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I recently was asked to present some ideas to a group of aspiring educators on what the teaching profession held in store as they embarked on their professional lives. Since that talk, the topic has continued to germinate new thinking for me. What would the teaching profession look like over the next 30 years and what changes should we expect? Presented below are some juxtapositions and generalizations on that question – drawn in part from thinking about the Center for Teaching Quality’s (CTQ) excellent work, Teaching 2030. Many of these are, of course, already underway to a degree. However, in looking ahead I imagine these “new school” trends will be the norm, and not the exception. I look forward to your responses and reactions.
Teaching is telling versus learning is doing. There is indeed a revolution underway in how teaching and learning intersect. Past and present it was acceptable to “stand and deliver” and covering content meant that the teacher said it. On the other side of the looking glass, it won’t be considered “taught” unless the learner experiences, understands, and can apply the knowledge.
Teaching is the new law. When we compare teaching to professions like medicine and law, stark differences emerge in terms of selectivity, expectations for preparation, degrees of professional autonomy, and levels of compensation. Over the next 30 years, I expect all of these factors to change course. It will be more difficult to get into and out of teacher education programs and competitiveness for initial teaching jobs will increase. Starting pay levels will rise as we work to attract top talent into the field and professional autonomy will grow as we leave a form of education where fact/recall preparation sufficed.
“Teacherpreneurs.” A term coined by the folks at CTQ, this idea posits that teachers of the future will have a great diversity of career options, or pathways, available to them. Teachers, using their individual talents infused with the spirit of entrepreneurship, will reject the limited career options currently available and will instead develop individualized and specialized roles including mentoring, student supports, leadership, curriculum design, and policy.
Personalization will rule. Like practically everything else about our world, students and parents will demand an education specifically tailored to individual needs, interests, and talents. Students will exercise greater autonomy over curriculum pace and content as well greater autonomy in the manner by which knowledge is gained. In exchange for this autonomy, evidence of competence or mastery will be expected of students and the educators will coordinate and facilitate this personalized learning experience.
The new labor/management paradigm. We already see this shift occurring in the world’s highest performing school systems. Unions evolve to function more as professional guilds, meaning they are standard-bearers in insuring quality of the profession and take on an advocacy role less related to worker rights and pay and more related to the institution of public education. Management approaches will also be different and on a large scale. Top-down and autocratic management approaches will be viewed the same way workplace smoking and harassment once were. Instead, the norm will be inclusive and distributed leadership and the role of the people with formal leadership titles will be focused on getting the conditions right where their education professionals can do their best work.
Accountability and diminishing returns. We will see that ever increasing attempts to raise performance through accountability-based mechanisms result in small to no improvements in results. Instead, the focus on accountability will be replaced with a focus on collaborative inquiry. Genius and high performance takes root in the team setting and our thinking and innovations will increasingly center on ways to structure and enhance team-based sharing and learning and translating that into actions.
Many pathways into the profession – all of high quality. The current landscape of traditional versus alternative preparation pathways are both soon-to-be dinosaurs. Blended models and shared ideas will emerge between universities, non-profits, and education employers to create a variety of on-ramps into education. Each of these on-ramps will be very selective, emphasize strength in content, pedagogy (especially the ability to personalize learning), and clinical (or field-based) experience.
Sharing expertise is the solution. Identifying high quality educators and replicating those skills will become the norm. Isolated professional work in education will be considered heresy and models of co-teaching, continuous mentoring throughout one’s career, and meaningful involvement with professional learning communities will all be professional expectations. Learning environments will be transparent, where multiple educators will move through and within them for the purposes of sharing, critiquing, supporting, and learning.
*Thanks to the Iowa State University Education Association for the beginning ideas in this post and for reacting to my original presentation.
Last year, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen published the fantastic book Great by Choice, which looked at companies that not only persevered, but actually thrived in eras of uncertainty, chaos, and competition.
There are certainly lots of great lessons in the book (as there always are in a Collins work) but one component Collins and Hansen found among the organizations they studied was the development of what they called a “SMaC” list. ”SMaC” is an acronym that stands for “Specific, Methodical, and Consistent” and its purpose is to help guide decisions back toward a core set of operational principles.
