of details about my whereabouts, full name, etc. in my posts. Will Richardson led me on the path to transparency, and two years later, contributing to The Principal’s Posts is one of the most meaningful aspects of my professional life.

Within months, I could gaze at my Twitter stream and recognize avatars and associate them with real people. I knew where they worked, what positions they held, if they had children, what their favorite sports teams were… they were my go-to people.  Interactions with my personal learning network made it easier for me to obtain ideas and resources and do something with that knowledge.

Hagel, Brown, and Davison tell the story of Ellen Levy, a Silicon Valley success story:

“She had discovered something even more powerful than gadgets – networks of personal relationships that helped her to more effectively surface powerful new ideas and tackle challenging performance issues.” (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 2449)

With passion for work comes emotion and often stress, and it is in times of need when we most often turn to our closest ties for support. But perhaps, if our closest ties were ample enough to support us in these areas, we wouldn’t be feeling stress in the first place. We need to seek alternative forms of support to continue on our trajectory to achievement.

Set the pace

We’ve heard of “lurkers,” those who spend time on Twitter, browsing blog content, etc. but who have not yet left the sidelines to join the game. Any time spent lurking longer than a day or two will throw you off pace. Similarly, consuming information acquired through social networking is a superficial step when compared to contributing to the collective good. Produce. Share. Increasing your return on attention is vital on the path to pull. You have to participate in knowledge flows to make them meaningful to your work. A time investment is required, it is essential, and so is effort. Simple email exchanges will not suffice.

My network began to grow, and I started to recognize the valuable contributions of so many in my network. One such influential presence was George Couros, an elementary principal from Canada. Last summer I stumbled upon his collective blog for administrators: Connected Principals. I decided to contact George in the hopes that perhaps I could further my connections and relationships with this inspiring group of leaders by contributing to the blog. I will never be able to properly thank George, Patrick Larkin, and the other Connected Principals for the positive influences they have had on my practice and my school. Reaching out to George was a risk. I didn’t know if my contributions would be deemed significant enough for inclusion in the blog. Taking risks is a must. Helping others is, too.

“You have to invest time and effort and build trust-based relationships if you are to access the knowledge that is most valuable.” (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 1470)

Increasing the time spent as a contributor in my network allowed me to increase those serendipitous encounters which led to deeper connections and meaning. Through my posts on Connected Principals and tweets using #cpchat, I was able to amplify the amount of encounters with others, while simultaneously filtering the information, spending time on what was most valuable for me and others. Hagel, Brown, and Davison tell us

“Attracting attention is heavily influenced by three elements: how much time and effort people must invest to pay attention to us, how much value they receive in return, and how quickly they receive that value. One of the key barriers to attention is findability. If we are hard to find, others will likely soon give up rather than investing the effort required to locate us.” 1754

The path to pull will not happen without personal contributions. Add to discussions on Twitter and blogs. Retweet posts and resources that you find beneficial to your practice. Contribute to discussions. Add a personal element to your conversations by thanking others for their input. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help. Reach out to individuals and make personal connections. Offer to contribute to their causes. Share ideas. Make a commitment to commenting on others’ blogs.

Start small – two comments per day. It is always so rewarding to read comments on your own blog, and those relationships aren’t built by one-sided interactions. The more you give, the more you get. Respond personally to each comment you receive on your blog.

M.E., I know my personal path to pull is not going to be the right path for everyone to travel, but I think it is one that is shared by many educators. Having experienced this transformation personally, it has now become my goal to help my teachers experience the same. I’m looking forward to hearing about how the power of pull has transformed your leadership.

Photo credit: CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Jon McGovern

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Lyn Hilt

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