It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too. #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

From Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, which, by the way, is one of the best books I own, especially in it’s multi-touch book format.

Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, says that, ‘The person who has the ability to verbally describe a problem has a great talent – but also a great limitation. All the real problems of today are multidimensional, multifaceted, and deeply layered. There is no way to fully understand them – thus no way to effectively begin solving them – without at some point literally drawing them out.’

Thought experiment: 

Imagine contemplating a significant remodel or renovation of your home (or school). Now, imagine only dealing in words and verbal descriptions with the various sub-contractors: builders, electricians, HVAC, lighting, flooring, plumbing, casing and carpentry, technology, etc. Also, imagine only naming the remodeling specifics in general-goals terminology. Now, imagine not providing much time, space, or opportunity for these people to ask questions, engage in R&D, meet together and discuss, sketch ideas and check understanding, develop shared knowledge around the transformation, etc. No blueprints, images, infographics, design elements, or visuals. Only words. Inadequate discussion.

How do you think the remodel or renovation would turn out?

Follow-up questions…the deeper thought experiment:

How are schools – those with the greatest intentions and people; those that truly recognize and accept their need for change – how are they going about the transformations of their teaching and learning cores/corps?

Could you show me the designs, blueprints, images, and visuals for those fundamentally important modifications? (I could not have done so as a school principal, and I regret that – I consider it a major failing that I am now working to resolve and re-prototype.)

Can you show dedicated time, space, and regular opportunity for the various members of your school team – faculty, admin, parents, students, etc. – to meet to talk, compare notes, ask questions, attend “practice or rehearsals,” develop shared understanding, etc.? (We did work really hard at this during my last principalship. The Junior High faculty deserves so much credit here for the collaborative, professional-learning-community work that was accomplished.)

Wrap-up question:

How might we commit to and devote the same vigor for community engagement and transformation design in our teaching and learning core/corp that we use in our physical building and campus development?

It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too.


15 thoughts on “It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too. #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

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  4. Bo,

    Like Angel, I found myself particularly drawn to your statement about your inability as a principal to effect the type of systems thinking in which you believe schools need to engage. You offer that parenthetical commentary as a humble tangent: “(I could not have done so as a school principal, and I regret that – I consider it a major failing that I am now working to resolve and re-prototype.)” Pardon me for parsing your language, but do you regret your personal inability to architect that blueprint or do you regret that a principal does not possess the power to architect that blueprint?

    Who is responsible for that “major failing,” as you describe it? Knowing your modest nature, I suspect you will assume that burden, so let’s for a moment take personalities out of the picture.

    Let’s go back to your metaphor. A couple decides to innovate their home. Why? Did they decide its present state was not meeting their needs? What led them to that decision? Did they visit other friends’ houses and discover that their friends’ renovation had transformed their living arrangement? Would that decision to renovate have been made if only the children in the house had recognized its current limitations? Who gets to decide that an architect needs to be hired?

    I love your metaphor. A blueprint helps everyone focus on a way forward so that when myriad voices chime in from various members of the organization chart, there’s a means to resolve that tension by deferring to what’s already been agreed upon. But can we or should we concede that someone (whom others can perhaps influence although not ultimately control) makes the decision to employ the architect.


    • Okay. We just emailed about your incredible comment that is helping me to think much deeper about these issues and past experiences.

      Then, I read your comment on Grant’s post:

      I want to use your words and insights as the first part of my response to your great questions. (Hey, if someone says it better than I can, I’m not afraid to borrow!)

    • Holly, thanks to you and our exchanges here, in email, and in person, you’ve helped me think much more deeply about the issues and opportunities for school transformation. Thank you.

      When I wrote, “Could you show me the designs, blueprints, images, and visuals for those fundamentally important modifications? (I could not have done so as a school principal, and I regret that – I consider it a major failing that I am now working to resolve and re-prototype.),” I realized that I might come across as accusatorial and arrogant – like I “think I have all the answers.” I think my parenthetical was an attempt to address that fear. As a school principal, I could NOT have shown someone the visual blueprints of the transformation we were pursuing as a learning community. What I regret is not being able to show such plans that were collectively created and assembled. As my wife and I contemplate a mere house renovation, I can show someone what she and I came up with, with the help and expertise of an architect. A school transformation is vastly more important than a house remodel, in my opinion, and I wish I could show better evidence of a mutually designed change that students, parents, faculty, admin, etc. had collaboratively created. By engaging in such critically important identity and visioning work, I believe with all my heart and mind that more people would have felt invested in the processes. I believe that more people would have seen their voice and contributions present. I believe that more people would have had shared vision and understanding about where we were heading, why, how, etc. To orchestrate such shared understanding – through inquiry and empathy and intention and engagement – is the most critical work of a leader. I underestimated the importance of a design process in that iteration, and I hope to not make that mistake again. Was is my mistake alone? No. But I can only change myself and work with others to decide on a mutually agreed upon change. Otherwise, people are pursuing compliance and order rather than commitment and ownership. So, I do take the responsibility that is my own. To place that on others in such a blog post would be exercising a tactic that I am not comfortable with in this setting.

