Sunday, June 16, 2019

Education for the 4th Industrial Revolution

Don’t prepare kids for something. Prepare them for anything!”

I remember a world without the Internet, smart devices, mobile phones, 3D printers, and 4K televisions sets. After all, this was the world that many of us grew up in. There was an abundance of playing outside, reading, walking around the mall, going to the movies, and talking on the phone. Sure, we had our technology at the time, which now seems quite archaic compared to even the most rudimentary devices of today.  However, we were not connected even in the slightest bit when compared to the present. Rotary phones and face-to-face were the main, and really only viable, options available. Little did we know that we were in the midst of the 3rd Industrial Revolution and the dawn of the computer age was upon us. Disruptive change was upon us; we just didn’t know it back then.





Whether you like it or not, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution and have been so for many years.  It has and will continue to, fundamentally change the way we engage with each other, work, and go through life. It is exhilarating as it is terrifying.  Take this view from the World Economic Forum:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Tom Murray and I presented a call to action, highlighting the need to transform teaching, learning, and leadership in Learning Transformed to meet the demands and challenges inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution.  In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I took it a step further.  Improving upon and then building pedagogical capacity in ways that align to the competencies that our learners will need in a world that is almost impossible to predict is critical.   Rest assured, it is not as arduous an endeavor as you might think. The key to future-proofing education, and learning, for that matter, is to empower students to think and construct new knowledge while simultaneously having them apply what they have learned in relevant ways. More specifically, education has to prepare kids to be competent in the following areas:
  • Critical thinking and real-world problem solving
  • Relationship building (inter and intra-personal)
  • Digital awareness and use
  • Career and job-specific requirements
So where to begin?  For starters, it is vital to get everyone on the same page. The Rigor Relevance Framework provides the common vision, language, and expectations to help learners develop the competencies to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution. For more detailed information, you can view a series of posts on the framework HERE.

Now more than ever, the importance of education cannot be overstated. However, things do need to change at scale.  The status quo cannot be tolerated.  If schools continue down the same path as they have for decades, two things will happen. In one possible scenario, our students could begin to abandon them as they will find more relevant and applicable programs and information online.  The more likely outcome though is that they will not be adequately prepared for the new world of work.  In either case, both of these should be viewed as unacceptable.  Challenging the mantra of TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it) requires both a bold and fearless educator.  The good news is that we have many of these people in our schools. 


One thing I have learned from hundreds of classroom coaching visits each year is that innovative practices are present. I have been so inspired by teachers and administrators who have begun to embrace different and better pedagogical techniques aligned to the competencies listed above while also improving outcomes in the process.  The challenge is moving practices that prepare kids to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution from obscurity to more mainstream.  We must not be satisfied with isolated pockets of excellence. Even though they represent a great starting point and should be celebrated, it is essential to remember that every learner deserves excellence. 

Will the learners in your school be ready?

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Lead in the Now

When you finally let go of the past, something better comes along.” – Anonymous

There are many reasons why we tend to fall back on what we are either comfortable with or have always done.  For one, comfort tends to be the enemy of growth.  In other cases, the fear of failure of the unknown can derail us from taking the needed risks to implement new and better ideas.  Then there is the most dangerous view in education that the way we have always done it is the best way.  One last factor has to do with our experiences.  We tend to teach the way we were taught and lead the way we were led and, in a sense, become victims of our past. My point here is that change can be hard, confusing, scary, and unpredictable.  None of these reasons should stop anyone from doing what’s best for kids.



With changing times, continuous reflection and learning are needed in order to move schools forward now.  As I have said over and over again, the world is changing. Jobs are changing. Expectations are changing.  As such, teaching, learning, and leadership must change if growth and improvement are the goals.  It requires all leaders, regardless of title, to seek out answers to crucial questions that can pave the way for innovative ideas aimed at improving outcomes for all learners while fostering better relationships with stakeholders.  The image below can help you get started with this process.

I am not implying that we throw out the baby with the bathwater, but instead work to do what we already do, better. Here is where the Pillars of Digital Leadership come into play.  



