The 21st Century Teacher: A Leader’s Reflection

Did you read the confessions of a 21st century teacher?

Two weeks ago I shared the thoughts of a real teacher who vented about a professional development session held at her school. She was an effective teacher who was tired of what she referred to as the B.S. involved in professional development. Her comments should have caused leaders to investigate the health of the adult learning culture at their school.

If you haven’t read her 7-minute venting session, check out Part 1 and Part 2. Afterward, consider Learning Forward’s professional learning standards below and accept the challenge of answering the questions that follow.

Learning Forward: Standards for Professional Learning

Learning Forward: Standards for Professional Learning

Challenge Questions

In order to increase educator effectiveness and results for all students through professional learning:

  1. How do you ensure or gauge collective responsibility?
  2. How do you develop and ensure a support system?
  3. How do you prioritize, monitor and coordinate resources effectively?
  4. How o you evaluate the effectiveness of professional learning?
  5. How do you integrate theories of human learning?
  6. How do you apply change research to sustain long-term change?
  7. How do you align educator performance outcomes with the CCSS?

Ensuring an effective adult learning culture where contributions and participation are authentic is one of your first steps to the student success you seek. Through progressive partnerships, principals I’ve worked with have done just this. Find out how you can be sure your adult learning culture is authentic with a progressive partnership.


Eduvation: What is it and How to Make it Happen

“Eduvation” is a word I created to shorten and blend the use of the words innovation in education. (Perhaps the term already exists elsewhere, but I haven’t heard it used yet.)

Last week I witnessed a debate that stretched for 3 days at an 8-day Baldrige event. The topic? The meaning of innovation. The challenge was that the term was suffering from multiple interpretations. Given that we were at a Baldrige Performance Excellence event, the group decided to review the Baldrige definition of innovation in order to ensure a common understanding of the common term.

According to the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, 2013), the term innovation refers to,

Making meaningful change to improve programs, services, processes or organizational effectiveness and to create a new value for students and stakeholders. Innovation involves the adoption of an idea, process, technology, program, service or business model that is either new or new to its proposed application. The outcome of innovation is a discontinuous or break through change in results, programs or services.

Successful organizational innovation is a multistep process that involves development and knowledge sharing, a decision to implement, implementation, evaluation and learning. Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change, whether through breakthrough improvement or a change in approach or outputs. It could include fundamental changes in organizational structure to more effectively accomplish the organization’s work.

Recently, I read a few articles about eduvation–innovation in education–and they all seemed to focus on either new technology or new models. I wondered, “were those the only key levers to collectively move us forward in education?” My answer was no.

The Baldrige definition provided six levers with one of them being processes. Furthermore, the definition states, “Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change.” That being said, the questions for principals and teachers are, “what are all the key processes that would benefit from change, and particularly what are the key instructional and instructional leadership processes that would benefit from a change in thinking and practice?

The challenge this week is simple: engage in eduvation. The list below provides steps you can follow with your team and is followed by italicized examples.

  1. Sit with your professional journal to brainstorm changes that are required (blending professional best practices to deconstruct the standards)
  2. Collaborate with your peers to gather the collective thought and select the change that adds the most value (invest in The Core Deconstructed)
  3. Create your roadmap (create The Core Deconstructed matrix)
  4. Use technology to enhance the eduvation process (use the electronic template to later insert resources)
  5. Collaborate across departments or schools (share and refine your matricies)
  6. Communicate and eliminate barriers to the change (contact me for the next level and/or feedback)
  7. Keep it simple (keep it simple :-))
  8. Celebrate successes (share)

When you’re done, do #8 and let me know about your success!



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

Transform versus Reform: Splitting Hairs

[Education] 1.0 is when we managed access. 2.0 is when we thought about school improvement and got pretty good at it. 3.0 is when we start to move toward a different, and we hope, transformed paradigm.