Collins and Hansen go to lengths to explain that a “SMaC” list isn’t a value or mission statement, nor some amorphous set of ideals – rather, its intent is to be very action oriented and to help guide those in an organization to make good decisions … and also to avoid bad ones.
Over the last three months we’ve been heavy into the work of redesigning and refocusing the Iowa Department of Education and I’m so proud of the effort and tremendous progress of my colleagues at the DE. The ideas that have been driving us come from a variety of sources including Richard Elmore’s Instructional Core, Marc Tucker and McKinsey & Company’s work on international educational benchmarking, McREL’s work on “High Reliability Organizations,” … and of course Great by Choice.
Part of this effort was the development of a “SMaC” list for the DE. My time at the helm of the DE is coming up on two years very soon. When I reflect on where we’ve been successful and where things haven’t gone as we’d hoped, I can usually point back to one of these “SMaC” principles and there is a lesson we learned … sometimes the hard way.
Presented below is the “SMaC” list for the Iowa Department of Education. I share it with you in hopes it may be of some value for similar efforts aimed at improvement within your own organizations.
SMaC Principles for the Iowa Department of Education
The following SMaC principles were designed for the Iowa Department of Education based on our ongoing Open Leadership forums.
- Keep it simple.
- Use state statute as a guidepost.
- Be able and willing to follow through or don’t start.
- Make small, manageable changes focused on the goal – then multiply with time.
- Develop and stick to a do-able project plan.
- Anticipate how it will impact the field.
- Use an informed team to make tough and complicated decisions.
- Always treat people with respect and dignity – whether they deserve it or not.
- Attend to proofing, branding, and style.
- Think politically – know which coalitions will stand with (and against) you.
I caught some of the Discovery Channel’s excellent documentary Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero this past week. I would highly recommend watching some or all of it if you have the chance. The program certainly stirs up lots of emotions and memories of that terrible day, now nearly 10 years ago. It gracefully touches on the sorrow and loss our country experienced in those awful hours, but also appeals to our “better angels” and asks us to raise our eyes and look ahead.
About a month after the tragedy, several musicians performed at Madison Square Garden for an event called “The Concert for New York.” One performance that still sticks with me was Five for Fighting’s “Superman”, which had an exceptionally poignant message about heroes and our definition of them. The term “hero” certainly took on a different definition for me at the thought of the firefighters and police officers who charged up those stairs with the singular and noble purpose of helping others, with little regard for themselves or their own safety.
That day changed my view of heroism. Now, I know that real heroes are people who put others ahead of themselves and are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of others. As an educator, I get to work with these kinds of people every day. What an incredible blessing…
If we stopped to notice, real “supermen” (and women) are everywhere. Unsung, infrequently noticed, taken for granted … but still there. That’s unfortunate but of no real import as true heroes aren’t concerned with the recognition or the acclaim anyway. What matters to them is the often quiet and patient work of helping others. Saving lives (more often than not) happens with persistence, genuine love for others, and just being there – not in “leaps and bounds.”
I think the challenge for all of us isn’t to try and recognize and thank more heroes, although that’s important. The real challenge is to try and live our lives with a spirit of service that puts the needs of others ahead of our own.
We all have the choice…
I delivered the following remarks today to a ceremony and reception honoring the Iowa Administrators of the Year. The School Administrators of Iowa hosted the event and I had the honor of following Governor Branstad in addressing the attendees. I thought a lot about my father, a career teacher and school administrator, when I wrote these words and I’d like to share them with you now.
I want to extend my appreciation to the School Administrators of Iowa for this invitation and opportunity to recognize and to celebrate exceptional leadership in our schools. Taking the time to acknowledge these tremendously talented and dedicated leaders in Iowa’s education system is important and highlights the incredibly critical role of leadership to our schools and our children.
School leadership scholar Ken Liethwood has studied high performing school systems and leaders and the conditions around which schools have made dramatic improvements. Leithwood noted in his studies “there are virtually no instances of troubled schools being turned around without the intervention of a powerful leader.” This is worth repeating: “there are virtually no instances of troubled schools being turned around without the intervention of a powerful leader.”
The importance of leadership cannot be understated. It is a crucial, if not the crucial, element in what has made our schools great in the past and the necessary ingredient for what our schools will desperately need in the days to come.
