Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Sea change in our educational culture

I listened to many EXCELLENT podcasts in my 3000+ miles of driving to and from Wyoming and Montana the last couple of weeks, but the #1 podcast for me had to be the “Schlechty Center/Texas Standard-Bearer Network: Making Engagement Central” posted by Texas Association of School Administrators from their 2006 Midwinter conference.

Barbara Brown of Lewisville ISD (in the Dallas area) told me briefly about the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform back in February when I presented “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment” at the Education Service Center in Fort Worth. I need to purchase and read Dr. Schlechty’s book “Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents”— it is one of several books he has written. The philosophy of the Schlechty Center includes two primary theories: the “theory of change” (PDF) and the “theory of engagement” (PDF). The theories of “disruptive innovations” and “sustaining innovations” are right on target. The five basic assumptions of the work done by the center are:

1. There is an urgent need for dramatic improvement in the performance of America’s public schools.
2. The key to improving the schools is the quality of the work students are provided. To improve the quality of the work students are provided, schools must be organized around students and the work provided to students rather than around adults and the work of teachers.
3. Students are volunteers. Their attendance can be commanded, but their attention must be earned.
4. The changes required to organize schools around students and student work cannot occur unless school districts and communities have or develop the capacities needed to support change- capacities that are now too often lacking in even the best run school districts.
5. Leadership and leadership development are key components to the creation of district-level capacity to support building-level reform.

These ideas resonate closely with the educational philosophies of John Dewey and Paulo Friere that have strongly shaped my own pedagogic creed. They also resonate closely with the principles of educational and societal leadership which I write about fairly frequently. They verify my core belief that teaching is an art, not a science, and the scripted curriculum approach we see in many US school districts today is an insult to the educational “master teachers” we most need to retain in our classrooms.

As we search for answers to the educational challenges students, teachers, administrators and parents face in our educational systems today, Dr. Schlechty offers a compelling vision that resonates with MANY of the beliefs I have about instruction, engagement, and the educational experiences my own children and ALL children across the globe need and deserve in school. If Thomas Friedman in “The World Is Flat” presents a wake-up call for educational reform in the 21st Century economic environment, and Dan Pink offers a vision for what types of skills should be emphasized in “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”— Phil Schlechty offers a roadmap for how we should respond to the environment in which we find ourselves and the skills we want students to obtain.

Take an hour and listen to what John Horn, Jenny Preston, Jim Hawkins, and J.D. Kennedy shared in February 2006 in this wonderful presentation. These are REAL answers to the REAL problems we face in education. We can’t merely focus on high stakes testing and high stakes accountability in schools: We most move from good to great— and Dr. Schlechty offers a practical pathway to that end.

“Teachers designing experiences for kids which engage them in learning.” That is what we need in education today. Technology can be a powerful tool in that process, but it offers no panacea. What we need is a sea change of pedagogical philosophies, and Schlechty’s encouragement to help teachers “get students to PROFOUND learning” is exactly what we need.

I look forward to learning more about the philosophy and operational recommendations of The Schlechty Center in the weeks and months ahead. I hope we can have schools here in Oklahoma learn about these ideas and implement them. (We don’t have any Standard-Bearer school districts in the state YET.) Dr. Schlechty is waging a struggle for educational reform in practical, powerful, and effective ways, and I want to be part of this solution to our present educational darkness. We don’t need more technocratic regulations– those won’t SAVE or probably even improve education. What we need is tantamount to a cultural sea change, in the way most adults think about and promulgate educational experiences. As John Horn exhorted the audience in this presentation, we need to restore joy back into teaching! And if that is done right, districts will “get the test scores” along with “profound learning!” The “core business” of schools is NOT merely improving student test scores: It is engaging students in the educational process. Students are the CUSTOMERS, not the products of our schools. Our bottom line may be student achievement, but we can’t treat schools like most businesses, because as Jim Hawkins observes– most businesses are not that innovative in the way they are managed and run, and worthy of replication. I’m ready to not just ride this wave of change, but invite it to come to my state and neighborhood– and help others get on board with this change paradigm.

Teachers should NOT primarily be “planners and performers.” They should be “leaders and designers,” as John Horn noted in this presentation.

I’ll post more about other podcasts I listened to recently and found worthwhile in upcoming days, but for now you can find all the podcasts I subscribe to on my Podnova subscription listing. This includes the latest episodes of all the podcasts to which I’m subscribed. I recommend that you start with this podcast about the Schlechty Center, its philosophy, and its operational suggestions for bringing about the educational reforms all our schools need. Listen to three innovative and visionary Texas superintendents talk about the dramatic and positive changes they are seeing with student and teacher engagement in the learning process as a result of their teachers’ involvement with the Schlechty Center and its agenda for educational reform!

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On this day..



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7 responses to “Sea change in our educational culture”

  1. Wesley Fryer Avatar


    Hmmm, apparently TASA has changed up their RSS feeds since I subscribed and downloaded several of these– the XML feed I used to subscribe is no longer available.

