Resist Insanity by Making Excellent Mistakes

February 25, 2008

From the “Continuous Improvement” files comes this courtesy of . . .

Dr. Terry Holliday, Superintendent, Iredell-Statesville Schools

Einstein said it was insanity to keep doing what we always have done and expect different results. Today, school superintendents and principals have to be successful managers and leaders of change.

The points below come from the ultimate change guru in our current educational research base is Michael Fullan.

#1 – Love your employees – focus not only on student and customer satisfaction, but, also create schools and districts that focus on quality of life for teachers and administrators

#2 – Connect peers with purpose – top down doesn’t work, bottom up doesn’t work, need to have a blended and partnership approach

#3 – Capacity building trumps judgmentalism – assume staff do not have capacity to implement changes when things are not working and then build capacity

#4 – Learning is the work – for everyone… including school boards – professional development must be delivered within context and supported on the job – for every hour of PD, need 7 hours of coaching, deployment, and mentoring

#5 – Transparency – things can’t be improved if we don’t know about them

#6 – Systems Learn – move from systems thinking to systems DOING!! You don’t change beliefs, you first change behaviors. So start doing and don’t wait until you have it perfect. You learn from making excellent mistakes.


Pakistan Blocks YouTube

February 24, 2008

From My Way News (2/24/08):

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan’s government has banned access to the video-sharing Web site YouTube because of anti-Islamic movies that users have posted on the site, an official said Sunday.

Pakistan is not the only nation to prohibit YouTube, at large. Turkey, Thailand, and Morocco—if only for a time—made the unilateral decision to pull the universal plug.

Hittin’ home?

Win At All Costs

February 23, 2008

On February 18, forty-two of our middle and high school coaches convened at the Civic Center for the first component of a far-reaching professional development initiative: Fundamentals of Coaching (National Federation of High Schools).

The session was led by Mark Dreibelbis of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. He amplified the position that the mission of interscholastic athletics is to promote learning at all costs.

This session was timely in light of this week’s news headlines referenced below.

From the Herald Sun:

CHAPEL HILL — 12 students were busted for a cheating scandal that encompasses two years, a school master key, and cell phone technology.

The principal believes the students exercised poor judgment and that they were doing this more for tradition rather than to get ahead.

From the Charlotte Observer:

CHARLOTTE — “Residency rules on athletic eligibility are in place to make sure all schools fairly compete. Coaches, parents, students and boosters who try to gain an advantage by putting on their teams talented players who don’t live in the school zone are cheating. Worse, the adults involved are setting a bad example for the students. Such actions say to young people that winning on the athletic field and in life trumps everything — even honesty and integrity.”

West Charlotte High School got caught helping students fudge residency requirements for athletic purposes. As a result, they had to forfeit 13 games, refund $16,000 to fans for playoff gate, pay a $250 fine, spend next season on probation, suspend one student from athletic eligibility for a year, and get rid of at least two football coaches.

The toughest thing about keeping our eyes on “learning at at costs” is the prevailing mindset to win at all costs.

It’d Be a Lie to Say . . .

February 22, 2008

. . . that drop-out reports don’t increase the alarm and rhetoric about the “drop-out problem” as we lurch further into this political season.

I cringe every time a new monthly drop-out report finds its way to my desk. The names, some of which I associate with faces, leap from the pages like ghosts from the past.

One of the recent strategies we have implemented is the exit interview for those students (and their parents) wishing to cut ties early with our high school.

I learn good information during these conversations: Too much girl drama going on…classes start too early…my kid doesn’t work well in a rules-based system…he hates this place…she’s bored…father’s an alcoholic…mom didn’t finish high school either…junior’s gotta work to cover his car insurance…we can’t get him outta bed in the morning…


Yesterday afternoon, I had to get out of my office.So after we loaded and rolled the afternoon buses, I strolled out to the back 40 where our spring sports teams are in the early stages of practice. The shot putters where heaving heavy shot. The pole vaulters rehearsed their approach techniques. The sprinters and hurdlers ran sets.

