Top Of Mind Book Review

Title of Book: Top of Mind

Author of Book: John Hall

Year Published: 2017

What is unique for learner-centered leaders: This is not a book that a typical school leader will pick up and read. The audience for the book is marketing professionals. However, I keep referring back to the tenets in this book frequently as I go about my day as a leader. As a matter of fact, the mindset of being “top of mind” is more critical now for school leaders than ever before. Think about it. Like it or not, parents’ and students’ choices for completing their education and learning are expanding.

Again, I am not getting political. I am just scanning the environment and sharing what I see. Students and parents are now accustomed to a more customized approach to their learning. Flexibility in the way learning occurs (and where it occurs) is getting ingrained within the system of “schooling.” That is not to say all kids are successful in an online (or even hybrid) learning option…we know that is not true. What we do have to pay attention to is the mindset of flexibility that people are gaining.

In the education world, “top of mind” refers to the idea that when someone thinks of learning or school, and they think of the best option available to them, they are thinking of you, your school, or your program. Making sure you are “top of mind” is easy conceptually but takes hard work to accomplish in the real world.

What is helpful for learner-centered leaders: As you know, these book reviews are not a complete “book report.” Rather, I take the ideas from the book that I believe will help all learner-centered leaders. I mentioned earlier that I refer back to the tenets of this book often. The number one idea that has helped me frame a lot of challenges in my work is this:

How can I make life better for you (it’s not about me, it’s about you)

Setting aside the ol’ ego is a difficult thing to do. It requires discipline and a clear vision leadership vision. Here are seven things you can do to keep the question of “how can I make life better for you” on the top of your mind. (My ideas are in parentheses)

  • Build trust (this is obvious)
  • Be authentic (be authentic with grace)
  • Help others (come to every challenge with a mindset of how your actions and decisions will help people)
  • Be likable (Easier said than done on some days!)
  • Familiarity (How familiar are you to the people in your community/ This can be your staff, students, parents, boss, or outside community. If people know you and feel they can approach you, then you are more likely to be top of mind to them)
  • Brand and thought leadership (Brand is an uncomfortable word in education, but we have to get over that. If it is easier to intellectually digest for you, substitute “brand” with “what is your school known for?” I also believe it is important for all learner-centered leaders to engage with the public about what you believe in. You can do this through a blog (my favorite recommendation for school leaders), social media, presentations, etc. the important thing here is that you are developing the discipline and courage to put your ideas out there in the world. This can be uncomfortable, but to be top of mind, you must do it.)
  • Education (This is closely related to my explanation for #6. Helping educate people about why your school believes what it believes and does the things it does will keep you top of mind)
  • Be consistent (Being consistent in your actions is obvious…it is hard to be a leader when you are inconsistent in your actions. I also want you to concentrate on being consistent in your messaging about the great things going on in your school. If you don’t tell people, no one else will!)

What is interesting for learner-centered leaders: I am drawn to lists, and I like this list of things you can do to be more likable. We know that none of us can be all of these things all of the time but being likable is vital for our jobs as learner-centered leaders. Stop and think about it for a second. Do you want to send your child to a learning environment when the person in charge is not likable?

  • Shift the spotlight to others
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Don’t practice selective hearing
  • Thoughtful just because you want to be
  • Be present (not checking phones or other gadgets all of the time)
  • Give before you receive
  • Don’t act self-important (OUCH!)
  • Other people are more important
  • Choose your words (Words are important)
  • Don’t discuss the failings of others (No gossiping)
  • Admit your failings

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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