Thursday, December 30, 2010

We need a whole new animal

Sometimes we forget that the education system we take for granted today was invented. It was invented to serve a particular purpose at a particular point in time. In fact, our notion of public education took root during the 1880s, when the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy and pioneers like Henry Ford were inventing solutions to new efficiency challenges of an emerging industrial economy. It’s no wonder that the system of schooling invented over 120 years ago was designed to produce a standardized product as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

That system reflected the ideas of industrial leaders, not education leaders. Compare the impact, for example, of education leader John Dewey and industrial leader Henry Ford. While Dewey espoused “a laboratory for democracy” and advocated for experiential learning, Ford was inventing the assembly line and offering that his customers could have any color of car they wanted, “as long as it’s black.”

The efficiency model won out, and to this day we rely primarily on a public education system invented to serve the mass production needs of a different time.

Yet our economy has changed dramatically over the last century. Today, the fastest-growing industries trade in information and connectivity. They are decentralized and have a flatter more egalitarian structure. They change overnight, sometimes totally recreating themselves. They embrace new tools quickly. Their people are rewarded for being unconventional, pressing limits, and standing up for what they think is right. Today’s economy prizes mass personalization over mass production.

We could take a lesson, here, from an industrial leader in a bygone era. When Ford was engaged in creating the industrial economy, he didn’t work to improve the existing system. He said, “If I asked the customer what he wanted, he’d say a faster horse.” He didn’t tinker around the edges of the horse. Instead, he ignored his critics and created an entirely new mode of transportation and a new way of bringing his cars to the masses.  He created a whole new animal.

Unfortunately, most current education reform plans only ask us to make a faster horse. This is the wrong request. Tinkering with the one-size-fits-all model of schooling is no longer sufficient. We must get straight with ourselves about what it will take to realign schooling and our world economy. How will we consider the needs of the individual and develop a process that allows for continuous adaptation, given the rapid pace of knowledge creation and technological innovation?

Cudos to A.B. Orlik, Adam Braus and Dan Rossmiller for their contributions to this post.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Solitude and Leadership

This lecture was delivered by essayist, William Deresiewicz, to a class of plebes at West Point in October 2009.

The ideas apply to all leaders. Knowing yourself is central to successful leadership.  Knowing yourself, not knowing information, not knowing process, not knowing a large network of people.  Knowing yourself.  What you believe in.  Your vision.  It's that simple and that complex.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More on community role in determining school district success

In my work with school boards, I often get the comment, "I get it.  But people in my community don't.  They think if paper and pencil was good enough for them it is good enough for kids today."  Sometimes, board members say this.

The world is a vastly different place today.  This week, I came across two iphone apps that have totally blown my mind.

First, check this out: Word Lens.  Changing text right before your eyes.

The second, i-Clickr, turns your iphone into a remote for power point presentations.

We have to help our communities see that technology is not a threat and that if our children are going to be successful, they need more than a sheet of loose leaf and a #2 pencil.

What if school districts had to apply for superintendents?

An interesting idea.  Suggests the need for some self-reflection on the part of board members and the community.

What if school districts had to apply for superintendents?

Monday, December 6, 2010

TEDx is coming to Madison

If you follow TED, you know that the organization is dedicated to spreading good ideas through their terrific conferences and website.  TED talks are an amazing resource for understanding how the world is changing.  The talks are full of hope and promise and ask you to think deeply.

TEDx is a new program offered by TED that provides an opportunity to bring the  TED experience to your community.  Some TED groupies in Madison are working to bring TEDx to town. 

It promises to be an exciting event, bringing together a group of speakers who will challenge us to think about how Wisconsin's economy is changing and what that means for public education.

The event will take place on Saturday, March 5th at the Promega facilities in Fitchburg.  Check out the TEDx Madtown facebook page to learn more about this exciting event.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homelessness and Poverty in Wisconsin... not just a Milwaukee problem.

As Wisconsin continues to experience economic stress poverty is spreading to places where you might not expect to see it.

Help is available for Homeless and Unaccompanied Youth in the Chilton School District

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What about adaptive leadership?

Okay, so the issue of technical leadership has been addressed.  According to the New York Times a deal has been struck.  Mayor Bloomberg will get a waiver to hire Cathleen P. Black as the next chancellor of the New York City Schools and Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as Ms. Black's deputy.  Polakow-Suransky has the technical expertise Ms Black lacks.

Now, what about the adaptive leadership issue?  Can either Ms.Black or Mr. Polakow-Suransky lead the change effort required to transform New York's school system?  Technical expertise alone will not make it happen.

The challenge public education faces today, in New York and the rest of the country, is one that is not easily solved with technical expertise.  The problems are not simple and do not have easily identified answers. The challenges exist in chaos and uncertainty.  The public education system does not have the resources to tackle the problems on its own.  Solving the problems found in public education today requires leaders to use their communication skills to build relationships and create a context for others in the system to create solutions.

In fact, the public education system will not be successful on its own. Today's successful leaders understand that Collective Impact is needed, that collaboration across social systems is required for successful social change.

If the New York City school system is to experience that kind of social change, its top leaders need adaptive leadership skills. They must value building relationships, both within the school system and with other organizations that serve students and their families.

