Tag Archives: leadership

What I’ve been up to: 5Sigma EduCon scavenger hunt keynote

[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…]

2020 5Sigma McLeod Keynote SlideMy very last face-to-face engagement with schools before the pandemic was for the 5Sigma EduCon at Anastasis Academy. Kelly Tenkely is the Founder and Executive Director of this very innovative private K-8 school in Centennial, Colorado. Michelle Baldwin teaches there, so I have two good friends at Anastasis and always love visiting the school. Their students are doing absolutely incredible work.

The conference was a blast. I told Kelly that I wanted to try something different for my ‘keynote’ on Saturday morning. Instead of standing and delivering, I put attendees into small groups and sent them on a scavenger hunt around the school. Each group was given a ‘mission packet’ with ‘top secret’ instructions. Inside the packet was:

  • a Team Directive document with instructions (“You are an elite team of code crackers and problem solvers…”) and warnings to beware misdirection from other groups,
  • a Mission Checklist on which they could mark their completion of each mission,
  • a Code Card for deciphering clues to their next mission,
  • a packet of stickers that designated their team (e.g., Team Zebra, Team Tiger), and
  • an initial coded clue that, when deciphered, sent them to their first destination within the school.

At each destination, there was an envelope with their team logo on it. Inside each team’s envelope was a Mission Document that explained the conversation station at that location (i.e., their ‘mission;’ an example is below), a sticker for their Mission Checklist, and a clue to their next destination. As you can see if you follow the link on the Mission Document below, the goals were to spark rich discussion and for each team to complete all six conversations. 

We had about 90 minutes total for the keynote session, and teams were created randomly to spark learning across different school systems. Instead of them sitting and listening to me for that time, they got a little exercise, laughed a lot, and had some amazing dialogues. I am appreciative of Kelly’s willingness to let me try something different. Our time together was super fun and everyone really enjoyed their six conversations. Thank you, Kelly!

2020 5Sigma McLeod Keynote Scavenger Hunt Example

Redesigning for Deeper Learning: 10 cohorts for international school educators!

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningI am SUPER EXCITED to be offering this professional learning opportunity for international school educators!

5 tracks… 10 cohorts… 28 total sessions. ALL on instructional redesign (or leadership) for deeper learning. Woo hoo!

Here are the details:

Cohort 1 is for international schools in the Middle East, South Asia, South-East Asia, and the Far East. Cohort 2 is for international schools in South America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Interested? Learn more and register with the Consilience Education Foundation. And let me know what questions you have…

Hope you will join me as we redesign lessons, units, and schools for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion!

Why most schools won’t ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic

SkepticalA number of folks have been eagerly encouraging schools to ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic. Here is a smattering of such articles:

I’m guilty of this too. I even helped create an entirely new conversation series, Silver Lining for Learning, that was intended to ‘reimagine learning and teaching’ and examine the possibilities for ‘transformative improvements.’

The more I think about this idea, though, the more skeptical I am. One reason is the continued unwillingness of many (most?) school systems to reconsider even a small iota of what they do. Tragically, we continue to see traditional systems of education being shoehorned into virtual or blended delivery systems (tip: having kids complete electronic worksheets from home is not systemic ’transformation’). And we’ve seen a large number of administrators completely ignore the unrealistic demands that they’re placing on their own educators, particularly in hyflex environments where teachers are supposed to simultaneously serve students in their rooms and at home. 

Despite our wishes otherwise, even the savviest, most skillful, most trusted school leader is going to have difficulty transforming their educational system after the pandemic. As I noted in a recent article that I submitted:

“… reflection on organizational possibilities and institutional futures is common during the ‘reconstruction’ phase (Boin & Hart, 2003) of a crisis (see also Coombs, 2000; Heath, 2004; Boin, Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2005; Jaques, 2009; Smith & Riley, 2012). Time will tell if these ‘silver linings’ actually occur. Although many scholars have noted the revolutionary potential of major crises (see, e.g., Prewitt, Weil, and McClure, 2011; Harris, 2020), Boin and Hart (2003) stated that there are inherent tensions between crisis management and reform-oriented leadership. During a crisis, leaders often try to ‘minimize the damage, alleviate the pain, and restore order” (p. 549), which conflicts with attempts to disrupt the organization and move it in a new direction.” [emphasis added]

from McLeod, S., & Dulsky, S. (2021; under review). Resilience, reorientation, and reinvention: School leadership during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other words, any school leader who is trying to sell the need for a post-pandemic systemic transformation to their educators, families, and school board members is trying to sell a SECOND enormous disruption to the community (“Now let’s change school as we know it!”) at a time when everyone is completely exhausted from – and ready to be done with – the FIRST enormous disruption to the community (the pandemic), and that is AFTER trying to minimize the disruption and ‘restore order’ during the past 12 to 18 months. I can just imagine the reactions now: “OMG, are you kidding? MORE disruption on top of what we’ve already experienced? No thanks!”

