Reflecting Forward: A Blog in (at least) Two Parts

Reflecting is about careful consideration--often in the context of a past experience. The approach of a new school year is an obvious time for reflection with the intent of welcoming the new year deliberately and thoughtfully. I invite you in to my new year's reflection, which will have (at least) two parts.The first is a simple re-visiting of the "Welcome Back" address I gave my faculty last year at the beginning of the year. Consider the holistic message and overlook the contextual details. I'll get back to you with more soon...

Welcome back. This is the day I’ve been looking forward to all summer. In the midst of the crises and catastrophes that occupied most of my summer, I had one steadfast and immediate response to queries—“I am just ready to get the students and teachers back in the building and focus on what we do best.”

No matter what the headlines or critics say, I have been around long enough to know that what we do is all about the kids who sit in our classrooms every day. I believe with everything I am that—given the chance to put our focus back there—we will do more than anyone ever thought possible. That’s just the way we roll.

We are at a major crossroads today—and people are watching. They’re watching—waiting for us to fail—or hoping that we’ll be able to pull this all off and validate their support. Either way, they are watching like they’ve never watched before. It has never been more important for us to pull together, stand united, and to reach within and outside of these four walls to collaboratively achieve our goals.

In the hours I spent thinking about what I should say to all of you this morning, I came up with a phrase and an analogy. Let’s start with the analogy—of course best illustrated by a Super Bowl commercial.

In the end, that’s what we’ve got to do. Deconstruct this existing plane and construct an entire new, revolutionary plane—and do it all while the plane is still flying. We don’t have time to stop and re-tool—we have kids on board who are depending on our ability to keep this thing flying while we transform it. Unfortunately, we’re not going to know exactly what to do at every step of this process. In fact, if we’re doing this right, we will create problems and questions—that’s where the opportunities for progress lie.

We have entered the world of complex change—which by definition means there is little certainty and little agreement about where it is we are going. While complex change can be overwhelming and intimidating, I feel confident when I look around this room that you are up to the challenge in front of us. Your passion, your knowledge, and your unrelenting commitment will be critical as we navigate this complex change, increasing both certainty and agreement about where it is we are going.

Earlier I referenced a resounding phrase as I contemplated what to say to you today. As most of you know, I am pursuing a doctorate in Educational Leadership. In one of my courses this summer I was introduced to the concept of “transformation leaders,” which emerged from a meta-analysis of 30 years of research on effective leadership. I share this concept with you today in the context of my firm belief that the educational system needs us—each and every one of us operating as a collective unit—to be transformation leaders.

It’s easy to criticize the current state of education. We are failing children of poverty and children with disabilities. Even our most advantaged and supported children are not able to compete with their global counterparts. Many say our educational system is broken. I agree that our system is facing a crisis, but I would offer that our educational system is functioning quite well—it is getting precisely the results it was designed to get. Our job must be to disturb the system enough to stimulate systemic change that will produce the results our children so desperately need and deserve.

Transformation leaders share some common characteristics.

• They break with the past. What if we no longer measured learning based on Carnegie Units? What if we developed a system that measures mastery of essential concepts and skills?

• They operate outside of existing paradigms. What if we didn’t have grade levels? What if we developed a fluid system that follows children and their needs, rather than forcing them into a system that exists based on arbitrary factors like having a birthday between September 15th of one year and September 14th of the next year?

• They are willing to challenge prevailing norms and values. What if we thought differently about children with significant disabilities and educated them in an inclusive environment with their peers, providing them full membership rights to our learning community?

• They find solutions that are unbounded, emergent, and complex. What if we upset the entire apple cart and created a 21st Century learning environment driven by innovations instead of forcing our innovations to fit a 20th Century learning environment?

My challenge for each and every one of you this year is this: Be a transformation leader. I will commit to support you in your innovation –as you must commit to support each other and to implement practices based on evidence, logic, and moral imperative. Don’t let existing systems limit your innovations. Rather, innovate! And let our collective innovations change the system. 


  1. "Don’t let existing systems limit your innovations." Just borrowed your quote for my bulletin board of inspiration. jensigrist.blogspot.com Thanks, Bridgette!