Leading with the WHY

Part II

A quick recap of the last three conferences I went to wouldn’t do the training justice. Why another new school? Why a new charter school in a district with some of the highest test scores in the area? Why? Why…WHY!?!

Because learning has changed.

How? How has learning changed? Students still need readin-writin-rithmatic. Students still need to go to school? School districts still get tax payer $ to finance public education. How?

Learning happens. Anytime. Anywhere. Students have an unprecedented opportunity to take part in shaping their own curriculum.

What? What is it? What’s changed? What is different about school now from when I graduated?

About 10 years ago, the Bill Gates Foundation started pouring money into non-profits to start breaking up the large schools into smaller schools. A small school movement began to grow. As evidenced from several outstanding schools in Minnesota MNCS, NWPHS Avalon, HSRA, & Valley New School – which is 7 miles to the East of me right now. Recently, as a part of the backlash against Waiting for Superman Bill Gates has come under harsh critisizm for trying to ‘hijack’ public education. Such education reformers as Diane Ravitch are making it a personal mission to tear apart Bill Gates. You can follow Professor Ravitch on Twitter @DianeRavitch (& I strongly recommend you do, she’s brilliant).  Although several people claim that Gates and his foundation were unsuccessful, I stand before you today and claim the work done ten years ago by the Gates Foundation is just now starting to affect change. Ironically, Gates work is working because his foundation adopted a strategy that Apple has been using for years. My colleague and friend Steve Jones showed me this TEDx Talk yesterday and suddenly things clicked. Why is Apple so successful? Watch the first six minutes of Simon Sinek’s talk from September 2009 (linked above). The way to really get to people is to approach solutions from this perspective:

  1. WHY
  2. HOW
  3. WHAT

As Sinek notes, Apple is brilliant with this model. The Apple why – – we constantly challenge the status quo & constantly innovate. The Apple how – – we challenge the status quo by making great computers. The Apple what – – wanna buy one? Sinek phrases it much more eloquently than I can. Now turning the page back to the Gates Foundation and the small school movement. The why- we believe learning has changed & a fundamental shift in how schooling is done must occur in order to prepare students for the 21st century? How has learning changed- ubiquitous technology provides students with unprecedented opportunities to create, publish, and manage curriculum. What will drive the change- start small schools and allow students to thrive in a personalized learning community.

Haters say the Gates Foundation failed like a Windows7 machine on a Novell network. Haters say Bill Gates misuses his billions to corporatize the once great institution known as public education. I disagree. I can only speak from the micro level. I’ve never worked on edpolicy at the national level. I’m in start-up mode. I’m one of the many people who are founding a charter school. As some of the aforementioned haters have recently said, “Anyone can start a charter school nowadays.” I’m proof of that. A unionized teacher starting a charter school with a school district as the authorizor. Even just five years ago, in my community it never would have happened the way it is happening now. Thank You Bill Gates. Why? How? What? Thank you for giving the people at Minnesota New Country School money to start EdVisions. EdVisions is a non-profit company that helps small schools in start-up. They’re not for everybody. They are for me. They believe in student-centered student-directed Project-Based Learning (PBL). They believe in teacher led schools. Here’s their Design Essentials:

EdVision’s has helped over 100 schools through start-up. EdVisions was started with Gates money. They’ve been going strong for 10 years now. They’re a highly respected organization.  And there is nothing corporate about EdVisions. They’re located in the rural community of Henderson, MN. Henderson resembles Mayberry. I was drawn to EdVisions at a PBL information session. A school board member from a neighboring district was criticizing the approaches taken at a very high performing charter school. The guy basically said, “Where’s the classes.” He was implying that PBL wasn’t working. Aaron Grimm (you can follow him on Twitter @aagrimm), a consultant from EdVisions hit this school board member right between the eyes with data. Cold hard data. Data collected over the past 15+ years. Data collected from a standardized assessment measuring outcomes in constructivist learning environments (yes such a thing exists, it’s called The HOPE Survey, and it’s sold by EdVisions). At the time of the PBL information session I knew very little about PBL and nothing about assessing PBL schools. I was drawn to EdVisions because they put the why before the what. For an entire year I spoke with Aaron Grimm. He consulted with me through the grant writing process for a fee of $0. I’m not naive. EdVisions needs me. Their mission: To start and sustain great small schools. I am a clog that runs their operation. I am in start-up. But 5 years ago I couldn’t have done this in my district because I didn’t know about EdVisions. Today, the EdVisions brand allows me to start up a new school. Valley New School in Appleton is an EdVisions school. They hosted the PBL information session in October 2009. They connected me with EdVisions.

Here’s how charter schools get it wrong…I was talking with my brother-in-law over Thanksgiving. He’s a Kohl Fellowship Award winner. The guy is a master teacher, department lead, and committed union member. We don’t agree on everything. But we do agree on a lot of things. My brother hit it right on the head when he said, “The problem I have with the Montessori teacher in our district is that she believes everyone has to go to a Montessori school and that’s just not true.” Charter school folks fail when they lead into solutions with the what rather than the why. If the why for an alternative learning environment is rooted in the premise that a one size fits all educational system is antiquated, a one size fits all answer it not sufficient. Charter schools get it wrong when they claim to be the what instead of the why.

Even charter haters lead with the what- Diane Ravitch writes:
There is a clash of ideas occurring in education right now between those who believe that public education is not only a fundamental right but a vital public service, akin to the public provision of police, fire protection, parks, and public libraries, and those who believe that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. Waiting for “Superman” is a powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the “free market” and privatization. It raises important questions, but all of the answers it offers require a transfer of public funds to the private sector. The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success.

Ravitch is brilliant, and who the hell am I to be critical, but…her explanation is extremely polarizing and oversimplified. Look at how she begins her statement, “clash”, she’s framing a fight and insisting that one side sees public education run by local municipalities and the other side sees public education run by corporations. She’s leading with the what, Ravitch rarely addresses the why, even in her  300 page novels (I’m reading this now), she delves deep into the every what. I agree with her statement about education being a fundamental right and one the public sector must oversee. But one public sector shouldn’t have a monopoly over the entire system. Why can’t a non-profit corporation run a school? What’s wrong with having a board of directors oversee the operation of the non-profit running a school? Those are knee jerk ‘what’ questions that I immediately get when I read too much Ravitch (and I do like to read what she writes, even if I disagree with her). If we only focus on the what, we leave out the fundamental why. Remember back to the beginning of this post, learning has changed, and a one size fits all educational model is no longer sufficient to educate our children. For some reason, that mantra has carried me up to this point in start-up. It wasn’t until yesterday that I was able to make sense of this, I thoughi I’d just been lucky. The one area where I was extremely lucky was to frame the discussion around the why and not the what. I had educational leaders, colleagues, thought partners, and a critical spouse (critical in a good-reflective way). These people would wake me up when I got too far into the whats and didn’t lead with the why. At the end of the day, we’re making a new school to serve intrinsically motivated students who are passionate about learning and crave meaningful relationships (Why). We are doing this through implementing student directed Project-Based Learning & Service-Learning in a teacher led school (How). Wanna come to our school? (What)

Part 2 of Part II got sidetracked. I’ll try to get the Green Schools, DevLearn, and Harvard Institute post up while I’m on the plane tomorrow. Life is good!

About Michael

Do Work!
This entry was posted in Charter School, Kornerstone, Start-up, Teaching, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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