The Change Agent

Dr. Scott McLeod
University of Denver; Nation's top 21st century learning expert; written many books and journal publications

The Objective

To promote an examination of current school practices and explore ways to empower students to be an active participant in their own education.

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Show Notes

Guest Dr. Scott McLeod engages in a compelling discussion about how schools can work to transform education in a way that can increase student motivation, critical thinking, and preparedness for the real-world… And why the post-pandemic era may be just the time to do it.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 2
Title: Change Is Good: Transforming The Way We Think About “School”
Subtitle: A thought-provoking dialogue challenging educators to imagine what education could be

Voice Over (00:02):

Change agents in K-12 is presented by SchoolMint and features top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences as well as stories of hope, opportunity and student success. This interview was recorded in the spring of 2020 during the time of wide and extended school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:25):

Hello everyone. And welcome to the podcast today. We will be speaking with Dr. Scott McLeod. Dr. McLeod is an associate professor of educational leadership at the university of Colorado Denver. Dr. McLeod is widely recognized as one of the nation's leading experts on P 12 school technology leadership issues. He is the founding director of the UCEA center for the advanced study of technology, leadership and education, otherwise known as castle. He is also the cocreator of the four shifts protocol for less than unit design. In this co-creator of the popular video series. Did you know, shift happens? Dr. McLeod has worked with hundreds of schools and districts, universities, and other organizations, and has received numerous awards for his technology leadership work, including the 2016 award for outstanding leadership from the international society of technology and education, or ISTI he's written and edited three books, 170 articles and other publications. And it's just a great pleasure to have you with us here today, Dr. McLeod.

Dr. Scott McLeod (01:28):

Chris. Thanks.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:34):

All right, well, let's start off. Um, I wanted to share with you a couple things I've run across and kind of get your reflections a couple years ago, Gallup published a large national study surveying students in grades five through 12, and found that essentially by middle school, two thirds of all students are disengaged and seemingly just uninterested in what's happening in classrooms. Another study found that most dropouts dropped out because they lacked motivation and they were convinced that if they were actually motivated by their education, they would have graduated. Um, these numbers just for me, really seemed troubling for education. And, and in reading your, your, your latest book, uh, or one of your books, I think you have a newer book, but different schools for different worlds. All right, well, let's start off. Um, I wanted to share with you a couple things I've run across and kind of get your reflections a couple years ago, Gallup published a large national study surveying students in grades five through 12, and found that essentially by middle school, two thirds of all students are disengaged and seemingly just uninterested in what's happening in classrooms. Another study found that most dropouts dropped out because they lacked motivation and they were convinced that if they were actually motivated by their education, they would have graduated. Um, these numbers just for me, really seemed troubling for education. And, and in reading your, your, your latest book, uh, or one of your books, I think you have a newer book, but different schools for different worlds. It seems your contention is that if we really care about preparing kids for life and work success, we need to transform our schools and give us some kind of roadmap. One of the things at the start of your book, dr. MacLeod, you discussed something called the relevance gap, which is really intriguing to me. Um, we've all heard of the achievement gap. So I'm interested about how this impact students.

Dr. Scott McLeod (02:43):

Uh, yeah, absolutely. But you're going to have to call me Scott, cause I'm not very formal.

Dr. Chris Balow (02:48):

All right, Scott.

Dr. Scott McLeod (03:00):

So, you know, I think the gallup poll data, show us what we already know. Right? Like we have millions of who go to school everyDay and they're just bored out of their mind. Um, and I think, you know, what we've known for decades centuries, I dunno, millennia, um, is that, uh, there are a lot, a whole lot of kids that are really struggling to find meaning in the learning tasks that we put before them. And so that's why we get questions all the time, the schools all across the world, right? Why do I need to know this? Why do I care? What relevance or meaning does this have to me now or later in my life. Right. And we often don't have very good answers for them. It's answers like, because it's on the state curriculum or it's on the upcoming, you know, a mandated test or whatever. Right. And kids don't care about that. Right. So we shouldn't, you know, be surprised when, you know, we have a, you know, in some States, you know, 25, 35% physical dropout rate in high school. Um, and then the mental dropout rate is higher than that. Right? Like even when kids are compliant and show up to school because they want to see their friends participate in extracurriculars, they like their electives or whatever. Right. It doesn't mean that they're not mentally checked out and just playing the game. Right. Like the number of students, I think one of the great things that the Gallup data show is that the number of students who actually say they're engaged in their learning on a regular basis is actually pretty low. Um, and some kids play the game, you know, and they have supportive family context and they get through and off, they go to college and the grade, but a whole lot of youth are really struggling.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:28):

