I spent quite some time this week at an Education Summit in NC.  The whole focus was on reconnecting the community to the school – an issue that I am very passionate about.  There were some really good sessions on how to increase the voice of business and industry in shaping curriculum as well as the integration of global education into the curriculum.  The charter school presentation was very interesting as they took an impressive approach to creating innovative learning environments – one of the featured schools was Roger Bacon Academy.  Just take a look at their mission:

Thus, the mission of The Roger Bacon Academy is, for the next generation,

•           to teach the rules and techniques for effective expression and communication in the arts and sciences,

•           to communicate, by these arts and sciences, our understandings of the universe and our role in it, and

•           to instill a love of learning and discovery, justifying a life-long dedication to health, truth, and virtue.

I highlighted a few words that jumped out at me as these words speak to the “creative economy” [more to come].

Another presentation featured 4 different perspectives on integration of global education into schools.  I was fairly impressed with the work of NC’s Global Schools Network as well as UNC’s World View to really help students connect with other cultures and gain a much broader awareness of how the global economy impacts them.  This is a great step that quite a few school districts in NC have taken, but there is still a glaring gap – – where is the “hands-on” application of this learning? Cultural immersion and international understanding are great foundations to a creative economy, but students need to be involved in solving problems and working with local and global communities to solve these problems.  That is where relevance in the curriculum becomes tangible.

So with all of this movement to try and change education and impact learning through innovation and global awareness, where do we stand in terms of our role [education] in fostering this creative economy?

In 2008 Mark McGuinness wrote that “Creativity is the new competitive advantage . . .” America’s ability to be creative in solving problems and communication continues to be one of the driving tenets of our competitiveness.  How are we fostering this in our K-12 schools? I came across this really cool Community Health Tool that allows you to look at counties in NC from a few different “health” indicators – one of which is the creative economy.  What most intrigued me were the 3 strategies to increase the creative economy in these counties.

  1. Foster partnerships among creative enterprises
  2. Infuse creative practices into schools’ core curricula
  3. Cultivate creative assets to raise awareness of creativity

In the era of high stakes testing and “data, data, data”, it seems much more difficult to integrate these strategies into our educational fabric.  After perusing the health tool, the percentage of creative economy jobs is still well below 10%.  The higher percentages are directly related to the presence of a major university also.  However, with technology and the ability to telecommute and telework, why aren’t we continuing to develop this creative economy through the state (and nation)? I believe the answer lies in the fact that we haven’t infused the 3 strategies above more deliberately into our K12 system.  We have pushed standards and testing so hard that we have literally killed creativity.

While standardization is a necessary evil, the methods in which formative and summative assessment are utilized should allow students more diversity [and creativity] in proving learning has occurred.  Paper and pencil testing is archaic and does not mirror a knowledge economy in which information is gathered, processed and refined into solutions and new products.  I have always envisioned a learning ecosystem that allows students to connect, create, innovate and shape their learning with the tools of the Knowledge Age. Thus, I would champion loudly for the #2 strategy of “infusing creative practices into schools’ core curricula”.  Such strategies can be seen in places like the Carpe Diem schools where blended, innovative learning allows a creative culture to thrive.

When a culture of creativity thrives, a creative economy can begin to blossom.  Manufacturing and government jobs may continue to dominate our economy, but in order to hold our competitive advantage, educators need to seriously look at how we are building the next generation of workers to compete – – are we fostering the creative economy? In our classrooms are we allowing discovery to happen? Are we connecting the arts and sciences and demonstrating through hands-on application where students better understand their role in the universe? Awareness is just one step – – let’s move to action and change!


Sorry to play on the text acronym, but it seemed too appropriate. I am sure there are students who are saying “LMAO” at the fact that states, schools ,etc. are arguing over educational reform and specifically the value of online and blended learning options.  Giving students “options” seems like a political nightmare today. Recent articles in Maine’s Portland Press Herald butcher for-profit companies as well as leading political advocates for digital education.  The concern . .”divert[ing] precious public education dollars into profits and dividends while providing education of dubious quality.”