Our country has focused on the technical issues in public education for more than 40 years.  Little progress has been made.  It is time to start focusing on the adaptive aspects of the problems.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A debate over adaptive versus technical leadership

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, recently appointed Cathleen Black as head of the New York City schools. Ms. Black is currently the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, but has no experience leading a public education system.  This appointment has set off yet another debate over the issue of who is best suited to lead large, complex urban public education systems.  A number of experts weigh in on this debate in the New York Times Room for Debate: Who's qualified to run New York City schools?

What I find interesting is that most of the arguments against Ms. Black's appointment focus on her lack of technical expertise.  Only two of the debaters consider her adaptive leadership skills.

The country has focused on education reform for over forty years, yet the achievement gap stubbornly remains a problem.  Much of the focus of reform has been to improve the technical aspects of education.  Yet, much of the problem lies in the social aspects of education.  There is more involved than simply ensuring that curriculum is aligned to standards and highly qualified teachers work with our students, although these are important.

Education is a social enterprise.  And much of what doesn't work in our public schools is rooted in social failings, which often exist outside of our schools.  If we really want our schools to work better, we need to connect them to their larger context and work to improve that context.  If we want to see success we need to consider the collective impact  of all of the organizations in a community that focus on the social well being of its citizens.

Many of the posts on this blog point to the promise technology holds to help transform our schools.  Yet technology alone won't do it.  We need standards and curricula that align to those standards.  We need highly qualified, highly effective teachers in our classrooms.

Even more importantly, we need leaders who can develop relationships across the various (and often conflicting) stakeholders in our communities.  Creating a context that enables those closest to the problem to act is critical to the success of any leader, no matter what the sector.  The effort needs to be high tech and high touch.

Yes, technical expertise is important.   AND, adaptive leadership skills--listening, empathy, the ability to hold the space so the messy work of transformation can occur--are more important than ever.  We need to get off of the either/or argument.  It is a both/and.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Collaboration makes it happen

Another example of collaboration across disciplines and agencies:

Collective Impact

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A New Model of Pedagogy

We are starting to see models of what a transformed school system might look like.

Here's another example:

A New Model of Pedagogy

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How does this stuff work?

If you are not sure how some of this technology stuff works, here is a great little guide to introduce you to the basics of the web.  I feel like I am fairly savvy when it comes to this stuff, and I learned a couple of things.

20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What might the future look like?

Yesterday, at the Wisconsin Association of School Board's Legislative Advocacy Conference, innovation and transformation were center stage during the morning session.  After presentations by CESA 1, CESA 6, and Wisconsin Way, school board members spent a little time talking about the information presented.  One question posed to the group : For transformation to occur, what kind of advocacy is needed?  One table talked about how they need guidance, they are not sure how to talk with legislators about new possibilities.  School board members don't want to go to the state legislator, simply asking for more money.  Some at the conference went so far as to say, "We need to stop whining."  At the same time, they are not sure how to talk about possibilities for the future.

Here is a link that describes some of the activities a 21st Century Teacher would use in her or his classroom.  I post this here to get the conversation started.

There are lots of ways to learn about possibilities that can serve as a starting place for conversations in your community.  Read books.  A number of relevant titles are listed on this blog.  Don't have time for a whole book, watch TED Talks.  They are short, interesting talks that will touch, move, and inspire you. In less than 20 minutes you can learn about something interesting and innovative that is going on in our world.  Follow blogs.  If you are reading this, you are off to a good start.  Another interesting blog:  dangerously irrelevant!: Technology, Leadership and the Future of Schools.

To develop meaningful talking points about possibilities for the future in your school district, you need to bring interested stakeholders together to talk about the future. What do teachers and administrators already know about transforming public education?  What do your students think?  They are most likely already plugged in in ways that the adults in your community may never have thought of.  What do the business leaders in your community have to say about the needs of their businesses? How can you present possibilities to parents and others in the community who may not see the need for transformation?

From these conversations, you will begin to see what will work best in your school district.  You can then develop your own stories to tell your legislators about the possibilities for your schools and your community.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Web 2.0 is about more than information. It is connecting people

Michael Wesch has had done some amazing videos in the past. (Check these out:  Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today  In this talk, he explains social media in an engaging and understandable manner.


  • Connections between Communication--Thoughtfulness--Empathy
  • When media changes, relationships change
  • The power of new media to influence business practices (example, Dove)
  • The phenomenon of free hugs
  • The social imagination:  the capacity to invent visions of what should be and could be in our deficient society--Maxine Greene
  • Digital citizenship--making a better world
  • Tensions between good and not so good
  • It is ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate and publish

Monday, November 1, 2010

Relationships Matter

I worry that the strong emphasis on data that has crept up in public education.  Test scores, value added, accountability.  That's all we seem to hear.  I keep thinking, "What about the people!!! Students AND teachers are people and the relationships they have with each other are critical to the learning process.  It is nice to see that element in this article, In School Turnarounds, the Human Element is Crucial.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking for a TED contact

Does anyone know anyone who has attended a TED conference? It would be even better if this person currently lives in the Madison area. If you know someone, would you be willing to arrange an introduction?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Do you get it?

I continue to be amazed when I read comments to stories like the one in Saturday's New York Times.  While many comments thoughtfully considered the Singapore math program and how it might work in the United States, a number of comments lamented for the good old days--just go back to the 30s and 40s and all will be well.

