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4 Surprises from Writing Renegade Leadership

Book Cover

In a few short weeks my new book, Renegade Leadership, will be out.  The book is about creating innovative schools for today’s students.  The process of writing a book still fascinates me.  The manuscript for this book was no exception, and I wanted to share a few surprises that emerged along the way.

  • As I was writing Renegade Leadership, many stories from my childhood, college, and early years in education surfaced.  I can be somewhat guarded at times, so I’m surprised at how natural it felt to share some of those stories.  Earlier versions of the manuscript featured stories from renegade artists, engineers, athletes, and business people.  However, the final manuscript includes so much more.  It is injected with personal passions, renegade examples from other sectors, and the voices of dozens of highly respected educational leaders.
  • I’m not sure how it happened, but when all was said and done over 30 amazing educators lent their voice and vision to the book.  Their stories inspired me more than I anticipated, and I find myself reading (and rereading) the book just to take-in the incredible insights they offer.
  • Feedback from preliminary reviewers surprised me.  I think I underestimated the impact that sharing some of my “epic failures” might have had on readers.  It seems like people really appreciated reading about the “real stuff” in education (including my many mistakes made along the way).  There is a vulnerability in the book that makes me a tad bit nervous to offer it up to others.
  • One of the last things I added to the book’s companion website turned out to be one of my FAVORITE memories from writing Renegade Leadership.  This may sound like a shameless plug at first blush, but I assure you it is not.  If you go to the companion website HERE you will find something I refer to as “Audio Outtakes” for each chapter.  The Audio Outtakes include short audio clips of text from the book followed by a brief conversation between me and my 3rd grade daughter.  I’ve already been told she has a future in broadcasting…but I think her secret is a genuine passion for life!

Obviously, I’m very excited to cross the “finish line” and have the book move to publication.  At the same time, I hope this is just the beginning of our conversations.  Our students have too much at stake for us to ignore the possibilities that meaningful change could provoke.

Renegade Leadership is available on Amazon or from Corwin Press by clicking HERE.  I am very eager to hear your thoughts.  Be sure to connect via the #RenLead hashtag on Twitter!

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This Time it’s Personal

Dad Childhood

Yesterday a package arrived in the mail. It was from my aunt who sent me some old photographs of my dad…along with a heartfelt note. My dad passed away almost eight years ago without warning, so receiving the pictures was like an instant connection to him.

In the note my aunt mentioned that, “The memory of her brother (my dad) would forever live on in her heart,” and she thought I would appreciate having the pictures of him.  She was right. I don’t have many pictures of my dad, so seeing him again yesterday was both beautiful and jarring.  The package included pictures of my dad as a young boy, his wedding, my wedding, and more. I must have looked through the stack of pictures a dozen times yesterday. 

I was chatting with my wife about the pictures as we were driving to get a sandwich for dinner.  I asked her if we had any printed pictures of our family (and ourselves) to give our children one day. She responded in partial jest, “This is the digital world…we have passwords to digital pictures and video for our kids.”  This got me thinking more about the digital world and the purpose of technology in schools. 

As educators, we need to be really careful about the purpose we implore.  We need to talk about pedagogy more often. (Not in short sound-bytes and 140 character bursts, but deeper dialogue.) I’m not naïve enough to think that my stated purpose for using technology should be your stated purpose. But we better be clear on our why each time we pass out paper and pencils, or digital devices.  “Why” matters.

The transformative potential of technology does not rest solely in its ability to convert images and experiences to digital media. The power of technology is in how it can bring us together if we are intentional about it.  Technology can support and amplify that which makes us uniquely human.

Through technology, our hurts and aspirations can become another person’s cause. The struggles that others share can activate our own empathy. Our ability to create, connect, reflect, wonder, imagine, innovate, express love, learn, share, and grow can be enhanced through technology.

If technology hinders any of these things we need to pause and reflect on the intended purpose. We’re hearing a lot about 1:1 initiatives as districts are striving to put a device in every student’s hand.  I get why this can be a good thing, but I believe the ratio is wrong.  The goal of any iPad or tablet initiative should be “1 to World” (or 1 to 7.4 billion people) because connecting kids to one another really does matter.

