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Renegade Leadership

Future Ready Schools



Future Ready Schools® Invites You to a Participate in a Webinar

Renegade Leadership

Brad Gustafson, EdD, Principal, Wayzata Public Schools (MN) (@GustafsonBrad)
Tom Murray, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools®, Alliance for Excellent Education (@thomascmurray)

On April 26, 2018, Future Ready Schools® (FRS) held a webinar that is part of its Leadership Hub, a one-stop-shop of professional learning opportunities for school leaders.

Brad Gustafson, EdD, is a National Distinguished Principal and best-selling author. He serves as an advisor with FRS and was recognized as an NSBA “20 to Watch” for his innovative leadership. Brad cohosts the popular education podcast UnearthED.

In this webinar, Brad and Tom delved into innovative leadership practices to support student learning. They shared strategies for applying positive deviance in all roles that serve kids. Participants will collect examples of innovative leadership and hear about leadership behaviors that positively disrupt traditional thinking.

Panelists raised these questions and more:

  • What is the number one barrier to innovation in your current role? Why?
  • What would schools look like if innovation was held in the same regard as high-stakes test data?
  • How can innovation be applied to a school’s budget, beliefs, schedule, professional development, and traditions to more effectively serve learners?

Brad and Tom also addressed questions submitted from online viewers.

Please direct questions concerning the webinar to If you are unable to watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available in the FRS Hub shortly after the event airs.

Future Ready Schools® (FRS) is a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

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If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.

Interviewer:                 Welcome back everybody.  Hello, I’m Tom Murray, the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools.  A project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington D.C.  Future Ready Schools is a collaboration between the Alliance and a vast coalition of over 60 other national and regional organizations.  The goal of Future Ready Schools is to maximize digital learning opportunities and to help school districts move quickly towards personalized student-centered learning.  The effort provides districts with resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans, aligned with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and maximize personalized learning experiences for all students.  Particularly those from traditionally underserved communities.  The hashtag for today’s webinar is, as always, #futureready. Thank you for making an investment and joining us today.  I’m your host on this webinar on a Renegade Leadership, creating innovative schools for digital age students.  And with me today who you just heard and he will be lively I have no doubt.  Is my very good friend Brad Gustafson.  Brad is the 2016 Minnesota Elementary Principal of the year.  He is one of our Future Ready Advisors for our principal strand.  He’s also the author of the bestselling book “Renegade Leadership.”  And he’s here with us today, we’re going to dive into some of the concepts of renegade leadership.  And Brad, it is an honor to have you today, my friend.  I had no doubt you’d be jumping in with a big sound.  So, tell us a little bit about yourself, introduce yourself to the crowd if you would.


Interviewee:                 Yes, we are doing this.  Thanks for hosting Tom, excited to connect.  So, a little bit about myself.  I am an elementary principal, and I dearly love that work.  And I also, I married my high school sweetheart, Deb.  We have three kids.  And instead of getting into the kind of boring work stuff, I’ll just share two nights ago.  Hope, my fourth grade daughter came home and said. “Dad, the teacher asked us today, what innovation was?”  And no one in the class knew, and she was the only one.  And she shared and I thought okay, that’s cool, but it’s a little bit scary, because I think we I think we want kids to know things that are really relevant and important.  But then I, before I popped my chest too much, I asked my son who is in second grade, I’m like, “Buddy, do you know what innovation is?”  And he didn’t.  So it’s clearly not good parenting that made the difference, there.  But it had me pause to think, if we talk a lot about innovation and some people fail to see the merit, but yet our kids don’t know or worse yet don’t feel meaningful change in their schools.  What do we need to do differently?  What types of conversations do we need to have as leaders so they can feel it and live it and breathe it and learn it every single day?  So, that Tom Murray is who I am and why I’m here.


Interviewer:                 You know Brad, I respect so much that you started off with your family.  And also starting off with the humility in terms of why we do what we do.  And it’s focusing on kids and if it’s good enough for our own kids it needs to be something we do for all kids.  But I love how you brought that right to the get go, on why we do what we do.  So, you know Brad, when we discuss Future Ready Schools, we often share how leadership and school culture truly lay that foundation.  So, in what ways is Renegade Leadership different from more traditional leadership approaches or what we might all just consider traditional leadership?  Talk to us about that.


