From the Board room to the community, and into the classroom Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable, gives practical examples of how to leverage student voice in our schools and districts. It is alive with insights and ideas that school leaders can easily implement to engage students in the operations of their schools and districts. If you are interested in student voice, this is a must-read. — Chris Gaines, EdD, AASA past president; superintendent, Mehlville School District – Review written in support ofStudent Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable(2018 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)
At North Shore School District 112, students are lead members of the Modern Learning Committee. To this end, they are active partners and decision-makers in the aspirational vision, Portrait of a Graduate, and innovative practices in the District. Director of Technology Mr. Jeremy Wickham and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Lubelfeld made a “virtual” presentation that includes video clips of students, teachers, principals, and highlights the journey of the Modern Learning Committee and the Portrait of a Graduate in D112. Learn more: https://www.nssd112.org/domain/1230
This presentation was part of a month-long national conference from TCEA & IDEACon, learn more about the conference here: https://youtu.be/OEYreJyiwo8
To listen to their presentation, please click on the Podcast Player below:
“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Schools in North Shore School District 112 are poised to welcome students and staff in less than one month. The first day for staff members is August 31 and the first day for students is September 3. This is not a normal back to school situation. Folks are not excited like they usually are. Folks are not eagerly awaiting the happy return to “normal”. Thanks to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, there is no return to normal, and while we make every effort to be upbeat and optimistic, we’re not really “happy” right now.
In March 2020 our world changed in public schooling. The places where we facilitate learning, brick and mortar school buildings, were shut. Closed to students and staff, closed to learning and socializing. Closed to one of the foundational and fundamental cores of American culture. In-person learning and teaching is what we were all trained for. In-person schooling is all we have known since the one-room schoolhouses of the pioneer days. We know school … we know “normal”. We know our routines. Actually, we knew our routines. Nothing is like it used to be.
Just like that in March 2020, we stopped going to school. We stopped holding classes, clubs, sports, plays, musicals. It all just stopped. From March to June we just sort of hobbled through the crisis with society shutting around us. With jobs vaporizing. With socializing coming to an end – we just sort of “locked down”. Just like that – all that we knew came to a crashing halt. An end with little clear explanation. An end with little understanding. An end with little normalcy.
The school year ended in June. Then summer came and we as Americans are usually an optimistic lot … we looked for fun … but the 4th of July was pretty much canceled. Camps were scaled back. Recreation was frowned upon. Summer school was remote. Uh, what happened to our world? What happened to our society? Summer was not really summer … again, where was the happy recreation that we knew so well? It was gone too – just like normal schooling.
The fall back to school is always a fun, exciting, invigorating, and economy-boosting time … but not this year. This year it’s anxiety-provoking, uncertain, defeating, scary, and anything but normal. Not that we want to be normal or return to normal anyway … but what is happening? We close the schools in March – we’re opening again in September – right? Well, sort of. Not exactly, you see, the virus is still here. National leadership is absent, state by state leadership is mixed, we’re pretty much like we were as a people like we were during the Articles of Confederation. A fledgling nation with a rudderless ship and no real agreements at all. What happened?! We the people … in order to form a more perfect union — wait, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good …
I’m not even writing about the revolutionary call for an end to racism and a call to arms for anti-racism. The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minnesota roused to anger, despair, and energy of our nation and the world against injustice. This was all going on with the pandemic in the background.
I’m not writing about the complete and total failure of national leadership on putting forth a coherent plan or strategy to combat COVID-19/Coronavirus. I’m not writing about the begging that leaders like I have to engage in so state and local health officials will release/share/explain science and metrics. Public school leaders making community-based decisions about public health should expect – no should demand – no should be entitled to – guidance, coherence, and leadership from public health leaders – right?
At least we have local control in Illinois. School districts are governed by seven community members — UNPAID volunteers — who oversee the public trust, public funds, and professional staff in facilitating learning and teaching. In our local district, we have an excellent board.
In this post, I’m writing about an excellent planning process leading to a good plan for the restart of schools in my local school district, North Shore School District 112. The consulting group with who we engaged started our meetings with them using the quote that serves as the title of this post: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. We are taking the reality of a dangerous and uncertain virus and public health response to it and we’re weighing the needs, rights, and contractual obligations we have to do our jobs in these uncertain times.
Even though we had more than 50 teachers, administrators, educational support staff, union leaders, parents, board members, students, & more engaged in planning, dialogue, discussion and review, we do not have a perfect plan. We have a very good plan. We do not have perfect answers. We do, though, have answers. We do not eliminate risk, but we do a heck of job in mitigating and reducing risk. Our board remains committed to the safety, health, and general welfare of its employees and its students and its community.
As a superintendent of schools, I cannot cure coronavirus – I cannot declare safety and all clear in this pandemic. I cannot fix the void in national and coherent strategies in global pandemic mitigation. I can, though, instill pride and care in the community I serve to the Board I serve and for the students and staff, I serve. In my slice of the world, with around 4500 people in my direct sphere, I can lead, plan, collaborate and implement a good set of plans that mitigate risks and bring some sense of enhanced normalcy to kids, their families, and our staff. Our plan is very good, it’s not perfect.
For the good of our calling as educators, we have students who only get one chance to be in X grade. In our system, it’s PK-8th grade. We must facilitate learning for them. It’s not ideal to be in the middle of a global pandemic. There is no easy choice to potentially put anyone in harm’s way. We have a moral obligation to teach and learn. We have contractual obligations to teach, work, and serve the community that supports us.
