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North Dakota Innovation Academy: We launch tomorrow!

David Flowers tweet 01Tomorrow I have the privilege of launching a 7-day Innovation Academy with school leaders across the state of North Dakota. The dates are spread out across the year. We end next May. 

The Innovation Academy is sponsored by my national center, CASTLE, and the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders (NDCEL), with the extremely generous support of Ted Dintersmith, author of the excellent book, What School Could Be, and executive producer of the amazing film, Most Likely to Succeed. North Dakota’s Governor and other state organizations have been focusing on school innovation for many years now. I am honored to have the opportunity to build upon their past work.

We have 72 participants – yes, that’s right, 72! – in the year-long Innovation Academy, representing a variety of school districts and other organizations across North Dakota:

  • Alexander,
  • Beulah,
  • Bismarck,
  • Fargo,
  • Grand Forks
  • Jamestown,
  • Mandan,
  • McKenzie County,
  • Northern Cass,
  • Rugby,
  • Solen/CB,
  • Valley City,
  • Williston,
  • Legacy Children’s Foundation,
  • Missouri River Education Cooperative,
  • North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders,
  • North Dakota Department of Public Instruction,
  • North Dakota Governor’s Innovation Task Force, and the
  • South East Education Cooperative.

THIS is my favorite kind of work: long-term investments in leadership capacity-building. Previous statewide or in-district innovation academies in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and Kentucky all have gone incredibly well. I can’t wait for tomorrow! 

What are you doing to invest in your leaders’ ability to facilitate transformative school change?

Image credit: David Flowers

Lose and lose and lose until you win

Woman rolling a giant stoneJournalist I.F. Stone said:

The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.” Or, as Camus put it: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

via https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/opinion/sunday/climate-change-global-warming.html

Although this article is in the context of climate change, I thought it quite apt for our efforts at school transformation. It’s so easy to feel down about the slow pace of change and our perceived lack of progress. As leaders and parents, we must be determined and persistent and dogged in our quest for something better for our children.

We must.

Image credit: Woman rolling a giant stone, Sergey Nivens, BigStock

Inspiring… or not

Stop stealing dreams, by Seth GodinLearning math by building bridges or designing aircraft wings is inspiring. Chugging through the odd-numbered practice problems at the end of the chapter is not.

Improving our community by collecting data and investigating the causes of local environmental challenges is inspiring. Participating in artificial, recipe-like science ‘experiments’ from a publishing company is not.

Wrestling with controversial but important political issues is inspiring. Regurgitating decontextualized historical names, dates, and places is not.

Writing for and advocating to authentic audiences around societal issues that we’re passionate about is inspiring. Writing 5-paragraph essays about books that we don’t care about is not.

Investigating our own questions about the world and how it works is inspiring. Spitting back the ‘right answer’ to someone else’s low-level questions is not.

Finding areas of interest and passion is inspiring. Slogging through a lifeless textbook is not.

Active, energetic, enthusiastic, maybe messy, and probably noisy collaboration is inspiring. Working in isolation and sitting quietly in rows and columns are not.

Using technology to learn with and from students in other parts of the world is inspiring. Using technology to complete digital worksheets is not.

Interdisciplinary learning that is seen by students as meaningful, authentic, and connected to the real world is inspiring. Subject-siloed, isolated, disconnected learning is not.

Internships and community partnerships and impactful service learning opportunities are inspiring. Pretend word problems and scenarios are not.

Learning spaces that honor children’s dignity and value their worth are inspiring. Learning spaces that are overwhelmingly focused on compliance are not.

And so on…

Inspiring… or not. What vision are we selling to our students, parents, and communities?

And, no, we don’t have to do the uninspiring before we can get to the inspiring, particularly if we rarely get beyond the former…

Image credit: Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin

St. Vrain Valley School District is the future of America

The St. Vrain Valley School District is arguably the most innovative school district here in Colorado. And I’m incredibly excited to lead their next principal licensure cohort starting in January 2019. Woo hoo!

Here is the district’s latest video. Public education proud, indeed. Get ready to take the world by #StVrainStorm!!!!

Happy viewing!

On a side note…

  1. Notice that there’s nothing in here about content regurgitators.
  2. What videos could you make to get YOUR community excited about what your schools are doing?

Announcing the Jeffco 11 educational leadership blog

Mountains

Our 11th University of Colorado Denver principal licensure cohort for the Jeffco Public Schools is 31 students strong! We’re off to an amazing start. Starting this week, we are sharing resources and blogging about educational leadership issues in addition to our class sessions. Our first three posts involve school vision and mission statements:

We hope you will join us at our Jeffco 11 blog for some great conversations!

What do you want school to be? [VIDEO]

A wonderful video from the Early Learning Alliance. Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • I want school to do no harm. I don’t want my kids coming home less interested in their world than when they left. [YES!!]
  • I wish I felt like I had somewhere to go to learn about what I’m interested in.
  • I seriously just don’t want to be annoyed by mindless crap in my kids’ backpacks. It’s 2018. Are you telling me that those worksheets are still the best we have to offer?
  • I want school to be a reflection of where we are going, not where we have been.
  • I want school to be harder. They go a mile wide and an inch deep. No one needs that in today’s world… I’m pretty sure that’s why God invented the Internet.
  • I want school to not stress me out over stuff that doesn’t really matter. Some of that stuff we are expected to remember, I doubt any adult knows that stuff.

