So here is the money question: What two things (and only two) would you tell educational leaders are the most important steps they can take to lead change today? I got that one from a professor at Oakland University last week, and after pausing for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time, I answered “build a learning network online, and make your learning as transparent as possible for those around you.” And while I really think the first part of that answer would make sense to most leaders out there, I think the second would have them running for the hills.

It’s pretty obvious to me that my own kids are going to be living much more transparent lives than most of their teachers would be comfortable with. I’ve written and spoken ad nauseum of the need for them to be “Googled well”, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a parent’s responsibility to start that process for them. (That’s a post for another day.) I really do believe that in this moment, however, that schools also have a responsibility to help kids lead transparent lives online in ways that prepare them for the highly complex relationships they will be having in these virtual spaces as adults. But to do that, schools have to get more transparent themselves.

I pulled Dov Seidman’s book “How” off the shelves last week as it speaks so eloquently to this point. I blogged about it almost two years ago when it came out, but in light of how things have moved forward since then, it’s even more relevant today. While most people see it as a business book, I look at it as a parenting book, one that challenges me to think about how to best prepare my kids for the “hypertransparent and hyperconnected world” in which they are going to work and play. His point is that in that environment, “how” you do something is more important even than “what” you do. If you’re not doing it skillfully, ethically, and transparently, you’ll be ceding success to those that do.

A big part of my decision making process in terms of who to believe and who to trust stems from how willing a person is to share her ideas, what level of participation she engages in, how ethical or supportive those interactions are, and how relevant she is to my own learning needs. As I said to the many professors in that presentation last week, there is certainly much I could learn from them if they were sharing. But most of them are not.

In this same vein, I have more and more of an expectation of the teachers and especially the administrators in our schools to lead transparent lives. The fact that they are veritably “un-googleable” in terms of finding anything they have created and shared and perhaps collaborated with others on troubles me on a number of levels. First, I can’t see for myself whether or not they are learners. And, almost more importantly, I get no sense as to whether or not they are leaders of learners. Whether they are in the classroom or in the front office, I want (demand?) the adults in my schools to be effective models for living in a transparent world. I want my kids to see them navigating these spaces effectively, sharing what they know, teaching others outside of their physical space, and contributing to the conversation.

In Gary Hamel’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, The Facebook Generation vs. The Fortune 500, he writes

Contribution counts for more than credentials. When you post a video to YouTube, no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees—none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online. On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.

I totally agree. My kids need to be surrounded by contributors, people who understand the nuances of these spaces and relationships that we interact with on a daily basis. And not only do they need to see contribution, they need to see it done well, ethically, honestly, meaningfully. In other words, this is more than a twice daily update on Facebook or Twitter.

Bringing all of this together, I just started reading the updated version of Howard Gardner’s “Five Minds for the Future” and there are all sorts of connections to this conversation. Transparency can support all of the ways in which my kids must be able to acquire expertise, act ethically, display creativity, respect diversity, and synthesize and make sense of information. I look at the way my own experience over the last eight years have pushed me in all of those directions, primarily because I built a network around my passion and I shared most everything I did. I hope I’m being a good role model for my kids in that respect at least.

For most principals or superintendents, however, the idea of making their learning lives transparent is not one that sits too comfortably. It’s another one of those huge shifts that is, I think, inevitable but is going to be agonizingly slow in the making. As Seidman asks

The question before us as we consider what we need to thrive in the inter-networked world is: How do we conquer our fear of exposure and turn these new realities into new abilities and behaviors? How can we become proactive about transparency?

Proactive instead of reactive, which is what we’re all about when it comes to transparency in schools right now. What a concept.

(Photo “sunflowers” by marcomagrini.)