We can do this! We’re not perfect. We are very good. But we’re the public school. We have fire drills so we do not die in fire or smoke. We have severe storm drills so we do not die in tornados or severe storms. We have ALICE training so we do not die if a bad guy comes in to cause us harm. We mitigate risk through investments in safety and training. We practice drills so we can survive and thrive. We do not let fear close us down. We do not let a pursuit of perfect shut us down. We persevere. We lead. We serve. We honor our commitments.
We are a public school. We feed the hungry. We call the department of child and family services when we suspect abuse or neglect. We teach everyone. We serve the public. We deal with whatever comes our way. We love our students and we help them become resilient and strong leaders of tomorrow. We protect one another from the challenges of serving the public.
We are a public school. We are planning the reopening of schools in this most uncertain time with our chins up in this evil pandemic. We are outfitting our teachers and staff in masks and face shields. We are requiring face coverings for all students – no ifs, and, or buts. We are hiring specialists in cleaning and sanitizing. We are reducing the density of people to 50% or less at any one time; we are setting up 6ft social/physical distancing. We are investing in indoor air quality enhancements. We are doing anything and everything we can do to mitigate risk, reduce risk, and keep our staff and students safe. We may be afraid of the virus, but our calling is higher than fear. We may wish for a perfect plan, but we will not let perfect be the enemy of good.
We are the public school. We may have anxiety and concern and worry. We may hope that the public adheres to risk mitigation and tells the truth with the self-certification of their children. We may even be scared. We are essential, critical care workers. We shape the future. We teach children. We serve the public. We demand that everyone takes this virus and the need for risk mitigation seriously. Wear a mask. Maintain physical distance. Wash your hands. Protect us!
I’m proud of our Board of Education, our return to school planning teams with union leaders, teachers, staff members, parents, board members; input from students and local partners. We forged collaborative and inclusive planning where perfect has not been nor will it become the enemy of good.
We are the public school. We work, we serve, we educate. We are called to action and even in the darkest of times, we open the doors, we turn on the lights and we provide safety and consistency for the children we are employed and honored to serve.
We are about to start schooling in the most uncertain of times. I’m grateful to our courageous staff of more than 500, our student population of nearly 4000, and our communities who entrust us to fulfill our mission and vision. It’s not easy — nothing worthwhile ever is.
“Always hold yourself to just one standard: to be the very best version of who you are.” – George Raveling
Little in my career has been more complicated, more complex, and more controversial than the reopening planning for school this fall. On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we closed the doors to our brick and mortar schools and we have not yet reopened these doors.
Right now, we are building schedule/staffing & infrastructure for hybrid (in person or virtual choice). As you are all well aware, we are prepared to open in person on September 3rd, and we will pivot to full remote learning if needed based on the health and science metrics. Parents made an election of hybrid in-person or hybrid virtual for the first grading period (9/3-11/20 elementary and 9/3-11/6 middle school).
Please see the video message for additional explanation: (subtitles Spanish/English are in process)
Video Message to Community related to the reopening of schools
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.” -Lao Tzu
Joining educational leaders from across the United States, China, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, Costa Rica, Finland, Singapore, & Canada, I represented North Shore School District 112 at the Fifth Annual Conference of Global K-12 Education Research Association in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China.
( Their website will be updated with information from this conference within a few weeks).
Through my leadership roles within the education community, including training aspiring superintendents, teaching at the graduate education level, presenting at conferences, and authoring books & journal articles, I am informed about conferences & symposia on global education issues.
Together with superintendents and educational leaders from the nations mentioned above, and leaders from the following states in the USA: IL, MA, IA, CT, VA, AZ, OH, MD, VA, & WI, I was invited to present a speech to an audience of local (Chinese) educators, administrators, & local civic officials. Many of us presented speeches and shared presentations with one another and our Chinese hosts and local educators.
This year’s conference topic was Cultivating Student Leadership Skills. This topic is near and dear to me as I recently co-wrote the book Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (2018 Rowman & Littlefield) with fellow Illinois superintendents Nick Polyak and PJ Caposey.
Coincidentally, and unrelated to this conference, our
book is being translated into Chinese through a partnership between our publisher and Hohai University Press in China. The Chinese version will be released within the year.
In addition to the honor of speaking before my peers and international colleagues, I had the additional benefit to learn and grow as a leader and as a person through the depth of knowledge of the other speakers, the cultural learning opportunities, including a visit with a family whose
children attend the school we were visiting. This was my second trip to China on an international educational experience. My first trip was with the College Board, and it focused on forming partnerships to establish a Chinese language program in the school District (this is still on my vision/plan for our District as we expand our global learning opportunities).
For this trip, the primary goal was to gain more leadership and practice insights into cultivating student leadership skills to bring back and apply in the school District where I serve as the superintendent. One of the presenters from whom I learned is a professor at Harvard University’s school of Education, Dr. Randolph-Michael Testa. And another distinguished speaker was 91 years old Chinese educator Dr. Gu Mingyuan. In addition, as this was the 25th anniversary of the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language Educational Group (SFLEG), our host institution, we learned from their principal and others from the school. One of the delegates is a professor and administrator at Drake University in Iowa as well.
The overarching theme was Cultivating Student Leadership Skills and many of the presentations discussed research, practice, and programming PK-12-university-post baccalaureate with respect to that cultivation (the student is a child of ages 3-18 and an adult ages 19-??).
