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Blazing a 21st Century Leadership Path

Thanks to the leadership team of New Brunswick Schools for blazing a path to follow!  Watch this short video highlighting some of the conversation happening there.  Is it happening in your district? 





Toolbelt… talking my language!

Ira David Socal, researcher at Michigan State University, shares a thought provoking slide show on what he calls "Toolbelt Theory."  Yes I have a obsession for power tools and toolbelts, but in this case, it's about the heart of his message.  The newest post on his blog SpeEdChange correctly nails reading, writing, and arithmetic (the 3 Rs) down as the means to a greater end.  Too often we educators focus on these three skills as the primary goal of education resulting in students who find no reason to participate and prolific disengagement.  Frankly, lessons focused on how to make sense of little symbols on a page aren't that interesting…  Learning is fascinating when it results in something significant, life changing, or meaningful.  Reading, writing, and thinking mathmatically allow our students to discover this magic - it's our job to set their sights on the right goal.  They will be passionate about learning the critical tools if the goal is cool enough!!



Stopwatch Challenge

Lots of recent conversation about Dagget's Rigor and Relevance Framework has me thinking about a way to measure the amount of student thinking taking place in our classrooms. 

First:  Select a strong student to ask for some help.  The student needs to be able to participate in class activities while at the same time, monitor what is happening in the classroom at a meta-cognitive level. 

Second:  Teach the student how to identify when the students have been asked to think at a level applicable to quadrant B, C, or D on the Rigor and Relevance Framework

Third:  Give the student a stop watch and have him/her compile the amount of time in your class each week that students are asked to think and perform at that level. 

**Bonus idea – The R & R Geek Squad:  If several teachers are on board for this risky test, train a team of students and make them the "Rigor and Relevance Geek Squad."  A couple of training sessions to make sure inter-rater reliability is ok and you got yourself a decent team to do formative assessments on professional development!

So…  who's up for it?  What percentage of time in your class would be spent in quadrant B, C, or D?  Maybe this is something we do to measure Greatness…?


Is publishing a dying venture?

Thanks to my PLN for sharing this artistic piece through Twitter.  Will we see the end of paper books or is this more like the prediction that computers would make us paperless? 




Workload… A Timeless Conversation

I found myself in the first meeting of a new district task force this week focused on identifying and prioritizing the factors that play into a perceived increase in teacher workload.  This perception is certainly not unique to our Minnesota district nor is it unique to education.  The 21st century has ushered in a high level of urgency to increase student achievement, constant connectivity to everyone, and a much higher level of accountability to… well… the whole world it seems.  This was the first of what will be many work sessions to address this issue, and it started with introductions and a brief conversation to start defining the issue and the process we will follow.  How do you tackle and issue as enormous as "teacher workload?"

One of the core value statements at our school includes making decisions based upon research, rigorous debate, and doing what is right (not what is easy or concensus).  Workload is an issue that has been researched, debated, and decided upon over and over again since… the birth of humanity.  The history of this issue swings the spectrum from slavery and child labor law to research on work weeks in the industrialized countries of the world.  The issue is woven even more complicated by cultural patterns, technology changes, the history of leisure in America, and debates about pay for performance.  The unmentioned reality in the room during this meeting is that some people deliver excellent performance putting in 40-45 hours each week while others put in 50-60 hours each week delivering mediocre performance.  So… how do we land on doing what is right when the water we are swimming in is as clear as mud?  More important- what is the root of this issue, and what are the other influencing variables?  I am hopeful that the process we engage in welcomes the necessary debate and lthe necessary ook at research to avoid "stalling out" on the surface.  There is potential to simply list our initiatives and whine about having to do things we don't want to do – and then cross a few of them out.  If we really want to address the perceptions that people have, we will need to dig into how connected staff feel to the core meaning of their work.  Those who feel real meaning work many extra hours voluntarily, dig retainers out of trash cans, volunteer for bus duty, sweep floors, schedule curriculum writing sessions on the weekends, and jump into most any mess to help make it better.  Those disconnected from meaning often whine about doing some of the core elements of their work – the very ones they signed up to do in the first place!  So… 

Drive book coverWhat are the real reasons some believe teaching has become significantly harder over time?  What is controllable and what isn't?  How do we ensure real meaning for staff?  What drives real motivation?  How do we ensure staff have the autonomy necessary to be engaged?  How do we realign our system to embrace 21st century realities for the work place? 