      As for more about my own home… my wife and I decided to employ the architect. We perceived changes that we wanted to understand more fully. Interestingly, now, we are going more slowly and in different directions than the initial drawings indicate. BUT it was those drawings and methodologies used during the design phases that revealed to us some things that we would not have known or seen if we had not been diligent with the design process. This is the methodology that I am devoting my next career chapter to bringing more into schools and school transformation. We, in a community, need to be able to “see” and understand the changes that we are discussing. When we cannot, we react with understandable fear, disagreement, and disunity. All because we did not devote the time and attention to bringing the community together more purposefully to design together and fully understand the new directions of our purpose and identity… as a “family.”

      Hope this helps reveal more of my thinking. THANK YOU for helping me to push on this.

      I’m continuing to think about your use of the work “power” and principal.

      I think of Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching:

      “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you; but of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say we did this ourselves.”

      • Bo,

        Although we continue to pull at these threads in our conversations, I also want to share my thoughts virtually with the hope that perhaps others will read our exchange and offer us insight that neither one of us sees.

        It is somewhat ironic that you end your comment with that Lao-Tzu quote, which I actually used this weekend to preface my review on Liz Wiseman’s new book The Multiplier Effect: Tapping The Genius Inside Our Schools. Her basic thesis is that a leader who identifies and engages the collective talent of the faculty will only amplify that genius, while a leader who relies on the power inherent in his or her title and who values only a few to support the mission ultimately acts to diminish the genius available.

        But getting back to our discussion, the book was written for leaders or would-be-leaders. But what about followers? I finished the review and wondered what advice I would give to someone who worked for a leader whom Wiseman would identify as a diminisher. What is that teacher supposed to do? Throw the book on that leader’s desk with the comment, “Wiseman’s description of the diminisher reminds me of you, and I think it would be much better for the institution, the faculty, and the students if you became a multiplier”?

        Pedagogical master planning relies on systems thinking, but doesn’t the leader in charge of the organization first need to gain and communicate that shared identity? You write in your comment, “To orchestrate such shared understanding – through inquiry and empathy and intention and engagement – is the most critical work of a leader.” Agreed. But what happens at schools where this work is not done because the leader does not agree with that premise? What will happen to those schools and the people who work there?

        Should teachers who work for a so-called diminisher abandon ship? Or is it possible to lead from within?

        I recall Grant Lichtman stating in his presentation at SAIS that he’s tired of teachers griping about the College Board and the restrictions they must endure to adhere to the AP exams. He said, “Don’t like the APs? Develop a course that is better.” I think he’s right.

        Getting angry, frustrated, or worse apathetic because there’s a barrier in the way doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the person experiencing those emotions. I’ve read so much about innovation and about leadership, but there seems to be very little written about what to do when those two are dissonant.


      • Holly, interesting points. This all goes back to the question of what to do with diminishers of any kind. It can be a leader, or it can be a group of teachers who serve in that capacity. The systems approach is the right way to look at it. But, there is much analysis and work to do on developing buy-in from everyone in the system to think of things in that perspective– keeps going back to culture and reculturing. This is a process that takes time, the right people on the bus, having some people exit the bus, and then some really good perspective and discussion. Having thought leaders to help in this initiative can be a fulcrum tipper. The amount of time it takes each institution, however, is unique– no matter how fabulous the leader is and no matter how willing the members of the institution are.

      • Dear Holly and Angel,

        Thank you so much for the continued discussion. The exchanges enrich my thinking and bring fresh questions/avenues to rethink.

        So, here is just a bit of my next thinking…(and it’s in stream-of-consciousness and free-write format, largely)

        It is relatively easy to talk about all of this in the relatively abstract. In reality, as you both know as well as I, it is much more challenging to enact. For instance, we can quickly move to calling people “multipliers” and “diminishers,” almost like the ways we use “bully” and “victim.” In my experience, though, we all have these capacities at different times and in different settings. I don’t really like the labels, and I think they are actually counter-productive for an organization. Something about a label screams for help from Carol Dweck and mindset. I think one and the same person can be a multiplier in one situation and a diminisher in another. That, among other things, is what makes school/organizational work so challenging. It would be “great” if we could simply ask all of the people with “diminisher” on their tags to get off the bus. But in reality, these people have to make wardrobe changes and seat changes on the bus often because we are each ALL of these things. THAT is the real challenge of leadership and followership in my opinion. In this dynamic exists the reason why we MUST devote more time and attention to creating shared vision and understanding in our organizations. And to bring in yet another metaphor often cited in schools – we have to do all of this while keeping the plane in the air.