Interviewee:                 I’ll just build off of what I heard you say.  I think every single person, every educator, every school leader, who gets up in the morning wants to make a difference for kids.  And I also think we want it to be a lasting difference, not just a difference for a day, not just a relationship for a day, but something really that transcends time.  So, when we’re talking about Renegade Leadership, I think it’s all those things.  It’s building upon best practice, but injecting some positive deviance.  And really asking different questions in some ways, that might possibly ruffle feathers, because we all have our pet projects and our things that we love about our schools.  And Renegade Leadership will, in just a really respectful relational way, ask, you know, tell me more about that?  And who is it relevant to?  And how if we look at that tradition, that pedagogy, that leadership trait habit approach, how is it serving kids and are they seeing it the same way?  And kind of how I mentioned the innovation thing.  Because if kids aren’t seeing it the same way, and it’s only relevant to me sitting in this office, then I’m just not evolving how kids need it to be. So, in a nutshell, that’s Renegade Leadership.


Interviewer:                 So, let’s make it very concrete and actionable.  You know, one thing I love about educators, they want to see it in practice.  They want to see what it looks like.  They don’t want just theoretical pie in the sky.  And so, let’s take this notion of Renegade Leadership, and I love what you’re sharing there for sure, and make it truly actionable.  So, what would you say the number one barrier is to innovation in your current role?  And how does Renegade Leadership really help address it?


Interviewee:                 Okay, great question.  So honestly, I think the number one barrier to innovation in my role, possibly could be different to the one in your role and to people who are listening, Tom.  I could predict with certainty some of the top ten things people say.  I think collectively we’re all working against or for some of the same things.  Like resources comes up, time comes up, mindset typically comes up, when we talk about barriers.  So, when you factor in all of those things and just talk about what is the difference maker and how do we confront, in an actionable way – how do we get over the hurdle in a way that helps ourselves be Future Ready and others.  For me, it goes back to pedagogy.  And as a leader, like, how am I modeling the same type of learning that I’m hoping our kids, our students are experiencing.  In the book there is, I have these Renegade Profiles.  So there’s lots of educators featured, but they’re also pioneers in different sectors.  But there’s an artist by the name of Jackson Pollock, and the precision he used.  Someone came into his studio one day, and he was kind of a wild character.  But they questioned and just said, “Isn’t your art the product of chance, right?”  How actionable really is that?  And he was offended because it’s his life’s work.


So, he dabs as paintbrush in the bucket and wings a drop of paint at the door knob and he hits it from like 50 feet away or something, like that as the story goes.  Basically, showing the unwanted guess the way out.  And showing, like, this is, this is precise.  And this is my craft.  So, I would say getting back to the actionable thing, the best way I can explain it is we all know best practice.  We know what the research is and we continue to learn it, right.  Renegade Leadership is the application of innovation, also known as meaningful change.  So, we’re not trying to discount, the important work and heart people have put in for decades.  But we’re building upon it, we’re iterating and using processes that are going to make it more relevant to kids.  And the book goes into a lot of the how to.  And I’ll just use train tracks as a super quick example.  You got the one rail that’s best practice.  You got the other rail that’s innovation.  Too often, I’m guilty of this to I failed miserably at this, when I prioritize the rail of innovation and relevance and discount all the hard work that people have invested their life in, you can guess how well that went in our school, right.  But when we are working together and we link best practice with immerging practice and being ultra-relevant to kids.  And do that purposely with everything that we do, every tradition, every meeting, every lesson, at least have that type of thinking.  Really amazing things can happen.  And that’s action, it’s like daily acts.  It’s not a switch, I’m going to be innovative.  Or checklist, okay now we’re innovative.  It’s constantly having that interplay between the two tracks.  You’re getting me all fired up here, Tom.


Interviewer:                 You made a side comment that I want to follow up on, because it’s something in Future Ready, in terms of leadership.  Whether we’re working with principals or district leaders, we use all the time.  And it’s this notion of modeling.  And you said it basically in one sentence, but I’m going to throw myself under the bus here.  I can remember being a principal.  I can remember standing in front of my faculty, I was an early principal and it was one of my first faculty meetings, full staff, Monday afternoon, and I stood for 60 minutes.  It was sit and get.  I shared everything we had to do.  It was all informational.  Here’s the agenda, you got to do this, you’ve got to do that.  And 60 straight minutes, sit and get, listen to Tom, here’s everything you have to do.  The next day, I’ll tell you, by the way, 4:01, the place was a ghost town, a minute after everyone was gone.  The next day I go and I observe I believe a 3rd grade classroom.  And it was a math lesson, and I’m sitting and I’m watching, and basically for 52 straight minutes, I’m watching this math lesson.  And I’m watching the teacher essentially lecture for 52 minutes.  And in my supervision notes, I have you know we’ve got this captive audience, we can’t just talk the entire time.