Lately I have been more explicit when I talk about the structure of public education.  The system we have today is still largely based on the mass production model of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  There is no naturally occurring laws that governed the creation of that educational system.  People interested in education at that time simply made it up based on the what they saw in the world--mostly industrialization, immigration, and urbanization.  Today, immigration is still a big issue, but we are way beyond the post-industrial age.  Today, people expect mass personalization.  The example I like to use:  cell phones.  We all got 'em.  They're all different.  In fact, you can't even use someone else's phone because you need the contacts in YOUR phone.  Today, we need to reinvent public education to meet today's needs.  Harkening back tot he 30s and 40s just won't do it.

Things are starting to change.

Howland and Levin write

The school of the future is better than the school of the past not because its students are digitally savvy or outfitted for the modern economy or Google-facile, but because it prompts, supports, and sustains student learning in traditional (as well as new) disciplines in more varied, intelligent, and effective ways. In this way, it builds upon, expresses, and improves so much of what has been true and rich about education for centuries. 

Here and Now in the School of the Future talks about using technology--not for technology's sake, but to enhance learning.  We are learning to use tech tools in ways that do this.  Today it is less about going to the computer lab to learn how to use the computer.  Instead, students are using these tools to explore math concepts, do history, and discuss literature.

We need to do everything we can to encourage innovation.  In this TED talk, Steve Johnson talks about the role of networking in innovation.  We need to provide time for teachers to talk with each other and encourage them to use social networking tools to create rich networks that will allow innovation to occur.

Friday, October 1, 2010

So what do you make of this?

Most Americans want wealth distribution similar to Sweden
Boy, you'd never guess!  With the Tea Party as the media darlings pushing both Republicans and Democrats toward the right, the results of this study do not seem possible.
If policy was implemented that actually ensured that wealth was distributed more evenly, what would that mean for public education?  How does the idea of wealth distribution connect to the interview Matt Lauer did wit Obama?
Obama interview with Matt Lauer

How do you connect these stories?

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Chance favors the connected mind."

In this TED talk, Steven Johnson talks about where great ideas come from. It is not as we think, that people have "Eureka" moments. Instead, they arise from networks. Hence, the quote in the title. If we want to innovate in public education, we have to encourage networks like professional learning communities. We need to connect with the public in engaging dialogue. We need to overcome the social capital-depleting practices we tend to engage in where we square off against each other, debating and defending our positions.

This TED talks is fun to watch if, for no other reason, you learn how a neo-natal incubator is made from parts originally designed for an everyday machine (I will not spoil the surprise).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another view of assessment

This New York Times editorial, outlines methods of assessing students that evaluate actual learning.  The challenge of these methods is that they are more time consuming and harder to standardize.  The testing industry has become institutionalized and it will be nearly impossible to move off of the bubble tests used in every state to measure learning (thought we may computerize the tests; relegating the Number 2 pencil to history).  They may not be good measures of student learning, but they are cheap (relative to other methods) and the public has come to accept them as legitimate.

How can we move to more affective measures of learning if current standardized testing methods are no longer challenged as legitimate? 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creativity: Can it be nurtured in public school?

In this TED Talk, Ken Robinson explains how public education kills creativity in students.  And, given the increased focus on standards and testing as the means for determining educational success, it seems unlikely that creativity will be nurtured in public schools any time soon.

Yet, with the incredibly complex problems we face today, it is imperative that we encourage innovation and creativity in our schools.

One way schools might encourage creativity and innovation is by providing students opportunities to engage in collaboration.  In Slate, Joshua Wolf Shenk, writes about the role collaboration plays in creativity.  According to Shenk, the idea of the lone genius is overblown, that in reality, creative RELATIONSHIPS are the source of new ideas.  The first part of this series looks at collaboration and creative pairs.  Part Two examines a famous creative pair, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  Throughout the series, he will examine how creative partnerships work.

How can this series help us think about creativity and innovation?  How can public schools encourage creativity at a time when standards and accountability continue to focus on individual students?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on technical change

Last week I posted a number of resources that examine the common core standards, assessments and the teacher accountability.  In the New York Times Room for Debate, several nationally known education experts examine teacher assessment and the role value added testing plays in the process.

On the surface, value added seems like a pretty good solution to the question of how to hold teachers accountable.  Yet, effective evaluation systems, most likely need multiple measures best illuminate both student progress and teacher contribution to that progress.

Complicating the matter, is the question of how to delivery high-quality instruction and the role of teacher in this process.  In this TED talk, Sugata Mitra presents his research where he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.  My favorite quote from the presentation:  "If children have interest, then education happens."  So, why don't we simply let students do interesting things?  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Technical Change and Public Education and the Role of Local School Boards

Once again the United States is focused on the technical components of change, as the country continues to grapple with closing the achievement gap and creating an education system that meets the needs of 21st century learners.  This week, two articles in the New York Times talk about testing and teacher accountability.  U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given describes efforts to create a testing system that more accurately assesses student learning and provides feedback in a more timely manner.

When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far? looks at a project that analyzed teacher performance, connecting student test scores to teachers using a value added model.  The article presents a balanced view of the practice, laying out strengths and weaknesses of using value added to evaluate teachers.

Finally,  the Common Core State Standards Initiative is linked to the development of the new testing systems and I include it here for reference.

Yet again, we are focusing on the technical aspects of change.  The focus of these initiatives clearly reflect the technical aspects of the Key Work framework--Standards, Assessment, and Accountability.  Once again, little is said of the need to focus on the adaptive, or cultural, aspects of change--Vision, Continuous Improvement, Collaboration and Community Engagement, and Climate.

