Tag Archives: leadership

Some early comments on my new book

Different Schools For A Different World Book Cover

My new book with Dean Shareski, Different Schools for a Different World, is getting some positive early comments. A sampling is below. Thank you, everyone!

1. Jeff Nelson

Different Schools for a Different World by Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski just hammered my thinking. Their work is not a long read. It’s about 60 pages. Don’t let that fool you. My favorite college professor, Dr. Ruth Slonim, once said, “Good writing is not when there’s nothing more to add, rather when there’s nothing more to be taken away.” This book is lean and dead on point. A literal wake up call.

2. Darren Draper

Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski have knocked it out of the park with their latest book. It’s practical with solid arguments and a length that every school administrator can manage, given their already-too-busy schedules. Outstanding work!

3. Silvia Tolisano is making motion graphics of quotes as she reads… Awesome!

Tolisano 01

via https://twitter.com/langwitches/status/909054876268756997

Tolisano 02

via https://twitter.com/langwitches/status/909210698542141440

New book! Different Schools for a Different World

Different Schools For A Different World Book Cover

As some of you may have realized by now, Dean Shareski and I have a new book out. Titled Different Schools for a Different World, it describes 6 key relevancy gaps between today’s schools and what students and society need from them:

  1. Information Literacy. If schools are to genuinely prepare graduates to compete in a technology-infused information landscape, they must stop acting as they did when learning and teaching primarily occurred in analog formats. Instead, schools must begin to immerse students in the use of digital tools and in the outside contexts that surround those tools, and schools must do this in deeper and more significant ways.
  2. Workforce and Economy. If schools are to genuinely prepare graduates for a hyperconnected and hypercompetitive global innovation economy, they must stop emphasizing low-level content coverage. Instead, they must focus on interdisciplinary thinking, interpersonal skills, and technological fluency: the skills that allow individuals to offer value and differentiate themselves in digital marketplaces.
  3. Learning. If schools are to genuinely prepare graduates to be powerful lifelong learners, they must stop blocking mobile devices, digital environments, and online communities out of fear, nostalgia, or concerns about maintaining control. Instead, they must help students learn how to utilize these tools to foster powerful learning and extracurricular connections.
  4. Student Engagement. If schools are to genuinely engage students in their learning rather than simply force them to comply with academic and attendance directives, they must move away from one-size-fits-all instructional models. Instead, they must find ways to make the learning opportunities students experience more relevant and personally authentic.
  5. Innovation. If schools are to genuinely prepare innovators rather than “just tell me what to do” workers, they must stop disengaging students by using extrinsic punishments and rewards to govern classrooms. Instead, they must transform their learning spaces into the kinds of engaging environments of discovery, play, and intrinsic motivation that reward innovation.
  6. Equity. And if schools are to genuinely address equity issues so that no child is truly left behind, they must no longer be content to provide exclusive access to technology and rich, creative technology education to those students who have the most advantages. Instead, schools must find ways to enable robust digital learning for all students.

In the book we also note some strategies to address each of the relevancy gaps and highlight some schools that are doing well on the 4 big shifts of deeper learning, student agency, authentic work, and robust technology infusion.

Our book is a call to action that serves as the framing volume for the Solutions for Creating the Learning Spaces Students Deserve series from Solution Tree. Other awesome books in the series include:

If you get yourself a copy of our new book, let us know what you think. Thanks. Happy reading!

10 building blocks for the future of schools

As Dean Shareski and I worked together on our new book, Different Schools for a Different World, (released this week!), he encouraged me to update my list of building blocks for the future of schools. Here’s the new list (now 10 items instead of 8):

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  2. Community projects, internships, digital simulations, and other problem- and project-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work.
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus of assessment from seat time to learning mastery.
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  5. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  6. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  7. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  9. Flexible scheduling that moves students away from 50-minute time chunks – and a prescribed number of hours and days in a prescribed location – and toward opportunities for students to learn longer, deeper, and in more places about important life skills and concepts.
  10. Redesigned learning spaces that accommodate flexible, student-centered grouping and learning tasks rather than classrooms that are dictated by instructor or janitorial needs.

What would you add or change?

10 building blocks 001

10 building blocks 002

Aligning the 10 building blocks for future ready schools

A growing number of schools are recognizing that they must start transitioning their learning environments toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and robust technology infusion. Making those transitions is complex work, however, and many school administrators and teachers aren’t exactly sure how to proceed beyond some vague ideas about doing things differently.

