Sunday, April 24, 2022

Disrupting Your Practice

Last week I shared the news that Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms: Preparing Learners for Their Future was published a year ago.  While I am proud of all the books that I have been honored to write, this one was a bit more special.  For starters, it represented my first major publication that veered away from a leadership focus.  Since a great deal of my time as of late has been in the role of a coach, I wanted to share insight that has been gleaned through visits to numerous schools and countless classrooms.  Another driving force for this book was to bring a shining light on all the fantastic practices spearheaded by educators both prior to and during the pandemic.  

ConnectEDD Publishing was the perfect partner for this project as Jimmy Casas and Jeff Zoul have immense experience in the realm of school culture.  They also provided me complete autonomy to craft a manuscript in a way that worked best for me, not them.  However, their honest feedback along the way pushed me to reflect deeply on several aspects that differentiate the book from others, most notably the disruptive challenges at the end of each chapter.  There is also a comprehensive study guide making it an excellent resource for book studies or Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as special bulk discount pricing is available.  If interested, reach out to  For more details on the book, click HERE

Despite my attempt to publish an “evergreen” book that will withstand the test of time, things do change.  This mostly centers on how I process and reflect upon ideas written about where there is now additional context, thanks to all my time in schools.  I regularly create supplemental material through this blog that weaves together additional research connections, practical examples, and deeper insight.  I have organized all updated content into the four main components of the book below while also noting the chapter alignment.

Re-thinking “normal”

Re-thinking learning

Re-thinking the learner

Re-thinking our mindset

There is a great deal to unpack in all the above posts.  If you are a visual learner, you can check out how I have curated these resources on Pinterest. Experience has and always will shape our perspective.  In a world constantly influenced by disruptive forces, it only makes sense to look for ways to disrupt our practice for the betterment of those we serve. 


Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Ever-Evolving Leadership Lens

Good leadership is, quite frankly, good leadership.  The tenants have remained the same for centuries.  What’s changed is the environment in which one leads, and this impacts the lens that is, or should be, used to drive change.  Employing well-known and research-based strategies within a current context is a hallmark of influential leaders.  I am of the opinion that being able to adapt in a way that results in improvement across various dynamics is what it is all about. What’s the point of being in a position of influence and responsibility if everything either stays the same or regresses?  In a disruptive world, our lens must evolve.

During my time as a principal, disruption in the form of Twitter and a student telling me school was like a jail helped me embrace a better lens.  These events served as catalysts for challenging the status quo and working to usher in more innovative practices that were more aligned with preparing our learners for current and future success.  During this time, I developed the Pillars of Digital Leadership and later authored the book around concepts that I found pivotal to the change process leading to transformation.  

While I still firmly believe in their value, I have embraced a more nuanced lens that provides more clarity and relevance.  In education, effective leaders use tried and true strategies with a lens that focuses on the following:

  • Learner Outcomes (improve)
  • Personalized Culture (create)
  • Professional Learning (provide)
  • Multi-faceted communication (engage)
  • Storytelling (embrace)
  • Relationships (develop)
  • Creating opportunities (prioritize)

Let me try to sum this all up in a concise fashion.

A pedagogical focus grounded in research and evidence is critical to improving outcomes for kids both with and without technology.  

Transitioning from a traditional to a more personalized culture emphasizes equity while providing learning spaces that are more reflective of the real world.  

For growth to be the standard, ongoing and job-embedded professional learning is needed as opposed to drive-by events and one-off PD days.  

Stakeholders are immersed in digital spaces.  As such, leaders should meet them where they are and engage in two-way communications that still leverage non-tech approaches.

The best way to control the narrative and tap into the power of emotions is through a storyteller-in-chief mentality.  

Relationships are everything.  By creating a positive brand presence, leaders can develop this priceless currency that will pay dividends time and time again.

Pay it forward. Students and staff thrive when leaders work to create unique opportunities to succeed. 

Truth be told, there isn’t just one right way when it comes to leadership.  If innovation is the goal, it is vital to view change from multiple perspectives.  As things constantly change, be open to allowing your lens to evolve, and in time you will maximize your impact.  