Accordingly, at best I think we will see small, marginal amounts of tinkering after the pandemic. Some school systems will use technology in some different ways after the pandemic. We will see some teachers incorporate some new practices and skill sets into their work. We may see a few more options provided for families who like blended or online learning. But for the most part, everyone is going to be eager to just return to what they perceive as the ‘good old days’ before the pandemic hit. And that means our collective appetite for ‘reinventing school’ is going to be pretty thin…

Anyone want to bet I’m wrong?

 

References

  • Boin, A., & Hart, P. T. (2003). Public leadership in times of crisis: Mission impossible? Public Administration Review, 63(5), 544-553.
  • Boin, A., Hart, P. T., Stern, E., & Sundelius, B. (2005). The politics of crisis management: Public leadership under pressure. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Coombs, W. T. (2000). Designing post-crisis messages: Lessons for crisis response strategies. Review of Business, 21(3/4), 37-41.
  • Harris, A. (2020). COVID-19 – school leadership in crisis? Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(3/4), 321-326.
  • Heath, R. L. (2004). After the dance is over: Post-crisis responses. In D. P. Millar & R. L. Heath (Eds.), Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication, pp. 247-249. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Jaques, T. (2009). Issue management as a post-crisis discipline: Identifying and responding to issue impacts beyond the crisis. Journal of Public Affairs, 9(1), 35-44.
  • Prewitt, J. E., Weil, R., & McClure, A. Q. (2011). Crisis leadership: An organizational opportunity. Australian Journal of Business and Management Research, 1(6), 60-74.
  • Smith, L., & Riley, D. (2012). School leadership in times of crisis. School Leadership & Management, 32(1), 57-71.

Image credit: Skeptical face, fuzzyjay

We shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice

Following up on my previous post, I’m going to share a fantastic blog post from Michael Kaechele:

I have grown weary of the call to avoid controversial topics and stay neutral. Silence is compliance. There are many things in history that do not have two equal opposing sides: slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, etc. There is only one side to these events that is fair, just, and equitable. Educators should help students understand how oppressors justified their actions in history without giving credit to their arguments. Done properly it would be a warning against similar tactics used today.

Educators don’t take stock in conspiracy theories. We stand up for truth, justice, and decency. Please do not let students defend positions based on speculation and hearsay. It is our job to present truth to students even if they and their parents don’t want to hear it. We can not necessarily change their hearts and minds, but we can force them to confront the truth. Teachers should interrupt and challenge any student who presents conspiracy theories and false information with questions of its source and legitimacy. We can not allow bigotry, racism, sexism, or any other discrimination in our classroom.

I would add administrators and students to this list. We shouldn’t let them defend those positions either, and we surely shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice. Nicely said, Michael.

How are the conversations going in your school system?

“Neutral”

Yesterday, after a morning of incitement from President Trump, his family members, and his personal lawyer, his Republican supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol and forced the evacuation of Congress as Presidential electoral votes were being certified. People died, tear gas was deployed, and the Capitol was looted. The scenes from yesterday will live as one of the most disgraceful, infamous events in American history.

Today I am hearing that school administrators are telling their educators to remain “neutral” as they discuss yesterday’s events. I respectfully ask these administrators, “What is ‘the other side?’ What does ‘neutral’ mean to you in this situation?” 

Your educators await your answer.

Women in school leadership: A few awesome initiatives

WomenEdThere is some incredible work happening right now related to women in P-12 educational leadership. Below are four initiatives that have caught my attention over the past few months…

  • Women Who Lead. The first initiative is Women Who Lead, which is led by the always awesome Kim Cofino and her team at Eduro Learning. Women Who Lead has more than 500 curated video conversations with over 70 women who hold leadership positions in education. There are 8 different learning modules, customized pathway options, protocols, scholarship opportunities, a private discussion forum, a curated Twitter list, and much, much more. 
  • SheLeadsEdu. The second initiative is SheLeadsEdu, which is led by the phenomenal Jody Britten and Missy Emler and their team of ‘hell raisers.’ SheLeadsEdu hosts frequent Twitter chats, online video meetups, and book clubs. There also is a private community for participants as well as a SheLeadsEdu directory of women leaders around the world. 
  • WomenEd. The third initiative is WomenEd, a ‘global grassroots movement’ that brings together both existing and aspiring women leaders in education across the globe. WomenEd boasts a community of over 35,000 participants and has hosted hundreds of events. The leaders of WomenEd have a new book out, titled 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education, as well as an active blog, mailing list, and a variety of networks that you can join.
  • Women’s Leadership Incubator. The fourth initiative is the upcoming Women’s Leadership Incubator, sponsored by the Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) in the University of Wisconsin School of Education. The incubator experience begins in July 2021 and will feature ongoing coaching, regular meetings with experts, community action projects, and access to relevant research from one of the best colleges of education in the world.