One of the themes of my InnEdCO Leadership Academy keynote this year is the idea that there are multiple paths to future ready schools. That said, as I work with educators around the world, I see future-oriented schools playing around with some, or all, of these building blocks:

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments
  2. Authentic, real-world work
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives
  5. Digital and online (and often open access) information resources
  6. Online communities of interest
  7. Adaptive software and data systems
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms
  9. Flexible scheduling
  10. Redesigned learning spaces

Much like children exploring with Legos, TinkerToys, and Lincoln Logs, schools are experimenting with various combinations of these components to see what interesting things might emerge. One school might dive deep into student inquiry and flexible scheduling to foster greater student motivation via passion projects. Another might focus on its 1:1 initiative, bandwidth upgrades, and the use of open educational resources to create new instructional opportunities. Yet another might work toward integration of its teaching staff into online, project-based learning communities of practice, with a goal of sparking more student-driven learning in its local classrooms. Variations in configurations and depth are what give innovative schools their unique identities.

Whatever the combinations look like, it is imperative that they be driven by shared understandings and commitments and be aligned with other school and district initiatives. Too many school organizations are guilty of implementing numerous disconnected change projects, none of which is deeply understood, seen as truly important by front-line staff, or implemented well. When done in combination and with fidelity – and when owned by those charged with front-line implementation, each of these building blocks can be a powerful lever for change. Each also can be disastrous if implemented poorly or in isolation.

Educators and policymakers need to be exposed to various school models to see how these building blocks can be used together to accomplish future ready schooling environments. As varied as innovative schools are, they share one aspect in common: they’re amazing places for student learning.

10 building blocks 001

[cross-posted at InnEdCO’s new Innovation in Colorado blog!]

If we’re not irrelevant, what are we?

As I look across the presentations and workshops and keynotes that educational leadership faculty are sponsoring and facilitating, outside of a few isolated pockets I don’t see much evidence that we’re having wide-ranging and substantive conversations about the need for students to:

  • engage in deeper and higher-level learning instead of spending 80% to 85% of their time on regurgitation and recall of low-level knowledge items (that can be found via smartphone voice search in seconds);
  • possess greater agency and ownership of their own learning in order to foster engagement and self-directedness instead of being directed by teachers and schools toward control and compliance;
  • have opportunities to engage in authentic, meaningful learning activities instead of isolated, disconnected-from-the-real-world classroom assignments; or
  • utilize digital technologies in academic- and work-productive ways that go far beyond social uses or mere replication of analog instructional practices.

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about the profile below of high school graduates, even though these student life skills are absolutely foundational to schools’ and policymakers’ current college and career readiness efforts:

College and career readiness

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about these components of ‘future ready’ schools:

10 building blocks

We are preparing instructional leaders for P-12 schools but I rarely see or hear us talking about how to help preservice or practicing administrators understand how to (re)design school structures, curricula, units, lessons, and instructional activities to move in the directions noted above. [indeed, I have some doubts that most of us faculty would even know how] Even though social justice is a deeply held belief for most of us, we rarely discuss the intersections of that concept with changing workforce readiness needs or how the inequities of students’ digital access are extended and exacerbated when it comes to students’ digital usage. I don’t see most educational leadership faculty having broad and rich conversations about how technology has and will transform almost everything, what ‘college and career readiness’ or ‘personalized learning’ even mean these days, or what our roles are as faculty, parents, community members, and citizens to deal with all of this.

We do a great deal of research and teaching on interesting and important topics. We speak out against the marginalization of underserved and underrepresented groups. We talk a lot against federal and state policy. But we rarely foster ‘future ready’ policies, instructional and leadership practices, or school organizational redesigns. When we talk about student voice, it’s primarily within the frame of empowerment within local, not global, contexts. We talk marginally, if at all, about furthering students’ global awareness. And so on…

I really like my educational leadership faculty colleagues. They’re whip-smart, thoughtful, well-meaning, and kind and are engaged in some fascinating work. I learn lots every time I get to interact with them. So maybe ‘irrelevant’ is not the right word for what we do because it sounds too pejorative. But it sure seems like there are enormous, important, gaping holes in our conversations that we educational leadership faculty decline to fill year after year…

“I tried giving my students some agency two years ago and it didn’t work”

Basalt

A couple of months ago I keynoted a STEM conference in Syracuse, New York. I talked a lot about the power of student agency and tried to give numerous, concrete examples of student-directed project- and inquiry-based learning in practice. We discussed the idea that the global innovation economy is pushing the skill sets of creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving much deeper into the labor pool than ever before. I also shared that the research on motivation and engagement from Deci & Ryan, Hallie, and others shows quite clearly that autonomy and self-direction are fundamental human needs that we violate to the detriment of both our students and our proclaimed academic goals.

During one of our conversation periods a secondary science teacher said to me, “I tried giving my students some agency two years ago and it didn’t work.” I did my best to quash my initial reaction of dismay that students lacked more opportunities for autonomy in his classroom and instead asked some follow-up questions. He shared with me that he taught earth science, that there was a mandatory segment of the curriculum on rock identification that was a significant component of the state exam, and that every year students were less than enthused about the unit (to be charitable). Two years ago he apparently had tried to give his students some choice in terms of both how they learned the material and their final work products but apparently student disinterest in the unit topic and/or how he framed the work were enough to overcome his early attempts at giving his students some agency and it went miserably. So he shut it down, returned to a very traditional structure of presentation and examination, and now was very skeptical of claims by myself or others that giving kids some voice and choice in their learning could be productive.

