So here is one of the burning questions in my brain these days: How do you take a fairly “typical” school that is currently steeped in a 20th Century model of teaching and successfully move it forward in a systemic way toward a more relevant 21st Century, or, if you will, School 2.0 model that fully takes advantage of a more connected, collaborative, creative world?

With any luck, I’ll be able to begin answering that question here over the next few months and years. My colleague Rob Mancabelli and I are working with a medium-sized, rural school district to help plan and guide a project that, if successful, will serve as a model for other schools to follow in their own re-envisioning process.

Needless to say, I’m a bit excited.

Ironically, I’ll be spending the next two days at Chris Lehmann’s Science Leadership Academy which is probably as close to School 2.0 as you can find right now. But while I absolutely love what Chris is doing, his is not really a scenario that is easily replicated…a new school pretty much from the ground up, a student body that has been selected through an admission process, etc.

While I can’t get too specific with names and places at this point, we think that this project, should it be successful, would come much closer to becoming a roadmap for other districts to follow. So, here’s the scenario in broad brush strokes. The district has three schools and serves a primarily rural area about six squares miles in size. There is some racial diversity, but the vast majority of students are white and come from lower middle to middle class families, many of which have owned farms in the area for generations. The town center has one stoplight and lies about 30 miles from the nearest city, and while economic fortunes and enrollments have been on the decline of late, there has been an upswing of home building of late that indicates the community may be on the cusp of change.

Rob and I spent the day with the district leadership and others recently leading conversations about why were all at the table, what our purpose was, what we envisioned as “wild success” some years down the road, what strengths and opportunities were already in place, and what weaknesses and threats we would need to address. It was an amazing conversation that reflects, as one of the participants described it, almost a “perfect storm” for change in this district. The leadership team, despite already having a highly successful school in terms of test scores and traditional standards, recognizes what’s coming and wants to be proactive in helping teachers and students practice real 21st Century education, understanding that there is no set definition of what that is. The regional state entity that was also represented is totally supportive from a technology and pedagogy sense and is committed to invest in an “R &D” project of this type to see how it can help other schools it serves move forward. What Rob and I hope to do is inform the vision and guide the process over the next few years, hopefully, as we work together to figure out what the unique recipe for change is with this district at this moment.

While there is much more to write and to tell, let me just end this initial post with some of the things that really get the butterflies going about this project. First, everyone in the room realized that this was about more than just the district. This was about the community itself. To that end, we’re in the process of creating a project team that includes every constituent group, from business owners to parents to industry representatives to town leaders and others. There is already talk, and this might be premature, of providing a broadband wireless cloud over the six square miles that will at least make access available for every resident. That in itself could be quite an interesting step. And, second, what really struck me about these initial conversations was the willingness to look at change from a systemic way, understanding that this means re-envisioning almost everything they do. It’s not about tools, in fact, technology was rarely mentioned in Monday’s meeting. It was about learning, the willingness of the leadership team to model new ways of learning and communicating, the need to create a new vision for what all of the looks like in the classroom. And it was a willingness to face head on the disruptions that come with all of this.

No question, there are many hurdles yet to be overcome if this is to work, and many, many, many conversations to start. There is a huge education job in front of us to make sure the various constituent groups have the context for the conversation. And there are, as always, the issues of money and time.

But I am incredibly humbled and excited by this opportunity. And I would love your thoughts along the way. More in the coming weeks, I’m sure…

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