The quality of online learning is still debatable as true success indicators have yet to be defined systemically, but national groups like iNACOL are working diligently to define these outcomes-based indicators which should begin to help reshape some of the banter about sacrificing quality for profits.  Regardless of whether or not the for-profits are making a difference or just making a profit, why don’t we look at some of the existing challenges facing traditional learning :

  1. Retention rates still have not increased.
  2. Proficiency in some subject areas has declined.
  3. The graduation rate in numerous states is still below 70%.

Couple these with reduced budgets and increasing costs to deliver education that meets the needs of all learners (traditional sense of delivery) and one could surmise that the dubious quality exists in all delivery models.  Let me be clear, this is not an attack on teachers (because that is our first approach systemically).  I am simply stating that if we are going to bash online and blended learning as an innovation based upon poor quality, let’s look at ALL educational delivery in terms of outcomes and success factors. Sorry, I digress a bit.

My questions still remain . . .what do the students want? What are they saying about our educational system?

I have yet to hear much of the “student voice” in the debates taking place in the media about educational options – whether it is online learning courses, full time virtual options, new charter schools or a mix-match of these.  Parents are demanding change and liking educational reform to trying to turn a battleship around in a ditch – it ain’t gonna happen overnight! Many parents and students aren’t waiting around for politics to “work out” or for someone to research and study what is best for students – they are seeking options.  Options that provide personalized learning environments, customized learning paths, flexibility in schedules, flexibility in “seat time”, safe learning environments, etc. are all on the minds of students and parents. In an article from MLive in Michigan, students stated that the top 5 things they want in school are:

  1. Real world application and relevancy
  2. Choice
  3. Innovation
  4. Teacher mentors
  5. Interactive technology

I applaud Louisiana’s bold move to a “course choice” model for students.  While it is garnering attack from teacher unions and naysayers, the Governor and State Superintendent have listened to the student voice(s) and are providing some choices (options) in their academic careers.  Other states are following suit to provide options for students. Before we attack every innovation that occurs just because we are afraid of change or we have vowed to protect the “system”, let’s consider the student’s needs and thoughts on what they want.  I have witnessed situations where a student made a C in an online class and it was seen as a negative as far as performance – in truth, the student needed the course to graduate and the school couldn’t offer it to meet the need of the student’s schedule – so was it effective? If the option was not to graduate on time or to graduate with a C – – I would say chalk one up for options!

Let’s start looking at data such as Project Tomorrow’s reports from Speak Up surveys and determine what options we can provide based upon student needs and wants!

In closing, I am currently working on an Ed.D. and the program has allowed me to pick and choose courses and delivery methods, so personally I am LMAO!!

Managing or Leading?

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Educational Leadership

” . . . .leadership always involves a relationship as contrasted with management which has to do with processes and systems . . .”

This quote is from Michael Maccoby who I found on this blog

http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/09/michael-maccoby-on-managing-vs-leading.html.  I have really been intrigued by this simple truth and the fact that our educational systems are full of managers who need to become leaders.  There is a distinct challenge in the 21st century economy to promote innovation and creativity – both of which cannot necessarily be measured.  The industrial age focused on managing resources and measuring results – and if you couldn’t measure it, there were no results.  While there are many great leaders of the industrial age, the primary skill set was the ability to manage people and resources.  Productivity was measured by the quantity of results and the quality of the product.  This industrial paradigm still is pervasive in our educational system structure.  We are focused on measuring “tangible” outcomes, managing resources (people, time, materials, budgets) and maintaining traditions that are ineffective and do not allow for innovation and creativity to be fostered.