Yeah. So, so it's interesting. So the data may actually be worse than some of these data may indicate that we have kids that, um, they're engaged at just sort of a superficial level. And it seems that clearly, um, they may not achieve their potential under these concerns.

Dr. Scott McLeod (04:47):

Oh, there's unbelievable. Wasting of human capacity and potential here because we fail to get kids connected, to answers and passions that would really drive them deep, um, and build skill sets and areas that they care about. Right. So, you know, how many students truly need, um, in their future lives, the kind of math that we cover in our we're in geometry, in high school, for example, actually very few. Right. Um, and yet we persist on making nearly all of our kids take those classes. Right. And then we wonder why they're checking out.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:20):

Sure, sure. That makes sense. Uh, you hear a lot of people talk about how schools need to be different in the 21st century. And to my mind, I've, I've not seen, um, a lot of specific arguments as to why schools need to be different. That wasn't, until I read your book, different schools for a different world, it was really helpful for me when I read the book and you elucidated several specific arguments as to why these schools need to be involved evolving. And we've, we talked about this, this whole relevance gap, but you really talked about some other specifics.

Dr. Scott McLeod (05:54):

Yeah. I think, you know, there's sort of multiple angles here. So for instance, um, you know, the cognitive psychologists tell us that the number one factor in human motivation and engagement is autonomy right now, imagine that you're a, you know, elementary, middle high school student, you're actually functioning in a pretty low autonomy space. You're told what to do almost every minute of every day, most, you know, most of the time by your educators and by the system, if you push back on that at all, you get punished. Um, and so, you know, just from a human motivation and engagement standpoint, you know, the system is set up around compliance and control rather than empowerment and student agency. And so, you know, rethinking that dynamic would actually help us reclaim a whole bunch of kids. Um, you know, there's other arguments out there you don't think of other than we make in the book is sort of the workforce citizenship readiness, right? So, you know, if we're hearing over and over again that, you know, the skill sets that are necessary in the global innovation economy are greatly different from those of a more industrial society. Right. Then we still have systems who are at least, you know, in the U S and most places are set up on older models of factual, recall and procedural regurgitation and listen to your boss. He tells you, where else do you get fired or punished. Right. And then, you know, where's the critical thinking, where's the problem solving, where's the creativity and the collaboration and powerful communication. Where's the technology fluency, where's the global awareness, like so much of that is just missing from schools. And yet that's what we're hearing over and over again, in terms of, you know, sort of readiness in this new world that we're heading into as, you know, society shifts from a industrial model to more of a hyper-connected innovation model. Right.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:49):

Yeah. Great. So, you know, what I'm hearing you saying is that, you know, basically students have been this passive sort of a consumer of information being passed on from on high. And, but the information landscape is changing so rapidly, um, that the teacher alone, isn't the purveyor of all the information that there's information in all these different places. It's technology-based and, um, and it's global in scope. Um, and it seems that, um, what I hear you saying is that a lot of the things that kids are doing are tedious tasks and they're, there's no creativity or they're just sort of locked in and told what to do.