How could you use this video in your own setting? Or, better yet, what could you make with your own community? 

Happy viewing!

Are your equity efforts aimed at test scores or life readiness?

Physics word problem... who cares?

Jason Glass said:

I have an assignment for you. Tonight, I want you to go on the internet and download some worksheets on quadratic equations – try for at least 20 of them … on each side of the page, spend some time memorizing the periodic table, and while you’re at it memorize the major dates, battles, and generals associated with the American Civil War.

Let me break it to you ahead of time: these tasks are going to suck. They are mind-numbing and you will find yourself wondering … how is any of this relevant, important, or useful to me? Unless you teach high school math, chemistry, or history and do so using a very traditional approach – it probably isn’t relevant, important, or useful.

In order to get kids to repeat and repeat and repeat these mind numbing tasks, you are going to have to bribe them, threaten them, provide extra tutoring and support for them, medicate them, and minimize other more vibrant, interesting, and engaging parts of their lives so they can focus on mastering those repetitive … and mostly useless and obsolete … tasks.

In Jeffco, we say keep the main thing the main thing – and that is student learning. More precisely, we need – at scale and with urgency – to profoundly change the tasks and experiences our students are having so that they are authentic, engaging, provide them the opportunity to practice complex and important skills, and to really prepare them for the world they will step into. We do this through the deep infusion of project and problem-based tasks which give our kids the chance to practice Generations skills.

People have argued with me about whether or not this kind of learning is “right” for kids from underserved backgrounds. I have heard that “those” kids “need” to focus on the basics, that they aren’t ready for complex thinking or a skills-based education, that they aren’t developmentally prepared to have agency, or to act as an active participant in their own learning. That “those” kids “need” a test-prep education so they can get higher test scores and close our “achievement gap.”

“The soft bigotry of low expectations.” Perhaps no more profound words were ever put forth by President George W. Bush … or at least his speech writer.

When we relegate our underserved students (or any student, really) to a narrow, repetitive, and routines-based education that does little in the way of preparing them for their lives and futures we have lowered our expectations for them. In my book, there is no greater moral failure for us as professional educators.

via https://advancejeffco.blog/2018/06/12/a-provocation-on-equity

I love this so much. Some kids get the opportunity to gain 21st century skills in addition to traditional content and to become ‘future ready.’ Some don’t. And we know which ones don’t. 

Equity is about much more than so-called ‘achievement gaps’ on standardized tests of low-level knowledge and procedures…

No one ever said

Eric Hayot said:

No one ever said you would get to do the job in the same way for all 40 years of your career. No one ever said that large-scale social changes wouldn’t change your working conditions. And now they have.

via https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Humanities-as-We-Know-Them/243769

Yep. Time to get to work. And in much bigger ways than you’re probably thinking…

Grand challenges of the principalship?

Astronomy for high schools

At CU Denver we are having conversations about principal licensure program redesign, including possible orientation toward what we’re calling the ‘grand challenges’ of the principalship. A ‘grand challenge’ for building-level leaders might be a leadership issue such as:

  1. turning around a low-achieving school;
  2. repairing a dysfunctional school staff culture;
  3. preparing future-ready graduates;
  4. meeting the needs of students with unique needs (including ELL/ESL, special education, gifted, transitory; etc.); or
  5. better engaging diverse student and family communities.

We are soliciting ideas from others about which grand challenges might be worth centering a principal licensure program around. We’ll take whatever ideas you are willing to share (multiple submissions are welcome!). Please also include your contact information if you are willing to have us follow up with you.

Thanks in advance for sending us some ideas!

Ruth Simmons on leadership

To See A World

Ruth Simmons said:

the perceptions of what it takes to be a leader are often based on prototypical models that don’t have much truth in reality. People look at the institutions that I have led and they see dissimilarities. I see similarities. When people think in terms of leadership, they’re often thinking about the kind of specific skills needed for different types of enterprises. I think of leadership as more of a disposition – the ability to step into a situation to learn about the history of the enterprise, the opportunities that it faces, the culture that exists and the people who are served by it. To look at all of that, to listen to stakeholders and then to think about how that enterprise or institution should best be served. There is no one model of leadership if you approach it that way. What I have tried to do wherever I go is to start where the institution is rather than try to import particularly rigid constructs from other places. In that sense, I think a leader is more than anything else a facilitator. A person who is able to come in to show a community a picture of what it is, to provide some insight into what it could be – how it could be different or improved perhaps – and then enlist the help of people who are there and others who support that institution in order to move forward together.

I don’t subscribe to the model of hero leadership, which is identifying somebody who can come in and have magical powers and then wield the wand and fix things that have not been fixable before. I don’t see that. I think leadership is a community affair.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/hbcu-ruth-simmons-interview.html

Image credit: Civic Center Community Garden, San Francisco