The following day, I have my post observation, my post conference.  And I have in my notes, something that I was about to share that made me sick to my stomach.  Because I realized, as her supervisor, as the principal giving her feedback, I was about to tell her, don’t do exactly what I did the day before.  So, I wasn’t modeling it well in that case.  The flip side to that, every time we have a faculty meeting as a leader, every time we have an in-service day, heck, every interaction with our staff in any sort of leader – and not that it has to be a principal to be a leader.  Teachers to certainly do those Renegade Leaders as well, to make that clear.  But every opportunity that we have those interactions is an opportunity to model what we’re looking for.  To take my story and my failure from that, to you to modeling, what are some ways that leaders could model that kind of works so that those opportunities are really taking advantage of for those around them?


Interviewee:                 Yeah, that’s such a great story and it fit – to even be even more succinct, you illustrate it really well.  But I always say model, not mandate.  I just tell myself that I shouldn’t have to try to convince someone it’s the right thing to do for kids.  I should learn it, dig in myself, try it out and model and be vulnerable, and if it crashes and burns then the culture will see how we can respond to that.  And this isn’t just me leading it, I’m inspired by people who show that to me on our staff too.  But some ways, Tom, like look at anything you do in your school.  So open house is a really great example.  Energy on staff several years ago, it was telling us that our open house had grown to cumbersome.  We were trying to do too many things with it.  We were trying to do a curriculum night presentation.  We’re splitting kids up doing some character education.  Trying to make it a value at families.  And we were wearing ourselves out.  Kids were getting anxious because they’re split up from families.  We wanted to get back to the basics and that’s part of Renegade Leadership is.  Keep it relational.  If the technology isn’t bringing us together and bringing extra ideas invoices to the table, then it’s not doing what it could do.  If it’s not empowering people to create and feel more a community, we’ve missed some of the power.  So, we actually started a flipped video series for our open house.  And the purpose of that was so that when parents came to our school, it was 100 % about relationships.  And those videos by sending them ahead of time, people actually got a little bit of a relational flavor seeing their teacher take a risk, be humorous, either personality, see them interacting with their colleagues.  But then they could come in and say, hey, tell me a little bit about that social studies video.  Everything made sense.  We’re excited.  My kid feels like he or she knows you just a little bit, but we just need to learn a little bit more about that.


And of course, we factored in some of the equity stuff and made the videos available widely and largely and we’re purposeful about that.  But, that’s a prime example of solving a human problem.  Not a principal identified problem, but as a team we identified that as a need, and then we work together to leverage just different thinking to meet the needs.  And we’re not going to ride that into the sunset.  I mean we will iterate and change it.  A lot of the events we do here at school, Tom, sometimes people ask, I can’t wait to do that next year, are we doing that next year.  And that’s kind of just what we do, I do that too.  But sometimes it’s well hold on, what if there is something different and better for our kids next year?  Let’s be learners, and then we’ll plan a little bit later.


Interviewer:                 Yeah, you know Brad, many of our viewers are looking to this notion of innovation, to create more learner centered schools or student-centered whatever the phrase we’re to use.  But we certainly don’t want it to be a buzzword.  One thing that I’m always critical of myself and us and education is we buzzword bingo everything in what we do. So, we don’t want this just to be this notion of innovation or that being some sort of buzzword.  How do we apply innovation to our work in a meaningful way?


Interviewee:                 Well first, for me Tom, I’d be curious to find and hear, and the answer will be different for everyone listening, but what is meaningful?  Like why do you get up in the morning?  And I would encourage people who are listening to actually think about that right now.  Like, what is your purpose, what is your why, and what do you hope and aspire for the kids that you’re serving.  And I’d be willing to bet that a lot of us are going to come, it might not be the exact wording, but we’re going to come to this place where the core of our work, we’re called to help kids be whole and to contribute to make a difference in the world above and beyond what a test will measure, okay.  And I think achievement is really important and that’ll come through in the book with some of the instructional leadership pieces.  But if the end all be all is just academic achievement in reading and math and maybe trying to innovate to get scores up, I feel like us as a human race and family and even global community is drastically going to be missing out.


One of the things I think about is, like in our school, if the next like Mia Hamm, or Steve Jobs, or Serena Williams is in our hallways right now, will we notice it.  And I think a Renegade Leadership will have some systems in place and work with their team and colleagues to make sure that every student’s passions are cultivated and identified above and beyond the test.  Okay.  So, here is a quick example of what that might look like to make it actionable.  Our team, many years ago now, created, we wanted to do just what I talked about, so we invested in a fleet of mobile maker space carts.  We’re not innovative for the sake of innovation, but we’re trying to unleash student talent and passion.  So, whether it’s knitting looms, or Play-Doh, or Legos, or 3D printing, it really doesn’t matter.  I’m a teacher, I can check it out like a library book.  As a principal I can bring it to a staff meeting or kickoff workshop week with it, doesn’t matter.  But we can learn by doing and creating and coming together and talking and collaborating.  And it’s just seeing things different.  So, I don’t really care if anyone calls that innovation or not.  For us, it was a meaningful change, because it empowered a pedagogy of student ownership.


