I’ve been following your tweets for a couple of weeks now; I think that you are a quick learner, and you do what I often do: you embrace the moment. As I watch you focusing on innovation and tech integration, I wonder how Iowa will assimilate it all. Are you prepared to dig in, build consensus, encourage buy-in and set up systemic structures for change and spend 5 years doing the legwork? That’s what I hope you mean when you talk about Leadership, Innovation, and Service to your state team.
When you first came to the state, I listened to your interviews about the Iowa Core and I felt you had only heard the sound bytes, rather than seeing the whole of the process. This is not uncommon; after years of working with Every Learner Inquires, I have lost count of the number of time legislators and principals have said to me: “You mean it’s not just the curriculum?” I don’t care what we call it, but we need to move forward on the structure we’ve set up. That being said, I think that the underlying intent of the Iowa Core is spot-on: content based on national expectations, professional development, student-centered, instructional decision making and 21st century skills delivered in a constructivist fashion. It’s simply too bad that intent has not matched execution.
I want technology and blended learning—but I want quality, like Shannon C’DeBaca or Gail Wortmann teaching their Iowa Learning Online courses. I don’t want lower level skills, and instructors steeped in worksheet and busy work, as I have seen in other online classes. How do we control this? How do we avoid the ‘online high school’ problem from a few years ago that focused on the Carnegie Unit? How do we convince other school leaders to embrace the 1:1 concept, unblock social networking, and teach kids using student-centered methods? How do we expand Senior Year Plus, and expand the number of dual-credit courses I teach to move our kids to a better place?
I want teacher-led PD, and I have worked for the last twelve years to prove that we could do JUST THAT. I have stayed in the classroom when I could have moved up and out, but my administrator has treated me as a leader and honored my efforts to advance my education and make a difference in the district to both students and teachers. Building teams of teachers and letting them share their ideas and focus through a teacher-leader model will meet the needs of the students much better than one-shot consultants coming in and out. PLCs need development and the teachers on them need to know that we will work to help kids, whatever it takes, so mastery can be achieved at some level. If teachers don’t want to do that, it’s time to gently encourage them to find a new vocation.
Service to others is the focus of character counts, and one of Covey’s habits. Without a realization that we all must depend on the efforts of one another, we can’t make a better Iowa. And that’s what I’m all about. I believe so passionately in all of this that I want it to happen, now! And I want you to get us there, but I remember other shining ideas that got side-tracked.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned money, and it’s because I don’t know how you’ll get control over it. As an outsider looking in, you see the possibilities, but this state has a long history of local control, and salary matrices and tenure are splashed across the pages of the IAPERB contracts. Unless you are willing to go to a state payment model for salaries in their entirety, I wonder if you should waste energy on it; perhaps it’s just a red herring that will irritate the status quo and take energy away from the real issues you can control.
So welcome aboard, Jason; come visit me and lots of other exemplary teacher leaders at the Iowa IRIS February meeting in Ames on the 24th or 25th. Let’s take this pocket of excellence and build on it, so all students really can start to feel that they can learn. I look forward to our conversations.