I said, they said

My annual review said:

Dr. McLeod’s work with schools is exemplary but inappropriate.

I knew then that, despite the fact that we liked each other a lot, it was time to change institutions. So I set out in search of a university that hopefully would see value in the work that I was doing with practicing school leaders. Below is a true tale from one of my interviews…


I said:

I believe in engaged, hands-on involvement with administrators around the complex work of school improvement. I’m trying to help educators and kids.

They said:

We’re concerned about your lack of scholarly productivity.

I said:

I will continue to publish in peer-reviewed journals. But I’m also going to write in this new space, a place that’s revolutionizing our entire global society.

They said:

That place has no reliability. How do you know if something is valid? Those people don’t have doctorates or work at universities. How can you assess the worthiness of their writing without peer review?

I said:

There are a number of ways to help you assess whether writing is worthwhile or not, including reading it and judging its worth on its face. For example, if you actually read some of my online writing, you’ll see that it’s not just a personal rant space. Most of my writing is about bringing issues of theory down to the practical level and/or expanding our leadership conversations to include practitioners and others in the field. Second, there is an ethos in the blogosphere about hyperlinking. If you want to check the credibility of an author’s sources, simply click on the link and see for yourself. It’s much easier than with print. Third, there are a lot of really smart people out there with whom we’re not intersecting. I’ve learned a ton from folks without traditional academic credentials. Fourth, the blogosphere has its own way of assessing worthiness. Tools like commenting, Technorati, subscriber statistics, and other web traffic measures help us know if writing has value to intended audiences. In many ways, it’s much more transparent and honest than the supposedly-neutral academic peer review system.

They said:

Why do you want to be a faculty member? Maybe you should just be a consultant.

I said:

When asked to explain his hockey success, Wayne Gretzky said that he skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. Someone in our field needs to be out in front, exploring the possibilities that come with these new publishing mechanisms and figuring out what they mean for educational leadership scholarship. I’m trying to be that person, the one who’s skating to where the puck is going to be. Also, you may not know it, but these tools have tremendous reach. If you count up my subscribers and other visitors and multiply those by the number of posts, I will have nearly a million person-interactions in this year alone. I’m not sure I could ever write an article in a traditional academic journal that would reach that many people in its lifetime. And did you know that this online video I’m affiliated with has reached many millions more in just a few months? For someone like me who’s trying to actually impact schools, these tools are awfully difficult to ignore.

They said:

You sure are stubborn. Why don’t you just play the game?

I said:

I’ve got 30 more years in this profession. I don’t want to be miserable for three decades. If I wanted to solely publish in journals that – let’s be honest here – are never read by the people that we’re supposedly trying to reach, I would have done so and stayed at my current university. I like it there and they like me.

They said:

We’re a research institution.

I said:

I will continue to publish in peer-reviewed journals. But I’m also going to write in this new space, a place that’s revolutionizing our entire global society.

They said:

No thanks. (and I did too)


Today is a great day to mention once again that I’m thankful to be at Iowa State, a place that so far sees worth in my activities and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing. May you all find a great fit for your own work too. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

24 Responses to “I said, they said”

  1. Scott,
    Thank you for taking a stand for our children’s futures. You’re a great example of what it will take to create the changes we need in education.

    More students need to refuse to accept a sub-standard educational experience – whether that come in the form of a teacher, curriculum, or facilities.

    More teachers need to refuse to accept stifling, non-empowering, educational environments – whether they come in the form of incompetent administrators, colleagues, an out of date curriculum, or sub-standard facilities.

    More administrators need to refuse to accept the push to perfect a 20th Century approach to education in this, the 21st Century.They need to take a stand – whether it be the Board of Education or State Education Department.

    More parents need to refuse to accept educational institutions that are closed to meaningful parent involvement.

    Speaking up and taking a stand is each individual’s responsibility. No one can wait for the other to go first. We know we can do better.

    Speaking up has consequences. It requires courage. It can create dramatic changes in our lives, (not always pleasant) as it has in yours, Scott.

    I’m thankful for your commitment.


  2. Thanks for sharing your conversation. Discussion in k12 and classroom teaching runs the same lines. Good for you as it needs to change where you are at too and there is so much wrong at all levels. I am glad that you are valued where you are at!

  3. Scott,
    It is blog posts such as this that remind me that it is OK to be on the leading edge pushing for change. I find myself taking heat once in a while for being so outspoken, but the results have been worth it. Thanks you for this post. I am going to bookmark it so it is easy to find each time I need a reminder that it is not easy to be on the front lines. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Great timing on your part, Scott. I have lately been going through this, “Remind me why I’m busting my butt for a Ph.D., again?” phase. Your post today was what I needed to read.

