How is this for a glass-half full view of life: one of the benefits of flying to Europe in crowded coach class at the holidays is that jet lag leaves you lying awake the next night, plenty of time and space for thinking. Here are three such thoughts that specific school leaders solicited from me in the lat few days, and I thought might be of general interest:
1. One strong takeaway from my recently concluded trip was that sending faculty and staff out into the world, increasing the permeability of our organizations and connectivity of our employees, is utterly key to developing a growth mindset. But showing up at a school and saying essentially “hello, I am here to observe” is not a good idea. And just going to any school without knowing why, or knowing in advance that they have something specific to learn from can largely be a waste of time. We must model what we are teaching our students: prepare, think ahead, and and be ready with key questions that you want to answer in your visits. I had two central questions that I was asking on my trip, and I got great feedback. Some examples:
“What is your school doing that is expanding authentic student engagement in the classroom?”
“How are you changing your use of physical space to enhance the learning experience?”
“”How are you changing your schedule to create more time for professional development, learning outside of school walls, etc?”
“How have you realigned decision-making authority to reduce silos and streamline innovation?”
2. If you want to know if you are on the right metaphorical airplane (bus; but I just spent 11 hours in airplanes), look to your left and right and see who else is on the plane. What are the schools, and who are the educators, who you want to be associated with in the minds of your clients? What are they doing and how are they doing it? Are you sitting with other schools that are being truly thoughtful, intentional, and making real changes? Or are you marking the boxes? In a time of essentially universal access to knowledge, your clients are comparing you against others. This is not a question of following the herd; it is a question of assessing the health and direction of the system and making sure you are positioned among the leaders, not the followers.
3. At a really high level, there are two stages to innovation and change: inspiration and implementation. Leaders tend to be stronger in one of these areas than the other, and that is OK; we all have our strong and weak DNA. Some of the schools I visited that are at the real leading edge of what we are calling innovation now need to be just as effective at implementing on the ground they have broken. I recall Bill Wolf-Tinsman at Colorado Academy (Head Mike Davis was absent that day, but I know this is a major issue with him) mentioning this during my visit. Scott Looney at Hawken has a three-year cycle: big changes take about three years to implement, and then he wants to give his organization a break of about three years as they run up to the next significant period of change. Great ideas make headlines but the fine detail is what leads to students being well prepared for their futures.
That’s all for now; the sun is coming up in Zurich; yesterday was warm and the sun was out, and we are going off later in search of yet another perfect Christmas bratwurst and cup of mulled wine.