Throughout many of us identified what leadership is to us. for example, the professor from Harvard University stated that leadership is “helping other people to be better as they serve others”. Overall messaging was related to we leaders brining in joy to our communities through service and capacity building. Through moving from “why” to “how” we are able, in our own unique ways, to make the world a far better place for us all.
One of the greatest reinforcing “takeaways” for me is the synergy between the school (District) and the local governments, the civic groups (eg Rotary), the local businesses (eg Chamber of Commerce), students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents, grandparents, and the overall entirety of the community.
My view is community capitalism (of course where I was visiting has a slightly different view of community) — nonetheless, regardless of political ideology or economic system orientation or preference, this professional learning experience reinforced for me the need for global communication, partnership, study, relationship building, and dialogue.
Through travel, relationship building, open mindedness to new people and ideas, we leaders can help our local communities see and hear views
via other lenses and viewpoints. We highly value diversity of thought, opinion, and experience; through opportunities like attending and presenting at this conference, I can “walk the walk” with other leaders by doing the learning in support of my leading!
As a point of reference, scale in China is HUGE from my mid-American perspective. Overall, it is the most populous nation on earth, it is one of the oldest cultures on earth, and it’s cities are among the world’s largest.
The scale of the airport (in Beijing), the high-speed train stations in Beijing and in Shijiazhuang were massive. The traffic and the orderly flow of life with so many people is mind-boggling and quite impressive. The scale of the school campus, itself, was massive. The campus hosts about 10,000 students in grades PK-12. There are buildings that resemble college campus buildings and museums. I’m sharing some images to attempt to show and explain the scale about which I am writing:
There are activities for kindergarten-12th grade students that are also awe-inspiring. These include woodworking and culinary arts for K-12 students, art galleries of student work that rival museum and art gallery displays and the sheer size of the logistics and operations. Students are in school for many hours compared to our standards, for example, the children in high school are at school from around 7am to 9pm daily – then they study until about 1 or 2 in the morning … 5-6 days per week. Again – the “scale” is simply very large and quite different from our system.
So, “at the end of the day” so to speak, what does this all mean?
Well there are many meanings – first, and foremost, we educational leaders are lifelong learners and we demonstrate that by attending and participating in conferences and symposia like this one to learn and apply that learning to our local settings.
There are universal desires in terms of maximizing student success and learning at the K-12 level from leaders in the east, west, and in between.
We can only get better by learning and sharing perspectives with people from all parts of our globe.
When a mission statement calls for global competencies, it’s incumbent on the leader to actually go out into the globe …and learn so that the competencies may be developed and refined.
In our school District, we’re on the path toward greatness with our motto of Inspire, Innovate, Engage!
In our School District, this year’s “Big 3” focus areas are aligned with international best practices and implementation areas.
Finally, it takes a village (of the right people) to raise and support a child — every child is a winner and every child deserves equitable access to excellent educational opportunities.
Through leadership opportunities and experiences like those in which I have just participated at the K-12 GERA, our District, its schools, the students we serve and the teachers and support staff we support will become even better and stronger and more impactful than if we limit our views and experiences through narrow lenses of local existence and paradigms.
I’m grateful to the Board of Education for supporting broad-based educational experiences for our students and its leaders and educators. I’m grateful to the professional leadership organizations for unending support and creative growth opportunities. I’m grateful for outstanding superintendents, professors, headmasters, principals, and others for supporting my leadership and stretching my points of views and skill sets.
Stay informed about our District via our website, Twitter hashtag #112Leads, Podcast, Lighthouse 112, Facebook Pages, and news & information!
Listen to a Podcast episode containing the audio transcript of the speech I presented:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
– Nelson Mandela
Listen to a recent episode of my podcast featuring question and answers from Tennessee high school students in Wilson County, just outside of Nashville — they are part of a multi-year pilot of Bio Tech programming. Their insights are outstanding; they highlight the impact of their teacher (and all teachers in general) and they offer ideas and insights for promoting and enhancing science and innovative learning!
One of the professional groups to which I belong and have a leadership role is the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The AASA offers leadership support to superintendents and school district leaders around the USA and in Canada. One of the leadership development cohorts in which I have participated and for which I serve as the national co-director is the Digital Consortium. The July 2019 visit was to the Nashville, TN area of Wilson County. There we toured a brand new middle school (state of the art), we met with the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, and we interacted with teachers and students. In this podcast, we’re meeting with high school seniors and we’re discussing their Bio-Tech coursework and pathways and the impact that this innovative programming has had on them and their futures.
The purpose of the AASA Digital Consortium is to support school district administrators as they scale successful models in support of engaging, effective learning experiences using digital media in order to be the leading national voice for digital innovation in our nation’s public schools.
Experience innovation in schools, technology, and industry partnerships Engage/observe best practice in digital leadership Reinforce purpose and outcomes for the Digital Consortium Advance AASA’s goal to reinforce equity for all students
How do your programs prepare students to be successful in their local and/or global economy? How can technology pair with the concept of personalized learning to change teaching and learning in our schools? How can opportunities to innovate for both children and adults strengthen the local economy?
“Success is not a result of what we do occasionally. Success is a result of the little things we do EVERY SINGLE DAY. Habits are a choice!”
