Are You Changing, or Are You Growing?

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.
– John C. Maxwell

Although snow is still on the ground here in Central Wisconsin, I am preparing for the upcoming gardening season. Two new raised beds will be installed. My family and I have selected what vegetables we want to grow this season.

Long before this year, I have kept a compost pile. If you are not familiar with this, it is a container that houses dead leaves, kitchen scraps, and most anything else that was once living and not an animal by-product. When this mixture breaks down into a soil-like material, it can be spread over soil and beds to aid plant growth, water retention in soil, and the overall health of a garden. Some refer to compost as “black gold”, because of all the benefits it provides toward a great harvest.

Now, I could let this pile sit. It would eventually decompose and become compost at some point in time, maybe in a couple of years. However, I can accelerate this process by turning over the dead plant material every now and then. Putting in this extra work in the beginning results in more compost both now and in the future. My efforts will lead to better results at a faster rate compared to doing nothing at all.


I see some parallels between compost and the new ways of learning available today. Tools such as social media, eBooks and digital portfolios are ripe for the taking. They just require a little extra effort in the beginning, plus some reflection as to what outdated practices they will replace. Moreover, I believe these new tools differ than other shifts in learning in the past. Being more connected will most likely not be an initiative that comes to us top down. It needs to start from the ground up, in classrooms willing to start accelerating the learning process and innovate. The students are asking for it, in their lack of engagement if not in their words. Many of them may already be using these tools on their own time and can teach us how to use them. That is okay. Maybe even better.

So, we can sit back and allow these personalized, self-directed tools for learning to eventually come to us. Maybe we can try one out next year when we are more comfortable. Our students’ audience for writing will continue to be only us, and maybe the parents. Sharing students’ learning will happen on special days a couple times a year. The purpose for our students’ work will be to get that grade above passing. Or…we can turn over our instruction and start to accelerate our own process for learning. We can be learners alongside our students, growing as a connected community whose diversity of resources knows no limits. Students will ask you what you all did while they were absent, because they don’t want to miss anything.

If you were a student in your classroom right now, would you want to wait until next year to become more connected, or even one more day?

Resisting What We Need the Most

I recently ran across some terrific posts by Christine Comaford, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, about growth and change. Although she puts her advice in the context of business, her writing is very applicable for Educational CEOs (otherwise known as administrators).

For instance, in her post How Change Fails: CEOs Focus on Symptoms NOT the System, she explains that for organizations to be successful, leaders need to explicitly explain to their staff that experiencing friction when growing is a normal part of the change process. Christine also points out that when these issues arise, as leaders we need to look at the system to find a solution rather than focusing on the problems. She includes a nice visual in her post:

Image Credit: Christine Comaford Associates, LLC (c) 2011

As school leaders, imagine all the fires we put out in a day, yet don’t take the time to reflect on how they started in the first place. Consider the following:

– There have been several instances of physical aggression on the playground between students (hypothetically speaking, of course). Are we serving the students best by suspending them repeatedly every time it happens, or by taking the time to listen to concerns and help them solve the problem in a more socially acceptable way?
– The noise level in the cafeteria is too high. Do we split the students up and take away their social time, or do we reteach everyone what an acceptable volume of talking sounds like?
– You introduce technology to staff with the goal of using it to augment instruction and increase student engagement and learning. When teachers express concerns that they don’t have the time to put one more thing into their day, should we dismiss their worries as just complaints, or should we offer opportunities for discussion about these legitimate issues?

I think most of us know the answers to these scenarios. Yet we as leaders don’t always react as we want and should. We can chalk it up to forgetfulness, lack of time, or just taking an easier yet temporary path to peace once again. But the easier path is also the status quo. Change is hard. At the same time, we have to follow that path if schools expect to stay relevant for students today and in the future. And that requires vision, based on a school’s beliefs, values and mindset. Going back to our foundation is the best and probably only way to continue growing as a community of learners.

The 3-2-1 Challenge

*Note: This post is written for my staff, but feel free to join us!

A Creative Life is a Healthy Life by Amanda Enayati for describes all the reasons for leading a creative life and to be innovators in our work, as well as ways to deal with the distractors.

*Found this quote posted in EPCOT during spring break


I was first introduced to the 3-2-1 formative assessment tool by Rick Wormeli at one of his conferences run through Staff Development for Educators (SDE). It is an assessment that asks the student to list three, two and one items related to a concept they just learned. An example he provided in mathematics looks like this:

3 – List three applications for slope, y-intercept knowledge in the professional world
2 – Identify two skills students must have in order to determine slop and y-intercept from a set of points on a plane
1 – If (x1, y1) are the coordinates of a point W in a plane, and (x2, y2) are the coordinates of a different point Y, then the slope of line WY is what?

Cross this idea with Barb Gilman’s tweet, “I love my principal! She challenged us to read at least 5 good books this summer. #BookChat #TitleTalk”, and you have the 3-2-1 challenge.

Using his format, I am challenging all of us (including me) with these suggestions during our time away from school.