Leadership, for all it’s importance, is difficult to quantify. But we all recognize it’s power to drive toward positive change, respect it’s inspiration, and feel when we stand in it’s presence.
The list of characteristics that make up an effective leader is long, situational, and contextual. But I’d like to give you my short list of ingredients in what makes up great leaders.
First, vision. The vision to see what could be, instead of what is. Vision to see opportunity, instead of scarcity. And the vision to believe in what others say can’t be done.
Second, real leadership demands courage. Courage to tackle the hard problems that others ignore, to take stands that are often unpopular or even strongly opposed, and the courage to rise up again – and again – and again from the many small failures that accompany challenging difficult issues.
Finally, real leaders understand personal sacrifice. They put the wellbeing of others ahead of themselves. They put in time and energy when everyone else has long gone home, and they are willing to sacrifice their own goals and pride in pursuit of something larger and more enduring than themselves.
The leaders recognized by the School Administrators of Iowa exemplify these characteristics and today we acknowledge their incredible service and dedication.
Thank you so much Dan Smith for the chance to be part of this day … and to stand with these tremendous Iowa educators.
Des Moines, IA
Mark related the story of his neighbor, who was incredibly irate that the squirrels in his backyard were raiding his bird feeders for the bird seed. Despite the neighbor’s best efforts to capture, kill, or deter the squirrels from getting into the bird feeders – the squirrels prevailed and continued to clean the bird feeders out on a daily basis.
The neighbor even went to the step of buying an expensive “squirrel-proof” bird feeder from his local hardware store that was specifically engineered to keep the pesky yard-rodents out of the bird seed. After purchasing and installing this “squirrel-proof” bird feeder, the neighbor was infuriated the next morning to find, once again, the squirrels had successfully navigated the traps and deterrents of the “squirrel proof” bird feeder and cleaned him out again.
Later that day, the neighbor went back to the hardware store and angrily confronted the shop owner about his frustration with the failure of humans to engineer a bird feeder capable of out-witting an animal with the brain the size of a peanut.
The shop owner asked, “How much time every day do you spend thinking about how to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder?” The neighbor responded, “Oh, maybe 15 or 20 minutes a day.” To this, the shop owner asked another question, “Well, how much time every day do you think the squirrels think about trying to get into the bird feeder …?”
Which brings me to the point of this post: focus. Being smart, having the resources you need, and having the latitude to get something done are secondary variables compared to the power of focus on a singular and important goal.
With that said, I will be taking a hiatus from posts to this blog site until I complete my dissertation. I’m working on chapter four now, so the end is in sight – but I need to put the power of focus on accomplishing this life-long goal.
If there are any “tempered radicals” out there who would like to contribute a post that is in line with the spirit of this site, I’d be honored to consider it.
Thanks much, and I hope to see you on the other side…
Des Moines, IA
In government, we are unmercifully efficient at killing ideas and draining the creative spirit out of people. I’ve made a little list of very effective tactics we can use to cut off good ideas and shut down those artists in every organization BEFORE they get started. Here is my top 5:
1. Appoint a committee. Particularly, load the committee with skeptics, those with political agendas, those interested in protecting the status quo, and some big egos and you’ve pretty much killed the idea and isolated the artists right off the bat. This is the best and most common strategy I’ve seen used – brutally effective.
Alternate strategy: Appoint an artist who is passionate about the work. Even better, appoint a group of artists who are all passionate about the work and want it to succeed. Then give them the resources they need to get the job done and get out of the way.
2. Have lots of hubris and let loose with any of the following statements: What do you mean you don’t see it MY way. I know what I’m doing, who the hell are you anyway? I did this on my own with zero help from anyone else. I am what made this organization great. We need to stick with what got us where we are.
Alternate strategy: Recognize that all of us have blind spots and limited perspectives. More frequently than not, the very things that make us great are also our greatest weaknesses.
3. Get political. This happens when the person across the table is actually saying something that makes sense or might have some legs, but you see an opportunity to embarrass them to advance your own agenda and take them down a notch.
Alternate strategy. Focus on the problems you collectively face, not the label.
4. Over-react to bad news. Blow up every time someone comes to tell you things aren’t working out exactly as planned. Even better, look for someone who needs to be blamed and hammered – preferably in a public and explosive format.