In addition to developing deeper connections and an understanding of others, technology can help us better connect to ourselves. I suppose this blog is a small example of reflection. Regardless, we need to better articulate the purpose and pedagogy for the technology we’re deploying. This brings me back to my dad.

There is nothing like holding a picture and touching the image of your dad.  Every fold, fade, and discoloration of the paper can transport a person to a different time.  There is a connection, for me, when I physically hold a photograph, book, or loved one.  It is distinctly human. We need to be giving our kids this same perspective and opportunity when they are holding their devices.

Technology mustn’t replace connecting with others; the power of technology is its ability to extend and enhance how we connect to other human beings. How is your school leveraging technology as a tool that enhances relationships and learning? What is your why?

Dad My Wedding

Are We There Yet?

Sub

Submarines are majestic vessels made to go deep. It’s what they do. Education can empower kids do the same if we reframe how we’re currently navigating things, but we’re not there yet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pedagogy and the nature of learning lately. My thoughts have vacillated between two schools of thought. First, we need to ensure students master the vast number of state standards they are responsible for learning. In some ways, these standards are like mile markers, or buoys. The standards help us understand where students need to go.

I’m also in favor of reducing the number of standards so that we can facilitate deeper learning and discovery, and that brings me to my second point. We need to empower our students to innovate throughout their classroom careers. Students should have a voice in their learning, and we need to trust them to actually create some of the mile markers along the way.

This is a matter that is deeply personal to me. I want my own three children to have the tools and space to invent a future that none of us is fully capable of grasping.  When they are navigating their educations alongside their grade-level classmates, I ultimately want them to be able to envision new markers in their journey. I desperately hope there is a space for that. 

I believe kids can learn at a high level while being empowered to pursue their passions and curiosity. We cannot sacrifice curiosity for achievement; kids deserve both. (There really is no dichotomy.) I wonder if one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is not taking away their curiosity.

Are we there yet? How will we know when we get there? What are the critical drivers that will propel us in the right direction? How do you think we can create the conditions where high levels of learning, innovation, and curiosity reside? 

The Rush

There is no shortage of passion in education. Teachers work tirelessly to meet the needs of their students, often sacrificing family time and resources in the process. Their commitment to discover new tools and techniques to make a difference for kids is one of the best untold stories in education.

At the same time, external pressures and conflicting mandates have created some very challenging conditions for teachers. I’ve noticed that all of these factors have perpetuated a rush of sorts.

Notably absent in the rush is a deeper dialog about pedagogy. Educators rush to new ideas in pursuit of different ways to inspire students, or just the opposite. We may rush to repeat the same routines that worked well in previous year(s). Whether we are rushing to bring new opportunities to our students, or confronted by the lure of efficiency that the status quo offers; pedagogy needs to play a more prominent role in the rush.

  • Before we rush to [insert educational trend here] we need to reflect upon the purpose.
  • Before we rush to [insert past-practice here] we need to consider a more relevant and connected pedagogy.

Communicating precisely what a connected pedagogy is (and is not) becomes vitally important to ensuring we’re rushing to the right (and relevant) things for our students. The short video below is a humorous take on what happens when we say the same thing, but understand it differently than others. Pedagogy is an example of a word that many educators use, but we all understand it differently.

I’ve identified four tenets of a connected pedagogy that will empower educators to do the difficult work they’ve dedicated their lives to. The tenets take the ambiguity out of the term “pedagogy” and illuminate a path that will cultivate skills for today’s learners. The blog posts that I’ve linked to each tenet are basic conversation starters.

  1. Collaboration
  2. Student Agency
  3. Digital-Connectivity
  4. Experiential Learning

When we prioritize purpose and rush to a relevant & connected pedagogy the work becomes more significant.

Perspective

What do you notice about this picture? It doesn’t really bother me that the people are moving in different directions. In fact, I think moving in the same direction without questioning our purpose could be dangerous. In some ways this is analogous to education.

