pathways to hope

Quick story then a link for something you should read from Kentucky. 

A couple years back a veteran school leader was analyzing Next Gen and after speaking for a bit and experiencing it himself ... he said to me something akin to "you are dealing in hope at Next Gen." 

He said it in a way that felt like we were "selling hope"  so at first I cringed. I want to sell learning or growth or better experiences for kids. He sensed that and clarified that giving people hope is not a bad thing, indeed it is one of the best things. In systems that might feel hopeless or situations that cause a teacher to lose faith, pathways to hopefulness are crucial. In public education these days, especially when talking large scale change, it is easy to find hopelessness and difficult to discern hope. 

I've pondered this a lot since that moment and I've come to the place where providing pathways to hope is just part of the leaders job. In fact, it is critical to culture and growth of a school. 

So, that struck me again as I read the story of Knight Middle in Louisville, a school that is part of Next Gen this year but has been on a growth journey for a few years. Their principal, Cathy Gibbs, said: 

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We hired teachers based on our collective belief that the overwhelming majority of our students want to engage, belong and be successful, and if WE built that school together, then Knight would see success. We were HOPE dealers, setting out on a journey to rewrite a school’s story and looking for people who had the fire in their belly to make it a reality.
— Louisville Courier Journal

Cathy strikes me as just such a hopeful leader. When you take the reigns of Knight Middle clearly a person has internal hope (or they probably would not take the job). But, the more difficult leadership question is whether they can provide external hope. Can you provide a vision, backed with execution, that goes from hopeless to hopeful? Being a "hope dealer," as Cathy says, is not something to cringe at it is something to celebrate. In today's world, it is too rare. 

Please give the whole article a read and if you want to chat with Cathy about it her twitter handle is @cathygibbs1 (she is awesome and would welcome the interaction).

This is how it works. Leaders, hope, culture, student voice, execution, persistence ... over time, everyone adjusts and raises their game. You don't get all of what you hope for, but what you do get changes kids' lives. Remember, leaders don't really make change happen. Teachers, kids, and families are the change agents within school systems. But, stories like the one at Knight Middle start with a leader and a pathway to hope. 

Book Launch: Retooling Schooling

My students published a new collaborative book in class:

Retooling Schooling: Leadership, technology, and a deeper learning culture.

They did the writing, curating, editing, and publishing. Our driving question for the PBL was: Can we publish a book that advances knowledge and is useful to educators on the challenging issues of leading technology for deeper learning. The answer ... yes, we can and we did. Hope you find it useful in some small way in your own work.

Link to the Google Doc: http://go.uky.edu/retooling
Link to download ePub: http://go.uky.edu/2GA
Link to download pdf: http://go.uky.edu/2GB
Hard copy available upon request (about $12).

If you want to know more about the process of doing this and why it is a great PBL for P-12 also, let me know. Happy to share.

10x can be easier than 10% ... seriously

Make no mistake what I am personally going for at STEAM ... I want a 10 times better high school experience for kids, not just a 10% better high school experience. Most of the innovation I see in schools are people looking for a 10% better solution. They are mostly trying to maximize the efficiency out of existing models. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is extremely valuable work, but it can also be draining as we try to squeeze more and more out of a model designed for a different time. 

I really love this article from Google X's thinkers (and passed along by Scott McLeod) on how it can actually be easier to go for 10x than 10%.

 
Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.
— https://www.wired.com/2013/02/moonshots-matter-heres-how-to-make-them-happen/

I very much agree with this notion and my experience over the last 4 years developing STEAM confirms for me that not only are 10x opportunities possible within public schools, we can deliver them.

Take for instance the number of hours spent in internships in high school within Lexington. Last semester our kids (around 200) spent over 15,000 hours collectively. Pick any other random 200 high school kids in Lexington and they would be lucky to have 1,500. In fact, our small high school achieves more internship hours while in school than the rest of the city's public high schools combined. Honestly, it was actually easier to rethink our assumptions around when and how kids can leave the building than for a traditional public school to try to squeeze another 10% internship hours. At STEAM, we are going for similar 10x gains in dual credit courses, 10x fall in discipline rates, 10x project based learning opportunities. We are not actively trying to get those 10x gains, but when you are willing to get to the level of questioning assumptions and first principles ... those kinds of gains are possible. 

