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Future Ready and the Small School District


It is inspiring to connect with the work being done to move the Office of Educational Technology’s Future Ready Initiative forward. It is energizing to be able to support a vision that has such a clear and profound impact of setting up our next generation of citizens for success.


School districts making the investment of time and resources in becoming familiar with the Future Ready Initiative  have embraced this bold movement that is providing educational institutions across the country a robust network of resources to embrace and leverage digital learning. The seven gears embedded in the Future Ready vision are well thought out and a district’s use of the Interactive Planning Dashboard yields meaningful insights into the structures of its organization that supports learning and encourages developing a mindset of preparing today’s student for a future with tools that we can only imagine, but that will exist in workforce that students sitting in today’s classrooms will be a part of.

Going through the dashboard, its resources and implementing an action plan founded in the research based practices that are provided at the culmination of this process is a comprehensive effort. The tools and the information provided through the Future Ready process are robust. They support strong, action based initiatives to provide an educational vision focused on more personalized learning through a systematic approach that includes the smooth integration of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Use of Space and Time, a Robust Infrastructure, a focus on Data and Privacy, Community Partnerships, Personalized Learning, and Budget and Resources. Follow through on this effort takes a significant amount of organizational capacity and strong leadership. It is also an effort that today’s forward thinking schools are ready to embrace. 

Allocating the organizational resources to fully leverage the resources made available through the Future Ready Initiative are not readily available in all school districts across the country. According to Using Data to Improve Student Learning In School Districts, written by Victoria Bernhardt, about 60% of this country’s school districts have fewer than 1500 students. This puts a clear limit on a district’s available resources  to allocate the personnel needed to fully leverage the robust suite of resources available. In addition, this constraint of resources puts a strain on the smaller school district’s ability  to implement the complement of structures recommended in a systematic manner.

Yet, innovative leaders of small school districts  across the country are jumping in feet first to embrace the Future Ready mindset. Leadership teams are making adaptations to the process of the Future Ready Leadership Self Assessment and the resulting self assessment reports to create modified Future Ready Action Plans. Small school district teams are creating action plans that embrace the personnel, budget and infrastructure resources that are available to them. Non-traditional leadership teams are being created that allow for the amplification of the teacher voice as well as that of the classified employee in planning and preparing schools to deliver a robust 21st century education to students. Educators from smaller organizations strive to create the opportunities for students in small districts that will make them equally competitive with the students of the 6% of the nation’s school districts that educate more than half the students in our country. These efforts seek to equalize the playing field with students who are able to benefit from districts with greater organizational capacity, more robust infrastructures, access to more community partners and internal professional expertise, in addition to access to greater financial resources to support the implementation of Future Ready organizational structures.

Today’s successful educational leader must embrace the philosophy of and understand the power of the collaborative relationship. For today’s educator and Future Ready Superintendent this takes the form of a robust professional learning  network. This network includes and values personal face to face relationships while also relying heavily on social media. Superintendents and leadership teams should bring energy, innovation and an open mindset to the their positions. Leaders should be able to support action that moves the vision of preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s careers forward. They should be connected on social media and should be able to adeptly move the Future Ready conversation forward by connecting with other administrators from across the country. Professional connections and partnerships can be created quickly via Twitter, LinkedIn, Voxer and Facebook as well as through membership in professional organizations. 
The California School Board Association defines small school districts as those that serve 2500 students or less. These districts make up 55% of the districts in the State of California. One of those districts is mine, the San Antonio Union Elementary School District in Lockwood, CA. We are a Future Ready school district and I, as the the superintendent with a passion for education and a passion for supporting small schools encourage my colleagues of districts both large and small to take the Future Ready Pledge and dive into its supporting resources.

Change is an Opportunity to do Something amazing!

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing!                                                                                            –George Couros



Change is an opportunity to do something amazing – a simple statement with great insight. Social media has created a platform that has allowed educators to connect in such a way that our profession now has legitimate Edu Rockstars who are currently practicing while also being recognized for their craft. These Edu Rockstars are also influencing innovation in districts, schools and classrooms across the United States as well as outside the borders of our nation. Add to this the incredible influence the Edu Rockstars of other countries are having on educational practice in the United States and it is no wonder that teachers, administrators and classified staff are becoming more and more comfortable pushing at perceived boundaries to create more innovative educational environments that are relevant, engaging and seek not just to educate, but to inspire a love and a passion for learning.

It was perhaps inevitable that the creation of the internet would eventually lead to social media platforms as it builds on a basic human need for social interaction. Yet, it was not inevitable that educators such as Jon Corippo, Director of Academic Innovation for CUE, Adam Welcome, Director of Innovation and Technology for the LaFayette School District and Tom Murray, Director of Innovation for the Alliance of Excellent Education would all cross paths and be recognized amongst other outstanding leaders as 20 to Watch Education Technology Leaders by the National School Board Association. Their collective influence over the past couple of years has created a dynamic shift in the conversations and the actions educators are taking to redefine how instruction is delivered and how school culture is developed.

