From Old School To Bold School

9 Cs

A slide straight from Will Richardson’s  NHASCD workshop on  April 4, 2014

The ease of rhyme in Will Richardson’s workshop title (old to bold) doesn’t diminish the difficulty of Will’s challenge for all of us in education. In 2014, we are faced with pressures from many directions creating enormous inertia against doing the right thing. We live in a land of compromise where we have to be satisfied with partial wins. For example, Common Core is probably better than what we had for standards, but most of us aren’t crazy about the way it rolled out. And, isn’t it irritating how the educational behemoths are profiting from Common Core? We also know that poverty is still the greatest impediment in student achievement, but most of us feel powerless to influence the broken government to fix this. 

Will spoke last Friday as part of NHASCD’s workshop series in Concord, NH. He presented to his choir, a solid crowd indeed, but compared to more conventional speakers we have had such as Lucy Calkins and Grant Wiggins, it was disappointing more district leaders weren’t present. Meeting local, state, and federal requirements and staying out of trouble is a priority for all of us and boldness takes a back seat.

A major theme throughout the day was the traditional education that his two children are receiving, much to Will’s chagrin. (I wonder why he hasn’t considered taking them out of their school…which ironically is the one he used to teach at.) He was careful to not criticize the teachers themselves; in his estimation, it’s the system that is at fault. As he mentioned to me before the conference, it’s leadership that makes the difference in becoming bold. That’s just not happening where he is. 


His simple but compelling argument is that due to “abundance” (see graphic above) we are faced with a new set of challenges:

Do we stick with the traditional areas of content, knowledge, and information or move forward to Will’s Big 9?

Creativity: The Common Core gets this. It’s no longer what we know, especially since information is almost entirely ubiquitous and nestled online. The goal for our students is to establish a routine of creation – the ability to make the world a better place because we have the skills to gather information and mold our content knowledge and skills into something constructive. Daniel Pink’s research also backs up the motivating nature of creativity. As he quotes from his book Drive:

“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”   Tom Kelley, General Manager, IDEO.

Critical Thinking: As an Elementary/Middle School teacher in the 80s and 90s, I heard critical thinking often as a goal for our students. I’m not sure how well we did it. Most of us still relied on lower levels of Bloom’s or Level 1 activities within Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as the common regimen. This has to finally change.

Collaboration: While infinitely more tiring and rarely more effective, a lecture or teacher-directed lesson is certainly safer and controlling for one’s classroom. But without collaboration with each other and on a variety of tools, we are cheating our students out of the skills they will need to be successful long after their P-12 experience is over. 

Communication: Web 2.0 has allowed this to be nearly immediate and pervasive. Our job is to guide our youngsters in communicating with the vastness of an abundant world. 

Computing: The days of having to write HTML code are gone. Yet, there are many computer skills students need despite their “digital native” status, including researching, parsing content, and ethical standards, those included within the NETS Standards for students

Connections: We worry about our children’s digital footprint, and rightly so. But as Wesley Fryer says, when it comes to the Internet, we simply have to teach kids “how to swim”. Being in the water can be deadly but with the proper training, swimming can be one of the healthiest activities we can engage in. Same with our technological resources. 

Continual Learning: Lots of lessons here. First, teachers have to be the lead learners and show that example to their students. Second, as Will often states, learning really happens 24/7. Here’s one of my favorite Richardson quotes I use in workshops all of the time:

“This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.” Will Richardson.

Change Mindset: Carol Dweck’s book Mindset quickly became a must read in the education field. Will we choose a fixed mindset or a growth mindset to rule our life? Clearly, a growth mindset allows us to take risks and embrace challenges

Curiosity: Will talks about our society’s adverse reaction to failure which often leads to a lack of curiosity. In his words:

Too few schools are incubators of curious and creative learners given their cultures of standardization, fear, and tradition. No doubt, external pressures exist that drive that culture. But if there ever was a time to shift gears, this is it. 

Overwhelmed yet? Will ended the workshop smartly with a call to all of us to start small and plan for whatever changes we can make fairly quickly in our classrooms, schools, and districts. Which of the Big 9 motivate you to change what’s happening in your educational world?

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