Call to Crowd-Source: How Can We “Be the Change” – Systemically – We Want to See in Schools? #PLEASESCOMMENT

In response to my adaptive-leadership-mutual-fun post on July 18 (and the process post preceding it), John Burk offered this very thoughtful comment, which I quote here with his blessing:

I love the mutual fun idea so much. It could be a truly powerful catalyst for progress at a school, and it gets me thinking that it could be even more powerful to allow students to participate in the stock exchange for ideas. 

But one of the questions I struggle with as I read all of your great ideas is that usually,  I have none of the power to implement them. How can I bring about some of these ideas, as a teacher? I think many school leaders already feel fairly overwhelmed by the priorities and demands they have presently, and a young teacher coming in saying “let’s set up a stock exchange to find the best ideas to improve the school, and then debrief these projects in our faculty meetings,” is almost certain to get nowhere. 

I see a lot of great stuff out there from leaders like you and Grant Lichtmann about how school leaders need to adapt and allow a more distributed and organic form of leadership, but I’m curious what advice you have for teachers and students who want to help make these ideas a reality, but may not be operating in an environment that allows them to bring about large scale change.

As I’ve communicated with John via email, I am so very thankful for this comment, and this post will center on providing some responses to his inquiry. However, I would really appreciate your help, too! Maybe more than any other post I’ve ever written (about 380 of them!), I hope this one will generate many comments and ideas in response to John’s core-penetrating question: “How can I bring about some of these ideas, as a teacher?” Please join the conversation – we need serious crowd-sourcing on this one!

A Few of My Thoughts and Responses:

  1. In the July 18 post, in hindsight, I was writing primarily to an administrative audience. In fact, on July 19, after reading John’s comment, I decided to cross-post on Connected Principals. I believe that many schools are exploring and discussing changes and enhancements for the 21st century. That’s a good thing! However, I think too many schools are putting the cart (technology) before the horse (pedagogy). [See Alan Levasseur’s #MustRead article in Mindshift, “Does Our Current Education System Support Innovation?” Follow Alan on Twitter @fusionjones.] So, I think my post was trying to address that dynamic and spur more action at the horse (pedagogy) end of the transportation system into enhanced teaching and learning for a post-industrial age. All that being said, I think teachers hold the ingredients to empower this transformational change coming in education (when…not if!). So, my post was also an admonition to administrators to harness the best resource we have for school change and progress and innovation – our own faculties. Of course, John makes an excellent point, and I certainly agree – we should harness the imaginations and ideas of student learners, too. John is also right that many school administrators feel overwhelmed. However, until we put the stuff that most matters first, we will just continue to evolve in such a way that will NOT surprise Rip Van Winkle if he wakes up from his nap in one hundred years, and we are still doing school as we are now. Schools could do more by doing less, and I think my post was also an effort to say, “If you are serious about change, then dig deep with a major pedagogical area like PBL and harness your faculty (and students) to make these advancements and enhancements. Get many of the other buffet items off the plate and concentrate on eating a reasonably sized, healthy portioned, nutritious meal. And eat with your family – the faculty (and students).
  2. Okay, so #1 is a disclaimer more than an answer to John’s inquiry. So, my first real substantive response to John – Build a tribe and leverage F=ma. John, you are one of the poster children for this tactic of strengthening teacher voice in school change. With the Global Physics Department and EduSalon and Edu180Atl and the Twitter #20minwms Experiment (here, here, and here, too), you are showing many how to build a tribe of committed, talented, forward-thinking faculty. As “m” increases (the mass…number of faculty in a tribe), then the force on an issue can grow and increase. If the admin is weighing down their side of the see-saw, then get enough faculty (and students) to sit on the other end of the see-saw to actually generate dynamic movement that is easier on everyone’s legs. [Sorry to mix metaphors. I cannot help myself.] Ideally, teachers will work at schools with administrators who welcome them on the playgrounds and see-saw equipment. I think I assumed this (maybe too much) in my July 18 post. I took it for granted, and I wish it were so in every school. For the admin that I follow on Twitter and blogs, I think it is truly the case.
    1. NOTE: I think we are often more connected with Twitter than we are with our own school colleagues. We MUST transfer what we are learning about social media connectivity and tribes to our very own home communities!
    2. In the July 18 post, I was purposefully writing about big, systemic change, NOT just individual or loosely organized teacher clusters who are innovating. So building a tribe seems critically important to me from the teacher/student perspective.
    3. Realizing that schools of the future will be much more successful as professional learning communities, pour in efforts to start, build and sustain such faculty/admin organization and ethos.
    4. Maybe think about radiating ripples in a pond – start small and build out. If a department chair is part of the tribe, then start with that administrator as support and leadership. Maybe build momentum with a similarly-minded department and increase the tribe.
    5. Use professional development days, especially opportunities like FedEx days, to take advantage of chances to build and strengthen the tribe.
  3. Read and study Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard. John, I think you already have done this, but I hope you’re not the only reader here, so I thought I would mention it. This book by Dan and Chip Heath is phenomenal and another #MustRead for those who understand that change is the way of the world, so we better learn how to do it better. We must Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path. Paying attention to these categories of change can really positively affect the interactions we have with others about change. There is so much human “baggage” when it comes to change, and being cognizant and attentive to the humanness of change can only help our efforts to direct, motivate, and shape change. I re-read this book about twice a year, and I apply lenses each time – thinking about particular and specific situations and people as I read.
  4. Work at a school that has progressive, forward-thinking, and SLEEVES-ROLLED-UP DOING administrators. Sometimes this is hard to know during a search and interview process (as those tend to be relatively shallow and lacking deep perspective) if a school possesses and utilizes such an admin team. However, it is so much easier now with social media to understand much more than we used to during career moves. In the past year, I have learned of about 5 schools in particular that I would love to work for. Maybe someday I will. One of the biggest reasons – the admin are DOING the change, not just talking about change. And they are purposefully including faculty and harnessing their power.
  5. Start a school. I do NOT mean this flippant or smart-alec. I just had to include it in a list like this. In my opinion, this is what folks like Gever Tulley (Brightworks) and Steve Goldberg (Triangle Learning Community) decided to do. Having said this, I am also a huge advocate for existing schools making the change. However, I think the process is very similar to new start-ups. As you know, John, I think an existing school changes by intentionally attending to the “schools within schools” that are present everywhere. There are “start-ins” at existing schools with the loose collection of most-progressive faculty. Those schools who are most successful at navigating the change will become much more focused and attentive to strategically amplifying these loose collections into bright-spot drivers and leaders. The schools that fail to do so will continue to confuse their communities and “clients,” and they might just find themselves left behind in the not-too-distant future.
  6. Canvass and research those schools that are leading the change, and find out what faculty are doing to lead the change at those schools. Some that come to mind, and I list only a few here…
    1. Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School
    2. Berkeley Carroll School
    3. Beaver Country Day School
    4. The Nueva School
    5. St. Gregory School
    6. Adlai E. Stevenson High School

