The Culture of “School”

culturesofthinkingI’m revisiting my highlights in Ron Richhart’s Creating Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. A revisit to any great text surfaces new questions. One of my biggest questions drawn from the text is What kind of intellectual life are we surrounding our children with at home, school and in the classroom?

You’d think the “intellectual life” would be a natural focus of our schools, but creating a culture of thinking is confounded by the fact that the natural disposition of many schools these days is to act as a sifting and sorting mechanism. From p. 23:

  • you either fit in or you don’t
  • there’s no place for dialog and conversation
  • learning requires individual seat work and practice
  • learning is competitive, not cooperative
  • being fast means you’re smart
  • there’s no time for questioning
  • learning is all about getting the grade

How many of our learners have a fixed mindset reinforced by the culture of the “school”? How many of our teachers are the same way? I think it might be interesting to have conversations with teachers, students and parents like those shared in the article How can students be successful in a high stakes world? The author suggests many of the issues above can be addressed through the “ABCs of engagement”: affective, behavioral and cognitive engagement, with cognitive being the one lost in most of our schools. I think the ideas in Creating Cultures of Thinking can help us move toward better engagement in all three areas, particularly the cognitive.

Join Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5) and me on Wednesday, August 26, 8 PM, on #currichat to talk some more about cultures of thinking.

What kind of intellectual life do you surround your children with at home, school and in the classroom?


Diving more deeply: Time to get beyond the surface?

surface2I shared a blog post a few months ago (Everybody shares, nobody reads) about our consumption of information from blogs and Twitter. I’ve since shared my frustrations with numerous colleagues about the large amount of surface conversation out there, both online and at face-to-face gatherings. I may seem a little judgmental and cynical with this post, but I’m OK with that…I’m trying to provoke some deeper conversation.

Surface conversation is fine, but it cannot be the majority of what we do. “Surfacy” conversation can be reinforced by the formats that we use today – Twitter, Twitter chats, blogs that are often 500 words or less, bite sized podcasts, etc. These are great places to find our focus/passion and connect with like-minded individuals. But here is where I’m a little perplexed – Where do these conversations grow and develop beyond the surface interactions? I see blogs from major organizations and thought leaders that have zero to a handful of comments but thousands of shares. I see people who mindlessly RT content I bet they haven’t read. How does these actions contribute to a deeper conversation around ideas? If I’m missing something, please tell me where these conversations are happening.

I wonder if this is a larger issue of information literacy. We are so inundated with information, in every possible area of interest, that we become paralyzed. We lose any and all sense of focus. We don’t prune our “following” list; in fact, we mindlessly follow to increase some irrelevant number. We don’t slow down; we whip our social media life into a high pitched frenzy in fear we will miss out on something. In actuality, we miss out on a lot – deeper, richer thinking and conversation. We don’t actually read blog posts and comment on them (and revisit to engage in the conversation). I know…you say we can’t possibly read and engage in everything that comes our way, but let’s ask ourselves how discerning we are and how focused we are to take the conversations that interest us to a deeper level. How much of our “conversation” reflect deep thinking and rich engagement with ideas – beyond the vapid “great post” feedback? Am I generalizing or is this lack of depth in our thinking (as a profession) a real problem?

What would our schools be like if we made connections (online and offline), found a focus and actually engaged in deeper conversations around that focus? OK…rant over. Looking forward to any comments and pushback…

Busting myths of creativity in education

mythsofcreativityEducation isn’t the most creative or innovative sector of society. Sure, we have classrooms within our system and schools around the country known for innovative practices. Generally, though, the field of education is firmly rooted in an industrial model and not too willing to change.

As a superintendent, I work with those in my district to embrace a more progressive vision of education (Make School Different) and want to see our students, teachers and school leaders embrace a growth mindset where creativity and innovation bring about the changes so necessary in our system. Recently, I’ve been exploring the idea of innovation in education (blog post, Edcamp Hershey, upcoming #currichat on August 5), and when I heard that David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas is scheduled to be the featured speaker at the PASA Education Congress in 2016, I wanted to give the book a read. The ideas in the book, backed by examples from research, provide every kind of leader with the basis for rewriting the myths of creativity found in his/her organization.