Interviewer:                 Yeah, and that notion of ownership or agency is certainly so key and something at Future Ready we talk about all the time.  I do want to take a moment to remind our viewers at the hashtag for today’s webinar is #futureready.  So, ask your questions on Twitter, as we’re certainly monitoring and taking a look there as well.  So, Brad I’m actually going to go off script here for a few moments.  And something we’ve never done on a Future Ready webinar, we’ve done dozens and dozens of them here.  I’m going to do rapid-fire.  We got – and the reason I’m going to do this – we have a whole slew of questions come in as people registered before this event.  We had over 900 people register for you here today, and we’ve got a lot of questions.  So, I’m going to give you five random questions that came in, that they based off of what the description was.  So, there in no particular order.  I want to hear a minute or less, what comes to mind in your responses.  So, a minute or less for each.  Then we’re going to jump back to some more traditional questions _____ Renegade Leadership.  You ready?


Interviewee:                 I like it, yes.  I’m ready.


Interviewer:                 All right.  So, the first one comes from Chris.  Chris, I’m going to butcher your last name, Legletter in Kansas.  All right, here we go.  What strategies or practices can administrators use with teachers to help them infuse innovative practices into their routines?  A minute or less, go.


Interviewee:                 I’m going to go back to model, don’t mandate.  We can sit and go into an observation and try to coach a teacher and say you could try this, you should try this, so and so is doing this.  But if we are not living it and taking risks in staff meeting and actually using technology for example in a meaningful way to bring people together, creating space for new ideas, rapid prototyping, iterating.  If we’re not doing that, I really don’t think anything else matters.  Boom Tom.  This is fun.


Interviewer:                 This is solid.  Nancy Rose in New Hampshire asked, how do you encourage innovation when the focus of assessment is still so heavily aimed at English language arts and math?  So, all of our innovative practice fits into the cracks between ELA and math.  That’s kind of the statement she made, you want to respond to Nancy in New Hampshire.


Interviewee:                 Nancy, all right.  Nancy, it is still all about the learning.  So whether we’re talking ELA, math, it really doesn’t matter.  When we keep it about the learning, and not necessarily about test achievement.  Because there is a difference there.  When kids are learning, they will achieve on the test. We will have done kids well.  So, here’s an example, and again, this goes back to modeling.  We’ve modeled some stuff, we’ve had kids come in and teach teachers and myself using droids and stuff.  Guess what happens after kids are presenting and leading at staff meetings?  The educators, like myself and their teachers, go back and try the same things in reading class.  For example, we had some kids teach that –  it doesn’t matter what app or bot or whatever it is, so I’m not going to name anything specific.  But we had kids do that and then sure enough teachers are going back and they’re creating like story plots on huge floor posters they made, and navigating and having conversations with the droid.  So, it’s really not about the innovation in that sense, just about different learning that the kids can’t get enough of.


Interviewer:                 All right.  Next question comes from the Jason C. Gribble in Michigan.  And Jason asked Jason, Brad bringing his own ping pong paddle?  I have no idea what that means, but I’m throwing that your way.


Interviewee:                 Oh, Jason that changed.  So, Jason, this might break your heart, but our staff has started playing pickle ball now.  And actually, the week it’s almost an every week thing.  This is my actual professional pickle ball paddle, Jason.  So, I’ve taken a little retirement on ping-pong —


Interviewer:                 So _____ context of that, Brad —


Interviewee:                 So as I recall, we had a little tournament, and I got just smoked by Ben Gilpin.  But I beat him on the last game.  So technically Tom and Jason, I have the title.


Interviewer:                 All right, let’s do one more.  Diane _____ in Washington.  Diane asked, with one to one iPads, how do teachers keep students on task when all they really want to do is watch YouTube videos?  The best management system or app?  What do you say?


Interviewee:                 Okay.  So, I would question the premise of that.  Who was that, that said that, Nancy?


Interviewer:                 Diane.


