Tag Archives: change

Book review – Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

SheningerMurrayThis 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:

  1. Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
  2. The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
  3. Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
  4. Learning spaces must become learner-centered
  5. Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
  6. Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
  7. Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
  8. 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?

Rating

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).

Highlighter5

Most educators do not have ‘change fatigue’

Will Richardson said:

As schools and classrooms, why do we exist today? What do we believe? What are our values? What are our deepest commitments to the children we serve? And do we live all of that?

Without coherent, clearly communicated answers to those questions, no serious change will survive. And, importantly, there will be nothing to judge the next “new thing” against.

I know “change fatigue” is real. But that’s not what most people are tired of. What they’re tired of is incoherence, of flailing away at change that isn’t driven by a belief system everyone is committed to living.

via https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6473548129395318784

Nicely said, Will…

Band-aid

Band aid

 

Attaching band-aids to our current work doesn’t change much

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Image credit: Patching up school items, Penywise, Bigstock

Doomed

Doomed

 

Until the life success of our students is more important than our own comfort levels, any change we initiate is doomed.

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Image credit: Shipwreck, sbuwert, Bigstock 

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

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…

18 things that leaders of innovative schools do differently

TIES 2017 Shelly Terrell

I had a wonderful time this past week at the TIES conference in Minneapolis. Having worked at the University of Minnesota for six years, it was super fun to connect with old educator friends and new (including a lot of goofiness with Shelly Terrell while at Flipgrid headquarters).

I served as the lunch keynote for TIES on Sunday and then facilitated a lesson redesign workshop that afternoon using our trudacot discussion protocol (thanks, Julie Graber, for joining us!). I always love redesigning instructional activities with teachers and school leaders. Two random comments from that Sunday workshop that gave my heart a warm glow:

  • “We’re not having these kinds of conversations using the Danielson framework
  • “I skipped the Vikings game for this workshop and am glad that I did” 

Both of those were high praise indeed!

On Monday I was in charge of TIES’ annual all-day Leadership Seminar. There are a few things that I would do differently next time, but all in all it went very well and we had some superb conversations. In the afternoon we looked at a variety of innovative schools from around the world and tried to answer the twin questions of ‘What is going on in these schools that’s different?’ and ‘What do we think the leaders of these schools are doing differently?’ [compared to those in more traditional schools]. Here is the list that my group came up with…

Leaders in innovative schools…

  1. give permission for innovation AND ALSO provide support. Teachers know that they can take risks and will be supported by their administrators.
  2. take risks themselves and have the understanding that things will not always go as planned. They are brave and courageous enough to put their school and themselves ‘out there.’
  3. are able to change existing schedule, transportation, staffing, budgeting, and other structures in concrete, tangible, productive, and strategic ways to support new forms of learning.
  4. empower student choice. They and their staff are able to open up spaces to find out what students are passionate about and interested in and then leverage those opportunities to create cultures of intrinsic motivation.
  5. create academic pathways that help learners be successful based on their unique interests, skills, and talents. Both vocational and professional partnerships, internships, and mentorships are created.
  6. reduce, distill, and connect disparate initiatives in order to reduce the number of things on educators’ plates.
  7. facilitate clarity of organizational purpose and establish instructional coherence in partnership with their teachers and other staff.
  8. provide lots of time for staff to collaborate in rich, substantive, and meaningful ways.
  9. engage their community in the instructional and organizational redesign processes and provide opportunities for community members to be part of the work. Redesign work is less individually-dependent and more community-driven.
  10. understand that every person brings their own beliefs, ideas, assumptions, and values to the table. They see those differences as assets, not problems to be managed, and are able to harness the power of distributed leadership to facilitate ownership and contribution across various stakeholder groups.
  11. help educators, students, parents, and community members see new possibilities and the power of instructional transformations.
  12. facilitate shared agreement and commitments toward core values and day-to-day expectations. Protocols are put into place for discussion, dissent, and revisiting previous decisions. 
  13. create climates of open communication and safety in which everyone is sharing information, successes, challenges, and questions.
  14. take a holistic approach toward identifying and addressing student needs.
  15. have a vision of what success – the end goal – looks like. Celebrations are connected to both the process and the progress. Explicit structures are created to share and celebrate those successes.
  16. are able to plant seeds of innovation and grow them successfully while anticipating the problems that may come up during the transformation process. They create proactive – not reactive – response structures that automatically kick in when anticipated issues inevitably arise.
  17. find ways to ensure that ‘the change people’ win instead of the resisters. They buffer and protect innovative educators rather than allowing ‘crab bucket’ or ‘tall poppy’ environments to flourish.
  18. are able to help teachers translate big ideas from mission and vision statements into day-to-day instructional practice. [emphasis added]
I don’t know if this covers everything but it’s an excellent start as we think about innovative leadership. This obviously is complex work, which is why most schools and administrators aren’t doing it…
 
Which of these do you think are most important? How are your school leaders doing with these: which are they doing well and which could use some more attention? What would you add to this list?

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

It’s too overwhelming

Overwhelmed

“The magnitude of all of this change… it’s too overwhelming.”

Fair enough. I, too, often feel overwhelmed by it all. But are we going to hunker down and ignore it or lean into it and try to figure out how to adapt? Which one better serves the needs of our children?

Image credit: Day 49 – I can’t do it anymore, Alisa Ryan

That’s not a given

Discard an axiom

I loved hearing Will Richardson say at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference last November that ‘curriculum is a strategy.’

Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.

If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’

Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.

[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]

Image credit: Oblique strategies, Bastiaan Terhorst