Archive for category Leadership

Are We Learning From Evaluations? – Leadership 360 – Education Week

In a recent article from Jill Berkowicz and Ann Meyers,

Are We Learning From Evaluations? – Leadership 360 – Education Week.

they make a case for fallacies that stand behind new evaluation systems that use scoring mechanisms for reporting “what isn’t being done well enough.”

I applaud them for their insight into this nutty problem of evaluation that has haunted us for decades.  I grew up in administration in Washington State where new evaluation systems continue to be debated while an instrument first crafted in the 1970′s is in continued use.  Changing educational practice is never easy!

But, Jill and Ann make the case that we should treat teacher evaluation on the same standard as student feedback, which is cornerstone to our current understanding of achievement and motivation.  Hattie (2008) has generally confirmed this precept.  As I read their treatise, I must admit that I experienced some tension over devaluing a professional appraisal process to the equivalent of providing effective feedback to a 6th grade writer.  Don’t misunderstand, I agree that giving a 6th grader a single grade on a written paper is unlikely to motivate them and does little in helping them learn how to become better writers.  I believe that the authors are making this argument quite effectively.

But, the evaluation system of teacher serves two purposes.  At it’s core, it does serve the purpose of informing improved practice.  The author’s quote here is quite profound:

In 1975 a Handbook for Faculty Development was published for the Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges.  In it they list 13 characteristics that certainly apply.  Feedback needs to be descriptive rather than evaluative. Sound familiar?  In the new teacher and principal evaluation systems, the requirement to provide ‘evidence’ is exactly that.  No interpretation, no value judgment, simply what was seen. Included in the 13 is also that feedback be specific, can be responded to, is well timed, is the right amount (too much can’t be addressed at once), includes information sharing rather than telling, is solicited (or welcomed as helpful) and plays a role in the development of trust, honesty, and a genuine concern.

I do find that our use of a framework of standards (Danielson, 2011) allows us to gather evidence and then align it to a set of descriptors that turns the evidence into feedback.  This feedback includes a score — and rightfully so!  Rubrics were written with the expressed purpose of quantifying the feedback and setting targets for performance in the form of exemplars associated with higher rubric scores.

This is where the authors fall short.  They forget that, without goals, exemplars, and appropriate targets, they are missing the true goal of effective feedback, to accomplish greater achievement – whether for students or as a professional.  To that end, we have to consider how the evidence we collect is utilized to provide for accountability.  Evaluators have to be able, through the noted relationships that must be in place, to have both facilitative and instructional conversations that drive improved practice and the development of expertise.  Somebody in that conversation has to make a value judgement for that process to be something more than just spinning wheels on the slippery slope of mediocrity.

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Great Start to a New Year!!

2013-2014 Opening Ceremony from AAS Moscow on Vimeo.

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ECIS Conference Presentation 2013

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Technology Integration in Schools

At a session at International School of Prague as part of the Spring CEESA Conference.  Discussion about the integration of technology and pushing the boundaries of our thinking on the topic.  The SAMR model helps us to see the context of integration and the transformational aspects that we are all seeking:




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TEDxAAS – My first one…

The students in charge of this did a fabulous job!!

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Chris Waddell Visits AAS

AAS Guest: Chris Waddell from AAS Moscow on Vimeo.

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ECIS Panel Discussion – April, 2012

Initial thoughts:


The initial question posited to the conference panel that I’ve been asked to address:

Information Technology in school – Does it improve  learning?

Gathered some resources to begin to address this question and related topics:

The key issue associated with answering the question revolves first around how you define improving learning.  The learning targets that are currently accepted often revolve around norm referenced test scores because of our reliance on these measures to show growth or performance against a larger data set.  There is some validity to this because of the large data set available after decades of using these measures and the large body of experience with these measures.

However, these kinds of measures are ill prepared to measure 21st century skills.  They effectively measure math, reading, writing, and core knowledge competency, but they do little to measure attitudes, intellectual processing skills, and skills revolving around independence, collaboration, and innovation.  We have scores of examples of students who are truly gifted as leaders and complex thinkers that routinely scored below average on the accepted measures.

So, if you are asking me whether information technology improves learning, I would have to answer “No”.

There is no clear empirical evidence that information technology as an independent variable has a correlation to improved student learning as a dependent variable in the traditional, measured definition of the term.

I would suggest that addressing this question from a quantitative point of view is faulty at the outset.  This is the same logic that has led to American ignorance of the impact of poverty on education and learning.  We’ve spent more than a decade comparing our results to international measures only to ignore how poverty has impacted our bottom line.  A recent AASA blog entry highlights the fallacy of the standards movement to address educational reform while ignoring this poverty gap between the countries (e.g. Finland with 4% in poverty vs. U.S. at 21%).  Quantitative measures are insufficient in addressing complex issues.

Logic confirms that If we want to address what technology enables, we need different goals for education.  In the truest tradition of backward design, it begins with this question:

What world are we preparing kids to live in?

Addressing that question and looking at essential skills for a 21st century world is where we truly should be focused.  In regards to this question, the next logical qualified questions is:

Does the use of information technology in schools prepare kids for a technology rich world we can scarcely describe in the current moment?