Interviewee:                 Diane, okay.  So, all they want to do is watch YouTube.  That might be compared to what we’re currently offering, right?  They would probably choose YouTube over if I went in and tried to do X, Y or Z with them, but I guarantee they have energies and motivations.  And when we tap into that, they will be wildly creative and collaborative.  So, if we empower them to create in alignment with some standards, I guarantee you they won’t just want to watch YouTube videos.  We just have to think about the question or the assumption a little bit differently.


Interviewer:                 Great.


Interviewee:                 What do you think about that, Tom?


Interviewer:                 I would agree.


Interviewee:                 _____ some feedback here.


Interviewer:                 I would agree.  Hey, this is your time, my friend


Interviewee:                 [Crosstalk]


Interviewer:                 Your time.  So, and along those lines Brad, to add to what you’d say, I actually got that exact same question on a podcast yesterday.  And for me I’m talking about number one, if I’m a teacher it’s creating the most dynamic lesson possible.  So, all they want to do is be part of the lesson.  Number two, it is partially classroom management and the sense of how are we managing the classroom from that end.  And number three, sure, we want to make sure that we’re holding students accountable when we need to, but create the best lesson that we can, make it engaging, and students will certainly want to take part of that as well.  But I get the realities of we’ve got a lot of digital tools.  Here’s the flip side, and we don’t me the sarcastically at all, but if we ask the same question about educators during in-service days, on their phones doing something different, how do we keep them more engaged?  Well —


Interviewee:                 Oh, I comple – that’s such a great analogy.  And is it, is it…


Interviewer:                 If you flip the question, and it’s oh well this isn’t about me, it’s not my kids.  And when I think about it in that way, well if I’m planning and _____ I’m planning those days, I would want to do the same thing.  Make it as engaging and as hands on as possible, or you can expect to see as adults, our heads buried in our phones.  And so, it gets the analogy, how do we make it great.  All right, let’s get back to Renegade Leadership and that that was fun.  Thank you–


Interviewee:                 That was good.


Interviewer:                 –from the audience there.  So, Tom, building on this notion of innovation.  So, how can innovation be applied to a school’s budget, beliefs, schedule, the professional learning, you know, the traditions that effectively serve our learners?


Interviewee:                 Yeah, great.  So, in the book I talk about the Renegade Code, and that’s really the pedagogy and the lens that is actionable.  Every single thing we do in a school we can apply a lens or pedagogy to.  So, I won’t go into the code other than to say it’s underpinned by relationships and for me the big one is the “O”, and that’s student ownership.  So, let’s we’ll just use the budget as the example as you suggested.  And again, this could be, if you can apply the Renegade Code to dollars and cents, it can be applied to anything, and much more learner driven stuff.  But for us to create greater student and staff ownership, we created a line item in the budget for innovation.


So, instead of when teachers who always have great ideas and they want to make a difference, instead of having to double-check the purse strings, see if we have enough money at the end of the year.  I have it reserved and it’s a modest to some, but it is a commitment.  And sometimes I can fund half the idea, and they can work with other sources and figure it out.  And that foot in the door for meaningful change, it matters.  The second thing I’ll share is we do this thing called one sentence grants.  And it’s really nothing fancy.  It’s actually just tapping into kind of the innovation budget.  But the first year it was a good response.  The second year, flooded with requests from teachers because they realize like this is serious, this is for real.  My ideas to make a difference for kids and move forward on district vision matter, and they’re going to get funded if it’s anything like last year.  And the best part about the one sentence grant, it’s truly not having teachers jump through a bunch of strings.


It’s kind of like send me an e-mail that tells me what you want, how much it costs, and just connect it to like district and school vision, just so I can see it.  And the things they’re asking for Tom, are honestly probably things that five years ago.  I would have maybe been trying to push.  But they are leaders and they’re now leading the way.  And I just need to get out of the way and try to connect them to resources to support them.  So, that’s how I would apply the code to budgets.  And you can see that you can apply that – I mean it can be applied anything.


Interviewer:                You know, Susan just tweeted, Renegade Leadership, meaningful change, all about the pedagogy, pedagogy something that shines through.  And I credit your books awesome by the way, but I do credit you throughout.  Your focused on the teaching and learning and then you don’t ever lose sight of that. It’s easy to get lost of the teaching and learning side in innovation and lose sight of what we’re doing, what we’re doing, and you always come back to that high-quality learning experiences for kids.  So, I wanted, I know you just referenced the Renegade Code.  I want ask you to break that down for just a couple of minutes, a little bit more the code.  And maybe another example or so of what you mean by this notion of code to help our viewers.


