New normal leaders set conditions for non-conformist growth

In the newly launched resource, Radar: The Journal of Adaptive Change, Paula Champa authored an article titled, “Don’t Follow the Leader: The Demise of the Mini-Me and the Future of Talent Development.” In the piece, Champa weaved together the research of Adam Grant and Carol Dweck.

An organization stands a greater chance of positively influencing its future trajectory when it fosters initiative and an adaptive mindset in its people.

The article is a must read for leaders working in transformative organizations who are mindful of culture within the leadership team. The provocation provides fodder for continuous reflection and kaizen around the dynamic equilibrium among “shared understanding” and “non-conformist diversity strength in a team.”

Included below are Adam Grant’s and Carol Dweck’s TED talks. How are your subtle leadership tactics communicating conform and comply versus agitate and grow?

REFLECTION: 7 Questions, May 7, 2016

7 Questions to End Your Week - HW

OBSERVE: What pleasant surprises did I discover this week?

This week I discovered some very complex commitment to our school norms. A leader and colleague at our school made some contributions during a meeting, and, upon reflection, circled back with several people to “fill the gap” between expectations and experiences. Because we all commit to #AssumeTheBest and #StartWithQuestions and #ShareTheWell and #FailUp, I, once again, was encouraged by the culture we are purposeful about building. I hope and trust that all will loop back to colleagues like this leader demonstrated.

REFLECT: What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?

Repeatedly, I seem to think that others understand the “range finder” and “gantt chart” of our mission-and-vision action steps in the same way that I feel I understand them — because we talk about them and collaborate actively on them. However, upon reflection because of some meeting conversations, I need to work to do a better job of creating deep, shared understanding about some of our PL focus and grant work and R&D efforts, especially as the division autonomy and division coordination/collaboration must work in dynamic balance and harmony with each other.

FOCUS: Are my short-term efforts and long-term goals sill aligned?

I need to continue to dig in and develop my deep knowledge and skills in PBL, so that I can be a resource, collaborator and support for the intensive and advanced work we intend to do in real-world contextual learning at MVPS.

BE PRODUCTIVE: What could I have spent more or less time doing?

I am working to (paradoxically) reduce the amount of information streams that come into my learning dashboard, so that I can concentrate on particular streams that require more concentrated focus right now — namely PBL and sophisticated assessment strategies that weave together learning-outcomes and habits of mind. Spending an hour on Fridays with my MVIFI Nucleus team in a rough version of “20% time” is proving to be invaluable to me, at least. We laugh together while we learn deeply together, and I have already made advancements in my deeper understanding of drawing, making, and PBL on campus because of my precious time with them.

HAVE COURAGE: How did fear and uncertainly affect what I did and didn’t do?

At the conclusion of a meeting this week, I feared that some key leadership groups still did not have a deep enough common understanding of some collaborative strategic work. I think this fear and uncertainty can affect my engagement with others in some ways. However, by being open and up front with each other, I think a majority of the team worked through some of the frustrations to a deeper shared understanding. By overcoming the fear and challenging one another, in positive and productive ways, we can build more deep collaboration and strategic teaming together. By leaving the frustrations unchallenged and under the surface, deterioration of teamwork can occur. I am blessed to work on a team that exposes differences and works through them.

CLENSE: What mental clutter can I clear?

#AssumeTheBest and let go of the mental clutter associated with wondering why someone might be acting contrary to our expectations. Have the courage to ask and talk with that person — that person!

BEGIN ANEW: What is the first logical step for next week?

SAME AS LAST WEEK: Create the pro forma for a multi-year project so that a team can have a clearer sense of several related issues for better decision making on connected fronts.


NOTE: I am venturing into an experiment. I plan to use these 7 Questions to End Your Week as a discipline of regular reflection. I feel very strongly about reflective practice. As John Dewey has taught me, learning is not simply experience, but reflecting on experience. Additionally, I think we neglect a fundamentally important opportunity when we choose to assign “homework” as a school but fail to prompt reflections like these seven questions as a building habit in young (and old) learners. What if a menu of prompts like these, and others, became more integrated into the home learning that we expect from our students and colleagues at our schools? So, to explore this wondering, I am assigning the questions and prompts first and foremost to myself. And I have invited other members of my tribe to enter into this experiment with me. I cannot wait to see all that I/we learn.

Leading change demands living the change…and building agency

In a recent article on EML, Will Richardson shared that he asks the districts he works with, “Is this a school that learns?” He went on to write these provocative questions:

What does a learning school look like? What’s the culture of a school that learns? How does it happen?

