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Good Morning <<First Name>>!

Last week I spent time with innovative educators at the Mass Customized Learning National Summit. Being around leaders who are trying to move the needle toward a more customized approach to schooling is refreshing. I caught up with colleagues I had not seen in person in a long time. Julie Mathieson (a good friend and colleague who runs Technology and Innovation in Education in South Dakota) and I spent some time discussing slogans for education...if anyone of them ever makes it out of the "brainstorm" stage, I'll let you know!

On the way home my wife, son, and I stopped at Howe Caverns in upstate New York. The tour was nice but I couldn't help but notice the economic despair of the surrounding region. My initial reaction was "I bet schools can help bring economic prosperity by doing x, y, or z."

I quickly realized that this was the wrong question. No amount of schooling can compete with a screwed-up economic structure. When Exxon/Mobile can make record profits last quarter of $17.6 BILLION dollars (At least I know where my money went when I pumped gas...that's $2,200 in earnings every second!), no amount of personalized learning, customized learning, teaching the 4 C's, or any other reform is going to address the structural deficiencies in the economic system. We are foolish to think schooling can, or should. 

What we CAN do is make our schools a little better every day for our learners and teachers. If we do that every day, then in a few years we will have made progress toward a better world.

Have a great week!

7 Steps for School Change

l perused a book on school leadership this week and I think you will be able to learn something just by reading the chapter titles. The rest of the book seems okay too, but I really liked the chapter titles. The book, The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 steps for schools and districts, is pretty self-explanatory by the title.

So, here are the 7 steps. (My comments in italics)

1. Adopt a Vision: To me, this is the most important step. If you do not have a guiding vision for yourself or your school then you are simply a technocrat checking boxes and complying with regulations.

2. Create a Community Consensus: The scariest step because it requires you to have such a great grasp of what you want to do that you can explain it to people that may disagree with you. You must be able to explain what you want to do in a clear and concise fashion.

3. Align Your System: The most obtuse step because you have to define what your system is before you can align it!

4. Build Professional Capacity: What do you and your staff need to learn and do differently to implement your vision?

5. Focus Your Curriculum and Assessment: I am the least excited by this one. When I see new initiatives that have failed it is because leaders went directly to this step and forgot about all of the other steps.

6. Support Your Teachers: The most overlooked step. The teachers are the boots on the ground doing the new thing...make sure you support them for crying out loud!

7. Improve and Innovate: What are your feedback loops so you know what works and what doesn't? Once you know those things, you can iterate toward better implementation.

Manage Attention Not Time

This is from the McKinsey and Company newsletter. 

If you are like me, you have tried many different programs, services, or charts to help organize your time. To give you an idea of how well these have worked for me, I currently have over 20,000 unread emails in my inbox. I am a complete and total failure at time management.

However, there is hope for all of us who find ourselves in this predicament. Let's concentrate on attention management.

The biggest idea is to be smart about what to ignore. Let me tell you, sometimes what you choose to ignore or spend less time on because it is not important for your school, is the thing that your friend down the road is spending time on. You have to be confident that you are doing the best for your school (as they are for their school) and not fall into the trap of trying to do everything.

The article suggests that you limit yourself to 5 things to accomplish in a year and spend 95% of your time working on those things.

Remember, that a 3-second interruption doubles the error rate for learn to manage your attention!
Read The Article
The Trump Plan For Education

No, silly, we are not talking about that Trump. We are talking about the foremost education reformer in the 1960's...J Lloyd Trump (no relation to the former President). Good Ol' J Lloyd Trump was second only to John Dewey in the high esteem educators viewed him when he was at his most influential. 

His biggest idea was something that morphed into the Model School Project (MSP). MSP had as it's goals:
  • The school principal must devote a majority of his or her time to the improvement of instruction. 
  • The instructional staff (those who facilitate learning) must be reorganized using instructional aides to give teachers more freedom for instructional planning. 
  • Students need more time for independent study. 
  • Combined large group, small group instruction and independent study; 
  • Team teaching
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Recognition of students' and teachers' individual differences
The MPS sounds a lot like the things we are talking about now around personalized and/or customized learning. As a matter of fact, there is a thread of failed education reforms beginning in the 1890s that tried to make schooling more learner-centered. The 1910s had John Dewey. the 1930s had radical participation of students and teachers movement, the 1960s had our good buddy J Lloyd Trump. The 1990s had outcomes-based education. Finally, we now (in the 2010s) have personalized learning, customized learning, and standards-based learning. 

I mentioned earlier that every other attempt to change education to a more learner-focus failed...gulp! Why did they fail?  Trust me, books have been written about this, but I will answer the question in a few sentences...or you can read all of the books yourself!

So why did these reforms fail?

These reforms attempted to change what Larry Cuban calls "the grammar of schools." Much like grammar in language serve as unwritten (and unnoticed) rules, there are structures in schooling that are noticed. When a reform tries to change the grammar of schools (things like having no grades, grade levels, age-based grouping), everyone impacted (and I mean everyone) rebels against it and nothing changes. 

You may be asking yourself, "Well, Butler, that is a real kick in the why should we even attempt to do 'learner-centered' in my school?"

To which I go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the newsletter. Why don't you just concentrate on making your school just a little bit more learner-centered and better for learners and teachers every day?

After a few years, you will look back and find that you have changed your school.

It is more learner-centered.

You did tackle some of the "grammar" of the schools. 

Putting your nose to the grindstone and just doing the work will make you more successful than good ol' J Lloyd Trump...or his namesake!
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