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Shifting Our Practice

In my previous post, I dove into the concept of shifting our focus from “what” to “who” in order to set the stage for personalization.  The premise is as simple as it is powerful, with the goal being to provide all learners with what they need, when and where they need it, to become life ready.  While having a focus and knowledge of pertinent strategies is a good start, there needs to be an emphasis on changing practice.  Moving away from traditional approaches is not easy.  Herein lies one of the biggest obstacles to any change process.

While the transition to personalization can occur using high-agency strategies, as detailed in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, it is critical that the right culture is in place.  The stage is then set to implement more personalized pedagogy.  Below you will see my attempt at creating a visual that illustrates a shift in practice is not only necessary but also the benefits that will arise. 

Culture matters.  For the students and teacher to thrive, a solid foundation needs to be cultivated where voice, choice, path, pace, and place become ubiquitous elements that are leveraged seamlessly both in and out of the classroom.  Examples include flexible schedules, virtual options, learning academies, use of data, and high-functioning PLCs.  Here is where leadership is pivotal.  An equitable learning culture at the district and school level can only be created through the development of policies, procedures, and vision that result in systems geared toward supporting the uniqueness of all learners.  There also must be ongoing professional learning for teachers, coaches, administrators, and other related staff.  Traditional systems look to sustain a more equality-based approach. 

With the right culture in place, personalization can thrive as long as the right pedagogical strategies are employed.  It is important to note that this does not mean we turn a blind eye to tried and true strategies.  In fact, these represent an excellent opportunity to begin implementing high-agency strategies such as voice and choice during whole group lessons.  From here, the stage is then set to leverage blended pedagogy such as station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and the flipped approach.  It is here where student agency can be further developed through path, pace, and place (click HERE for more detailed information).  No matter the strategy used, the purpose of any personalized approach should empower learners to think and apply their thinking in relevant ways while addressing specific needs.  The exclusive use of standardized techniques will always leave some kids behind. 

Shifting away from a reliance on traditional practices to personalization will be a bumpy road at first.  Our kids, and their future, are worth the effort.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Shifting Our Focus

Humans, by nature, are heavily influenced by experience. As such, we often do things a certain way because that is either all we know or what we are comfortable doing. Think about this for a second when it comes to behavior in education. We often teach the way we were taught and lead in a way that we were led. I’d wager that many of you reading this post are bobbing your head in agreement, although there are always exceptions. Change is hard, especially if we have been influenced in a certain way. Trying something new or different can instill a sense of fear or an uncomfortable feeling, which in turn keeps us firmly entrenched in our ways. While this is certainly natural, it can possibly inhibit growth. 

Just because we were taught a certain way or told how to lead a learning culture effectively doesn’t mean we shy away from challenging conventional norms. As I have stated repeatedly over the years, TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it) is one of the most dangerous phrases in education. Changing behavior begins with shifting our focus with less emphasis on instruction and more on learning. While the former still has value, the latter leads to improved outcomes and success. Remember, instruction is what the teacher does, and learning is what the student not only does but shows. Hence, there is a need to prioritize the “who” instead of the “what.”

A great way to conceptualize this is through the lens of personalization. An impersonal approach is all students doing the same thing the same way at the same time. While this can have merit in moderation, excessive use of one-size-fits-all approaches is inequitable. They also tend to focus on the “what .”On the other hand, personalization is where all learners get what they need when and where they need it through equitable experiences. There is also clarity in terms of why they are learning what they are and how it will be used outside of school.

As I detailed in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, personalized learning represents a movement from the “what” to the “who” as a means to facilitate student ownership of the learning process. The image above represents a significant shift in terms of how we think about the purpose of education. Traditionally it revolved around “what” is taught, in the curriculum, on the test, or needed for promotion or graduation.  

This shift results in not only a refined focus but also some significant benefits, such as:

  • Acquiring, using, and creating new knowledge
  • Relevant application of learning to solve real-world problems
  • Building on the diverse strengths and needs of all students
  • Fostering independence and self-regulation, resulting in greater ownership of learning
  • Different ways to facilitate learning through high-agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place.
  • Seamless alignment with the RTI/MTSS process 

A shift to a more personalized approach can fuel better outcomes and results while future-proofing learning in the process. While technology can be leveraged, it is not the end-all or be-all. Always remember that you can personalize without digital tools. Pedagogy trumps technology. In the end, the priority is, and always will be, providing an equitable learning experience for all students.