For decades states and the federal government have focused on the technical aspects of reforming the public education system, eroding the power of local school boards in the process. Where does this leave local school boards as governing entities?  It leaves them with the entire range of adaptive change at their disposal.  And who better to lead the adaptive change process?  Local school board members have the potential to engage with local stakeholders in ways that state and federal policy makers will never be able to do.  The "localness" of their position provides opportunity to engage in conversations about the vision for their communities and their schools.  The can model continuous improvement, celebrating success while continuing to ask "What can we better tomorrow?"  They can lead efforts to create a climate that builds social capital, building trust and creating strong relationships that ultimately leads to better outcomes for students.

The role of the school board is changing.  For all practical purposes, they no longer have much influence over the technical aspects of change.  At the same time, they have tremendous power to lead the adaptive change efforts that are needed to ensure the work of revising standards and creating new accountability systems is not wasted.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Community Engagement and Key Work

Mass Personalization

Lately, I have been asking school board members why kindergarteners and high school seniors need to attend school for the same number of days and minutes?  Further pushing the concept of mass personalization, why must the public education system be the only place you can get credit for learning?  This KnowledgeWorks blog posting challenges the notion of place-based education.

Today, many school boards are under pressure about budgets and are often chided to make better use of their financial resources.  How might mass personalization help with the budget crunch?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So, what is TED?

From time-to-time I mention TED Talks and suggest that school boards schedule a work session to view a talk and then discuss how the ideas in the talk are impacting public education.

People then ask, what is a "TED Talk?" Here a link that explains: How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite.

I know that after I watch a TED Talk, I feel jazzed about things that are happening in the world, and usually want to share with everyone I know.

Good stuff!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Conversation Prism

The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

At the WASB Presidents/Leadership Conference a few weeks ago, a board member commented that she didn't get social media. I explained that all it is really is a simple way to connect with other people using some kind of technology. It provides a way for us to transcend time and space. It opens up the way people can communicate with each other.

It is not a passing fad. It is not something for the young people (although many times they seem to get it faster). For folks who are intimidated by social media, I like to point out that the telephone is a social media tool. You talk with someone who is not in the proximity of your voice. Today, there are many more options.

Today's social media reside on the internet and a physical tool like a computer or smart phone connects you to these media. AND, you are not limited to audio expression. You can post pictures and documents. Videos. Music. Furthermore, you do not have to be "on the phone" at the same time. You post content that others can access when it is convenient for them.

Many of these tools can help you plan and execute community engagement events in your district.

For now, I will let you be with the prism. I will talk about it more in the weeks ahead.

I would like to end by thanking my friend, Brad Saron, superintendent from the Cashton, Wisconsin school district for alerting me to the prism.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Funny videos about leadership

These are great! After you chuckle, can you identify what went wrong?

Funny Teamwork Video1

Funny Teamwork Video 2

I found these at Teamwork and Leadership Bloggings with Mike Rogers

Monday, July 12, 2010

Play Ball!

This may totally wreck any credibility I may possess, but I am a Cubs fan; have been all of my life.

Yet, in spite of all of the losing, I still love the Cubs and baseball in general.  AND, I think we can learn some from the game.  I was working with a board on Saturday and we were talking about success.  As sometimes happens, a baseball metaphor pops into my mind, so it was not surprising that this happened on Saturday.

We have weird ideas about success in our society and we don't like failure.  Yet in baseball, the REALLY GOOD hitters only get a hit about 3 out of 10 tries.  Day after day, player after player, takes their at bats--162 days out of the year.I have often wondered what it must feel like to strike out for the third out with the winning run on third, 30,000 people watching. 

We celebrate those who can hit over .300, and fail to recognize the effort, the patience, the perseverance it takes to take your at bats day after day. For me, this is one of the things that makes baseball such a great game.

How can we in public education, celebrate the .300 hitters, and persevere in spite of the pressure and criticism that often comes from parents and the public? 

If we only succeed with three out of ten children we would not count that as success, so the "data" part of the metaphor is not where the lesson lies.  The lesson lies in the ability to take an at bat, time after time, learn from your previous at bats, get better at pitch selection, your stance in the batter's box.  Don't just play the game.  Be a student of the game.  It is not the number of hits, it is the trying; the learning; the improving your swing and your eye.  These are the lessons we can learn from baseball and apply them to our work in public education.

We too have a long season.  Each day we have to come prepared to "Play ball!" 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Innovation in Public Education--What is the most needed resource? Financial Capital or Human Capital?

I have been listening and engaging in conversations about public education for more than twenty years.  Two of the dominant themes of these conversations are the need to improve the system and the need for more money to implement improvements.

I have learned that the argument about the need for more money for public education is much like culture war arguments.  Just as we will never resolve culture war issues like abortion or gun use, we will never determine when public education has been adequately financed. (By the way, the funding argument has been employed since the Great Depression.)

Much like culture war issues, the funding issue distracts us from the bigger challenge--how to innovate so that all children learn what they need to survive as individuals and as productive citizens in our society.

Rather than  investing resources in the funding argument, I think we need to turn our energies toward learning how to make school relevant and meaningful; how to sustain the system; how to provide opportunities for children to learn 21st century skills (which, by the way, the 21st century is already ten years old).

Recently I had a conversation with a good friend about the state of public education. She works very hard and firmly believes that the public education system in Minnesota needs more financial resources.  She was having a down day because Minnesota had just released the results of the state test and, once again, little progress had been made.