I couldn’t help but feel sad for this teacher. He took a small risk and it didn’t go well so he retreated back to his age-old practices, frustrated and resentful of others who preached something different. Numerous questions and concerns flashed through my mind as we interacted, few of which could be addressed in that venue at that time.

As school leaders, we must provide much greater support to our teachers as we ask them to initiate new instructional practices and ’transform school.’ I hear repeatedly from principals and superintendents that they supposedly have given their educators permission to be risk-takers. But it is not enough for school leaders to just give encouragement or permission. Our teachers deserve specific, concrete instructional (re)design strategies and techniques; short-cycle feedback loops; ongoing conversation with teaching peers about successes and failures; and long-term, follow-up activities that ensure implementation success. We also have to create organizational systems that foster ongoing innovation cultures rather than momentary risk-taking, including educator resilience and learning from failure. And we have to continually and critically interrogate our own internal culture, climate, messaging, reward systems, and other leadership practices that reinforce the status quo and mitigate our alleged ‘permission to take risks.’ During my short conversation with this teacher, it became clear that very few of these were in place in his school, which meant that from the start he was almost certain to fail. None of that was his fault, of course; it was the fault of the system in which he was embedded and the leaders of that system.

That science teacher in New York – the one who didn’t really know how to implement what he was trying and also didn’t have enough resilience to learn from his attempt and try again – represents countless other teachers all across the country. We have well-meaning educators everywhere who want to do right by kids and who want to innovate but lack the essential supports necessary to move their practice forward in ways that we are asking of them. Combine this lack of leadership and organizational support with compulsory topics of study (rock identification!) and compulsory exams (accountability!) that often don’t intersect with students’ interests or passions and it’s no wonder that we see so little innovation in our classrooms.

Dr. Richard Elmore, Gregory R. Anrig Research Professor at Harvard University, has written extensively about the concept of reciprocal accountability. Essentially, the idea is that for every increment of performance that school leaders and policymakers demand from teachers, they have at least an equal responsibility to provide them with the capacity to meet that expectation. We violate this capacity requirement daily in our school systems, piling mandate upon expectation upon wishful thinking without ever creating the concurrent support systems. Until we leaders take seriously our obligations of reciprocal accountability and capacity-building, we’re never going to see wide scale implementation of the changes so desperately needed in our classrooms and school systems.

Image credit: Basalt, David Ellis

The importance of watching and naming

Watching you

This past weekend our minister asked us to consider what it meant to be ‘present’ within a community. Among other actions, she articulated two concepts – watching and naming – that she thought were particularly important for members of a community who wish to be deeply involved and fully present.

Watching includes the acts of staying informed and of being a participant observer. Naming includes the willingness to label things as they really are. The example she used was the so-called ‘alt-right.’ She exhorted us to be vigilant against both hate and discrimination and to be aware of their existence in all of their numerous, varied, and often-hidden forms. She also reminded us that whoever controls the rhetoric controls the mindspace and that we need to call the alt-right for what it really is: a white nationalist movement based on bigotry and hatred.

I think that the concepts of watching and naming are relevant to educational contexts as well. Educators are losing political battles all across the country because they’re not able to influence the overall mindspace of policymakers or the general public. Whether it’s anti-union rhetorics or pro-voucher rhetorics or grade-level retention rhetorics or ‘no excuses’ discipline rhetorics or statistically-invalid ‘accountability’ rhetorics or any of several dozen other antithetical rhetorics, we see firsthand that the end result of educators’ inability to substantively impact high-level conversations is policy that harms children and schools. Despite the heroic efforts of bloggers and school advocates, many educators STILL continue to be unaware of how think tanks, private foundations, corporations, astroturf groups, and government actors work together – often behind the scenes – to formulate harmful laws, policies, and advocacy campaigns. Many educators are woefully ignorant of how state and national policy is made and/or feel completely helpless to positively impact policy conversations. We need more educators to follow educational reform conversations and to read more actively than an occasional mainstream news story and/or association newsletter (hint: social media can be a great way to accomplish these goals). We also need more educators who are willing to speak up – publicly and visibly – and name things for what they are. Right now fierce conversations are occurring around terms like ‘personalization’ and ‘pro-children’ and educators are losing.

Watching and naming are relevant concepts inside a school too. Are educators within your schools paying attention to transformational societal trends? Are they watching with a keen eye and critically interrogating the instructional practices that occur within their buildings and classrooms? Do they even see existing inequities? Are they willing to identify and call out outdated or ineffective school mindsets, structures, and processes?

How might you utilize the concepts of watching and naming to enhance your own policy and/or instructional work?

Image credit: I’m watching you…, Christine Krizsa

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…

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!