– Alan Stein
This blog post is a reflection post as well as a foreshadowing of my personal professional focus for the coming year. Many of these notes have been jotted down over a period of time and I’m putting them all together while in the air on the way home from San Juan, Puerto Rico where my son accompanied me on a service trip organized by a fellow superintendent Jim McKay. Jim organized a similar trip last year, and based upon momentum and growth, he’ll be organizing more trips in the future. The service is powerful – the lasting legacy of service and respect for fellow educators and fellow students makes a deep mark in my heart and mind. The fact that I had the opportunity to share this with my son makes this year’s journey that much more powerful. In addition to service, my son and I had the good fortune to explore one of the United States’ oldest and longest lasting territories and people. The history of Puerto Rico is inexorably linked to the history of the United States.
So July 1st marks my 10th year as a public school superintendent, my 27th year as a public school educator, and my 2nd year at the helm in North Shore School District 112. As mentioned, I’ve recently returned from a service trip to a high school outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico with Relief Through Leadership; this was a follow-up to service that started last year in an elementary school outside of San Juan. I often write about “my why” or that which keeps me called to service, leadership, and community. In this blog post, I’ll share some reflections as well as some foreshadowing for the year ahead in my personal, professional, and District leadership roles! My “why” is to facilitate opportunities for leaders to support student voice and engagement.
Mission and service work is not only altruistic and ‘feel good ‘ work, it’s a humbling way to physically give and do for others so that I can show respect and goodwill through actions beyond words. That I can share this passion for service with my son is beyond humbling and honoring as well.
To watch my son sweep, scrape, clean, paint, help, serve, respect, and give simply for the purpose of giving and serving, not for any extrinsic reward, makes me beyond proud as a father and as an educator. Sharing this part of my world with him and further allowing me to explore my inner workings and my “why” and my purpose make me a better father and leader (I hope).
My personal educational philosophy statement is and has been:
Our society is complex enough to present many challenges to people as they pass from childhood to adulthood. It is my firm belief that a strong foundation in educational preparation will support a person’s quest for success and prosperity. My philosophical foundation holds that young people are our windows to the future; working with them has given me a unique vantage point to assess their goals, needs and abilities. I have been, and I remain committed to preparing our young citizens, and those who teach and support them, for their futures – and ours.
This year, like so many of my School Year New Years, will be focused on enhancing student learning and education in general. Since the mid 1990s when I first started teaching middle school social studies at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville (IL) Elementary School District #2, the foundation for my view of learning and teaching has been centered around student input, voice, choice, and engagement. In another blog post I have written about my why, what a superintendent actually does, and multiple metrics and measures for success. I firmly believe public schools owe a report on ROI (return on investment) to the public. I also firmly believe that taxes and other public monies that support public schools should be looked at as investments and not as costs.
Back to my “why” … in 1997 the Illinois Council for Social Studies published an article about an instructional model/unit planning guide I wrote for 8th grade U.S. history. In it, I shared the overall student outcomes (listed below):
The main outcomes include the following:
Actively engage the students in history.
Allow the students to work on teams and be accountable both individually and collectively.
Teach the students to view social studies critically and maturely (as more than just names and dates).
Permit the students to express themselves and communicate, according to their unique gifts and talents, up to their capabilities.
Apply higher order thinking skills.
Use research skills in a meaningful context.
Leave the unit with intrinsic motivation for the students to continue their inquire into their past.
This U.S. History workshop and those student outcomes (applied to various situations) would find its and their way into my career and various leadership posts over and over again, not just for the purposes for which it was designed (teaching students U.S. history) but for leading other educators and systems of educators to focus on outcomes for students (with students) at every juncture in their education.
In 2018, with fellow authors and superintendents Nick Polyak & PJ Capsey, we wrote Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (2018 Roman & Littlefield) and this year that book will be published in Mandarin Chinese and sold throughout the Chinese speaking world thanks to a partnership between Rodman & Littlefield and Hohai University in Nanjing. My commitment to student voice is deeply embedded into my why as a leader.
The point here, though, is not to reminisce so much as to forecast and telegraph this year’s focus and energy. Student engagement. My leadership focus on student engagement is not a fad (that’s the main point I aim to share with the detailed background and description of 1990s-2018 examples). This year one of my aims is to facilitate leadership that elevates student voice and amplifies student engagement.
In our School District we are embarking on a much needed and long awaited facilities project to modernize both of the District’s middle schools. The design, the input from staff, community, parents, professional experts, and students is being built with the student in mind first and foremost. The social emotional learning needs and the social engagement and interaction needs drive the design process and decision making as we get closer and closer to construction.
Over the past few years, in my District some on the outside, and perhaps, on the inside too, have offered criticism at the administration’s focus on “bricks and mortar”. On the surface my administration’s focus on the bricks and mortar might seem to imply that the bricks and mortar are the focus. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bricks and mortar exemplify the student focused learning environments that react to modern learning environments designed to support modern learning. It’s an exciting time indeed in North Shore School District 112. I’m leading a modernization effort in concert with community input, the Board’s vision, and the needs of the students and staff in the communities we serve.
This year will be off the charts (in terms of success metrics) in our school district – please stay tuned in to our various modes of communication as I continue to share my why as a leader and where we continue to support learning and teaching as the #1 priority for our work on behalf of students, staff, community, and one another.
#112Leads is our hashtag and leading is what we all do regardless of title or role or position.
“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
In my adventures in leadership, and in my travels to other school districts, regions, states, and nations, I’m reminded of my “why”. My purpose as a leader is to advocate for school children.