Each of the seven outlined below are either embedded components of school culture or an element of professional practice that leaders already focus on (or should be). Innovation in education is, in many cases, not an entirely new idea, but instead doing what we already do better. Let’s look at these Pillars and ways that we can lead in the now:

Student engagement, learning, and outcomes: We cannot expect to see increases in achievement if students are not learning. Students who are not engaged are not likely to be learning. Engagement is not a silver bullet, though. Students need to be empowered to think at the higher levels of cognition while applying what has been learned in relevant contexts. Leaders need to understand that schools should reflect real life and allow learners the opportunity to use real-world tools to do real-world work. As technology changes, so must pedagogy, especially assessment and feedback. Leaders should always be looking to improve instructional design and establishing accountability protocols to ensure efficacy in digital learning. 

Innovative learning spaces and environments: Would you want to learn under the same conditions as your students do, or in similar spaces? More often than not, the answer is no. Research has shown the positive impact that innovative spaces can have on learning outcomes. Leaders must begin to establish a vision and strategic plan to create classrooms and buildings that are more reflective of the real world while empowering learners to use technology in powerful ways through either personalized or blended strategies and increased access in the form of BYOD or 1:1. 

Professional learning:  Research has shown, and continues to show, that job-embedded, ongoing professional learning results in improved learning outcomes.  This needs to be prioritized. Additionally, leaders need and should want access to the latest trends, research, and ideas in the field. With the continual evolution of digital tools and increasing connectivity, schools can no longer be silos of information. All educators can now form their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to meet their diverse learning needs; acquire resources; access knowledge; receive feedback; connect with experts in the field of education as well as practitioners; and discuss proven strategies to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. Digital leadership also compels educators to create more personalized learning pathways for adults during the school day and year. 

Communication: You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Leaders can now provide stakeholders with relevant information in real time through a variety of devices by meeting them where they are. No longer do static, one-way methods such as newsletters and websites suffice.  A variety of types of information can be communicated through various tools and simple implementation strategies to create a more transparent culture. 

Public relations: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and more often than not, another’s version will not be the one you want to be told. Leaders need to become the storyteller-in-chief. Leaders can use free social media tools to form a positive public relations platform and become the de facto news source for their school or district. It is time to change the narrative by sharing all of the positives that happen in schools every day to create a much-needed level of transparency in an age of negative rhetoric toward education. 

Branding: This is how your school or district is defined. It is not something that you want to leave up to others. Businesses have long understood the value of the brand and its impact on current and potential consumers. Leaders can leverage social media to create a positive brand presence that emphasizes the positive aspects of school culture, increases community pride, and helps to attract/retain families looking for a place to send their children to school. Tell your story, build powerful relationships in the process, and empower learning with a brandED mindset

Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities.  It requires a commitment to leverage connections made through technology to take advantage of increased opportunities to make improvements across multiple areas of school culture. The other six pillars connect and work together to bring about unprecedented opportunities that would otherwise be impossible, such as securing donations, resources, authentic learning experiences for students, and mutually beneficial partnerships. As Milton Berle says, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."

In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I take readers on a deep dive into each pillar while providing pertinent research and evidence to better lead in the now as opposed to the past. Be sure to check out the video below that adds additional context on each as well as practical implementation strategies.



For even more insight, ideas, and strategies, you can take a listen to one (or all) of the following podcasts read an interview transcript that emphasizes how to lead in the now effectively. 
If the goal is a relevant culture of learning, then leaders must begin by modeling that at the individual level. Only then can the arduous, yet gratifying, process of systematic change can occur. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Problem With Zeros

The dreaded zero. For many students, this number elicits a certain amount of fear and anxiety that all assignments are turned in on time. I, for one, felt this way and made sure that everything was turned in when it was due.  Compliance and following rules, even if I didn’t agree with them, were just natural parts of my view of school.  Unfortunately, the effect does not transcend to every kid. Sometimes they forget. Other times they just don’t care. Regardless of the reasons, I think it is essential to critically examine the message and lesson that we are imparting to our youth through this outdated and, quite frankly, insensitive practice. 