JV and varsity girls soccer players braced against the wind to hear the coach’s instructions. JV and varsity softball players worked through conditioning and batting cage drills. JV and varsity baseballers took batting practice.

In the student parking lot, the NJROTC counted drills in precise cadence. The rappers and rockers emerged from the auditorium after yet another rehearsal for the pending talent show.

In the distance, the rat-a-tat-tat of the percussion ensemble rolled like gentle thunder.


Getting out of my office for an afternoon walk is invigorating and yields great rewards. I get to see all the talent and potential in full bloom on our campus—even well after the school’s academic hours have concluded.

The students I see have connected with teams. Their connections keep their days ever more productive; their relationships, ever stronger. They are participating in life in real-time, real-space.

They are not sitting in isolation, plugged into laptop monitors, thumbing numbing text messages to their friends, swinging Wii wands, or stupefied in front of TV screens. Their formative years extend un-virtualized in specialized environments marked by boundary lines, supervised by adults, and governed by rules. Their sweat, pain, chills and thrills are in direct response to their efforts and energies in organized sports, clubs and activities.

I salute the thirteen coaches/leaders who orchestrate these late-winter, late-afternoon opportunities on our sprawling campus.


I switch back to the names on the drop-out roster. Where are those young people this afternoon? Are their lives so much the better outside of the system they vehemently detest? What teams are they now on and who are their teammates? What leaders are they following?

Tomorrow, I will once again hear the news reports of how American high schools are not adequately serving the drop-out population. With all the options and opportunities we already have on our campus every season of the school year, I can not help but think it is not exclusively the school that has failed these students.

It would be a lie to say that effective schools don’t offer a wide variety of opportunities and options that keep students connected to life-long learning.

In an ideal world, every student would come to high school prepared with the support, attitudes, habits, values, and competencies that promote curricular, extra-curricular, and ultimately real-world success.

In the real world, our goal in public education is to help those that do and those that don’t.

It would be a lie to say that all of those personal assets and attributes are only developed and shaped inside the school walls.

Preparing Students to Handle the News

February 7, 2008

Forget the world is flat. The world is snowy, as blizzards in China stranded thousands.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the power of ESPN Sports Widgets to re-shape how we access sporting news. Here’s more . . .

Check out the AOL News (beta) for a good dose of how news—as it happens— is being done today. The one common denominator you will find in the reshaping of the news industry is RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or web feeds. Mozilla Firefox, IE7, and a host of feed aggregators give flexible RSS advantages to future-ready news consumers.

Now on to the news . . .

Here are the Web 2.0 features of AOL News:

  • RSS Feeds
  • Send to Cell
  • Tag Clouds and Tag Lists
  • Drag and Drop Polls
  • Story Approval Rating
  • Share via IM or eMail
  • Bookmark in DiggIt, del. i cious, newsvine, technorati, reddit, magnolia, blinklist, furl, and netscape
  • Recent comments
  • Sphere

To see how it works, let’s analyze the story of Mitt Romney retiring his run at the presidency, updated at 6:09 EST (2/7/08).

  • The story is tagged under Elections.
  • There’s a 6-item photo gallery (hosted by compuserve) of the story.
  • There are two-user polls related to the story. By 6:36, they each had over 200,000 votes cast.

    • There is a 150-item photo gallery related to Romney. It can be viewed in slideshow or thumbnails. With one click, it can be shared via AIM or e-mail.

      • There is a 1 minute flash video clip of Romney’s announcement. The video comes with embed code, as well as link options to a variety of social networking outlets like myspace and digg.
      • There is a reader poll on the story’s value. . . and an array of bookmark options. Readers can register their comments. Less than two hours after the story was updated, over 7000 comments had been registered by readers.
      • A final neat feature is Sphere, which links to current blog articles related to the story.

      So, that’s the news in 2008. How well are we preparing students to handle it?

Were You This Person Too?