I said that I thought the answer to the problem might be found in charter schools; that we need to radically restructure time if we intend to provide students with experiences that are relevant to their lives today and that charter schools provide a way around the structures--parents, teachers, communities--who don't want to change.  My friend argued that she was not willing to lose a generation of children  because the system cannot meet their needs. Implicit in her argument was the notion that charter schools create greater inequalities among students as motivated parents will enroll their children in charter schools that provide quality programs, leaving students with greater needs behind in the public schools.  She firmly believes that if public schools were given adequate funding, the system could meet the needs of all children.

I, too, see the problem as one of resources, but not financial resources.  We need to employ human capital if we expect to meet the needs of today's students.  I want to see us employ radically new methods of engaging with students--one rooted in 21st century technology, not the 19th century industrial model.

In this TED talk, Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums describes radical forms of education--all of which are found in some of the poorest communities in the world.  And this informal, disruptive new kind of school, he says, is what all schools need to become.  We need to look at these models to learn how we might transform public education in the United States.  

Improving the current system is not the answer.  Rather than incremental innovation, the system needs disruptive innovation, change the brings a whole new way of doing things to public education.  Rather than focusing on the money, we need to think about the structure.  We need to reinvent public education.  If we cannot transform the system from the inside, then we need to employ external models to do the work for us.

I just want to see it happen.  If the public system can do it--Great.  If it can't--I am ready to embrace what works, wherever it comes from.  I, too, hate to see us waste another generation of students.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What a Great Day!

On Saturday, over 3300 people gathered in 19 locations to discuss the state of the United States' economy and what they thought Congress needed to do about long-term debt.  I had the honor to serve as a table facilitator at this event.  What an inspiring day!  The day was long--seven hours.  It was a beautiful Saturday in June.  The topic was difficult.  Yet the people gathered in Chicago (I assume the same for the rest of the sites ) did a remarkable job of engaging in thoughtful conversation about a difficult issue.

The people at my table came from different backgrounds, races, and ages. They all came in not sure of what the day might hold and some were outright cynical about the process. There were different positions, some held quite strongly by the participants.  Not surprisingly, one Gen-X man had a different view about social security than the baby boomers at the table. We all got a chuckle out of that one. There were different ideas about the extent to which the government should support the less fortunate.  This conversation had the potential to turn into a confrontation as one participant started to point fingers at particular people, but cooler heads prevailed as others in the group were quick to point to the ground rules.

At the end of the day, all of the participants at my table felt it was a worthwhile experience and that they were glad they came.  They all learned something, most importantly, that even though they did not always share positions, they did share important values.  All felt that those less fortunate deserved support, that those better off needed to share more of the burden.  All felt that Congress did not represent their values; that special interests and money ruled the day.

It was a great day for democracy.

Go to AmericaSpeaks if you are interested in following up on this exciting event.  Top leadership from America Speaks will be presenting this work to Congressional leaders and the President's Commission on the Budget.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What's your metaphor?

A few weeks ago, I talked about taking drum lessons and how I see that experience working as a metaphor for leadership.  The other day, David Brooks wrote about metaphors in his column in the New York Times.  In History for Dollars he talks about how current economic conditions are exacerbating the decline of the liberal arts degree and the implications for our understanding the complex problems we face today.

He argues for the value of the liberal arts, including our ability to use metaphors to make comparisons and think deeply about the challenges facing our country today.

So, as I asked a few weeks ago, what is your metaphor for leadership?  How does this metaphor help you in your work.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson has a new TED talk

You may have seen the first talk where Robinson talked about how schools kill creativity.

In this new talk, Robinson argues that we need to revolutionize education.  We need a new metaphor for thinking about education, one that is organic, not linear.  We need to move from a mass education system to personalized learning.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

America Speaks is hosting a town hall meeting on the economy

America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy will engage the American public in an unprecedented national discussion about our federal budget. Thousands of Americans reflecting the demographic, geographic and political diversity of our nation will come together on June 26, 2010 for a National Town Meeting connected via satellite video, webcast, and interactive technologies to weigh-in on the difficult choices involved with putting our federal budget on a sustainable path.

The National Town Meeting will take place in up to twenty AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting locations across the country, in many Community Conversations, and online.  All of the town meeting locations will be linked together by live satellite, webcast, and interactive technology.  Chicago is one of the major locations.  The UW-Madison is hosting the conversation in the Red Gym.  Check the America Speaks website for more details.

This is an important opportunity for school district leaders.  Consider attending the event and encourage others in your community to participate as well.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

What is Adaptive Change?

When I speak to school boards, I talk about leadership and explain that because the world, Wisconsin, and the expectations of public education have changed, we need to lead our school districts in a different way. Today, globalization and technology have combined to speed up the pace of change, changing the nature of our economy and connecting people in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.  Demographic and economic changes bring new challenges to the state.  The focus in public education has shifted from inputs to outputs, and the notion of “all children can learn” has been codified in public policy. 

Put all of this together and we see that the challenges we face today are complex.  And complex problems require a different leadership strategy.  Solving a complex problem is a lot like raising a child.  Expertise plays a role, yet the relationship you have with your child matters more.  Like every child, the challenges of complex problems are unique, and what works in one situation does not assure success in a similar situation.  Finally, outcomes remain uncertain, in spite of our best efforts. Complex challenges require more than technical leadership; they require adaptive leadership.  Complex challenges require different leadership strategies, yet leaders tend to address the challenges we face today as if they were technical in nature, and draw on strategies that do not work in adaptive change situations. 

