TransLeadership Has Moved

After a year of blogging under the domain, I am very happy to announce that TransLeadership has moved to

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TransLeadership Has Moved

After a year of blogging under the domain, I am very happy to announce that TransLeadership has moved to

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

RSA Animate- Changing Educational Paradigms

After ranting in my last post, I felt compelled to go revisit something that had inspired me in the past.  So, I revisited this talk (with animation from RSA) by Sir Ken Robinson.

I’m not an expert in special education or ADHD, so I don’t profess that it does not exist, nor do I argue that there are not real disabilities that make learning challenging for some people. However, I find Sir Ken’s remarks about the rise in diagnosis of ADHD along with the increase in standardization of schooling quite compelling. I’ve believed for some time that we all to often make today’s kids fit into a system that no longer works instead of fixing a system that works for today’s kids.

Regardless, you can’t listen to Sir Ken (and follow along with the incredibly creative animation by RSA) without being inspired to do more.

His entire talk can be found here.

You can find more RSA animated talks here.

Posted in Vision | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Getting Some Things Off My Chest

I am going to do something in this blog that my son warned against, that I criticized Will Richardson for doing, and that every training on digital etiquette warns against.  I am going to write with some emotion (read: anger).  In doing so I respectfully thank Ben for his input, apologize to Will for my criticism (and Dave Cormier who so admirably and rightfully came to Will’s defense) and I throw caution against the wind relative to etiquette, as I will hit send when I am done writing this post, emotions and protocol be damned.  The fact of the matter is, this transparency thing is not something I can do only when I am happy or excited to share something new.  It is a choice I have made and in doing so forfeited the opportunity to hold back or filter.  So, you will read some anger in my words, frustrations in my thoughts, and disgust in my remarks, but that is where I am right now.  As always, you have the right to rebut or ignore, share or toss aside, laugh in contempt or laugh in the discomfort that what I am writing you know to be true. Whichever you choose, just know that I am uncomfortable with where education is, both locally and globally, and I need to get things off my chest.

1.  I am really upset with Michelle Rhee right now.  Not necessarily because she quit, but because when she became the Chancellor of Washington, DC schools, she said her job was not driven by politics.  Yet, when the politics shift and the votes don’t go her way (see DC mayoral race) she bails.  Regardless of whether or not I was a supporter of he efforts (which I was not) I don’t think you should sell “reform” if you are not willing to fight when you no longer have political clout.  Educational leadership takes courage, especially when it has to move beyond politics.

2. I am so tired of the amount of paper my kids are bringing home from school.  To the left is a picture of the pile of paper my kids have accumulated over the past two weeks.  Really?  Why can’t this be digitized?

3.  Within that stack is information for upcoming fundraisers that are being held to pay for a variety of activities at the school.  The major fundraiser is a magazine drive.  I’m sorry, but I am moving to paperless, I don’t want more magazines cluttering my house.  Further, our school doesn’t lack for books, supplies, or computers like so many others do; if we are going to raise funds, shouldn’t we be doing so with the children and in a way that allows them to explore global issues and not by the children to throw a bigger party at the end of the year?  Truthfully, I’d rather see my taxes increase to support education AND donate to student organized fundraisers that allow the kids to make a difference in the world then keep taxes stagnant only to hide them in a variety of fundraisers.  I understand that others may not agree, but I would rather see more opportunities for more kids than an embarrassment of riches in any one school.

4.  I was pretty disappointed in some of the discussion I heard at my kids’ “Back to School Night”.  When I hear teachers say things like, “we have to teach them to be responsible” by implementing ancient homework policies or “they need to learn how to read out of a textbook to prepare them for middle school” I cringe.  First of all, don’t prepare my kids for middle school, prepare them for life.  Second, you don’t teach “responsibility” by creating a double-jeopardy homework policy (please read Alfie Kohn and Doug Reeves), you coerce students into compliance.  There’s a big difference between being responsible and being compliant.

I know these teachers, they are all terrific people, I don’t want to come off as pointing the finger at them, I really don’t.  This is a systemic problem due to the fact that educators as a group loathe change.  The result is that old practices and dogmas rarely get purged.  We work in a system that rewards consistency and predictability and shuns change and the unknown, even if older practices do not help students engage in 21st century issues.  The quotes above could come from teachers in all grades, in all schools, in all states in this country.  I know that my kids’ teachers care and love my children, but there is the opportunity to do so much more.

