Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Making Schools Work Series’


Leading Among Peers

imagesA week ago I had the privilege of leading a work session with our District Leadership Team to reflect on our growth over the past 6 months, to assess our progress on district and school improvement goals, and to update our action plans for the next 3 months.  It’s year one in our district for implementing the Marzano Art and Science of Teaching Framework and embracing the work of a true Professional Learning Community.  It was a productive day for our teams, and I was once again reminded about how challenging it can be to serve as a teacher leader among peers and friends. Read more »


Teaching and Leading is Tough Business…

Reposting this post 4 years later.  It’s just as applicable today – in a district of 2 sites and 1,600 students…  Teaching is indeed a calling!


Communications over the past couple of weeks has made clear that I’m in a different ball game than I was just a few months ago.  As a teacher leader and school administrator, I was visible and made person to person connections with nearly every staff member at least weekly if not every day.  People saw me on good days, bad days, during pressure, when joking around, and all of the other times in between.  This is clearly not possible in the role I now serve in forcing me to reflect quite a bit about leadership strategies and how to make positive change from a different place in the organization.

Read more »


Diving Into the Mess of Real Collaboration

Establishing structures and processes for meaningful collaboration focused on delivering better results is a research supported component of nearly every kind of effective organization.  Published in the research describing the correlates of effective schools in the 1970s and 80s, we educators have largely struggled to close the “knowing doing gap” to implement focused, meaningful collaboration due to the assembly line structure of our system and an unwillingness to embrace change as a necessary positive.  Our more recent focus on implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) has moved collaboration efforts forward considerably, yet the literature and constant conversations about being a PLC continues to make clear just how much we struggle to change our system to facilitate this kind of work.  At the end of the day, real collaboration requires protected routine time for teachers to focus on the student achievement results created in their classrooms.  The time needs to be led by effective teacher leaders, and a disciplined culture that doesn’t tolerate the all too common tangent or distraction must be cultivated.  15 – 20 hours each week focused on collaborative analysis of specific lessons, student work, and common assessment results is taking place in other advanced countries and the results are beginning to show.   Read more »


PLC process districtwide in 191

Principal meetings this week will be focused on chapters 7 and 8 in Learning By Doing pushing forward our conversation about Learning By Doingimplementing the PLC process across the district.  Chapter 7, titled “Using Relevant Information to Improve Results,” challenges leaders to create a results oriented culture that facilitates real dialogue about student achievement.  Chapter 8, called “Implementing the PLC Process Districtwide,” calls for strong leadership in the central office, a challenge to increase the leadership capacity of principals, and a clear call for district leaders to be both tight and loose in the expectations for schools.  We will discuss both chapters during our meeting and work to develop common understandings of DuFour’s work and how to implement it successfully BES schools.  Sincere thoughts that will add to our conversation are welcomed here!! Read more »


Where is this ship headed?

The message has been communicated clearly – ISD 191 staff want to know where we’re headed.  Do you blame them?  Doesn’t everyone want that? 

I have shared a few of my thoughts regarding where we are headed in two recent posts, “Teaching and Leading is Tough Business” and “Anyone for the KISS Approach,”  yet I believe that I need to do more to be transparent and communicate what is being discussed in the many forums of a large district.  In particular, we are currently in the process of redrafting an integration plan, a Q-Comp plan, and a 2011-12 PD plan, and the conversations are necessarily intertwined.  To the goal of being more transparent, let me share a bit more…  Read more »


Takin’ it to them

Just thinking out loud in this post…  MN compulsory attendance statute requires students to be in school.  Statute also aligns with the archaic practice of seat time for academic credit – unless your a fancy dancy online provider of education.  Wrestling with these realities, I’m intrigued by the concept of a “learning grid” that I first ran across in the 2020 Forecast published by the Knowledge Works Foundation (under “platforms for resilience”).  The forecast calls for each learner to work with a “personal education advisor” who helps him/her access multiple venues for content and learning activities.  Learners learn to navigate a learning grid of resources, weaving together experiences, opportunities, and meaningful work that ultimately requires the demonstration of mastery of the articulated district standards.  Read more »


Future of schools?

Check out this slide presentation regarding the future of education by Ira Socol on his blog SpeEd Change.  I appreciate the historical look and the nuts and bolts talk about how to do things differently.  Thoughts??

Read more »


Schools in a Passion Economy

Thanks to Virginia superintendent and fellow blogger Pam Moran, I ran across this thoughtful post regarding 21st century economics and just how different it is from the 20th century.  I have reflected on this topic in earlier posts referencing Alvin Toffler and his theories outlined in The Third Wave.  This recent post from Digital Tonto raises several challenging questions for leaders in education…

Tim O’Reilly, long a fixture in Silicon Valley, likes to talk about perpetual beta. The idea is that products should be constantly updated.  As an example, Google’s Gmail was in “beta” until 2009, five years after it was launched.  In other words, it had already become the most popular service on the planet and still wasn’t considered finished!

