A New School Year Gift for Educational Innovators and Difference-Makers

Dear educators, administrators, parents, teachers, and other educational innovators and difference-makers:

Recently I started to think about the beginning of a new school year. In celebration of another year, what could I offer as a gift to teachers, administrators, policy-makers, educational entrepreneurs, parents, students, and others who want to make a difference in education? My first thought related to writing a series of articles that include tips for teachers and others who are starting a new school year. I may still do that this year or the next, but the more that I thought about it, I realized that I already wrote something for teachers. In fact, in addition to my 1000+ online articles, I’ve written five books in the last two years, four of which are written for those in education. So, why not give away one of my books as a new school year gift?

I sent a quick message to the publisher of my first book, Missional Moonshots: Insight and Inspiration in Educational Innovation, suggesting a crazy idea. As you might expect, publishers depend upon the money that they make from published books, so my idea was a radical one. My suggestion was simple.

“I want to give away unlimited free PDF versions of the Missional Moonshots book. What do you think?” To my delight, I received a literal thumbs up.

So, without further ado, here is my new school year gift to anyone who wants to be an innovator and difference-maker this school year. Simply click on the link below to download a free and complete PDF version of my book, a collection a short chapters, each of which offers you tips for how to effect positive change in a learning organization. This is drawn from hundreds of interviews and observations of innovative schools and leaders, over two decades of personal experience, and a good decade of focused research and reading on the subject. I hope and pray that you find this useful.

CLICK HERE to download a free and complete copy of Missional Moonshots: Insight and Inspiration in Educatioanl Innovation by Dr. Bernard Bull 

What Do I ask in return?

This is a gift, so there are no strings attached. Just enjoy. However, if you like what you read, here are two things that you can do.

  1. Share this gift with anyone and everyone who might be interested or can benefit from it.You can send them back to this page to download it so that I can track how many people are interested. All copyright is still in place for this book, so printing, distributing, or selling it to others is not allowed, but there is nothing keeping you from directing people to this article to download it.
  2. Tell me about what you learned, liked, or used. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing from readers of the paper version so far, and I would love to here from you as well.

Other Options for the Book?

If you really want a paper copy or a Kindle version, the book is still for sale on Amazon and other booksellers.

One Last Comment

I hope that you find this gift useful in this new school year. Thank you to the many educators, administrators, parents, students, and others who strive to create rich and rewarding learning experiences and learning communities, and for those with the courage and conviction to challenge the status quo in education, inspired by a clear vision and a compelling “why.”

I hope to get started with a semi-frequent Etale newsletter, occasional new articles on this blog, and new episodes for the MoonshotEdu Show in the near future. Stay tuned for news about that. Of course, I welcome your help spreading the word.

A fellow co-learner,

Bernard Bull

43 Questions for Planning and Starting Your Dream School

What does it take to build your dream school? That is a the question explored by hundreds who competed for 10 million dollars through the XQ Super School Project, but there are plenty of others who think about this apart from the competition. Whether it is an early childhood center, elementary school, high school or University, there are plenty of mundane requirements, but the essence of a school is about more than filling out the proper paperwork with the appropriate agencies. It is about creating a compelling vision for the school, building a coalition, and exploring answers to any number of core questions. Yet, plenty of efforts to create a new school work from largely predefined plans. It is the equivalent of building a home from a kit. You are just replicating what others did, following the instructions, building it, and going from there. Sometimes this works out well for people. Yet, there are also those times when a person or group comes along and decided to create a new type of school, breaking new ground, and creating a new sense of what is possible.

The Competition

This is the sort of idea that inspired the XQ Super School Project, a 50 million dollar offer for designers of the next great American school. I wrote about this last year, soon after the competition launched. Yet, in a matter of months, this project quickly turned into far more than a competition for funding. People from around the United States logged into the system and began to build local and dispersed teams, each of which worked together to create a plan for a new school. If you talk to many of these people, what might have started with the hope of getting the funding turned into a passion that drove many teams forward  regardless of what ultimately happens with the money. These are people on a mission, driven by a compelling vision, shaped by lots of work, collaboration, research, and soliciting input from students and others. I’m excited to see what comes from the many teams that followed through on their plans, and will now help add new and valuable educational options to the modern educational system. 