Then the answer would be a resounding and passionate — YES!!  Now let’s design and build measures for addressing skills that emerge from this backward design and use measures that are meant to really test whether students are developing 21st century skills.  Let’s get beyond the issue of technology as an entity and look at how we create technology rich environments that eminently prepare students for the world of their future.


Hattie research:

and one recently reported danger from CNET:


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Christmas Letter 2011

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Hard to find words to describe this…  Wonderful!!!

What a great capture of what goes on at AAS every day.


Becoming a Lighthouse…


The Future…

I know this is just a gadget on one hand, but for those with a science fiction come reality sort of mind, what are the implications of this?  Are we preparing kids for a world with stuff like this?  I mean really – Do the classrooms of today bear any resemblance to the technology they will live with after graduation?  Really???!?!?!?

This changes everything…

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Common Sense Thinking

These guys get it…

Look especially at 25:40 for the key question on individualizing… Powerful – listen for the shoe story.


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Candidates popping up in Russia – similar to U.S.

An article in the New York Times this week named the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets as a potential candidate for Russian president, but his actual run is far from formal announcement until his party tests their merit in upcoming parliamentary elections in December.  It’s interesting that this Billionaire Bachelor is a potential candidate in Russia while he would be unlikely for consideration in the current conservative atmosphere.  His tendency to frequent the clubs with Russian models is well known and he does little to hide this reputation.  Seems interesting that his party of record is name “Right Cause” and is clearly opposed to Putin’s party, United Russia.  He seeks a multi-party system where none currently exists and this may be a tough challenge.

So the question emerges — Can leadership that seems out of touch with the moderation of character and values survive in this kind of environment? In this environment of a young and developing democracy, is any leadership better than no leadership?

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Michael McFaul possibly named new U. S. Ambassador to Russia

It was recently announced with little fanfare that Michael McFaul will take the post as new Ambassador to Russia from the United States, pending Senate confirmation.  Nice to know that a highly qualified and thoughtful individual will be entering the Russian environment on my heels and I look forward to greeting his family at the Anglo-American School.

I’ve been reading a bit of his most recent book (Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can) and looking to potentially incorporate some of his leadership thoughts in my own dissertation work.  He has presented a well thought out case for instituting change in a complex global context.

Recent pundits have suggested that foreign policy centered on elections is shortsighted by ignoring the other institutions necessary to give sustainability to those election results.  Namely, a sufficiently mature legal system and a methodology for assuring basic rights and establishments that resist be undermined by leaders who are ultimately elected.  Ground rules or rules of engagement are critical to the success of democracy and is ultimately based on the premise of shared leadership.

In that sense, Dr. McFaul stands poised to answer some of the tough questions about how we increase both individual freedoms and responsible governing beyond U. S. borders.  In that sense I value what he brings to the table that is distinctly different from the more typical career diplomat that is often appointed.

President Obama has made a good choice here and, again, has demonstrated a deep understanding of the complex relationships that must be addressed in foreign policy.  The criticisms that come with more simplistic attitudes serve only to undermine U.S. credibility and push back peaceful coexistence with each unrelenting barrage.  Time to leave our president alone and let his intelligence and leadership drive the agenda like no other president in recent memory has been able to do.

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The Poetry of Change

Shift & Solitude

When seeking change,
The mind softens
And in solitude our thoughts pause.

Static becomes pliable;
We shape a perception,
And a new mold emerges from objectivity and innovation.

Embracing a new reality
Involves passionate argument,
Often with ourselves in equal measure to those around us.

We battle for our new beliefs.
But, we only win the war
When we live what we conceive.

– Jon P. Zurfluh

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The Middle Grades: Zits, Braces, and Hormones

This piece from ASCD “The Whole Child” feed is worth a read:

The Whole Child Podcast « Whole Child Education.

The thing that impresses me the most is the attention to a key belief that I also hold.  They accurately reflect on the complexity of the education experience and how this is especially true for the middle grades where “young people are grappling to figure out who they are.”

Altogether an inspired look at a wholistic and viable approach.

Here’s the policy brief that supports this work:

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Another look at the future…

I remember a similar video from Microsoft that takes a look at the future – not too distant – to conjecture on the state of the world associated with products already in the pipeline.  I like to think of it as the nexus between StarTrek and reality.  We’ve seen many crossover and successful products emerge this way. On the backs of Roddenberry style imagination, the future is crafted.  Science fiction brought us cell phones and iPads.  This video suggests what is next in interactive environments.

So the question that emerges is what do we do about preparing students for a future like this? If they only used today’s computers, will they be ready to demonstrate proficiency in a world of this level of interactive demand?

Leadership requires that we move education closer to the leading edge of this kind of development. I have to prepare students for this in school, so that they can go on to dream the next level of accomplishment. The people that are crafting these new ideas were enabled at some point in their education to see beyond the limitations. Can we create another generation of unimagined innovation?

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Leadership and Learning

Jay McTighe, one of the gurus behind Understanding by Design, has posted this video on his recent encounter with failure.  It speaks to the issue of leaders who are often marked by age that is associated with their experience. Even Jay is showing his age despite the fact that he is only 7 years my senior. (This fact caused me to go peak in my mirror.  Yikes!)