    It looks like they have been using iWeb to make their RSS feeds and have publihsed more podcasts since this time, and now the feed is different.

    I converted the m4a 128 kbps version of the Schlechty center podcast I had downloaded previously to an mp3 file and uploaded it as a mirror copy to my site for download, you should be able to grab this and put it in your podcatcher software program and on your mp3 player (unfortunately it is large at almost 50 MB, I did not have immediate luck for some reason using audacity to make a 32 kbps version).

    TASA has an RSS feed you can use to subscribe to their podcasts. Unfortunately for some reason just the latest 4 are showing up in the feed, the link to their podcast archive shows them all.

    For the other podcasts I’m subscribed to, you can use podnova and import my podnova OMPL file to get them all, they will load into iTunes or whatever podcatcher software program you are using.

    I’ll email a question on this to Albert Rivas, who is the TASA webmaster and podcasting guru. I also hope they’ll use ID3 tags better, they didn’t with their early podcasts– I’m thrilled they are offering recordings like these, I do think it presents a need for mp3 audio-only versions in addition to the m4a enhanced ones. Unfortunately Garageband and iWeb don’t support a very easy way for content publishers to do this (yet) and the RSS feed system there can be confusing and tricky, esp if people (as apparently TASA has) make changes to an existing feed.

  2. Miguel Guhlin Avatar

    Wes, how do you download these podcasts as MP3s or audio files? Is there a trick of some sort? Otherwise, I’m stuck listening to them via the web.


  3. Albert Rivas Avatar


    Thanks for the email. I did make a change to the iWeb page due to the fact that the RSS Feed was marked Midwinter and I thought I would be able to create several pages within the domain in iWeb which wasn’t the case. That’s why I changed the RSS Feed. I am making some uploads and will make sure all of the previous podcasts are up and running. I have all of the Midwinter Podcasts in mp3 format and will work on an html page where people can download them. If you need a specific one I can forward to you so you can distribute. Whatever I can do to help, I will be more than happy and thanks for letting me know about only 4 podcasts showing up. I only use iWeb for the podcasts that we put up and that’s after our big conferences. Thanks Wes..


  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Super, thanks! If you could share a direct link for the mp3 version of the Schlechty center podcast that would be great.

  5. […] I think this is a question of leadership vision and pedagogic vision. What do the school leaders believe we need in the way of an environment to help students learn the skills they will need for life, and what does authentic teaching and learning look and sound like in the early 21st century? Sadly, too many school board members, parents and administrators (as well as many teachers) still think it should look and sound like a room filled with quiet students working compliantly on their worksheets. As Schlechty Center disciples will likely tell you, a person can’t tell from observing a classroom of students whether or not they are truly ENGAGED. You can observe on task and compliant behavior, but you have to dig deeper (and actually talk to students) to find out if engagement is happening. I think more educational leaders need to become not just concerned, but FIXATED on both ENGAGEMENT and cultivating 21ST CENTURY LITERACY SKILLS than we see today. […]

  6. Sandy Clevenger Avatar
    Sandy Clevenger

    This is just a word of caution about Schlechty’s “Working On the Work”. Our district has been doing the WOW program for the last 3 years. So far the district has written $216,000 in checks to the Schlechty Foundation. (We have 4 schools in our district) Though our teachers agree with engaging work in the classroom (In fact that was the basis of their university instruction), they felt that the training provided by the center was redundant. (7+ days every year) It dealt only with the same philosophy over and over but no real-life application. I read a review on Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals and Superintendents. The review stated that this would have been better as a lengthy article rather than a book. I also read the book and whole-heartedly agree.

    There is another negative to this program I would like to address. It attempts to set up a system in which the Superintendent of Schools has total control. The Board of Education is supposed to sit back and let the Superintendent do whatever he wants. In Kentucky, the law changed in 1990 to decentralize power in school districts. Giving total power to a superintendent opens a school district up to the possibility of unscrupulous manipulation of power for personal gain. I warn districts not to make themselves vulnerable to those who would take advantage. Keep the checks and balances in your system. Always remember to keep the children first and separate the wheat from the chaff in the Working on the Work program.

    Our district is now run with the iron fist of a superintendent who reigns by intimidation and threat. Many have lost their job through “non-renewal” or “restructuring”. Our test scores have NOT gone up and the morale of the staff and many of the parents is at an all time low. Please do not let yourselves fall into this trap. Instead of a professional development program that is “same size fits all”, individualize training for staff the same way you are supposed to individualize instruction for children.

  7. Ange Mattingly Avatar
    Ange Mattingly

    WOW has done nothing but take money from our county and send our administration back in time to a tall, centralized system lacking total quality management. WOW is a common sense idea that Schlechty has coined as his own. Good teachers are good with or without WOW just as bad teachers are bad teachers with or without WOW.