Letter to Ollie’s New Superintendent: Focus On Pedagogy

September 14, 2016
EdLeader 21

Ken Kay shares advice with his grandson Ollie’s new superintendent in her journey to prepare Ollie and his classmates for life in the 21st century. This item originally appeared on the AASA Engage blog on January 12, 2016.

Dear Ollie’s Superintendent,

I hope that you are enjoying your superintendency and continue to be energized by the community that you serve. In my first blog, I focused on the importance of working collaboratively with others to develop a vision. As you continue this work, I think it will be important for you to help stakeholders see the connection between your vision and the pedagogy used in classrooms throughout your district. I’ve included tips and resources to support your work in this area.

Your “vision” is only meaningful if it plays out in every classroom for every student. Your leadership team has a great opportunity to make your vision a reality. However, from the beginning, it is essential for you to tie your “portrait of a graduate” and “vision” work to concrete changes in teaching and learning. Here are three suggestions to help make this happen:

Highlight Innovative Teachers’ Practices

As you undertake this journey, highlight and build upon successful practices already happening in your district. One district with whom I worked launched their 21st Century education efforts by focusing on critical thinking and problem solving. They asked their teachers one question: What is your best personal example of critical thinking and problem solving pedagogy? They featured the best 35 examples during a district-wide day of professional development. It sent a message that the district was not starting from scratch, but rather expanding and refining an enterprise that is already present in the system.

Focus on New Pedagogies

In addition to highlighting your current best practices, it will be important for you to provide opportunities for your team members to investigate and share new pedagogical approaches that align to your vision. The 21st Century competencies captured in your profile of a graduate will need to be strategically woven into instructional units and assessments. Many districts in our professional learning community for leaders have found that the following methodologies align well to their 21st century visions:

One district, North Salem, designed its own process and criteria for developing “creative problem solving tasks”. Initially, they established a goal that every student would experience at least one performance task each semester in each classroom.  They created a plan to support teachers that included strategies for reflection and continuous improvement.

Visit 21st Century Classrooms

I find that districts that have the most success with 21st Century transformation work do so because they have a clear image of what it looks like.  Many of our Superintendents have taken leadership teams on trips to visit 21st Century classrooms to clarify their visions. You will likely find examples in your region or state, but you may want to consider visiting a school within one of the following school networks:

You may also want to visit districts that are part of Edleader21 to get a sense of how entire districts are approaching this work.

As you proceed, be certain that your team has a vision of how the 21st Century competencies you adopted impact classroom practices. It may be helpful to consider these reflection questions:

  • How will your team identify the best 21st Century teaching and learning practices already happening in your district?
  • How will you go about identifying “gaps” that exist between the vision and learning pedagogies?
  • What process will you use to identify pedagogies that best match the competencies identified?
  • How will you create opportunities for key players to visit 21st Century districts and classrooms to clarify your vision?

Now that you have a good sense of the competencies you are striving to develop and the role of pedagogy in transformation, you will need a culture to support change. We will address that challenge in the next blog. Good luck in the months ahead!