Leadership is all about relationships. Leadership fosters innovation and creativity at all levels.  Just take a look at the key attributes of an effective leader from Jim Murray.  As education professionals are we leading innovation or managing resources? or are we doing both? I won’t say it’s an “either/or” situation but a “both/and” situation.  Unfortunately, I strongly feel the balance is skewed in the direction of “management” vs. “leadership”.  We should be promoting and training Principals as Leaders, Teachers as Leaders, Students as Leaders, etc. and the professional development should focus on the skill set of the 21st century leader.

Think about the “classroom management” training many of us have been through.  There is a strong focus on “management” techniques vs. the empowerment of critical thinkers who foster innovation and creativity.  Teachers are having to break the mold and jump outside of the box of process and procedure in order to affect students’ learning and make them enjoy the learning experience.  I love this quote from Professor Maccoby:

” . . .this(meaning successful outcomes) can’t be achieved by management (tactics) alone at a time of constant change when people need inspiration, a sense of purpose and enthusiasm to achieve their goals.”

Take a look at these 2 links regarding the differences b/w managers and leaders.


–  http://www.twitpic.com/yye37

I would also suggest reading Bob Sutton’s blog on Leadership Vs. Management.  He draws a very accurate picture of the “both/and” approach to this topic.  My point in all of this is that you can’t focus on managing resources vs. leading innovation.  The workplace has quickly become an agile, ever-changing, and continuously improving ecosystem while education has struggled just to keep up.  Why? I feel it is because we are still steeped in traditional industrial “management” practices of command/control/produce/measure vs. fostering the innovation and creativity in our schools.

Some edu leaders to follow on Twitter:


So, are you leading innovation or managing resources? or both?

Doctors prescribe medicine based upon their knowledge of diseases, viruses, illnesses, etc.  They tend to know what is best to combat the sickness.  The only true choice we have in the matter is which doctor or in some cases (based upon past experiences) which forms of the medicines we’d prefer.  Ultimately, we are prescribed the remedy with little choice but to accept it as it will lead to getting well.

In 2004, America seemed to be in a medical malpractice “crisis“.  With all the concerns arising from this, America began to (and still may) question the prescriptions (treatment/diagnosis, etc) coming from medical providers.  Now, I am not here to debate the quality of our medical practices, but merely to set the stage for the bigger context of prescription vs. subscription.

Enter the “net” . . .

Americans began their trek to research medical advice and gain a better “education” prior to determining how they would proceed with treatment and/or at minimum who to go to (aka “choice”).  Sites such as http://www.webmd.com/ and http://www.healthline.com/ emerged to provide education to Americans on medical and health related issues.  Thus began the “subscription” approach to medicine.  Open content helped to inform people of their options/choices.  People “subscribe” (not pay per se, but “choose” to get info from them) to these sites to gain knowledge and feel more like they have a voice in their medical/health options. As Americans wish to become better informed and have more control over their medical/health choices, this trend has begun to invade education.  I use the term invade simply to imply that some may not want to see this trend, but realistically, it’s here, regardless.

The traditional industrial model that our education system is built on is steeped in a “prescriptive” philosophy.  We rely on politicians, educational leaders and teachers to basically tell us what we need to know in order to become productive citizens in today’s economy.  “Here is what you need to know . . .”, “Here is how you will learn it . .”, “You need to be doing it this way . . .”, I could go on and on right?  This philosophy is also seen in our higher ed structures as well.  We prescribe to teachers a model for how they should teach, what they should teach, etc. with very little consideration for their voice/input.  Even the PD models in many schools still reek of  “this is what you should know/be doing . . . ” and teachers aren’t given ample time/opportunity to provide feedback and more importantly, input for change.  Our students feel like school is “boring” because they have very little choice in how and what they learn. Teachers feel like because of standardized testing, they are told what to teach and how to teach it.  This trickles down and students become very disengaged.  Many of us may feel like we know what is best and that we should “prescribe” the what, when, where and how of education. But if we look at the trends . . .personalized education where students have choices and can “subscribe” to the what, when, where and how; is a model that has merit.

