Tag Archives: leadership

Dreaming bigger for Iowa education

RETHINK

Lately I’ve been trying to dream a little bigger about Iowa schools. Feel free to map this onto your own state or province…

Background

Bottom line

What if…

  1. every Urban Education Network of Iowa district had an ‘alternative’ high school for low-achieving students that focused on creative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, and community contribution instead of worksheet packets and self-paced online courses? (some may already)
  2. each regional Area Education Agency had the capacity to help its districts create project-based learning ‘incubators?’ (kind of like Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids)
  3. the Iowa Department of Education worked with the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chambers of Commerce, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and others to help superintendents, school boards, communities, and postsecondary institutions envision a more transformative learning future for students?
  4. given our tremendous grassroots movement toward 1:1 computing environments – 200+ out of 331 districts (and counting!) – Iowa was the first state in the country (other than maybe Maine) to place its instructional technology emphasis on enhanced learning and teaching, not just access?
  5. like in many private schools and Rhode Island, high school seniors had to complete a deep, complex, multidisciplinary capstone requirement in order to graduate?
  6. every high school student in Iowa had the opportunity to do a credit-earning, community-based internship before graduation?
  7. there was statewide pressure from school districts on educator preparation programs to be more relevant?
  8. one or more Iowa universities worked with external partners to design and deliver a ‘Future Ready’ leadership graduate certificate that would give teacher leaders and administrators the skills necessary to foster 21st century learning environments?
  9. we utilized hands-on, engaging STEM activities more often in core math and science courses, not just in electives or extracurricular programs?
  10. Iowa Learning Online dramatically expanded its offerings to include electives such as Agricultural Engineering, Design Thinking, Sustainable Development, Digital Marketing, or Computer Programming and students not only could get high school or university course credit but also microcredentials that could be used for employment?
  11. our various statewide education summits were targeted, focused opportunities for us to work together and craft solutions, not just sit and listen?
  12. we trained district curriculum leaders in various blended learning models?
  13. we had regional exemplar schools across the state like Waukee APEX, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, or the urban National Academy Foundation schools, with an emphasis on intentional dissemination partnerships to spread best practices to other schools?
  14. we scaled competency-based education to the next level (like in some other states) rather than it idling in the pilot stage?
  15. like some states and districts, we created open access textbooks and taught teachers how to curate open educational resources (OER), thus freeing up textbook monies for other purposes?
  16. we did a much better job of raising the (inter)national visibility of Iowa’s amazing educational initiatives through better utilization of social media channels, online communities, and digital branding and marketing strategies?
  17. the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other partners collaboratively approached a major education foundation, corporation, or government grant program and said, “We’re deadly serious about thinking REALLY big here. Help us make it happen?”

Each of these would be big. Many of these together would be amazing… What do you think? What would you add to (or remove from) this list?

Schools, baseball teams, and casinos

Baseball

Ramona Shelburne said:

[Baseball] franchises that remain static will eventually regress and deteriorate. People, too. So the antidote is to be proactive. Change before you’re forced to. Keep putting yourself in the best positions to succeed. When things break the wrong way, break new ground.

“The mindset in everything we do is to be the casino,” Friedman said. “We want to be the house. We’re going to make a lot of decisions. It’s a high-volume business. We can’t be afraid of making mistakes. The key is to be right more than we’re wrong and … trust that it will work out well.”

via http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12630518/the-los-angeles-dodgers-forward-thinking-front-office-force-reckoned-with

True for schools too, not just baseball teams and casinos…

Image credit: Baseball, Peter Miller

My feedback on the draft ISLLC standards

CCSSO logo

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is working on its latest draft of standards for school leaders. The ISLLC standards are intended to detail the knowledge and skills that effective district and school leaders need in order to build teams of teachers and leaders who improve student learning. CCSSO is seeking feedback on the draft standards. My feedback and comments are below. I hope that you will read the standards yourself and also share some thoughts with CCSSO about whether you feel that they adequately describe an effective school leader for today and tomorrow…

Please list any additional dispositions that you believe educational leaders need that are not listed on page 9 of the ISLLC 2015 standards.

Learner. Just because you’re reflective and/or analytical does NOT mean you’re a learner yourself. We have lots of clueless administrators who don’t understand / have not kept up with external societal transformations because they are not active, engaged, externally-focused learners themselves. So they don’t understand how our new information landscapes operate and what the implications are for educational practice. (neither do most Educational Leadership profs, sadly)

Does the section, “Using the Standards” provide you with sufficient direction about how the standards might be used to improve leadership at the state and local level?

Standards are necessarily vague. So providing TWO pages on ‘using’ them isn’t really going to do much for anyone. There are a few broad generalities here but they’re nowhere near specific enough to really be that helpful for practice.

Please list any competencies for transformational leaders that you believe would NOT fall into one of the categories represented by the seven ISLLC 2015 standards.

