Process Post: Contemplating Juxtapositions

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. Just this morning, on my walks with Lucy, I listened to a podcast from The Moth:

Martha Manning: What Can’t Be Fixed
Posted: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 15:25:03 +0000
Play Now
A therapist, and her car, break down.

Martha Manning tells a beautiful story about her patient/friend Ann confronting cancer, and she juxtaposes this heartfelt tale with another story about her car and a mechanic.

My thoughts this morning were in interesting juxtaposition to the story by Martha Manning. For whatever reason, I wondered about why I have made some of the decisions that I have made in my educational career. In particular, two decisions stood out:

  1. In the summer of 1997, I decided to write a new economics curriculum for my eighth graders and to abandon the textbook that had been used for many years. [Choices, the resulting curriculum, still remains, but that is another story – it is long overdue for an abandonment and complete reinvention, in my humble opinion!] Why, in my fourth year of teaching, and only my second year at that particular school, did I decide to do such a thing? And why did my colleague who taught the other sections of Economics 8 agree to such a thing? And why did my principal trust me to do such a thing?
  2. In 2010, I led a launch of a new course called Synergy. My teaching and learning partner, Jill Gough, and I piloted a course that would refuse to be silo-ed into any one department, and the primary curriculum would be community issues problem identification and solution. And it would be heavily assessed, but non-graded. Why, at that particular point in my teaching and administration work, did I decide to do such a thing? Why did I want to break away from the departmentalized, subject-content system and experiment with a course that hypothetically would match more closely the mixed-up, complex world for which we say we are preparing students?

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. In 1997, my courtship and upcoming marriage to my wife, Anne-Brown, was juxtaposed with my decision to write Choices. In 2010 (and even years earlier during the design and creation phases), my rearing and raising of my two sons was juxtaposed with my decision to launch Synergy.

Now, in hindsight, I wonder about how those major family occurrences – those dramatically wonderful life changes – influenced my educational-career choices. In addition to being committed to research and experimentation, I think my marriage year and my childrearing drastically influenced my decisions to create Choices and Synergy. With my marriage, I believe that I identified more strongly with the parents who send their children to school. I believe that I could put myself in their shoes as life partners who were contemplating a family and what it means to be a family in this city, state, nation, and world. And, certainly with my raising of my sons, I viewed each and every student differently. In the faces of the 561 children at school, I saw the faces and hearts and minds of my own two children.

And I want more for them than the outmoded, outdated portions of school that reside in an industrial-age era. Don’t get me wrong – I love school. I believe in school. But I think school needs some significant R&D work! And I would like to be part of that team – those teams – of people who are working tirelessly to review, reset, re-imagine, re-purpose, revise and re-invent school. I want something different for my boys and for all of the children that remind me of my boys. I would love for school to be more relevant and less silo-ed. I would love for school to be less grade-oriented and more feedback and assessment oriented. I would love for school to more closely resemble the world in which we are preparing our students to live and work.

Interestingly (to me), as I sit and type, I am realizing that my 1997 decision about Choices was also juxtaposed with my contemplations about graduate school – would I study the intersections of economics and anthropology, or would I study the complexities of education? And, in 2010, juxtaposed with my decision to pilot Synergy, I was getting much more immersed in blogging and the blog-o-sphere – reading and writing fairly voraciously about what was happening in schooling and education across the planet. Those windows of insight – both those lenses of family and those lenses of my own professional learning and contemplation – made me want desperately to be more involved in the team of people “trying to build a better lightbulb.”

And so, this morning, I face another juxtaposition. Today, I begin officially at Unboundary, serving as the director of educational innovation. For the past few months, I have received some interesting reactions from people about my decision to explore education and schooling from a different perspective than that of an “active school person” teaching quintessential classrooms of students and administrating a faculty. Some have accused me of abandoning education and schooling. Others, of course, have been incredibly supportive and excited by my explorations and intended discoveries. For I do not believe I am abandoning schools or education. I do not think I am “selling out” to the corporate sector. I see that I am working on the next chapter of my education and learning book. I see that I am striving to serve as an operator at the intersection of what school has been, what school could be, and what strategic design and significance consulting can teach us about “schools” of the future.

As Martha Manning says in her story, “Some things just cannot be fixed.” Nevertheless, I am overjoyed to be working in a new type of research laboratory to experiment with the endless possibilities of what school could be. Maybe school doesn’t need fixing. Maybe school cannot be fixed. But school can learn, and school can change. In fact, that is the business of schools – learning and change. So…let’s make it so.

