I’ll never be the same again. A reflection on transforming school from consumer to creator. #IDreamASchool

I’ll never be the same again. 

Today marks an anniversary, of sorts, for me. Two years ago, on January 31, I committed to watching a TED talk everyday. I made this 3-to-18-minute commitment part of my larger personal learning routine – my way of “going to school” everyday. I had been watching TED talks for a few years, but I decided to up my ante and watch one everyday.

That’s over 700 talks in as many days – windows to some incredible topics and teachers from whom I can learn… for free (excluding opportunity cost, of course). My perspectives and points of view have been stretched, developed, altered, and grown.

I realized yesterday morning, while watching “Janine di Giovanni: What I saw in the war,”

that my TED-talk education has forever changed the way I view education at large. I will never be the same again. I will forever see schooling as being about so much more than just content delivery and knowledge transfer from one generation to the next.

School must engage and prepare students for the realities of their times.

Aran Levasseur wrote, “The best schools throughout history prepared their students for the social and economic realities of their time.” While watching over 700 TED talks in two years, I have witnessed great inventors, social activists, business owners, cause elevators, and thoughtful citizens. I have seen solutions seekers, problem finders, and connection makers. I have learned about societal issues, advancements in brain science, technological innovations, and global challenges.

Part of me thinks that the reason we have such talks and TED moments is because we need more of these heroes and opportunities. We need more creative solutions seekers and problem finders. We need more social activists and cause elevators. The talks are like advertisements for what we need more of.

And I’m not convinced that the traditional school structure – largely formatted to deliver departmentalized content knowledge – is the best means by which to develop and nurture the scale and shear numbers of engaged citizens that we need for the times in which we live. When traditional school works on a consumer framework – kids being receivers of information like radios to a broadcast tower – then the students get far too little practice exercising their muscles for problem finding, solutions seeking, empathic empowerment, and product creation.

If you want to develop soccer players, you facilitate the playing of soccer. If you want to develop violinists, you facilitate the playing of the violin. If you want creative solution producers, you facilitate the creative production of solutions. To real problems.

We don’t need many more “project” outputs that get thrown in the trashcan as soon as the grade is in the gradebook. We do need iterative prototypes that get discarded because the makers are learning from their mistakes as they create real solutions to real issues. I’d rather see my trashcan filled with early prototypes than finished school projects.

What doesn’t get thrown away is work that makes a real difference.

These projects are improving our world, not littering our trashcans:

There are countless more examples. But it’s not enough. More of a student’s day should be engaged with relevant issues that motivate their innate problem-solver genes. Our students are one of our most underutilized resources. They want to do work that matters. We must work to develop our profession as educators so that more feel comfortable facilitating such learning and growth for our young people. They are all smart in countless ways, and the bandwidth of wisdom that the world demands is much wider than the current bandwidth of knowledge transfer that too many schools are patterned on. Our young people are artists and makers and empathizers and solvers.

So, are we going to continue “manufacturing” consumers, or will we rise to our challenge and help grow creators and producers?

Maybe if we did, Janine di Giovanni would have fewer wars to cover.

Do you think I’ve taken the hypothesis too far? Well, maybe we should just try.

Process Post – Exploring Lines of Flight, Orchestrating and Coordinating #Innovation, and Other Murmurations


“Birds of a feather flock together.” How is it that various flocks of birds fly together in non-linear formation? How exactly do they communicate with each other to cut and cross paths in synchronized patterns? Is there a captain or a conductor or a coordinator? Do zigzagging birds rotate those roles of captain, conductor, or coordinator, like geese flying in a more linear V alternate as leads and followers? What exactly provides the connective tissue that molds together the mass of modulated majesty?

How could we “school people” learn to mimic the great flocks of birds that swarm together in tight, rhythmic formation? Biomimicry may be the way of the future, especially if we hope to innovate in the sustainable manner in which natural organisms innovate in response to their surrounding, environmental changes. In schools, we would do well to investigate and study the lines of flight that reveal a more organic pattern of collaborative learning.

Chapter 1 – Lines of Flight

Mary Ann Reilly, with her blog Between the By-Road and the Main Road, has me thinking a lot about birds. More specifically, Reilly has me contemplating lines of flight. In her post entitled “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” Reilly cites several definitions – better thought of here as contemplations or meanderings – for the term “lines of flight.”

Martin Wood and Sally Brown (2009) write: “A line of flight is essentially a movement of creativity, a practical act or a way of living that wards off or inhibits the formation of ‘centres’ and stable powers in favor of continuous variation and free action.” from here (Reilly, “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” n. pag.)