We are in the “subscription” mode as learners. We choose who to follow (subscribe to) on Twitter, we choose which RSS feeds we want to glean our knowledge from, and we set our preferences for style, medium, etc.  A great group of though leaders is working to define models of “learning circles” for teachers – follow #LCU hashtag for more.  These models point to the fact that learners (students, teachers, etc.) want to subscribe to knowledge versus have it prescribed for them. Take a look at some other national initiatives in open source “subscriptive” learning that may prove to be models for educational transformation.

MIT – http://chronicle.com/article/MIT-Will-Offer-Certificates-to/130121/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en
Floating University – http://www.floatinguniversity.com
The Conversation – http://theconversation.edu.au

While I don’t see an immediate trend to Americans subscribing to their own treatments/medicines, I do think we’re moving to become much more informed on the “what, when, where & how” to proceed.  As for education, students are demanding the options and want a more subscription based approach to their learning.  Does this devalue the role of the teacher? principal? education administrator? Not at all . . . I think our role(s) will just have to be more along the lines of a marketeer . . .we have to have product and “stuff” that makes students want to subscribe to what we have to offer. Guiding the learning still resides behind all of the open source “stuff”, it’s call curation.  We are becoming curators of knowledge versus prescriptive “owners” of all the knowledge.

While you may not subscribe to my taste in music, I thought that the stories of three of my fave rock bands really lent themselves to educational leadership parables that we could learn from as we move forward. You may have other musical references to add, so please do!


Let’s start with probably my favorite musically, . . Bon Jovi.  They hit the scene around 1983 as the “hairbands” were getting significant airplay and promotion.  They have had great success in their 30+ career and to this day remain one of the most popular bands with a huge fan base.  The band stuck to “the music” and making sure the fans got what they wanted.  In the past years, they have written songs that bordered on different genres in order to reach diverse populations.  The leadership of the band is driven by the vision of lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi.  He strongly feels that there are 3 things that the band must do in order to be effective.

  1. Give the fans what they want and make it ‘real’ to them through different media and feedback opportunities.
  2. Retain high ethical standards. Don’t do things that keep you in the tabloids and give you “negative” impact.
  3. Never lose sight of why they do what they do. It’s about impacting someone with their music.

Jon’s leadership has also been seen with the launch of the Jon BonJovi Soul Foundation. It “exists to combat issues that force families and individuals into economic despair. Through the funding and creation of programs and partnerships, we support innovative community efforts to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.”


  • Strong ethics in leadership can help propel you forward and have lasting impact on your “fans” (students).
  • Connect with your “fans” (students). Get on FB, Twitter and give them real feedback mechanisms in order to impact how you continue to deliver the”music” (curriculum) to them.
  • Never lose sight of why you do what you do. It’s about the students and making a difference.
  • Sometimes a broader purpose (JBJ Soul Foundation) can provide you with credibility as to your commitment to your “fans” (students).

Though Bon Jovi may not be truly unconventional, they have had incredible sustainability and impact.


Guns and Roses blasted onto the LA music scene in 1985 with an “in your face” new sound that got tons of attention. Their approach to music was to break the mold and just have fun in the process.  The fan base grew and the music garnered them tons of success in the first few years of their existence.  After the release of their second album and a world tour that was fairly successful, they quickly fell apart.  Their “leader”, lead singer Axl Rose began to take the band in a totally different direction, believing that he knew what the fans wanted and he became so self absorbed that the band went in totally separate directions.  While some of their music still has impact today and continues to get airplay, the band as a whole has had very little success and impact in music.  Axl Rose continues to try and capitalize on the brand of “Guns and Roses”, but constantly tries new things, new band members, new approaches with not very much impact.


