The crumbling status quo…

univeristyK12In K12 we have the staunch defenders of two symbols of the educational landscape status quo – “rigorous” final exams and lecture-hall style seating/teaching. Responding to progressive education models, we’ll often hear these defenders of the status quo shout, “But we need to prepare them for college!” A recent article indicates there may be cracks in (and momentum toward crumbling) the traditional university model/philosophy.

Anne Knock (@anneknock) writes about a move in universities toward collaborative learning spaces and away from traditional lecture spaces: Insights for schools: Trends in university learning space design, big shift from lectures to collaborative learning design. Knock highlights how the shifts at many major universities are representative of a change in philosophy from a tutor/lecturer focus to more engaging, collaborative learning environments.

I recall another article, from nearly 5 years ago, about final exams: Final exams are quietly vanishing from college. Originally appearing in the Boston Globe, the writer described how Harvard University had only 23% of undergraduate classes administering a traditional three-hour, sit-down, blue-book final exam. Another sign of cracks in the traditional university model?

Let’s stop preparing students for the narrow world of university and better prepare them to overcome the real-world complex challenges they will face in the future.

What are your experiences with shifting summative assessments and learning environments at the university level? If these are in fact trends, how should they inform K12 leadership practice?

The missing hat?

From the perspective of educational leadership, ideas in business books can often be applied to our own practice. In fact, the fun of reading books such as Good to Great, Leadership Vertigo and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is finding nuggets of ideas to transfer to educational leadership. It’s almost always possible and not all that difficult.

One of the ideas shared in Michael E. Gerbers book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do about It is the notion that every business owner (i.e. educational leader) wears three hats:

  • Entrepreneur – the visionary
  • Technician – technical expert
  • Manager – the pragmatic

Thinking about this idea of three hats, I began to ask myself questions about my own practice:

  • Which hat do I prefer?
  • Which hat do I give most of my time to?
  • Do I neglect any hat? What are the dangers of neglecting a hat?

I also thought about some questions in relation to education and leadership in general?

  • Where are most educational leaders comfortable? Why?
  • Where are they least comfortable? Why?
  • What if we focused more on one and less on another? Would anything change? Would we get closer to our vision for teaching and learning?
  • What is the preference of the policymaker? And if different from practitioners, why and what can we do to mitigate the disorientation of an overemphasis on one hat over another?
  • Do we have additional hats in the domain of educational leadership?

As I’ve been thinking a lot lately about innovation in education (so that is the lens through which I’m tinkering with these hats at the moment), I think most of us lack the entrepreneurial hat and overemphasize the technical and managerial hats. Those two hats keep us in our comfort zone. We establish structures (or they’ve long been established as status quo) and we just need to follow a set of steps to implement them. Black and white. Year in. Year out. There is very little messiness. And virtually no risk. And every outcome is quantifiable. The entrepreneurial hat can be a bit scary. We venture into unchartered territory (new teaching practices, new technologies, etc.). It’s messy. There is risk and sometimes failure. There is criticism.

What if we as educational leaders wore our entrepreneurial hat more often? How do we support current leaders to aim for more of balance between the three hats? How are we preparing future leaders (in credentialing programs) to be educational entrepreneurs?

Leading Innovation for Systemic Change

innovationSeveral days ago, I found this short video from Scott McLeod through Twitter.

In the video @mcleod posits the next “big thing” in educational technology will be learner agency – a technology-rich landscape marked by a shift in learner autonomy and empowerment. As leaders, many of us are seeing pockets of this kind of learning in our institutions. But it’s just that – pockets; not systemic. I agree that the next “big thing” is learner agency, and I also believe the next “big thing” in educational leadership will be to lead systemic change to support learner agency – beyond simply pockets of innovation. Pockets are a necessary start, but we can’t stop there. System-wide implementation is the end we should have in mind.