Then, Reilly switches to a second meandering and explains with a humongous string of comma-connected items that a line of flight is something like a tracer as “learners traverse and abandon, producing maps of their learning as they move.” (Reilly, “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” n. pag.) Certainly because of Reilly’s magnificent images that accompany her text, I am able to imagine more accurately the hypothetically traced path of a flying bird – serving as metaphor for the complex flight pattern of our typical, non-linear learning. I can see the hatch-work of tangled mess that really is no mess at all. In the section #6 of this post – “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight” – Reilly provides Maria Tamboukou’s diagram of “nomadic trajectories,” which further support the visualization of a line of flight for some winged creature such as a darting starling or meandering martin or frenetic finch – analogously representing the lines of flight we humans take as we move through a day, a week, and a month of interconnected, “messy” thinking and learning. What a gloriously beautiful tangle those lines of flight can be.

Then, in a follow-up post entitled “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not),” Reilly states, “Lines of flight represent the creative impulses we compose while thinking and doing that offer a seemingly novel way to disrupt concepts cast as dualities.” (Reilly, “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not),” n. pag.) Lines later, Reilly poses some traversal questions – the kind of inquiries that make you cross back in your thinking multiple times…the kind that create complex lines of flight:

  1. How do we attend to the creative impulses of learners that occur outside the domain of the school and challenge binary ways of knowing—ways we might well be situating as truth?
  2. What types of environmental and pedagogical considerations might be necessary in order to leverage/cull/come to know such thinking?
  3. How might we ‘carefully’ come to know and invite in (if possible) these lines of flight within the classroom and/or the ‘sanctioned’ learning?
  4. How often do we stop and acknowledge how little we know about our learners’ learning lives beyond our purview?
  5. How might lines of flight de/colonize classrooms?
  6. How do lines of flight engender inquiry as opposed to categorization?
  7. All knowing is constructed. How do lines of flight offer us a method to reduce our binary ways of knowing that may overpopulate a classroom?

Because of the visual organization of Reilly’s blog, these stirring questions seem almost to grow – to rise in flight – out of a foundational image produced by Reilly, and the image captures the real essence of our foolishness that learning is in any way bound by the four walls of a classroom – proverbial or real. If we are not mindful, our classroom thinking can trend toward thinking inside a box – literally and figuratively – as we categorize thinking into neatly bundled packages called math, science, English, and history. But are we really doing all we can to catalyze genuine inquiry in our young learners that we label as students? Are we encouraging the zigzags of natural lines of flight – the biomimicked version of a bird on the wind? Do we nourish questioning and integrate outside-of-class thinking, or do we squelch such because we have so much to cover in 180 days?

Clearly, Justin Tarte’s line of flight is intersecting Reilly’s line of flight. In his “What do you see…?” post from November 20, among other postulates of zigzagginess, Tarte questions:

If you are assigning work to be completed outside of school, do you see the other time commitments and constraints your students may have or do you see homework as more important than family and/or interests and hobbies? If you discover that a student is passionate about something that is not related to your content, do you see it as an opportunity to connect and relate your content to his/her passion or do you see his/her passion as something that is getting in the way of his/her learning? (Tarte, n. pag.)

What wonder might emerge if we school people acted more as travel agents or air traffic controllers who coordinated various trips and travels than if we kept the planes in the hangers of our cordoned-off sections of tarmacked airports?

[Ah, my own line of flight has taken me askew. And I am mixing metaphors as I am learning what I think by watching what I write. But now I am zigzagged back across a previous tracer line…]

Throughout Reilly’s posts, though, I tended to picture a single, solitary bird flying in zigzagged lines of flight, following such a tracer path as that white lightening bolt included in the foundational image emblazoned in Reilly’s “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not).” But I am more interested in FLOCKS of birds – how hundreds and thousands of birds can fly together in synchronized patterning…like those starlings on Otmoor in the YouTube video that opened this post.

Holds those thoughts for a moment. I promise to return to them, but I must tell another story…such is my zigzagging line of flight.

Chapter 2 – Innovation Strategist as Orchestra Director or Offensive Coordinator

Recently, on one of his lines of flight, Jonathan Martin (@jonathanemartin) was kind enough to tweet about a blog post that I wrote a few weeks back – “May seem roundabout, but it’s an exhilarating intersection.” Jonathan forwarded my notion that we need R&D Director of Innovation positions inside schools. A follower of Jonathan’s, @mrsdurkinmuses, agreed but argued that each of us should have that role already. Then, their dialogue of tweets turned down a path of funding contemplations. Perhaps that is where their lines of flight took them. [If you are not familiar with Twitter, the following conversation exists in reverse chronological order.]

Upon much reflection, I absolutely agree that all school leaders should willingly and enthusiastically be taking on the mantle of innovator. However, from working with a division full of innovators for the past several years, I see that we can all be like those lone starlings, martins, or finches. Even with care taken towards collaborative work habits, we school people can tend to return to our classrooms and fly our own individual flight patterns – our silo-ed lines of flight. Occasionally we might intersect; in fact, we are likely to intersect. But these intersections are often chance encounters facilitated by serendipity and chance more than by planning and intent.

