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How do communities define school success?

Last week in a session at the Iowa Association of School Boards annual conference, we were asked how our communities defined school success. Superintendents and school board members started voicing their mission and vision statements, which sounded quite lofty. I chimed in that, despite our school systems’ rhetoric, the reality for most community members probably was quite different.

I’m guessing that for most of our schools, most of our community members define success as 1) test scores, 2) whether most kids graduate, and 3) good sports teams.

What do you think?


Caring doesn’t scale. Scaling doesn’t care.

Crossroads Elementary

David Wiley said:

Why are we hell-bent on taking the greatest communications technology ever known and making sure that no one communicates with it? Why must we replace opportunities to interact with teachers and tutors with artificial intelligence and adaptive systems? Why are we so excited by the prospect of care, encouragement, and support giving way to a “Next” button that algorithmically chooses what a student should see next? The answer is that caring doesn’t scale – and given the choice between the two, mainstream edtech chooses to scale. (For sake of completeness, we should explicitly state the corollary to ‘caring doesn’t scale,’ which is ‘scaling doesn’t care.’)

This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at

Image credit: Crossroads Elementary School, DoDEA

Digital Leadership Daily: November 2016 update

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Thought I’d share some quick numbers regarding the Digital Leadership Daily service that I launched back in February. Nine months later, we have 146 subscribers getting a daily text message through Remind, 97 people on the Facebook page, and 650 followers on the Twitter channel. If you or someone you know would benefit from one carefully-selected technology leadership resource per day, feel free to sign up!

Things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on teacher leadership

Iowa state flag

Here are a few things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on the teacher leadership program here in Iowa… (I also left these as a comment to the article)

  1. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that “it’s cool” and “it’s neat” to be a teacher leader as they watch over a thousand teaching positions statewide be eliminated or go unfilled due to inadequate funding because of the Governor’s recent veto.
  2. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that they “feel respected and appreciated” right now.
  3. I wonder how many Iowa educators “see that [the Governor] is listening to them,” particularly when they contrast his July veto of school funding with his proposed rule change that would remove even more state revenue by granting additional corporate tax cuts.
  4. I wonder how many educators feel that the Governor is “rais[ing] the bar and attract[ing] people / top talent” to the profession right now.
  5. In our democratic society that’s supposed to represent the voice of the people – and given the Governor’s recent stance on school start dates (despite nearly unanimous opposition from school districts) and his funding veto – I wonder how many educators and families are grateful for his top down approach in order to (in his words) remedy the fact that “Iowa [is] stuck with our local control system.”
  6. I wonder why the Governor thought that a sit-and-get education summit would be enough to gain traction on teacher leadership.
  7. I wonder how many actual examples the Governor can provide of teacher leaders “revolutionizing what’s happening in classrooms across Iowa.”
  8. I wonder if the Governor realizes that helping “Iowa again [to] be a national leader, known for giving our students a globally competitive education” probably isn’t going to happen with reduced school district and AEA budgets, declining educator morale, and top-down leadership that fails to reflect both the voice and expertise of the front-line educators who are charged with returning Iowa to greatness.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome…

Image credit: Iowa flag, Chuck Thompson

Why Ohio can’t reduce student testing load

Michael Petrilli said:

Last year, [Ohio] State Superintendent Dick Ross published a report on the testing load in the state’s schools that showed strikingly similar results as the new Council for Great City Schools study. It found that about one-quarter of the testing in the Buckeye State was linked solely to the need for data for teacher evaluations in subjects other than math and reading. To his credit, Ross proposed that districts simply dump those tests. He made a choice, in other words.

Regrettably, the Ohio General Assembly did not go along with his recommendation – but for an understandable reason. Because of Ohio’s federal waiver, Buckeye State districts couldn’t just move to evaluations based on teacher observations and the like. If they had gotten rid of excess tests, they would have had to use reading and math scores to evaluate all teachers – gym teachers, art teachers, the whole crew. This is quite obviously inane, and it demands a change in federal policy.

The Obama administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants fewer tests but isn’t willing to give up on test-based teacher evaluations. Meaning that, alas, it has failed this test.


Peak indifference to surveillance

Cory Doctorow said:

In the educational domain we see a lot of normalisation of designing computers so that their users can’t override them. For example, school-supplied laptops can be designed so that educators can monitor what their users are doing. . . . [Students] are completely helpless because their machines are designed to prevent them from doing anything.

We have this path of surveillance that starts with prisoners, then mental patients, refugees, students, benefits claimants, blue collar workers and then white collar workers. That’s the migration path for surveillance and students are really low in the curve. People who work in education are very close to the front lines of the legitimisation of surveillance and designing computers to control their users rather than being controlled by users.