Dr. Scott McLeod (08:37):

Yeah, well, I think, you know, the research tends to show us that if we walk hallways of school buildings and visit classrooms, and we look at sort of the cognitive load of the learning tasks that we're asking students to complete that somewhere, you know, in a typical school, somewhere around 75, 85% of the work is, you know, low level learning, the kind of stuff you see and basic homework, um, you know, review problems and textbooks worksheets, right. Um, and you know, there's sort of this vast world of information out there where, you know, information is no longer scarce. It used to be right on, you know, a hundred years ago, number of families that had more than a few books in their home, for example, and had easy access to information was pretty low, right? So you had to go to schools and universities and libraries to access all that. Now, of course we have more information in our pockets on these mobile devices, then, you know, uh, we know what to do with right. We're functioning from information overload kind of information scarcity. Um, but you know, how well are we doing at teaching students, how to navigate that complex information landscape, you know, like the demands for all of us right now, to be much more information literate than we ever were before. Right. Is just huge because we can't rely on the experts to filter things anymore when publishing was expensive, you know, publishers and the government and companies, you know, sort of decided what was worth publishing and the expense of all that. And the rest of us were just consumers, but now anybody can publish. And that's a great thing, right? Because people like you and I can have a voice and can reach others with our ideas in ways that, you know, were probably impossible before, but there's a whole lot of junk out there too. And so, but nobody's filtering that for us, we have to filter that ourselves. So the filtering decisions and figuring out what's valid and credible and reliable and trustworthy and worthy, right. Paying attention to has been shifted from a few elite, um, corporate and organizational gatekeepers to each of us as individuals. And the research shows us right now that we're doing a terrible job of that. Um, the difference between real news, fake news, whatever. Right. And so one of the arguments that I make in my book is this idea around information literacy and that our new information landscape, which is digital global hyper-connected online, right. Um, that requires a different skill sets for our students in terms of understanding how to navigate that space in the old ink on papers world did. And right now we're not doing a great job of that either.

Dr. Chris Balow (11:16):

That's just fascinating. Um, I think I saw a study where they, they did a, a study with some, uh, middle school kids and they basically could not tell the difference between something that was real and made up.

Dr. Scott McLeod (11:29):

Yeah. Well, I think what's fascinating to me is that I've seen several of those studies and what it actually shows is that the older you are, the worse you are at it. So for all of our, you know, concerns about young people not being prepared, you start heading up into, you know, adults who are 40, 50, 60, 70, where even worse.

Dr. Chris Balow (11:46):

Wow. That, that is incredibly fascinating. So, and our teachers, as I'm hearing you say that they're not equipped, or they haven't really understood what are those keys in terms of shifting their pedagogy to teaching those critical thinking skills that kids need.

Dr. Scott McLeod (12:05):

Yeah. And I think it's hard for educators, right? Like, you know, many of us, you know, still remember times when, you know, the internet didn't exist when mobile devices didn't suffuse everything and, you know, our systems aren't structured to help us ramp up and gain those skills and understandings in ways that are productive for the most part, other than a few early adopters. So, you know, in some ways I kind of feel sorry for teachers and administrators, because they were never prepared by their university programs, their professional development, their own growing up, right. To sort of navigate these spaces. And I think, you know, the truism is that it's really hard to teach somebody something that you don't know how to do yourself. Um, and I think that's where we are right now is we just have, you know, hundreds of thousands, millions of educators who just aren't that information fluent. They aren't that technology fluent. And they're trying, they give it a go, they're doing their best efforts, right. They're proceeding in good faith, but there's just big gaps between, you know, educators in school systems, right. Because its majors are embedded in systems, um, and what we really need from them. So, and we're just in that messy transition period right now. Like hopefully eventually we'll figure it out, but not yet. Wow.

Dr. Chris Balow (13:18):

Clearly your, your, uh, your work is going to be of great benefit to the field. You know, it's kind of segues for me when we talk about 21st century learning and there's this concept of the four CS, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and this whole create, uh, critical thinking. Area's really fascinating to me. And so what, what are the, some of the, the, um, aspects of critical thinking that the kids really need to develop?

