This Too Shall Pass

July 30, 2007

It was bound to happen. Another school year and new buzzwords are a-flying. This go-round it has to do with 21st Century Education.

Cripe! In schools, we often are so inundated with the crises of the moments that we are lucky just to get through Tuesday education with our kids—let alone 21st Century Education. Now I am hearing buzzwords like “future-ready”, “globalization”, “globally competitive”, and “21st century”.

I have been in this business long enough to know that I can ride this new fad out. I’ve done it before. The way I figure it, there’s . . . let’s see . . . only about 93 years left in this 21st century thing. Yup, this too shall pass.

The NC State Board of Education’s Future-Ready Students for the 21st Century Mission and Goals have taken hold in professional discourse as we prepare the 07-08 school year for roll-out. I assure you it is not just in our school system.

Dr. Terry Holliday, superintendent of Iredell-Statesville Schools, keeps a blog. He also contributes a monthly posting to LeaderTalk. His most recent deals with the 21C conversation:

Our school system has surveyed staff and parents to discover the relative importance of the new state board goals. What we are finding is that while state and national business and political leaders continue to reinforce the notion that public schools are not adequately preparing the workforce of the future, many parents, local business leaders, and staff members do not share this sense of doom or urgency.

As school leaders, we are faced with translating changing requirements for 21st century readiness that call for more rigor, relevance, and relationships to our parents, staff, and students. In translating these requirements, we are expected to make changes in systems that have been in place for over 100 years.

While it is the most challenging work I have encountered in 35 years of education, it is also the most exciting work that I have done. We indeed are preparing messengers to a time that we will not see and cannot accurately predict.

I agree with Dr. Holliday that we have our work cut out for us. This one may stretch us like never before. As school leaders, we must ensure that our opinions on the topic of 21st Century Education are grounded in far-reaching worldview. Unless we are globe-trotting action researchers, that means we have to remain current with the literature.

As a courtesy, I chronicle my Recent Reads and Clippings from the Blogosphere as I study 21st Century Education. The literature, research and musings condition my worldview and support my positions.

The NC Department of Public Instruction is close to releasing a manual called “Field Guide to 21st Century Schools.” It points to relevant programs, initiatives, policies, best practices, etc that are taking hold in North Carolina Public Schools.

It collapses much of the emergent literature. It could give us a common lexicon and point of departure as we move forward with the conversation.

Or, it too could pass . . .


Knowing Our Students

July 29, 2007

haulin netAs a central services guy, I have to go to extremes to stay in touch with students. I attend a lot of middle and high school sporting events; that helps me focus on our client base. But another strategy I employ is reading Young Adult literature.

I just finished Prep (2003) by Jake Coburn. It deals with the ultimate wannabes, prep school gangs in Manhattan. These entitled children of power brokers engage in the same deadly sins and arts as the most notorious gangs from the most challenged environs.

Coburn grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and attended several different prep schools, where he witnessed New York’s privileged offspring form some of the city’s most vicious street gangs. Prep is based on Jake’s teenage years in Manhattan.

A central theme of Prep is that people are not always whom they appear to be. This leads me to wonder: Do we really know our students for who they are in 2007? Or are we still forcing them into familiar frames and knowing them only as we wish them to be?

We can only truly know people through genuine relationships. Solid two-way communication is a cornerstone of genuine relationships. Are we spending enough time and energy involving students in the conversations that will lead to the decisions that will ultimately impact their educational experiences? Do we need to?

I have this wild idea to create a blog, similar to LeaderTalk, that opens the door to quality student input in a medium with which they are comfortable. Maybe we can recruit 3-5 student voices from each middle and high school. Along with them, perhaps we can gain two innovative and energetic teacher voices from each of those schools.

We could pop some questions out to the group every couple of weeks. The questions would be germane to perceived areas of improvement and especially the 21st Century conversation. We would be remiss to enter into that conversation without student representation.

Marc Prensky does a nice job articulating this position in “To Educate, We Must Listen” (2007). What do you think about more actively and formally including students in conversations about their futures?


July 29, 2007

haulin netLast week, Marc Prensky presented to the North Carolina e-Learning Commission in Wilmington, NC. Our own Broad Creek Middle School principal Cathy Tomon is a member of that commission.

I have read Prensky’s work, but this was the first time I saw him present. He is a proponent of computer gaming as serious educational enterprise. He markets a few games through one of his businesses, Games2Train.

The e-Learning Commission is backing the new Learn and Earn On-line in North Carolina. In this education model, our high school students can take college courses on-line for free. Interestingly enough, Learn and Earn On-line has an Economics course which is in game format.

Econ 201: Principles of Microeconomics is a college student’s dream come true. . . The daddy of all economics courses is now a fast-paced video game, rich with academic content.

Prensky sees video games as the premier learning province of Digital Natives. Although I agree with the Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants theme he runs, I was more intrigued by his presentation style.

He flipped through his slides at twitch speed. In his groove, he would show slides for a second or two. I could not afford to become distracted. It put me in mind of the frame rates of television commercials . . . or the click-speed of kids on the Internet. It’s the way our brains are being programmed.

