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.

Trusting our Teachers: Stories from STEAM

We have been having lots of tours of STEAM lately ... and the word "Wow" was used multiple times this week in follow-ups by visitors. That's great and a nice validation by other professional educators, but what I really want is for STEAM not to stand out as much because other schools steal and implement our ideas and models. That is the point of a research and development school, after all.

One of our core ideas has always been to get the right adults in the building and then deeply trust our people. Part of that story means a bit more turnover especially at the beginning, but the lasting part of that story is the culture of trust we have in our staff. And, just to validate that ... it shows up in our data such as these TELL survey results where 2/3 report strong agreement on the question of whether they are trusted (see blue in bottom row).

 Results from the 2017 TELL Survey 

Results from the 2017 TELL Survey 

That kind of trust does not happen by chance, rather it takes intentional effort. School leaders and communities have to be willing to stand back a bit even in the face of potential failures. We have to encourage a bit of risk-taking and not freak out when something goes a bit amiss. Over time, not only does that create a culture of trust, it also lets them refine their own practice ... which earns them more trust ... and that cycle repeats until what we really have is a culture of professionals making sound professional judgements.

No single person or institution or policy can "fix" schools ... what we need are thousands of professionals making professional judgments day after day after day. If we trust teachers ... they will earn it and reward us all with better schools for our children.

New Books from Friends

I am happy to recommend all of these. (all the images are clickable to Amazon). 

Leading Personalized & Digital Learning

From our friends at the Friday Institute at North Carolina State published by Harvard Education Press. 

Different Schools for a Different World

Our old buddy Scott McLeod and the respected Dean Shareski team up under the Solution Tree banner for the first time. 

Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning

Our Wisconsin school innovation partner Jim Rickabaugh has put out this roadmap from lessons learned there with ASCD. 

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.