Dr. Scott McLeod (13:46):

You know, I don't think students actually get a chance to dive very deeply into rich, robust thinking in schools other than from a sort of an academic lens. Right. Like we always put that on like, Oh, well, we have them think critically about this piece of literature that we had them read it in English language arts, right? Yes. Okay. That's fine. But how often in the real world, the students have to dissect a complex piece of literature sometimes, but how often do we also give them the chance to do that with say technical texts, right. Like workplace readings or things they need for their job, or, you know, things that are, you know, robust data sets in the news that they need to make sense of. Right. And so, like, we put this lens on it sort of like an academic or scholarly lens on the critical thinking when that lens could actually be much broader. Right. And so, you know, how often do kids get to think critically and problem solve around real world challenges that face their local community, the world that, uh, issues that they're passionate about, right. Like these are all areas where kids could really go deep in terms of some serious thinking work and security problem solving work. But we tend to say, Oh, well, critical thinking in our school was defined by think really hard about this sort of artificial experiment that we did in science lab. Right. And then, so it's divorced from real world context. Um, and so yes, our kids given some opportunities to think hard about some stuff in school. Sure. Of course. And could it be much more robust and relevant? Absolutely.

Dr. Chris Balow (15:26):

Yeah. So what I hear you saying is that if, if schools can really design situations where kids are asked to solve a unique problems that they care about, um, and create innovative ways of, of doing things, um, that would really make a difference in terms of their engagement and the application to workforce readiness.

Dr. Scott McLeod (15:52):

Oh, absolutely. Right. So just to pick a couple of examples, right? So in science class, we learn how to test for contamination of water within the context of our classroom and lab. Right. Which is very different from sending students out to test local water supplies and gather data and report out to the city council or other concerned local citizens, right? Like again, that authenticity lens just makes this exact same work, so much more meaningful to students. Right. Um, we're learning about bar graphs in math class and, you know, we're doing, we're graphing some basic stuff that some data that our teacher gave us right. Which is very different from pick an issue that you care about, do some analysis, uh, and, you know, collect some data. And again, present it to somebody who cares about that. Right. And again, that real world authenticity lens, it just transforms the work, um, because it's not isolated and disconnected within the classroom walls, but now it's out engaged with the world around us, hopefully making a difference. And that's, you know, everything right there.

Dr. Chris Balow (16:56):

Yeah. That's, that's interesting years ago, I worked in a state, I won't mention the state's name, but the state put out, um, something called performance packages that kids had to complete, um, at the end of a quarter or semester, and these were designed by the state and they kind of seem to fit some of those, uh, concepts you were talking about, but it quickly died out and, and went away. And then we went to standards based and it seemed a much more circumscribed.

Dr. Scott McLeod (17:25):

Yeah. And I think we have to remove the artificial distinction between either we're a standards based learning space or we're project based. Right. Because we have thousands of schools around the world that are combining those two, right. Like, yes, there's still stuff that we need you to know as a school system and society, but how we learn that and how we teach that and how we have kids engage with that, right. Can be project based and inquiry based. And real-world authentic based. Right. And we can leave those standards in. So, you know, in the examples that I gave, right, we're still learning about, you know, the important scientific concepts or math concepts. They're just framed differently, but we're not losing the math at the science. Right. We're actually increasing our chances that students master and retain that knowledge because now it's embedded in a context that they care about.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:11):

Right. And you're also, to me, seemingly suggesting there are different ways of measuring the student, learning that it's not just on a multiple choice test, but kids could engage in these kinds of project based where they can demonstrate. And, and I personally, um, spent a lot of time in the world of assessment and, um, some kids don't really engage deeply on those state assessments. Cause like you were saying, they're not authentic. They don't have, uh, you know, meeting or relevance to them.

Dr. Scott McLeod (18:41):

Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think, you know, we have lots of examples where students supposedly learned whatever they were supposed to learn in class, but then when you ask them to apply it in any way, shape or form, they can't. Right. So what's the point of knowing stuff, if you can't do things with it that's and right, right. So, you know, um, you know, it's great that you got an a in your math class, but can you apply it over here? Right. It's great that you can regurgitate stuff in your English class, but can you write for authentic audiences? I mean, like, these are the questions. Right, right. So, you know, you got a B plus in your social studies class and, but you know, you understand how to, you know, do a meaningful, you know, civics campaign to get people rally around an issue, you know, like, no, of course not, but you can recite the three branches of government and what the judiciary committee is.