I find the ideas of learner autonomy and empowerment very exciting, I suppose because it is these elements that make learning so much fun for me and many others. If we are to lead a systemic transformation, where do we begin? Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to frame some answers to this question in terms of three texts I’ve been reading:

The Pocket Perspective Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick) – In his book @DonWettrick describes personal experiences developing an innovation course, essentially inquiry in a networked world. Wettrick proposes a basic blueprint for such a model:

  • Students research a personal topic of interest.
  • Students work individually or in small groups.
  • Students connect with at least one outside expert to develop their knowledge and understanding of the topic.
  • Students submit a project proposal including academic standards and timeline along with assessment.
  • Students reflect regularly and share progress and learning on a weekly basis using social media,  typically a blog.
  • Students present their project to key stakeholders, reflect on the learning process and negotiate a grade based on the process of implementing the project plan.

This excellent book includes a variety of impressive examples from the classroom perspective – examples of what is occurring in a pocket of innovation.

The System Perspective Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart (@RonRitchhart) – @RonRitchhart posits that while schools and classrooms that value thinking – cultures of thinking – are not the norm, there is a framework for transformation to, what I would suggest, is the kind of culture of thinking and innovation that Wettrick describes in his book. How do we get there and what is the framework? There are 8 forces that create, sustain and enhance the learning culture:

  • Expectations – Recognizing how our beliefs shape our behavior
  • Language – Appreciating the subtle yet profound power
  • Time – Learning to be its master rather than its victim
  • Modeling – Seeing ourselves through out students’ eyes
  • Opportunities – Crafting the vehicles for learning
  • Routines – Supporting and scaffolding learning and thinking
  • Interactions – Forging relationships that empower learners
  • Environment – Using space to support learning and thinking

After reading Pure Genius and the many quality embedded examples, it is clear to see the learning culture reflecting the forces proposed by Ritchhart. If we want to move toward systemic change, building a culture of thinking and innovation, the 8 forces will play a critical role and cannot be overlooked.

The Leadership Perspective Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull (@EdCatmull) – Catmull shares the story of Pixar as a creative and innovative organization from his perspective as leader. Few would argue that Pixar isn’t one of the most innovative and creative companies around, so it’s worth school leaders interested in innovation taking pause to think about the leadership lessons embedded throughout the book. In the final chapter, Catmull summarizes many of his key points – 31 in all – for leading a culture of creativity and innovation. Here are just a few:

  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.

This is a mere sampling, but if you are serious about leadership and innovation, check out the full list.

These three texts, along with other resources on innovation in schools such as George Couros’ blog and Don Wettrick’s blog, provide an abundance of ideas for leaders to think about creating a culture of system-wide innovation – from the pocket, systemic and leadership perspectives.

Back to the question: If we are to lead a systemic transformation, where do we begin? I’m still working on developing an answer to this question, but here are four points I’d like to share at this moment in time for how leaders can begin to bring about a transformation to an innovative culture that reflects a shift in learner autonomy and empowerment.

  • Start with the end in mind. Arrive at consensus on what innovation is and looks like in your particular context. Discuss why it’s important. How does innovation move us toward what we want to see in our classrooms?
  • Leaders model the way. Principals, district leaders and department leaders adopt innovative practices. We have started  doing this with our leadership team through goal setting for 2015-16, using Couros’s 8 characteristics of the innovative leader.
  • Identify the pockets of innovation. Find the innovative teachers and provide support through professional development. We are considering redefining our TLC group, a district-wide team of teacher leaders who have done a fantastic job of moving us to where we are at this time. Do we redefine this group with new faces and a new focus? How will the TLC support fellow teachers to create cultures of thinking, learning and innovation? How will the TLC group interface with the school leaders? When should we expect a tipping point in the shift to a new culture?
  • Share the successes and failures. Keep an open mind through the venture. Not all the work will be a success; there will be failures. How do we gather formative and summative data along the way to improve the implementation and move toward systemic change? How do we share successes and failures inside and outside the organization?