Interviewee:                 Sure. So, I think of kind of in the 80’s, carrying around the boom box, and you know the sound bar, the equalizer on the stereo equipment.  The code is, you can just dial different elements of the code.  Everything doesn’t have to be incredibly collaborative, off the charts student ownership, digital connectivity, experiential, relational, you know, we’d probably all crash and burn.  But if we can be purposeful and attentional with one or two of those things as we’re planning a staff meeting, or looking at how we’re doing parent/teacher conferences, or even our office communications, and having like student voice and ownership instead of my newsletter, just using the website or email having kids create videos that showcase their learning and talk about the books or reading and stuff.  I mean those are the little levers that we do.  Here’s a culminating example, and it just shows the work our team has done over the years.  But we had a kido since he was in kindergarten, and this is an elementary school, so after fifth grade he graduated or went to middle school.  And we circled back to him, and he just spoke at our state principal conference, Tom.


His name was Ethan and he delivered, I think one of the best messages of the conference as far as those kind of TED style talks, it was about eight or nine minutes and his was on achievement that last, which is exactly what I would hope a Greenwood graduate and all kids would be talking about, achievement that lasts.  But the fact that his teachers from kindergarten we’re investing in things reminiscent of the code, like getting kids collaborating.  Giving them ways to have their voice and choice and ownership in the learning.  Giving them digital tools not just as an app, like no off – why, well I won’t name any apps – but it’s not about the app.  It’s really about the pedagogy.  So, we get this kid years later after he was with us, still in middle school, and he’s kind of a tall guy.  Some of the principles when he mentioned he was a middle school halfway through his speech, their job dropped because of the power of his message and the conviction behind what he was sharing.  And as I sat and listened, I could just connect the dots to how the teachers were doing the empowering him to collaborate, empowering him to own his learning.  Because you don’t just get up at the biggest principal conference in Minnesota and be on that stage, like he did well.  If teachers all and principals all along the way didn’t invest in him, and believe in it, and help him, live the code.


Interviewer:                That’s awesome.  One of the things I often like to say – is because I hear this notion of we’re going one to one, we’re going one to one, and along those lines.  We need to make sure we focus on the right one in the one to one, and it’s not the device.  So many times that one-to-one conversations are device focused.  The right one is exactly what you’re talking about, it’s the kid.  And how do we empower the kid in that case.  That’s an awesome example, Brad.  You must have had chills as a principal listening to a kid, I would, you know what the power in student voice and sharing their experience and what an incredible story there.  Thanks for sharing that.  I do want to remind our viewers for the last few minutes the hashtag for today’s webinar is #futureready, don’t forget that.  And we’d love to see sharing that out online there as well. So Brad, you’ll often talk about how leaders need to see school through the eyes of the learner, and I love that notion.  So, I want to turn the tables again a little bit here, I’m going to kind of turn that on you a little bit.  So, I–


Interviewee:                 Are you going renegade on me here, Tom?


Interviewer:                 [Crosstalk] renegade on you here.  It’s just an example.  So, if you were a student, and we all are I guess in that sense, but if you were a student maybe sitting your building or whatever the case might be, what’s one thing you might push back on on your book, Renegade Leadership?  Tough question there, but I know your first thought is wait, it’s perfect.


Interviewee:                 Yeah, yeah.


Interviewer:                 Right.  No, I’m only teasing.  Go ahead, what’s something, if I’m a kid looking at that work, looking at the notion, leverage in student voice, let’s play the other side of the table.  What’s something maybe _____ push back as we talk about this different style of leadership?


Interviewee:                 Okay.  I’ll just say the first thing that comes to mind is maybe the leadership title.  And I heard you mention this earlier.  Sometimes, we have relegated leadership to just a formal role of a superintendent, or a coach, or a principal.  And we all know, we know that couldn’t be further from the truth because no good principal ever existed apart from incredible teachers.  I mean, they are the backbone of the profession.  So, from a student side, I’d be saying, what about my teachers?  You put leadership on the book and you probably some people aren’t going to pick it up and it might actually help them help me.  I’m speaking like a kid now.  So, that’s probably one.  I’ve seen a super teeny example from the book that speaks to the power of teachers.  I mean, that’s right throughout it.


But we had some issues with parent/teacher conferences, and attendance was lower with our specialist teachers, PhyEd, music, art, and things like that.  And I know our specialist’s teachers, Tom, I think are some of the best in the business.  So, they applied some of this collaborative student ownership stuff, and through the eyes of the learner this will get it at that question, but we showcase kids now and instead of like 3% of families attending specialists, we have obviously much higher attendance with homeroom teachers, but as far as specialists goes, it was pretty bleak.  Now, in third and fourth grade. We do this Passport to Passion thing, that I talk about in the book.  And we’re up around 60% for PhyEd and all those other important subjects.  That’s exactly what we want, because we’re looking our teachers, this isn’t about me.  They are looking at things through the eyes of the learners, shining the spotlight on them.  And guess who comes with kids, at least at the elementary level, their parents they show up.  And the engagement is off the charts.  So, I would try to, if I had to change one thing, I would somehow remove leadership or at least have people genuinely embrace, celebrate, and acknowledge the leader that is in every teacher.