The policy for giving zeros to students who do not turn in assignments when they are due has pretty much been entrenched in schools across the world. It is one of many examples that fall into what I call the “death trap” in education – that’s the way we have always done it.  Just because something has been done in the past, or is a traditional component of school culture, does not mean it is an effective practice.  In my opinion, it is well beyond the time to revisit this practice and determine if it truly is in the best interests of our learners.  Take the scenario below shared by Powers Thaddeus “Teddy” Norrell.
Emily is an engaged student who always pays attention in class, has a high class rank, and has never made a grade lower than an A. Emily’s first four grades in physics are 100, 99, 99, and 98. Emily is set to have a 99 average for the term. However, she has had an unusually busy week, and when she arrives at school on the morning the final assignment is due, she realizes that she has completely forgotten to do it. She explains her situation to the teacher and begs to be allowed to turn it in the next day. The teacher is unsympathetic and assigns Emily a grade of zero for the final assignment, telling her that this will prepare her for the “real world.”
Let’s examine the last statement regarding preparation for the real world. Correct me if I am wrong, but in education, teachers and administrators don’t receive zeros if they:

  • Don’t arrive to work on time.
  • Fail to meet a determined deadline (i.e., turn in lesson plans, complete all observations/evaluations by a set date, etc.)
  • Don’t read or respond to email and as a result, are unprepared for meetings or don’t get needed information to colleagues when required.
  • Forget to call parents back

Now other professions might have stricter accountability, but more often than not, there is leeway.  The question then becomes what message or lesson are we really teaching students by giving zeros? If learning and growth is the goal, then it is our responsibility to tackle this issue as the negative impacts on our learners far outweigh the need to make an example or fall back on the “preparation for the real-world” rationale. 



As a principal, I worked with my staff to tackle this issue as well as the overall practice of grading. I’m not going to lie; it was one of the hardest change initiatives I ever engaged in during my tenure as principal. Now I am not saying our solution was perfect or the best by any means. However, it did represent a step in a better direction in that we focused more on learning as opposed to grades and marks. You can see the specific changes and associated rationale for our revamped grading philosophy HERE. Below is what the committee came to a consensus on in regard to zeros:
No zeros: Students are not to be assigned a grade of zero (0).  This not only reflects grading as punishment but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Guskey, 2000; Reeves, 2004; Reeves, 2008; O'Conner and Wormeli, 2011).  This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc.  An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exam no show without a justifiable excuse (i.e., doctor’s note, death in the family, etc.).
For some practical alternatives to dishing out zeros check out the latter portion of the article by Norrell titled Less Than Zero. It is important to determine why students don’t turn in specific assignments such as homework and projects as a way to mitigate even having to consider doling out zeros.  Consider the following questions:

  • Is the assignment meaningful and relevant? 
  • Does the learner see the purpose in it?
  • Will feedback be given?

Reflecting on these questions can help lead to the creation of better assignments that are more relevant, and kids actually want to complete.  Punishing learners with zeros destroys both morale and a love of learning by digging a hole that many cannot recover from (nor do they have any aspirations to do so).  They also create a mirage in terms of what was actually learned.  If a grade does not reflect learning than what’s the point? We owe it to our students to pave a better path forward. 

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards … and how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29.

O'Connor, K. (2007). A repair kit for grading: 15 fixes for broken grades. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.


O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40-44.


Reeves, D. B. (2004). The case against zero. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4), 324–325.


Reeves, D. B. (2008). Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85–87. 


Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Challenges Educators Face

We live in amazing times.  Technology, most specifically social media, has flattened the world. Remember when we had to get all of our professional literature and information from journals, books, conferences, over the phone, or people that we came in direct contact with? Educators now have access anytime from anywhere to people, ideas, resources, strategies, and feedback.  As much as this has been a game-changer for so many, we now have better access to research and evidence of improved student outcomes to really hone in on the types of changes that are needed in classrooms, schools, and districts across the world. 