Here’s to the next chapter. Here’s to the juxtaposition of school, education, strategic design, and significance consulting. It’s not about fixing things. It’s about learning and serving.

To #Unboundary

(n.) strategic design studio, located in Atlanta, GA, which helps companies “define their purpose and pursue significance.” [from the Unboundary web site]

(v.) to remove limits of an area, subject, or sphere of activity [adapted from Apple’s spotlight definition of “boundary”]

In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

– Eric Hoffer

As you walk into the former Atlanta-roundhouse space that is now inhabited by Unboundary, the Eric Hoffer quote greets you near the door. This is a door, in fact, that draws me in; this is a door that greeted me daily during my sabbatical (see two of many sabbatical posts here and here); this is a door that will mark my coming and going much more frequently beginning on July 15. Through this door, Hoffer reminds me that I am, indeed, in times of profound change, and he reminds us all to be learners embracing change.

During my almost twenty years as a professional educator, and certainly during my almost nine years as a school principal, I have found myself immersed in countless discussions concerning the pace and nature of change in our world. In the most recent years, I have concentrated my efforts to be one who enables and empowers schools to maintain pace with this never-ending change, so that we might help people of all ages serve and lead in our changing world.

Joining the conversations and communities on Twitter and other world-connecting blog media, I have similarly surrounded myself with hundreds and hundreds of professional educators and others who are contemplating and implementing school change so that schools remain deeply significant in an age defined by ubiquitous access to information and learn-anytime-anywhere technology. In so many conversations, both those that happen online and those that happen face-to-face, it seems that we educators are striving to unboundary the areas typically referred to as “school” and “real-life.” During her TED talk, Kiran Bir Sethi beautifully espouses the notion of blurring the lines between school and life so that students can be infected with the “I can bug” and realize their ability to make a positive difference in our world – not when they graduate to their real life, but now, because now is their real life.

On September 19, 2011, I announced that the 2011-12 academic year would be my last as principal of The Westminster Schools Junior High School. I took a leap of true faith. Then, I began to piece together and design a potential next chapter of my educational career as something akin to an innovation strategist and synergist for 21st century school change and development. In the months of October, November, December, and January, I benefited immeasurably from the wisdom, questioning, advice, and guidance of about two dozen individuals who graciously engaged me in countless conversations about how to create a job serving as a hub to the various spokes of this learning-in-the-21st-century wheel. To each and every one of you – THANK YOU! And to my wife Anne-Brown, BLESS YOU for your faith and support, and thank you for being the first and foremost of this tribe who helped me discern my next steps.

As of Tuesday, February 21, I officially have my new, dream job…my next chapter…my ideal, “plan A” role that will allow me to continue and to expand my service as an educational leader in these times of profound change. In his announcement to the Unboundary team, president and chief executive Tod Martin explained my future work in the following way:

Bo joins us in a hybrid role. He will be integrated into existing client work, particularly in workshopping, and will also play an instrumental role in expanding Unboundary into a new arena. Over the past year, you’ve heard me talk about the vision of us developing new kinds of clients — other than corporations — where our skills at transformation design would be valuable. One of the “new kinds of clients” we’ve talked about is education. Bo will help lead our efforts to build a practice and develop clients in education.

Already I am indebted to the visionary leadership of Tod Martin and to the team that he has fielded at Unboundary. So much synergy potential exists at the crossroads of corporate leadership and educational innovation, and I believe that Unboundary works at this exciting crossroads. Likewise, I am forever grateful to Westminster for eliciting and developing in me the vision and the skills that this fine school declares for all learners in its community – to serve and lead in a changing world.

To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
– Katharine Graham

I do love what I do, and I feel that it matters greatly. I am excited for this next chapter, to which I take a great deal of learning. Yet, I dare not consider myself learned. I am a continuous learner, and I intend to do all that I can to serve and lead in this changing world – to play my role on the team that strives to define purpose and pursue significance.

Our children – our leaders of today and tomorrow – deserve nothing less.

JH 2.11

At the opening Junior High School faculty meeting, I shared that I would be referring to us (internally) as “JH 2.11.” Like version software, such as OS 10.6 or Windows 7, the Junior High School is adopting an internal nomenclature that will help us remember that we are striving to improve and grow. The “former version” was a strong product, but we can make it better. We can learn from our experience, we can enhance features and programs, we can grow and get better.