These were the words of Valerie Hannon, a director at the Global Education Leaders’ Program on the topic of redesigning education. Her statement caused me to reflect on two previous posts: one on resting on your laurels of high performance using NCLB expectations in a Common Core world and the other on authentic transformation.

Since the turn of the millennium, I have argued that instead of focusing on educational reform we should focus on authentic educational transformation, and particularly now to address the Common Core. Here’s why. At their core reform means,

to make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

and transform means,

to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

Today I began purging my bookshelf and I noted several papers and books produced by high profile educational institutions with the similar theme of closing the achievement gap. I would argue that if we continue attempting to “close the gap” by simply making changes to an existing system, there is a high likelihood that the gap may never close.

Perhaps it is to time embrace authentic educational transformation, that is, making a thorough changes to the way we do education. Should you as  a leader decide to accept this challenge, allow me to be upfront: it won’t be easy.

Transformation occurs when leaders create a vision for transformation and a system to continually question and challenge beliefs, assumptions, patterns, habits and paradigms with an aim of continually developing and applying management theory, through the lens of the system of profound knowledge. Transformation happens when people managing a system  focus on creating a new future that has never existed before, and based on continual learning and a new mindset, take different actions than they would have taken in the past (Dasko and Sheinberg, 2005, pg. 1).

Last school year I coached a school leadership team through the process of embracing authentic transformation through the lens of a system of profound knowledge (SoPK). As a result, they experienced their highest gains in the history of the school. (Contact me if you would like to know their story.)

Therefore I advocate that if your goal as a leader is to facilitate equity in educational excellence through authentic transformation, you can do two things:

  1. Begin exploring your team’s position as it relates to SoPK by processing your thoughts using the resource below, and
  2. Expand your exploration with a progressive partnership.

Distinguishing between transform versus reform may appear to be an exercise in splitting hairs, but it is clear that reforming (improving) a system that was not designed to be functional in the 21st century may not be the answer. It’s time for Education 3.0. It’s time to transform.



Daszko, M. & Sheinberg, S. (2005). Survival is optional: Only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation. Retrieved from

Common Core Strategy Alignment: Professional Learning Action Steps

Two things happened on the way to writing this post.

First, I was conversing with a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) who shared that her principals needed to become better at instructional leadership. She then followed her statement by saying they did not require coaching or professional development, but they needed to be managed more instead. She has been the second CAO to share this sentiment in two years. I am bewildered.

Second, yesterday a colleague engaged in a chat on Twitter where teachers shared that they had yet to see the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am bewildered and concerned.


Strategy is defined as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.


A few months ago I stated, “accountability on its face is very simple–you do what you say you will do.”

Strategy and Accountability

Strategic plans designed to manage for accountability should function on three tiers: (1) the district level; (2) the school level and (3) the classroom level. If all three levels are not tightly aligned, then the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement will be spotty, if not illusive.

The strategic objective of improving instructional leadership with the misaligned action step of increasing how much school leaders are managed will scarcely allow for the goal of increasing student achievement.The strategic objective of increasing teacher capacity with the CCSS while teachers are still unfamiliar with the standards will simply land you in a ditch.

Most school districts have strategic plans. The system-wide plan should undoubtedly cascade to the individual level for schools’ staff if teachers and leaders are going to be held accountable for student growth on CCSS assessments.

A Missing Ingredient

A conversation I do not hear on the school level as it relates to accountability is one about strategy. I hope you are aware of you district’s strategy, but even if you are not, here are 7 discussion points for leaders and teachers to employ during instructional support sessions. They are sure to align classroom activities with district strategy.

  1. Determine the purpose of the lesson–not the content, but the purpose.
  2. Determine the level of thinking you want students to engage in. The level of thinking should align with the purpose.
  3. Determine the appropriate instructional process that best aligns with the level of thinking–process not activities.
  4. Determine the appropriate appropriate learning activities that best align with the instructional process.
  5. Determine how you will differentiate to meet the various representation and expression needs of your diverse learners.
  6. Determine the appropriate student work product. This is what’s used to assess the level of learning and thinking that occurred.
  7. Determine how you will differentiate work products to meet the various engagement needs of your diverse learners.

