[cross-posted at Connected Principals]

Patrick Larkin wrote a piece yesterday about how his mind has changed over the past six or seven years; when he first read Collins’ Good to Great, he (as I did) essentially skipped over the technology as acceleration chapter.

I was happy to put technology discussions on the back burner and have one less thing to worry about. Fast forward to Burlington in the present and I have a different view of Chapter 7 from Good to Great

As a presenter, I am always looking for the most effective conversation starters for my audiences to break things up and mix in more dialogue, and earlier this month I stumbled into what seemed a very valuable one, asking small groups to discuss, and then share out, how their own views have changed and are evolving over the past six to eight years.

Watching these groups, I could see that the question wasn’t an easy one– which is something of a good thing, because sometimes conversation starters are just too easily answered– but once people started reflecting further, and discussing the topic, you could see deeper thinking emerge, and there came along greater recognition that indeed, for most of us, our minds and attitudes are changing– though not in any one direction.   It struck that me how useful it is for us to be more aware of, more meta-cognitive about, how they are changing. (more…)

[cross-posted from  Connected Principals]

Heidi Hayes Jacobs:  ”If you’re not updating your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing.”

“Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of school administrators who responded to a recent survey said 1:1 computing classrooms where teachers act as a coach for students are the future of education.” (T.H.E Journal)

“Innovative teaching supports students’ development of the skills that will help them thrive in future life and work.” (ITL Research)

One of the most exciting books of the year for those of us seeking to become ever more effective as innovative school-leaders and leaders of innovative schools, and, even more importantly, seeking to facilitate our students’ development of more innovative mindsets, is the new book from Clayton Christensen (et.al), The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

(Bill Ferriter has written brilliantly about this book herehere, and here).

The book is framed around the Five Core Skills of Innovators, a framework highly valuable for ourselves and our students: What are we doing to do more of and become better at

  • Associating,
  • Questioning,
  • Observing,
  • Networking,
  • Experimenting. 

It is my aim to write more about these five traits, particularly for teaching and learning, but here I want to focus upon school leadership and the book’s concluding three chapters, People, Processes, and Philosophies, to draw and offer 15 takeaways for Principals and School-Leaders: What You Can Do to Become Stronger Innovation Leaders in Your School:

1.  Own as Principal the role of Innovator-in-Chief: You can’t delegate innovation:     

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Steve Jobs.


“In the most innovative companies, senior executives didn’t just delegate innovation; their own hands were deep in the innovation process… (more…)

Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are the most heroic teens of contemporary literature: I know you all know Harry, but if you don’t yet know Katniss you will soon, because her adventures in The Hunger Games will soon be feature films.

The lives of these heroes are at first glance and to many ways of looking at them, simply, miserable and horrific.   Harry, we all know, spends his seven years of school fighting to save his life and reputation from the death-eaters and from he who shall not be named.

Katniss must fight for her life in her society’s fatal, fight to the death version of teenage Survivor: a wall of fire overwhelms her as she is trapped in a tree;  she is stung all over by killer tracker jacker bees; she has hallucinations of ants boring into her eyes; and she is attacked by horrifying mutant mutt-wolves.

Why do these heroes generate so much fascination?  Surely there are many reasons, but among the most important is that we envy and are admiring of their struggle.  How can that be? How can that be? How can we envy their struggle?

Remember that feeling hiking and rock climbing at Mt. Lemmon, looking up, and thinking how am I possibly going to do this?  Remember feeling the pressure of your major English paper on MacBeth and Flannery O’Connor, or preparing for the great debates of your Civics class.   How did you feel as you faced these challenges, and how did you feel when you completed them?

The New York Times last week published an article which posed the following questions:

“Why did couples go on having children even though the data clearly showed that parents are less happy than childless couples? Why did billionaires desperately seek more money even when there was nothing they wanted to do with it?”

The article explains that the University of Pennsylvania professor of Psychology, Marty Seligman, who is the guru of “positive psychology,” has revised his analysis of what is most important to pursue in life:

[It is] the feeling of accomplishment which contributes [especially] to what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, which roughly translates to “well-being” or “flourishing.(more…)

Good evening:

Thank you for attending this session, and thank you everyone at NYSAIS, especially arvind, Alex, and Barbara for inviting me.   I want to open with a quote:

In this day and age, many schools incorrectly view successful education as an extremely complex process, but
the formula for a really first rate education is relatively simple: put highly qualified, caring faculty, and eager, bright youth together in a personalized setting with a robust curriculum – and let things happen.