Beyond the articles I publish, books I write, presentations I make, meetings I lead or attend, the bottom line and the “why” for it all is to advocate for and to support students. Many years ago I formed my educational philosophy — over the many years in public education I have refined, reflected, reinforced and remembered my philosophy and my “why”.
The opportunities I have are incredible and I am humbled by the support and guidance from so many mentors, coaches and friends who help me become a more impactful leadership each and every day. My mission and drives and values govern my work. Who I am, from where I come, and why I’m here all meld together to impact and imprint upon those I am called to serve and those I have the privilege to serve.
My school district has a mission, our schools have missions, the partner companies with whom we work have missions. Often I ponder my mission. I work with leaders all over the state, nation, and world to help them form and reform their missions. Mission/Vision/Values/Goals – these are blueprints and components of excellence. School Boards work with superintendents on District and community mission, vision, values and goals as a normal course of governance and leadership. At the end of this blog post I offer an idea of my mission as a leader.
As a public school superintendent I have an unusual job, out of the 300 million Americans, I am one of less than 15,000 public school superintendents of schools, so there are not too many other people who actually do what I do for a living. Many of us in education are called to serve and are called to teach and are called to lead. Like my colleagues and peers, I enjoy my job, work harder to be better every day, and I often find the work/life balance to be an elusive goal. Often people ask what, in fact, do I do every day. Am I a teacher? Am I a principal? Am I a counselor? Am I a mediator? Am I a transportation director? To a certain extent … yes to all of the above. I would like to believe that my role is more like an orchestra or band leader than as a “boss”. When I visit with youngsters they often suggest that I’m the “boss of the principals”; I respond that while I do get to tell the principals what to do, I’m more of their friend and partner in making sure we take care of the teachers, staff, and students every day. My hope, aim, and mission is to support and nurture and sustain environments of excellence. As I have written in other blog posts and publications, I measure excellence with multiple metrics and benchmarks of success. To me, like many others who have led before me, and as Peter Drucker is credited with: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We leaders will get to implement strategies and tactics and plans and goals but with positive culture we get to lead — with positive culture we get to see success — with positive culture we can accomplish anything we set out to accomplish.
So to the question of what do I do for a living, I guess I would be proud to say that I orchestrate positive cultures in and around schools and communities.
As a public school superintendent in Illinois, I am one of 850 leaders who work every day in a state with a history of supporting public schools since the 1820s and a mindset at times and a structure set at times that appears to be stuck in the 19th Century.
As I contemplate and write about my “why” and as I work with the Board of Education that selected me for hire to lead their school system of 4000 students, 500 employees, 10 schools and a legacy of excellence, I’m reminded of my calling to serve and my passion to support educational access for ALL students with supporting ALL staff in their quest to make positive impacts on students. Back to what does a superintendent do … she or he is the communications person, curriculum person, financial person, civic engagement person, chief advocate for children person … the list goes on and on. Ideally the superintendent has a team or staff of outstanding leaders (like I do) who can handle the day to day responsibilities, but, at the end of the day, like Harry Truman is credited with saying “The Buck Stops Here”. It’s the responsibility of the superintendent to maintain and sustain a productive and professional relationship with the Board of Education.
A cornerstone in American democratic tradition is the local government. In Illinois school board members are unpaid elected volunteers who selflessly serve their communities as the stewards of the public schools (assets, liabilities, decisions, taxes, etc.). Their job responsibilities are awesome – the rewards are many yet the time and challenges are many too. In Illinois most Boards have seven members and the Board is supported by the Illinois School Board Association. In addition to the seven member Board that employs the superintendent, other elected officials have major influence on the operations of the school district and the community education. The superintendent, therefore, works with the mayor (and staff), the other local governments (health department, county, park district, police, fire, etc.). The superintendent also works with the state Board of Education and the local senators and representatives.
As I review lists of proposed bills in the Illinois General Assembly I ask the internal question about the impact — will this proposed bill advance the cause for all children? Will this proposed bill advance the ability for school leaders to support education for all children? Will this proposed bill cause happiness and new structures for the students we serve. Sadly, to those questions, lately, most of my internal dialogue reveals that, no, the proposed legislation will not advance productive education … so in my role as “advocate in chief” for the school District, I dutifully reach out to our state representative and state senator in an effort to share the superintendent’s view on proposed bills. All from the lens of my mission – for ALL children to have equitable access to excellent educational opportunities.
Every few years Illinois has municipal elections. This month there were school board and other municipal elections. In my School District, two long time Board members retired from Board service and one of the incumbent members ran for re-election. The incumbent Board member and two of the three non-elected candidates were elected (the results are unofficial until the end of the month, but this is the prediction based upon preliminary results). So with just about one year into my five year employment contract with the Board of Education, it’s likely I will start year two with two new members of the Board.
Board of Education/Superintendent relations are essential for the positive, productive, and professional implementation and sustainment of culture, mission, vision, values, beliefs, and goals for all students and all staff. I’m proud that the Board I serve is committed to professional growth and learning. I’m fortunate that the Board I serve is dedicated to student and staff learning and community engagement and success. I’m happy that I get to serve for and with a Board of dedicated, selfless volunteers who are drawn to serve for the betterment of their community and the children we have the opportunity to teach in our classrooms every day!
