It’s the 17th birthday of Dangerously Irrelevant. That’s a LONG time! And while my blogging has much more uneven in recent years, I’m not not down for the count yet. Thanks for staying with me all these years. Stay tuned!
One class that I always thought would be meaningful, impactful, and highly visible to the community would be a Social Impact elective course. This would basically be a student-driven genius hour but focused heavily on the Contribution item in Section B of the 4 Shifts Protocol to include a community impact focus.
We could integrate some design thinking concepts at the beginning such as identifying a problem or challenge in the community, conducting empathy interviews, and beginning to prototype solutions. We probably would require a partnership with an external expert or organization. And there should be a highly-publicized exhibition at the end of the semester. I think that schools would see students do some PHENOMENAL work as they lean into areas of interest or concern in their local community as positive change-makers.
Such a course could occur at any grade level, but might be particularly valuable in middle or high school as students begin to search for more relevance in their school experience. I know a number of deeper learning schools that are doing similar work through teacher-created projects. These projects would be more student-initiated and -driven, and the elective course format might be a relatively easy on ramp for more traditional schools that aren’t well-versed in deeper learning but would like to start creating some different opportunities for students. In addition to building students’ efficacy as real world difference-makers, these experiences also would be fantastic additions to students’ job or college applications.
Your thoughts? Know anyone currently doing this?
Doubling down on dehumanizing practices won’t help you reclaim student (or educator) ‘misbehavior.’
John Mikton and Dan Taylor were kind enough to invite me on the International Schools Podcast. John and Dan do a fantastic job of highlighting interesting things that are happening in the international schools space and they always have awesome guests on the podcast. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you’re missing out!
I was incredibly honored to be on the show for Episode 89. We talked about deeper learning, technology integration, leadership, and lots of other fun stuff…
Anastasis Academy is an incredibly-inspiring microschool serving grades K through 8 in Centennial, Colorado (USA). In Episode 002 of LeaderTalk, Kelly Tenkely describes the powerful trust that she has in educators and students. She also shares how the school leans heavily into relationships and inquiry to drive powerful student learning.
During the podcast, Kelly mentions the Learning Genome Project, which is an attempt to truly personalize student learning. She is supporting multiple schools around the world through that work. Kelly also shares her thoughts on learning, teaching, and innovation at Dreams of Education.
LeaderTalk is a podcast that elevates the voices of building-level leaders in inquiry- and project-based learning schools. The goal is to unpack their concrete, specific leadership behaviors and support structures that enable deeper learning experiences by their students and educators.
Episodes are available at leadertalk.org and on all major podcast platforms. Thanks for listening, and please let me know what suggestions you have for improvement. I want this to be useful to folks. Please also send me guest suggestions!
I am pleased to announce the launch of a new podcast, LeaderTalk.
Some of you may remember all the way back to 2007, when my university center, CASTLE, launched LeaderTalk, which was the first-ever global group blog for school leaders by school leaders. The LeaderTalk blog featured daily contributions from school administrators around the world and was hosted for many years at the Tech & Learning website. When George Couros’ Connected Principals initiative launched in 2010 (also CASTLE-sponsored!), we decided to sunset the LeaderTalk blog.
I held on to the domain name and now am reviving LeaderTalk, this time as a podcast that features boots-on-the-ground leaders in innovative schools. I only am talking to principals at inquiry- and project-based deeper learning schools. The plan is to do a couple of episodes per month. I’m basically just expanding on the work that we did for my recent book, Leadership for Deeper Learning, but in podcast form. There are a number of podcasts that feature international- and high-level thinkers, authors, and consultants around deeper learning. The goal of this new podcast is a bit different. The revived LeaderTalk will elevate the voices of building-level leaders and unpack their concrete, specific leadership behaviors and support structures that enable deeper learning experiences by their students and educators. Hopefully the podcast’s focus on front-line leadership will be unique, practical, helpful, and inspiring!
Episode 001 with Chris Lehmann at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) is now available. More conversations to follow. I hope that you will subscribe and also give me some feedback about how to make the podcast better. Suggestions for future podcast guests are always welcome!
And so it begins…
I am on sabbatical in Spring 2023, unpacking deeper learning in elementary and middle schools. I have been named a New Pathways Fellow by Getting Smart in support of this work. If you would like to know more, I made a one-page summary of what I am hoping to accomplish (the text is below as well). If there is an inquiry- and problem-based learning school that serves grades K-8 that you think I should try and visit, or if you’d like to learn more about what I’m doing and learning, please get in touch!
What do students, teachers, and leaders do in ‘deeper learning’ elementary and middle schools that is different from their traditional peers?
‘Deeper learning’ environments are cropping up all around the world in reaction to student boredom and disengagement, the globalization and automation of many job sectors, the increasing complexity of our digital and online information landscape, learning equity and workforce concerns, the need for adaptive and transformative societal innovation, and other factors. However, with some exceptions (e.g., EL, Design39, or EPiC), most of the schools that are featured in deeper learning research, advocacy, and publicity conversations often are at the secondary level (e.g., The Met or High Tech High).
As deeper learning networks like Big Picture Learning, New Tech Network, High Tech High, and others extend their models into lower grades, they are meeting long-standing, student-centered models such as Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and democratic schools that are moving upward from the other direction. Grades K through 8 are where all of these movements come together! My Spring 2023 sabbatical will focus on both the instructional and leadership sides of deeper learning in grades K through 8, with an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, greater student and educator agency, real-world authentic work, and rich technology infusion (inquiry, PBL, challenge- or place-based learning, high-quality STEM, entrepreneurship, etc.). I am building upon the work in my previous book, Leadership for Deeper Learning, in which my colleagues and I interviewed principals of 30 innovative schools around the world and then followed up those interviews with site visits, observations, on-site photographs and videos, and additional conversations with students and teachers.
