Leadership for Deeper Learning: Excerpt 01

Leadership for Deeper Learning[To celebrate our upcoming book, Leadership for Deeper Learning, I am publishing an excerpt each day for a week before its release. We interviewed leaders at 30 different ‘deeper learning’ schools around the world in 2019 and 2020. We then followed up those interviews with site visits, observations, on-site photographs and videos, and additional conversations. Our goal was to try and parse out What do leaders at innovative schools do that is different from their counterparts in more traditional schools? As you might imagine, we saw some fantastic leading, teaching, and learning. We describe what we saw in detail in the new book and, in Chapter 7, articulate a Profile of a Deeper Learning Leader that’s based on empirical research, not just anecdotes. We think that this book makes a unique contribution to what we know about leadership in deeper learning schools. The book is written for a practitioner audience and is full of concrete, specific examples to get folks thinking about possibilities. Also, every main chapter concludes with Key Leadership Behaviors and Support Structures. If you order it, let me know what you think!]

Excerpt 01

Contemporary school innovators are proceeding along pathways that are simultaneously both new and familiar. As demands for standardization begin to recede and schools gradually recognize that the demands of a global innovation society are different from those of the previous century, they are beginning to embrace many of the progressive, constructivist, and personalized approaches long espoused by educational giants such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and Seymour Papert. While these well-known names serve as anchors for the shared philosophies that undergird the work, each school community iterates and implements in its own way. These contextual innovations and support structures lend local flavor and provide the details necessary to transform larger ideals into successful practices. Concurrent advances in communication and collaboration technologies also enhance school leaders’ ability to learn more quickly and easily from other innovators.

The details of these modern upgrades of schooling are not emerging by chance. They are purposeful responses to the incongruities that are inherent as we try to map a historical and analog model of learning and teaching to the challenges of today’s technology-suffused, global society. These school structures and leadership behaviors have emerged from thousands of community conversations and global dialogues about college- and career-readiness, enhanced life success, and more holistic understandings of desired learner outcomes. As schools shift toward new student and graduate profiles , they challenge and reform core structures of the traditional, standardized school model. They allocate time differently, pilot model classrooms, offer new choices to families, adjust underlying policies, and engage in a multitude of other changes that substantially transform schools.

The book that you are holding is about the brave souls who are at the heart of this innovative work. At the root of every one of these transforming schools are courageous individuals who are leading the change. They are discontent with the status quo and are willing to rethink fundamental concepts of schooling. They are remarkable school leaders who are attempting to navigate massively-complex challenges, implement more humanistic ideals of schooling, and chart a path out of the era of standardization. These leaders are working heroically to empower children and educators and secure a brighter future for schools and communities.

Leadership for Deeper Learning, Chapter 1

4 great questions about new teacher onboarding

WelcomeHere are 4 great questions from my principal licensure students about how we do new teacher onboarding in our schools and districts:

  • Has no one asked new hires what could be done differently to make them feel more welcomed and comfortable? Why are we not spending more money on keeping the people we have hired? There have got to be other areas we can cut back to make this better. We know relationships are key. Why is our focus more on other things the first few days? Why not relationships? How can we make a shift and change in culture surrounding onboarding so that new hires do not just get the illusion of being welcomed but truly feel it, not just in the district but in the school as well?
  • I wonder how principals stay in touch with the growing demands put on teachers? Many of the principals and leaders with whom I have worked have not been classroom teachers in over ten years. There is a disconnect between the reality of the day to day classroom routines and expectations for teachers today and even five and definitely ten years ago. I am starting to see that the expectations put on administrators is growing at the same rate as teacher responsibilities, however this added stress on both sides seems to create more of a divide than a shared understanding. I am wondering how administrators and evaluators can stay connected to the demands on teachers in order to properly mentor and coach them?
  • I am curious to learn about ideas and strategies to best support teachers new to the district but not brand new to the profession? We want to honor their expertise and years of experience while ensuring that they are meeting our district’s expectations. In many cases but not all, it can be difficult to coach veteran teachers on best practices because of their experiences, whereas new teachers embrace feedback with open arms.
  • Based on my experience in the last several years having opted to switch schools several times, it doesn’t seem that a principal is very engaged in an onboarding plan for new teachers. I wonder about a genuine, real life example of a principal who is hands on with the onboarding process. Does this mystery principal exist? I want to know that implementing a plan such as this is realistic and not just rooted in best practices that rarely get implemented.

Thoughts on any of these?

