It’s always gratifying when something you write resonates with others. That’s particularly true when it’s something as big as a book (even a small book). I have had the wonderful opportunity over the past year and a half – thanks to series editor Bill Ferriter and the amazing folks at Solution Tree – to publish two very different books, both of which are intended to meet very specific needs of school leaders and classroom educators and both of which have been well-received.
My first book, Different Schools for a Different World, was a collaborative effort with my joyful friend, Dean Shareski. The book is meant to be a very accessible on-ramp into the idea of why we need different schools these days. Obviously this is not the first book on this topic and there are some other excellent reads that I have in a prominent place on my bookshelves. But I appreciated the chance to approach the argument with my own unique voice and to frame the conversation around the school-society ‘relevance gaps’ that seem to resonate well with the school leaders with whom I work. In the book, Dean and I highlight six key relevance gaps and also discuss the four big shifts of deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion that many schools are implementing to address those gaps. We also provide some action ideas for each of the relevance gaps, profile a few schools around the world that are doing some interesting things as they work to prepare future-ready graduates, and close with some big ideas and important questions for us as educators and communities. The book has gotten good reviews so far. Because it’s only 53 pages long, it’s a quick read for educators, parents, or community members and hopefully an easy book club choice for any school or district that is still struggling with creating and enacting a future-ready vision for its students.
Different Schools for a Different World is the WHY book. My other recent book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, is the HOW book. Co-authored with my very smart instructional coach friend, Julie Graber, this book takes the four big shifts of deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion that were outlined in the previous book and illustrates how to (re)design lessons, units, and instructional activities to accomplish those goals. Although the word ‘technology’ is in the title, at its heart this book is mostly about future-ready pedagogy and instructional design. If we want these pedagogical shifts to happen in our schools and classrooms, we have to explicitly redesign our day-to-instruction to make them happen. The book introduces the 4 Shifts Protocol and shows how it can be an excellent complement to SAMR, TPACK, IPI, the 4 Cs, and other models and frameworks. More importantly, the book includes eight examples of lesson (re)design so that readers can see how to use the protocol to reorient instructional activities. The book is meant to be intensely practical and contains dozens of concrete, specific ‘look fors’ and think abouts.’ The book ends with an entire chapter of tips, suggestions, and strategies for how to implement the 4 Shifts Protocol in schools. At only 57 pages, it’s also a quick read and numerous districts are now using the book and the protocol with teacher cohorts, instructional coaches, technology integrationists, and principals to drive their instructional redesign work.
So if you’re still trying to get people ‘on board’ with a future-ready vision for schools and classrooms, consider Different Schools for a Different World as a possible read. And if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and do the day-to-day instructional (re)design work necessary to accomplish that vision, check out the open source 4 Shifts Protocol and the accompanying book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning. And, as always, please stay in touch as I can be of support to you.
This post is a review of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray. Disclaimer: both are friends of mine so keep that in mind as you read below. My short recommendation? There is lots of value in this book and a great deal of information that validates what we know about good leadership and strong school organizations.
What I liked about the book
Eric and Tom list eight ‘keys’ to intentionally designing tomorrow’s schools. They are:
- Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
- The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
- Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
- Learning spaces must become learner-centered
- Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
- Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
- Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
- Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success
It’s hard to argue with any of these. All are critically-important components of robust, future-ready schools and each gets substantial coverage in their respective book chapters. Tom and Eric back these up with a variety of research studies to support the importance of each one. And they write in an engaging way that keeps readers rolling along. All of this is good.
There are strong emphases throughout the book on building trust, fostering relationships, empowering others, the intentionality of the work, the importance of communication, and recognizing our power as change agents. This is all good too!
I thought Chapters 4 (learning spaces) and 5 (professional learning) were especially strong. Chapter 4 gave me a lot to think about and there are numerous ideas in Chapter 5 for taking educators’ learning in some new directions, particularly pages 152-155 where Eric and Tom describe some ways to move from hours- to outcomes-based ‘accountability’ for educator learning.
Finally, Tom and Eric have chosen to profile some great leaders and organizations throughout the book and also have selected some resonant quotes. My favorite is probably the quote from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis: ‘In the absence of knowledge, people make up their own.’
Some minor quibbles
There are some things that I wish were framed a little differently in the book. For instance, in Chapter 1, Eric and Tom say that ‘great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating a compelling why and working to build support throughout consensus’ (p. 34). I wish they spent more time here talking about a visioning process that was less leader-centric and focused more on educators, students, and parents figuring out together what their why is instead of simply being sold their why by the leader. If we want shared understandings and commitments within organizations, I believe that process needs to be more communal rather than leader-driven. I’ve seen too many schools where the leader has a robust vision but never can ‘build support’ with the staff because she’s the only one that really owns it and is trying to then sell it to everyone else. Tom and Eric do talk a bit more about shared visioning on page 36 when they quote Kouzes & Posner, but that section doesn’t articulate what a ground-up process could look like.
