Archive | Leadership and Vision RSS feed for this section

Headwinds or tailwinds?

Against the wind | Vinoth Chandar, photographer

David Brooks said over at the New York Times:

The crucial social divide today is between those who feel the core trends of the global, information-age economy as tailwinds at their backs and those who feel them as headwinds in their face.

And that’s really it, isn’t it?

We have a majority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like strong headwinds, negative forces that continually buffet them in the face. Technology that expands access to others… An ever-shifting, complex, hyperconnected information landscape… The ability to learn whatever we want at any time, in any place, on any path, at any pace… Global economic competition and cooperation… These are all seen as dilemmas. As problems that must be managed and minimized. As destructive challenges to retreat from, often because of a deep longing for a nostalgic yesteryear that was simpler, easier, and allegedly ‘better.’

And then we have the minority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like tailwinds at their back, propelling them forward into unique opportunities to rethink education and do better by kids. These are places that are diving into the constructive complexities and emerging with new beliefs and new mindsets and new practices. They are finding ways to enable deeper thinking and greater student agency and more authentic work – and utilizing digital technologies all along the way to help facilitate and enhance these new forms of learning and teaching.

The headwinds people could learn a lot from the tailwinds people. They could garner ideas about how to pilot new initiatives. How to plant seeds of innovation and grow them in productive ways. How to move more quickly in order to be more relevant. How to empower children and youth and teachers in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. And so on…

Likewise, the tailwinds people could learn from the headwinds people. How to proceed thoughtfully. How to recognize the potential negatives and address rather than ignore them. How to validate the felt needs of communities without being dismissive. How not to get too far ahead of others who just aren’t there yet. And so on…

Ultimately the future lies with the tailwinds people, of course. ‘The future’ always wins. Whether we embrace the world around us or resist it with both heels dug in, the forces of technology, globalization, and learning possibility inevitably will carry the day. As I said in a long ago blog post

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that our current system of education is going to go away. There are simply too many societal pressures and alternative paradigms for it to continue to exist in its current form.

The only question, then, is: How long are we going to thrash around before we die?

Where do you fall? How do you and your educators and your schools and your communities view the changes around us? As headwinds or tailwinds? Or something else?

Image credit: Against the wind, Vinoth Chandar

Irresponsible fearmongering

Pokemon Go

Three days after the launch of Pokemon Go here in the United States, a central office administrator told me that his superintendent had emailed the entire district leadership team, warning them about the game because “six teenagers already had been killed by wandering into traffic while playing the game.” The administrator with whom I spoke said that he was concerned and also curious about what I thought.

A five-second Google search shows that the superintendent’s email is completely false. Some other funky, mostly harmless stuff has happened – as well as many positive stories too – but six teenagers killed in traffic is not one of them. There are a number of Pokemon Go hoaxes floating around and, of course, the usual handwringing, freaking out, and alarmism that accompany the launch of any new technology popular with young people.

I gently explained all of this to the administrator, and he was quick to note that this was not the first time that the superintendent had been alarmist regarding youth and technology. We had a good conversation and he walked away feeling more relaxed and informed.

The larger issue is our obligation as school leaders to avoid irresponsible fearmongering. Our messages and behaviors influence our educators and communities. They usually trust the information that we send them as principals and superintendents. I am pretty certain that we have a deep obligation to at least do some basic fact-checking instead of disseminating easily-disproven falsehoods. Otherwise we contribute to the fear and anxiety that already exist regarding youth and technology and impede our own technology integration efforts.

If we wish to facilitate digitally-rich learning spaces so that our students can use learning technologies in interesting and instructionally powerful ways, we can’t keep weighing down the fearful side of the balance scale…

#educolor – The most important hashtag you’re probably not following

Two years ago this fall, Jose Vilson launched EduColor. It’s a website, it’s a hashtag, it’s an email newsletter, it’s a weekly chat, it’s a call for social justice. Most of all, as he and the other organizers say, it’s ‘a movement, not a moment.’

Many of us haven’t paid too much attention to EduColor. Maybe it’s because we’ve never heard of it (now you have). But maybe it’s because we don’t recognize the privilege that allows us to not feel any urgency to attend to the needs of our colleagues of color. Maybe it’s because we’re too focused on our own thing to worry about that other thing over there. Or, honestly, maybe it’s because talk about racial and other inequities makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know how to effectively participate and be of support.