Dr. Chris Balow (19:29):

Right. Right. Now let's shift a little bit to the other foresee. I mentioned it's collaboration. Uh, we hear a lot in education with social emotional learning competencies. And, and how do you see kind of the interaction or how these work together to really help kids ability to collaborate and, and how does that fit into the, the overall importance?

Dr. Scott McLeod (19:51):

Yeah, well, you know, and I think we have this wonderful context now where it's never been easier to collaborate with people all over the world around something that you care about. Right. Like we are collaborating with each other every day, um, in a variety of ways using a variety of tools across a variety of online platforms and so on. But I don't know if we realize their full potential in school yet because you know, we're hesitant or cautious, we're fearful, we're worried about legal, whatever. Right. Um, and so we still define collaboration in schools, primarily as in house in classroom, you know, maybe small group work within, you know, your classroom. Um, and yet there's all these people outside the school building that we could be collaborating with. Think we do really interesting stuff. Right. And the tools have never made it easier than before. So if we want kids to be authentic collaborators, right, then we have to figure out how do we rethink this conception of collaboration so that, um, again, students aren't isolated and disconnected within just the classroom, but are actually connecting with students somewhere else. So the meaningful project they're working with outside entities, you know, experts and organizations, um, to better understand topics that we're studying or to work on something that betters our community, right? Like there's all these sort of richer or more robust collaboration opportunities, which is very different from, Hey, you three work together on this little project that gave you a class for the next couple of days. Right. So, um, and so if we want that collaboration work, um, to be authentic and real world, we can't ignore the tools and we can't keep it, you know, boxed up in the classroom.

Dr. Chris Balow (21:32):

Yeah. That, that really opens up my horizon. That might, my originally original thought was about collaboration in a classroom. But, uh, as you described, collaboration is taking on all these different forms and it, in our current day, um, of people working from home, it's just critical. It would seem

Dr. Scott McLeod (21:51):

Right. Well, I remember I was working with a school district, uh, in Minnesota and outside the twin cities area. And they brought in some parents to talk about sort of some of their skillsets that were necessary for success in their, in their environments. I remember distinctly hearing from this one woman, she worked for some global multinational company. And, you know, she said like, you know, like our project managers have to supervise teams of employees across, you know, seven, eight countries. Right. And we have these team meetings where we've got somebody from Portugal and somebody from South Africa and somebody from Japan and somebody from Pakistan. Right. And you've got to coordinate not only, you know, um, times of differences, but cultural differences and work style, differences, and expectations. And you've got to be a productive team. You've gotta move forward. And you're like, like, where do you learn how to do that in school? Cause that's real world collaboration for a number of, you know, sort of institutions and corporations.

Dr. Chris Balow (22:50):

Yeah, absolutely. I have a personal example. My son is a computer software developer and he's collaborating with people in Bulgaria. The company has hired programmers in Bulgaria. Um, so it's been fascinating to hear him talk about how they've, they've had to learn how to do this. That's just really, really super interesting.

Dr. Scott McLeod (23:10):

And in school classrooms, we're still fighting over, should your group of four people all get the same grade or because somebody slacked off soon. So we somehow, you know, penalize that person or whatever, like, like it's the level is so different.

Dr. Chris Balow (23:23):

Yes. Yeah. So, so true. Um, I know when your book, you talked about deeper learning schools, I loved that, that phrase and what are some of those shifts that, that deeper learning schools have enabled, you know, one was, you know, and, and you've referenced this, that I, um, that I really thought a lot about higher level thinking, um, that these deeper learning schools are engaging in. And, and I think you mentioned, uh, another one I might be wrong, but a student agency. Yeah.