  5. Scott,

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Your writings and tweets have enabled me to share and build knowledge among my teachers and fellow administrators. Knowledge I would never have had access to without this medium. Only in education do we try to make omelets without breaking the eggs.

  6. @Scott
    You’re definitely one of the people Seth Godin describes in “Tribes”. You’ve got to be willing to take the risks.

    You are definitely influential. I’ve been a school administrator going on four years now. I’m 31 years old and virtually all of the meaninful development I’ve taken part in has come from online affiliations and reading of edublogs. I attend the annual conferense every year but blah blah blah…. most of it isn’t practival.

    As I read your post I thouhgt I’ve been a prnicipal for four years and i haven’t a clue what peer-reviewed journals I should even be reading. The only one I look at comes from ISTE. If I wanted to be more scholarly what should I even read? Do tell I might look them up.

  7. And, in perhaps the greatest irony, we’re expected to “publish” in places with the highest “impact factor.” What a joke. Thanks, as always, for blazing the path for me and surely more to come.

    Best to you and your family.


  8. Nice post Scott!

    I love the program I’m in at WSU because they focus on the practice.

  9. I have had similar conversations with the few univ. that have approached me about doing a PhD. When they start describing the program I feel like I’m going backwards. If I’m gonna pay the big $ for a PhD I better be getting something out of it.

    I’m still looking for that univ. that understands that they don’t know what they don’t know and allow someone to come in and do some research and thinking around what they don’t know. My favorite quote:

    If I wanted to solely publish in journals that – let’s be honest here – are never read by the people that we’re supposedly trying to reach, I would have done so and stayed at my current university.

    And that’s it!

  10. Scott, I’ve read or heard this conversation before from you. I agree with the others who write how important it was for you to share it. . .it is a source of inspiration.

    And, yet, I’m curious. What are the conversations you’re having now at your current location? Do you find yourself still pushing the envelope the way you did where/when you encountered resistance or have you settled into a routine?

    I’m wondering…

    1) Does resistance spur your efforts to achieve more?
    2) What does “routine” look like in a supporting environment like the one you enjoy currently?
    3) With present support and lack of resistance, how do you see yourself pushing ahead?

    Warm regards,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org

  11. This is the problem we face with a tertiary system that fails to understand the shifts in professional learning that are happening. I wrote a paper for a conference that I presented at a year ago. I’m still waiting for the peer review process to finish to enable it to be published. I suspect it isn’t going to happen. I’ve resolved to publish it on my blog instead. That is where my thesis is taking place as far as I’m concerned. Today I received a comment thanking me for posting easy to understand information from someone who was finding information for her dissertation. And yet, I suspect that if I presented my blog writings as credentials for a university position, I’d be laughed at. It matters no mind to me. I know how far my learning has come since I began operating in this environment. It’s Professional Development 24/7. Thank goodness there is someone like you in the university system saying these things; keep it up!

  12. Wow. Now that was a fun read. I was entertained at a steady level until I stumbled upon the “play the game” comment. Man, that one kills me every time.

    The day I say those words is the day you can just rub me out for good.

  13. Scott – I am seeking answers and asking these same questions in k12. I no longer find support but opposition. Maybe early retirement from real life…………
    @jutecht when you find that institution for your PhD let me know – I would like a doctorate from just such a place!

  14. Dr. McLeod,
    I agree with the stance you took. There seems to be a constant battle for who holds the keys to knowledge. In reading many of the books you have suggested, I have come to the conclusion that although universities serve their purpose, their bureaucracy will the downfall of their own existence.
    We are in a time in this great nation where change must occur at a more rapid pace than many of our educational institutions will allow. To wait for the publishing of knowledge through the traditional avenues often contributes only to a further delay in its dissemination. Although my posting has declined since we stopped the CAST book study, I find myself drawn more and more to the blogs and podcasts of fellow educators to get the newest ideas in education. I still subscribe to magazines like Ed Leadership, but find myself looking to the online resources available from professional organizations like School Administrators of Iowa, ASCD, and NASSP more and more.
    I think that it will take stances like yours to truly change the college scene and only when the college scene changes can we expect to see systemic change in our K-12 system.
    I won’t wait for colleges to change in making my own attempts at reforming high school education, but I know that I will constantly fight those who point to post-secondary education and state testing as an excuse to continue to practice age old, ineffective, assessment and instructional strategies.
    Kudos to you for making a stance and moving on. It is a plus for those of us who benefit from your presence in Iowa.