  • Leadership must have vision that is connected to the “fan base” (students, teachers, etc.) and doesn’t try to prescribe the change based upon selfish goals.
  • Band-aid (no pun intended) approaches to education (new programs, new people, etc.) aren’t always good without an understanding of the outcome (student results).
  • Being unconventional (different) may garner you some initial successes, but you have to sustain the innovation and more importantly you have to make the “music” that your fans (students) want to hear.


You knew I was going to mention them, didn’t you? KISS is a rock icon. They truly disrupted the music scene with their makeup, firebreathing, blood-spitting, light shows, and fire/smoke antics.  Kiss become one of the most popular bands in the world and as bassist, Gene Simmons states, “people don’t know who the Prime Minister of Sweden is, but everyone in Sweden knows who Kiss is!”.  They have more gold albums than any other American rock band.  Kiss did experience a huge lull in their success after they took their makeup off and began to try and “fit in” with other music of the 80’s.  However, they went back to what made them successful – “the brand of Kiss”.  They have put the make up back on and at the age of 60+ are still filling arenas all over the world.  Lead singer, Paul Stanley stated in an interview with CNN, “Kiss is a brand and our success is based upon the brand”.  They have truly been unconventional both in their live performances and in their marketing.  Kiss comic books, Kiss coffins, Kiss condoms, etc. are just part of the “branding” of Kiss that has helped them be tremendously successful financially.  While one may not truly like their music, you can’t go anywhere without someone knowing who they are and what they’ve done. Their story really epitomizes the focus on “brand” and how building a strong brand is important and connecting with fans through many different branding strategies is imperative to success.


  • How are you “branding” your school/district/curriculum? Are you making it relevant and something that people want?
  • Unconventional ways of getting your “brand”/”music” across are ok to explore if they get you the impact and results that you want.  NOTE: Don’t spit blood or breathe fire, but it’s ok to be different.
  • You must connect with “fans” where they are (FB, blogs, etc.), but more importantly, you have to be disruptive in how you teach and allow them to be disruptive in how they learn.

Three bands with some similarities, but with some really good lessons to be learned about how we lead education reform.  Being unconventional like Kiss and building a brand around whatever you create seems to be one of the keys to success.  We can also learn the leadership lessons from Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses (what not to do) and embed those tenets into our leadership fabric.

If you didn’t get the parables, so be it, at least you now know my taste in music and if/when you see me speak you’ll know I believe in music and unconventional approaches to education.

You Matter!

Leaders Have To P.O.P.

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

We are in a dire need of meaningful opportunities for students to participate and take on responsibility of decision-making, planning and evaluating their learning environments.  Agree?

In my second part of a 6-part blog series focused on the pieces of the Resiliency Wheel, I struggled with whether to build up to this dire need or just go ahead and jump right into it.  I viewed quite a few of the New York Schools of Tomorrow webcast and throughout the day I just had to scratch my head over the fact that we are still talking about reformation/transformation and what we should be doing, BUT, we’ve yet to really listen to our students.  We may ask them, but we (ed leaders) have not really sought to implement a radical transformation (aka unconventional) solution.  It really hit home when Jonathan Hefter, founder of Neverware, began to talk about his “schooling” experience.  He spoke of “checking out” when he was in school.  He told a story about he and his friends seeking to build proxy servers to get around the school filters.  Here is the quote that nailed it for me, “I wasn’t learning WHAT I wanted to learn and HOW I wanted to learn”.

Well, that told me that we need to rethink how we “Provide Opportunities for meaningful Participation” (POP – this is my acronym).  This is one of the step in the Resiliency Wheel for building resiliency in the learning environment.  Many schools and districts have surveyed students to find out quite a bit of data, but are they using the data to make the change necessary and providing students with meaningful participation? Students want to learn but they want to be a part of the learning process, and more specifically as Jonathan stated; they want to learn meaningful (WHAT) info and in a way that provides them active participation (HOW).

An excerpt from the 2009 Project Tomorrow Speak Up Report, “Creating Our Future . . . ” shows exactly what students want.

