LeaderShift 2020: Reinventing Our Schools for Extraordinary and Uncertain Times

LeaderShift 2020

Reinventing Our Schools for Modern Times

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

This blog provides our readers with a platform to express opinions, gain understanding, exchange new and varied perspectives, and gain innovative ideas - all around the  theme of reinventing education for modern times. In addition, it offers excerpts from the interactive text and professiona resource, Leadershift 2020: Reinventing Schools for Modern Times, the latest publication from leading authors -  internationally renowned writer, keynoter, and educational consultant, Ian Jukes and Brian Chinni, and their Springboard21 colleagues, Nicky Mohan and Glenn Nowosad.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to determine why we need to reinvent education? Why is there such a sense of urgency? What should education look like? And how, as educational leaders, can we begin to shift the paradigm of education from where we are now to where we need to be?

Reinventing education is clearly an important topic. There’s obviously a great sense of interest and urgency - a sense that we can no longer just talk about reinventing education - that we need to act upon it.

The purpose of this book is for educational leaders to come together to generate and share creative and innovative ideas in support of our efforts to reimagine teaching, learning, and assessment in our schools and respective organizations.

So the important question is, where are we right now? Let’s start with a compass activity. Here’s what I want you and your leadership team to do. Stand up and close your eyes - keep them closed until I ask you to open them. Now with your eyes closed, start turning slowly clockwise on the spot. Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, turn. Now, with your eyes closed, point north. When you open your eyes, you’ll probably notice that you and your colleagues are pointing in different directions - you each have a different north.

We think this is a great metaphor for where we are in education today. We all know something big is going on - and we all understand that changes need to be made - and we all have the very best of intentions to do what’s right for our students, our teachers, and our communities - but many of us are pointing in a different direction - we seem to have a different north.

That’s the reason why we often find ourselves working at cross-purposes to one another. Our different actions send different messages to our different stakeholder groups. They send different messages to our parents, our communities, to our politicians, and to the media.

Now, it didn’t have to be this way. We could have avoided this confusion if we had first used a compass to find north. The advantage of using a compass was explained by the great New Jersey philosopher Yogi Berra when he said…"If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going to end up somewhere else.”

When we use a compass to show us where north is, we become aligned. If we ask you to point north, (hopefully) most of you will be able to point in the right direction.

The goal of this book is about sharing the same vision and mission. It is about aligning our thinking and trying to find our educational north. In finding our educational north, we hope to get all of us on the same page and pointing in the same direction and working together collectively to reimagine, repurpose, and, ultimately, reinvent education for modern times.

Now to be sure, we’re not all going to agree on everything - but at a minimum, what we hope to do in this book is develop a common basis of understanding as to what the critical issues are if we’re going to reinvent education…so let’s begin…

Right now, education is very much data-driven. It is driven by compliance and accountability for all. As a result, we know what students are learning - we know how teachers are teaching - we know current demographic trends. There is lots of data out there, but using data effectively is a big challenge. As Rick Dufour contends, we suffer from “DRIP”- we’re data rich, but information poor. Why?

Let us try to explain why by telling you a little story. One morning a mother goes downstairs to the basement bedroom. She opens the door and sees a large lump of covers on the bed and says, “Jane, it's time to get up!”

A sigh comes from under the covers.

"Jane, it's time for school!”

From under the covers, Jane says - “I’m not going!”

"Why not?” says the mother.

"The kids don't like me, the teachers don't like me, and nobody listens to what I say - I'm not going!!”

“Jane, you have to go to school!”


“Because you're fifty-six years old, and you're the principal.”

Now, whether you’re a school, or a district, or a state level educational leader, we are sure there are days you can identify with Jane’s feelings. We all know it is not easy being an educational leader these days.

Although it is not acknowledged by many in the world outside of education, being an educational leader today is truly a full contact sport. We face some pretty incredible demands on a daily basis.

Writer Larry Cuban recently quoted an administrator who outlined the realities we live with everyday. (Retrieved July 24, 2016 from: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/tag/school-district-leaders/page/3/?ifr...)

“She said, ‘A leader’s job? You’re a teacher, a judge, a mother, father, a pastor, a therapist, a nurse, a social worker, a curriculum planner, a data gatherer, a budget scheduler, a vision spreader, and much, much more.’”