Dr. Scott McLeod (23:57):

Yeah. I think, you know, um, we have easily thousands of schools, like I said, across the world that are really trying to rethink learning and teaching and schooling for our young people. Um, and so we have these networks of schools, as well as individual schools. You know, some of the networks are include the high tech high network, it fits your learning, the new tech network and so on. Um, and so the great places to go visit and see what learning could be instead. Right. And I think, you know, I talk a lot about sort of the four shifts that I see these deeper learning schools and making it sort of my way of making sense of all this. And one of the shifts is the shift towards deeper learning, right? Like how do we get beyond low-level recall and regurgitation now, like kids that do those upper level complex thinking, problem, solving, communication, collaboration, you know, creativity, files of mental work and how do we up to cognitive complexity right. More often, um, another shift is around student agency. Um, how do we let kids direct their own learning? More often, we keep saying that we want them to be lifelong winners, but we never give them a chance to own their own learning in schools. Um, it's like, you know, they hit high school graduation, like, okay, good luck now you're on your own, but you haven't had those practice being, you know, self-driven learner. So anyway, good luck. Um, there's the real world authenticity shift, which we've been talking about, which is that when we add those connections to our communities outside the building, um, it helps students make sense of things in a whole different way. And then the four shifts we've also alluded to as sort of the shift from analog to digital, right? Like these tools allow us to do things that we never could do before. You know, if we want kids to truly be information literate and tech fluent, and globally aware, we've got to get these technologies in the hands of kids and not just from a social and gaming perspective, but also from an academically and work productive perspective.

Dr. Chris Balow (25:47):

Yeah. That just, um, that's such a concise package, uh, for how schools really need to change, you know, that the higher thinking, getting students involved, authentic technology, it just, just seems to make such common sense, but maybe not commonly implemented.

Dr. Scott McLeod (26:08):

Thanks. I'm trying again, it's hard, right. I mean, you know, schools have been in their current iteration in the form for a really long time. And so, you know, we're trying to turn a really large abode here going to take awhile. So not everybody's convinced, right? Like you say, it's common sense and I've got other people going, Scott, you're an idiot. You know, we have these competing paradigms about what learning and teaching should look like. And, you know, the biggest barrier to us making any chains is our conception of what school should look like. Right. We have these mental models and images in our head of, you know, school, right? When you say the word school, all these things pop into your head about what it looks like and how it operates. And we're talking about changing a lot of that and that's scary and weird and anxiety creating for a lot of people.

Dr. Chris Balow (26:55):

Um, it, it makes me think in the current day and time when we're dealing with a pandemic that are, do you see schools kind of being forced to, uh, think through this different lens?

Dr. Scott McLeod (27:06):

No, because I think the pandemic hit us so quickly and we were so unprepared for sort of remote or distance learning most systems is that we actually have reverted back whatever progress your school or this was making in the directions that I've been talking about. We've reverted back to some of the lowest levels of what I've been calling subsistence learning possible, right. Because that was quickest and easiest to get out to families, right? Like Holy cow, we're in a rush and I barely know how to use the computer. And you're asking me to do like this complex project, no way. Right. What I'm gonna do is I'm going to send home worksheets and I'm gonna send home packets and I'm going to say no review questions out of the textbook they already have in their house. And, you know, that's the stuff that we can get out easily to folks and monitor and whatever. And so any sort of semblance of complex student work, um, has faded in most schools, um, as we've reverted back to sort of survival mode here, um, during the pandemic. Now that's an interesting challenge for us because at the same time, almost everywhere I know has also the testing mandates have been removed, right? So the pressures to cover stuff, because it's on the test, which is like the main dialogue most educators have around kids in curriculum coverage, um, have been removed, they're gone, right? So we actually have this time period to experiment with new modalities of learning and teaching if we can get there. But I don't see most school systems thinking that hard yet about that. So you may find that in some ways, like here in the U S you know, we've got another month, month and a half of learning before kids get out of school. And I think we're mostly just kinda, you know, cross our fingers and do what we can and survive until the school year ends, and then any reflection on how we might have done that differently or whatever is going to happen in the summer. Um, and so, you know, it's going to depend on leadership. Some leaders will say, look, we have new skillsets, we have new mindsets. We developed them quite quickly here when we were forced to fullest for us to, you know, go back to that. So I think it was, uh, my friend, Heidi Hayes, Jacobs, um, who's been saying in the fall, we should not go back to school. We should go forward to school. And I love that phrasing, right? Like there's no reason that we should go back to what was because we have new, like I said, mindsets and skillsets about what's possible and what we can do. Right. We should keep building on that as we move forward, not just revert back to what was