Even with all the positives associated with what I listed above, the truth of the matter is that much of it doesn’t matter when the realities educators face are not given the attention that they deserve.  Just because something sounds good on Twitter and during a keynote or looks good on Pinterest and Instagram does not mean whatever is being promoted will work. Context matters. Finances matter. Facilities matter. Staffing and community support matter.  I have been blessed to not only deliver keynotes and workshops but also to facilitate job-embedded coaching on a long-term basis. It is the latter component of my work where I see firsthand the challenges educators are facing regardless of zip code.  This work has provided me with a more empathetic lens and has allowed me to tailor and personalize the coaching process as well as the feedback that is delivered.  


Image credit: NEA Today

How I see things is still limited and can be influenced by bias. Now don’t get me wrong. I see some significant obstacles and challenges thanks to the long-term work I am engaged in. However, I wanted to move beyond me and focus on the people who are in the trenches on a day to day basis.  This led me to pose a question on Twitter, asking educators to share their particular challenges.  You can see the tweet below. 




Here is a summary of the majority of the responses:
  • Fear of failure and willingness to fail forward
  • Helping educators understand and integrate maker-centered learning
  • Helping teachers and leaders break down silos and understand it is not a competition but a concerted push to provide students with learning experiences they need.
  • Effective strategies to remind adults we are preparing kids for the future not the adults for the future
  • The mental health of students. We don’t have the support needed for emotionally or mentally challenged students that are in the regular education class.
  • Dedicating time to fortify universal instruction and systematic procedures while continuing to attend to the intensive needs of the high volume of kids in crisis & experiencing trauma.
  • Inspiring high school students to choose teaching as a profession.
  • Attracting the best and brightest to the field
  • Boys’ achievement and engagement. There is a considerable disparity at present in our school across all years.
  • Finding the balance between "meet students where they are" and "getting them where they need to go." Many educators are clear on the former, then handhold & scaffold low expectations. Others are better at the latter then lose a good % of their class by not differentiating enough.
  • Lack of alignment of educational institutes knowledge with the practical world. Educational institutions are preparing the future leaders, and due to lack of such coordination they fail to groom themselves as per new emerging trends and increase their absorption level in industry.
  • Work-life balance 
  • Implementing Innovative student-centered learning that improves outcomes 
  • Matching sustainable grading practices that reflect learning
  • Empowering teachers and maintaining alignment to mission, vision, curriculum, etc.
  • Feeling genuinely supported in taking risks and being innovative in the classroom.
  • Students not taking responsibility. Even taking responsibility for picking trash up that they dropped.
  • Inclusion and REAL collaborative teaching... integration of universally designed practices to help all students (which covers social justice, restorative practices, SEL) and somehow helping more teachers embrace that accommodations are not cheating.
  • Screen time for students
  • Making technology purposeful, not just tech for the sake of it
  • Students don’t hold the information anymore as they can get it anywhere. There is a need to teach them not only to access safely and critically but also to apply and construct new knowledge.
  • Motivating digital immigrant teachers and administrators to have a growth mindset to try new strategies and tools.
  • Using interactive whiteboards like projectors
  • Teacher-student ratio
  • Principals seem to be regretting their decision to go into leadership as they have too much on their plate and not enough time. More supports are needed.
  • There is always a new program being purchased. It's used for a few years and then discarded, leading to a high level of initiative fatigue.
  • Real evaluation and accountability
  • School overcrowding, support of libraries by districts, and limited access to libraries
  • Principals with control issues
  • Antiquated buildings, facilities, and resources
  • Ideas that don’t align to consider the realities educators have to deal with
  • Drive-by, one and done professional development that is not on-going, job-embedded, aligned to research, have evidence to back up the investment and lacks accountability for growth.
There are a lot of challenges listed.  What would you add to the list above? 

By putting these and others front and center, efforts can be made to develop practical solutions. Before any new change or mandate, considerations have to be made as to the feasibility (and sustainability) of the idea, strategy, or investment.  Case in point. If you are asking teachers to differentiate instruction on a daily basis, class size and resources matter. Or if you are committed to blended learning, then a combination of pedagogical change as well as updated spaces is needed. It behooves all of us to consider reality when ideas are presented, whether through social media, workshops, professional development days, in books, or during keynotes and presentations.  The struggle for many is real, and they need our support.