What if we flew as a flock? What if we became more birds of a feather? What if schools of the future steered more purposefully toward the future of schools by coordinating the lines of innovative flight? I do not mean to create irony here. I am not calling for standardization of practice, and I am not meaning to disqualify that “continuous variation and free action” that Wood and Brown defined as the creative movement of a line of flight. However, I am wondering what we school people might be able to accomplish by way of navigating more as a flock, moving in a mass of modulated majesty. Yes, we should all play our own instruments or positions, but how are we coordinating and strategizing our play?

Would an orchestra be able to create its majestic music without the swirlings of a director or conductor? Would the music sound as melodic or sweet? Would a football team be able to function as a coordinated whole, composed of unequal parts linemen, running backs, wide receivers, and quarterback, without the expert coaching from an offensive coordinator? Would the game be as purposefully exciting? Who serves in the comparable role for a school? Who weaves together the complex lines of flight of the creative masters of education – the teachers – while employing a determined focus to research and development…along a roadmap of intentional travel? Is it the school head? Is it the principal? Is it the curriculum coordinator? The department chairs? The superintendent? Can the people mantled with those titles and responsibilities devote enough majority attention to R&D and strategic, systemic innovation?

Much is being written about innovation. To name but a few:

But, in each case, notice where that apostrophe accents. That precise punctuation calls attention to the singular possessive. What if we moved that apostrophe to the outside of the letter S, and what if we forced the plural possessive? Has the book been written that tells us of how we might fly as a flock by embracing and empowering the innovators’ conductor? The innovators’ coordinator? The innovators’ connector? The innovators’ director or strategist?

In summarizing and translating Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen with his recent post “18 Tips for Becoming Better Educational Innovation Leaders: Advice from Christensen’s Innovator’s DNA,” Jonathan Martin’s list may be the closest current thing to such a book that deals with possible macro-lines of flight for inspiring and facilitating the innovative efforts for flocks of progressive educators. Bill Ferriter also comes close to providing some serious “book chapters,” too, in his Tempered Radical posts:

However, both of my very respected colleagues, Martin and Ferriter, may still remain as in-satiated and still-curious as I am about how to actually serve as an orchestra-like conductor or an offensive-like coordinator for directing and coaching a mass of modulated majesty of ENTIRE SCHOOLS acting as FLOCKS in such synchronized innovation. Is it enough to inspire and motivate a school-full of innovating teachers and staff? Most certainly, to inspire and motivate such is a fabulous and necessary start. But it is my experience that these innovations often remain segregated by walls that separate math class from science class, as well as by those that separate English class from history class.

Like the sound waves that blend in the airspace surrounding an orchestra playing a symphony, and like the commentated, chalk-line routes that define a football team working in offensive harmony, how do we blend and harmonize the departmentalized learning that is occurring in most disciplined classrooms of specific, segregated subject matter? Schools of the future must assuredly be tearing down walls that prevent such blending and harmonizing. And when we do, we must work as educational leaders to ensure that the resulting sounds, coming from previously impermeable containers, combine in reinforcing frequencies rather than in cancelling frequencies or noisy cacophonies. We need to work to make beautiful music.

I’d like to schedule a trip to that whole-school destination! I would like to trace that line of flight! How do all of those starlings on Otmoor know to turn, gee, and haw together?! How do they conduct their coordinated flight? How do they mold into that mass of modulated majesty? How might we “school people” develop that biomimicked synergy?

On to fly…in the zeal of zigzags…as a member of the flock, not alone.

Chapter 3 – Murmurations of Symphonic Innovation

[Coming soon…as my line of flight takes me there with my flock.]


Reilly, Mary Ann. “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not)” (http://maryannreilly.blogspot.com/2011/11/exploring-lines-of-flight.html). Between the By-Road and the Main Road. Nov. 22, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.

Reilly, Mary Ann. “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight” (http://maryannreilly.blogspot.com/2011/11/reimagining-learning-as-lines-of-flight.html). Between the By-Road and the Main Road. Nov. 18, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.

Tarte, Justin. “What do you see…?” (http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/4917). Connected Principals. Nov. 20, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.

21C Learning…It’s ALL About Your Mindset! OR…What Kind of Boat Are You Building?!

Right now, I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on earth…amazing and healthy family, great health for myself and my loved ones, warm home and no worries about my next meal, exciting and purposeful job that focuses on growth of self and others, a spirituality of faith and significance in the world, a life in a country founded in freedom…and the list goes on! And for the proverbial “cherry on top,” I am serving a sabbatical to advance my work and interest on the topic of “The Future of Schools and Schools of the Future.” I imagine I am enough to make even the extreme optimists marginal. I am learning and I am growing. I am not yet the educational leader I will learn to be, but I have every advantage and the mindset I need to get there.