Alternate strategy. Realize that things go wrong and if you are really doing transformative work, a lot of things go wrong. What matters is that people are learning, growing, and improving. You will put yourself in an information vacuum in a hurry if you can’t tolerate ambiguity and some bad news.
5. Keep people “in their place.” Keep an organization chart on your wall and know where everyone is on the “chain of command.” Blast and “set people straight” when they step outside their formal authority to try and be innovators.
Alternate strategy. Free the artists. Find people who are passionate about making positive changes and empower them, regardless of their title or position. If you set people free to do the incredible work they are capable of, the entire organization succeeds and its fame grows.
The next chance you get, free your artists and ideas.
Des Moines, IA
“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lila Watson
Jennifer Hemmingsen recently wrote a piece on her impressions of my views for “education reform.” While I’d first say that I appreciate Hemmingsen’s putting a discussion on education in her publication, I’d like to use this space to reflect on Hemmingsen’s article and offer my own conclusions.
The title of Hemmingsen’s piece is “Reform doesn’t end with teachers.” To this I would say, “of course it doesn’t!” The fact that there are a number of other critically important people involved in our nation’s education system is certainly not lost on me. For the record, I have never said that education reform starts, or ends, with teachers. Editorialized headlines have said both of these things in association with my name, but I have never said either.
The truth is that it will take us all to truly transform public education toward the system we believe it can be. But let’s not underestimate the importance of the classroom teacher. I will stand with the evidence telling us that the classroom teacher is the single most important person in changing a student’s academic trajectory. On this blog, I’ve clearly stated that the entire system must be configured to improve and support the classroom teacher. They cannot do it alone and it will take all of us, working in concert, to lift and improve our system of public education to be what we believe it can be.
While as much as I appreciate Hemmingsen’s kind words toward me in the piece (I believe the term was “rock-star” – thanks for that!!!), I must respectfully disagree with some of her conclusions. She states that teachers are “exhausted” and “ground down” by reforms. In the course of my career I have interacted with thousands of educators. Never once have I heard one say that they are too exhausted or ground down to improve what they do for kids.
Are educators wary of the latest fads and are tired of being a political punching bag? Absolutely. Further, I would say that they have cause to be skeptical and to be defensive. But never, never have I sensed that educators don’t want to improve.
I did not come to Iowa to defend the status quo and to “manage” the current model. Nor did I come here to deconstruct and destroy educators and our system of public education. Simply, I know this system has to evolve and change. I would go on to argue that we all know this is true, we are just afraid or don’t know the way.
“Habits, values, and attitudes, even dysfunctional ones, are part of one’s identity. To change the way people see and do things is to challenge how they define themselves.” Heifetz and Linsky
I am part of a growing movement of “tempered radicals” who fundamentally believe in the importance and moral purpose of public education and who know it must transform in order survive and to best serve children. Our movement is fueled, at its core, by respect, honesty, and love: may we never become exhausted in service of these.
Des Moines, IA
Subscribing to one style of leadership may be the best way to end a career.
Multitudes of theories and research abound regarding how to be or become a leader. Here is my question: if becoming a leader is easily defined, as exhibited by the wealth of information available, then where are all the effective leaders? Sure, this may be a critical point to make, yet think about the question for a moment. How many truly effective leaders do you know personally? Who do you know that is truly leading and not just managing?
Frankly, it takes gumption to really step up and lead. It takes an even greater drive to find a means of thinking differently than everyone else. How does one become original when so much has already been done? Maybe the quest should not seek something original but rather something relevant.
Do not take this the wrong way. Transformational leadership, path-goal leadership, or moral leadership all provide ample resources for an individual to emulate. However, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal pointedly say: “To recapture spirit, we need to relearn how to lead with soul.” The “soul” is very esoteric and largely indefinable. So where does one go with this?
Maybe the true testament of a leader comes into play on Monday mornings. Who are the people entering the building smiling, greeting others, and just genuinely excited to be there? What is the demeanor of the remainder of the staff on Fridays? Sure we all enjoy weekends, but who is living for the weekends and who is living for Mondays? Which of the staff write TGIF on their whiteboards or on their doors? Who writes TGIM? This analysis is not difficult to perform. Perhaps this is a signal of who is leading in the building or at least needs to be! As spring break approaches, how many times will you hear the phrase “spring break can’t get here soon enough?” Again, rest is necessary; time away is necessary, but there is a large chasm between living for the breaks and living to get another chance to be better as soon as possible.