At the AAIE conference, this was apparent as I looked across a “wise” crowd of international school leaders.  The focus of the weekend was technology and the overall content of the conference fell short of accessing the robust technology available today.  That doesn’t mean it was a bad conference – just bereft of the tools we were discussing.  I would suggest that it drove home the point of the separation between digital natives, digital immigrants, and digital dinosaurs.  While Jay is talking mostly about learning (and learners), I’m suggesting that his insights also provide a unique focus on leaders who are desperate to remain open to innovation, but are challenged by their own fear of failure when addressing a complex and constantly changing context.

Marc Prensky helped us to understand through his keynote that our issue is about the difference between nouns and verbs.  We need to be less focused on the nouns which constitute the latest fads of technology tools (e.g. – Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.) and focus instead on the skills (verbs) of the 21st century.  While we need to embrace the nouns as they emerge and are adopted, the process skills of problem solving, collaboration, and communication remain static and highly adaptive to the new context.  A powerful connection when considering Jay’s insight into how we address our fear of failure.  As Jay notes:

  • Don’t give in to negative self-talk
  • Don’t let an initial failure keep you from trying again
  • Be strategic – practice, details, visualize success

Surfing at 60 is possible for even our most experienced leaders.  And I’m not talking about the ocean kind of surfing.

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Egypt and Leadership

Wael Ghonim has demonstrated something extremely special through his emergence as a face of leadership within the movement currently underway in Egypt.  While the regular news pundits are trying to explain and simplify what they hear in the words of this man, the inescapable truth of this man is not his simplicity, but his complexity.

While watching his interview on CNN, I couldn’t help but feel tears welling up in my eyes as I felt the passion in his words:

Do you see what I see?

  • Inspiration – the ability to share a vision of something that resonates with the Egyptian people – in fact the basic truth of mutual respect and the ethical base of the well-being of the common man.
  • Individual Consideration – a commitment to the well being of others and the utter disgust at the lives lost in the process.  He seeks what we all seek – to live a life fulfilled.  He is representing the belief that all have the inalienable right to pursuit of happiness.  The rights of self-determination and freedom are reinforced again and again.  I can’t help but believe that Thomas Jefferson would be proud and moved by the merits of this revolution.
  • Intellectual stimulation – this is a group of well educated individuals.  It validates the power of education and the degree to which educated people are empowered by their knowledge.  These revolutionary leaders are teachers.  They are teaching the people of Egypt what it means to be proud of their country and engaged in the process of transformation.
  • Idealized Influence – Wael notes that he is prepared to die for this cause.  He offers the ultimate in search of the realization of a dream, not for himself, but for his country.  He accurately describes himself as a patriot.

Like a true Level 5 leader, he reflects attention to the collaborative efforts of his followers.  Inspired by their energy and attention, he directs everyone to those around him who are serving the aims of the people every day in Tahir Square and throughout the country.

It’s interesting that the political pundits caution us with claims that democracy “can’t happen that fast.”  Like those who failed to predict the events of recent weeks, it is shortsighted to think that democracy can’t emerge quickly in a very different plugged-in world.  I think we may be seeing the emergence of a new democracy – one that accepts the realities of the digital age and utilizes technology to accomplish in a fortnight what once took decades to establish.  I believe that we will see democracy take root in Egypt far faster than any can comprehend.  The impassioned and empowered youth of Egypt will allow nothing less.

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Leadership – a reminder…

A pertinent and not often quoted piece from James McGregor Burns (1978):

Can leadership be taught?

…We have conceived of leadership in these pages as the tapping of existing and potential motive and power bases of followers by leaders, for the purpose of achieving intended change.  We conceive of education in essentially the same terms.  So viewed, education is not merely the shaping of values, the imparting of “facts” or the teaching of skills, indispensable though these are; it is the total teaching and learning process operating in homes, schools, gangs, temples, churches, garages, streets, armies, corporations, bars, and unions, conducted by both teachers and learners, engaging with the total environment and involving influence over persons’ selves and their opportunities and destinies, not simply their minds.

Persons are taught by shared experiences and interacting motivations within identifiable physical, psychological, and socio-political environments.  Ultimately, education and leadership shade into each other to become almost inseparable, but only when both are defined as the reciprocal raising of levels of motivation rather than indoctrination or coercion.

The emergence of increased attention to student diversity in the current age reconnects us to the complex development of leadership that Burn’s describes.  Education under these terms is consistent with the pleas of Stiggins, Kohn, and Pink when we look at understanding what truly motivates and how our institutionalized approaches undermine our desired state.  Burns, like the others, has called behaviorist theory into question yet again, when considering the more complex functions of how we interact in complex relationships.

Do we need basic skills?  Yes, of course.

Must we eliminate the nuances of relationship and intrinsic motivation by adhering to aging pedagogy? I hope not.

For me, individual excellence is enhanced by understanding the complexity of relationships and by reducing the degree to which we standardize our approaches.  Is there anyone in the world that really wants just a “standard” education?  Wouldn’t we all really like an “excellent” education?


Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row. 

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