Dr. Chris Balow (29:35):

Yeah, that makes great sense. Um, and for me, as we look forward to school, you, you talked about 10 building blocks of deeper learning schools. Have those seem to, um, really fit with, uh, how, how we, we need to move to this, this new model of education. Uh, and the pandemic for me is sort of brought it to light.

Dr. Scott McLeod (29:59):

Yeah. So, you know, schools were playing around with a lot of different things before the pandemic hit. Right. And so the question is, uh, for example, like, uh, one of the things they were playing around Griffith was one-to-one competing initiatives where we gave every kid a computer. Well guess what? Now they're, it's hard to find a school district that doesn't wish every kid had a computer. Right. You may have been slow to move that direction before, but now you're like, yeah, well maybe we should be having made sure every kid has one. Right. Um, and the internet access that goes with it, right. We're finding for example, that, uh, learning can happen in a variety of blended and online learning environments. So again, maybe your school system was low to move, was slow to move in that direction, but now you've been forced into using some new tools, some new platforms, some new ways of student learning that you hadn't considered before. Uh, you know, you're used to in a face to face environment, tightly controlling what students do, but now of necessity, kids are at home driving their own learning. You don't have a lot of control over how they learn what environment they do, it in, what their style of work is. Right. Like you can just, right now, we're just sending stuff home and hope they get it done. And so, you know, can we recognize that students are gaining some skills around self-direction of their own learning, right. Can we tap into that in the fall? That would be great. Um, you know, we're doing all kinds of flexible scheduling right now in schools, for example, in terms of school schedules and learning pathways for kids. And you know, why would we go back to, you know, this six to eight period a day model five days a week, uh, when we discovered that in some combination of staggered days and staggered schedules and assignments and classes and blended and online and face to face, right? Like all this stuff is stuff we can play with. And so these are all what I would call building blocks, right? Like there are different ways of learning and teaching, and we can pick some of these like competency based education and standards based grading or project and inquiry based learning or alternative credentialing. We'll do this other ways for kids to show us what they know besides the traditional letter or number grade flexible scheduling one-to-one competing. Like these are all like, you know, Lego bricks or blocks that we can configure in different ways for our local community to figure out what makes sense for us. But again, we're already playing with some of these before the pandemic. Some schools have ramped up what they've done with some of these during the pandemic. Let's just keep rolling.

Dr. Chris Balow (32:24):

Yeah, exactly. Um, clearly the book you've written this a couple years old was pressured, um, in, in really providing a roadmap. Definitely.

Dr. Scott McLeod (32:35):

Well, at least at least some possibilities. Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Chris Balow (32:40):

Shifting gears a little bit. I recently reviewed a survey that found that 75% of school principals find that student discipline and behavior is a major impediment to learning. And, and students are a lot of teachers, uh, also found in studies, lack the skills, um, and training to manage behavior. How do you see the, um, interface between the implementation of some of these, um, shifts and building blocks that that may be helpful in terms of student behavior?