In Chapter 2, Eric and Tom do a nice job of articulating ways that technology can enhance student learning. But the chapter sometimes feels a little technology-centric. There are numerous ways to give students access to deeper learning, greater student agency, and more authentic work opportunities that don’t involve learning technologies. Even though I’m an educational technology advocate, I would have liked some more discussion of project- and inquiry-based learning, performance assessments, community-based service learning, Harkness circles, and the wide variety of other non-technological possibilities that still result in robust learning. There is mention of a few of these things but I think in general these could have been fleshed out more. I did greatly appreciate the emphasis on equity in this chapter. Chapter 3 is similar. Tom and Eric discuss the concept of return on instruction but the chapter is framed dominantly within a lens of technology infusion. We need classrooms to move beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation, and I know that Eric and Tom agree with that notion. But I think that non-technological learning and pedagogy could get some more attention in this chapter too. Although Tom and Eric state directly in Chapter 5 that ‘professional learning must focus on student outcomes through improved pedagogy – not on tools’ (p. 146), I think that idea gets lost in Chapter 3 amidst all of the technology discussions.
The book closes on the idea of sustainable change. That’s an incredibly important topic and also is incredibly difficult to accomplish. There is a great deal of discussion in the chapter about what needs to be done, and I think Eric and Tom rightly identify numerous issues and tasks. They also do a nice job in this chapter of staying positive and encouraging people to recognize that great leadership is within their grasp. However, there is barely a mention in this chapter of one of the biggest barriers to organizational sustainability of change initiatives, which is leadership turnover. When superintendents, principals, and/or school boards turn over fairly frequently, teachers and communities get whipsawed by new innovations and new directions because those new leaders rarely continue the innovation pathways of their predecessors. Some discussion in this chapter of how to actually navigate that concern would have been helpful beyond the couple of sentences on political sustainability that merely acknowledge the issue.
Finally, there are large chunks of several chapters that feel like long lists of leadership ideas that have been thrown together (see, e.g., Chapters 1 and 7). It’s not that the ideas or items are wrong or incorrect, it’s just hard to see how they all fit together. Tom and Eric do a great job of citing research in their book, but it would be helpful to have some research-based frameworks and mental models that tie the list items together. For instance, if there’s a three-page list of ten leadership ideas, why these specific ten and not others and how do they interact together to create a coherent whole? If there are two solid pages of bullet points, maybe those could be tied together into some kind of model that illustrates the connectivity of the disparate parts. Otherwise, we’re left to question where all of these ideas came from and how they’re supposed to work together.
All of these are minor quibbles and choices have to be made in any book about what to focus on and what to leave out. It’s Eric and Tom’s book, not mine, and they’ve done a nice job of presenting their arguments, their reasoning, a variety of resources, and numerous action steps that can be taken.
Questions I have after reading this book
- How do we flesh out in more concrete detail – and with specific action steps – some of the ideas articulated in this book?
- How do we navigate the twin challenges of leadership turnover and initiative fatigue due to successive leaders wanting to ‘put their stamp on’ the organization?
- Much of the book is based on the research about good leadership. We’ve known for a long time much of what’s in the book, but those research-based leadership practices aren’t showing up in administrators’ actual practices. How can we as educational leadership researchers do a better job of translating our scholarship into actionable ideas and behaviors in the field?
- How can schools do a better job of treating parents as authentic partners and co-designers in the learning of their children, not just passive recipients of whatever narrow boxes we educators try to put them into?
- How can we foster the creation of ground-up visions for student learning and educational experiences rather than individual or oligarchic visions that then get sold to the rest of the community? And how can we involve students as substantive partners in that work?
I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad I have friends who make me smarter. I marked it up all over the place. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
As the day continued, they started matches. If you were watching on the live stream, you would have seen us in action! If not: You will see photos at the bottom and I will start to explain. The pit area is set up and ready to go! We will take some video tomorrow of what will be happening and why. It will you guys a more “behinds the scene” look of how much work it actually takes!(in the photo to the left, we are talking to Dark Matter…one the three teams from our Iowa Trio at the North Super Regionals. The three teams together were Finalist Alliance Award)
Our Qualification Matches are: 9, 25, 47, 57, 78, 91, 101, 122, and 132. Tune in tomorrow to the live stream. #Support Lets do this!
