A piece of “why:” weaving together three strands of a strong rope for engaging school change

Strand #1: Tony Wagner as cited in the National Association of Independent School’s 21st Century Imperative…

Tony Wagner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education interviewed over 600 CEOs, asking them the same essential question: “Which qualities will our graduates need in the 21st century for success in college, careers, and citizenship?”

Wagner’s list of Seven Survival Skills is a distillation of the outcomes of these hundreds of interviews and adds validity to the case we are making. They are:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem-solving
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading By Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurship
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

 The World Has Changed

In The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It, Tony Wagner argues that “in today’s competitive global ‘knowledge economy,’ all students need new skills for college, careers, and citizenship. The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today’s youth – and our country – at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so our schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete – even the ones that score best on standardized tests. This is a very different problem requiring an altogether different solution.”

[from NAIS COA “A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future”]

Strand #2: Seth Godin – “Stop Stealing Dreams”

6. Changing what we get, because we’ve changed what we need

If school’s function is to create the workers we need to fuel our economy, we need to change school, because the workers we need have changed as well.

The mission used to be to create homogenized, obedient, satisfied workers and pliant, eager consumers.

No longer.

Changing school doesn’t involve sharpening the pencil we’ve already got. School reform cannot succeed if it focuses on getting schools to do a better job of what we previously asked them to do. We don’t need more of what schools produce when they’re working as designed. The challenge, then, is to change the very output of the school before we start spending even more time and money improving the performance of the school.

[from Seth Godin “Stop Stealing Dreams”]

Strand #3: Sir Ken Robinson – “RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

NOTE: I highly recommend studying all three of these resources in great depth. Of course, there are countless related resources, as well. ANd there are more pieces to the “why,” such as brain research, technology advancements, world conditions, etc. But if a faculty would commit to studying these three resources as a think tank of sorts, I believe that a group of committed thinkers and doers could reveal and experiment with many of the “whats” and “hows” to make this transformation in education.


Works Cited:

Godin, Seth. “Stop Stealing Dreams: (what is school for?).” http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/StopStealingDreamsSCREEN.pdf.

Robinson, Ken. “RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U.

Witt, Robert and Jean Orvis. “A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.” National Association of Independent Schools. 2010. http://www.nais.org/files/PDFs/NAISCOASchools.pdf.


[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

CHANGEd: What if we used the Big Shifts to evolve? 60-60-60 #56

Do educators really listen to the leaders of our national organizations? Shouldn’t we? As a member of an NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) school, I believe I should listen and respond to the leadership of Pat Bassett. Will you take 27 minutes to watch his talk about the Big Shifts for schools of the future? Isn’t it worth 27 minutes to understand more fully how our NAIS president believes schools must be disturbed and evolve to become relevant and effective schools of the future? And it’s not just for independent schools; it’s for all schools!

Oh, watching and listening is only a start. We should be inspired to DO. We should be inspired to ACT.

As I have continued to plan for a faculty meeting that I will not be leading in August 2012, I would add Pat’s TEDx talk to my list of “brainfood” resources. And I think I would add the NAIS Commission on Accreditation’s – A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.

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 http://bit.ly/WhytoHowNAIS12), 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.]


Learner-preneurship and Innovation – PLEASE share your thinking! #NOV8 #NAIS #NAIS2012

What are the conditions necessary for “learner-preneurship” in schools? How can we establish, maintain, sustain, and promote entrepreneurial-type innovation in the strategic designs, daily operations and purposeful activities that define “school?”

On December 28, I was blessed to receive a Twitter DM from Jamie Baker (@JamieReverb). Jamie has invited me to co-present at the NAIS 2012 Annual Conference, along with her other teammates Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman of The Falconer) and Lee Burns (@PDSHeadmaster). I am thrilled to join such a team of inspired educators and dynamic, innovative thinkers and doers.

W8. Move from “Why Innovate?” to “How?” — Become an Entrepreneurial School
Entrepreneurs know how to innovate. Discuss how to innovate at your school by developing the entrepreneur’s mindset in the board, head of school, administrators, teachers, and students. Cultivate understanding in the entrepreneur’s innovation process, building capacity by moving through resistance, and developing organizational habits of innovation.
PRESENTERS: Jamie Baker, Reverb Consulting (TN); A. Lee Burns, Presbyterian Day School (TN); Grant Lichtman, Francis Parker School (CA); Bo Adams, The Westminster Schools (GA)

For the next several weeks, I imagine that I will be writing and thinking even more deliberately and intentionally about innovation in schools. To write is to think, and I look forward to developing my thinking here in this blog and elsewhere.

Given that “WE are smarter than ME,” I am curious what you think about the opening questions in this blog post. Do you have ideas about what makes some schools more “learner-preneurial” and innovative than other schools? Do you have hypotheses, research, thoughts, and opinions about how innovation can become more nurtured in the ways that we work in schools? I hope you will take some time to share your thinking in the comments below – your resources, your ideas, your questions, your own blog posts and writings about the topic of innovation in schools. Here’s to our ideas colliding in a Steve Johnson coffee house of sorts.

Thanks for sharing. WE are smarter than ME!

PLEASE JOIN THE IDEATION HERE (and elsewhere)! On New Year’s Day, here’s to a 2012 full of innovative ideation and implementation!

Happy New Year! It’s About Learning!

[Note: An interesting story about the power of PLNs – I will meet Jamie Baker and Lee Burns for the first time face-to-face at our February 29 NAIS session. While we “know” each other online and while we will certainly video-conference in the weeks ahead, it is the power of “the world’s best faculty lounge” that has brought us together for this work!]

Pat Bassett, NAIS, the Five Cs + 1, and Schools of the Future

Are you mapping your school’s journey in this 21st century? Do you know which maps to reference? Do you know which maps to chart yourself? When your school drives a flag into the frontier line of one of these proverbial maps, does your school have clear travel plans, itineraries, and methods of travel to reach the destination(s)?

In his November 9-16, 2011 blog post, president of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Pat Bassett declares that his next few blog posts will detail the Five Cs + One. I am looking forward to this series! In the current post, Bassett encourages some particular steps to take as schools mapping our journeys into the future:

One practical step: Now that most of our schools have finished “backward designing” and “mapping” subjects (math, language arts, science, foreign language, social studies/history, the arts, etc.), it’s time to do so for the six Cs: What’s your K-12 creativity map? Your collaboration map? Your character map? Your cosmopolitanism/cross-cultural competency map? Etc.

One larger step: Since before the beginning of the university centuries ago, knowledge has been compartmentalized, by the subject area disciplines, those noted above and many others: It’s worth wondering if students wouldn’t be better-served if we paid more attention to organizing knowledge in the service of skills rather than the other way around. And experimenting with how project-based learning, inquiry learning, expeditionary learning, STEM robotics, and the like as the vessels for re-engaging students in real-world problem-solving, “where “just in time” learning replaces “just in case” learning.

Onward cartographers and journeyers! It’s about learning!