Education is filled with some of the most dedicated and selfless individuals on the planet. These people are trying to make a difference for kids in the best way they know how. Some strive to integrate technology while others question its utility. Neither approach is inherently wrong, but there has to be a purpose and pedagogy behind our teaching that is just as important as the teaching itself.

Before we dip our oars in the water we should be able to identify two things:

  • Purpose: Why is the direction, idea, or path we’re pursuing important to our students?
  • Pedagogy: How might the approach we take be more relevant to the lives of our students?

All students deserve the opportunity to experience a relevant and connected pedagogy that leverages the promises of the digital age. This does not mean that every learning experience needs to involve a device or Wi-Fi.  It does mean that the context in which we are teaching has changed dramatically and the pedagogy we implore must be responsive to these changes. Creativity and collaboration are not soft skills that can be sacrificed in the pursuit of student achievement. The pedagogy we implore must prioritize digital age skills and tools while helping all students learn at a high level.

Perhaps a new direction is warranted. What’s your perspective?

Pedagogy First (video)

Our kids are counting on us to lead learning with a relevant and connected pedagogy.  The approach we use is critical to students’ long-term success.  In order to put kids first we’ve got to change the narrative.  We’ve got to prioritize pedagogy…NOT apps or devices.

In order to do this we must begin by asking better questions:

“How might we provide students an authentic audience for their work?”

“In what ways can we tap into Social Media as Learning Media?”

“How can we infuse student voice and innovation into the Common Core State Standards?”

“What is the best thing that could happen if we embrace a more connected approach to teaching and learning?”

“What traditions and educational staples (pun intended) do we need to STOP doing?”

It’s time to get serious about pedagogy.  Teaching the YouTube Generation without providing safe and scaffolded opportunities for students to contribute to YouTube is absurd.  We’ve got to connect kids to authentic learning experiences that are congruent with the collaborative world they live in.  Click HERE to view a three minute video highlighting some of the ways our team is connecting students to their world.

Students connect with a Greenwood graduate and current 3D printing professional.

Students connect with a Greenwood graduate and current 3D printing professional.

The Pedagogy of Skydiving

Click image to View Video

Click Image to View Video

I often hear people talk about the drastic changes needed in education to prepare students for their future.  However, I tend to believe that the right people to do the job are already in our schools.  To respond to the needs of the 21st century student we need subtle shifts in thinking and pedagogy.  These subtle shifts will lead to transformational results.

Just. Like. Skydiving.

I had the opportunity to go indoor skydiving with a couple friends in Chicago recently.  Our experience in the immense wind-tunnel was a pure adrenaline rush.  Although the skydiving took place indoors the speed and force of the air blasting upwards was very real.

Indoor skydiving wind-tunnels are capable of blasting air that reaches speeds of 175+ mph.  I found the mechanics of this high octane sport fascinating.  The air speeds are so intense that super slight adjustments to body position can lead to jolting movements.

When I was in the standard neutral belly position (chin up and arms out) a subtle adjustment of my hands could have propelled me into a 360 degree rotation.  This subtle shift in my wrists would have been indiscernible to the casual onlooker, but it could have had me resembling a human helicopter blade!

Understanding the impact of subtle shifts is critical in skydiving; it’s critical in education too. 

The proper subtle shifts can lead to a transformative experience.  Be sure to watch the two minute video of our indoor skydiving adventure that’s embedded above.  (The end of the video contains raw footage of our highly trained instructors applying the principle of ‘subtle shifts’ that led to a jaw-dropping aerial acrobatic show.)

What subtle shifts do YOU think our students deserve?

Share your thoughts in the comments section.  I started with a few subtle shifts in thinking that will serve our students well:

  • How can I enhance the frequency and depth of collaboration in my classroom or school?
  • In what ways can I give up more control so that students truly own their learning?
  • How might we tap into the transformational power of technology to move beyond the prevailing belief that an interactive whiteboard is the pinnacle of technology integration.
  • Am I teaching a lesson or facilitating a lasting learning experience for students?

And One

Image Credit: imgkid.com

Image Credit: imgkid.com

In basketball, you might hear a player yell the phrase, “And one” after somebody is fouled attempting to make a basket.  If a player makes the basket in the process of being fouled, the referee can award an additional shot attempt.   In other words, “And one” can be unexpectedly awesome because it means that a player made a basket and gets the chance to score again.