There are plenty of sentimental reasons to appreciate this quote.   Some truths about excellence in learning are timeless, and I think we can still learn enormously from Socrates and Aristotle.   But my suggestion is that if you accept this idea whole-heartedly, you are welcome to head over to the bar early– go ahead and get yourself a drink.

I believe the world is not just flat, the world is spinning: faster and faster, and that schooling can not rely on the simple formulas of the past:

  • because what our students need to learn is changing,
  • because our understanding of how learning works is changing,
  • because the technology which enhances learning is changing. (more…)


What a great issue!  Nearly every piece offers values to educators seeking to provide 21st century learning, and learning by doing meaningful work, by addressing and solving authentic, real-world problems, and to do collaboratively, digitally, and on-line.

An appreciative round-up:


Solving Problems that Count.  The title is a great expression of how to organize learning, and this unapologetic Dan Pink fan is delighted to see author Dana Maloney apply the ideas of his Drive to student learning.

When offered degrees of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, students will engage more fully with their learning. Yet let’s be truthful: All too frequently, we ask students to learn without autonomy, without opportunity for mastery, and without purpose. So how can we use these forces to create more meaningful learning experiences for our students?

Maloney is an AP English teacher, and I like that she seeks to take traditional advance English assignments, such as novel comparisons, and take them toward addressing real world problems that students are engaged with and inquiring about.

teams of students speak on the topic of “being the change they wish to see in the world.” All my students are determined to enact change, and they all believe they are capable of doing so, both now and in the future.

Students want to make choices, be directed by purpose, and master content—and schools can offer students meaningful learning experiences by having them play a role in solving the world’s problems. In doing so, we release the potential in our students, make effective use of 21st century literacy tools, and create learning experiences that are deeply meaningful for both our students and our world.

Call me romantic, but I love this message.


Carol Dweck, one of my favorites, tells us Even Geniuses Work Hard, and that students will strengthen their growth mindset when they are challenged to do “meaningful learning tasks.”

Meaningful learning tasks give students a clear sense of progress leading to mastery…

Homework assignments should not feel like mindless, repetitive exercises; rather, they should present novel problems for students to solve, require them to apply what they’ve learned in new ways, or ask them to stretch to the next level. (more…)

Advice to New Independent School Teachers (and all Teachers!)

Key resources from this talk:

Independent Schools—Reflecting on the difference

My own story, switching from a fine public school to an excellent independent school from 7th to 8th grade.

Qualities of the Independent School Environment:

  • Small Classes,
  • High Expectations,
  • Academic Rigor,
  • Relationships & Community,
  • Intellectual Curiosity and Engagement,
  • the Whole Child

Faculty members are absolutely at the heart of this—and your role is obviously and entirely essential to this. (more…)

My remarks at New Parent Night

Welcome to St. Gregory; we are so glad you are joining our school community.    You have come at a very exciting time, both in the history of our school and in an important moment in our national conversation about K-12 education.   This is a time of great change and energy in thinking about what and how our students need to learn in our fast-changing world.

A great example of how our school is changing and aligning itself with contemporary best practices is our new Wings program: 1:1 laptops at St. Gregory, by which every student has a laptop (netbook) and uses it every day.   This is a key step in the development of our educational program where our students exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy.

Our teachers are fully embracing, with good enthusiasm and great attitudes, these developments and this new era in learning.    What is more, they are learning too.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new era of technology integration in learning is the way our teachers are, each and every day, learning in their classrooms and growing in their skills.  (more…)


My contribution to Leadership Day, 2010:

I have had the incredibly good fortune (for which I am so grateful) to be an educational leader for 13 years now, but only in the past several years have I sought to be come an educational leader– and it’s been a great ride, one I wish all my school leadership colleagues will take!  Here is a smattering of thoughts on techniques for 21st century ed leadership, with one most important message: today more than ever, leadership is about learning, and those of us who aim to lead learning must be ourselves Chief Learners in order to be Chiefs of Learning.