Image credit: Welcome, Krissy Venosdale


Some faculty members are like race horses out of the gate. They’re focused Assistant Professors, they’re publishing immediately in ‘top tier’ journals, they’re presenting at conferences, they’re connecting strategically with grant funders and research colleagues, and they slide right into the tenure track slipstream and travel quickly through the Assistant Professor / Associate Professor With Tenure / Full Professor pathway.

Other faculty members start ABD (all but dissertation) in 1999, get off to a really slow start at University 1 because they need to complete their dissertation and are overwhelmed by department-level service commitments, switch universities in 2001 because of a gracious offer to start over, get ‘distracted’ at University 2 with exciting new opportunities that aren’t valued that much by the institution, extend their slow start even further because their focus is in non-rewarded areas, switch universities in 2007 because of a miraculous tenure offer, finally start to find their way a little bit at University 3, switch universities in 2011 because of a miraculous offer to do some really interesting work elsewhere with some amazing colleagues, find out that University 4 is an extremely poor fit and leave in 2012 after one year, drop out of higher education completely for four years, switch universities in 2016 because of a miraculous offer to return to higher education, successfully receive tenure again at University 5 despite the long absence from academe, and finally find a place that feels like the right balance between research, teaching, and service to the field. These faculty members also may struggle to juggle the demands of the professorship with family commitments, raising children, service to practitioners, a growing social media presence, and innovation in realms that most postsecondary institutions fail to value.

This second path would be me, of course. Which is why it was so gratifying to receive notice yesterday from the University of Colorado system that I was promoted to Full Professor (aka ‘Professor’). The (large p) Professor rank is ostensibly the highest level that a faculty member can achieve short of an endowed professorship or going into university administration. The label is intended to recognize a career’s worth of good work and to validate excellence across all areas of the professorship. I don’t know about all of that, but I am deeply grateful for the recognition.

In addition to my P-12 experiences, I now have been a (small p) professor at five major research universities. They’ve all taught me something, good or bad, and I’ve honed my institutional survival instincts over the years. So much of the tenure and promotion process is a hoop-jumping game (How many peer-reviewed articles do I need? We won’t tell you… In which journals should I publish? The very best, most selective ones, of course…) and/or a political arena (Keep your head down… Don’t make any waves… Watch out for that person if they’re on your review committee…). My journey is not the only long, twisty, bumpy one in higher education (and, unfortunately, we lose too many faculty along the way). And, as longtime readers know, I’ve struggled mightily with the lack of engagement, interaction, and visibility of writing for academic audiences versus what I can accomplish in practitioner outlets, on my blog, with multimedia, on other social media platforms, etc. Every time I publish in a walled-garden, paywalled, inaccessible-but-peer-reviewed academic journal, it feels like I’m burying my thinking and writing in a deep hole. I’d much rather be working with educators, creating new resources, or sharing and interacting with others.

But somehow I made it through and checked all of the boxes necessary for the final hoop jump. I’m incredibly grateful for my colleagues at CU Denver and for the opportunity to do good work here. The School of Education and Human Development is a very special place and I’ve experienced nothing but good will and deep, caring support. I’m also grateful for all of you. I started to blog back in 2006 because I was desperate to find ‘my people’: folks who cared about the same things that I did and who were trying to dramatically change things for P-12 students and educators. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my people. I learn more from you monthly than I’ve learned from an entire academic career’s worth of journal articles and research conferences. Most of all, I’m thankful for my family and some key supportive colleagues (you know who you are) who have had my back the entire way. Everyone should be lucky enough to have the support networks that I’ve had. I’m beyond blessed. 

As the gentleman says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” This latest professional milestone is achieved and I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead. I know you’ll be plotting and scheming right alongside me. I can’t wait.

Professor Letter REDACTED

Books I read in May 2021

The Power of PlaceBooks I finished reading (or rereading) in May 2021…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Congrats, Dr. Augillard and Dr. Grant!

Dr. AugillardThe University of Colorado Denver had a ‘Walk Across the Quad’ event today to celebrate our doctoral graduates. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our students’ resilience and persistence, even during a deadly pandemic.

One of my recent advisees, Dr. Grant, is now in Massachusetts doing phenomenal work around leadership in early childhood education. She was dearly missed today. However, I did get to celebrate and hood my most recent doctoral graduate, Dr. Augillard!

A hearty congratulations to both of these incredible women. Go forth and (continue to) do amazing things!