For us, these steps seem like the next logical path in our transformation. We have made much progress in our teaching and learning initiative over the past 4 years. We have pockets of innovation and uses of technology that are considered transformative and innovative. It’s now time to move the organization even further, and the resources shared here have helped develop the beginnings of a plan to lead innovation for systemic change.

How do you lead innovation?

“Everybody blogs, nobody reads.”

sharingThe quote in the title of this post from this blog post got me thinking… How do we approach our consumption of information from blogs and Twitter? Is it more like “everyone shares, nobody reads”? How many people actually read – in a thoughtful way – the blogs they subscribe to and the tweets they retweet? Why are there so many more hits on a blog post than there are comments? Why don’t readers take the time to comment? Too much work? Too much time? Or they didn’t really read the post or follow the tweeted link?

Do we need to be more thoughtful consumers of information and use consumption as the entry way into deeper conversations? Or is “deeper” not even possible? Are we doomed to superficiality? 

Connect with Randy on Twitter.


Is learning the priority?

learning3As a wrap-up to the 2014-15 school year, our full complement of leaders met recently to reflect on the past year and plan for the future. These full day meetings can be challenging – the school  year has just concluded with everyone keeping pace with the frenzy that inevitably develops over the last month of school. Sometimes we just lack the energy and enthusiasm to make these days very productive. This day was different and the feedback from the team was very positive.

Our focus for the day was the exploration of innovative leadership (using this blog post from George Couros) and applying our new learning about ourselves and our colleagues to the development of personal goals for 2015-16. It may not sound terribly exciting, but the team found the day worthwhile as reflected in this comment from the concluding feedback survey: “It was a huge help to be able to brainstorm with others about our goals and bounce ideas off of each other. It not only made goal creation easier, but it was also enjoyable. How often do you ever hear about goal creation being enjoyable?”

For our discussion of innovation leadership, our leaders read the blog post, 8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader, and then completed the rubric linked at the bottom of the post. Following this individual activity, we discussed and debriefed as a group while Assistant Superintendent, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, walked us through a line activity where each leader rated himself/herself on a continuum from 1-10 for each characteristic. We had a great discussion! And it was eye-opening to see where we are as a team when it comes to thinking and acting innovatively in our varying contexts.

When we discussed the characteristic of models learning, one of our leaders shared that regardless of our leadership role we all needed to be learners, all the time. I was thrilled this idea was added to the conversation. I reinforced the idea that we as leaders needed to be modeling this for our teachers and students as nearly all careers will require workers to be, first and foremost, learners. Learning must be our priority – for us as leaders, for our teachers and for our students.  This is non-negotiable.

Harold Jarche reinforced this for me in an excellent post, the literacy of the 21st century. I bet you can guess what it is. But is learning truly the priority in our organizations? Jarche suggests not, but it needs to be. Why?

…as standardized work keeps getting automated, the only work left for people will be complex and creative. This type of work requires a culture of continuous learning. 

The good news is that everyone can learn. The bad news is that many have forgotten how. Learning is the key requirement in dealing with complexity, because you first have to try something new, and then learn from the experiment.

As Lynn and I planned the day, we consciously focused on learning – each leader uncovering his/her own mindset toward innovation and applying that shifting mindset to developing goals that reflect innovative practices, pushing each of us to the edge of our comfort zone. That’s where the learning occurs. Each leader developed (many in collaboration with one another) three goals focused on communication, parent/community engagement, and acknowledging successes and failures. With each leader’s focus on these areas over the next year, in innovative ways, I look forward to seeing how we make progress toward a greater vision, model innovation, but most importantly model learning. Not only will we as leaders need to master this “literacy of the 21st century” as we enter an era of unprecedented rapid change (some may argue we are already there), but we will need to model it for our teachers and students so they are well-prepared to navigate this world of rapid change as well.

I am looking forward to continuing this good work through the summer and into the new school year with our leaders.

How do you keep LEARNING as your organization’s priority?