3 – Read at least three good books this summer

To be literacy leaders in our classrooms, we have to be readers and writers in our personal lives too. Regie Routman said it best in Teaching Essentials: “One of the first questions I would ask any teacher seeking employment is, What are you reading? What is your last favorite book? How do you choose a book? What have you learned as a reader?“. She goes on to state that we need to have a balance in our knowledge base, and reading a wide variety of genres can provide this. For me, I plan to read Steve Jobs’ biography, the third installment in the Game of Thrones fantasy series and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. I will also be reading new children’s literature in search of potential read alouds in classrooms for next year.

2 – Participate in two new experiences

Think about your new students coming in next fall. They will be feeling anxious about who their new teacher is, what is expected of them academically and how they will get along with their classmates. Our students take part in new experiences annually. It might be wise to put ourselves in their place to get a better perspective. I am not talking about climbing Mount Everest; maybe it is becoming more familiar with mobile technology, or taking an art class. If you cannot think of something new, maybe consider mastering something you have already tried. The article I reference in the beginning of this post has some good ideas.

1 – Think about one way you could use the Internet to communicate with families

I have sat in many meetings with parents who state, “I looked on the Internet for the answer to that problem.” We have a captive audience online. This challenge could be as simple as learning how to post your weekly classroom newsletters on the district web page instead of putting them in the shared folder. You could take this a step further and replace your classroom newsletter with a blog, where you could add photos, web links, video and audio alongside the text. Some classrooms in other schools use Twitter to share their reflections of what they learned during class. Whatever your preference, using communication tools on the Internet such as social media can be a powerful way to get the word out about the great things you do in school everyday. As always, I am available for questions and assistance, even during the summer. (As I reflect as I write, this challenge could serve as a new experience, too.)

None of these suggestions are required, or course, only challenges. I just want to encourage everyone to take time for yourself, as well as to reflect and think about how you will continue to grow and learn as a person and as a professional. Many of you do this already, so I may be preaching to the choir.

At any rate, have a wonderful summer and thank you for making my first year at Howe a good one!

Guest Post: “We’ve Got the Greener Grass”

What’s the answer to America’s educational woes? Two Harvard PhDs suggest that American public schools are the answer to Japan’s economic woes, that American schools are the gold standard when it comes to graduating innovators and risk takers. I edited the dissertations of these two Japanese scholars ten years ago. Both argued that Japan couldn’t extricate itself from ten years of recession, then known as the Lost Decade, because its school system didn’t produce the creative class that America’s schools did. Since then, there’s been another ten consecutive years of recession. These scholars noted that America enters and exits recessions. They attributed the exits to America’s creativity and they credited America’s schools for engendering that creativity.

There was a recent article in the New Yorker where Chinese people wondered why China hasn’t been an innovator for thousands of years. They recognized that China is quite clever in copying Western inventions, but bemoaned the lack of homegrown innovation. I urge you to look at the list of things invented in America at Wikipedia. It’s a staggering list. The Egyptians beat us to paper because they were around four thousand years ago and we weren’t, but the vast majority of the things that constitute modern living were first made in America. If those two Harvard PhDs are right, then America’s push to standardized testing and standardized schools could eventually be our economic undoing.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of people who collectively oversee millions of American workers. One is an M.I.T. PhD graduate who works at I.B.M.

“Whom do you hire?” I asked.

“I’m not real concerned with GPAs,” she replied. “I look for people who can recover from failure since 95% of what we do at I.B.M. is fail.”

I’ve had other corporate executives tell me that they too don’t chase those with high GPAs, for they’ve learned that many of them are grade chasers, avoiding the tough courses and the possibility of failure for the luster of a number. These executives told me that they look for someone who took the tough courses. If a candidate earned something other than an A, but took another hard course, that person is that much more attractive.

Executives also tell me that they need people who can collaborate, that “the systems and challenges are so complex that no one is brilliant enough to work alone anymore.”

So, if we’re to prepare our students for the professional challenges that await them, rather than chase higher test scores, we should continue to nurture creativity and provide opportunities to collaborate and fail. “Fail” might seem harsh, but failure sets up the opportunity to rebound from failure.

Lastly, the PhD at IBM, a woman who oversees 800 employees and has hired scores of them, said that if she had to choose between hiring a software engineer with a full focus on software engineering and a software engineer with an art minor, all other factors being equal, she’d hire the engineer with the art minor. “That engineer is more likely to consider a problem from a different perspective.”

Looking across the Pacific, the grass of higher test scores seems greener to America’s politicians who determine pedagogical policy. However, the view from Asia is one of a lush and creative America, one that extricates itself from recession again and again through the verve of its creative graduates, and one that has leveraged diverse education into world class innovation.

Katie McKy might just be the most booked children’s book author for school visits in the upper Midwest. She visits about 100 schools a year and has taught and entertained more than 300,000 children in the last decade. She also writes for many business magazines and so has had the opportunity to have CEOs, VPs, and COOs go off the record and truly say what they like and don’t like about America’s graduates. Read about Katie at