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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

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

Question Mark Cookies

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. 

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

What could you do as a school leader to hack at some new possibilities for curiosity- and inquiry-driven student learning…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

Bluegrass Stockyards

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

The principle of linearity works well for manufacturing; it doesn’t for people. Educating children by age group assumes that the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. In practice, different students learn at different rates in different disciplines. A child with natural ability in one area may struggle in another. One may be equal to older children in some activities and behind younger ones in others. We don’t apply this batching principle outside of schools. We don’t keep all the ten-year-olds away from the nine-year-olds, in separate facilities. This form of segregation mainly happens in schools. (p. 37)

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

What could you do as a school leader to hack at the deficiencies of same-age grouping…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

Image credit: Bluegrass Stockyards gates, pens, and corrals in black and white; Anthony