Book review – Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

SheningerMurrayThis post is a review of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray. Disclaimer: both are friends of mine so keep that in mind as you read below. My short recommendation? There is lots of value in this book and a great deal of information that validates what we know about good leadership and strong school organizations.

What I liked about the book

Eric and Tom list eight ‘keys’ to intentionally designing tomorrow’s schools. They are:

  1. Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
  2. The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
  3. Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
  4. Learning spaces must become learner-centered
  5. Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
  6. Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
  7. Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
  8. Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success

It’s hard to argue with any of these. All are critically-important components of robust, future-ready schools and each gets substantial coverage in their respective book chapters. Tom and Eric back these up with a variety of research studies to support the importance of each one. And they write in an engaging way that keeps readers rolling along. All of this is good.

There are strong emphases throughout the book on building trust, fostering relationships, empowering others, the intentionality of the work, the importance of communication, and recognizing our power as change agents. This is all good too!

I thought Chapters 4 (learning spaces) and 5 (professional learning) were especially strong. Chapter 4 gave me a lot to think about and there are numerous ideas in Chapter 5 for taking educators’ learning in some new directions, particularly pages 152-155 where Eric and Tom describe some ways to move from hours- to outcomes-based ‘accountability’ for educator learning.

Finally, Tom and Eric have chosen to profile some great leaders and organizations throughout the book and also have selected some resonant quotes. My favorite is probably the quote from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis: ‘In the absence of knowledge, people make up their own.’

Some minor quibbles

There are some things that I wish were framed a little differently in the book. For instance, in Chapter 1, Eric and Tom say that ‘great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating a compelling why and working to build support throughout consensus’ (p. 34). I wish they spent more time here talking about a visioning process that was less leader-centric and focused more on educators, students, and parents figuring out together what their why is instead of simply being sold their why by the leader. If we want shared understandings and commitments within organizations, I believe that process needs to be more communal rather than leader-driven. I’ve seen too many schools where the leader has a robust vision but never can ‘build support’ with the staff because she’s the only one that really owns it and is trying to then sell it to everyone else. Tom and Eric do talk a bit more about shared visioning on page 36 when they quote Kouzes & Posner, but that section doesn’t articulate what a ground-up process could look like.

In Chapter 2, Eric and Tom do a nice job of articulating ways that technology can enhance student learning. But the chapter sometimes feels a little technology-centric. There are numerous ways to give students access to deeper learning, greater student agency, and more authentic work opportunities that don’t involve learning technologies. Even though I’m an educational technology advocate, I would have liked some more discussion of project- and inquiry-based learning, performance assessments, community-based service learning, Harkness circles, and the wide variety of other non-technological possibilities that still result in robust learning. There is mention of a few of these things but I think in general these could have been fleshed out more. I did greatly appreciate the emphasis on equity in this chapter. Chapter 3 is similar. Tom and Eric discuss the concept of return on instruction but the chapter is framed dominantly within a lens of technology infusion. We need classrooms to move beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation, and I know that Eric and Tom agree with that notion. But I think that non-technological learning and pedagogy could get some more attention in this chapter too. Although Tom and Eric state directly in Chapter 5 that ‘professional learning must focus on student outcomes through improved pedagogy – not on tools’ (p. 146), I think that idea gets lost in Chapter 3 amidst all of the technology discussions. 

The book closes on the idea of sustainable change. That’s an incredibly important topic and also is incredibly difficult to accomplish. There is a great deal of discussion in the chapter about what needs to be done, and I think Eric and Tom rightly identify numerous issues and tasks. They also do a nice job in this chapter of staying positive and encouraging people to recognize that great leadership is within their grasp. However, there is barely a mention in this chapter of one of the biggest barriers to organizational sustainability of change initiatives, which is leadership turnover. When superintendents, principals, and/or school boards turn over fairly frequently, teachers and communities get whipsawed by new innovations and new directions because those new leaders rarely continue the innovation pathways of their predecessors. Some discussion in this chapter of how to actually navigate that concern would have been helpful beyond the couple of sentences on political sustainability that merely acknowledge the issue.