District leaders such as Michael McCormick, Joe Sanfelippo, and Candace Singh, are setting powerful examples of what it looks like to embrace innovation and risk taking from a systems approach. They are leading by modeling and telling the stories of their districts, modeling how to use the budgeting process to revolutionize the way work is being done and the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) to support an educational model that embraces today’s tools and resources as part of the educational process.


Site leaders such as Jennifer Klozco, Catinas Haugen, Amy Fadeji, Brad Gustafson and Ken Durham have created cultures that serve as models for embracing teacher voice, academic risk taking , innovation and joy. Whether dancing to the music with Mrs. Klozco and her disco ball, embracing the power of glitter with Mrs. Fadeji, being empowered by Mrs. Haugen, going on a PokemonGo style tour of the school with Mr. Gustafson as a new student or being given an influential voice by Mr. Durham, these Edu Rockstars are changing the landscape of how business is being done in schools today.

Classroom instruction is being redefined by innovative teachers such John Miller, Ed Campos, Marianne Emery who are embracing game based learning, active instruction and redefined learning spaces to increase student achievement. John Miller’s book, coauthored with Chris Scott, Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids, is a great example of the influence he is having beyond the four walls of his classroom. Ed Campos has created enthusiasm for 360 Math, active and engaged learning through his day to day work and CUE RockStar presentations. Marianne Emery’s work in her own classroom design is being passed on to other educators through her Twitter account and events such as BOLD.

Former teachers and current educators such as Sam Patue, Brian Briggs, David Culberhouse, and Ben Cogswell continue to light up the landscape of innovation as well. It is impossible to list all the great educators taking advantage of the change social media has brought to the landscape of education. The one thing they do have in common though is that they have embraced change as an opportunity to do something amazing!


The #InnovatorsMindset MOOC Starting Soon! #IMMOOC

I love hearing how educators are shifting their thinking about learning, teaching, and leading as they read The Innovator’s Mindset.  It is amazing to see what happens when educators connect …

Source: The #InnovatorsMindset MOOC Starting Soon! #IMMOOC

Innovation – Threat to Society or Foundation of Future Generations?

images“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization —  Booth Tarkington, 1918

This Tarkington quote could serve as a sentence starter for so many of the innovations we see in education today. Let’s play with this for a moment…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘internet’ he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…


imgres“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘smart phones’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘social media’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘cloud storage’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘e-readers’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘virtual collaboration’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘augmented reality’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘digital textbooks’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…



“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘game based learning’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…


“I’m not sure he’s wrong about ‘online learning’,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization…

Ask the average person today to imagine the impact not owning an automobile would have on their daily life, their ability to earn a living, ability to get groceries, to socialize, to seek entertainment and so forth. How will the innovations of today, that some are hesitant to embrace or see as a threat to civilization, become foundations of everyday life for future generations?

Societal Barriers to Equity in Education – A Google Search


ToddlerTechPic.pngThis little guy doesn’t talk yet, doesn’t walk yet, but he and his friends will be in our classrooms in the next few years. They will be coming to us familiar with how to use a smartphone, a tablet and a computer. Are we prepared to engage him and his classmates with an education that uses the tools and technology that he is growing up with and are fully integrated into his personal life?

Thus begins a typical attention getting opener I frequently use in presentations. Despite the fact, that the smartphone and similar technology are as commonplace, if not more so, than the ink pen and the pencil, there continues to be significant debate about the integration of modern technology in the educational process. Nevertheless, the technological shift is in place. The full implementation of screen and cloud based technology along with a shift in pedagogy, as well as an understanding of the skills today’s student needs to be successful for a career that will take them through 2075 before they retire, are being solidified.

It is with this in mind that I appreciate opportunities to lead and participate in discussions about the current revolution in education. I enjoy bringing presentations to other educators that support this shift. The process of preparing and researching the nuances to fit each education community I get to work with makes me a better educator. Over the past couple of days, I’ve been preparing to guide a predominately hispanic district in California through some discussions about their use of and vision for modern tools in education. As I prepared, I searched for images of a “Mexican toddler using technology.” Here’s an example of what popped:

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As both an educator and the parent of a mixed race, hispanic son, I was shocked!

I decided to search for “white toddler using technology.” Notice the distinct difference in images:

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The educator in me is stunned, the parent in me can hardly breathe.

“Okay,” I think to myself, “be a little more politically correct with your search term and see what happens with ‘hispanic toddler using technology’.”