  15. Scott-

    Very insightful self-disclosure. Telling not only of your commitment to your ideals, but also the prevailing values at our nation’s colleges.

    On the other hand, your perception of the values of Iowa State is very encouraging. We have a lot of work to do in Iowa; having the regent institutions in that frame of mind is a must for it to happen.

  16. Just finishing the book,’Everything is Miscellaneous’ by David Weinberger. Got to this part which is so relevent to the discussion above, worth repeating…
    “Some Knowledge is good enough to pass the most rigorous of peer reviews and make it into the pages of a prestigious journal. Some that pass peer review turn out to be well done but wrong. Some knowledge is reliable and important, but just not interesting enough for the top journals, so it shows up elsewhere. Some knowledge is unpublished but worth reading and discussing. Some knowledge is tantalizingly possible. Some knowledge used to be true, and some isn’t true yet.”
    It is difficult to give up on knowledge that used to be true, and fight for what is yet to be true. That is true educational leadership.

  17. Too many comments and too little time to read them all so if this is a repeat, well, so be it, I guess.

    I, too, and glad that you made the change. Your comment about being able, with this medium, to reach more people and ENGAGE more people is right on the money. I’d LOVE to hear what they say about your work NOW. “Inappropriate?” They couldn’t have been more wrong.

  18. 1. Scott, ever think about writing this up in a peer-reviewed (funny right)? But, I’m serious. The story is instructive on many levels and I do think your experience and knowledge would be helpful to the broader ed. leadership field. You and I are not that much different in age, but things change quickly. Ph.D. students that are coming out now are familiar with these tools but discount them because the field says to discount them (I stopped counting how many people have told me to stop blogging and “write”). But, your part of the field (whether you like it or not) and it is important for people to be out there saying this stuff is acceptable and has some value. I’m not sure whether I would still be blogging or not had I never stumbled into you. You can’t meet everyone personally, but you being a director of a UCEA school and saying this is acceptable is important.

    2. Maybe “we” (as in lots of us – we’re all scholars here) should start an online journal for folks like Jenny L. above and me and you and all of us. The time to dissemination is a problem, but doesn’t need to be a problem. There is no reason that a journal needs to take a year (in some cases more) to publish a paper. There has to be middle ground that is acceptable to both tenure committees and online evangelists. I think that online peer-reviewed journals have a lot of promise (but, of course, you have to do the “online” part right.) There could be space for 40 page papers and space for 10 page papers and space for 1 page papers. Its digital, so all the old rules that were developed around publishing this thing in paper can be thrown out (we could even publish peer-reviewed videos!). A rotating editorial board of 10-15 could blindly judge the submissions and choose a few to publish. If people are rejected, they just post them to their blogs without the peer review. We could get a professional organization or two to sign on for validity and presto – we can bridge the gap.

    My big concern here is that we don’t stop changing our field and just go our own ways. We need to stay engaged. Tenure committees are a pain in the ass, granted, but tenure committees are not the ed. leadership field. The field is more accepting and willing to change if we help them. We need trailblazers like you to not just blaze the trail, but then to also tell folks its safe to come down it.

  19. Very nice conversation post.It will be very helpful for others from the same profession.

  20. @Darren Draper: Very cool. Thanks so much for taking the time. It’s awesome.

  21. Dr. McLeod,
    I subscribe to your blog and read this particular post to my mom. I am glad that you moved on to do bigger and better things.

    The edubureacracy that you deal with reminds me why I enjoy working with the military and volunteering with our youth.

    Regardless of your physical location, I know that Dangerously Irrelevant will always provide the profound posts that encourage me to finish my degree.

    Like you, I have to deal with quarterly and annual reviews but if someone told me I should be a consultant rather than a faculty member…I would have been less tactful than you but with the same result.

    When I saw this part of your conversation I thought our supervisors may come from the same bloodline, “You sure are stubborn. Why don’t you just play the game?”

    When did lifelong learning and sharing knowledge become “the game”?

    Thanks for continuing to be a change agent and sharing this post. Eventually we will be the change we want to see in this world. Keep doing what you are doing!!!

  22. Scott,
    Your departure from the University of Minnesota left a big hole. As older and very conservative voices dominate in Minnesota, programs in schools are becoming more rigid and less creative. We need someone like you to have a voice as we move into the future. I was the principal who put the one to one program for 1100 students 24/7 in place at Oak-Land Jr. High, School District 834, Stillwater in 2003 and there is good chance the program will be abandoned because of lack of advocates in leadership roles and not enough money which I don’t buy.

  23. Glad you made the switch and proud of you!THanks!

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