        At risk of this response revealing my non-linear thinking even further, I would also pull in Italo Calvino’s “Mr. Palomar” here, particularly the chapter about reading a wave. In this chapter of a book that has influenced me greatly, Mr. Palomar sits on the beach and describes the waves. He expresses that we must have common language to talk about shared attributes of the waves – amplitude, height, frequency, crest, trough, etc. However, as he sits on the beach, he realizes that no two waves are perfectly alike and that words fail to provide true labels that make the waves the same as each other categorically. So, I would offer this connection, as well. My grad school mentor helped us to see the lessons about “reading a wave” as we worked in schools/education and encountered people who share attributes for easier description while no two are the same for real work beyond description.

        Of course, my thoughts and personal experiences are more complex than just those two paragraphs above, too. There are times when getting off the ship is appropriate. Each person has complex things going on, and saying NO to something might mean saying YES to something else. However, I hope my leadership/followship track record would show that I default to wanting to help people develop before anyone gets off the ship. That being said, I think the entire “ship” issue is confounded by the fact that many people in an organization often do not know where the ship is headed, what the floor plan of the ship actually looks like, in what location the ship is currently sitting or sailing, etc. In my opinion, far too many people jump ship or feel forced off the ship because we don’t have a great understanding of what the ships are exactly and where they are heading.

        As you both have pointed out, and I agree, all of this takes much time. However, I think schools are at risk of thinking that the time will work for the long-run. But what about the short run? What about the kids in the schools now? Don’t they demand that we work on ways to accelerate and amplify (multiply?) the transformations that will help learners be more successful? Holly, you cited Grant’s wisdom in your comment. Grant also told me recently that schools could not transform fast enough for my own 8 and 6 year olds. I would simply have to place them in a school that matched my/their desired ethos/philosophy. I’m not quite ready to say that such is the only option for quicker and more agile change – just jumping ship (school) for another ship (school). There are so many schools that want to transform, see the need to transform, have the multipliers and followers for successful transformation… and yet most of those schools are still experiencing what many would call slow change. Why is that? One hypothesis: we don’t allocate our allotted time very well for truly figuring this out.

        I think the school communities that work to “see” the transformation in common are the most successful. And, yes, to a certain degree I think that leadership is fundamental. And in organizations characterized by typically hierarchical leadership structures, those in the formal leadership positions (those with the “power”) may be in possession of the greatest responsibility for the transformation – because of the tasks/roles assigned to their place on the org. chart. But that is another part of the pedagogical ecosystem that requires examination and planning, as well. And that does take a very special leader, for sure.

      • Angel,

        Thanks for making me consider that diminishers can be found everywhere. I think the point you make about time is critical. Both leaders and followers, who fall into the multiplier category, must deal with diminishers, but neither can do so quickly. A good systems approach must provide the opportunity for each member of the organization to understand and embrace its central aim/vision/mission/constancy of purpose. In the end, leaders may have the power to fire someone, but followers have power too. They, through their work and shared sense of purpose with others, can create a compelling argument within the organization for change. I’ve been in that position before, and I fear I gave up too easily. That’s the lesson I take from all of this. Perfect doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in schools – in leadership, in faculty, or in students. The growth model and mindset take time to develop both in ourselves and in others.


  5. I call this Schools by Design. Pat Bassett called for educators to show off their “drop dead” signature program, and that really resonated with me. Even though he was talking about “Marketing” it resonated with my Creative Power. I designed a radically different approach for learning languages and am in the midst of doing all you say. The main obstacle for implementing my “drop dead” signature program is monetary (but am working around that).
    The work you call for, (the blueprints and planning) means looking deep and defining what kind of a school you are. Tony Wagner, says most mission statements blend with one another; that they don’t say anything, he bluntly states there are very few good ones out there.
    Schools by Design, with Pedagogical Master Planning would probably highlight passions of all those committed to that particular community and give life to the mission (or purpose?) and would be released from adhering to the status quo because, after all, it involves a collective “calling” (where purpose and passion fuel the daily doings).
    As we have discussed before, schools already have a unique DNA, ecosystem, soul; the charge is to define it first and foremost (the existential moment of schools has finally arrived: who are we and why are here?) that might be the hardest part. After that, it’s time to get down and dirty and build the School we designed and enjoy the roller coaster of learning with all its twists, turns, climbs and unexpected but thrilling drops.
    P.S. I am working on attending your Pedagogical Master Planning Session at SAIS. 🙂

    • Lisa, I love and appreciate your comment. I think your sense of Schools by Design and Pedagogical Master Planning is right on, and the disciplines and methods indeed hold great potential to promise and deliver in the ways that you describe.