5.  My most proud moment as an Assistant Superintendent was my collaboration with a district wide team of educators to change the Acceptable Use Policy into one that allowed for schools, educators and students to be more participatory on the web and to learn from and connect with others using web2.0 tools.  Yet, more than 5 weeks into the school year, my kids have yet to write a blog post, create a wiki, post to flickr, or connect with other learners.  In fact, the only participatory web tool that my family has been exposed to has come from the cafeteria director asking my family to start using the new web-based pay system, where I can fund my kids’ hot lunch accounts automatically using my credit card.  Could it be that the school’s cafeteria is more web savvy than its classrooms?

(In full disclosure, one of my daughter’s teachers has asked me to come in an speak to the class about blogging, but when my son says on Sunday nights that he is not looking forward to writing in his journal Monday morning because, “only the teacher reads it, not the whole world” I get frustrated.  Again… my kids’ teachers are great, it’s the system that bares the brunt of my frustration.)

6.  On a more global scale, I’m worried that my PLN is becoming cliquey.  I’m not sure if it is, but sometimes I feel as though my network is beginning to splinter off into different groups each claiming rights to their “specialty”.   This isn’t a complaint because I feel like I am being left out, but what I valued so much about all of the connections I have made over the past year is the cross-pollination that so often took place.  At times I feel as though that is happening less.  Perhaps I am doing it as well and don’t recognize it, but there are times when I am on Twitter, Facebook, or just catching up on my Google Reader and I feel like I am at a high school dance, with each group establishing squatters rights in their part of the gym.  Maybe I need to be more of a bumblebee and help make connections where there might otherwise not be any.  Maybe I need to form Triads as Dave Logan describes in Tribal Leadership.

7.  I’m growing more angry with the national conversation about education.  It is turning into an us vs. them debate.  Charter vs. public school.  Virtual vs. brick and mortar school.  Union vs. non-union school.  I have real disdain for competition in education, and I am still not sure why someone (or group) has to feel the need to claim victory here.  One of the things that I am most proud of our work at VLACS, is the fact that we partner with any school (or home school parent) in an effort to help kids graduate from high school.  Our core values are built on the foundation that we are partners in education, not rivals.  I don’t hear that sentiment coming from that national conversations these days.

8.  I am incredibly saddened by the decision this school board made.  It is so short-sighted.  I have come to the realization that decisions based on standardized testing rarely have long-term vision.  You can’t take someone’s temperature with a stethoscope and you can’t assess how much learning has taken place by a standardized test.

9.  It bothers me that I feel like I have a greater voice locally as a parent and taxpayer than I did as an Assistant Superintendent.

10.  Finally, I’m frustrated with educators (and community members) here in New Hampshire.  I hope that I see more progressive thinking and a push toward more authentic, passion-based learning models than what is happening right now.  My fear, however, is that people move here to find traditional ideals and values and that any movement forward will continue to be glacial at best. We’ll see, I’ll keep pushin’.

On another note, I’m thinking that the Chilean mine rescue will go down as one of those events in my life when I will remember where I was when I watched that first miner rise through that tiny hole in the Earth.  And, just to be grumpy a little more, I don’t ever want to hear another golf announcer use the word “courageous” when describing a 4 foot putt.  The courage displayed by that very first rescue miner as he descended down into the hole is hard for me to fathom.

Thanks all.  I feel better now.

Posted in Change, Local, personal | 26 Comments

The Only High Stakes Test

My two older children, Ben (grade 5) and Elisabeth (grade 4), start NECAP (New England Comprehensive Assessment Program) testing today.  My youngest daughter, Emma, is too young to be tortured by them.

But, Ben and Elisabeth join all 3-8 and 11th grade students in New Hampshire whose October is ruined by these tests.  Learning comes to a halt, rules are no longer enforced, (iPods and gum chewing are encouraged because they “help” kids score well on their test – which makes me wonder why they aren’t encouraged all year?) parents are asked to be parents and get their kids to bed early and feed them breakfast, and kids are asked to sit still and bubble-in circles for up to 3 hours each day.

The scary thing for me is that Ben’s test (as a fifth grader) is particular important.  Next year, he will enter the middle school.  The Cooperative Middle School, which educates nearly 1400 middle school students from 6 communities and works under the auspices of The Exeter Region Cooperative School Board, uses multiple data points to sort kids, most notable in math.  One of the most vital pieces of information that is used to sort incoming fifth grade students is their performance on their NECAP tests.  If Ben does well on this test as a 10 year-old, 5th grade student he will be sorted into the higher level math class as an 11 year-old, 6th grade student, which will allow him to take Algebra as a 13 year-old, 8th grade student, which will make Geometry an option for him as a 14 year-old, 9th grade student, which will have him line to take Calculus as an 18 year old, 12th grade student, which will look really good on his high school transcript as he applies to college.