We only got to play the first two with the time allotted and we are currently in 8th place! We are 2-0 and extremely excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow will consist of many more matches, scouting, and going to the big dome (we are currently at Union Station)! At the Edwards Jones Dome we will have opening ceremonies, a college/scholarship row, and we will be able to see the FRC (First Robotics Competition) and the FLL (First Lego League)… We will also be able to see the companies who helped sponsor this event and get a lot of one on one information from them.
I don’t really have a lot of information except for good news. The robot is still working great as well as the team members. Just remember: Gracious Professionalism and Continuous Improvement!
Thank you so much to the community/business’s who helped get us here! You guys mean SO much to us! #MonkeySwag #WorldChampionship #International #SUPERCOOL
I’m pleased to announce a new resource today: CASTLE Briefs.
As our web site notes:
CASTLE briefs are intended to help practicing and preservice school administrators with various technology leadership issues. Between 500 and 2,000 words in length, CASTLE briefs attempt to answer the question, “What do school administrators need to know about this technology leadership topic?” Some CASTLE briefs are classic research or policy briefs; others may be more practice-oriented or focus on thought leadership in a particular area.
ANYONE may write a CASTLE brief. Sometimes we will extend invitations to authors but we also accept at-large submissions. We are open to your ideas about content, format, and style but please note that we frown upon commercial advertisements disguised as briefs. Images, audio, video, and other multimedia are welcome inclusions in a brief. We would prefer APA citation style for your references section. All CASTLE briefs will be made available under a Creative Commons attribution-share alike copyright license.
Our first brief is titled for consideration.
I hope that you will consider contributing to the CASTLE Brief series, either by submitting a brief yourself or at least adding some ideas to the list of potential topics. If you’re a professor, note that writing a CASTLE brief would be a great assignment for your students! (hint, hint)
I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops!
There’s a lot of stuff that comes through my Twitter stream. In addition to independent tweets, there also are my posts from here and Mind Dump, my Delicious bookmarks, things that I share from Google Reader, posts from the other CASTLE blogs, and so on. So I wasn’t surprised to get a message recently that said something along the lines of “I’m overwhelmed by your tweets. Do you have a ‘best of the best’ channel?”
Today I’m launching McLeod Reads (@mcleodreads), which is intentionally designed to highlight not only my own best writing but also the best of what I’m reading from others. I’m a huge fan of Flipboard and Instapaper. I also sometimes use systems like Scoop.it, paper.li, Zite, Readability, TweetedTimes, or Read It Later. My overarching goal for this initiative is to highlight things that I want to read using these tools.
What will be in the McLeod Reads stream? As you might imagine, there will be a lot of stuff related to schools, technology, and/or leadership. But there also will be stuff related to social media, higher education, economics, politics, graphic design, law, publishing and journalism, ebooks, photography, and so on. Sometimes it will be a short blurb or quote that I think is especially noteable. Much of it will be longer-form reading like you might see at Longreads, The Browser, Longform, The Essayist, The Long Good Read, Give Me Something to Read, or The Atavist (you know, the stuff that you can really sink your teeth into).
So two Twitter feeds. What you see on @mcleodreads also will come through @mcleod. But most of what you see on @mcleod will never appear on @mcleodreads (i.e., no bookmarks, no unfiltered ‘bot’ tweeting, and no random conversations).
Will Richardson has his Instapaper feed. Carl Anderson has his Ed Tech Feeds twitter account. This is my attempt to create a purposeful, carefully-curated feed of some great reading. To start, I’ve loaded it up with some older posts and some things that caught my eye this morning (so apologies in advance if you’ve already seen much of what’s there now).
To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m sharing, subscribe to @mcleod. To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m reading, check out my shared feeds. But if you’re interested in a more curated experience, subscribe to @mcleodreads and try it out. Let me know what you think (good or bad). And we’ll see how this experiment goes.
Jeff Utecht is offering a free copy of his new book, Reach, until Friday, June 18. After then you can purchase a PDF or paper copy at a very affordable price (which is what I did because I want to encourage him to do more of this!).
You also should check out Jeff’s free e-books: Blogs as Web-Based Portfolios and Planning for 21st Century Technologies in Schools.
Jeff’s new book campaign illustrates that the Web makes it easy for us to share resources and gain visibility for our efforts. This is a wonderful (and previously unimaginable) thing. As Seth Godin notes:
Ideas that spread, win.
[and e-books are a great way to do this]
Is your school organization teaching its students to be EMPOWERED (not just safe, responsible, and appropriate) users of our new information landscape? Or is it still pretending that being findable on the Web – as an individual / company / agency / charity / NGO / etc. – is less important than, say, mastering those soon-to-be-forgotten fact nuggets?