How to Build a School

So, what does it take to build a new school? Following is a list of the questions that the Super School Project used as a guide for the participants. Each answer gets you one more step to making that dream school a reality. In fact, as I looked through the questions, these are the sorts of questions that we can use to inform any number of great projects. With a few adjustments, these can guide plans for the next great K-12 school, University, continuing education business, open learning movement, or education startup. They represent the sort of questions that go into a solid business plan, preparation from a social entrepreneurship endeavor, and more. If you take the questions seriously, this the questions will drive you to think deeply, connect with others, garner critical input, conduct research, build your competence and confidence, and finally gain the clarity of vision needed to build something truly distinct.
You can find these questions on the Super School Project website as well, along with a wealth of other helpful and inspiring resources. I’d also like to thank the friends at the Super School Project for permitting me to include the questions here. Most are taken word for word, but I did tweak it a little bit, turning some statements into questions or cutting back on the word length in other instances.

The Questions

  1. What will you name your school?
  2. What is the bold and compelling idea at the center of your school?
  3. How will you get input from young people to make sure that your school truly serves the needs of the learning community and beyond?
  4. How will you get insight about how to best prepare students for life after your school (college, work, etc.)?
  5. What inspiring examples, research, and ideas from others will you tap into for the design of your school?
  6. How will you make sure that all the elements o the school come together to create a consistently powerful learning experience for students?
  7. Whom will your school serve?
  8. How many students will the school serve once you are fully operational/enrolled?
  9. What is the makeup of the dream team that you’ve assembled to make this school a reality?
  10. What additional expertise and/or people do you need to make this happen?
  11. What are your top three insights about the challenges facing your prospective students in the 21st century, both globally and in your community? Create a description (text, video, charts, other) that illustrates these insights.
  12. What are the top three insights from young people about how they experience school and learning in their lives, about how they see their education and career opportunities, and about your role in preparing them for the future? Create a description (text, video, charts, other ) that illustrates these insights.
  13. What are your top three insights about how young people learn — the insights you’re most passionate about bringing to life in your school? Create a description (text, video, charts, other) that illustrates these insights.
  14. What mission, purpose, and core values will animate and unify your school? (Consider how these might build the engagement of students and adults, rally the support of your community, and drive the development of your school.) Create a description (text, video, charts, other) that illustrates the mission, purpose, and core values.
  15. How will your school support and enable students to form positive identities as continuous learners, build complex skills, and contribute as members of their communities? Create a profile or persona of 2-3 potential student stories of your future school. Describe their growth and development through school. Create a description (text, video, charters, other) that tells the story of these three people, something you could share with prospective students, teachers, and parents, including how your school will cultivate student agency and engagement.
  16. What partners will be part of the ongoing work of the school? Explain how partners will work together to design and plan the school, and how your partnership will support student learning, engagement, development, and connection to post-secondary success. Create a description (text, video, charts, other) that illustrates how you will draw on these partnerships to enhance the student experience.
  17. What roles will teachers, leaders, and other adults play in your school? What specialized knowledge and skills will they need?
  18. What are your plans for staff recruitment? What sources will you explore?
  19. How will you enlist nontraditional educators to optimize your school design?
  20. How will you foster a strong professional learning community and promote continuous learning and improvement?
  21. What barriers do you anticipate, and how will you overcome them?
  22. How will you measure growth in every student’s learning? How will you identify problems, challenges, and opportunities? What tools and procedures will you use to gather this information, and how often?
  23. How will you collect feedback on your instructional program, the overall experience of students, and the effectiveness of school leadership? How will you understand and improve performance based on this feedback?
  24. How can you use standard data sources differently to rethink student assessment from the bottom up? What data are not being collected through existing systems?
  25. What do you need to know about your students’ academic competencies, social-emotional development, and real-world interests in order to guide their journeys to adulthood?
  26. How can your school use time, space, and technology in innovative ways that enhance opportunities for students to learn and grow and for teachers to thrive and succeed?
  27. How will your students spend their time during the day and throughout the school year?
  28. How might you use spaces inside and beyond your school to enhance learning? How will you develop or get access to those spaces?
  29. What technologies will help you create the best possible learning experiences for your students?
  30. What is the current school finance situation in the community you wish to serve? What funding streams for youth and education are available to you? How flexible are they, and are there any rules and constraints for these funds?
  31. What is the total cost of implementing your school model?
  32. How will you use resources creatively to fulfill your mission?
  33. How do you expect to use money strategically during the development year prior to opening your school How about for the first five years of operations?
  34. How will you ensure that your school is financially sustainable? What funds—beyond per-pupil allocations—do you anticipate needing over the long term? How will you secure them?
  35. Who has the financial expertise to make your innovations real? Are they willing to help or be a part of your team?
  36. Will your school be an independent charter school, a school within a charter network, or a school within a district? What are the pros and cons of each?
  37. How will you ensure fair and effective policies regarding student enrollment, calendar, hiring, procurement and purchasing, curriculum, and other matters? How much discretion will you need in these matters to enact your innovation?
  38. Which champions will you need to provide your school with guidance and support, and to ensure accountability for legal requirements, sound fiscal practices, and high expectations for student learning?
  39. How will students influence the ongoing governance of your school? What opportunities for leadership can you give them?
  40. What do you need to do in order to evolve from concept to implementation? Who needs to be involved, at what level of commitment, and in what roles?
  41. Organizations develop habits very early in their operations. What mission critical practices can you build in from the beginning?
  42. What gaps, barriers, and threats could hamper your ability to fully implement your design? How will you address them?
  43. How will you stay flexible to differences in the way your team members view processes and priorities? How will you adapt when your expectations don’t match reality?