      For the past few days (maybe months and years!), I have been working through what you describe in this sentence: “I designed a radically different approach for learning languages and am in the midst of doing all you say.”

      I think many of the greatest and finest teachers are working like you to advance their practice and effectiveness with learners. And the field of view tends to be “my classroom” or “my students.”

      And here is where it gets even more interesting for me…

      Good (great?) school principals, division heads, heads of school, and superintendents approach their WHOLE-SCHOOL transformations much like you approached your classroom language pedagogy. Ironically and paradoxically, though, even with the best intentions, individual teachers and admin can come into conflict because of a lack of common planning, shared understanding, and collective wisdom about the overall “user experience” for a schools learners (faculty, students, parents, admin, etc.). Admin leaders have a field of view tending toward “my whole school” and “all the courses and classes and experience in aggregate.”

      ALIGNING these micro and marco visions is ESSENTIAL and it’s not given enough time and attention in 99.9% of schools today.

      So, I could not agree more with you! Schools that truly intend to innovate and transform for the good of all learners have a great deal of work to do around identity, mission, vision, purpose, meaning, etc.

  6. Well said, Bo! I am curious as to how and why you feel as if you were not as effective in carrying this out as a principal as I have the same feelings in my own work these last few years. It would be wonderful to compare our processes, feelings, and reflections. I am beginning to examine what part of this is in our “control” (there is that word again!) as leaders and how much the existing culture (there is that other word!) is entrenched and thus immovable. I am no pessimist or cynic but have increased my acceptance of some realities lately…. So in addition to Pedagogical Master Planning (which I think is fabulous!), let’s add to the conversation and analysis existing cultures and their movability/immovability…

    • Angel, thanks for your comment and inquiry that asks me to push deeper into my reflection about school leadership. I continue to process what I could have done better to help create space, time, and opportunity for an entire faculty, admin, parent body and student body to generate a growing and deepening sense of shared value and understanding about the journey our school needed to be on – in order to collectively learn and enhance our practice as professional educators.

      To a large extent, I think we neglected the importance of external perspective and facilitated designing. To continue borrowing from the architecture and construction metaphor, when my wife and I decided to embark on a house remodel (mild in nature and scope), we interviewed and selected architects to help us. This external perspective and design expert used methodologies that helped Anne-Brown and me develop a shared understanding and appreciation for what each of us dreamed and imagined for our renovated home. We struggled less as a team because the architect gave us visual language and prompting for our resolution of collective agreement. Our architect helped us more agilely and more quickly develop a new representation of our home layout based on our family and living culture. But it was not that linear. It was symbiotic. By examining the possible blueprints and developing iterative prototypes, we were engaged in a conversation and common defining of our family culture. The design process helped us get a firmer grip on our shared beliefs about our family and living culture.

      I think that a school MUST go through a similar methodology in order to create shared understanding about the future version of itself that it intends to be. At the same time, this is nearly impossible without a firm grasp and visualization of the as-built drawings of the abode or school. And, now, I don’t mean the physical school structure, but the pedagogical core, composed of the seven sub-systems.

      In my humble opinion, many schools do not have a shared understanding (faculty, students, parents, admin, alums, etc.) of who they are (as-built) and who they intend to be in this evolving educational landscape (construction/remodeling). I think they/we don’t know this because we do not commit adequate time and space for the work that this requires. Yet, we see a decade go by without real shared value and understanding because we did not commit to the upfront and regular time.

      Does that make any sense? My story as principal is much more complex in my mind because of the experiences of trying to coordinate and collaborate among three almost independent divisions. Like many schools, there was not a monolithic culture but several co-existing cultures, and I think we needed to approach this incredible human/organizational dynamic more intentionally as a design challenge with well-chosen external perspective. We needed a hybrid “coach/therapist” as an organization… and one that knows how to draw and design so that we can all see our reflection and vision more clearly.

      • Yes, it does make sense! You hit two key points for me. First, one of the biggest areas of dissonance is when the members of the environment disagree on their ultimate purpose (especially when you have some/many who feel as if there is no reason to examine oneself or consider the possibility of anything different). I have found that outside factors, then, make such an environment extremely vulnerable–which can then lead to further “digging in” out of fear because there is a feeling of threat. Second, your observation of bigger environments working as separate entities is extremely important in a number of our larger schools– especially those that are “entrenched” in good reputations…

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