[I’m up to 26 doctoral graduates, so I’m pretty proud of myself too… 🙂]

2 hours, up to 200 people, 1 low price

2 hours... up to 200 people... 1 low price. #4Shifts Protocol PD.[Trying something new here…]

The 4 Shifts Protocol is taking off in schools around the world. We’ve got tens of thousands of educators already using it for instructional redesign. Schools who are trying to focus on deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion are finding the protocol to be helpful in their efforts. Our book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, introduces the protocol, has some lesson redesign examples, and includes some tips and strategies. However, some schools and educators are looking for more interactive professional development.

As we attempt to innovate out of the pandemic and create some new opportunities for students, let’s see if this will be of help:

     2 hours… up to 200 people… for $1,000 (USD).

Online synchronous only. U.S. schools only (for now). Between the hours of 8:00am and 5:00pm Mountain time (currently GMT-6). No pricing per person and no travel costs! I will provide a quick overview of the protocol, we will redesign two or three lessons together in small groups, I will field questions and concerns, and we will conclude with some suggestions and strategies for usage in your local setting.

Interested? . We’ll find a date and time and I’ll send you the Zoom link. It’s that easy.

And of course we can customize this. For instance, we could do:

  • 1 introductory session for teachers (got a group of innovators?)
  • 1 introductory session for administrators
  • 1 or 2 follow-up sessions to go deeper (e.g., with your own lessons and/or around instructional coaching)

Or we could do:

  • 1 introductory session for elementary school(s)
  • 1 introductory session for middle school(s)
  • 1 introductory session for high school(s)
  • 1 introductory session for instructional / technology coaches and principals
  • 1 or 2 follow-up sessions to go deeper (e.g., with your own lessons and/or around instructional coaching)

Or we could do:

  • 1 session on Section A, Deeper Thinking and Learning
  • 1 session on Section B, Authentic Work
  • 1 session on Section C, Student Agency and Personalization
  • 1 session on Section D, Technology Infusion
  • 1 session with examples of what this looks like in other schools
  • 1 or 2 follow-up sessions to go deeper (e.g., with your own lessons and/or around instructional coaching)

Or whatever else makes sense for you…

. Satisfaction guaranteed. Hope this helps!

What I’ve been up to: Silver Lining for Learning

[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]

SLL title imageLast March about this time, Yong Zhao, Chris Dede, Punya Mishra, Curtis Bonk, Shuangye Chen, and I launched Silver Lining for Learning. The initiative was meant to highlight interesting technology-enabled learning around the world and to spark some discussions about schooling possibilities during the pandemic and afterward. Although I bowed out after Episode 32 due to other commitments, my colleagues have done an absolutely fantastic job of keeping the dialogues going.

Below is a list of the first year’s worth of episodes. You will see that Silver Lining for Learning has addressed a wide range of topics. One of the strengths of the project is its incredible global emphasis and reach. If you want to learn from and interact with other educational innovators around the world – and hear about some really interesting learning and teaching happening elsewhere – Silver Lining is a wonderful place to start. I love that numerous guest bloggers have been willing to share their experiences as well.

The site just got a new look for Year 2, and Yong, Chris, Punya, Curt, and Shuangye do an excellent job of sparking rich conversation with their inspiring guests. I am honored to have helped launch this initiative and hope that you will subscribe to the blog and join the hosts for their weekly discussions (which also are archived for later viewing). 

Year 1 Episodes

If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion, we have to DESIGN FOR THEM. 4 Shifts Protocol, bit.ly/4shifts

Upcoming travel and events

  • August 31 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • September 7 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • September 17 - Englewood High School, Englewood, CO
  • September 21 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • September 22 - Glenvar High School, Salem, VA
  • October 5 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • October 6-8 - Westminster Public Schools Competency-Based Education Summit, Westminster, CO
  • October 19 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • October 20 - Masons Cove Elementary School, Salem, VA
  • October 25 - Bismarck Public Schools, Bismarck, ND
  • October 26 - North Dakota Association of Technology Leaders Conference, Bismarck, ND
  • November 9-14 - University Council for Educational Administration Annual Convention, Columbus, OH
  • November 16 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • December 7 - Fredericksburg City Public Schools, Fredericksburg, VA
  • January 26 - Masons Cove Elementary School, Salem, VA
  • February 3 - Mississippi Bend AEA, Bettendorf, IA
  • June 17 - Hong Kong Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Hong Kong, China

How can I be of support to you?
Get in touch!

Leadership for Deeper Learning Book Cover
Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning
Different Schools For A Different World Book Cover
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media Book Cover