Since October 2014 with my good friend and professional leadership partner Nick Polyak, we have been moderating a chat on Twitter called #suptchat. This once a month professional development opportunity addresses topics of interests and concern for superintendents, educators, educational leaders, policymakers, and anyone with an interest in the topic. Twitter is free and public and open to all. This month we focused on Board/Superintendent relations. Part of my mission is to connect leaders with and to one another so that we can enhance and strengthen the work we do on behalf of students, teachers, and community. The archive of the most recent chat is linked:
So, in closing this blog post, I’ll end with a response to the question: “What’s my mission?”
My mission is to create leadership opportunities for others so that our society may be enriched through learning, personal and professional growth, and support and improvement for our free way of life and to support the advancement of a globally connected and mutually respectful world community.
Archive of #suptchat on Board/Superintendent relations:
Team effort goes vain when individual effort is in the wrong direction.”
– Ram Mohan
This blog post content is also published in the Highland Park Neighbors magazine December 2018 issue on page 11 (Best Version Media)
Survey Says …
In North Shore School District 112 we take community engagement and stakeholder input very seriously!
As part of the Long Range Planning process, the District worked with a telephone research partner (Fako group) as well as with an online community engagement service called Thought Exchange to solicit community input and thoughts. People are encouraged to visit the District’s Long Range Planning Web page for more information: https://www.nssd112.org/Long-RangePlanning Those efforts in addition to the 25 member Superintendent’s Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) gathered for several months to review, refine, draft, question, and advise the superintendent of schools.
In addition to community engagement for facilities and finance, we seek input on a regular basis to learn and grow as an organization. We believe that what you respect you inspect. We respect input and voice and we take action on an ongoing basis.
In addition to the statewide survey of school climate and learning conditions, 5Essentials Survey, we also conduct additional engagement surveys. It is essential for the leadership team to know what families think, what students think, and what teachers and support staff members think about the school district.
This year we conducted an INSIGHTeX organizational survey of all employees, and we have set goals by school and administrative department to act on and improve culture. The image shows that 72.41% of the 438 employees who took the survey indicate they are completely engaged and satisfied in the work they do in the school district. That survey measures culture on 15 dimensions (including communication, pride, growth, mission, quality, communication, recognition, etc.)
Starting in December, the District will be sharing the results of the student and family engagement surveys. Student voice, in addition to teacher and parent voice, is instrumental in leading the district on behalf of and with the people most impacted. Sometimes school districts overlook the voice and input of students; in our District we make it a priority to engage and involve students in our leadership. To that end, any facilities upgrades or improvements will include student and teacher voice (as well as community input) as part of the refinement process.
In addition, the District will also share the results of the Bright Bytes innovation and creative practices survey. The results of these surveys continue to drive change, improvement, and quality in our local school system. The Bright Bytes survey asks questions related to four major areas of technology impact: Classroom, Access, Skills, Environment. By learning what our stakeholders perceive, we’re able to see if there are gaps between perceptions, reality, and desired outcomes. Using survey data and the voice of the people so to speak, allows the District to lead in an inclusive and open manner.
District 112 sent information to students, teachers, and parents for completion of the Illinois mandated 5Essentials survey during the first week of December. The Illinois 5Essentials Survey provides a comprehensive picture of a school’s organizational culture in an individualized report measuring five “essentials” critical for school success:
From the U Chicago Impact site: Twenty years of research at the University of Chicago in more than 400 schools has shown that schools that were strong on at least three of the 5Essentials were 10 times more likely to make substantial gains in improving student reading and math than schools that were weak on three or more of the Essentials. Those differences remained true even after controlling for student and school characteristics, including poverty, race, gender, and neighborhood characteristics.
The survey was deemed an important component to balanced accountability under the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan by stakeholders, which resulted in state legislative changes requiring the survey annually. Principals and superintendents will receive 5Essentials Reports in March 2019. Survey results will also be reported publicly on the 5Essentials reporting site in Spring 2019 and on theState School Report Card website in Fall 2019. On behalf of the Illinois State Board of Education,UChicago Impact is providing Illinois 5Essentials to schools statewide.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include: Speech recognition. Learning.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? – Definition from Techopedia
So today I’m walking my dog Harley around 6:00am; it’s still dark outside where I live at 6:00am (latitude 42.187665, longitude -87.804106). I started thinking about the relevance of technological tools, learner interest, opportunities to learn and the acquisition of knowledge. In doing all of this I was enlisting the support of Artificial Intelligence to check my thinking — to validate or refute my hypothesis — to think and learn. Are we helping our learners take full advantage of the tools and technology at our fingertips — are we showing the relevance of tools and are we affording our students choice to show what and how they learn??
GPS was made public in about 2000 (it had been around militarily for decades, since the 1960s). I’m using 18 year old technology tools to determine my location writing on a blogging platform that’s about 20 years old, describing some technology that was “discovered” in the late 1940s and early 1950s. So why don’t educational institutions for the masses (public schools) maximize and harness these relatively old technologies to increase student learning? In our District the motto is Inspire…Innovate…Engage. Do we use all that we can to fulfill this motto? Do we rely on old tech, new tech, modern tech, ancient tech — do we integrate the artificial and the natural? Do we do all we can to make our learning environments as relevant and desirable as possible?