If he doesn’t do well on this test, he could be sorted into a lower level math class, which means he will learn less math, which means he will not do well on future NECAP tests, which means he will not be sorted “up” to a higher math class, which means he will not be eligible to take Algebra (even though he may be ready) until he is in the 9th grade, which would get him in the “wrong” track as a freshman in high school, which means that his high school transcript, with less math, will limit his college options.

As a result, it could be argued that this 5th grade test is his ONLY high stakes test.

It could also be argued that it is partly my fault.

As part of the leadership team of CMS during this past decade of accountability, I preached the need to use data to inform instruction.  I preached the use of data to make informed decisions about student placement.  I touted the importance of using standardized data over the more “imprecise” and “unscientific” teacher assessment.  This inflexible system  was fine-tuned during my tenure as the Curriculum Administrator of CMS and it is something I deeply regret.  Of course, in today’s age of testing and accountability, I’m sure that others who may have been in that position would have done the same, but hindsight tells me I should have been better than them.  I should have known of the trappings of testing and sorting of 10 year old kids.  I should have fought harder against a system that acted as a filter instead of a pump.

When Ben left this morning I was tempted to talk to him about the importance of taking the NECAP tests seriously even though I know they mean very little to who he is as a learner, but I didn’t.  The fact of the matter is, I know how the system works and I know that I can make sure he is not sorted wrong.  I am knowledgeable enough to play and manage the game as a parent.  But what about those parents who are not?  What about those families who are asked to “trust the system” even though the system is inherently broken?  Even though the system, the one that I helped to create, does not work for every student, and elevates 4 hours of my 10 year old son’s life into THE high stakes test of his academic career.

Posted in Family, Learning, Testing, Vision | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Audio from #140 Conference

Thank you, Shelly Terrell for capturing the audio from our panel discussion at Tuesday’s #140 conference in Boston.  Here is the link to her post in the Parentella Blog, where about 1/2 way down you will find the audio link.

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Boston 140 Conference – No Longer Going to Accept the Status Quo

140 Conference in Boston

Kirsten Olson, Jeff Pulver, Pat Larkin and myself at the #140conf in Boston

I had the distinct pleasure to lend my voice to the #140 Character Conference in Boston today.  I sat on a panel with my very good friend Patrick Larkin, and my newest friend, Kirsten Olson.  Our panel discussion was entitled, Real Time Education – more on that later, for now, I want to spend some time reflecting on the #140 conference.

Jeff Pulver is the organizer of the #140 conferences.  While his impact on the role on the use of the internet for both voice and video communication is too vast to describe here (learn more here and here) I really admire the work he is doing with the #140 conferences (click here to see Jeff explain the #140 conference himself).  According to the conference website, “the #140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.”  The conference brings together individuals from a variety of backgrounds and business sectors.  But, the most exciting part (to me) is that Jeff is not shy at all about the message of education reform so he insists on having educators present at every conference.  The result is that in a room full of celebrities, CEO’s, entrepreneurs and social media gurus, educators are given equal status.  Many thanks to Jeff for cultivating that.

Those of you know me, know that I value Pat Larkin’s friendship and collegiality greatly.  What many people don’t know is that our children attend school together and, in fact, he was my son’s first basketball coach.  Yet, we didn’t know each other beyond the acquaintance level until Pat reached out to me on Twitter with the following tweet:  “@baldy7 Hey we know each other I live in Stratham and our kids go to school together. I am a principal in Massachusetts.”  Since that tweet, Pat and I have become close friends, trusted colleagues and have worked in concert to cultivate two interwoven PLNs.

Which led to the opportunity today for me to meet Kirsten OlsonShelley Terrell works more closely with Patrick than me, so when the #140 conference was looking to put together its Boston Educator Panel, it was through my connection with Pat that Shelley extended an invitation to me.  Kirsten is an author, consultant and author of the book Wounded by School.

My point with both of these stories that is that whether by tweet or through my network, opportunities arise to make connections with others and I am so glad that I chose to make the connections that I did.

Our story was simple, one that many of us who think and write about the shifts needed in education tell and hear all the time; the need to shift away from the traditional, institutional model of schooling to a more connected, personalized approach. Our story today, however wasn’t being told to educators- some of whom may be too entrenched in the institutional model of education to see another way.  Instead, it was being told to celebrities, CEO’s, entrepreneurs and social media gurus who also happen to be mothers and fathers. So, when we told them not to stand for the status quo, to demand more from their childrens’ school, they knew exactly what we meant.

