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.

Jason Glass
East Peoria, IL