One recommendation:  The task force should read Daniel Pink's new book Drive to build common language on the topic of motivation in the 21st century – and to look at some research outside of our own classrooms.    

One caution:  Real conversations take time, energy, guts, and a willingness to listen and learn.  Are we up for it?  


Making Schools Work – Build Brand

This is one in a series of posts focused on answering that question called "Making Schools Work." 

At the core of a successful democracy lies a public education system that makes sure the ruling majority is knowledgeable, grounded in unifying values and principles, and mentally competent to make decisions on behalf of the common good.  In direct tension with this, our founding fathers constructed an open market economy grounded in competition and "survival of the fittest" principles.  The positive tension between these two entities carves out the daily miracle we refer to as America – and puts public school leaders in the middle of that tension every single day.  We in public education have never faced more real competition, and we who understand that a successful public system is key to keeping America working also understand that failure is not an option.  So… how do we make our schools work? 


Building Brand is Key

Education leaders must learn how to build brand in the 21st century.  The simple and historically true assumption that students attend the public schools in their district is no longer a safe one.  While venturing into education opportunities overseas or through an on-line platform hundreds of miles away is far more prevalent in higher education and for profit business, k-12 schools are certain to be impacted in a similar way as the trend increases.  The pull is simply too great.  Those who can afford opportunities that look attractive from the outside will go after them – because they can.  The natural question we have to answer is – "why is it better to go to your school?" 

Building brand is not a new leadership concept to public education, but the stakes are higher today.  Leaders have faced the need to build brand for decades as public support for what schools do is critical to politically tied revenue streams and building a culture of school pride that cultivates success.  The competition in past years has been the amoebic beast of convincing the public that their investment of money is a wise business deal and their investment of energy is crucial for the development of successful programs.  21st century dynamics make these variables even more challenging and add the key variable of competition from online schools, private schools, charter schools, home schooling, and public schools utilizing 21st century tools.  Leaders today have a much larger retired population to target with district communications (see footnote), work with a public far less devoted to a particular geographical community, and must now convince those were "assumed to be on board," to attend the school in their community.  We must build a brand that is attractive to 21st century students (inside the district AND from afar), a brand that cultivates buy-in from retired baby boomers, and a brand that demonstrates incredible return on investment for all parties.  Public schools must build a brand that takes advantage of 21st century dynamics – not one that resists them. 

Building brand in the 21st century requires sophisticated, strategic communications.  A quick run through blog posts and Twitter accounts focused on marketing, media advertising, or political polling reveals a private sector willing to pay incredible amounts for good counsel on how to build brand in today's market.  Rumor in the blogosphere today shows that some companies are willing to pay Chris Brogan, writer and consultant on marketing and business communications using on-line tools, upwards of $22,000 per day for his expertise.  Their argument?  $22,000 spend now will generate 10x that in revenue if his counsel is heeded and followed through upon.  Public school leaders may be wise to follow some aspects of this school of thought.  A well orchestrated communication strategy utilizing 21st century tools – especially if supported by online, flexible education services aligned with 21st century family needs – may very well be the key component to increasing enrollment (and revenue) in the coming years.  It seems crazy in a time of cutting, but real success for public schools in the next 25 years will come to those who invest in 21st education delivery systems and communication strategies. 

Jim Collins speaks to building brand in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.  "Whereas in business, the key driver in the flywheel is the link between financial success and capital resources, I'd like to suggest that a key link in the social sectors is brand reputation – built upon tangible results and emotional share of heart – so that potential supporters believe not only in your mission, but in your capacity to deliver on that mission" (p 25).  Building significant brand reputation in the 21st century requires public school leaders to be strategic communicators using Web 2.0 tools.  Afterall, failure isn't an option. 

**Footnote: In the United States, the population 65 and older will more than double by 2050, rising from 39 million today to 89 million. While children are projected to still outnumber the older population worldwide in 2050, the under 15 population in the United States is expected to fall below the older population by that date, increasing from 62 million today to 85 million.  Source: US Census Bureau News Release, June 23, 2009


Video – A Vision of 21st Century Teachers

Thanks to Angela Maiers at Maiers Educational Svcs, Inc for sharing this video on her blog and through Twitter!!  Here are 21st century teachers "speaking out" on what it means to be a teacher as we launch into year 10 of the century.  Are you teaching like the 21st century calls for?  If yes, what have you learned from your efforts?