Have we embraced functioning in "perpetual beta" in the classrooms of America?  It seems embracing this paradigm would require more teacher time spent analyzing the quality of instruction and working collaboratively to update and improve pedagogy, content, and connections with individual students.  While we may want our teachers to do this, are we creating enough time for this kind of work in the assembly line framework of current job assignments?  Just when is this kind of collaborative reflection supposed to happen? 

In the information age, the only knowledge that is truly hard to come by is tacit knowledge.  That comes with direct experience and is acquired  more frequently by employees than managers.  Therefore,  senior executives often need to be comfortable being the dumbest guy in the room, not the smartest…  Being smart requires refinement.  Having the courage to be dumb takes passion.

Do we have the passion and the structures in place necessary to tap the tacit knowledge of our educators?  In other words, are we comfortable being the dumbest guy in the room?  The reality of serving as an education leader is much like conducting an orchestra… the conductor doesn't make a sound.  What matters is how the musicians are playing their instruments and in education, what matters is the quality of the magic – the learning - created by each individual teacher.   Pretty forms, glitzy power points, and rousing speeches matter not at the end of the year when students have not learned what they should have.  Only through planned collaboration within a structure that pushes that wisdom up towards district policies and practices can we indeed tap the incredible wisdom that lies within our own ranks. 

As I wrote before, great progress is made not by discovering new facts, but by reordering existing ones.  The iPhone wasn’t a triumph of technology, but of usability and design…  Work in the industrial age was largely made up of repeating the same tasks over and over again and managers strived to enforce standard procedures and ensure efficiency.  The new economy is much more focused on how ideas interact.  Value is created when people are inspired to do things differently (repetitive tasks are increasingly done by robots).

How much energy are we wasting trying to discover new magical methods for teaching and learning?  This dynamic has played out all too often in public education as "new silver bullet" after staff development idea has passed through the rank and file resulting in resistance to change and apathy for growing collaboratively as a true learning community.  Indeed there have been significant changes in our culture over the past 25 years, however at the end of the day, great teachers have and always will be great teachers.  The core principles of differentiating instruction, working as a learning community, and pursuing Greatness have been around since the one-room school house.  Science and technology have certainly advanced our ability to execute on the principles of great teaching, but truly great teachers are leading that charge.  Greatness in education is not about discovering a new theory or concept – it's about looking at the current research and applying it with fidelity in every school and classroom.  That's it.  No bells and whistles.

I don’t mean to imply that nobody was passionate about their work before, or that efficiency has become completely irrelevant.  However, a difference in degree eventually becomes a difference in kind.  The basic elements for what makes a company  successful today have changed considerably.

Creating and disseminating ideas through bits, constantly and continually improving products and getting people with diverse skills to work effectively toward a common goal requires inspiring and focusing passion more than anything else. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that new principles are emerging for how  businesses need to be run.

Finally, are we investing appropriate resources on getting the passions of educators and our greater communities focused on the common goal of making sure every student is post-secondary ready?  The question is no longer about how to efficiently move students in groups of 30 down the assembly line of teachers waiting to spew their wisdom.  It is now about how to channel the talents and skill sets of every individual on the "education team" to best help each individual student achieve his/her goals.  Repetitive, unaligned 49 minute classes are  most certainly not the best option for accomplishing this…  So then what?  How should school look? 

Your thoughts:

If starting with a blank canvas, how would school look if it reflected a clear focus on ensuring every student reached his/her goals by tapping the diverse talents and skill sets in our schools and communities?? 




Dagget talking Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships

Today I had the opportunity to listen to Bill Daggett sharing his wisdom on education, leadership, and 21st Century realities.  Here are some notes:

  • Criticism about having standards that aren't as high as other countries misses a critical fact…  We're doing something that no other nation has set out to do - Educate ALL kids.  It's not so hard to have high standards when the cream is peeled off the top. 
  • Biggest accomplishment he has seen in public education – his daughter, with epilepsy and severe mental retardation, was trained to use the bathroom…  Most countries don't tackle this in public schools.
  • His 5th child, after surviving a tramatic brain injury, remains handicapped but has earned a college degree and makes a solid living.  This is due to public education.
  • The issue isn't that we are not doing what we used to do…  The issue is that we ARE doing what we used to do.  The world has changed!
  • US public schools graduated more 18 year olds last year than any year in history.  Schools are succeeding at improvement.  Problem is – the trajectory of change/school improvement lags significantly behind the trajectory of change in the world around us.
  • It's a SKILL GAP.
  • 47,000 school buildings in America.  Team visited 100 most rapidly improving schools at each level (elem, middle, high school)
  • Comments are on what was found in the top 25 at each level.  MN didn't have one in the group.  Good is the enemy of Great afterall…
  • Story of Brockton High School in Maine… 147th to 3rd??  wow…
  • The finger pointing game has to stop.  By the end of the day today, we will have our fingers pointing at ourselves…  We are the education leaders. 
  • Round 2 of stimulus = $100 billion to k-12 education  $4 billion went to Race to the Top.  Education received the biggest chunk of stimulus funding.  What was the impact?  Not much.  So…  Washington has lost support to add $$ to the education formula.
  • How to create change?  Need a 3 year transition plan
  • MN accountability exams all test ability to perform in quadrant A…  Real life independence is all in quadrant D.  Some states have developed accountability tests that assess in quadrants B, C, and D.  Why hasn't MN?? 
  • MN also has way too many standards. We can't get past quadrant A because of the weight of the standards and the tests. 
  • 5 fastest growing economies -  Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Panama and China/India aren't going away.  Why isn't education talking about that?  Business leaders are!
  • Rigor and Relevance is a description (not a prescription) of what is found in the nations most rapidly improving schools. The Rigor Taxonomy and the Relevance Taxonomy. 

The Rigor and Relevance Framework can be found on the International Center for Leadership in Education website. 

  • Shooting to prepare students for college (college readiness) is setting the bar too low. 
  • Relevance makes Rigor possible for most students
  • The real world doesn't function in disciplines… only schools do. 
  • Highest performing schools eliminated department chairs and created chair positions of interdisciplinary teams. 
  • 2nd grade boys in his grandson's class understand angles, trajectory, and percents.  How?  Football coach.  Pass plays are all math problems.  Relevance.
  • Can't cut arts, PE, and tech ed.  It's relevant. 
  • Relationships – 43 of the high performing schools looped in 8th and 9th grade.  Yes that's two different buildings.  Changed the high school staff forever.  And they improved their teaching in 8th grade.  Helped the students in the difficult transition…
  • The top lessons from the top 1/3 of the teachers in the rapidly improving schools all fell into quadrants B and D. 
  • First step…  Creat a culture that supports change.
  • The changing landscape
    • technology
    • WolframAlpha – new search engine.  Paradigm change…
      • will be able to write your term paper
      • can do your math
      • does the homework… 
    • do employers want employees to use this tool??  Yes.  Schools?  Why not?

Break time.  More to come later. 














Do we have enough guts to ask real questions?

Thanks to fellow administrator and blogger / high school director Dave Meister, I ran across this RSA Animate presentation called "Changing Education Paradigms."  It happens to line up beautifully with a meeting I had recently in which I was told that several teachers in ISD 191 did not like what I had to say in a recent post called "Our Future Experts of Standing in Line."  In response to that feedback, I'd like to offer this intriguing animate video and a couple of thoughts:

First… I believe every one of us in education heads to work each day seeking to do what is right for kids.  Put simply - we are all on the same team.  We all believe in the importance of education and we all work extremely hard to deliver on that calling.  This isn't about who is right and who is wrong – it's about getting real about how to best deliver on our mission.  That is something we should all be able to rally for collaboratively. 

Second – delivering on our mission with excellence requires creating a "Culture of Greatness" in ISD 191.  This means creating an environment in which rigorous debate about what is right is valued and cultivated, an environment in which disciplined people practice disciplined thought and action, and an environment in which the brand of our organization is palpable in every classroom of every building.  If raising a few questions about the realities of 2010 is not ok, then we certainly don't have an environment that welcomes good debate.  So… rather than take shots, please jump in and join the discussions!  I certainly don't have all of the answers about how to best deliver on our mission – but I believe the staff in 191 has them if we put our heads together!!  Handling some shots is part of this job, but I am more interested in what you all think about how to move forward.  Your wisdom is needed and valued so please jump in!  

This educator is committed to improving public education.  That does NOT assume those in public education have done something wrong or are bad people.  In fact, I have chosen this career largely because of the wonderful people in public education.  Most are heros to particular individual students…  If others can have rigorous debate about how to make money, politics, how to sell more product, etc… we can certainly have thick enough skin to debate about how to best deliver on the important job of educating children.  We simply cannot afford to avoid this debate – it's kids at stake here… 

Please watch this animate and offer your thoughts as a comment to this post.  Times have changed and we need to respond… yes WE.  We are public education… Teachers, EAs, clerical staff, administrators, bus drivers, cooks, custodians, etc…  Together we will - we must – come up with the best answers.  What are your thoughts?  How should we be changing what we do to best deliver on the mission of preparing students for the 21st century??