January 2012

(At the risk of seeming overly flattering and favoring a friend, for which I offer full disclosure and my apologies, I share the following post about an outstanding educational leader.)

Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state,   Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran.   I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.

Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran.  In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”

Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader?  She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.

  1. Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
  2. Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
  3. Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
  4. Measuring what matters most, using technology.
  5. Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
  6. Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
  7. Putting in place the necessary tools
  8. Documenting & Sharing.

Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners

Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.

I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.

Sterrett goes on to write that

She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies.  “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”

Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.

Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice.  By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.

Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship.   Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading.   Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.

One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing  journey toward quality learning:”


This sweet Derek Sivers video from  provides a lovely little followup to my previous post, the ethical obligation of sharing.   I want to clarify that it is not that I think there are many educators who are ethically opposed to sharing (there are a few, and that few is far too many, but only a few).

I think rather that it is obstacles, not opposition, which limit sharing, and I suppose the obstacles to sharing are three-fold.

One is time/energy/initiative:  though sharing by publishing is now entirely free financially,  it probably just seems too great an expense of these other precious resources to bother.  That is understandable, but it is mistaken.  Developing a familiarity with web 2.0 tools for sharing will take an initial learning curve of a few hours, but at the other end you will be a far more valuable and more greatly contributing citizen of our digital age, and you will then easily and swiftly be better able to influence the improvement of the education of children and the future of our society– something which is the moral responsibility of us all.

The second obstacle is an inability to appreciate the value of our own accomplishments: how could what I have to share be of value to anyone else?  This second one is exactly the subject of the video above: don’t hold off sharing because you don’t know its value:  share and let others determine the value, because sometimes, more often than you might think, they will.  As the Sivers in the video says:

Everyone’s ideas seem obvious to them.  But maybe what is obvious to me is amazing to someone else.  We’re clearly a bad judge of our own creations.  We should just put it out and let the world decide.  Are you holding back something that seems too obvious to share?

The third obstacle might be fear of criticism (as Jacob Martens suggested on Twitter).  I understand this– I do, and I have felt the sting– but I think that we as educators should be willing to model for our students and others risk-taking, transparency, and a willingness to be challenged.

Let’s support each other in identifying, confronting, and overcoming these obstacles: Post and Share for education’s advancement.

(thanks to Jonathan Schmid’s Tech Savvy Teachers Blog for sharing the Sivers sharing video)

Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a very stimulating conversation with an outstanding educational leader who told me about a fascinating, unconventional educational initiative at her school.    Recognizing I wanted to learn more, I asked her if she had “posted” it.   She told me they had presented it in several workshops and had explored doing a book, but that hadn’t come together.   But I followed up: have you put it up online somewhere, on your school’s site or some other sharing venue?


Last month, NAIS President Pat Bassett emailed out a fascinating list of about a dozen schools which were leading the way in the use of “Backward Design” to advance the learning of 21st century skills for their students (I am proud to say that yes, our St. Gregory “Egg” was on the list).

As I scanned the list, my instinct was immediately to look for the links to where I could learn more.   There were only email addresses for the Heads of School.   I followed up by visiting some of those schools’ websites and searching for pages about the programs, and using google to search more widely, but with only a few exceptions, I found nothing.

In my presentation yesterday to the school heads of Virginia, I shared my 8 steps for leading learning forward; the list has grown by a step since my similar, (though shorter) presentation at NAIS last February.

The added 8th step is the shortest and perhaps simplest, but, I think, incredibly important: Documenting (Posting) and Sharing. 

We live in an incredibly exciting and valuable age of networked learning and connected educators, and we al
l have in common improving the education of students, all students everywhere, in every way we can.  We know this is best for kids, to whom we are all so dedicated, and to the future of our society, for which they will very soon be assuming important responsibility.

For those who share this common commitment (and really, who among us does not?), there is, I am arguing,  a moral responsibility, a strong one,  to share our educational initiatives and innovations: to summarize them, share their key elements, show examples of them in practice, and, at best, reflect upon their successes and lack thereof. (more…)

I greatly enjoyed presenting and sharing this conversation with the very fine educators of the Virginia Independent School Association.  This post has only the slides and the videos associated with the slides (Most of which I didn’t have time to share– watch them now!).

For a narrative version of an earlier version of this talk, click here to read my 2011 post,  7 Steps for Leading in 21st c. learning.