When dealing with technical change, expertise rules the day.  Problems may be complicated, and require collaboration across disciplines; yet the resolution of the problem is clearly identifiable. For the most part, when we face technical challenges, we focus on improving processes, providing training to improve skills, and doing the right things right.  In other words, we know the answer; it is more a matter of implementation.  Leaders who can take charge tend to be successful when the problem is technical in nature. 

Adaptive changes require more than simply sharpening our processes and skills.  Instead, adaptive change challenges our beliefs and ways of thinking; and requires that we do things differently then we have in the past.  When leaders fail to recognize adaptive challenges, they tend to interpret staff behavior as resistance, when it is more likely that staff members are experiencing loss.  Asking staff to learn new skills or break old habits is difficult, especially for people who have been successful using traditional practices. 

For example, many school districts restrict cell phone use in school.  Ninety-three percent of people under the age of 30 possess cell phones, meaning most students possess a tool that could be used to access the Internet to enhance their learning.  Changing cell phone policies requires the adults in the system to think differently about students and their cell phones.  Rather than controlling and limiting cell phone use, staff need to consider the benefits, and develop learning opportunities for students to develop responsible cell phone use—and, need to accept that they have to relinquish some control to students.

Adaptive challenges require that people with the problem are part of the solution.  For example, in the cell phone scenario, a school board could change the cell phone policy and practices in the schools could remain unchanged.  Unless teachers and administrators understand how they could use cell phone technology to enhance learning, and believe that the change was worth the time and energy to change practices, things would stay the same.    In fact, it is likely that such a policy change would result in bigger problems.  Teachers may not feel the effort is worth it.  They may only imagine the problems that unrestricted student cell phone use would mean for them—ringing phones interrupting instruction; students accessing inappropriate sites or playing video games rather than working on school-related projects.  Students would believe (rightly) that they could use their cell phones in school, creating opportunities for conflict with staff that did not support or understand the policy change.

Understanding the importance of including the people with the problem would take the board in a different direction.   Rather than simply changing the policy, the board that understands the nature of adaptive change might provide opportunities for the staff to explore cell phone policy changes, include students and staff in the creation of guidelines for classroom use, provide professional development for staff so they could learn new techniques that would incorporate cell phone use.

For more than twenty years, education reform has focused on technical change—creating standards, aligning curriculum to the standards, creating accountability systems to monitor achievement.  Yet, in spite of these efforts, little progress has been made.  Many of the changes reflected in education reform challenge our beliefs and habits in addition to our technical skills.  Today’s leaders do not solve problems for people.  Instead, they provide opportunities for people to confront challenges and learn new methods; create a context where staff can safely confront uncertainty in spite of their discomfort, and adjust their values and perspectives to better develop solutions that address the complex challenges facing public education today.

Additional resources
Heifitz, Ronald A. and Linsky, Marty. (2002).  Leadership on the Line:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press.

Heiftiz, Ronald A. and Laurie, Donald L. (2001).  The Work of Leadership. Harvard Business Review.

Patton, Michael Quinn.  (2007).  Deepening Extension’s Knowledge Base.  National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.  September 19, 2007.

Smith, Rolf. (1997).  Seven Levels of Change: Create, Innovate and Motivate with the Secrets of the World’s Largest Corporations.  Arlington, Texas:  Summit Publishing Group.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leading and Listening

It's been awhile since I've checked in.  Busy with work.   Also, in my personal life, learning how to play the drums.  I am obsessed.  I have always wanted to learn, and finally decided I was going to do it.

First off, it is way harder than it looks (maybe that is age-related.)  It is amazing to me how you can play one beat pattern, but change just one thing (a different beat on the base drum, move from high-hat cymbal to a tomb drum) and it is like a whole new experience.   What is really interesting to me, is that learning to play the drums is a metaphor for leadership.  Hang with me as I explain.

Right now, I am struggling with sixteenth notes (especially on the bass drum).  When I play the notes on the snare, no problem.  When I play the notes on the snare and the bass drum, no problem.  When I try to put it all together with the high-hat, problem.

There is something about the high-hat that makes my brain think the beat pattern is not balanced.  It has something to do with the sound.  It just doesn't sound right to me. I cannot allow myself to HEAR the correct pattern.

I was talking about this to someone and started to air drum the beat as if I was playing the snare drum.  Then, I moved my hands as if I was playing the snare and high-hat--suddenly my brain clicked in--IT WAS THE SAME THING! Taking away the sound made it easier for my brain to understand the mechanics of the whole thing.

I realized that this is what my friend, Hazel Simonette, means when she says "you have to lean into the listening."  In order for me to understand the beat pattern, I needed to take out the sound of the high-hat.  Then I could understand the pattern.  Once I could get my head around the pattern, I was able to play the beat pattern using the high-hat cymbal.  Why?  Because I was able to hear it.

How many times do we encounter this situation in our leadership work?  We need to figure out how to filter out the noise that makes it difficult for us for to listen.  In "Community:  The Structure of Belonging," Peter Block talks about the art of leadership.  Leaders create a context that nurtures an alternative future; initiate and convene conversations that shift people's experience; listen and pay attention.

The ability to listen is a key leadership skill.  What do we need to do to improve this skill?  The drum lesson works for me; helps me understand what I need to to do to "lean into the listening."  What's your metaphor?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can you deliberate and still be civil?