A New Course on Education Moonshots & Social Entrepreneurship

The ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit is my favorite conference of the year. It is rare to find such a diverse gathering of interests in educational innovation. You will see investors, startup founders, people from established education companies, bloggers and journalists, K-12 educators and school leaders, higher education educators and school leaders, representatives from government, along with people from a variety of non-profit organizations interested in educational innovation. The plenary sessions are typically thought-provoking and the breakouts/panels can be interesting as well, but I go for the incredible conversations. Of course, I also love the startup pitches. As I’ve written before, I see those as the poetry slams of the business world, and I love attending them. This year, I have related to but different goal. I’m attending to make connections with potential guest speakers and case studies for a new course that I’m designing on Education Moonshots and Social Entrepreneurship that is tentatively scheduled to run during the Spring of 2017. This is scheduled to be a traditional undergraduate course, but I’m also musing about the possibilities of having some sort of virtual element for those who are not officially enrolled. Stay tuned for developments on that.

I’d venture to say that out of all the events that I attend, I probably feel most at home when I’m at the Education Innovation Summit. In some ways, the diverse attendees at the event align perfectly with the focus in my work and writing. There are not many academics whose work focuses almost exclusively on futures in education along with educational innovation and entrepreneurship, so events like this are wonderful opportunities to expand my work into new areas, to extend my network, to get feedback on new and future projects, and to learn from the innovations of others.

This year, I’m only there for one full day, so I’m committed to making the most of it. I always set personal goals for each event that I attend, but given the short time, I’m sticking with that single goal thisis year. And as aside, that goal that gives a hint at something that I hope to publicly announce in the next week or so. The new course design is a strong clue, but you’ll likely hear more about the larger announcement soon.

I am excited to begin designing this new undergraduate course called Education Moonshots & Social Entrepreneurship. This is an important project to me so I’m putting 8 months of focused preparation into this project. Between now and the launch of the course, I will be conducting interviews, expanding my reading and writing in the areas represented in the course, conducting visits and observations, building a collection of virtual and live guest speakers and panels for the course, devising engaging learning experiences for the students, and of course, deepening and refining my knowledge of the research in each of the course topics. All of this will also contribute to a new book that I plan to write and finish just as the course ends in May of 2017 (I’ve not approached any publishers yet so if you work with a publisher that might be interested, feel free to reach out).

The thinking represented in my 2016 book Missional Moonshots: Insight & Inspiration in Educational Innovation along with my forthcoming book, What Really Matters?: 10 Critical Issues in Modern Education, certainly influenced my intention to design this course, but if you read my blog, you will also not be surprised by what I’ve elected to include in the syllabus.

From the tentative course description:

This course focuses upon educational innovation and entrepreneurship as a form of social entrepreneurship that seeks to solve some of education’s greatest challenges.
It begins with a survey of critical issues in contemporary education followed by an exploration of innovative and entrepreneurial efforts to address these issues. Learners will explore how diverse education startups, non-profit organizations and NGOs, individuals and grassroots groups, K-12 schools, Universities, foundations, government agencies, professional associations and others are each responding to these issues in diverse and often innovative ways. As the course progresses, learners will explore the roles of funding, foundations, corporations, and government policies and regulations upon educational innovation and entrepreneurship. It will conclude with an examination of potential ways for personal engagement with current and future education moonshots.

Right now my list of topics looks like more than you could fit in a typical semester course. I’ll need to select from the list for the actual class, but I still intend to have a dedicated chapter on each of these areas in the book that I plan to write in parallel with the course design and offering. Here is what I have so far.