Finally, there are large chunks of several chapters that feel like long lists of leadership ideas that have been thrown together (see, e.g., Chapters 1 and 7). It’s not that the ideas or items are wrong or incorrect, it’s just hard to see how they all fit together. Tom and Eric do a great job of citing research in their book, but it would be helpful to have some research-based frameworks and mental models that tie the list items together. For instance, if there’s a three-page list of ten leadership ideas, why these specific ten and not others and how do they interact together to create a coherent whole? If there are two solid pages of bullet points, maybe those could be tied together into some kind of model that illustrates the connectivity of the disparate parts. Otherwise, we’re left to question where all of these ideas came from and how they’re supposed to work together.

All of these are minor quibbles and choices have to be made in any book about what to focus on and what to leave out. It’s Eric and Tom’s book, not mine, and they’ve done a nice job of presenting their arguments, their reasoning, a variety of resources, and numerous action steps that can be taken.

Questions I have after reading this book

  • How do we flesh out in more concrete detail – and with specific action steps – some of the ideas articulated in this book?
  • How do we navigate the twin challenges of leadership turnover and initiative fatigue due to successive leaders wanting to ‘put their stamp on’ the organization?
  • Much of the book is based on the research about good leadership. We’ve known for a long time much of what’s in the book, but those research-based leadership practices aren’t showing up in administrators’ actual practices. How can we as educational leadership researchers do a better job of translating our scholarship into actionable ideas and behaviors in the field?
  • How can schools do a better job of treating parents as authentic partners and co-designers in the learning of their children, not just passive recipients of whatever narrow boxes we educators try to put them into?
  • How can we foster the creation of ground-up visions for student learning and educational experiences rather than individual or oligarchic visions that then get sold to the rest of the community? And how can we involve students as substantive partners in that work?

Rating

I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad I have friends who make me smarter. I marked it up all over the place. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).

Highlighter5


Sometimes mindless, sometimes malevolent

Bill Ayers said:

What we call education is usually no more than training. We are so busy operating schools we have lost sight of learning. We mostly participate in certification mills, institutions founded on notions of control and discipline, lifeless and joyless places where people serve time and master a few basic skills on their way to a plain piece of paper that justifies and sanctions the whole affair. Sometimes, these places are merely mindless, and sometimes they are expressly malevolent.

via Paul Thomas at https://go.shr.lc/2Tj60sl


Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network

Yesterday I blogged an update on the 7-day Innovation Academy that we are conducting for 72 school leaders in North Dakota. Today I thought I’d share that we are about to launch a new initiative in Virginia.

The first round of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network will launch in March and run through December of this year. Applications are rolling in from Virginia school districts right now. Up to 20 lead innovation teams will be accepted. We will spend 6 days all together on site, plus Amos Fodchuk and his coaches from Advanced Learning Partnerships will be facilitating both regional meetups across the state and ongoing coaching with each participating district.

I’m very excited to be working with Amos and Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning (and former superintendent of Albemarle County (VA) Schools), on this initiative. Other key players include Gena Keller, Acting Deputy Superintendent for the Virginia Department of Education, and Ted Dintersmith, who once again is lending his generous support to building leadership capacity for future-ready learning, teaching, and schooling in yet another state.

The goal is to eventually have about 60 of Virginia’s school districts participate in the Innovation Network (20 per year x 3 years). Unlike any other Innovation Academy that I’ve helped conduct, this one has a significant ongoing coaching component that I’m super enthused about. I can’t wait to work with Amos and his team to support our participants over the course of the initiative. Plus I’m a Virginia kid so it will be great to be back in my home state multiple times this year…

Stay tuned for more information. The adventure continues!


Update: North Dakota Innovation Academy

Back in October I blogged that CASTLE and I were launching a 7-day Innovation Academy for school leaders in North Dakota. Generously supported by Ted Dintersmith and in cooperation with the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, the goal was to kick off a three-year investment in leadership capacity-building across the state for future-ready learning, teaching, and schooling. I thought it might be time for a quick update…

We are three days into the Innovation Academy, with Day 4 coming up in February. We have 72 participants representing 14 school districts. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  • Day 1 – the big picture; relevance gaps between schools and the needs of society and our graduates; new demands related to college and career readiness; the impacts of automation on the economy and workforce preparation; computers that can see, hear, move, think, and do; new literacies, including multimedia and transmedia
  • Day 2 – what does it mean to be a connected learner?; connected learning audit (personal analysis of our analog and digital learning connections); our connectedness outside of school; connected learning in schools (lots of examples!), crowdsourced learning and resource production
  • Day 3 – student agency and deeper learning, with a strong emphasis on project- and inquiry-based learning; school models that foster deeper learning and student engagement; innovation leaders across the state presented what they’re doing in a PBL showcase
  • Day 4 [coming up in a few weeks!] – rich technology infusion (with a focus on the 4 Shifts Protocol) and blended learning models; translating 21st century vision statements and frameworks into concrete, day-to-day classroom implementation; innovation leaders across the state will be presenting again in a tech integration showcase

As we go along, we not only are highlighting what’s possible but also trying to connect participants to educators in the state who already are doing this work. This allows them to see innovations in action without having to drive too far. We also have an ongoing book study where we discuss a couple of chapters of Ted’s book, What School Could Be, each time we meet.