Today I had the pleasure of discussing Peter Block's Community: A structure of belonging with a group of students from UW-Madison, and my research colleague, Rob Asen.  Rob wondered if Block was just a little too optimistic and that he didn't really allow for much deliberation in his model of community engagement.  One perceptive student referred to a section on appreciating paradox, that Block was not suggesting that a community engaging in successful discourse  had no room for disagreement.  Rob mentioned "reasonable hostility" an idea proposed by Karen Tracy, who suggests that disagreement is productive, particularly since people tend to pay more attention when there is disagreement.  In Who wants to deliberate--and why, Neblo et al argue that citizens are turned off by the adversarial nature of partisan politics; that they are interested in participating when political activity engages in deliberation. Groups like  America Speaks or Everyday Democracy practice this deliberative form of engagement.

One interesting twist on the whole idea of solving the world's problems is presented by Jane McGonigal who argues that gamers are developing the skills (including the ability to collaborate) needed to address the complex issues facing the world today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An amazing book on community engagement

Last week I read, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.  It is an amazing book.  When I was working on my dissertation, one of the professors on my committee would always ask, "How do you define EFFECTIVE community engagement?"  For the longest time, I felt like I could recognize it when I saw it, but I could not describe it in the way academics like you to define things.

Block's book has helped me answer the question!  Perhaps most importantly, effective community engagement builds social capital.  In order to do this, we have to turn to different practices and structures. Public hearings that focus on problems are not the way to do it.

 Rather than focusing on problems, Block suggests that we focus on possibilities.  He asks the question, "What do we want to create together?"  People are more likely to commit to that which they have had a hand in creating.  The goal is not to generate buy in.  Instead, inviting people to help develop the solution is more like to lead to commitment.

New practices need new structures if we are going to be successful.  Public hearings are more likely to create heat than light.  Block posits that THE SMALL GROUP, one that represents the larger system is the unit of transformation.  Diverse small groups that are in conversation with the large group are the way to engage in conversations that build social capital.  He sites processes like World Cafe, Open Space Technology, and Future Search as examples of effective small group/large group processes that work.

A bonus:  If you don't have time to read the whole book, Block includes a "Book at a Glance" beginning on page 177 in the paperback edition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

MASA Spring Conference coming up!

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators Spring Conference is just two weeks away. In the latest issue of The MASA Leaders Forum, Spring 2010, I asked that you take a few moments to review the International Association of Public Participation's Core Values and Spectrum of Participation Think about how adoption of these core values challenges your notions of community engagement. How do these core values challenge your practice as an educational leader? What questions does the Spectrum of Participation raise for you? Post your responses and I will bring these postings to the conversation we have on March 19th.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coherence making

How can school leaders effect culture change in these incredibly difficult times?  Budgets are stressed with a number of districts anticipating bankruptcy in a few years if the recent pattern of eroding state and local support continues.  Pressure to improve student achievement and to close the achievement gap continues to increase expectations in spite of the difficult financial times.

What is a school leader to do?  Michael Fullan talks about coherence making in "Leading in a Culture of Change."  According to Fullan, the complexity found in the challenges facing public education also provide opportunity for creativity.  However, if chaos is too severe, staff can become overwhelmed.  Balancing chaos and coherence is a key characteristic of successful leaders.

Successful leaders recognize that they do not have the control leaders may have had in the past.  Instead, today's leaders are successful when they create conditions so staff take the vision of the organization as their own.  When staff collaborate to work through the ambiguities and challenges of difficult-to-solve problems, they are best able to meet the challenges facing public schools today.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why we need to get better at dialogue

Recently, I have taken on the responsibility of assisting with the planning of a large-scale community engagement summit here in Wisconsin.  One of the first things I have learned in the less-than-two-weeks that I have been involved in this project is that community engagement means different things to different people.  Last week's post included a description of a number of models that people think of when they use the term "community engagement."  There is clearly some confusion about what we mean when we use this term.

I am concerned that before we can have community engagement dialogue, we need to have a dialogue to define what we mean by community engagement!

Successful community engagement values the input of all who come to the table.  AND, successful community engagement works to include all voices, no matter how disagreeable they may appear to to the conveners.

Successful community engagement also reaches out beyond parents.  Parents continue to make up a smaller and smaller percentage of the community.  Focusing only on parents ignores the concerns of a majority the citizens in our communities.

Finally, our society has diversified considerably over the last thirty years.  New ethnic groups now make their homes in our communities.  We have a responsibility to make a concerted effort to welcome these new comers into our communities.  Their customs and ideas may be different from long established practice and thinking, but it doesn't mean there is something wrong with them.

This TED Talk, Weird or Just Different, illustrates this concept and gives us something to think about as we consider how to successfully initiate community engagement activities.

Social reformers have a history of acting like they have the answers; that all the "clients" have to do is take their advice and all will be well.  This paternalistic attitude has never worked.  It didn't work during the Progressive Era.  It didn't work in the 1960s.  And it won't work today; even if we dress it us as community engagement.  The experts have to remember that community members have an expertise that is as important to the conversation as their own technical expertise.

I welcome your thoughts about community engagement.  Also, I'd be interested in learning more about your experiences, especially with successful community engagement practices that encourage dialogue among diverse groups.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Community Engagement: What Does This Term Mean?

