School leaders who just sit in their “trees”

At dusk I have taken my grandchildren to the camps of Melbourne’s grey-headed fruit bats. I wanted them to experience the exhilaration of standing underneath more than 30,000 bats as they circled above preparing to head out for the night’s feeding; a truly awesome sight and sound!

Here is a question though: Out of the 30,000 how do they decide which bat goes first?

I found out, and in doing so discovered that there is a dark side to grey-headed fruit bats!

Mature fruit bats, (let’s be blunt … those who have survived longer), take a seemingly well mannered “after you” position towards younger inexperienced bats. What the mature bats know is that there are predators waiting for them to leave and it doesn’t pay to be the first to head out! Eager for a feed, the younger bats take the lead and … the older, more experienced bats get to live another day.

Now some may not like me saying this, but I am going to say it anyway. I think that some school leaders are just like those older bats! How so?

When it comes to leadership around digital technology, there are those school leaders who just sit in their “trees” letting less experienced teachers ‘go first’. These less experienced teachers then either struggle along without much support or, even worse, are devoured by that predatory species that lurks in many a staff room, the Great-crested Naysayer.

How then do school leaders drive change, create and maintain a learning organisation? One way is to make sure we know how to lead in the digital age. This is where networking, connecting with other school leaders, is critical for Principals, others in school leadership, teachers, students and parents.

Effective leaders need to develop certain characteristics. If we were to observe a leader who successfully drives change, what BEHAVIOURS would characterise them? Would one of those behaviours be to characteristically say “you first” to their school community when it comes to digital technologies?

If you are a school leader and you are not taking the lead by, at the very least, role modelling the use of digital technologies yourself, aren’t you effectively saying, “you first”?


4 thoughts on “School leaders who just sit in their “trees”

  1. Great post Alan. I love the analogy. What is most sad is that at the end of the day it is the students who miss out. I was really taken by David Price’s book OPEN and his argument that the future lies in sharing, being open, provide things for free and evoking trust online (
    I took over as eSmart Coordinator this year and have taken a different tact in regards to implimentation and the digital naysayers. Instead of pushing things on people I have made a more concerted effort to model the change. In particular, I created a Global2 blog to house everything ( Tried a lot of other things in the past, so I thought why not something different.


      • Thanks Alan. I am left wondering about the tree analogy. I agree that schools need to be much more future thinking. However, I think that in today’s limiter of connectedness, by supporting each other, those who go out first, who take those risks, can at least find strength from those beyond. I have found this priceless. Without people like yourself out there, I think that it would be so much harder. So I would like to add that there is some sort of responsibility of those in situations where they are supported by strong leadership to share it out, to help and guide others. For at the end of the day, we can never do it alone, in or outside of a school. #ittakesavillage


      • Indeed Aaron, “at the end of the day, we can never do it alone” as you say. Today I was discussing with @dickfaber the notion of teachers still speaking as if technology was something new, that we need to be careful not to rush into anything, continuing to challenge the worth or even the place of digital technologies in education. You used the expression “those who go out first, who take risks…” Really though, digital technologies have been in schools since the 1980s. Social networking started in the 1990s and really took off in the last 10-15 years. Any chance of being “first” was decades ago.

        Schools have been slow to take up technology. There are many reasons for this and it would be wrong to lay it all at the feet of teachers. One of those reasons though has been a failure to recognise that the world is a very different place to what it was last century. It simply should not have been possible to avoid technology for this long. What we are seeing now is the hiding places diminishing. The “enemy” is at the gate. We are on the cusp of significant changes I believe.

        There are still a few battles to go, but the question in my mind now is not who is going first, but rather who is going to be the last?


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