Will sparked in me some significant reflection. He also spurred me to write this blog post and share how Mount Vernon is, indeed, a school that learns. Here’s one example how…

The made world is designed. Everything in it is designed. Therefore, this made world is malleable, changeable, and transformable. For if it was designed, then it can be redesigned. And we all have the ability to make these changes in our world.

This simple argument is at the heart of agency. And we in education should be about the business of inspiring and nurturing agency in our learners. The very essence of being an engaged citizen leader is realizing and understanding one’s capability – one’s agency – to be a positive change agent in the world.

For years, Mount Vernon has focused its work around inspiring and nurturing the agency of learners. We are about designing and making, in numerous and myriad forms, and we are committed to developing engaged citizen leaders who see themselves as agents of change. And we are taking our work in design and making to a next level. We are building our maker, design, and engineering programs, and this work is invigorating and exciting.

Jim Tiffin and T.J. Edwards are leading these efforts to build our maker, design, and engineering programs. Jim Tiffin is the Director of Maker and Media, and T.J. Edwards is the newly appointed Director of Design and Engineering. Together, they are a phenomenal, dynamic duo, and they are integral members of the MVIFI nucleus team. I consider myself most blessed to work alongside them.

Throughout the year, Jim, T.J., and the MVIFI team will be leading a charge to create and construct the next levels of design-and-maker-based learning at Mount Vernon. We’re fortunate to be learning from many others along the way. And we’re looking forward to sharing with many the various stories of this purposeful build that we are experiencing.

But how do you go about such change work?


Among the many lessons of change and program building is this critical mantra: The leaders must live the change.

So, if we intend to take making, design, and engineering to new levels at Mount Vernon, then we must live the change we are expecting. How exactly are we doing this?

Well, here are four ways that we are setting the conditions so that leaders at Mount Vernon can live the change that we are envisioning in maker, design, and engineering.

ONE. If we want more making in school, then we need to build our own skills and understandings as makers.

This summer, The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s Exploratorium and Coursera offered a MOOC (massive, open, online course) called “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning.” T.J. made us aware of this course, and we enrolled together as a small group. The learning was powerful and intense, and it coupled leading research in learning, brain science, and pedagogy with practical experience as participant and facilitator in maker education. For me personally, the experience was invaluable, as I was able to read and watch curated articles and videos (see two examples below) while also trying my hand at tinkering activities that I had never done while wearing these particular lenses of emerging maker facilitator. Additionally, the course materials and practices provided T.J. and me with a number of things to think through and plan together in our own programatic build with Jim.

TWO. If we want more making in school, then we need to make in leadership team meetings.

A mentor of mine once told me (actually, he said it multiple times), “Bo, as much as possible, you should DO the projects that you are expecting your learners to do.” He implored me to lead from a position of experiential understanding. So, if we believe that we are creating conditions for more sophisticated and advanced design and making to exist in our MV classrooms, then we decided to immerse our school leaders in such project work from the very beginning. Therefore, in August, at a meeting for division heads and heads of learning and innovation, we utilized the scribble bot learning that we had undertaken during coursework in the Tinkering MOOC. Here’s a quick movie trailer of that session we enjoyed together – these are the “principals” and “academic deans” of our four divisions at Mount Vernon.

THREE. If we want more making in school, then we need to make time for making in our professional learning days.

For months, we knew that we were scheduled for a professional learning day on October 9, 2015. However, in early September, we decided to reimagine that day as an internal conference, hosted by MVIFI. We named the inaugural event Collider, and we established a small list of sessions that prioritized our strategic objectives as a school. Jim and T.J. co-designed and co-facilitated “anchor sessions” (like anchor stores at a mall) for maker, design, and engineering. On purpose, we set the conditions for faculty to elect into learning experiences that would advance their knowledge, experience, and excitement around design and making. We were intentional about ensuring that building interest in and capacity for maker, design, and engineering was a part of our professional learning day, even before we had all of the details established for the overall programmatic architecture. By doing so, we were prioritizing a strategy of getting our faculty involved.

FOUR. If we want more making in school, then we need to experiment with entirely new ways of developing capacity.