Since March 22, I have been in “phase II” of my sabbatical. Phase I involved a two-week internship at Unboundary, recent subject of a Huffington Post. [Search this blog for “Unboundary” to see related posts here.] Phase II is concentrated on school visits, a conference, and a few “random and invaluable” opportunities. Here is a snapshot of what phase II has involved:

  • March 22 – student-shadow visit and meeting with Laura Deisley (@Deacs84) at The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 22 – attended Jeff Small’s (@jeffreysmalljr) launch of novel The Breath of God.] (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 23 – Morris Brandon Primary, Kindergarten field trip to Yellow River Game Ranch.]
  • March 24 – sixth-grade visit to Trinity School, Atlanta, GA, and Megan Howard (@mmhoward). (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25 – meeting with Gever Tulley (@Gever), co-founding Brightworks, a new school, San Francisco, CA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25-28 – ASCD Annual Conference 2011 (@ASCD and #ASCD11…many tweets at this hashtag)
  • March 26 – dinner with Jill Gough (@jgough) and Grant Lichtman (soon to be on Twitter!), author of The Falconer and C.O.O. of Francis Parker School, San Diego, CA.
  • At ASCD conference, numerous informal meals and great conversations with Jill Gough, Bob Ryshke (@centerteach), and Barbara Preuss (Drew Charter School).
  • March 27 – meeting with Jill, Bob, Grant, and Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) – The Tempered Radical, Solution Tree award-winning author, and NC teacher.
  • March 27 – dinner with Jill, Bob, and Grant.
  • March 28 – Solution Tree (@solutiontree) breakfast about PLCs (professional learning communities).
  • March 29 – visit to The Bay School, San Francisco, CA. (tweets at #bayviz)
  • March 30 – meetings with Jonathan Martin (@jonathanemartin) and visit to St. Gregory School, Tucson, AZ. (tweets at #gregviz)

From all of those bullet-points – mere place-holders-in-pixels for absolutely invaluable real-life experiences – I am building a mind-map. Here is the start, and it will undergo countless changes as I reflect and synthesize…evaluate and analyze…collaborate and amplify. What is here now is only a rough beginning…a starting place.

What I am realizing already is this:

The single-most important attribute in 21st century teaching and learning is THE GROWTH MINDSET!

  1. Carol Ann Tomlinson said it directly at the ASCD conference. She talked of Dweck specifically.
  2. Heidi Hayes Jacobs alluded to it as she talked about “upgrades.” You cannot upgrade if you don’t believe in growth or fear change.
  3. Chip Heath indicated that mindset is a fundamental thread in directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path. He talked of Dweck’s game-changing work.
  4. Peter Reynolds demonstrated the critical nature of a growth mindset as he read The Dot and Ish, and as he showed He Was Me (video below). Creativity necessitates a mindset steeped in growth orientation.
  5. Linda Darling-Hammond mentioned it by name and all but demanded it for our national education policy.
  6. John Hattie, after years of a meta-analysis of 800 meta-analyses (200,000,000 subjects) made it clear – the growth mindset is THE most influential factor in student and teacher success.
  7. My individual sessions all touched on the growth mindset in one way or another. The session on the 3rd Rail: Grading emphasized the possibility that arcane and unexamined grading practices undermine learning and promote a fixed mindset.
  8. 10,000 educators were at ASCD to learn and grow, too.
  9. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke about the third chapter of life, ages 50-75, and the need for renewed spirit aimed at growth and further development. Don’t stand still!
  10. The teachers at Lovett, Trinity, Bay, and St. Gregory who are striving to learn and grow are the teachers who are advancing the schools and earning the distinctions among the student learners.
  11. Gever Tulley is founding a school on the entire idea as represented in the philosophy and pedagogy of “learning arcs.”
  12. Grant Lichtman wrote a foundational work on the power of questioning and seeking growth as a learner and system understander of our world and thinking.
  13. Bill Ferriter promotes the connected life of Twitter and other social networking – not just to understand the iGeneration – but to share one’s resources and gain access to the resources of others for the benefit and possibility for growth and new learning.
  14. Jonathan Martin showcased Steve Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” RSA video to make the point that connectivity and coffee-housing create the opportunities for enriched thinking and enlightened growth as a collective efforts weave together for better ideas and a better world.

And then this morning, I read a blog post of someone I met on Twitter at ASCD. I have never met the person face-to-face, but I am learning immeasurably from adding Jeff Delp (@azjd) to my Google Reader. Here is one of the quotes he chose to begin a post:

Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic. – Author unknown.

21st century learning…it’s ALL about your mindset. The waters of educational change are rising. What kind of boat are you building? With whom are you building it?