  • Social-based learning – students want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration
    tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education process.
  • Un-tethered learning – students envision technology-enabled learning experiences that
    transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding
    streams, geography, community assets or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Digitally-rich learning – students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content and
    resources as a key to driving learning productivity, not just about engaging students in learning.

They want something that is meaningful to them, period!  So why aren’t we allowing them to sit at the table in our conversations on changing the way we educate them? Do they not matter? Yes, they matter!  The POP strategy views students as a resource and involves them.  If we don’t give them responsibilities in the planning and decision-making process, how can we truly know if we’re being effective?  Justin Tarte’s clip here lists some educational leaders who are making a difference.  They are learning to POP. (follow them on Twitter and learn!)

A handful of leaders are breaking the tradition and are becoming unconventional in their approach to involving students in the conversations around school improvement.  More importantly, they are cultivating the ability to POP in their schools and districts.  Not only do students want to feel like they matter, but they want a relevant and meaningful learning experience.  Take Project Still I Rise for example.  Just one look at their core values you can see they are “POPing”.  Here are a couple more links to projects and leaders that you can learn how to POP from.

John Carver’s Think.Lead.Serve blog – http://thinkleadserve.wikispaces.com/
Projects from EduTopia – http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-student-motivation

In closing, I have to thank Lisa Nielsen for providing this blog about the 20 Things Students Want Us To Know. So, leaders, are you POPing??

Leadership Response to Resiliency

Posted: September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

What role does leadership play in assuring resiliency in the learning environment? This is a question I am going to pose as a backdrop to a series of blogs that I am writing over the next few months around the “Resiliency Wheel” that was adopted from Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein’s book, Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen, (1996). Some may immediately state that 1996 theory and philosophy doesn’t convey as well in the 21st century, but I beg to differ and will try to demonstrate some sort of Web 2.0/21st century leadership “link” to these very important components in building resiliency.

This post will focus on the topic, “Increasing Bonding or Connectedness“. The goal of this action step is to mitigate risk factors in the environment that may hinder a student’s progress or ability to learn effectively.

Research shows that when students have parental/family involvement and feel “connected” to their learning and/or to someone in the learning process, that they perform better. What is the challenge to educational leaders in regards to helping assure that schools are fostering a culture that increases bonding and connectedness for students? The challenge is how to do this effectively in an age where the family structure is eroding and parental involvement is waning, especially in low socio-economic impacted schools. However, nationally the trend may be more related to the lack of a comprehensive parental involvement initiative in schools.
The answers lie in the ability of educational leaders to build a strong and comprehensive vision for parental/community involvement. As an educational leader, you have the responsibility to each and every child to help equip them to be resilient and successful in their learning experience(s). A non-negotiable goal should be to help increase the bond and/or connection between students/community/parent/pro-social persons or activities. This starts with a belief that people matter, most importantly the student.

Good friend, Angela Maiers is leading the charge in helping students understand that they matter by simply using the phrase “you matter“. So why not integrate this concept into leadership principles and actions? Educational leaders need to internalize this same philosophy across all the stakeholder spectra that they influence and/or interact with on a daily basis. Helping people believe that they matter, and that as leaders, we want them to be connected to the learning process and to people because they matter, is imperative in helping to increase bonding and connectedness. When people know that they matter, they get involved.

STUDENTS matter.
PARENTS matter.
TEACHERS matter.
PEOPLE matter.

So where is the 21st century/Web 2.0 connection? The North Carolina PTA is developing a program for parents online to become “leaders” in parental involvement.  The goal of the program is to create a PTA 2.0 concept that will connect busy parents electronically.  You can visit the blog at http://parentleadersonline.wordpress.com/. I also invite you to share links, stories, etc. related to effective parental involvement programs that you have seen or implemented with me at edwardsdave1967@gmail.com. Let’s start this crucial conversation and help build resilient students, schools & leaders!