At Mount Vernon, we are fortunate to live in a culture of prototyping and educational entrepreneurship. We ideate frequently about new possibilities, and we rapidly prototype these ideas into physical manifestations. On this maker, design, and engineering front, we are offering “evening maker clubs” for our faculty and staff. This is just a simple idea that we came up with – kind of like book clubs, but for tinkering. So, at the end of September, the MVIFI team prototyped a “dine and design evening,” learned from the experiment, and created a new program for getting faculty together for some food, fellowship, and fun – all centered around building creative confidence in maker, design, and engineering.

Gallery of Photos from Prototype Night for “XLR8 Makers”

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recent invitation sent to Mount vernon faculty for xlr8: makers

MVIFI XLR8 Makers Nov. 12 2015

To purposefully advance the strategic vision and practices of a school requires agency. By definition, such work is about change, and educational leaders must see themselves as change agents – designers, makers, and engineers of better and better learning architectures.

Most importantly, we educators must take seriously our opportunities and responsibilities to inspire and nurture agency in our learners – in ourselves, in our faculties and staffs, in our students, in our parents, and in our surrounding communities. And this incredible work necessarily involves integrating more making, designing, and engineering programs for the benefit and capacity building of our learners.

To do so most successfully demands that we lead by living the change ourselves.

What drives the most high-achieving teams? How are you nurturing such work in your schools?

How should we build teams so that we accomplish truly great things? In a tremendous TED talk, Margaret Heffernan implores us to concentrate on the mortar far more than we focus on the bricks.

Once you appreciate truly how social work is, a lot of things have to change. Management by talent contest has routinely pitted employees against each other. Now, rivalry has to be replaced by social capital….Now, we need to let people motivate each other. And for years, we’ve thought that leaders were heroic soloists who were expected, all by themselves, to solve complex problems. Now, we need to redefine leadership as an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.

We know that this works.

Margaret Hefferman: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work

Making Time

How do you plan for your strategic use of time?

In a culture that seems to take some kind of pride in talking about how busy we all are, it seems even more important that we purposefully plan for our time, so that we can ensure that we focus as much as possible on the essential and strategic. That is, if we are truly striving to do significant work and intentionally make a difference.

In the past, I’ve written about my approach to this strategic planning for use of my time…

During the last days of 2014, I created my first prototype for my 2015 schedule paradigm.

For me, I create this schedule paradigm by engaging in some reflection about how I spent my time in the previous two semesters, and I calibrate those data and insights with how I perceive I need to spend my time relative to our strategic goals and objectives as a school.

Then, I ask for feedback…

Dear All:

I don’t mean to interrupt your break. I’m simply getting something into your inboxes for when you return to work. (Happy New Year!)

I’m sharing my “schedule paradigm” prototype for semester two, 2014-15. And I have two requests of each of you, which I hope will only take 5-15 minutes max.

1. Because you are the people with whom I work most closely, I want you to be aware that this is my current thinking about how I plan to structure my recurrent time for second semester. [Most of you know that I do this every August and January to “put the big rocks in the jar first.” Here’s a 2011 blog post, if you’re interested, where I first explain this practice of mine.]

*2. I’d love any of your thoughts, comments, questions, and feedback on how I’ve structured my time plan (which I call a “schedule paradigm”).

Some of the questions I already know I have:

  • As I try to ramp up my CLIO time, how might I get back into weekly work with Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School? Is there a regular weekly/monthly way for me to get re-involved with the other divisions? What do Kelly, Shelley, and Chip + Katie and Nicole see as those opportunities?
  • How might Mary and I return to regular meet-ups to strategically work on DT across divisions and curricula? How might we include Jim?
  • How can I best support Meghan in the development of iDiploma’s big picture, as well as with the on-the-ground work this semester?
  • How can I best support Kristyn with the (i)Project development and future framework?
  • What support/co-labor do the other US SLT members need that I am not providing them?
  • How might I stay focused on the Progress Monitoring System work across divisions, and especially in Upper School this semester?
  • How do I best ensure that I am in classrooms at least 8-10 hours per week?
  • Is there enough white space for people to come get me, drop in, schedule time for all the things that I don’t know yet will come up but that always seem to?
  • How do I best prioritize #fuse15 ramp up?
  • How do I best do my share of the leadership and heavy lifting for the intensive work that MVIFI needs?



The feedback I receive from my peer and colleagues is invaluable. From their questions and ideas, I’m already adjusting parts of the schedule so that my plans for strategic time allocation align and synergize with theirs.

As you do your work to lead a school, classroom, project, venture, company, or other endeavor, how do you make time? I’d love to learn from you via comments and links you might leave here.


This post first appeared on It’s About Learning 1.10.2015