Interviewer:                 Yeah, absolutely.  When Eric and I were writing “Learning Transformed” we did a lot of research on the notion of leadership.  And quite often it’s that notion of leadership by title, superintendent, principal, instructional coach, tech director, whatever it might be.  But we both know some of the greatest teachers I’ve ever – I’m sorry, greatest leaders I’ve ever met.  Or that fourth year teacher that’s running through walls for kids every day.  That support staff member that’s a backbone to that building.  And that leader by action is what we called it, in that book.  But we can see, completely see eye to eye on that.  I’m going to hit a couple more questions that we got, because we had so many come in.  Sean Scamlin, hey Sean out in Illinois.  Sean asks, how can we show teachers the positive effects of innovation in schools, not just the possibilities?  I love that question.  So, not just what’s possible, and I would say I’m guilty of that all the time.  You know, hey, theoretically here’s what you could do, but look at the positive effects of what’s happened.  So, dissect Sean’s question a little bit.  What would you say to Sean here?


Interviewee:                 Yep, so we see, when working in a school, we see every single day, hundreds of examples of really meaningful heart to heart, heart to head connections.  Kids doing really great things, teachers doing really great things.  And I just think shining the light on that a little bit, helping people see it’s not about the whatever, the augmented reality or fill in the blank, the kids creating virtual reality.  Just look at the impact on kids and how it’s empowered them, the teacher who took the risk.  And if we could tell that story a little bit in whatever way is meaningful to us.  And for me, a lot of times it’s blogging or maybe even sharing a little bit on a webinar.  But whatever works for you, I feel like on some level we owe it to our kids and the profession as a whole to share some of these stories.  Because it’s not just in the act of sharing to share and celebrate our kids.  It’s also in the learning, right, because when you share Tom, guess who benefits?  We do, our kids do.


Interviewer:                So, I’m going to move over, I’m just going to leave it at Kim because of the question here, I wouldn’t want her question to actually… You’ll see what I mean.  Kim from West Virginia.  So, Kim asks, some administrators are not forward thinking, in her opinion, and can be intimidated or even irritated by this notion of innovation that doesn’t include the test, and teaching to the test, and I’m sure Brad you’ve never heard this kind of question before, right.  But how do we make the – and I mean that all well, because this comes up all the time.  I’d love to do this but… yeah, but… my leader, my principal.  So, how do you make changes without putting your job at risk?  Is what she is asking.  So, what do you do if I’m that teacher watching this, and I’m feeling like every time I go to my principal and, you know, here’s this great idea, I think it would be really innovative, I want to try it.  And you feel like you’re getting shot down.  What about that?


Interviewee:                 Yeah, I would just say lead – you know, model and own what you can do Kim and everyone else.  And it’s the small things, and it does not need to be battery operated, or plugged in, or device.  It could be the simple act of giving kids authentic choice in the books their choosing just little things.  And the positive effects of letting kids choose that, will spill over.  It will become a culture thing, and we won’t just limited it to the books they’re reading.  They’ll be able to choose devices, and how they want to communicate, collaborate when, it can permeate the culture.  It takes time and it’s a process, but if you just start and make a difference and empower kids, it is contagious and it’s the right thing to do.  And it will impact achievement too.


Interviewer:                Yeah, you know, and I would just add to that is to continue to share the positive results that do occur as you’re doing those things.  And because every leader in the world, every principal in the world wants to see those positive results, that positive data, or however you want to phrase it.  And continue to share that, and sharing that why, and sharing that to help build that culture.  Which really gets to the last question.  And because of time we’re going to wrap up.  So Mike Kurt in Texas asks, and it’s something that really builds off what you just said at the end there, Brad.  An innovative lesson or activity is one thing, but how do you sustain an innovative culture?  I love that question.  What do you say to Mike there, Brad?