Learners or memorizers

Richard Elmore said:

The real argument is whether we want to develop a generation of people who have mastery of their own abilities to learn, or whether we want to perpetuate our obsession with training people to reproduce from memory what the current generation of adults thinks they should know


My keynote for the 2015 K12 Online Conference


My keynote for the 2015 K12 Online Conference is now available. It’s long because within it I profile numerous examples of innovative schools. Here is the description for my session:

Whenever any sort of change or innovation is discussed, the ‘Yes, but…’ objections are inevitable. However, instead of allowing those resistance points to dominate and defeat promising ideas, teachers and administrators can reframe opposition into possibility by asking the questions ‘Why not?’ and ‘How can we?’ Effective educators focus on adaptation, forward progress, and collective effort and efficacy. The ‘yes, buts’ don’t do anything except keep us stuck. Too often we get mired in negativity and defeatism instead of recognizing that – both individually and collectively – we usually have the ability to do and be so much more than our current reality reflects. This keynote focuses on transformative leadership mindsets and features exemplary schools from around the world that are ignoring the ‘yes, buts’ to make amazing things happen for children and youth.

Check it out and get some great ideas for changes you might make in your school. Be sure to see all of the other wonderful presentations too. The four conference strands this year are Maker Ed, Stories of Connection, Overcoming Obstacles, and Beyond The Core: Art and More. Did I mention the conference is FREE?!

Happy viewing!

Michael Bloomberg on testing

Michael Bloomberg

Here are some quotes from Michael Bloomberg about testing students, with my annotations in italics…

  1. “Many companies (including mine) use tests in hiring.” Really? The hiring ’tests’ for your financial software, data, and media company are multiple choice tests of factual recall and procedural regurgitation?
  2. “Students will face tests throughout their life. They must learn to cope with the emotional stress that comes with the experience.” Just curious: Do your workers cry, get stomach aches, or wet themselves when they face emotional stress in your workplace? (like some of our elementary students do at testing time) If so, must be a fun place to work!
  3. “Test-taking is no one’s idea of fun, but it is part of life.” Quick. Name other areas outside of school and college admissions where taking multiple choice exams and writing short, formulaic essays that are graded in 1-2 minutes are a regular part of life.
  4. “In the ultracompetitive global economy, the U.S. is facing a terrible mismatch between high-skill jobs and our labor pool.” How, exactly, do standardized tests of low-level knowledge lead to high-skill jobs? How, exactly, does an emphasis on low-level thinking work foster higher-level thinkers? What’s your theory of action?
  5. “The biggest threat to American might is not any one country or terrorist group. It is our collective unwillingness to confront mediocrity in our schools.” Many of us ARE confronting mediocrity in our schools. We are confronting the mediocrity of our continued emphasis on assessments of low-level thinking work instead of assessments of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and other higher-level skills.
Your thoughts?

Image credit: Wikimedia

Investing in leadership capacity: The amazing, wonderful District 59

Two years ago I had the incredible opportunity to work with the entire leadership team of District 59 in Arlington Heights, Illinois for SEVEN days. Yes, seven entire days with every central office administrator, every building administrator, and many of their teacher leaders. There were about 40 of us. We met approximately once per month from September to May. They also met for a couple of hours each month in between my visits. They labeled it their ‘21st Century Leadership Academy.’

What did seven-plus days do for us? They allowed us to go both broad and deep, to chart a progression over time that would build leadership understanding and capacity. Here’s what we discussed…

  • Day 1: The Big Picture: Start With the Why – How is the innovation decade going to change learning of, by, and for young people? (thank you Pam Moran for this question!) – Establishing our rules of play and group norms – Quick reactions to my TEDxDesMoines talk about extracurricular learning v. curricular learning – Because of digital technologies, our world today is more… – What are the implications and design considerations of what we just identified for learning, teaching, and schooling? (both positive and negative) – Organizational self-assessment – Getting set up with our new Google+ community
  • Day 2: Connecting and Collaborating – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – How connections foster innovation (Chris Anderson, Steven Johnson, and The Power of Pull) – Individual connection maps: How are we personally and professionally connected to ideas, individuals, groups, and organizations? (both analog and digital) – 5 stages of instructional evolution – Communities of interest v. communities of geography – Connected learning gallery walk – Interrogating our instruction: Are these connected lessons any good? How could we make them better? – Getting set up with Twitter and our new hashtag
  • Day 3: Problem- and Inquiry-Based Learning – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – Crowdsourcing – Understanding how Wikipedia really works – Crowdsourcing ideas for students and teachers – Essential elements of project-based learning – PBL v. traditional classroom ‘projects’ (how is PBL different from what we normally do in our classes?) – Interrogating our instruction: Are these elementary and middle school projects any good? How could we make them better? – Going deeper with the components of high-quality PBL – A PBL case study – Making sense of PBL in our own context – Getting set up with Feedly and some awesome school leadership blogs
  • Day 4: Critical Thinking and Technology Integration – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – A deep dive into The Road Not Taken and Thinking About a Lack of Thinking – When memorization gets in the way of learning – Characteristics of a thinking classroom – Interrogating our instruction: Utilizing the trudacot discussion protocol to foster richer technology integration – Challenge: Design a cognitively complex, technology-infused project
  • Day 5: The Affordances of Digital – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – Digital v. analog: Examples of the affordances of multimedia storytelling – How is writing changing because of digital and online? – Transmedia – Blended learning models – Personalization v. individualization – Interrogating our instruction: An elementary school scenario
  • Day 6: Visioning and Challenge Identification (aka Action Planning, Part 1) – Review of last session’s evaluations, our rules of play, and the past 5 sessions – Revisiting our responses to Because of digital technologies, our world today is more… (keywords and convergence) – Whereas… Therefore activity – Challenge identification: XPLANE cards – Analyzing our group narratives using Bolman & Deal and an effort-impact matrix – What are our biggest anchors that are slowing us down?
  • Day 7: Enabling Our Vision (aka Action Planning, Part 2) – Review of last session’s evaluations, our rules of play, and the past 6 sessions – What does it take to be a great leader? – Driving forces – Revisiting our responses in the Whereas… Therefore activity – Start-Stop-Continue – XPLANE cards and group narratives: Overcoming our primary obstacles – Interrogating our instruction: Using screencasting apps to address English/Language Arts, Math, or Science standards – Final thoughts on technology-infused learning