Life is full of “And one” opportunities, but you have to be purposeful in creating them. 

University teacher preparation programs play a significant role in education.  Earlier this year, our school welcomed a busload of more than 20 future educators.  The undergrads were taking their first education class.  Our goal in engaging with the university and undergraduate students at such an early stage of their preparation was simple; we wanted to provide an authentic glimpse into the 21st century student learning experience in a way that no single semester-long technology class ever could.

Our students will be better served if we are more intentional about formal & informal induction processes.

Teacher preparation programs must interact with the mind-blowing possibilities that a relevant and connected pedagogy represent.  Technology can be a transformational tool and future educators should be made aware of this expectation early in their studies.  The moment we pigeonhole technology to an app or electronic worksheet we limit student potential.  We need to shine the light on current best-practice!  Hence, our “And one” moment was born.

After the busload of future educators arrived, we started our day by convening in our media center to review the rotations we’d set-up in advance.  Flanked by a few of our Mobile MakerSpace carts we conversed about pedagogy and discussed important “look fors” prior to visiting classrooms.  Then, we initiated some rotations that provided university students a variety of opportunities to observe what our teachers were doing to cultivate skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.  Towards the end of the visit we reconvened to reflect on the rotations and discuss important questions.  The entire experience was an “And one” moment for me.

NW College 1

When we invest in the capacity of others we’re not only living in the moment, but we’re adding value to tomorrow’s generation of learners.

I knew that the 20 or more future teachers on that bus would be profoundly impacted by seeing the inspiring everyday work occurring in our classrooms, but I didn’t expect to be so deeply moved by the experience myself.  I am convinced that schools need to be more actively engaged with universities and teacher preparation programs if we are to collectively rise to the challenges we face together.

What’s an “And one” moment you experienced this school year?  What was unexpectedly awesome and how did you make a difference for kids?

I challenge you to respond by sharing your #AndOneMoment. Then tag two additional educators you respect to add to the conversation!

NEW Podcast: #30SecondTake

30 Second Take Title

Podcast Format

Each week we’ll feature two guest hosts that participate in a digital duel. The podcast focuses on pedagogy, innovation, and educational technology. Our purpose is to engage practitioners in a FUN and interactive experience comprised of dialogue and reflection around a single guiding question.  The show is uptempo and fast-paced. If you blink you just might miss it, but that’s by design. Here’s why…

Creativity is often cultivated by constraints. The time restrictions of the podcast require succinct communication, and participants will certainly need to be creative to share their “take” in 30 seconds or less. After all, if you can’t explain something to somebody in 30 seconds or less you may not understand the issue as well as you think!

Viewers are asked to vote for the most compelling response each week, and add any comments/questions on Twitter using the hashtag #30SecondTake.

Voting

The best part about the podcast is that viewers have a voice in who will host the following week.  After watching the podcast you can vote on Twitter via the #30SecondTake hashtag. The guest host that receives the most votes will remain on the show to defend the title the following week. Your comments and questions are also appreciated and will serve as a catalyst for deeper reflection for us all.

Guest Host Info.

Hosts are asked to film their “30 Second Take” in front of a green-screen (could be green construction paper, green fabric, green paint, etc.) in a well lit room without background shadows. I will communicate the show topic (guiding question) a few days in advance.  Be sure to speak loudly and do not exceed 30 seconds when sharing your “take.” Please send a close-up photograph of yourself as well. Guest hosts can submit their 30 second video “takes” and photographs via e-mail or DropBox at brad.gustafson@wayzata.k12.mn.us Guest hosts will receive a digital badge for display on their blogs or personal websites.

 

Episode I

Duel Pics

Click image to view Episode I.

Guiding Question: What is the Role of Technology in Education

@611Spartan received 63% of the votes

@GustafsonBrad received 22% of the votes

Viewers voted “tie” with 12% of the votes

The Robot received 2% of the votes

Top Tweets on #30SecondTake

(DM me your school address & I’ll mail a TouchCast stylus/pen and card.)

 

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