Things have gone very well so far. Here are our ongoing evaluation results:

Our Innovation Academy participants have been amazing. They have dived right in and are doing a fantastic job of wresting with difficult and challenging concepts. It’s not easy to rethink school but they are giving it all they can. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with during the last two days of the Academy, which is when we begin action planning for next year (and beyond)…

The adventure continues!

[Learn more about my Innovation Academies – including all evalution results – by clicking here!]


Podcast – How to take our leadership and teaching to new levels

I recently had the good fortune to talk with Aaron Maurer, an amazing Iowa educator who I’m proud to call friend. Aaron also received one of ISTE’s 2018 Making It Happen Awards! Aaron invited me to participate in his Coffee for the Brain podcast and the end result is below.

Happy listening!


The surveillance of our youth

Big BrotherLike many school districts, the Southeast Polk School District in Pleasant Hill, Iowa monitors the Web usage of its students on district-provided computers for inappropriate activity. And like some school districts, Southeast Polk also uses a monitoring service that sends weekly emails to parents summarizing their students’ Internet search history. This raises some difficult issues because we know that young people need space away from the heavy thumb of adults for healthy identity formation and the development of self. 

Why do teenagers go to the mall, or congregate at the park, or cruise the strip, or gravitate toward the online spaces where adults aren’t? Because they need spaces that are separate from us. Should we monitor every single book or online resource that our children read? Should we use biometric school lunch checkout systems so that we can see exactly what our children eat for lunch each day? Should we dig through our children’s belongings and rooms every morning after they leave for school to see if they’re doing something that they shouldn’t? Should we install RFID and GPS tags into our children’s clothing and backpacks so that we can track them in real time? Should we slap lifelogging cameras on our kids and review them every evening? Should we install keystroke logging software or monitor everything that youth search for on the Internet? Which of these makes you uncomfortable and which doesn’t?

We can think of numerous reasons why students might search the Internet for things that they don’t want their parents to know about, just like they talk daily about things that they don’t want their parents to know about. For instance, perhaps there is a gay boy who’s struggling to make sense of things but is not ready to come out to his family yet. Or a teenage girl with liberal politics in an ultraconservative family. Or a young couple that is pregnant and searching for information and options before they tell their parents. Or a teen who’s in a spat with a peer but doesn’t want clueless adults stepping in and creating more drama. Or any teen or tween with normal adolescent concerns who just needs some information, resources, or nonlocal empathy and connection. Do these students deserve some space? Do they deserve a presumption of privacy? Or should they immediately and automatically be outed by school software?

danah boyd asks some important questions about youth privacy, including Who has the right to monitor youth? and Which actors continue to assert power over youth? She also notes that:

Just because teens’ content is publicly accessible does not mean that it is intended for universal audiences nor does it mean that the onlooker understands what they see. . . . How do we leverage the visibility of online content to see and hear youth in a healthy way? How do we use the technologies that we have to protect them rather than focusing on punishing them? . . . How do we create eyes on the digital street? How do we do so in a way that’s not creepy?

Similarly, First Monday notes:

The right to privacy is stipulated in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [and] Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as numerous international and regional human rights treaties and conventions [and has been found to be a protected Constitutional right by the U.S. Supreme Court]. The right to privacy essentially protects the integrity of the individual and his or her home, family, and correspondence. A common denominator for the different areas of privacy is access control: thus control over what others know about us; control over private decisions and actions; and control over a physical space. The right to privacy builds on the presumption that a zone of autonomy around the individual is central to individual freedom and self-determination.

Should school districts be complicit in the hypersurveillance of our young people? What messages do we send our students when we monitor their every action and send out weekly reports? Are we creating digital social graphs for our children and then placing them in the hands of commercial vendors? Are we intentionally instituting oppositional and distrustful stances against our own students? Are we fostering the creation of graduates who will shrug at the infringement of their civil liberties as adults because their families and educators have done so for years?