Why? Because they know that their jobs don’t employ old, tired strategies. They know that their jobs require them to collaborate, problem solve and redevelop. They know that their jobs demand they find, vet, assimilate and create new information, and they know that their kids are not being taught how to do those things in their school.

Ironically, I’ve been struggling lately with balancing my role as a parent with my beliefs as an educational leader. Both Will Richardson and Alec Couros have shared similar stories as of late. But as I sat on the panel today, asking the several hundred parents in auditorium to not accept the status quo, I realized that I needed to listen to my own advice and do the same.

Posted in Family, personal | 26 Comments

Boston 140 Conference

Tomorrow I will be a panelist at Boston’s 140 Conference.  Our panel will be talking about the impact that Twitter and other social media have had on education.  I will be joined by two co-panelists:

1.  Kirsten Olson, author Wounded by School and Principal of Old Sow Educational Consulting.

2.  Patrick Larkin, Principal of Burlington, (MA) High School and contributor to Connected Principals.

Our session should be available for live viewing via Ustream.  More details to come.

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Punctuated Professional Development

Punctuated Equilibrium
In 1972, paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which provided an alternative view of evolution.  Unlike Darwin’s theory of evolution, which requires millions of years of constant, gradual change to create a new species, their theory postulated that species actually change very little over millions of years and evolution occurs in rapid, relatively rare events that result in two distinct species.  Both theories result in divergent species, but the processes needed to result in those species are different.

The Aha! Moment
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Perrin Chick.  Perrin is the Education Director at the Seacoast Science Center.  Located on New Hampshire’s coast in the town of Rye, the Seacoast Science Center’s mission statement proclaims that the Center, “provides exceptional learning experiences in the natural sciences through dynamic and innovative programs and exhibits”.  In my new role at the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), I have been meeting with Perrin for about a month trying to iron out the details of providing an experiential learning opportunity for New Hampshire high school students.  Through our new partnership with the Seacoast Science Center, VLACS students will be able to earn a high school credit in Marine Science through a blend of experiences gained through volunteering at the Seacoast Science Center and online coursework through VLACS.

We were in the Center’s incredible distance learning facility, (the Gregg Interactive Learning Studio) and thinking back to our last meeting when Perrin expressed some concern over the commitment the Center would have to make to VLACS when she said, “We already have 50 student volunteers here at the Center,  I’m not sure we can commit to having more kids here.”  The words weren’t out of her mouth when we both realized that we had the chance to make an impact on those 50 kids.  That instead of creating a new program, we could provide more value to an existing one.

As we laughed about that earlier concerns and our simultaneous enlightenment, our excitement over not only what this program could mean for students already volunteering at the Center, but also for the possibilities it may open up for other students involved in similar programs grew.  Perrin then turned to me and said, “We are changing education one aha! moment at a time.”

Punctuated Professional Development
I complain about the pace of change in education all the time.  I’ve been known to refer to it as “glacial”.   But, what if education only changes (transforms?) in rapid, but rare “aha!” moments similar to the one that Perrin and I had?  Perhaps instead of looking for schools to change, we should be looking for new “species” of schools to evolve.  Is Christensen’s and Horn’s notion of disruptive innovation really the educational equivalent to punctuated equilibrium?

If it is indeed the case that change in education is rare, rapid and dramatic, are we not doing professional development wrong?  Instead of creating PD that allows for comfortable, gradual (glacial?) change, should we look to develop PD that demands rapid change knowing not all will transform, but those that do will create new species of schooling more evolved than the species we currently have?  Change is hard and traditionally it requires time to grieve.  But if real, transformative change does occur rapidly, how do educational leaders encourage other educators to embrace those “aha!” moments?

Posted in Change, Leadership, Vision | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Am I Really Obese?

This morning I ran more than seven miles at a mid nine minute pace. I workout 4-5 days a week for 75-90 minutes of combined weight training and cardiovascular exercise. My blood pressure is a bit high, but my cholesterol and blood sugar levels are both well below cautionary thresholds. My resting heart rate is generally between 56 and 60 beats per minute. I’m five foot, eight inches tall…

and I weigh 228 pounds. According the chart to the left, I am obese. According to most other measures, I am a healthy 38 year old male.

Makes me wonder why schools use standardize test scores to sort, level and label their students.

image source:
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