I first played with this “JH 2.11” idea during my spring 2011 sabbatical. While I served my sabbatical, I interned at Unboundary, a strategic design studio here in Atlanta, GA. At the company, they were deliberately working to move from Unboundary 6.0 to Unboundary 6.5. They talked about the business in this manner. Consequently, the culture was dynamic, not static. There was a fundamental understanding that the company would grow and improve to the next version of itself. Unboundary would learn from experience and get better. Simply being “Unboundary” was not good enough, and simply being the “Junior High School” is not good enough. A static name can unintentionally imply that the work of the company is static. A dynamic name generates a creative tension that can motivate a team to strive for closing a gap by walking a path of kaizen – continuous improvement.

What are the keys to embarking on such a walk of kaizen? In brief, the critical key is living in the growth mindset. More specifically, though, I recently read two blog posts from colleagues spread across the country – linked with me primarily through open social media. In these two posts, I think @L_Hilt and @jonathanemartin have hit upon some superb specifics about growing in our versions in an Education 2.0 world.

Out with Professional Development, In with Professional Learning (@L_Hilt)

Become an “Eeel:” The 17 E’s of Electronic Education Leadership Excellence: Leadership Day 2011 (Hat tip to Tom Peters)

In our Westminster school motto, from Luke 2:52, we read, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” May we strive to grow similarly.

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?


Logan Smalley (of Darius Goes West and TEDxAtlanta-RE:SOLVE) and TED recently launched TED-ED and the TED-ED Brain Trust. Because of my good fortune to serve part of my five-week sabbatical at Unboundary, I was able to participate in a conference call with Logan, as well as Tod Martin and Jenn Graham of Unboundary. Today, I made my first extended exploration of the TED-ED Brain Trust, via the Forum. WOW! Through the power of crowd-sourcing (the idea that WE are smarter than ME) and an incredible set of discussions happening on virtually countless threads – all woven together by the myriad ways that TED and education can help advance and enhance one another – the community is shaping the birth and emergence of TED-ED. Below are a teaser video and Logan’s e-mail explanation of the TED-ED Brain Trust. I am thrilled to be a participant in and contributor to this community, and I am beyond excited to add TED-ED to my daily ritual and routine of reading and research.

Dear TED-ED early registrants,

When we announced the TED-ED Brain Trust from the Long Beach stage, we expected a few hundred of you “TEDucators” to express interest in this new initiative. We hoped for 1,000. Your impassioned response to this announcement, however — your collective desire to guide TED in enriching education around the world — exceeded our wildest expectations.

In a little more than one week, over 10,000 of you — educators, students, filmmakers, animators and creative professionals from around the world — pre-registered for the TED-ED Brain Trust. We believe the collective expertise of this burgeoning community is capable of revolutionizing education.

We are so grateful for your personal interest in guiding the creation of TED-ED, and today, we are pleased to invite you to officially join the TED-ED Brain Trust.

What is the TED-ED Brain Trust?
It is an online forum where we ask you, the TED-ED community, to congregate and help shape and accelerate TED’s push into the realm of education. Your input will define this initiative’s trajectory.

We have some budding ideas of how TED content (both existing and new) can be used to enhance formal and informal learning experiences — and you can see these set out very clearly on the homepage, and in various other areas of the site. But in these early, formative stages of TED-ED, we are equally interested in hearing how you, the experts, believe TED can best serve learners around the world.

You’ll find that we’ve populated the TED-ED forum with specific questions on TED’s potential in education. On a programmatic level, finding consensus on these topics is a crucial step in the initial development of TED-ED. You will also find a free-range discussion area in the forum. We hope that you, as a community, will use this area of the TED-ED Brain Trust to express (and improve) your own ideas.

A Soft-Launch — Setting the Tone
We are opening the Brain Trust to all 10,000+ pre-registrants. When you re-register, you will likely find an open and somewhat empty forum. We ask that you swiftly employ your expertise to answer or participate wherever you feel qualified! The comments you make will not only be read by all of the incoming TED-EDsters, but they will also help set the tone of this entire endeavor.

You are the founders of TED-ED. This is your community. If you know someone whose voice needs to be heard in this forum, we encourage you to invite them to join.

We look forward to reading all of your fantastic ideas. Thank you for helping us launch the TED-ED Brain Trust.

Registration link:
(You will need to re-register to participate in the forum.)

All the best,
Logan Smalley – TED-ED Catalyst
Chris Anderson – TED Curator