The visual below can support the discussion.

Dr. B's LD Decision Tree

If we simply talk about alignment without ensuring it occurs, then that’s all it is–talk. Talk alone will not lead to increased student achievement. Strategy, alignment and intelligent support will. The Core Deconstructed will also.

Common Understanding for the Common Core: Professional Learning Action Steps

The Situation

A new assistant superintendent in New Jersey was challenged by the way the principals he supervised talked about rigor. He found that their individual definitions were misaligned with their peers’. This was evident in the quality of lessons he observed in their schools–both across grade levels and content areas. He requested my help.

The Task

He wanted me to help him arrive at a shared understanding for rigor with his principals (and later the vice principals.) He wanted a shared understanding by all on what rigor should look and sound like in classrooms. After-all, without a shared understanding, principals and their staff would continue to engage in dialogue about the topic without actually communicating effectively on the topic.

The Action

I designed a series of 90-minute professional learning sessions that were followed by individualized coaching and one-on-one support. The first of the sessions focused on establishing a common understanding of rigor. I used the following definition of rigor to anchor their learning and foster a shared understanding:

Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging (Strong, Silver and Perini, 2001).

The Result

At the close of the first session, the principals were amazed by the differences in their opinions and beliefs about rigor. This previously served as a hinderance to progressive dialogue. However, they found that having a literature-based definition provided the opportunity for more cohesive dialogue. The leaders replicated this professional learning session in their schools. That year 83% of the schools led by these principals demonstrated growth in student learning. (Please note that I facilitated additional sessions on rigor and its connections to culturally responsive teaching along with analyzing, critiquing and revising lessons for both.)

Your Challenge

As we move closer to the Common Core, it is imperative that we share a common understanding of the language and intentions of the internationally benchmarked standards. As such, I challenge you to consider engaging in a similar session, but with a standard as the focus. The steps in the image below represent a portion of the first session I facilitated with the principals. They are a good place to start for designing your session:


Facilitator’s note: You will be tempted to to share your opinion throughout the process, but DON’T! The purpose of the session is not for your team to digest your understanding or beliefs, but rather, the purpose of the session is for the team to arrive at a shared literature- or research-based understanding.

Extra Challenge

If you are a teacher and you are reading this, I challenge you to be proactive. Create the opportunity to engage in the session described above with your peers. Professional mastery of the Common Core requires a “all-hands-on-deck” approach, so why not start now and get on the deck?

Deconstructing the standards with your peers can also lead to a shared understanding of the standards. I’m excited to say that The Core Deconstructed will soon be available for all mobile devices. Find out when here!


Strong, R.W., Silver, H.F. & Perini, M.J. (2001.) Teaching what matters most: Standards and strategies for raising student achievement. Arlington, VA: ASCD.

What do Close Reading and Math Have in Common?

Today I supported  two math coaches on an assessment project. They were identifying anchor papers. Throughout the 6-hour session I heard them say repeatedly, “I wouldn’t give this student that score because (fill in the blank with your personal preference.)” I also heard the typical discussion about computation and whether or not the students drew straight lines to make four quarters. What I did not hear was anything about literacy. The reality that Common Core places before us is that mathematically proficient students (MPS) must, among other things, close read well.

Below are two graphics: The Close Reading Reader and Mathematical Practice Standard 3. The two have much in common. After careful examination, what similarities do you see?