I wonder if there’s an opt out for families that don’t want to Big Brother or helicopter parent their children…

See also

Image credit: Big Brother is watching you, Photon


Podcast – Moving from digital substitution to deeper learning

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningBetsy Corcoran, CEO of EdSurge, asked me to do two podcast interviews with her while I was at the EdSurge Fusion conference in San Francisco in October. The second recording is now available. Betsy asked me to discuss the 4 Shifts Protocol; my new book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning; and how we should be thinking about instructional redesign for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion.

Happy listening!


Unthoughtful consumption

We spent the last 200+ years (at least) pushing consumption models of learning on most of our students. We asked them to be passive recipients of whatever information came from the teacher or textbook. We gave them few opportunities to question the reliability or validity of the information that we spoon-fed them. We trusted that someone else did the filtering for us and them beforehand. And in many cases, we actually punished kids who dared to ask questions or present alternative viewpoints.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that we now have an information / media literacy problem with our adults. We shouldn’t be surprised that most of our citizens have trouble determining the validity and reliability of digital and online information sources. We shouldn’t be surprised that we are easy prey for those who spread misinformation, deception, and outright lies.

It’s going to get even worse as new tools for creating and spreading falsehoods proliferate. We should be more alarmed that we’re not doing more about this issue in our elementary and secondary classrooms. But we don’t seem to be. Not yet, not in most school systems. A few token ‘digital citizenship’ lessons from a teacher or librarian and we seem to think we’ve addressed this concern. A few conversations that in no way prepare students for this:

Our new information landscape

When will we take seriously the challenge of preparing our graduates for our new information landscape? And what are we going to do about all of our graduates?


If you want deeper learning…

Deep eye… you must have deeper teaching.

You can’t get to deeper learning with worksheets and end-of-chapter review questions.

You can’t get to deeper learning with self-paced adaptive learning modules that emphasize facts and procedures.

You can’t get to deeper learning with multiple-choice software and apps.

You can’t get to deeper learning without actually changing day-to-day lessons and units.

You can’t get to deeper learning without shifting toward critical thinking, problem-solving, student agency, and authentic work.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing your teacher observation and evaluation rubrics.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing your classroom walkthrough templates.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing your hiring criteria and interview protocols.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing what you ask PLCs to focus on.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing your professional learning structures.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing your budget.

You can’t get to deeper learning without changing the types of concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ that you prioritize as a school leadership team.

You can’t get to deeper learning with replicative, shallow instruction and status quo leadership behaviors.

You can’t get to deeper learning without taking risks.

Your new 21st century learning framework is awesome. How are you going to ensure it’s more than just lip service?

Image credit: deep eye, carlosdiazwa


Be proud of your pockets of innovation. AND…

PocketsEvery school system has pockets of innovation. Those three forward-thinking teachers in the elementary school, that one grade-level team in the middle school, the department that’s really trying to do something different at the high school, that amazing principal over there, and so on. As school leaders we’re proud of – and point to – that cutting-edge work and rightfully so.

But we also have to recognize that pockets of innovation mean that inequities exist. What if you’re a student that doesn’t have one of those forward-thinking elementary teachers, who isn’t on that middle school team, who has nominal exposure to that innovative high school department, or who doesn’t attend that principal’s building? You’re out of luck.

We always will have educators who are ahead of others. That’s inevitable. What’s not inevitable is our lack of a plan to scale desired innovations. What’s not inevitable is our lack of a guaranteed viable curriculum that strives for every student to accomplish more than mastery of factual recall and procedural regurgitation. If we want our pockets of innovation to ever be more than just pockets, we have to intentionally and purposefully scaffold and design and support to move the entire system to something greater. We also have to be smart about the design choices that we make. For instance, that intervention / remediation / extension time block that you created in your school schedule? During that time, who suffers through low-level thinking work in order to ‘catch up’ and who’s building robots or rockets? The very mechanisms that we create to close achievement gaps often intensify life success gaps.

Who in your schools gets to become future-ready and who doesn’t? Are you remedying traditional inequities or exacerbating them? What’s your plan to scale your innovations so that every student has opportunities to be prepared for life success, not just a few?

Image credit: Pockets, Astera Schneeweisz