We all know what she’s talking about. The daily demands of the job are amazing. Whether you’re at a district or a site level, just think about what you deal with on a daily basis: hiring new staff, monitoring existing staff, dealing with broken windows, leaky roofs, and plugged toilets, talking to parents about discipline issues, dealing with budgets, handling requests for equipment and money. And then there are the meetings - oh my goodness - all the meetings - staff meetings - meetings with parents - meetings with students - meetings with the police - meetings with other leaders - meeting with the department of education - meetings with maintenance staff…that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And against this backdrop, we are being asked to do more with less - much less. Less money, less staff, less time, less administrative support. As a result, inevitably we end up lurching from one crisis to another, majoring in minutiae, as we try to deal with the tyranny of the urgent and immediate.

Sometimes it feels like we’re being sucked into a black hole. And do you notice that nothing gets taken off the plate?

So, now we have higher performance expectations - we have high stakes testing - we have accountability for all - for you, your students, and your staff. There’s increased politically-driven compliance expectations, not to mention the numerous new initiative of the day, week, month, or year.

What we’re experiencing in education right now is a classic case of what we call Ph.D. - things being piled on higher and deeper. The challenge is when you have too many many priorities, you have no priorities. As our colleague Glenn Nowosad says, it’s like juggling tennis balls. How many tennis balls can you juggle before you finally start dropping some of them?

With so much on our plates, it is a challenge just to manage daily operations, let alone be proactive. But there’s more - much more. That’s just the management side. We’re also expected to be educational leaders. We are the ones who are supposed to inspire our staff to seek excellence - the ones who help educators gain a clear vision of where the world is headed - the ones who lead teachers into positive changes that will better serve the needs of all of our students.

Sometimes it seems impossible to meet all these expectations. How can you possibly be an influential educational leader when you also have a thousand management priorities screaming for your attention every day?

You get to the point where you just don’t want to hear about a new program, initiative, or anything else that requires you to take the lead - a state of denial based on the mindset that what you don’t know can’t hurt you or your organization.

So, here is a critical question. How much of the time do you get to be an educational leader - and how much of the time do you spend being an educational manager?

One recent study revealed that most administrators get to spend less than 10% of their time being an educational leader. Given all the demands, it is easy to understand that many administrators end up being consumed almost exclusively by educational management issues (Retrieved May 12. 2016 from: http://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/LeadershipMatters.pdf).

Is it any surprise that instructional leadership is a relatively low priority for many principals and superintendents? For many, the safer survival strategy is just to focus on dealing with what is in front of you now, and not worry about attempting new or innovative things.

Besides, if you try to lead your organization in some new direction, there is always the fear that teachers, the unions, parents, students, and/or the school board won’t like what you’re doing. Sometimes, leadership just seems like too much work.

That said, it is our opinion that in these turbulent times, those who choose to play it safe and just be educational managers - and not be educational leaders - may experience short-term success. However, if you are just an educational manager and spend your time focusing on a short-term management, reactive approach being driven by the tyranny of the urgent, in the long term, you will let your organization - and, ultimately, students down.

That’s because the changes and challenges in the world outside the school system are real, and they are transforming every aspect of what is needed to be successful in modern times. And these changes are placing increasing pressure on educators to prepare students in a fundamentally different way.

If we are to be truly effective in the long term, it will be critical for you to move beyond your role as an educational manager and step up into your role as an educational leader. But to do this, you will need to perform a delicate balancing act between day-to-day management and visionary leadership.

As Roselinde Torres says, “Great 21st century leaders are women and men who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday, but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow” (Retrieved January 8, 2016 (posted February 2014) from: http://www.ted.com/talks/roselinde_torres_what_it_takes_to_be_a_great_leader/transcript?language=en).

Are you going to sit back and let things happen to education? Or are you going to provide the “LeaderShift” that is needed to ensure your organizations are doing the best job possible.

LeaderShift is about taking action. Let’s find north. Let’s identify the elements that need to be aligned if we are to reimagine, repurpose, and reinvent education. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and start on our journey towards LeaderShift 2020!

Please visit our Leadershift 2020 blog site regularly and engage in the conversation!