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I’m thinking, “Better, but do my eyes deceive me or are most of these images still of white children?”

Well, as long as I’ve started down this path…”black toddler using technology.”

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“Asian toddler using technology”
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What was intended to be a quick Google search turned out to have a far more profound effect on my already strong belief around the importance of the work we do in regard to equity in education. The images speak loudly. Our societal perceptions and expectations are clearly captured. What started as “a quick Google search” has become a personal call to action.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 9.24.08 AMI read the book Dot by Randi Zuckerberg and Joe Berger to our kindergarten students this past year. It is a wonderful book that uses multiple meaning words such as “surfing, tweeting, swiping, tagging” to highlight a balance of spending time with technology and playing outdoors. Yes, the main character is white and no, I haven’t been able to find an equivalent book using characters of other races. Nevertheless, the story and the message are enjoyable and on point in emphasizing the importance of balancing screen time with outdoor play and discovery.

My school district enjoys being a distinctly multi-racial community and our kindergarten class shows this diversity with it’s mix of black, hispanic and white students. Despite, what the Google image search showed for technology use by toddlers from a variety of races, when our kindergarten students were asked who used a smartphone or a tablet at home, 100% of the class raised their hand. When asked what the difference is between “tagging” on a device and on the playground, two of of our hispanic students provided very clear examples of the difference of their parents tagging friends on Facebook and playing a game of tag on the grass.

Knowing that our district, our community and our parents are clearly providing more equal access than what the Google image search would indicate society perceives, alleviates some of the emotional fire I felt during this search. Reflecting on the environments and communities that most of my colleagues work in took a little more sting out of the feeling. Yet, it does not alleviate the concern around the reality we know to still exist in regard to equal access, parental use of devices to support educational applications vs. video gaming and entertainment watching. The concern about the power images hold to set expectations and influence societal realities exists very strongly.

Let us all be a part of a call to action in the shift of equity in education as we navigate the impact of the technological revolution. Let us each use this opportunity to provide equal access to modern tools to support the educational process, to provide equal access to and understanding of how to use these tools. Let us all take part in shaping our culture, its perceptions and its expectations so that an image search shows equity in the opportunities and access provided for children. As we prepare the next generation of citizens, let our students, who will be retiring in 2075, experience life in a society that provides equal access and equal opportunity regardless of race.

Like Being in a Giant Candy Store

What an incredible learning experience!

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Concierge vs Coach

Relevant vs Worksheet

Engaging vs Compliance

Try-athlon vs Comfort Zone

Personlized PD vs One Size Fits All

Future Ready vs That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It

These are just some of the shifts in thinking being embraced by the 7000 educators who attended National CUE in Palm Springs. This amazing event is like a trip into a professional development candy store. That’s right, powerful, intense learning that, to use one of my favorite colloquiums, was “sweet!”

Three days of incredible learning at #CUE16 ended with these thousands of educators leaving with overflowing knowledge on how to be Future Ready, pedagocically innovative, how to improve their personal professional practices and how to share the inspiration they found with others. The goal for many, if not all…to begin or continue implementing an increased number of 21st Century educational practices that exemplify the redefining of once traditional worksheet based or one size fits all instruction into learning experiences that are relevant and engaging. All this while, most importantly, helping students develop the dexterity they’ll need to be successful in a workforce where the jobs and skills required continue to adapt to increasing automization and adapting technologies.

Sessions challenged educators ranging from first year teachers to experienced superintendents to up their professional game, covered topics from incorporating project based STEAM activities and 3D printing to gamifying both student instruction and educator PD, to innovatively applying Hattie and Marzano’s research.

One of the most powerful things that National CUE offers is that while providing opportunities to participate in learning that is deep and to listen to keynotes that inspire, there is also always a lot of fun. It’s hard not to enjoy the flying antics of Sharknado.

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Click here for the video:

Then there is the always entertaining and inspiration on steroids of Jon Corippo who along with Mike Vollmert hooked CUE affiliate meeting attendees on attending this summer’s LDI (Leadership Development Institute) with this gem:

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Find this video at:

But, my favorite part of this year was definitely getting to hear from the creator of Kid President, Brad Montague and being reminded that the messages and that the actions that make the biggest difference are usually the simple ones:

You’re Awake, You’re Awesome, Live Like it                                                                                   Be Somebody Who Makes Everybody Else Feel Like Somebody                                                 Love Never Fails                                                                                                                                       Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti                                                                                                                                                                              -Kid President


Personalized Professional Learning

It’s here! #CUE 16 and I’m looking forward to presenting the Future Gear of Personalizing Professional Learning. Click on the gears to learn more about creating a personalized approach to professional learning for your district.