Our evaluation results reflected our awesome work together. I freely admit that, as an entirety, this was probably the best professional learning experience that I have ever facilitated. To be able to sustain this level of quality across seven days was phenomenal…

D59 Evaluations

Here are some of my favorite comments from the session evaluations:

  • I like the vast amount of resources that can be shared with staff
  • The active engagement and modeling was very nonthreatening [but] challenged my thinking
  • It wasn’t just a sit and get. We used different tools without them being ‘taught’ to us.
  • Loved the entire discussion about ‘connectedness’
  • The chance to discuss and ask hard questions about where we are at was great.
  • Having time to work DEEPLY with colleagues – the time to really start to wrap our minds around what all of this actually needs to look like within the classroom setting
  • It was great to look at some sample units and critically evaluate them
  • The Whereas… Therefore exercise was difficult for me until the very end. Hearing the thoughts of all of my colleagues was powerful when it all came together.
  • Taking the time to dig through some difficult conversations
  • All the interaction and discussion with my table group. Lots of laughter and rich discussion.
  • My favorite part was the focus on ‘What exactly are kids learning as a result of this process?’ v. ‘Look! A project!’
  • Teachers keep asking us what 21st century learning looks like and we now have many examples to share with them
  • Scott was a model for how to teach
  • Challenging our thinking and beliefs is a wonderful experience
  • Looking at a teacher’s lesson and coming up with appropriate talking points to help the teacher think about how to improve it
  • [We have had] LOTS of opportunity to do the hard work – these are not easy conversations
  • Is there a number higher than 5? Great information on creating and evaluating PBL projects
  • So powerful to work collaboratively with table mates to plan a unit of study. Really helped with my level of understanding of how we want our staff to plan.
  • Working with apps to demonstrate and apply our understanding of what we know and have learned
  • Very concrete in terms of identifying the specific problems and potential solutions and then writing that narrative to describe that landscape
  • You made a very complex topic much more palatable. It was a challenging topic with many pieces, but due to your careful planning, the flow seemed more natural.
  • The continuing a-ha!
  • Thank you. I am really enjoying these times to learn and grow.
  • Thank you for yet another enlightening day. They are always exhausting but I learn so much.
  • I have learned a lot during this time together but, more important, I have learned a lot about the other leaders in the district
  • It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come as a group since September. Our progress is faster and more significant every time we’re together.
  • We are more cohesive and in alignment with our thinking than we were at the beginning of the year. We also had fun as we learned.
  • Best PD ever – applicable, engaging, empowering, collegial, just AWESOME!

Our work got a shout-out in Will Richardson’s new book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, which is pretty cool:

It goes without saying that for many, finding the time to do their own PD is a real problem. No great answer to this is apparent other than a cultural reframing, one that is already underway. And that means schools should consider a reframing of their own learning time. For example, last year the Community Consolidated School District 59 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was able to create sixty-three hours of professional development for administrators around modern learning contexts in an effort to begin real culture change. . . . We in schools need to make the time to understand these shifts for ourselves.

Two years later District 59 is in a significantly different place than before. They have continued learning, talking, and implementing. They are ROCKING OUT.

This is absolutely, positively, without a doubt my favorite kind of work. When we engage in sustained, extended discussions over the course of multiple months or years, we can see shifts in thinking and capacity occurring over time. We can see folks getting excited about the possibilities. We can build shared understandings and commitments. And we can build on all of that to start implementing new instructional and leadership paradigms in schools and classrooms.

Not every district is fortunate enough to have an amazing superintendent like Art Fessler, who recently was named as one of the National School Boards Association’s ’20 to Watch.’ Not every district is fortunate enough to have an amazing assistant superintendent like Ben Grey, who planned and co-facilitated the seven-plus days with me. But, like District 59, every school system can make a sustained, strategic commitment to investing in its leaders’ ability to learn and grow so that they are able to better create and support school environments that foster deeper learning, greater student agency, authentic work, and richer technology integration.

This year I get to work with two different districts – one in Iowa and one in Minnesota – to do this again. Each is doing a 5-day Innovation Academy with their district, building, and teacher leaders. Like in District 59, I’m guessing that it’s going to be awesome because the districts have made a significant commitment to learn and grow together and to build their leadership capacity in this area. I can’t wait…

What is your school system doing to build its leadership capacity to foster 21st century learning environments?

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