Of the 10 myths, 4 stand out to me as particularly applicable to education:

  • The Expert Myth: Great ideas only come from people with an expertise in the problem. A diversity of perspectives, including those not in the domain area of the problem, bring about the most creative solutions. There is a bit of irony, however, in this myth relevant to education — all of the tinkering from policymakers, mostly considered non-experts in the field. In fact, policymakers do a pretty good job of ignoring the real “experts” — teachers, students and administrators – those with an insider perspective, too often without a voice at the policy level (we bear some of the responsibility for this).
  • The Breed Myth: The fixed mindset that only those with some special genes or born talent can develop creative or innovative ideas. In education, we take this myth a step further and believe only those with titles can/should be doing the creative/innovative work. Since becoming a superintendent in January 2015, I find that people often associate some kind of magical power with the title.
  • The Eureka Myth: Great ideas appear out of nowhere. Great ideas have a history of incubation where divergent ideas and thoughts are synthesized, resulting in something creative or innovative. In education, we are far too reactionary, generating mediocre solutions, typically in isolation, pressed by some sort of “urgency.” The need for idea incubation tells us we should slow down the train of urgency, and take the time to collaborate with other minds (experts and non-experts in education) to generate the most powerful solutions.
  • The Constraints Myth: Access to unlimited resources improves the quality of creative/innovative solutions. There isn’t a place on earth where resources are unlimited, least of all in education. Constraints on resources provide inspiration to be as creative and innovative as possible. Innovation, after all, is generating novel solutions using the resources you have while finding ways around the resources you don’t have.

Based on what David tells us about the myths of creativity, what can educational leaders change now to foster more creativity and innovation in the organization?

  • Engage a more diverse set of stakeholders – teachers, students, parents, board members (the expert myth) around problems of “significance” – those matters that will have a long-term, high impact on our vision and mission for education. How do we want teaching and learning to change? How can we engage a variety of stakeholders, particularly students, in these conversations and decisions? How does the constraint of time play into our decision making (the constraints myth and the eureka myth)? Time is actually on our side, I believe. “Urgency” is often fabricated by others, and we too easily respond while we push aside the more significant issues we ought to be dealing with. Time is also an invaluable opportunity to connect with other (sometimes opposing) viewpoints, and synthesize new and old ideas, arriving at the best creative solution (the breed myth).
  • Work to create a school/district culture where a flat hierarchy exists (the breed myth). We can do this by engaging the stakeholders mentioned above, getting out of the office and onto the front lines where the day-to-day work is happening. When we can make people feel good about their work and appreciated, perceptions that leadership titles and hierarchy correlate with creative and innovative ideas will be busted.
  • View every constraint (financial resources, human resources, time) as an opportunity to be creative and innovative (the constraints myth). Just about anything is possible if we’re willing to put in the time and the hard work to get there. Along the way, we’ll need to push back on the myths of creativity.

What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your organization? How do you work to debunk the myths of creativity?<

Want to learn more about all 10 myths of creativity? In addition to consulting David’s book, to to the Change This site, and download  Rewriting the Myths of Creativity.

Check out David’s podcast on leadership, innovation and strategy, LDRLB, on iTunes and Twitter. This is one of my favorite podcasts, with interesting guests, thought provoking ideas and useful takeaways.

Make School Different @ #KTI2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 3.57.31 PMThis past week, I had the pleasure of speaking to this year’s class of Keystone Technology Innovators (#kti2015). It was a pleasure to speak with such a group of dynamic and dedicated educators! A bonus: three teachers from Salisbury Township School District were present – Jen Brinson (@jbrinson21), a KTI Lead Learner; Linda Helfrich (@LindaHelfrich), 5th grade teacher from HST; and Laura DosSantos (@LDos322), World Language Department Chair and Spanish teacher. We as a district are very proud of you for your work with our students and receiving this recognition!

The topic of the talk was Make School Different, and there were lots of opportunities for the STARS to engage by exploring ways they can make school different and committing to something for 2015-16 by the end of the talk. The conversation on the #kti2015 hashtag is embedded in the Storify below along with the Today’s Meet conversation and resources shared during the talk. Lastly, I’ve shared the slides from the presentation. Thanks to Ross Cooper (@rosscoops31) for help in designing the builds for the presentation (of which you don’t see in the Slideshare). KTI is an awesome breath of fresh air for teachers! Thanks to Ann Noonen (@anoonen) and the KTI Lead Learners for all you do to make this a transformative week for PA educators!

Storify of #kti2015 during the talk…

Todaysmeet backchannel

Additional resources mentioned in the talk

Slides from Slideshare