To be clear, MPS reason through problems to determine their entry point(s) and create a plan for solving the problem. Doing so requires skills similar to those used in close reading. MPS do the following:

  1. Seek to understand the overall problem
  2. Ascribe deeper meaning to the problem
  3. Analyze the problem by determining assumptions, concepts, etc.
  4. Determine sound reasoning in theirs, their peers, or a third party’s work
  5. Communicate and justify their conclusions, arguments, decisions, etc. based on the facts presented

Again, reference The Close Reading Reader and the third math practice standard above while considering these 5 points. There are other examples  that demonstrate the strong connections between close reading and math. Should you study all of the actions of MPS along with close reading, you will be sure to discover them.

As you prepare for your summer learning and planning, consider 3 things:

  1. How will we move away from teaching our personal preferences and move students toward the actual learning that should be occurring?
  2. How will we move away from teaching students to “do” math and move them toward thinking mathematically (or disciplinary literacy)?
  3. How will math and ELA teachers  collaborate to identify the similarities between their disciplines in order to streamline planning and learning?

Are You Ready to Lead and Teach with the Common Core?

Have you seen this? Last week a colleague forwarded a video that was a great reminder of the components of effective instruction. After watching, it occurred to me that while the content may be common knowledge to some, it is not common knowledge to all. Further thought led me to ask, “If it is not common knowledge for all, then can we really expect effective implementation of ‘next generation a.k.a. internationally benchmarked a.ka. college and career readiness’ standards?” I would argue, “No, we cannot.”

I’m sharing the video here with a few points to consider for the first 4 of the 8 ideas mentioned. (The remaining four will follow next week.) While you may say, “I’m good with this stuff,” my question to you is, “Are your colleagues and/or your staff good with this stuff?”  If not, then collectively we’re not good with this stuff.

Take a a look at the video How Youth Learn and the points to consider that follow below.

As a recap, here is a screenshot of Ned’s GR8 8.

Ned's G8 8

Points to consider:

1. I feel okay.

One thing Ned stated was “I’m not stressing or worrying.” The statement made me wonder: do we make our students stress or worry about failure? How do the test taking parties and promises of gifts to the highest performer contribute to their stress? What authentic culture  and hope building activities do you engage in all year to help your students “feel okay”? Check out chapters 4 and 5 of Jensen’s book to plan how to build a culture of hope and prolonged success among your students while reducing their stress and worry. (Note that whether your students are in poverty or not, his recommendations are practical and beneficial for all students.)

2. It matters.

When I ask teachers, “Why should your students care about learning what you’re teaching?” the answer tends to be, “Because it’s the standard.” My next question is then, “Why should your students care about that?” Do teachers and leaders go to work everyday thinking about their teaching and leadership standards? Most likely not. So why should that answer be enough for your students? It’s not. As educators we have to engage in some critical and creative thinking of our own. How can we help students make authentic connections with the content to the discipline of study, to other disciplines and to themselves? How do you as the practitioner think beyond the standards to help students make practical and relevant connections? The Core Deconstructed helps you arrive at those answers.

3. It’s active.

Ned stated, “Just taking notes is not active.” I would add that completing a packet of worksheets isn’t active either. How do you ensure that the sheets you put before students support the activity of learning and are not simply busy work? Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites is a good place to start to plan how to move away from packets of worksheets…especially in math! Making Thinking Visible is also another great resource.

4. It stretches me.

The Common Core is explicit about the need to move students beyond the simple recall and understand levels of learning that worksheets tend to encourage. Particularly in math, the language of the standards state, “[students] ought to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise (CCSS for Mathematics, n.d.).” Check out this pin, then ask yourself, “How do the teachers at my school plan to ensure that students are able to move toward the expert level?”

These are Ned’s first four. Next week we’ll consider points for the remaining four ideas shared in the video. In the meantime, what are your answers the questions presented today? Are you absolutely clear about all of your answers for yourself, your team or your staff? If not, there’s much planning to do this summer.

P.S. The Core Deconstructed is being modified for all mobile devices (not just the iPad) and set to be re-released this summer. Tweet, email, or comment below to let me know you would like to be updated.


Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (n.d.). Common Core State Standards Initiative-Preparing America’s Students for College & Careers.