Why do we wait for a conference or a formal gathering set months in advance? Days of intense learning are too infrequent and widely-spread for most educators, which was one of the main topics of discussion during a tremendous, near-spontaneous confab amongst three forward-learning public school districts yesterday. Hosted by Los Altos School District and attended by the Design 39 Campus team of Poway Unified and the superintendent of Milpitas Unified School District, teachers, site leaders, and two of the three superintendents met to talk about change, school culture, professional development, community communications and much more.
What do these districts have in common? All three:
- Recognize that we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to move intentionally away from the Industrial Age assembly line model of learning towards an ecosystem model.
- Believe we can and must attend to the individual needs of ALL learners.
- Are in the midst of adopting the Common Core, but believe those standards represent the floor of learning objectives, not the bar or the ceiling.
- Are tired of working in isolation on common problems, issues, and concerns, when we can do much more working together, sharing successes, failures, and resources.
- Recognize the power of a design thinking approach to strategy and problem solving that leverages the power of their own districts’ experience and knowledge as educators.
We talked about how districts can create a strategic and tactical roadmap that links their vision, a forward-leaning pedagogy and program, and community communication strategies to help them move as organizations into new learning territory? I quoted Bo Adams: why do we spend loads of money on architects to help us master plan a physical campus renovation, and virtually nothing on creating a master plan that links vision and pedagogy? One of the superintendents turned to me and said “In a building project you spend 25% of the budget on soft costs. So are you saying that I should take 25% of my Common Core funds and use it for planning?” My response: “That is up to you, but why wouldn’t you? Isn’t how and what students learn at least as important as what the building are going to look like?” He looked back and echoed: “Yes, why wouldn’t we?”
All three teams walked away with concrete ideas and examples from the others on how they can improve their practices. I anticipate these districts will work together on a more frequent basis of sharing and partnership going forward. I have already started to link them with other schools and districts as well. We KNOW we can transform learning in the classroom. The challenge is to bring it to scale, to take those brushfires of innovation that are burning in so many schools and districts around the country and fan them into a true conflagration at the district level.