If you’re a woman in educational leadership – or another school administrator who wishes to be an ally in this work – be sure to check out the amazing work happening in these communities. In addition to the initiatives featured above, tune in to the #SheLeadsEdu#WomenEd, #WomenEdLeaders, and #WomenWhoLead Twitter hashtags for some great discussions.

If you know of other initiatives that bring together awesome woman leaders in education, let me know!

Will schools acknowledge where and how they failed during the pandemic?

In an article about the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, Howard Bryant said:

Baseball should have taken the honest road, which would be to carry its stain and leave the tattered, piecemeal records of the various Negro Leagues as a historical reminder of its own destructiveness. Baseball did not do that — not because it was so important to give Josh Gibson a posthumous batting title but because like most of white, mainstream society, it does not want to carry its share of the responsibility for the condition it created.

While baseball has taken what it considers to be a step toward reparation, it has taken another away from accountability. Part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure.

This idea pertains to schools and the pandemic as well. The first months of 2020 were an emergency that caught most school systems and their leaders off guard. In the summer months of 2020 (here in the United States), school leaders had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that they made in the spring and do things differently in the fall. While some school administrators used that window of opportunity, others did not and their schools and districts have repeated many of the mistakes they made in the spring again this fall. This winter break has given us all yet another chance to rethink what our schools are doing and make significant changes for January and beyond. How many school systems actually did so?

It’s one thing to make new mistakes. It’s another to keep making the same ones again and again. How many school leaders will look inward and, as Bryant said, ‘carry [their] share of the responsibility for the condition(s) [they] created?’ How many students, families, and educators have we failed as school systems, and will we ever hold ourselves accountable? If ‘part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure,’ how many school organizations are actively examining and owning their current failures in order to not repeat them over and over again?

Is your school system acknowledging where it has failed and who has suffered as a result? Are your school leaders making new mistakes or repeating the same ones again and again? Why?

Command and control versus key principles and autonomy

In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley noted:

Scientists now describe how order and form are created not by complex controls, but by the presence of a few guiding formulas or principles repeating back on themselves through the exercise of individual freedom. The survival and growth of systems that range in size from large ecosystems down to the smallest microbial colonies are sustained by a few key principles that express the system’s overall identity combined with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system. (p. 13)

In the rush to serve children and families and create new modalities of learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, I wonder how many school systems gravitated toward greater ‘command and control’ and how many embraced ‘a few key principles … with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system.’ I also wonder about the organizational contexts and leadership mindsets that fostered one or the other, as well as which approach worked better…

Thoughts? Experiences?

Dear Linda

The art of mathDear Linda,

Fifteen years ago you let a pigtailed 2nd grader walk down the hall and take 5th grade math.

We came to you as the principal of our elementary school in Minnesota and said, “She’s ready for something more.” You smiled at us, looked at the data, and said, “We’ll find a way to make it work.” And then you and your teachers did exactly that.

It didn’t matter that she had to miss time in other subjects; she made it up. It didn’t matter that she was a tiny sprite compared to those bigger kids. All that mattered was that she adored math and could keep up. Every day when it was math time for the fifth graders, she walked down the hall and joined them. She loved it so much. She had a math-themed birthday party that year!

The next year we did the same, but with sixth grade math. And then we moved.

Our new school district in Iowa didn’t quite know what to do with her. But inspired by what you had made possible, every year – somehow – we found a way to make it work. One year in elementary school the best we could do was a self-paced, ‘teach yourself’ model with occasional check-ins with the Gifted and Talented teacher. One year in middle school she had to take a boring, non-interactive online course. In high school she sometimes had to hop on a city bus (or two) to go take math classes at the local university. But she did it. She stayed three years ahead all the way through…

Fifteen years later I am proud to say that pigtailed 2nd grader graduated this past spring with a B.S./M.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Western. She was an officer in the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable student group. She helped the university steel bridge team go to nationals for the first time. And two months ago she entered the world of work as a happy bridge designer in New York (and, yes, we miss her tremendously).

Linda, a decade and a half ago you were willing to think outside the box. You didn’t throw up unnecessary roadblocks. You didn’t force our kid to fit the system. You just found a way to take our 2nd grader where she was and move her forward instead of letting her stagnate in some arbitrary ‘grade level.’ Collectively you and your teachers just made it work. With a smile. And it made a huge difference for her.

We need more principals like you. We need more schools like yours. We need more pathways that personalize students’ learning and empower them for future life success. Every child deserves the opportunities that our pigtailed daughter had. Thank you for leading as school administrators should, not just for our 2nd grader but for all of the other students that walked your halls as well. We will be forever grateful.

Yours truly,

SCOTT

Image credit: The art of math or the math of art, Alan Levine