My thanks and appreciation go to the fine VAIS staff and educators for welcoming me so warmly, especially Kim Failon and Simon Owen-Williams.

Here are the 8 steps, loosely modeled on Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. .

Here, and after the “more,” are the associated videos: I’ve also provided at bottom a more detailed outline of these 8 steps. 

Alexandria Country Day School Assistant Head Nishan Mehta on their iPad pilot:

the Edleader21 video on the importance of 21st century learning leadership.  (more…)

In what has been one of the most exciting curricular developments of late at St. Gregory, our ninth graders are tackling each winter an elaborate multi-disciplinary project on the topic of bioethics. The assignment comes jointly from the ninth grade biology and English teachers, and requires students in teams to research an assigned topic in bioethics, address driving questions, take it through multiple steps of revision and reflection, and then publish their completed work in a presentation which they deliver to other students, after which they actually provide a test-for-understanding quiz to those students about their presentation.

Below these four presentation Prezis and video (two prezis after the jump (more), which I am so happy to be sharing, is more detailed information about the assignment, including a rubric and the project “pitch” requirements. (You may need to click on “more.”) I thank the St. Gregory students whose fine work this is for giving me permission to share.

Here is a link to the test for understanding quiz which was prepared to accompany this presentation, designed by the students as part of their project. (it is amusing to me to read question 4, multiple choice option b). (more…)

This is a very worthwhile 15 minutes for those interested in the question of how curriculum should be changing, and also, for those attending ISAS Teacher Conference in a few weeks, this offers a nice sneak preview to one of the event’s most exciting presenters.

What Year are you preparing your students for?  Tests from the 70s and 80s are just the same as they are now; Most schools are preparing students for 1991.

Instead of the oral report, one of the low points of civilization, let’s do video podcasts.

Media Literacy, Global Literacy, Digital Literacy: What are these things, really?  Let’s think more carefully about these terms and how to teach them.

Let’s ask students to do assessments:  What does a quality blog look like? Have students define the standard and ask students meet it.

What is a quality podcast?   Don’t just make a wiki, determine what is a quality wiki.

I think every student should design an app: I can’t think of a better thing for them to do.

My new mantra: Get time out of the way, move aside, think about all the connections that are possible, and what I am looking for is Future Schools Now!

Jacob has a strong and ambitious vision, and she wants to support teachers: one step at a time.  Revamp just one curricular unit or area each year, and before too long, we will alll be well underway.   Focus on the new critical literacies, elevate consistently students’ consciousness about what is quality and how we know it, and engage students and strengthen their skills by use of powerful Web 2.0 communication and creation tools.

I love the message that students should design apps: we have a few doing that at St. Gregory, but not every student– not yet.   It is something we, like so many other schools, are moving toward and ought to be moving toward more swiftly.

There are so many great things students can be doing and creating in this day and age, and let’s take inspirational figures like Jacobs to keep asking ourselves: how can we make learning more engaging, more meaningful, more connected, and more preparatory for our times?

Yesterday’s New York Times offered fascinating piece that struck directly at the the heart of a topic I write about often: the connection of creativity and collaboration.    Regularly here I write with enthusiasm that by promoting better collaboration among our students in a myriad of ways– from group-work in the classroom to building powerful online networks across the world– we will facilitate our students in becoming more creative and innovative.

I cite Steven Johnson’s writing most often, as when he explains in Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation that the most innovative spaces are situated at the scientific laboratory conference table and innovation occurs most often in the densest of networks: first in cities (and his research is compelling that the densest and largest cities are the most innovative) and now in online networks, most exemplified by Twitter.   Clayton Christensen too, in the Innovators’ DNA, elevates five traits as essential to the “Innovator’s DNA,” and networking is number 4.

At first glance, the New York Times piece by Susan Cain, The Rise of the New Groupthink, with its subtitle “Collaboration is in. But it may not be conducive to creativity” appears to be a major assault of sorts on my belief and argument.    But a closer reading of the piece leads me to believe that the headline distorts: to my eyes,  this piece is a nuanced and balanced essay which argues for the value of both solitude and collaborative/networks as offering value for innovative work, except when it goes off its own rails to strike an unfairly strident and wrong-headed note.

Cain opens with an admiration for the introverts who are often highly creative and for the value of solitude in creative endeavors, and speaking for myself as an introvert, I appreciate the endorsement:

The most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. (more…)

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