The key is in the assumptions. Every model (including our new one) is based on core assumptions. It is in those assumptions that opportunity truly lies because the assumptions that worked 20 years ago or 100 years ago do not necessarily work today. Many of them may still work, but some will not. Yet, those outdated assumptions are locked into the models we operate in schools. Once you start to see the assumptions (which I call the "code") they are absolutely everywhere. We make assumptions about how teachers spend time, what makes them qualified, how they should grade, how they should teach. We make assumptions about structures from the size of a classroom to the timing of the schedule. And, of course, we make assumptions about kids. Those can be the most infuriating. If you really want to know where the achievement gap lives, it is not in the mind of the child (which is equally, beautifully intelligent) it is in the assumptions of the adults.  

Getting beyond the assumptions requires a different kind of thinking ... one that does not come as naturally to us. No company in the world more clearly exhibits this trait right now than those of Elon Musk (Tesla and Spacex, we have a 10x better electric car, a 10x better battery, 10x better solar panels, and 10x better rockets). The key to getting those world-changing technological solutions time and again is that the people working in those companies reason from first principles, not from analogy. Elon (not the best speaker, be patient with him) explains below. 

Interview by Kevin Rose The benefit of "first principles" thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. 

When you apply this same reasoning to schooling ... finding and achieving 10x solutions is actually not that hard. Of course, it takes lots of time and communication and hours and hours of modeling, testing, adjusting, remodeling, etc. ... but if you stick with it at some point you look back and realize that you've achieved something for kids in your context that has never been achieved before. Not even close. Your are not 10% better for the learners than it was before, you are approaching 10x better. It can be done and much more easily than people realize.

Now, a 10x solution is not the same things as a "magic bullet" and it is also still making incremental improvements overall ... but we will leave those connections for another day. 

"Deliberate Indifference" & Broad, Slow Harassment of Children in Schools

I'm a huge fan of Will Richardson's thinking and earlier this year he did an exceptional job of articulating educational elephants in the room that everyone simply wants to ignore. I find it hard to argue with each of the 9 elephants that he identifies, but see for yourself

 
Lately, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with our unwillingness to acknowledge these “elephants in the (class)room,” if you will, because the new contexts for modern learning forged by the networked world in which we now live are creating an imperative for new ways of thinking about our work in schools. I’ve been collecting a list of these “things that we don’t really want to talk about in education” in hopes that it might challenge us to bring those elephants out into the open and ignite some much needed conversation about how to deal with them. — more (read the 9 elephants) ...
— https://medium.com/modern-learning/9-elephants-in-the-class-room-that-should-unsettle-us-8335b2cef9aa#.4aw5zli9w

I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in across various components of the education system over the last decade where there is an almost willful ignoring of these elephants. In law, we have a term for this behavior ... "deliberate indifference." It comes mostly from the field of harassment law under Title IX where on occasion school officials consciously ignore harassment occurring within schools. The Davis case from the Supreme Court is seminal. 

Now, I want to make an analogy, but hint beyond that. Certainly, that over 1/2 of the kids are bored in a given moment (or pick a different elephant) is not the same at all as explicit acts sexual or gender harassment. These are not the same thing, but they are both things that happen to children and the question is how to judge school official's behavior thereto.  My case in this post is that in both of these instances, the behavior of the school official is largely the same. Legally, the full test of school liability for sexual harassment from adult to child is: (1) actual knowledge and (2) deliberate indifference. For school liability for harassment between children we add third component of (3) severe, persistent, and objectively offensive. 

It is a useful legal test that has seemingly worked okay in the field of harassment, so, look back at Will's 9 Elephants and see which of those, if using this test, we could potentially find school's liable? Use either the first two parts or all three parts of the test (your choice). 

For me, perhaps not all 9, but certainly the majority would create at least a prima facia case of school liability for student harassment. Whether a school official can be held to have "actual knowledge" that subjects and time blocks, for instance, are not the best way to allocate information and time is questionable. But, if actual knowledge is established for any of the 9, then certainly deliberate indifference would follow along. As Will points out, we generally know these things and we generally ignore them. Let's see an example. 

Every time a principal observes a fifth grade math classroom of utterly disengaged and bored students, sees and understands what is (or is not) happening, and then walks on with no further action taken ... using our test there would be a case of liability for student harassment. Let's assume this particular math teacher has provided similar observations many times in the past. There was actual knowledge, deliberate indifference, and, if you desire, the treatment of the children is severe, persistent, and objectively offensive. 

