A Survey on District Culture

On Friday I’m going to be offering a workshop at the Canadian School Boards Association’s National Conference entitled, “Getting Serious About Culture”:

“Culture is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.”
– Jim Sinegal, Co-founder and former CEO, Costco

Is this true for schools and school districts? Having worked with districts across Canada, Dean Shareski has discovered some important ideas about building community and creating cultures where students, teachers and leaders feel empowered and work together for a better learning environment for students. This session will provide an opportunity for participants to share, gain insight and develop plans to create a powerful learning culture.

In preparation for this, I sent out an informal survey on Twitter to get a sense of people’s perception of their own district. I was pleasantly surprised. I defined culture as, “the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions.”

I received 146 responses and here are the results:

(these were the top answers)


I also ask for any additional thoughts, here are a few:

Empowered in my classroom, but not so much outside my classroom.

Wanted to answer yes and no.

Read the rest

Many of You Will Hate This School

Imagine a school that makes students take the same courses at the same times as everyone else. Also, this school uses little or no technology. This school does not utilize contemporary texts and in fact, does not even aspire to contextualize these ancient texts to the modern world. You’ve probably dismissed this school as irrelevant and without much understanding of the real world.

You’re probably wrong.

St. John’s College seems to be offering much of what many educational reformers are trying to reform. They unabashedly hold on to traditional methods like the Socratic approach and offer no computing classes, no contemporary studies and have no minors and majors. Everyone graduates with the same degree. So much for personalized learning.

This article shares the details of what they refer to as “The Program”. Let me share the highlights and things that struck me:

Fixed curriculum:

Starting with the Greeks and working through the 20th century including some “recent” science readings from the 1950s and 1960s, the curriculum is rarely altered.

It seems like they’ve determined which works best foster deep thinking and discourse and simply stick with those. Contrary to even more innovative practices like global competencies, it … Read the rest

The Problem with Curiosity

I’m noticing an unusual pattern of late. In education, there’s a strong underlying message to bring back or maintain curiosity and wonder as the foundation of learning. Meanwhile the media, both mass and traditional and social is intent on killing curiosity. Whether it’s politics, racism, environmental or a host of other modern issues, the message is pretty standard.

“Unless you believe me/us, you’re stupid or evil.”

The problem with curiosity is, it’s nice in theory, it might work in schools, but in the real world, curiosity is not valued and it’s often disdained.

I understand the passion the people have about many of these issues. But the absence of wonder and curiosity sends exactly the opposite message to our children when it comes to lifelong learning. The shortage of thoughtful, welcoming conversation and discourse is alarming. For a person genuinely interested in learning about two or more sides of an issue, good luck. There aren’t many safe places to ask questions and learn. Phrase a question incorrectly, and you’ll be hammered and chastised for your ignorance. So instead of engaging in civil discourse, you’re forced to choose a side and be bombarded inside an echo chamber that paints their opposition … Read the rest

Maintaining Innovation

“Innovation” might be the most used word to frame the current narrative of change in education. It’s been used to drive the use of technology but also as my friend George done, used to change mindsets. It’s difficult to argue against the idea that education was, or is still in need of change.

For those who continue to suggest that education has not changed in the last 50 years or so, I don’t think you get out much. The schools and classrooms I visit are making great strides in shifting the locus of control from teachers to students. They aren’t there yet but in the vast majority of districts, this is a driving focus.

As someone who has taught pre-service teachers, I often have them reflect on this chart.


Almost all of them acknowledge a shift from teacher to student focus. Some of the other areas are a blend of the left and right columns but they almost all agree their recentK-12 education was not completely on the left side of this chart.

Ok, so some will debate my perspective and that’s fair enough. My observations are just that. But for those using blanket statements about how school … Read the rest

I Don’t Read Your Blog 

John Spencer is among the smartest people I know. He’s creative, thoughtful and introspective. He also has a really good blog. That I don’t read.
I talk with John frequently. He’s helped me work through ideas. He’s bounced things off me regularly. I have a blog too. That he doesn’t read.  (We coincidentally confessed this to each other a few days ago. We laughed)
I have been blessed to know dozens of people like John, many of whom have great blogs. I don’t read them either. I share this as both a confession but also a reflection in my evolution of learning shifts in consumption.
Blogging has been and remains for me the best way to reflect. When I began it was also a great way to connect more deeply with educators around the world. My job was like most in that outside of my online interactions, I had few focused conversations on topics I was interested in. My job with Discovery Education has me interacting with so many smart people that I work with and as part of our community. I’m privileged to attend many conferences and connect to incredibly passionate smart people. I have regular discussions about … Read the rest