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):

Out of the mouths of babes…or stationary bike trainers #GreatQuotes

Watching stage 15 of the Tour de France tonight, I heard the following on a stationary trainer commercial:

Change is uncomfortable. But for those who strive for continuous improvement, change is a necessity.

Love it! Wish a professional educator had said it and received the quotation credit. Thankful to teachers in all shapes and sizes…even a stationary trainer!

CHANGEd: How ’bout we challenge patterns and routines? 60-60-60 #48.5

Some say the future belongs to the pattern see-ers. I think our future belongs to the pattern makers and the pattern challengers.

How ’bout we challenge patterns and routines more in school? Worst thing that could happen – we surprise some folks and realize the world won’t stop spinning. Best case scenario – we open new lenses of perceiving and learn from our risk…discover something new…create something better!

[Really, I just wanted @mmhoward to have to write for 61 days! I love what she’s writing!]

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

CHANGEd: What if we used version software designation to signal purposeful growth? 60-60-60 #14

One of many reasons I feel drawn to Unboundary involves their intentional practice of using version software designation to signal purposeful growth in the company. As the world and surrounds change, Unboundary adapts and evolves. Currently, the team designates itself “Unboundary 6.5.” More than just the suffixing of a number, the process under-girding this practice promises attention to change – kaizen – as a constant. Culture is transformed when a community knows that the version number should change…will change. What if schools used version software designation to signal such purposeful change?

Related post: “JH 2.11

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

#NAISac12 Helping me clarify thinking about EduInnovation

In terms of transforming schools, there are obviously degrees of transformation. How far we educators are willing to travel along that spectrum of possible transformation will determine a number of things, including: 1) if we will transform schools, 2) when we will transform schools, and 3) how fast we will transform schools.

While attending the 2012 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference: Innovation (Twitter hashtag #naisac12), I believe I have clarified my own thinking about EduInnovation. To an even greater amplitude than I previously felt, I think we should be pushing harder and farther and faster down the spectrum of transformational innovation in schools and of schools.

In the keynote this morning, Bill Gates advocated for four primary means to leverage technology to transform schools:

  1. Reimagine textbooks
  2. Scale our best teachers
  3. Connect through social networks
  4. Personalize learning

While I certainly agree with these tactics for improving school, I don’t think Gates pushed hard enough for the kind of deep innovation that would truly transform schools for our learners. To me, the issue rests in the fact that Gates seemed to imply that adults would continue to be the producers and students would continue to be the consumers of school. Yet Gates said himself that school eventually got in his way as a learner and as a doer and as an innovator. When Bernie Noe, Head of Lakeside School, introduced Gates, Noe told a story of asking Gates and Paul Allen what Lakeside did to help them be so innovative at such an early age. Gates and Allen both answered something to the effect that, for awhile, school got out of their way and let them pursue their passions and interests. My interpretation: school, for awhile, permitted Gates and Allen to “study” that which interested them and fulfilled them most – building computer systems. By permitting Gates and Allen to be producers, not mere consumers, Gates and Allen created some amazing innovations at school age. Of course, Gates later dropped out of undergraduate school…because it was getting in the way of his learning and producing.

Later in the day, I was treated to two new views of school. In one after-lunch session, I listened to a team from Hathaway Brown (OH) describe their Centers for Learning and the Institute for 21st Century Education.

In addition to studying the core, in what I interpreted to be the more “traditional” component to HB, the girls choose to engage in the Centers for Learning. They can spend one day in a center, or they can spend four years in a center…or they can enjoy any amount of time in between. The girls are not graded, and they pursue deep learning and engagement in these areas of knowledge and understanding. In all cases, the girls are engaging in “real-world” issues and matters through these centers for learning. Like Kiran Bir Sethi indicates in her TED talk that I reference ad infinitum, learning in this age should blur the boundaries between school and life. By doing so, young learners are much more likely to catch and spread the positive contagion known as the “I CAN” bug. [see this HB video about student space scientists]

According to one of the shared quotes of an HB graduate, she is sincerely grateful for what her experience provided her…

Just after the Hathaway Brown session, I learned with CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) Saeed Arida from NuVu studio and Head of Beaver Country Day School (MA) Peter Hutton. While I was blown away by the concept and design of the partnership between these learning entities, I was also reminded of my friend Gever Tulley’s Brightworks School in San Francisco. NuVu is putting student learners in the driver’s seat as producers of knowledge, design, and understanding. The adults are serving as guides on a fun course of scenic exploration and iterative prototyping.

In similar fashion to Hathaway Brown, Beaver Country Day School has a traditional component to its schooling, but it also offers a school within a school via its NuVu partnership. During a trimester, students can spend time in two-week iterative cycles of creative design and product development. How I wish I could be a student at Beaver Country Day and/or Hathaway Brown.

Despite being a presenter on Wednesday (with Jamie Baker, Grant Lichtman, and Lee Burns) on the topic of moving from “why innovate” to “how to innovate” (see our resources at, I remain deeply curious about the notion of whether an existing school can completely and wholly innovate. Does an existing school practically have to create a school within a school to seed innovation and grow a tree of fresh design within its existing forest of trees? Could this explain why so many new start ups seem to be emerging on the school landscape? Are those innovators at existing schools essentially creating micro start ups within their current cultures?

What interesting times these are for schools and educators and parents and students. How thankful I am for Hathaway Brown, NuVu, Beaver Country Day, Brightworks, Presbyterian Day School, and the many others who are pushing harder and farther and faster down the transformational and innovative spectrum of school change.

View the story “Contemplating EduInnovation” on Storify

[Note: I look forward to continuing to develop these unfinished and emerging thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and peers at #NAISAC12.]