Friday, February 7, 2014

Where to Next?

My career has been a twenty-year journey toward a new normal. On the first leg of my journey, I developed a sense-making curriculum. On the second, I formed a learning community in the classroom. On the third, I discovered what students could do if they were immersed in a sense-making curriculum and a learning community for three years. On the fourth, I coached teachers to use a sense-making curriculum and begin forming learning communities in their own classrooms. On the fifth, I tried forming learning communities among teachers.

I haven't quite finished that fifth leg yet. One thing that I've learned during my journey is that you need to prepare for a leg long before you get to it, and I wasn't prepared for the fifth leg. First, I couldn't articulate how to design a sense-making curriculum, so the teachers couldn't really share in ownership of the work. That is a killer. Second, a learning community among teachers needs a supportive environment. Ideally, it would be part of a larger learning organization, with learning communities at all levels. I never figured out how to engage administrators in the work that teachers and students were doing, so there was always a lack of buy-in at the leadership level.

I fully intend to tackle that fifth leg again. I can't complete my journey without it. But before I do, I want to survey what lies beyond it, so that I can start preparing for the sixth and seventh legs at the same time. This is why strategic planning is so important.

It seems clear to me that, at some point, I need to create a school to demonstrate that a new normal is possible. This school would be a learning organization (adaptive, focused on continuous improvement, learning communities at all levels) and have a sense-making curriculum. By enabling students to make sense of the curriculum, students will climb faster and farther, take ownership of their own learning, and develop the habits of mind and skills they need to continuously test and revise their mental models. These students wouldn't just go on to study at the four-year colleges of their choice, they would go on to become the best thinkers of their generation.

Performance talks, and the performance of this school and its graduates would be off the charts. This would be an Olympic stage: a signal so unmistakably strong that it would cut through the noise. I firmly believe that I can create this school and achieve that level of performance. And I don't say that lightly. My entire career has been a series of tests to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

But I can't create a school by myself. I need a team. Fortunately, I don't need an Olympic stage to form a team; I can go out and enlist people one by one. The hard part is figuring out who the right people are and what evidence will convince them to take me seriously. The right people are few and far between, so I've been following a two-part strategy. While I'm looking for them, I'm providing ways for them to find me.

Vertical Learning Labs is producing curriculum in order to generate income so that I can sustain my work. But these curriculum products are also a trail of bread crumbs leading back to me. If you can look at Drawing Area, Chocolate Chip Cookie Factory: Place Value, Chemistry from the Ground Up, or Teaching a Robot How to Dance without being immediately blown away by what these pieces of curriculum can do for students, then you probably won't fit on my team. These efforts are crude, but I'm looking for the people who can see the genius in them and can see what they can be with refinement. If those people are out there, they should be as hungry to meet me as I am to meet them. That's my working theory for now, anyways. I sure hope I hear more than crickets out there.  :)

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