It doesn’t take much effort to sign up for the twice-per-month EduColor newsletter and follow the #educolor hashtag. And, at a very minimum, we should do those two things. Not because of social justice hectoring or out of some sense of privileged guilt or because we think it makes us look good but because the resources that are being shared and the conversations that are being held are IMPORTANT. In a nation that soon will be ‘majority minority’ but definitely has a long way to go toward equity, all of us need to be more aware and more action-oriented regarding the concerns of our friends, neighbors, students, and educators of color. Yes, some of the things that we read may make us uncomfortable. But you know what? As Jose says, being uncomfortable needs to become our new comfortable. How are we going to meet the needs of all of our children if we can’t put uncomfortable topics on the table and discuss them? How are we going to remedy the ongoing racial disparities in resource allocation, school resegregation, negative media, disciplinary punishments, achievement gaps, instructional neglect, college and career readiness, digital equity, and many other educational areas if we’re not willing to face them head on with the awareness, humility, regret, and courage that they deserve?

The historical legacies of racism continue to linger large today and they manifest themselves on numerous ongoing fronts when it comes to schools, teachers, and students. EduColor is a good place to start thinking more deeply about these issues. You will meet some new people and, more importantly, you will probably learn something and might even be energized to take productive action. Head on over there and sign up. And send your colleagues and students there too. It will only take a moment. (and you might be inspired toward movement)

Cuneiform, anyone?


Louisiana just passed a law mandating that all students learn cursive in grades 3 through 12. That’s right – all the way through high school. Not computer science. Cursive…

Beth Mizell, the state senator who sponsored the bill, said that she wanted people to have a signature. Perhaps she was so busy sealing her scrolls with wax that she missed the signal fire message that electronic signatures are now legally valid, even in Louisiana? Plus, if it takes Louisiana students ten full years to learn how to sign their name in cursive, maybe their education system is in even worse shape than I thought. Education Week gave Louisiana a D+ in overall public education performance in its most recent rankings and that was before the latest educational budget fiasco. I doubt that this law is going to improve that ranking any.

Other legislators supported the bill because documents such as the Constitution are written in cursive. Old documents also are written in Latin and Greek and Sanskrit but I don’t believe that Louisiana has passed laws on those yet. FYI, ardent readers of ye olde Constitution, perhaps this may be of service to you on your way to the pony express station?

Cuneiform as college and career readiness, anyone? Quipu?

Image credit: Quipu, Lynn Dombrowski

Digital Leadership Daily now has over 1,000 subscribers

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

I’m pleased to note that Digital Leadership Daily is now reaching over 1,000 daily subscribers via its SMS, Facebook, and Twitter channels.

Fifteen months ago I decided to send out one high-quality technology leadership resource per day through this new dissemination channel. I figured that it was a good way to reach folks without overwhelming them. As I said when I introduced the service, I don’t think it can get any easier to learn than this…

I’ve had numerous busy school leaders tell me that Digital Leadership Daily is serving their learning needs well. It exposes them to new authors, gives them something to think about (and pass along to others) each morning, and comes to them directly rather than them having to seek it out.

Have you signed up yourself? If not, now is a good time! Know an administrator or teacher leader who might benefit from Digital Leadership Daily? I bet you do!

Innovation academies help build shared understanding, capacity, and commitment

Johnston CSD Compass

This year I’ve had the incredible privilege of working with the Johnston (IA), Emmetsburg (IA), and Prior Lake-Savage (MN) school districts in an Innovation Academy format. I thought that I’d share what that work has looked like in Johnston as we’ve progressed through the school months.

At the core of the Johnston Innovation Academy has been five full days – each about a month apart – of in-depth work with over forty district, building, and teacher leaders. Day 1 was all about the big picture. As I said to participants on that first day, if we’re going to really prepare students and graduates for the world outside of schools, it’s imperative that we truly understand what that world looks like and how it works. The focus of Day 1 was on exposure to the societal contexts surrounding school, including new literacies, economic and workforce trends, and how technology is transforming everyday life. Day 2 focused on the overarching concept of connectedness. We analyzed and strengthened our own personal and professional networks (both digital and analog), saw how connectedness is transforming both group interaction and individual relationships, and examined a number of connected learning initiatives for students and teachers.