Finances, Publicity, and Other Supports
I am road tripping around the country to visit innovative elementary and middle schools. My costs are pretty simple: just mileage, meals, and hotels (and occasionally airfare and rental cars) as I aim to visit several dozen schools nationwide. I already have secured funding for about half of my total anticipated budget of $30,000. If you know anyone who might be willing to lend financial, publicity, expertise, or other support, please get in touch at or 707-722-7853 (my cell).
I saw this post a while back in an educational technology forum:
I have been given roughly an hour for PD on January 4th to work with teachers on anything that I’d like. I rotate between 7 sites pre-k to 12th grade, but I will be working with 4th grade-12th grade teachers on this date. My boss mostly likes for me to introduce new tools to teachers during these opportunities. We have been focusing on Canva the last few months while we try to transition back to students creating work rather than the teacher worksheets, etc., that we used a lot of during the pandemic.
All of that to say, what would you use this time for? Should I show teachers how to be better organized with Google Keep/Tasks, find a free new tool for them to use in the classroom? Do you have any free project based EdTech tools that you love?
This was my reply:
Just wanted to say how sorry I am that you only are given 1 hour (a whole 60 minutes!) to do this important work. You and your educators deserve more systemic and strategic supports and investment than this. 😢 I’m tempted to say that, with this little time, it really doesn’t matter what you do because the likelihood of it being impactful is fairly low?
Let’s be clear: this is a big red flag that this school is just pretending at technology integration and coaching. They’re not devoting substantive time, effort, energy, or support toward robust technology integration. They’re not thoughtfully building upon prior work. It’s simply “Here’s a random hour. Do whatever you want. Maybe you could show teachers some new tools that probably won’t get used?” Does it really matter what this technology integration coach does? Not under these conditions…
This is the pattern in way too many schools. This isn’t the poor coach’s fault. This is a failure of leadership. It’s wishful thinking disguised as professional development, and it’s yet another example of a school that’s going through the motions instead of engaging in meaningful, long-term, thoughtful improvement. These wasted opportunities in schools just make me sad…
I had the pleasure recently of appearing on the Navigating Education podcast with Matt Rhoads. Episode 59 was titled Leadership and Instructional Design for Deeper Learning. Matt and I had a wide-ranging discussion about the design and leadership decisions that foster deeper learning by students.
Most schools here in the U.S. now have been back for a month or two. And I’m hearing from educators that things are … ‘better.’ Which has me wondering, “How are we defining better?”
As we all know, the end of the 2020 school year and the entire 2020-21 school year were an incredible challenge. Schools shut down. People died. Everything was disrupted, and everyone was scared and anxious. Then, over the summer of 2021, we were much too optimistic about an allegedly ‘normal’ return to school. And it wasn’t. In many (most?) schools, the 2021-22 school year was somehow even tougher than the previous one as we experienced extremely high levels of student refusal and absenteeism, educator stress and burnout, and so on.
In a conversation with Catlin Tucker, I wondered how much better last school year could have been if we had leaned more into relationships and care. There was so much policy rhetoric around students’ ‘learning loss.’ Accordingly, many schools jumped much too fast into their traditional instructional processes without really addressing the trauma that children (and educators) still were carrying with them at the beginning of the school year. And it didn’t work.
I hypothesized in that discussion that if we had started the first few weeks with a significant focus on relationships and care and getting students and families the supports that they needed (say, 80% of our time and energy) and a lesser emphasis on the academic stuff (say, 20%), we could have laid the groundwork for a much smoother school year as we created a stable foundation that allowed us to transition back to ‘normal’ expectations. But many schools didn’t do that, at least not sufficiently to remedy the problem. It was as if we knew that our young people still were traumatized but didn’t want to address it genuinely, at the levels that our children deserved. Sure, we recognized and paid lip service to the issue, and maybe even halfheartedly implemented some new socio-emotional learning (SEL) program, but we didn’t really meet kids’ needs. The proof was obvious as we mostly tried to return to regular learning-teaching practices and then wondered why kids’ behavior, attendance, and academic performance were so terrible and why teachers were incredibly stressed and leaving the profession.
The past few years have shown that the rigidity of our school systems is also a brittle fragility, particularly during a time of dire need for young people and their families. The saddest part of last school year may have been that we could have hit the reset button at any time. We could have taken a pause from school as we know it, invested more deeply into kids rather than content, and built, together, to where we needed to be. But we chose not to. We just kept on with the things that weren’t working, and children and educators paid the price.
All of which brings us to this school year, which supposedly is ‘better.’ And I’m wondering why. Did we finally transform how we interact with our children? Did we finally center their emotional and trauma needs and establish foundational structures of relationship and care that allow us to learn together in functional community? Or, as I suspect from the many educator discussion areas that I’m in, at the beginning of this year did we just lean more heavily into ‘expectations’ and ‘consequences’ that ignore underlying root causes and instead emphasize control and compliance? In other words, if one end of a continuum might be framed as ‘Kids are struggling so they need care’ and the other end might be framed as ‘Kids are struggling so they need control,’ which end of the continuum did our schools lean into? Did we create new, effective systems of care or did we just socialize and force our young people into submission (as we always seem to do)?
How about your school? What did it lean into this year?