I compared this to a recent presentation that I attended in Greensboro. Basically, I knew I was in trouble when the presenter was still on the first slide 25 minutes into the presentation.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying all info needs to come down at the speed of light. I’m one of the dying breed who still savors printed and bound books. I generally have 2-3 going at a time. I love the quietness of a book.

But back to Prensky—he’s onto something. He claims to advocate for the kids. His rapid-fire presentation style aligns with his kid-centric gaming position. As always, we have to compare this to our teaching styles. Let’s be honest about how we are teaching kids today.

Are we engaging students? Or, are we enraging students?

Administrators on the Ropes

July 27, 2007

On 7/25/07, the central services and school-based administrators of Carteret County Public School System shared an abbreviated ropes course experience.


I have captured the event in a ten-minute photo/music archive called Teams That Work. It’s a big 30mb file you may want to right-click and download to the desktop. Whether you run it from your desktop or the Internet, notice the subtle shifts in mood as the morning progresses.

Bravo on the courageous start, Team Carteret!  Is there any better way to kick off the school year?

The Parable of the Stationary Log

July 26, 2007

We have started off the year with another Ropes Course event. This is the fourth time I’ve participated in a Ropes Course event. Every time has been different. I suspect this is due to the composition of the participants, the leadership styles of the facilitators, and the goals of the event.

Wednesday’s version was an abbreviated, half-day session for school building and central service leaders. It was lead by three competent facilitators. The purpose was to build team.


One of the stations on the course is a stationary log. The object is for the 15 or so people on the log to arrange themselves in order by birth date. The participants are allowed a total of 5 touches (basically, hands on log or body parts on ground).

In general, a common initial scenario for this station goes like this:

  • In two or three locations on the log, subsets of participants try to solve the problem locally.
  • Each subset unto itself shows initiative and teamwork.
  • Collectively, however, the subsets—with competing interests—often create disequilibrium on the log.
  • Folks tend to fall off the log, thus accruing touches for the team.
  • The team generally has to start anew, thus using precious time and duplicating effort.

I have found two occasions when you know you are in trouble on that log:

  1. There is limited or no solid communication prior to the sorting out process.
  2. An individual proposes that all on the log work as a cohesive unit . . . moving one team member at a time with all others in support.  In response, charges of micromanagement and over-zealousness fly from others.

In my unending quest for good organizational karma, I like to extend this stationary log scenario to the workplace. What happens when various and well-intentioned subsets of the organization embark upon initiatives without considering unintended consequences to the greater group?

Worse yet, what about the ones who deliberately exclude big-picture repercussions from their narrow worldviews?

The stationary log is on this course for a reason. It can teach teamwork, communication, support, common cause, deliberateness, and calculated risk.  These factors contribute to good organizational karma.

We’re all in this . . . ALONE

July 25, 2007

haulin netI picked up the March 2006 edition of Educational Leadership. An article entitled “Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse” by Roland Barth caught my attention. The bottom line is this:

Relationships among educators within a school range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive. Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.

Barth lumps professional relationships into four categories—

  • Parallel Play: akin to kids playing individually in the sandbox
  • Adversarial: “We educators have drawn our wagons into a circle and trained our guns—on each other.”
  • Congenial: personal and friendly, often revolving around food
  • Collegial: “Getting good players is easy. Getting ’em to play together is the hard part.”

Of course, collegiality is where the true gold can be found in our profession. It is the essence of Professional Learning Communities. It is marked by engaging in professional discourse, sharing craft knowledge, and participating in structured peer observations in a climate of mutual support and respect.

Administrators can facilitate this process by stating expectations clearly, modeling collegiality, rewarding those who behave as colleagues, and protecting those who engage in collegial behaviors.

It boils down to organizational efficiencies. Michael Schmoker is a good K-12 resource on this topic. Good corporate reads with K-12 application include Good to Great (Collins) and, my favorite, The No-Asshole Rule (Sutton).

Coaching literature is huge on the topic of creating effective organizations. Dale and Janssen’s “The Seven Secrets of Successful Coaches” has great application to improving school climate and culture.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the relationship between my technology responsibilities and my athletic responsibilities. Today, on my bike ride, I finally made the connection. Both technology and athletics endeavor to optimize human performance and potential.

If we intend to make our organizations the best they can be all-the-while serving the best interest of students, we all need to be in this together.

Teams That Work

July 25, 2007


Recently, I have been taking Leadership Training Courses for athletic administration. I thoroughly enjoy this training—and athletics in general—because of the emphasis on team . . . more specifically, teams that work.

Participating in team sports gives students a venue to learn about integrity, honor, teamwork, discipline, mutual respect, fair play, common cause, preparing for the future, commitment, self-discipline, perspective, service, loyalty, handling success/failure, and realizing that limitations are self-imposed.

Successful sports teams are driven by genuine relationships and relentless communication? How well are those two characteristics represented in the various organizations, departments, and hierarchies in which we work? If need be, how do we turn the knobs on those characteristics to keep them in a state of continuous improvement?