So in thinking about the old and new technology and the technological tools at our fingertips and at the fingertips of our teachers in our schools, I often wonder if we’re doing all we can with what we have to facilitate learning for all students. As the superintendent of schools I often ask myself “Am I doing all I can to increase student agency, learning, and experience?” — I hope so! Today I was reflecting on the vast and powerful technology at my fingertips as it relates to engaging learners in exploration and growth. I was taking an interest I have (stars and planets) and using my choice and agency (voice) to figure out if I was correct in believing there was a planet in the sky visible to my eyes — and I wonder if this is analogous to students learning in our classrooms today.
The anecdote I’m sharing in this blog post describes my encounter with the planet Venus today using widely available technology tools. Are our classrooms taking advantage of the tools at their fingertips to best engage our students in relevant, meaningful, interesting, and innovative learning?
I would love your thoughts and comments on this blog post. What is so artificial about artificial intelligence? Does the fact that it’s “machine language” or “computer generated” make the intelligence any less natural? What about the fact that humans designed the structures and systems for this artificial intelligence?
Are we facilitating learning environments that blend the real and the artificial to maximize learning for all of our students?!
So … back to my story … This morning, I’m walking my dog Harley around 6:00am; it’s still dark outside where I live at 6:00am (latitude 42.187665, longitude -87.804106). In the sky, over the horizon to the east, I noticed a really bright and large object in space (in the sky). I accessed my longitude and latitude at work using my computer’s virtual assistant and global positioning satellite technology. Was this use of artificial intelligence any less accurate or meaningful than if I had found a paper map or used a globe to determine the longitude and latitude? What is artificial about my determining lat/long? Is it less valid since I used “the computer” to get my answer?
My schema/prior or background knowledge led me to believe that the object I saw in the sky was a planet. It was really bright and larger than what I have seen in the past as stars.
As a learner, I learned that really bright large stars are often planets that can be seen by the eye without a telescope at certain points in the year due to orbits and the like. I’ll call that knowledge or intelligence “natural intelligence” as opposed to artificial intelligence, or AI.
So, I asked my dog if it was a planet, but my dog Harley wasn’t sure if it was a planet (just joking); I went to my (really) smartphone and opened up the app Star Tracker, one of many apps that turn your phone into a night star landscape astronomically speaking. So, in a matter of seconds, I turned the app on, I pointed my smartphone in the direction of the bright light in the sky, and lo and behold, it, the artificial intelligence via the app Star Tracker, projected the astro map including the location of the planet of Venus on the display of my smartphone.
I was looking at the sky through the screen on my smartphone and I “saw” the planets, constellations, stars, etc., and with my eye and my natural intelligence (or schema) I saw the bright light … matched up or aligned the smartphone with the AI app and my belief that the bright light was a planet was affirmed.
Now, when I was a boy, I learned that there were 9 planets (I know there are 8 now) and I knew this from the mnemonic device my very elegant mother just sat upon nine porcupines (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and what used to be considered a planet, Pluto). This mnemonic device
identified the planets in our solar system in location from the sun to “outer space”. Today when I saw Venus with my eyes and then had this fact validated by an app on my smartphone — with further validation and checking from me “asking” my phone’s virtual assistant if Venus was visible in Deerfield, Illinois today — to which “she” verified this fact.
So I go back to the title of this blog post: What’s so artificial about artificial intelligence (AI)?
The AI from my phone’s operating system and the app on the phone seem to be validating actual intelligence — what’s so artificial about this? I took my own
natural intelligence; background & prior knowledge, schema activated by my interest (from youth and adulthood) of astronomy & constellations, stars, and planets and then used tools at my fingertips to affirm and enhance the star gazing experience. My choice and voice made my learning experience relevant, meaningful, engaging and memorable.
For modern education and instruction that’s engaging and relevant, I submit we educators and we educational leaders need to integrate and bridge machine learning, so called artificial intelligence, and good old fashioned interest, engagement, relevance, and choice!
In Chapter four of our latest book Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (2018 Rowman & Littlefield), Nick Polyak, PJ Caposey, and I start the chapter with the following quote from Dorothy Day: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.” (page 55). In chapter four we also feature the voice of high school student Kyla Guru.
In this blog post, I am sharing an article published today that shares excerpts of the conclusion of our book and highlights the special end of chapter feature we created: ASK’EM. It’s an acronym for what we suggest throughout the book about how leaders can incorporate student voice … just “ask’em”. The letters represent Ask, Support, Know, Empower, & Monitor, and throughout the book we share examples, suggestions, calls to action, etc. that leaders (and readers) can implement to incorporate student voice in their schools, organizations, communities, and settings! At the end of our book we have a special offer from human capital management firm HUMANeX Ventures for every reader to take a free Sensory Preference Inventory™.
From the book: “Continued learning and development starts at the foundation – first understanding HOW you learn best. Having a clear understanding if you are a VISUAL, AUDITORY, or KINESTHETIC learner can greatly impact the way in which you learn and grow in your life and career.”
In future blog posts I’ll share local efforts at gaining Student Voice through the Student Engagement Survey with HUMANeX Ventures (a survey being administered to all students in our district from grades 3-8 this month). For now … here is the article just published (as always, comments are encouraged and welcomed):
By Michael Lubelfeld, Nick Polyak & Phillip J. ‘PJ’ Caposey
As educators we are engaged in listening every day. As superintendents we’re also engaged in leading every day. As leaders we have tested theories and approaches to systems change for many years in suburban and rural PK-12 school systems. Recently we started writing as a way to reflect, share messages of success, and in an effort to inspire others. One of our latest projects Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (2018 Rowman & Littlefield) underscores the value we place on student voice in the overhaul and transformation for education in our nation. In this article we’re sharing excerpts from the preface of the book that include a call to action.
Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable is about why today’s leaders need to connect with students and how to accomplish true success by giving students a voice in their own education. The premise of this book is that student voice is often, for some inconceivable reason, invisible.
The failure to systematically include students and listen to their viewpoints is a contributing factor which explains why schools have changed little since the 19th Century. This book will explore many topics ranging from digital citizenship to teacher evaluation, and we sincerely believe that by leveraging the voice of students as collaborative leaders, true school and educational transformation can and will occur.
The book is based around two central questions:
● Why should today’s school leaders engage student voice from a leadership perspective as collaborators in leading?
● How can today’s school leaders engage student voice from a leadership perspective as collaborators in leading?
Core beliefs that drive this book are largely based on research. These beliefs include that the single most impactful person in a student’s learning journey is the teacher. The second most impactful is the principal (Marzano & Waters 2005). If the teacher is a manager and the principal is a leader, congruence in the approaches of engaging the student in his own learning must exist. Additionally, confidence is necessary to amplify student voice in our schools.
We submit that taking student voice from invisible to invaluable reflects the choices made by confident leaders. Leaders in the classroom (teachers) and leaders in the office (principals) and leaders in the central office (superintendents) must exist at all levels to truly listen to student voice and for school evolution and even transformation to be possible. Throughout this book, we will continually work to convince the reader of why this paradigm shift leading to an increase in student voice is necessary and give tips and techniques on how to get the work done.
Our leadership journeys allow us to test theories of leadership and put into practice beliefs, hypotheses, thoughts, and actions. While we lead with other adults and members of the typical school community: teachers, board members, administrators, and parents, we have engaged students in leadership as well. We share our successful leadership experiences and examples of making student voices invaluable in actual leadership and governance.
This transformation is truly a win-win for students and leaders. Educators must simply do two things to begin the paradigm shift necessary to take this forward. The first is easy — believe in the brilliance of your students. The second is hard — relinquish some element of control. This book will help walk you through both of these steps while focusing on precise areas of potential change within your classroom, school, or district.
EDUCATIONAL CONTEXT — Why the book is necessary
Around the nation many leaders are implementing various forms of personalized learning. The synergy between student learning and growth and teacher direction and knowledge grows exponentially when student voice is real, true, and authentic. Long gone are the days where compliance rules the priorities of teachers and schools. We will examine personalized learning and how student voice can be amplified through personalized learning environments.
Our vision is for student/learner centered systems that we’re compelled to create. As Mike and Nick wrote about in The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today (2017 Rowman & Littlefield) we all must unlearn so that we can learn and relearn — change is not an optional process.
Today’s leaders, teachers, students, pretty much all constituent stakeholder groups, must embody the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Teaching students what it means to “be at the table” and teaching students how to think “outside of the box” opens up pathways never before seen or applied in modern school systems.
These pathways can be replicated and refined with student leadership experiences in “real life” through their schooling experiences. Student voice does not “just happen;” the success of this fundamental shift in how we ‘do school’ is dependent upon shared vision, deliberate engagement, and by teaching students how to be a part of the process. We share examples of how and why the future belongs to the students and the present-day leaders can do much to set them up for success.
With this type of engaged and partner leadership we will allow future generations to bear witness to transformed systems of schooling and society. Long gone are the days of “sage on the stage” — in order to support the “guide on the side.” Leaders can engage students and establish new norms so their input becomes invaluable. This is a call to action book for all people interested in transforming education and to improving the world.
The learning purposes and unique features of this book include:
● Establish, propose, and reinforce the “How” and the “Why” for including student voice in leadership decision making
● Provide leaders with actionable case studies and examples from the field for implementation
● Model and share new ways of incorporating authentic student voice
● Reflection questions that will generate thought and conversation around each chapter
● End of chapter feature ASK’EM, an actionable acronym, at the end of each chapter to both reinforce chapter concepts and examples as well as a call to action: Ask, Support, Know, Empower, Monitor
● Stop-Think-Act prompts, questions, problems of practice
● Commentaries and essays from students and educational leaders throughout the book. This provides additional voices on the topics on progressing with student voice from invisible to invaluable.
About the Authors
Michael Lubelfeld, Ed.D.-Mike currently serves as the superintendent of schools in North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, IL. His blog is at http://mikelubelfeld.edublogs.org/ He can be found on Twitter at @mikelubelfeld and he is the co-moderator of #suptchat — the superintendent educational chat on Twitter. He and Nick Polyak authored the 2017 Rowman & Littlefield book The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today. Mike has been married to his wife Stephanie for the past 15 years and they have two children.
Nick Polyak, Ed.D.-Nick is the superintendent of Leyden Community High School District 212 in Franklin Park, IL. He can be found on Twitter at @npolyak and he is the co-moderator of #suptchat — the superintendent educational chat on Twitter. Nick has been married to his wife Kate for the past 17 years and they have four children.
Phillip J. “PJ” Caposey, Ed.D.-PJ is the author of three books and is a sought after speaker and consultant specializing in school culture, principal coaching, effective evaluation practices, and student-centered instruction. PJ currently serves as the Superintendent of Schools for Meridian CUSD 223 in Northwest Illinois and is married to his wife Jacquie and has four children. PJ can be reached via twitter @MCUSDSupe.