Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Flip Your School Culture

By now, most in education have heard the term “flipped.” It can used when talking about changing the pedagogy or instructional strategy by turning what you’ve traditionally done upside down. Flipped classrooms have done things like moved he independent work associated with homework to the classroom and the direct instruction associated with class to home. We we have “flipped” classrooms, learning and instruction. But when we normally talk about flipping things, we often forget that we would probably have to flip the culture if you want the others to truly have impact or survive. Even George Costanza on “Seinfeld” had success by just doing the opposite of what he’s always done.
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Therefore, one could ask what about our traditional school culture or cultures could be improved by just turning it upside down? Well here are a few:

    Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.28.53 AM.png1) Flip The Rules - instead of focusing on the rules or policies as as institution, focus on opportunities. Naturally, I’m not saying abandon all rules and policies. Indeed, a strong school culture is based upon mutual respect, professionalism and trust. But how do we get those? By hammering a litany of rules and policies at students and families? Or rather, would we get bigger gains by emphasizing opportunities and community first thus creating a culture that supports rules, policies and expectations. As an example, think about the first things most people see when they enter our school campuses. Schools typically or often have the large signs listing the rules and sometimes accompanying penal codes if violated. What is the message here to newcomers, visitors or even the regulars? Rules and policies are paramount here - not learning, not opportunities, not relationships and not a truly trusting school culture. What if people were greeted at the gates by messaging focused on all of the unique opportunities at the school, great projects, great staff, quotes from alums, etc.? It doesn’t have to be just one certain thing, but certainly we can do better than just generic signs about rules.  
    2) Flip the Communication - like the rules, think about all of the messaging that goes home. For example, most districts still send home some sort of handbook for student/parent signature. Imagine if that were seen as something that explained opportunities, challenged students and families and inspired ways for advanced learning vs. just a review of policies and procedures? We all know that nobody really reads the handbook. So, what would it take to make that document really come to life and be valuable. Answer that question then do it. Think about all of our newsletters, robo calls and even social media communication. Yes, we have to communicate dates, deadlines and even rules. But if our communication focused more on opportunities, learning, celebrations, innovation and more? Again, would these communication efforts be seen as more valuable and useful by parents, students and stakeholders?

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  1. 3) Flip the Hierarchy - schools, like most institutions and organizations, have long been a bastion for traditional hierarchy. We have the principal, the vice principal, the teachers, the classified staff and then the students. And like the rest of the world, we are quickly realizing that the top down approach leads to only minimal results and little buy-in from all constituents or stakeholders. For years now, we have been moving to a more democratic and less autocratic approach by having teachers, classified staff, etc. serve on leadership committees and teams in order to expand voice, ideas and buy-in. But we have traditionally still left one key group out of most of these - and that is the students. Some districts and schools will have some students sit on a committee as a symbol but rarely as an active participant. But what if we solicited student voice on all school decisions, policy development, curriculum, instructional approaches, tech integration and more? At my last school, I was proud that we never had an interview panel without at least two student representatives. And these students were vital voices in evaluating teacher interviews, presentations and applications. Indeed, if we had competitive candidates for a teaching position that required a second interview, we often had the teachers face a live group of students in a “teach off” where students evaluated the learning environment, their engagement and their overall experience during this session. Consider ways of including student voice throughout the school’s programs, procedures, decisions and culture. You will get tremendous cultural buy-in and probably some really innovative ideas

  1. Flip the Implementation - for years, we have wrestled with ways to implement things. Whether it be new curriculum, new pedagogy, new technology, etc., we go from pilot programs one one side to complete implementation on the other.  What if neither is right? What is either is wrong? What if we tried it all? What if we made it competitive? What if we asked the kids? Bottom line, don’t do what you’ve always done. Stop being so scientific and try different things.  If you want to increase innovation and creativity, implementation is not the problem.  Fear and culture are.
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  1. Flip Your Wildcard - choose something that you’ve always done one way and turn it upside down for the sheer heck of it. If anything, you’ll be experimenting and innovating. You may be surprised on the results.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pinterest, the Daily Beast)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Education Organizations Need To Do To Really Change

We hear a lot about change. We hear a lot about innovation. We hear a lot about mindset. So, what do schools, school districts and educational organizations truly need to do to move forward? Here are few starters:

  1. Really Live in the Real World - education loves to say ‘real world,’ but has a hard time doing this.  We need to look at what leaders, innovators and change agents do in business, science, politics and other entities do to facilitate and really lead? We can do this by reading the books and publications they do, connect with them on social media, attend their professional gatherings and more. Educators, more than any other group, should be spending time and having discussions with those from other walks of life. What works outside should work inside. Traditionally, our schools have been artificial worlds that we created. The time has come to end this disconnect.
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  1. Model - again we love to say this. How can we really walk the walk? Easy, decide to do it and do it often. If we are asking people to write, read, reflect, integrate technology, connect to the real world, take risks, etc, then we need to do all of it as well. And others have to see us doing it.  We need to make it part of our daily work and daily conversation. For far too long, we have been a little like the parent who once said, “Act as I say, not as I do.” We don’t have to be perfect all we do, but we have to be doing it.
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  1. Create, Not React - education is famous for the next great thing. I think we do this because we’re always essentially following trends versus creating them. As much we need to look at the real world to see where it’s going, why can’t we also look way beyond to see where it needs to go? What if we imagined an ideal student, ideal school, ideal system, ideal society and an ideal world - and then worked hard to create something new that would make that happen?  We can’t call ourselves leaders and then always just follow, copy and react.
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  1. Break the Rules (or at least question them) - we often speak about risk-taking. And yes, this is essential to practice, model and seriously do. One of the most effective ways to take risks is to question the status quo, the norm or the tradition and then re-write it, drop it or even turn it upside down. George Costanza on Seinfeld once said, “just do the opposite.” I wonder if educational leaders would have more success if we did just that.  We are so conditioned to doing what we’ve done, that we might  have to break the cycle where it starts. Our schools and educational systems have been founded and built upon rules, policies, procedures and traditions. And for the most part, that has produced what you see. So, maybe, just maybe, our rules should all be questioned.
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  1. Include the students - this also seems like a no brainer. But do you know how little students are ever consulted about things related to their education? This needs to start with teachers including them on everything from class projects to classroom protocols, as well as leaders including them on everything from interview panels to school direction. We should regularly survey them, meet with them, listen to them and include them. It’s called democratization and nothing needs it more than education.

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(Images courtesy of Foter)