Now, I hear you, forcing students to memorize multiplication tables is not harassment you say. Okay, but what if you did that, or something similar, all day long? Is that not harassment? Let's remember what we are doing here. We are legally forcing children to sit in mostly white concrete block rooms, quietly, compliantly, for hours and hours, five days a week. Multiplication tables are not the only activity, there is also worksheets, sight words, quizzes, reading of textbooks, etc.  ... the question is not whether any one of these is harassing to children, it is whether the vast compilation of these rises to something akin to harassment. 

I'm not sure, honestly. But, my sense is that this is something we should think more about. What thoughts do you have? 

Understand the Goal, Then Start with Why

In my professional development for educators, particularly school leaders, I always like to ask the question … “when it comes to your school, what is the goal?” It seems such a simple question, but inevitably the school leaders struggle with any response at all. At best, I might get some confusing and usually poorly crafted mission statement. Some daring to respond default to the state line of something like “college and career ready graduates.” Very, very few can confidently articulate the goals of their school, or even of schooling generally, in relationship to the children under their care. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, but certainly the odd and usually slightly annoyed looks the school leaders give me when the question is posed tells me that no one has ever asked them to contemplate it before with the expectation of a clear answer.  

STEAM Academy, the school at the center of this book (see the end of the book for more information about it), came into existence largely without a clearly defined goal. There were, of course, some agreeable components such as we should graduate the kids from the high school and, if possible, give them some grounding in the STEM fields with a touch of Arts. There was a vague concept of a model school in Ohio, but no real understanding of how we would achieve anything like that. Of course we were expected to pass state standardized examinations. Everyone was well intentioned and a viable learning environment was created, but beyond the surface everyone had doubts about the goals. With the concept of “high school” so firmly entrenched in all of our collective minds, a massive lingering question of “why was this school trying to deviate” permeated every decision and every day. It lingered over the classrooms like a haze, and every decision each teacher made had to be filtered through it.  

So, during our first year, quite a bit of time was spent simply trying to determine the goal. Top level leaders were resigning left and right, so the ultimate decision as to the goal of the school fell to the leadership team within the building. It was a blessing, but we didn’t know it at the time. I think there is a longing, perhaps even on my part, for someone just to simply tell us what to do. And, being honest, there were certainly times when we used the lack of goal-setting by top level leaders as an excuse. Our team was competent so we knew we could achieve whatever anyone wanted from us if only someone were to be kind enough to tell us what that was. It never really came or at least never really held beyond a month or two. Thus, at some point near the end of year one of STEAM, our team in the building just realized it simply wasn’t coming at all. It would, for better or worse, fall to us.

None of our leadership team had ever done anything remotely close to what we were about to embark upon at STEAM. Our top leader, our principal Ms. Tina Stevenson, had been a highly skilled principal for quite a while, but at a middle school and with quite different expectations. The rest of us were new to this entirely. Our parents were new to this. The kids were new to this. The teachers were new to this. There were certainly times, and occasionally there still are, when the challenge was not choosing between competing ideas … it was simply getting any viable ideas to emerge at all. It was a confusing time and it begged for leadership.

Leaders, perhaps, are defined as much by the opportunity as by the talent. Ultimately, we knew as a team we were going to have to lead a process by which the goals of our school were made clear. That was a complex process that I will describe more in a bit, but the first unequivocal step was to set some goals and that we were going to have to lead it ourselves. Once we understood and embraced that as an opportunity and not as a burden, everything changed.

Laws are not goals, goals are not laws.

Now, let me say something about the difference between laws and goals, as I see them too often confused to the detriment of everyone involved. I get to walk into lots of schools and I can usually tell within the first couple minutes whether a school is driven by laws or driven by goals. While it might be a subtle mental difference

In a democracy, at least the American democracy, the goals are left to the people. The laws are the minimum operating system upon which to execute those goals (also set by the people through their representatives), but goal of any specific institution are left largely to that institution. This is why we have local boards, local councils, local trustees, locally elected officials and the like. This applies beyond education also (think of a local hospital board), but it applies particularly to education in the United States. So, while a state or federal government might set minimum operating procedures, the goals of any public schooling institution in the United States are left to the local institution itself.