Conversations @Microsoft Institute–Boston 1 of 4

I am having a great time being back in Boston.  It is home to some of the world’s best revolutionary thinkers—historically and present day.  I got to meet with some revolutionary thinkers and actors at the Microsoft Institute hosted by Microsoft Partners in Learning.  I want to share with you some highlights from our day and encourage you to attend when this series is available in your area.


Leading with Vision
I had the opportunity to open the day with a conversation about vision building and execution in education institutions.  The remarks that resonated the most were that by 2015, I hoped that we see the end of Education Technology Plans and District Improvement Plans. These high level planning efforts are often multi-year documents in production and certainly in deliverables.  Meanwhile, our students and teachers need resources for the class that is in the room now—not three years from now.

There is a strong tension in “managing the present” and “creating the future” in public education.  Perhaps, we could reconcile this tension with the retirement of institutional planning efforts and focus our efforts on the student’s future learning today—individualized planning. Instead of one uber plan for the institution, we should empower our people to actively and dynamically create personalized learning plans for students.

With all vision building scenarios, we are attempting to a chart course for a mass exodus into an unknown and uncertain future.  For some, the ambiguity of our future state only creates anxiety because there are few to no models of effectiveness in education to pattern.  The simple truth is that to realize an innovative vision for learning, leaders would be better served looking outside of education to find models to pattern.

The first question cannot be who else has done this education? The first question for innovation should be who else has done this or something similar anywhere?

I have been getting and Barnes & Noble recommendations for books for well over a decade. However, when I go to a public or school library, the library’s automation system never recommends new reading to increase my patronage nor my readership. There are no models for this—now old—market innovation in education. However, this example is well-researched and proven in industry.

What models of industry innovation do you think we need to pattern in education?

Finally, achieving a new vision requires people to change more than technologies, processes, or pedagogy.  The climate and culture of the organization will directly impact the speed of change for the organization. While influencing our stakeholders is absolutely key to long term change, these are not people I consider first in strategic planning. I recommend we return full circle to my opening statement—it is not about our institutional planning, it is about the student’s success.

I know in our hearts we get that the student comes first.  It is a rational consideration to make. Where we are most likely to differ is on which students are we talking about.  If we are planning for a university, the students we should consider are in middle school today. If we are planning for high school, the students we should consider are in upper elementary school today. If we are planning for elementary, the students we should consider are new parents.

The journey we are all planning will take time to realize. So, we should consider who will be served when the vision is achieved. The beneficiaries of our learning vision will mostly likely not be the students that are currently in our systems today.  With the lens of an anthropologist, we should observe the behaviors and motivations of the next generation to come.  What are their expectations of technologies for play, learning, entertainment, and discovery? If our vision is to achieve what is possible now; please forgive the pun, but, that is not higher innovation.

In the end, vision requires that we expect more value than what are current reality can muster. We need to look in new places for diverse experiences that will enable our schools to not only just do more—but an entirely different kind of more. Our people and their competence will determine the success and speed of this journey. Most of all, the prism that we must focus the light of our vision is always on two people—the learner today and the learner to come.

How are you leading with vision in your schools and district? Do you agree of disagree with our perspective?

4 Responses to "Conversations @Microsoft Institute–Boston 1 of 4"
  1. iam in sri lanka.I am very interstingin your company.very good thingking power. I read the business the bill gates way book. thanks My email no samansiri

  2. Hi Cameron,
    I’m currently a STEM Specialist at a Big Picture School near Seattle. Big Picture Learning is a network of almost 60 schools nationwide that have a vision for getting students into contact with adults in fields of interest to students and doing that “one student at a time.” The curriculum for each student is an individualized learning plan. So we wholly agree with your perspective.
    John Weisenfeld