Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Start

So...I went to the White House and met the President last week.  I really don’t know a different way to start the post.  That happened.  The leader of the best country in the world, in location that I have visited twice, but always outside a gate. At some point I will reminisce about the speech, the entrance and exit of the President, the fact that I shook his hand twice, sat 10 feet from him as he
addressed the nation, and received texts from our staff as the students in Fall Creek watched from their classroom.  The events of the day were captured brilliantly by David Britton.  At some point the surreal notion of being in that space will fade.  Not today.  Today, the inspiration of being at the White House, discussing what school could look like with the highest ranking officials in the US Department of Education, and meeting with 117 school leaders across the country to make life better for kids in our school system still woke me up with a mission to get better.  The makeup of the room included leaders from schools districts that ranged in size from hundreds to tens of thousands.  The interesting component to me was the issues that we face in a district of 800 were the same as those faced in other districts much larger.  Quality time for Professional Development, financial support, and connectivity were all brought up throughout the day. We all face these and need to help each other for all kids to succeed.  I walked away with a great sense of pride in the relationships we create with kids and a determination to make our spaces better for them to learn.  Here are a few takeaways from the summit:

It’s about Trust
Everything we talked about that day will fail if we don’t develop trust with our staff, students, and community.  Nothing can be done to improve student learning if the people we are hoping to bring along on the journey do not trust where the journey leads.  We have a responsibility to build trust first...above all else, create an environment where trust is the default.  The more initiatives we bring forward, the less people will be willing to jump on board in the process.  I have worked in places where staff members judge the number of years they have until retirement by the number of initiatives they will have to endure.  That is not fair to them, and certainly not fair to kids. Solution: Find two things your staff does really well and enhance their opportunity to grow those. Have them find one thing they want to improve, and let them drive the learning in that area.
It’s about Leadership
The day was filled with exceptional leaders.  To hear their stories and think about how it would translate to the kids in Fall Creek was both exciting and exhausting.  Their teams were doing incredible things in the area of digital learning.  The opportunities that were given to students in their districts were amazing and their ability to cultivate more leaders in their districts was well noted.  The passion and purpose shared throughout the summit was undeniable.  The leaders in the room were confident, yet understood that we were all in this together.  I think seeing the President speak had a lot to do with that outlook.  The conversations about how to make school better were at the forefront of every interaction, and that was absolutely inspiring.

It’s about Teachers, not Tech
I am inspired to work in a place that knows kids are different.  Our teachers make great connections with kids and families.  We got into teaching to change lives.  We teach because we had someone who believed in us long ago and saw value in what we could bring to others.  We need to understand that the feeling we received from someone instilling that confidence in us has to be transferable.  We have a responsibility to make kids feel like there is someone in the building who believes in who they are, but more importantly, who they will become. As a profession, we also have to understand that a number of us got into teaching because we experienced some success in school.  That also makes up a very small percent of the population of kids in school.  If we teach the way we were taught, it will only resonate with a very similar population.  I may not have been the brightest kid, but I could “do school”.  I knew what I needed to get by, and often did just enough.  We don’t want kids to just “do school”.  We want kids to be inspired to do something different, something bold, something that will make life better...and we need to understand that “doing school” will not get them there.

Most importantly, it’s about Students
The theme was clear throughout the day.  Future Ready is about kids.  Schools are about kids and the adults in that setting have a responsibility to ensure that the spaces reflect that notion. At the heart of that responsibility is the willingness to connect the adults and kids so quality instruction can happen and kids see the value in the learning.  If they own it, they will learn.  If they feel a connection, they will learn.  If they know you trust them, they will learn. We owe it to them to provide a better opportunity than the one we had. The connection leads to discussion, the discussion leads to confidence, and the confidence leads to change. Everyone in our building has the ability to change the world.  They all have a passion.  Finding that can be difficult, but it always starts with the connection.

I think we have all been in a room where there are discussions about how to change things and we leave knowing that nothing will.  I honestly could not have been more excited about where this group could go.  The regional meetings set up across the country will be a great opportunity to discuss what Future Ready is and what it is not.  Future Ready is about learning, not about tech.  It is about creating opportunities for kids, not what is convenient for adults.  It is about developing our staff members to ensure they are growing in a digital age, not about teaching the way we were taught as kids.  It is about creating capacity for all of our schools to ensure all kids leave prepared to take on whatever their future holds, not what the past held.  It is about the Future...and together we will be ready. Go Crickets.


  1. Joe, thank you for sharing this incredible experience with such clear and concise takeaways. The view from the outside reflects an enormity and urgency to the task to take an initiative that is so vast, and bring it to students. But, true to form, you've again demonstrated an amazing ability to keep "the main thing", the main thing: trust, leadership, teaching, and students. You do that so well in FC and are able to share that with others, in a way that makes sense. And what's best about that, for sometime like me, is it sets the course for positive change at the local level, where I live and work. Thank you for always maintaining such a unique brand of transparency, and thanks for capturing that in this post.



  2. Congratulations Joe! I can easily tell this experience made a lasting impact on you. I enjoyed seeing the pictures you shared and your post is timely and appropriate. You hit the nail on the head when you talked about "Connections and Trust". My favorite part was - "We have a responsibility to make kids feel like there is someone in the building who believes in who they are, but more importantly, who they will become."

    It's simple, we need to Champion our Students!

    I'm excited about #FutureReady and I will be sharing your post and the video with others. Thanks for being the positive change our profession needs.


  3. Joe,

    Thank you for sharing your awesome experience with us. We could almost feel like we were there with you! You know I agree with all that you said, especially the fact that we need to "do school" differently. Our students deserve that from us and we are the ones that need to make it happen. I am proud to work with you to provide our students and staff the environment to learn, grow and thrive where there are no limits to the opportunities!