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The Journey Towards Future-Ready – Part II

Jul 26, 2019 2019-07-26

Editors Note: This is the second in a two-part blog series.

In a previous blog, we heard Dr. Jill Siler, Superintendent of Gunter ISD (Texas), share her framework to move towards being more future-ready. The first post focused on envisioning your future in a way that was both thoughtful and strategic, as well as grounded in theory and practice. This post will continue discussing how to elevate expectations and foster a culture necessary to accomplish the work, to equip people to be successful in innovative practices, and to start thinking about how to extend our learning in the future.

ELEVATE: If we were going to be successful in any journey towards becoming future-ready, we needed to change our thinking around what we wanted for our students and elevate our perspective and expectations. We engaged in activities like John Tanner’s Smartness Profile, where we brainstormed all the different ways that kids (and we) are smart, and then rated our level of smartness in each. This broadened our thinking to understand that “smartness” was much more than a single test score on a single day. We grappled with Dr. Katie Martin’s sentiments around accountability—that we can’t ignore state assessments, but we can’t let them impede the larger goals for what we want with our students. We formed discussion groups around Phil Schlecty’s Images of School and had some honest conversations around where we were on the continuum of a factory-model school versus a true learning organization. We also watched videos, including the one from John Spencer entitled The Shift from Engaging Students to Empowering Learners, which made us realize the bar will continue to rise: from compliance to engagement; from engagement to empowerment; from empowerment to…

One of the core frameworks that resonated with us was out of George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset and sketched by Sylvia Duckworth. We talk all the time about building skills like communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration and this simple graphic gave us a roadmap to make those things come to life in our classrooms.

I asked our teachers “what has changed?” since we embarked on this journey towards innovative learning and one tangible example is from a prekindergarten teacher. She responded that for their transportation unit they discuss different types of boats and look at various pictures of sailboats. She commented that this past year she extended the learning through the following:

Every child received a marshmallow peep, a piece of foam, and a toothpick. The peep was the boat and the kiddos had to design a sail, cut it out, and stick it in the peep. They had a blast trying to figure out how the shape of the sail, size of the sail, and where the sail on the peep was located factored into how well the peep boat kept afloat!

If we want our principals and teachers to take risks and try innovative practices in their classroom, we have to elevate the foundation of what we deem important and foster a culture that supports staff in this transformative work.

EQUIP: This is the critical part in helping staff be successful in any instructional initiative. It is also one that a small district like ours struggles with inherently due to limited staff. We went about this function by trying to create an environment that incentivizes and motivates innovative teaching and learning and ensuring that we’re not only equipping our people but also our infrastructure, processes, and systems.

We incorporated multiple opportunities for choice, from summer professional development opportunities and book studies to providing incentives for teachers to earn badges for completing professional development throughout the year (an idea we picked up from Royse City ISD and Caddo Mills ISD). We also partnered with area school districts to bring in thought leaders like Dave Burgess and Katie Martin to give our teachers the same kind of incredible professional development as larger school districts.

We celebrated teachers during our quarterly recognition for their efforts in providing innovative teaching and learning opportunities and equipped our infrastructure prior to rolling out personalized devices. Our mantra as we went was simple: it’s not about the device; it’s about how our teaching and learning changes as a result.

EXTEND: While we are still in the midst of our journey, it is important to contemplate the planning necessary and tools available to continue the journey moving forward. We are constantly analyzing where we are on the 5 Stages of Saturation (sketched by Sylvia Duckworth). While we believe we’re somewhere between Stages 3 and 4, there are some days when we feel like we’re a 5 (wahoo!) and some where we feel like we’re a 1 or a 2.

We utilized BrightBytes to establish a baseline and begin to gather data from our students, staff, and families to help support and guide our innovative practices. We’ve established Genius Hour programs at several of our grade levels, created STEAM courses at our middle school, and have launched new courses at the secondary level to allow our students to dive deeply into their areas of interest.

We are nowhere near where we need to be, but we are diligently making strides in our journey towards future-ready. These steps (envision, elevate, equip, and extend) have helped us tremendously down that path.

Jill Siler, EdD, is the Superintendent of the Gunter Independent School District in Texas and is the Chair of the Future-Ready Superintendent Leadership Network Design Team through TASA, where innovative leaders from across the state gather to learn, share, and grow together. Jill has a passion for helping raise up other leaders and is a frequent speaker at TASA’s Aspiring Superintendent Academy, First-Time Superintendent Academy, and other leadership conferences. You can follow Jill on Twitter @jillmsiler.

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