Focus on yourself.   You must become the change you wish to see in your schools.  Unfortunately, this can be hard if we are, as I think I was, trapped in a fixed mindset.  Carol Dweck’s book Mindset was critical to me; she explains how there are only two mindsets, fixed and growth, and many of us, students and even more so adults, are trapped in a fixed mindset.  In this, we think we are what we have been, and cannot become something different.  We think that to seek to grow, to learn, to change will demonstrate weakness, flaws, or failings.  We think that if we have not been, in our past, digitally savvy, then we cannot change ourselves.  But if we take Dweck and adopt a growth mindset, there is nothing we cannot become.

Having adopted a growth mindset and made the pledge to learn and grow, start learning.  Reframe your own self-image as Principal, Head or Superintendent; you are not just Chief of Learning but you are Chief Learner, you are Learner in Chief.

Learning is not just about reading more widely, or attending more conferences (though those aren’t bad ideas).   We must also learn in the field, visiting other schools with all the frequency we can possibly find, and make it a priority to do so.   Visit widely, and do your research: where are the schools that are doing the kind of work you most want to do in your own schools. (more…)

32x32 pixels 'file icon' (PNG only)Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to discuss in an EdTechTalk webcast St. Gregory’s program and initiatives in 21st century learning this past year. The 22 minute conversation can be accessed here; scroll to the bottom of the chat transcript to find the speaker button.

From the heading:

Jonathan E. Martin, Head of School at St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Arizona joined us to reflect on his first year.  We discussed how Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap has framed the work he is doing with his faculty.  Jonathan led us through a number of assessments that St. Gregory is using to measure how collaborative, creative, and engaged his students are at St. Gregory.  Interested in the 21st Century School, this is definitely one version!   What a way to close out another another great year of podcasting.

I am also pasting in, after the jump, the chat conversation that accompanied the interview: I have to say, I was not able to multi-task powerfully enough to both fully engage in the conversation and also follow the simultaneous chat happening about the interview.  It was interesting to catch up with it later and see what people were saying.

How do other heads react to your strong use of Web 2.0 tools? Yes, this is a funny topic for some of my colleagues; many do, in a very friendly way, tag me as the blogger guy, or joke when in discussion, will this conversation appear on your blog?     Twitter seems entirely foreign to most, and is an easy thing to disparage when you don’t use it.    I think it is funny too how many other heads think of me as the “technology guy,” when I feel like I am far from being a technology expert, though I am an enthusiast.  Using blog platforms and twitter is hardly demonstrating excellent technological skills.   But I have had great support too; our Southwest association (ISAS) executive director has been very strong in her encouragement of my blog, and there is also a small circle of other Heads who blog regularly or are on Twitter who are terrific comrades and wonderful writers and web 2.0 users: Josie Holford is first among them.

Jonathan-time is always the number 1 identified barrier for the development of professional learning teams. How have you addressed this?? Have you changed the traditional meetings which focus on operations to allow for organic learning communities to emerge?? (more…)

I spoke this morning to the student body, sharing my enthusiasm for Carol Dweck’s ideas in Mindsets (see previous post).  I also opened and closed with this fabulous U2 song, and cited these lyrics, suggesting they can inspire us to adopt a “growth mindset”:

A star lit up like a cigar
Strung out like a guitar
Maybe you could educate my mind
Explain all these controls
I can’t sing but I’ve got soul
The goal is elevation

I read a lot of books last year, but one of the very most significant to me is a book by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  [Dweck also has a new on-line learning tool for middle school students called Brainology.]  I realize that the title sounds a bit too much like a magazine self-help article, and I realize that some of the profound wisdom Dweck dispenses might seem like just common sense and conventional wisdom.  And yet– I think it is still really significant, and really deep.   And it made a personally huge difference to me a year ago.

Last spring and summer, I was confronting a funny year in my life, school year 2008-09, the very first year of my life since I was three in which I was neither a full-time employee nor student.   I had to decide what to do with the year– and I spent several months in spring and summer trying my hardest to establish myself, one way or another, as an expert, as a consultant, as an author.  In Dweckian terms, I was acting out of a fixed mind-set, one major facet of which is the intense determination to “look smart: “the main thing I want to do when I school-work (or any other “work”) is to show how good I am at it.”

But then I read Dweck’s book, and had what proved to be a very important epiphany.   I could re-frame my year to be one dedicated not  to showing how accomplished I am, but instead to accomplishing more;  I could make it a year of growing, not showing.   I could re-train my brain to recognize that looking smart is not most important– learning is most important.   (more…)