Interviewee:                 So, I’m going to speak specifically now to school and district leaders.  I’m just going to go back to this concept of modeling.  And I’ll give you some super quick tangible things.  When I do staff communications or weekly email, I always try to have choice, even for staff.  So, I’ll have an audio link, so people can choose to listen to the weekly memo and multitask at their desk or on the drive home, or read it.  That’s just a teeny example.  I also have control over office communications, like I mentioned earlier.  So, involving kids, so that – or at board meetings, when I present and am required to present, I bring a slew of kids and teachers are empowered, and they lead it.  And by constantly trying to model not the best way to do it, but just that I’m trying and learning and then we can see how it impacts kids.  I think that makes a difference and it shows the results that we can have.  So, just model and own what you can do and silos will become cities.


Interviewer:                 Right.  If we were playing bingo today, I’d be hoping that model was my middle frame, there.


Interviewee:                 Yeah.


Interviewer:                 That word is something you’ve said probably 50 times in this webinar, but absolutely goes hand in hand with leadership.  We’re going to wrap up here with this last question.  You’ve shared a lot today, you’ve shared some great concrete examples from your own work there in Minnesota.  Incredible things and core concepts to the book that you wrote.  With all of that being shared, what advice do you have for those looking to transform their own leadership?  Here’s the bottom line, Brad.  As we introduced it there, that leadership and school culture truly set that foundation, to making these changes.  But, we’ll tell you, toxic school environments are out there.  Many people are feeling like they’re working in a toxic environment.  You know what, toxic environments, that’s an adult issue.  That’s about us, but it gets in the way of kids and learning.  So, everybody watching this let webinar, I’m sure, has the desire to become better in their own leadership.  So, regardless of where they are in the continuum, somebody that’s been leading the way in different ways for decades versus somebody that’s, hey I’m a relatively new teacher, but I feel like I’m a leader.  What advice do you have, regardless of where they are on the continuum, to improve their own leadership?


Interviewee:                 Keep it about relationships, but don’t stop there.  Never stop investing in relationships, but those are like building blocks to do really cool things with kids, and for kids, and by kids, right.  And then the second bit of advice, Tom, is continue to push yourself in every single situation to see things through the eyes of the learners you serve.  Not just collectively, but literally every single one individually, because boys and girls in different ages and different cultures will all have different experiences and we need to desperately try to make sure that our definition of relevance isn’t what Brad and Tom and our teachers think is relevant.  It’s got to be to the kids.  That’s it.  And when you do that, you will not go wrong and you will never stop growing.


Interviewer:                I’m not sure we can end on a better notion of relationship and kids.  It’s why we do what we do.  It’s the heart of Future Ready Schools.  It’s the heart of transformation.  And as educators, we can never ever lose sight that loving and caring about kids is our first priority and every single thing else comes secondary after that. So I do–


Interviewee:                 And a little bit of pickle ball, right.


Interviewer:                 And a little bit of pickle ball.  Thank you.  And you’re the first person that’s also brought a prop to the webinar.  We appreciate that Brad.


Interviewee:                 It’s just sitting right there.


Interviewer:                 Brad, any parting thoughts before I wrap up?


Interviewee:                 No, I just want to thank you for your work and leadership.  It’s a privilege to have these types of conversations. So thanks Tom.


Interviewer:                Sure.  So, I do want to remind our viewers that information on the Future Ready Effort can be found at  We encourage and challenge district superintendents to join over 3200 others that have signed our Future Ready Pledge.  We also encourage our school leaders watching today, to join us at one of this year’s Future Ready Institutes, which as always are free for attendees.  And I will tell you, we will be announcing them very, very soon.  I also want to encourage our viewers to get involved with our growing strands, from district leaders, to IT, to principals where Brad runs with Jimmy Costas, to librarians, and instructional coaches.  We have vastly expanded the reach of Future Ready Schools over the past year.


So, check out our private Facebook groups there as well, for ongoing activities and conversations, to stay connected for those working alongside of you throughout the nation.  I do want to thank my good friend Brad Gustafson, as well as thank all of you, our viewers, for investing the time today for this Future Ready webinar.  Don’t forget to connect with us here at Future Ready on Twitter, @FutureReady.  And on Facebook, at  We also want to invite you to our next all thread webinar on May 17th, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. as we discuss the economic impact of raising high school graduation rates around the country.  That is something you are not going to want to miss, promise you that.  So, if you missed any of today’s conversation it’s going to be archived at soon after this webinar.  On that page, you can also see a list of upcoming webinars, can find all of the alliances, Google Hangouts, on our YouTube Channel there as well.  For those of you taking part in the Action Academy Badging Platform, the password for this webinar fittingly is renegade.


Interviewee:                 Good call on that one.  Good call on that one.


Interviewer:                 Thank you again for joining us here at Future Ready Schools.  Have a fabulous day. Thanks for serving kids and we will see you next time.


[End of Audio]


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    Posted 3 years ago

    Great information!

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