On Day 3 we dove into rich, robust learning that focuses on deeper thinking and student agency. We looked at ‘gold standard’ project-based learning in depth and also evaluated a variety of school curricular and time models that facilitate greater learning ownership and active, hands-on work by students. On Day 4 we pulled in the trudacot discussion protocol to see what rich technology infusion looks like within the context of deeper learning and also studied numerous schools’ blended learning models. The end of Day 4 and all of Day 5 were about action planning: How do we take what we’ve learned and discussed and apply it forward?

One key to the success of the Academy has been the regular attendance of every participant. In many districts, administrators and teachers rarely sit side-by-side for multiple days of focused, cohesive learning. Having 40+ educators go through the same five days of in-depth learning allows for shared understandings, capacity-building, and commitments. Another critical component has been Johnston’s intentional alignment of its Academy with other district transformation initiatives. For example, Johnston has an Executive Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation who is able to help the superintendent move the Academy work forward in between meetups and also align it with that of other groups. Johnston also has a unifying vision and mission (expressed in the form of a compass), has sent teachers and administrators to visit several innovative schools to bring new ideas and practices back home, and has held multiple community roundtables to gather input from parents, business leaders, and other stakeholders (which, unsurprisingly, have confirmed the directions in which Johnston is heading). All of these work together to feed Johnston’s intentionality, focus, and alignment. As you might expect, we’ve had an incredible year together and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take things over the next couple of years.

What is your intentional, focused, structured, long term approach to initiate greater innovation?

2016 Johnston Innovation Academy Evaluation Results

See more details at: Investing in leadership capacity: The amazing, wonderful District 59

What we choose not to do matters

Seth Godin said:

most of the stuff that goes wrong, much of the organizational breakdown, the unfixed problems and the help not given, ends up happening because the system lets it happen. It happens because a boss isn’t focusing, or priorities are confused, or people in a meeting somewhere couldn’t find the guts to challenge the status quo.

What we choose not to do matters.


Don’t underestimate Kelly Tenkely

Anastasis 02

It would be very easy to underestimate Kelly Tenkely. She’s young, she’s hip, she’s got a style sense that I’ll never have even if I live four lifetimes. It would be very easy to say, “Who is this woman?” and dismiss her out of hand.

But before you do, read her blog post on what’s sacred in education. And remember that most of the structures that you have in place in your school are a result of institutional inertia and deliberate choices, not legal requirements. And then read it again.

What could you do differently? Are you even trying?

Image credit: Anastasis Academy

The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores

The latest results are available from the annual Gallup poll of middle and high school students. Over 920,000 students participated last fall. Here are a couple of key charts that I made from the data:

 2015 Gallup Student Poll 1

[download a larger version of this image]

 2015 Gallup Student Poll 2

[download a larger version of this image]

The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘life long learners.’

See also

5 whys and 4 negotiables


I enjoyed Pam Lowe’s recent post about personalized learning. She asked four important questions:

  • Why does everyone have to learn the same thing?
  • Why can’t learners learn what they want to learn?
  • Can learners choose their own learning tools?
  • Why do learners have to learn the way a teacher says?

Using Peter Pappas’ four negotiables of student-centered learning, we can see that Pam’s four questions center around the first two ‘negotiables.’ We can tack on the other two from Peter and get a list that looks something like this:

  1. Why does everyone have to learn the same thing?
  2. Why does everyone have to learn in the same way?
  3. Why does everyone have to show their knowledge and skills in the same way?
  4. Why does everyone have to be assessed in the same way?

I think it would be valuable for schools to use a 5 Whys approach to really dig into these latter four questions. Doing so would allow us to uncover existing belief systems and would reveal the widespread variability that exists across educators – even when we’re in the same building – in terms of both instructional ideologies and classroom practices. Too often we believe that we have shared understandings and commitments around learning and teaching that simply aren’t there. Making the effort to peel back our hidden layers of disagreement could have a transformative impact on the kinds of conversations that we’re able to have and the kinds of changes that might result in students’ learning experiences.

Dare to ask the 5 whys around the 4 negotiables. Let us know how it went!

Image credit: Students travel around the world with books, US Army Garrison Red Cloud – Casey

Switch to our mobile site