What else do you recommend in response to John’s tremendous question?

Please join and continue the conversation. Share your thoughts. [If a group of online crowd-sourcers can innovate window gardens, certainly we can crowd-source to enhance the sense of personal agency that teachers and students feel to make change at our schools!]


Inspiration for continued thinking and creative implementing (hat tip to Laura Dearman at PDS and The Martin Institute):

5 thoughts on “Call to Crowd-Source: How Can We “Be the Change” – Systemically – We Want to See in Schools? #PLEASESCOMMENT

  1. Not sure that this adds much and you have really already addresses this, but I think strategic conversations are really important. I think we have to lead vertically as much as we do horizontally. Teachers need to build a rapport with school leaders and ask them challenging questions, present them with new ideas, and share with them what we are learning. Leaders are busy people, too, but by asking for a few minutes and honoring the time we’re given teachers can influence and inspire our leaders and move things in the direction we believe they should go.

    • Philip, thanks for this very insightful comment. John and I ate lunch together yesterday, and we came to a similar point about the importance of communicating (co-mmunicating) among admin and teachers. We must work as a team, and an enhanced, robust internal communications schema seems like a must have or must develop!

      • I must confess I’ve been blessed so far to work for administrators who have valued my input. I know that isn’t true everywhere. In places where it’s not true, I would think the toxicity would force me to look for a new position. I’m not sure how those places survive.

  2. Pingback: Call to Crowd-Source: How Can We “Be the Change” – Systemically ... | Customer Innovation |

  3. Another thought for both you and John after re-reading this post: John, I cannot agree more with Bo and the see-saw (note to Bo: need a whole post on the see-saw and I am going to steal the heck out of that metaphor right now with a new slide!) 10 years ago I wrote a prospectus for a global program at our school. It took 6 years to just get it to the place where it received real discussion. Now it is a flagship of our school. John is probably the same way with his physics program: doing great things but wants and needs more weight. John, if you try as hard as you can and no one else at your school will join on your side of the see-saw, go somewhere else. Bo and I are seeing these programs like John’s as nucleating events around which school innovation culture can and will grow. Do your best to gather weight of students and fellow teachers and administrators, and if they are not ready to get on board, they are going to lose you, which they really probably don’t want to have happen.

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