I am writing this because I hope it sparks a conversation. Think again about your building and how many people really show a passion at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday versus those that show a passion at 3 p.m. on a Friday. Does this play a large factor in determining those who really want lead compared to those who just want to manage?
JG writes: Sometimes in life, if you are lucky, you run across kindred spirits. The author of this post, Byron Darnall, is the high school principal at Glasgow High School in Glasgow, Kentucky. Byron has also worked as a high school English teacher, and an elementary Assistant Principal. Byron and I are kindred spirits and love bouncing crazy ideas off each other. Byron and his wife Michelle had their first child, Greer, on December 31, 2010. You can follow him on Twitter @byron504.
Deron Durflinger (Twitter!) asked me a great question on Twitter today. He asked what I saw as the top 3 needs for Iowa schools. Great question. It wasn’t hard to answer because in many ways the three big needs in Iowa are the same three needs I see in schools all across our country. These three major and interrelated needs are: 1) more innovation 2) a complete reboot of the human capital system for educators and 3) a need to survive what economist Jim Guthrie calls “the coming fiscal tsunami” getting ready to hit education funding.
1. Innovation – we need to do whatever we can to introduce more risk-taking, experimentation, and use of technology in schools. We should expect some failures, applaud those who fail in pursuit of bold dreams, and help them get up to try again.
2. Human Capital – we need to confront the human capital problem in education and it’s just going to be one of those tough conversations. We don’t train, select, support, compensate, selectively retain, or provide leadership to our front-line educators very well. In our field, 80% of the resources go to fund the human beings working in schools, so this is a heavily human-driven endeavor. At the end of the day, it’s all about the classroom teacher and the systems we put them in.
3. Survival – I haven’t heard of a single state who isn’t facing some horrendous budget cuts for next year. The simple truth is that tax revenues lag recessions and this one is finally catching up with us with a vengeance (if it hasn’t already in some form). Get ready – it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’ve got to make tough decisions about how we use the finite dollars we have. It’s even worse than Spencer Johnson told us … EVERYBODY’s cheese is about to get moved. In spite of this, our work is too important to “put off until next year.”
For these 3 issues facing our schools, I think there are also three major (and interrelated) solutions:
1. Leadership – I define leadership as the confrontation of important problems in creative ways. Leadership is not conferred by a title, or earned by following rules and guidelines. Leadership emerges in ambiguity and uncertainty. We must empower leaders to step up in every part of our system – to confront important problems in creative ways.
2. Focus – The main flywheels of schools are great teaching and learning. We’ve got to pressure our systems in as many ways as we can to push teaching and learning to greater levels. Our intensity must constantly be focused on improving teaching and learning – we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from these dual pillars of our work.
3. Love – This can certainly mean lots of things to lots of people. The love I’m talking about here involves service (to kids, communities, and one-another), openness, dignity, collaboration, sharing, understanding, listening, truth, respect … and not enabling. Civility trumps discontent. Hope trumps cynicism. Love trumps fear.
So let’s hash it out. Honest and constructive comments welcome – uncivil one’s will never see the light of day here.
East Peoria, IL
Too often in education, we fence ourselves into “this versus that” and “us versus them” debates and discussions about what schools should be doing in order to better serve kids. To elaborate, let me toss out a few that come to mind…
Teachers versus Administrators
Reformers versus Unions
Academics versus Artistry
Collaboration versus Direction
Accountability versus Trust
Innovation versus Tradition
My simple point is that none of these ideas are necessarily mutually exclusive. Further, we do harm to our collective creativity and thinking about schools when we see things in these black and white polemics.
Isn’t it time we started blowing up these false dichotomies? I mean, aren’t academics and artistry both really important? Isn’t Randi Weingarten a national union leader and a leading school reformer? Can’t people collaborate to meet the vision of a daring leader?
Its 12:01 EST on October 15, 2010. That’s my challenge to the world for this day – find a false dichotomy and blow it up.