  1. The Education “Moonshot”
  2. A Survey of Prominent Leaders & Voices in Educational Entrepreneurship
  3. The Educational Entrepreneur’s Code: Ethics, Missions and Motives
  4. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Personalized & Adaptive Learning
  5. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Open Education
  6. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Access & Opportunity
  7. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Self-directed & Informal Learning
  8. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Non-cognitive & 21st Century Skills
  9. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Unbundled Education
  10. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: The New Digital Divide
  11. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Blended & Online Learning
  12. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Competency-based Education
  13. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Alternative Learning Pathways
  14. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Virtual & Augmented Reality
  15. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: STEM Education
  16. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Gamification & Game-Based Learning
  17. Education as Social Entrepreneurship: Credentialism and Workforce Development
  18. Visions and Rationales for Post-Industrial Education
  19. Emerging and Experimental Models of K-12 Education
  20. Emerging and Experimental Higher Education Models
  21. Intrapreneurs & Educational Innovation
  22. The Role and Impact of Foundations on Educational Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  23. Corporate Interests in Educational Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  24. Regulations, Government Policy & Educational Entrepreneurship: Muzzles and Megaphones
  25. Exploring Roles and Opportunities in Educational Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Now the work begins. I am committed to having a list of virtual and/or personal guest presenters, panels, and/or pre-recorded video interviews from researchers, innovators, leaders, entrepreneurs, and other key stakeholders in each of the topics listed above. So, if you have done work in one of these areas and think that it might be relevant for the course, I would love to connect with you. Just use the contact page on this blog to reach out or connect with me on Twitter.

Eggs, Spring & the Kairos for Educational Innovation

Timing matters. Kairos matters. On the first day of spring, my wife asked where she could find our level. She was checking the kitchen counter to see if it was adequately level for something that can only be done one day a year, balancing an uncooked egg on one of its two points. As you can see from the image, it worked, and it was a moment of fun, celebration and even a few commemorative photo opportunities.

Of course, it didn’t take long before I had to ponder the implications of this event for educational innovation. Once I started thinking about it, I remembered a Greek word that I’d learned years ago, kairos. As I recall, there are two words for time in Greek. The first is chronos. As you might suspect, this relates to chronological time. Kairos is the other. Instead of looking at time in terms of chronology, kairos is concerned with the nature of the time. . .the due season or opportune time. It is that moment when the conditions come together for something special to happen.

For those of us from the Christian tradition, we might use this word kairos to describe the incredible combination of events that came together in the birth of Christ, also the culminating events that many of us just remembered and celebrated on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In fact, there is a wonderful book that first introduced me to these ideas called In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. It describes the many conditions that came together, resulting in the kairos for the coming of Christ. The Roman roadways allowed for people to travel more broadly. A more common language throughout the empire also allowed for ideas to spread. Add many others and it becomes easy to see how it was indeed the karios.

As I stared at this egg standing on its end, a sense of accomplishment even though it was all due to the thought and persistence of my wife plus the right conditions. I wondered about the kairos for educational innovation. I wondered about the ideas and the people who conceive of them, share them, and create something based upon them. It isn’t just having the right idea. It is also the right idea at the right time. . .under the right series of conditions.

I think of many interesting open concept experiments in education back in the 1970s and 1980s, and recall how so many people critiqued them as unrealistic—the main cause of their failure according to many. Yet, no small number of these ideas have returned with far more favorable results today. I consider, for example, Malcolm Knowles ideas about self-directed learning to be quite powerful in their day, but they are gaining renewed interest and more traction than ever today. Why? It is because  the nature and demands of life in a digital, increasingly open, and connected world amplify his ideas. Self-direction has become a key differentiator among people. It is a massive advantage in more contexts today than it was when it was first written about decades ago. In addition, the tools of the digital age have made it easier than ever to access and shape one’s own learning, especially learning beyond the walls and structure of formal schooling. The conditions are right for the idea of self-directed learning to take root and grow.

Some ideas are ahead of their time. The conditions are not right for them to take root in a given context. As such, there is wisdom in not being too quick to dismiss an idea as permanently and absolutely ineffective. There is also wisdom in recognizing that a great idea might not be a great idea for your specific school or this specific time. The conditions might not be right.

With time and effort, sometimes we can help shape many conditions, but that is usually no small effort. It might be as simple as moving to a place where the conditions are right. It could also be a persistent and concerted effort to discover the right conditions and then to help create them.

I’ve met many who learned about a promising idea or innovation and sought to bring it back their organization, only to find that it is not well-received or that they were unable to make it work the way they had hoped. There are many potential reasons for this, but one important question is about the kairos. Are the conditions right for this to happen? If not, how might I create those conditions or is it best to wait until they are here?

I also recognize that these things are more easily recognized in hindsight. These can be complex matters; it is not always easy to tell which conditions are essential or important. Sometimes we just need to give it a try and see what happens. Other times a more cautious approach is prudent. Either way, timing and conditions matters in educational innovation.