Where’s the future-oriented, innovation disposition in these standards, actions, and competencies. I’m struggling to see it…

To what extent do you agree that the ISLLC 2015: Model Policy Standards for Educational Leaders represent a clear, coherent vision for transformational school and district leadership that reflects current expectations for educational leaders and prepares them to effectively adapt their leadership to future changes and challenges? Please share any additional reactions or comments that you have about the standards as a whole.

The standards and the actions listed below them don’t really reflect in any way the ‘innovative’ disposition that is cited earlier in the ISLLC draft document. If ISLLC truly was interested in fostering innovative leadership practice, there would be greater recognition of and emphasis on the seismic transformations that are occurring in our information, economic, and learning landscapes. Instead, there’s nary a mention anywhere of the fact that schools need to look a LOT different than they currently do and the current factory model of schooling appears to be generally accepted as a given across the standards. When it comes to learning, then, what we’re left with in these new draft ISLLC standards appears to be a very technocratic model of school leadership that’s focused on increasing student ‘achievement’ on low-level factual recall items and procedural skills rather than fostering innovative, creative, collaborative critical thinkers and problem solvers [NOTE: if this is not what you intend, then you need to reframe and reword huge chunks of this document because right now it reads like an educational leadership standards document for 1995, not 2015]. Everything that’s listed here in the new ISLLC standards is arguably important. But the standards and actions are neither innovative nor forward-thinking enough so they fail to live up to the ideal of preparing school leaders to ‘effectively adapt their leadership to future changes and challenges’ because there’s nothing really future-oriented in them.

It’s also worth noting for page 10 that simply displaying the 7 standards horizontally across the 8 vertical dispositions in Figure 3 does absolutely nothing to ‘demonstrate how the dispositions are essential to the work of educational leadership.’ There’s no meaning made there. There is no explanation of the diagram or the intersections or what progression/extension might look like. You simply overlay them across each other and then say ‘quod erat demonstrandum!’ That whole section either needs to be explicated quite a bit or discarded.

Online sharing is not digital leadership

More

Using social media to share with your community? It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Using social media to connect with other educators? That’s awesome, but that’s not enough either.

Using what you’ve learned from social media to significantly change the day-to-day learning experiences of students (and teachers)? Now you’re getting somewhere…

In other words, the branding and the PLN work is great. But true digital leadership is much, much more. Let’s hear more about what kids and educators are doing differently, please.

Image credit: More, Thomas Hawk

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

Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

3-month updates: Digital Leadership Daily, School Visibility Initiative

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Three months ago I launched both Digital Leadership Daily and our School Visibility Initiative.

Digital Leadership Daily is now up to 714 subscribers across its text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook channels.

The School Visibility Initiative now has 66 participating schools from 29 unique states and countries.

Awesome!

Snuffing out our own progress

Crabs in a bucket

I just left this comment at Tony Tepedino’s blog in response to his statement that we have to stop pretending that academic rigor can only occur in a traditional classroom setting:

I have seen innovative, project-based learning environments killed – by OTHER TEACHERS IN THE SCHOOL!!!! – because kids liked those learning spaces better than what their more traditional teachers were offering. Rather than shifting their instruction, they snuffed out the promising new directions instead.

Ugh.

I saw a wonderful video long ago from Gloria Ladson-Billings that reminded us as school leaders that we have to make sure the change people win. We must fight these crab bucket cultures with everything we’ve got…

Image credit: Crabs in a bucket, Todd Shaffer

We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

  • they are bigger and have more resources
  • they are smaller and are more nimble
  • they are rural and have strong-knit communities
  • they are urban and have access to the city
  • they are suburban and have more money
  • they don’t have the same time issues we do
  • they don’t have the same discipline issues we do
  • they don’t have the same personnel issues we do
  • they don’t have the same financial issues we do
  • they don’t have the same transportation issues we do
  • they don’t have the same accountability issues we do
  • they have parent support
  • they have community support
  • they have business support
  • they have paras
  • they have teacher’s aides
  • they have volunteers
  • they have a different schedule
  • they have different standards
  • they have different policies
  • they have different professional development
  • they have more supportive administrators
  • they have a more supportive school board
  • they have more expert veteran teachers
  • they have more eager new teachers
  • they can get kids to come before school
  • they can get kids to come after school
  • they can get kids to come during school
  • they don’t have all of the extra committees that we do
  • they don’t have all of the extra duties that we do
  • they have computer labs
  • they have computer carts
  • they have laptops
  • they have iPads
  • they have Chromebooks
  • they have better Internet
  • they are a private school
  • they are a charter school
  • they are a magnet school
  • they are an online school
  • they have [fill in the blank] where they are
  • they don’t have OUR kids
  • they ???

We’re really good at finding reasons for inaction. How many of these have you heard? What would you add to this list?

How you gonna change the world if you can't change yourself? [Graffiti]

Image credit: Change starts from within, Phillip

Humility

When you approach your work with the humility that everything you do is open for dialogue and can be made better, the rewards you reap are immeasurable.

#makeitbetter

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