“Most Likely to Succeed” (#MLTSFilm) and CTRL-Shift

I drafted an email to the CTRL-Shift email list, and decided it would be more appropriate as a blog post. For a little background information, there have been several email threads on the CTRL-Shift email list and a Tuesday night conversation about an educational documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed“; I have been reading the book.


The more I read Tony Wagner’s and Ted Dintersmith’s MLTS book, the more I think about how important it is that we have these conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with the premise of the book. Why?

There is already a huge audience of people who agree; both Deborah Meier and Sir Ken Robinson each have sizable followings, and I would say all their viewpoints align with those of Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Meier and Robinson are both referenced in the book). Everyone I have talked to at CTRL-Shift also seems to share these ideas. Are we not the choir?

Wagner and Dintersmith want communities to have these stirring, impactful, district-shaking conversations. They want teachers and administrators to be bold enough to get off the sinking ship and sail a new one. So it seems to me that we should seek out those who are resistant (for any number of reasons, some that are actually realistic and sound, perhaps *grin*). Not to beat them over the head with a 10-pound bible, but to have a healthy argument, a dialog, to debate.

It feels good to surround oneself with a bunch of “yes” people. But I think that would be a wasted opportunity. Having said that, there are already lots of you sailing new ships, and I celebrate that; the work at Kenwood is amazing, Katrina Kennett is working on a “school-that-is-not-school” and EdCamps, and Laura Taylor is spear-heading social justice efforts from the Mellon Center, just to name a few. Even though it is unwritten (I believe), it seems that the purpose of CTRL-Shift is to get administrators, teachers, students and parents marching to the beat of a different drum. That’s the “shift”, I think.

To wrap it up, I love how the book asks the fundamental question “What is the purpose of education?” I have asked that many times, of many people; unfortunately, sometimes the ideal in our head does not match what we actually practice in the schools. I have also come to realize that it is a moving target. For me, the ubiquitous and interminable undercurrent is that we are humans, and we are wired to live in community, and there a few axioms that make the machine of society run well and long. First and foremost, love others as we love ourselves. What would happen if that is what we learned in school?

TED Talks ED

PBS joined together with TED to produce, what they called, their first TV show; a special section on Education:


All 5 of the student interviews (only 2 shown during this show) can be seen at:



I found it to be very intriguing, in both good and bad ways. The cast of characters was quite impressive, from students with poignant messages to retired teachers with very compelling tales; Bill Gates and Sir Ken Robinson in the same half hour (Anthony Cody would just have a ball). I found a lot of things I agree with, and only a small smattering of points I disagree with. While I “felt good” about the show, it is not clear what exactly I, as an audience member, am supposed to do. Perhaps what I hear from this show is Geoffrey Canada’s call, “Enough is enough!” We cannot abide suboptimal schools. For whatever reason. Let us be active and involved in making things better. Of course the eternal question is, What exactly do we do?


Following are my “cliff notes” of the video.

{All times below are bookmarks into the elapsed time of the TEDtalksED video}


Singer/songwriter/accomplished artist John Legend was the MC. He kicked things off by Read the rest of this entry »

Learning how to do community (a review of the Futures Conference on Nov 1st)

There are approximately 3,000 high school students in the Champaign Unit 4 School District.  If you were to start your school district from scratch, how would you best divide high school students?

If you had a sandbox, what kind of castle would you build? If you had a copy of SimChampaign, where would you put the schools, the municipalities, the commercial zones?

For me, trying to answer this question represents the challenge of the Futures Conference; it is both the fallacy that this question stands alone, and the social pressure of stating what you really think in front of other people (like that urban or city planner city sitting across the table from you). But let me make a very clear distinction – I think perhaps the most important part is the asking and the answering of the question. Not necessarily what the question is, nor the answer for that matter. “What is your favorite color?”, while possibly eliciting the odd “Blue! No, wait, Red! AAAAAAaaaaaahhhhhhh……”, just does not provoke the same kind of deeply held and possibly unconscious beliefs about “the way things should be.” I will come back to this.

There were a number of good things, and a number of challenge areas at the Futures Conference this afternoon. I’m a “give me the bad news first” kinda guy, so here goes.


I felt the presentation time was way too long. When I looked at the agenda and saw 70-85 minutes for opening introductions, an overview and the main presentation, I thought I could live with that. But by the time we got to slide 16 (out of 69) I was already wondering how much longer it was going to be. By slide 35 I had checked out. I couldn’t tell you what time it was, but I am pretty sure that we were already close to the soft “time limit”. Have you ever sat in a white church and looked around about 30 minutes into a sermon? People have this glazed-over zombie-like expression. That is exactly what I saw in the room. (I have been to a few black churches and have yet to find any zombies *grin*) I wrote down in my notes that Tracy Richter had some great momentum built up with the first two videos he showed at various points during the presentation (see “Strengths” below), but he killed that momentum. I so badly wanted to just start talking about the videos!

And those charming, sweet cute kids. How can I rip on kids? Don’t worry, I Read the rest of this entry »

Plan for Houlihans today

Again, anyone is welcome to drop by and join us in conversation about Unit 4.


If nobody shows up, I would like to turn this into a time to plan for the future of Unit 4. I want to nail down three things we can be working on (I think we have two; communication/trust/bridge building with the community, and lack of safe environment/support for teachers and school level staff that leads to isolation). I want to work on action steps and not just talk. 🙂


Last week we talked about holding open forums. We picked two dates, one in April and one in May. As you know, we moved the April date to April 17th; Chuck has grabbed a room at the library and we have started to advertise it. We tentatively planned May 14th for the next meeting, but if Tuesday works out better we might switch it. We want to see how this first one goes and learn from it.


We also talked about meeting families at the Dodds Soccer Complex; an opportunity to invite a diverse array of parents to open meetings. And maybe even hold impromptu meetings. When talking with Brian Minsker yesterday, I learned that Barkstall used to (still does?) hold quick micro-meetings around already in-place events (school show, rally, sports, etc) to conduct PTA business. I thought that was an awesome idea.


Lastly, we discussed the idea of doing a Ken Robinson video at the open meeting just as a way to instigate conversation. Still thinking about that. One of my action items was to review the video; I think it raises a lot of great questions and it engages critical thinking, which is so necessary, I just don’t know how to weave it into our current context without coming from left field. My other action item was to talk to Chris Span about cross-pollinating with the Rose & Taylor forums. I have contacted him, and he mentioned something about including me in the next meeting. Nothing else, yet.