I've been thinking more about this term since I last talked about community engagement and extending genuine invitations a few weeks ago.  I've decided that I was a bit too definitive in describing community engagement; that others have different definitions than I.  Below I list other ideas about community engagement that go beyond the deliberative model to which I am drawn. This is hardly a definitive list, simply a place to start thinking about the various aspects of community engagement.

For example, Joyce Epstein's Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships categorizes involvement activities as parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making and collaborating with the community. Part of Epstein's model focuses on parents and the role they can directly play in their own child's educational development, work that I would categorize as important but not necessarily community engagement.

Others would point to advocacy work as community engagement.  Groups like the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and Parent United Network work to educate citizens on important education issues and encourage citizens to form local parent groups to advocate for policy changes at the state and federal levels. I see advocacy as a persuasive model, whereby parents work to encourage policy makers to include parent perspectives in their policy decision making.

I think these are important components of the community engagement continuum.  For me, however, at the end of the day, I am drawn to models that encourage conversation and relationship building. Models like  World Cafe and Study Circles provide opportunities for dialogue that might lead to developing a better understanding of others' positions.

We live in a time of perpetual change.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that change is the new status quo.  How can we cope with the pace and pressures of change?  Our ability to build relationships is a key component of the solution.

In her book Turning to One Another, Margaret Wheatley writes:

 "I have learned that when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change."

It is this idea, the power of dialogue to make a difference, that draws me to more deliberative models of community engagement.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Value of Relationship

This week at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards Annual Convention, relationship cropped up in so many places. While school districts continue to feel the pressures of accountability, many convention speakers focused on trust and relationships as the way to best achieve success. The importance of trust and relationships were mentioned in general sessions, idea exchanges, and special events.

Jerry Kember, Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year, talked about the importance of trust and the value of relationships and team to the success of the La Crosse school district.

Boards from school districts and the technical college system met for dinner one evening. There was a recognition of the importance of these two groups coming together.

Meg Wheatley, keynote general session speaker, talked about relationships, that if you want to create more health, create more relationships.  Wheatley talked about the power of relationships, that while we may lack financial resources, we have what we need to face our challenges. Wheatley says, "everything is a bundle of potential that manifests itself only in relationships."

Wheatley gave the audience the following ideas to use in their work to build relationships and community:

  • People support what they create.
  • People act responsibility when they care.
  • Conversation is the way humans have always thought together.
  • To change the conversation change who is in the conversation.
  • Expect leadership to come from anywhere.
  • Focus on what's possible.
  • The wisdom resides within us.
  • Everything is a failure in the middle.
  • Learning is the only way we become smarter about what we do.
  • Meaningful work is the most powerful motivator.
  • Humans can handle anything as long as we are together.
  • Generosity Forgiveness Love.
You can listen to Meg talk about this ideas on this youtube video.

Over the last twenty years, education reform has focused on the technical aspects of improving student achievement.  Yet, if we expect to successfully close the achievement gap, we need to consider the important role of relationship.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Extending Genuine Invitations

Community Engagement is on the minds of many school board leaders today.  They struggle trying to understand how community engagement differs from traditional public hearings. And they struggle trying to get other than the usual suspects to attend.

Community Engagement is more deliberate and provides for two-way dialogue with school district stakeholders--including parents, students, teachers and other staff, community leaders--basically anyone with an interest in the district.  Ensuring that you get more than the usual suspects requires a little bit of effort.

After identifying the purpose of your community engagement work, it is important to give consideration to the "guest list" and the way you go about inviting people to participate.  If your stakeholders do not perceive your invitation as genuine, your agenda could be derailed before the process even begins.

Developing multiple modes for delivering your invitation is important.  Because you have different groups with various connections to your district, you need to send invitations specifically directed to each group.  Simply sending a notice home in student backpack mail is not sufficient--even for parents.  Not all students are responsible and timely mail carriers! 

Other ways to reach your stakeholders--announcement on your website, press release to local papers, special notice to key communicators asking them to invite five people to the meeting; notices in staff newsletters.

Of particular note:  how to reach those groups who traditionally fail to attend our events.  Ask people from those groups to invite people on your behalf.  America Speaks designs large scale town meetings on public policy issues and works to achieve a representative sample from the community.  They accomplish this by asking leaders in under-represented groups to extend invitations on behalf of the America Speaks organizers. Then they ensure that these groups have a genuine opportunity to attend by scheduling meetings at times and in places that are easily accessible.  They also provide transportation and child care.

Also keep in mind that when you decide to move from the traditional public hearing format to formats that allow for dialogue, you may be working to overcome community skepticism that may go back a long way. Be patient.  Once you begin to engage with your community in two-way dialogue, people will come to understand that you are genuine in your invitation.  Word will get around and more people will be interested in participating the next time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Community Engagement in the new year

Happy New Year!

Have you made any resolutions for the new year?  I hope one thing your school district resolves to do is develop new strategies for engaging with your community.  Times have changed and one-way communication is no longer sufficient for many members of our communities.

What do we mean when we use the term "community engagement?"  We are talking about two-way communication that provides opportunity for genuine dialogue.   A recent study by Archon Fung of Harvard found that citizens are willing to participate in public affairs when new practices are used, and "politics as usual" is set aside.

There are lots of tools available to help you develop new communication habits.  Everyday Democracy offers study guides that your community can use to explore important school issues like student achievement and diversity.

Throughout 2010 I will introduce other engagement tools that can help you engage with your community in ways that will lead to productive conversations.  I welcome your stories about how your school district and community worked to practice two-way communication in the new year.