February 7, 2008

Parable 2.0 from Teaching Generation Z begins like like–

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a bright-eyed idealist ICT (edtech) coordinator discovered Web 2.0. It was love at first sight and he then started his own blog. One thing led to another as these things do and before long he was publishing wikis and attending online conferences and bookmarking madly and commenting all over the place. And while his own learning took off at an unprecedented rate, he struggled to work out how to utilize these new tools and methodologies into his own classroom.

But he stuck at his new web-enabled style of learning, eventually establishing himself as a C list edublogger. He read “The World Is Flat” and “A Whole New Mind” as texts of almost biblical influence and networked worldwide with Americans and Kiwis and Brits and Canucks and even fellow Aussies. Teachers at his own school snickered at him at first, skeptical about his time management skills because after all, what hard working teacher has time to poke around on the internet?

For those still alive in “school futuring,” the theme for The School Administrator (Feb. 2008) is Globalization and Education. If you’ve read Friedman (World is Flat) and Pink (Whole New Mind), you can refresh on their thinking in Pink’s interview of Freidman titled “Tom Friedman on Education in a Flat World.”

Friedman expounds upon the virtues of liberal arts in conjunction with math/science, the rise of the generalist who can integrate and has a renaissance view of the world, and the power of an individual’s imagination as a market force.

Pink: You’ve got schools moving ever more toward routines, right answers, and standardization — at precisely the moment that the wider world is moving toward novelty, nuance and customization. It’s scary. And it’s not the fault of teachers, principals and superintendents. In fact, the more time I spend in schools, the more I realize how heroic the work they’re doing really is.

Friedman: My favorite story is about [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford’s graduation. He says, “You know, I dropped out of Reed College and had nothing to do so I took a course in calligraphy. And it all went into the Mac keyboard!”

From the Fischbowl: Embedded below is the 2005 commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford that is referenced in the Pink/Friedman interview. . . He tells “three stories from [his] life” —

Were you this person too? What are you doing now?

Of Academies and Academic Freedom

February 5, 2008

Much discussion in education today centers on academies, or focused learning communities. Freshmen academies, or academies that focus on the transition from middle to high school, get a lot of play. Our good neighbors at Jacksonville High School are out front with this reconceptualization of high school.

jacksonville high school

Academies can be thematic. Over 15 years ago, I worked at Benjamin Banneker Model Academic HS in Wash, DC. The theme was college prep. Therefore, it was an early version of a thematic academy.

Academies can be specialized on career. Jacksonville HS boasts three other academies: Education and Training Academy, Health Sciences Academy, and International Studies Academy.

One academy that is getting a lot of play right now is the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadephia. It has a dynamic, future-forward leader in Chris Lehman. The school embraces technology assets like1:1, Moodle and Drupal. It hosted EduCon 2.0 .

But one thing I recognize quick about SLA is the way its leadership enables the over-the-top and transparent academic freedom of its teachers.

Just watch this embedded YouTube video below to admire the technique of the SLA science teacher as he gives a compelling, entertaining, and relevant treatment of Global Warming for his students and a global audience.

As Dave Sherman points out in Good Teaching Trumps Everything (LeaderTalk):

To start, the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is an incredible high school. If I am ever presented with the privilege of starting a new school from the ground up, I would model it based on the way the SLA was created. Forget the fact that this is a high school, and my interests lie at the elementary level. Good teaching is a constant, regardless of the level or age of the students, and deep learning can and should take place at all grade levels, and beyond the walls of the school.

Real teaching is about creating opportunities for students to become involved in critical thinking, questioning, problem solving, inquiring, researching, and authentic learning. It involves teachers setting up situations where students become self-directed in their learning; where students feel safe to take risks, and possibly fail, before some new knowledge becomes ingrained. Excellent teachers recognize that different students learn differently, and that one size does not fit all.

And good leadership trumps that which is suspect. Awesome school leadership is about empowering teachers with the resources, habits, logistics, and mindset to enable 21st century teaching and learning.