Future Ready Gears.png

Interested in where to find Twitter chats, Blab conversations or blogs to follow? Click here for a listing of EdChats on Twitter or check out some hashtags such as #kidsdeservit, #TLAP, #caedchat, #edcamp, #NGSS, #CommonCore. Have something you want to learn about or a group of people you want to connect with? Just get on Twitter and see what you find when you add the hashtag. Looking for some blogs? Check out these recommendations by Edublogs and EdTech Magazine. Who should you follow on Facebook? Start with Edutopia, Elementary Librarian and the Buck Institute for Education as well as the authors you enjoy or professional organizations you belong to. Check out Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinais on Blab. Prefer a podcast? Take a look at the recommendations Edutopia has to offer. Start playing, start exploring and have fun creating your own personal learning plan.

The Vince Lombooki Trophy

February is almost over and so the competition for the Vince Lombooki Trophy is nearing the end. The competition is stiff.

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Lead Learners and Literacy Legends from across the United States began by competing in the Super Bowl of Book Talks, which following nationwide voting was narrowed down to the Final Four in the World Book Talk Championship. Brad Gustafason, Jen LeGarde and Oliver Schinkten brought their collective genius and love of literacy together to create an engaging series of #30SecondBookTalks with a fun and competitive element. From the Pacific Ocean on the Central Coast of California to the Midwest, Brad, Jen and Oliver are spreading the love of a good book. Check out Brad’s blog  Adjusting Course or the #30SecondBookTalk and enjoy.





Giving a Book Talk a Little Game

I was recently asked if I would participate in the Super Bowl of Book Talks. Whoa! What?! The Super Bowl of Book Talks! That’s Big Time! It also sounded like fun.

So I grabbed my favorite children’s book, The Night I Followed My Dog, by Nina Laden and my dog Charlie to create a 30 second book talk. I sent my video to my #LeadWild colleague Brad Gustafason and soon found myself in Round 2 of the Lead Learner bracket of the Super Bowl of Book Talks. I hope you enjoy his blog post and the 30 second rounds of book talks as much as I did.

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What Would You Do If You Could Break the Rules?

imagesI’ve been blessed with an incredible PLN (Professional Learning Network). Through applications such as Voxer, Blab, Google+ and Twitter I enjoy daily doses of inspiration, insights into the behind the scenes thinking of some very successful school administrators, professional development providers, teachers and influencers. Two of the strongest influences on my professional practice are Jon Corippo and my absolutely fabulous LeadWild group. You can find most of us under #LeadWild on Twitter.

Last November, we started a conversation about grants which led to Jon throwing out the idea, “What if we were able to get a grant, not for money, but for one that gave us permission to break the rules?” Ooooooooh, what if? Then I realized, as both the Superintendent and the Principal of our school and district, I can do this. I can give staff permission to break the rules. Well, a lot of the rules.

Jermiah updated SketchNote

First SketchNote by Jeremiah Blackwell – @Teach_MrBwell

The first Monday of every month in our district is an early release Monday which allows for a couple of hours of monthly professional development. For today’s early release time, I chose to take a flipped approach to part of our professional learning and sent out some links to all staff, yes this includes all classified staff as well, about 20 Percent Time and Genius Hour. I asked them to read the articles, talk to each other and come up with ideas on what they would do if they could be given time to work on a project of their own choosing with the idea of doing something that would have a positive impact on the school in some way. Come up with something you feel passionate about that would improve the school for students, for employees, for the community, for yourself. Think about what you would do if you were not limited by your job description, a bell schedule, grade levels or any of the rules you think apply. I have to say it was really fun to watch the faces as I said I would like to give them a grant in which the rules don’t apply and you were given on the clock time to complete the project. Well, again, most of the rules.

Some of the ideas that came forth were building an outdoor sensory gym, creating a peace garden, creating a Minecraft Lab, getting a 3D printer to use with students, redesigning classroom learning spaces and from the custodian – working with the middle school art class to paint a mural in honor of those who serve our Country. As a school that serves military families, this project incorporates community, students, teachers and classified staff.

The staff meeting ended at 3:30. I thought we had a great conversation, came up with some great ideas, had clear parameters for next steps and had wrapped up nicely. Half an hour later, I looked up at the clock and noticed in was 4:00. No one had left! We were all still talking, brainstorming, making plans and encouraging one another. Another half an hour later most of the staff was still on campus in different classrooms continuing their sharing of ideas and plans.

I’m ready to say yes to their ideas, to connect them with resources and to give them the time they need to make their ideas a reality. Here’s to seeing what happens next. It’s hard to start breaking the rules after a lifetime of following the rules. As the culture adapts to the flexibility that allows staff time and resources to make their thoughts and dreams a reality, it will be exciting to see what they come up with.