Dr. Scott McLeod (33:13):

Yeah, absolutely. Chris, I think it loops back around to our first conversation at the beginning of this podcast where you were talking about student engagement. Right. So imagine that you're 12, right. And you show up to school and you're being asked to spend all day doing things that you're not interested in. You're punished if you don't do them, um, you are told mostly to be quiet and compliant and again, punished if you don't do them. Right. And then we wonder why we have discipline issues, right? Like, so it keeps looping back to this idea of agency and autonomy and some student voice and choice in what they get to do. And you know, what we find in schools, for example, some of these deeper learning schools that are moved to more inquiry or project based modalities is that the more agency they give kids, the fewer discipline issues they have, right. Because students are partners in the learning, not just passive recipients of what we're teaching. And so if we can wrap our head around that, right, like we three treat students with respect as human beings and recognize that they should have some autonomy and agency and control and ownership of their own learning. Right. Then what we will find is that discipline issues will go down quite a bit. Um, and we just see that in these schools over and over. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (34:33):

Yeah. That makes great sense. I think our first thought is, is that the student has a problem and we often don't think that maybe the environment, um, is, is, uh, related to the behavior as well as, as you described that that's really fascinating. Um, in, in the final time we have today, Scott, you were sharing with me offline about these conversations you're having with educators all across the world, uh, relative to the pandemic and you, you've got some amazing insights into what's happening and what could happen in the future if you wouldn't mind sharing that. Yeah.

Dr. Scott McLeod (35:14):

Yeah. So, uh, I have a series on my blog called the coronavirus Chronicles. I've been interviewing school leaders, uh, across the world, how their school or school district have been responding to the pandemic. Right. Um, and it's been fascinating, right? I've been talking to not only schools across the U S but also China Italy, uh, Saudi Arabia was my latest post. Um, you know, the context of very different in particularly in Asia where they're multiple weeks ahead of us on these issues, right. We're hearing some different things. Um, you know, things to look ahead to, um, I think, you know, for me, a couple things really strike me. One is that educators are very resilient. Um, you know, if you ask them to adapt and they have to, um, they will. Um, and I think we just see millions of educators around the world are just, you know, busting their rear ends to help kids. Now they're tired, they're tired. And they may not be doing all the kind of learning that I wish they were doing or whatever, but they are working hard and they care about kids and they care about families and they care about communities. And, you know, like the stories that I hear over and over again at school systems, just routing to make sure kids and families are fed, we're feeding kids that aren't even ours because we know they need it. Right. We're just trying to make sure that learning continues to happen. We're trying to check in on everybody to make sure that they're okay. Like this is all very inspiring stuff. Um, and I think there are a lot of parents and communities that probably took their schools for granted that are remembering now how important they are to the fabric of society and their local area. Um, and, uh, are rediscovering some appreciation for teachers that maybe they haven't thought about recently. Now that doesn't mean to say that, you know, we're knocking it out of the park and we're doing all that we could, again, you know, you and I had just spent the last 40 minutes talking about some different things that schools could be doing. Um, but we have to recognize the hard work, um, and good faith that people are proceeding on right now. And this is an opportunity for us, you know, there's the saying never waste a good crisis. Um, so looping back to some of the things we talked about before, should we be paying better attention to equity concerns in the future? Absolutely. Because boy did this pandemic highlight the disparities that are exist in our society. Um, should we be paying greater attention to the needs for teachers to be more technologically? So yes, absolutely. Right. Um, should we figure out the power and potential of some blended and online learning modalities that maybe we thought we had the luxury of ignoring in the past? Yes, absolutely. Can we give kids some more agency and ownership of their own learning, um, and help them get better ready for life success and future readiness? Absolutely. Right. So we can't forget all those things. And so as we head into late spring and summer here in the U S for example, right, these are great times to have these conversations, as we think about whatever this next school year looks like. Particularly if we're going to have to have some kind of, um, phase schooling where we have like a third to a half of the kids at time at a time. So some are in the building, some are at home, um, we're dipping in and out of lockdown, right. Where maybe nobody's in school for a few weeks and then some kids can come back again. Like we've done, there's a lot of uncertainty about what the fall was gonna look like. Um, and we have to plan for that. And again, that requires us to be flexible and adaptive and proactive in our thinking. So lots of opportunities for good conversations this summer. Yeah. It, it sounds like schools are in different phases or stages and how they're coping. How do you see the U S compare with what other countries are doing? Or maybe we're all kind of at the same stage. I think we're kind of in the same stage, you know, it's interesting. One of the advantages that many schools have for us is they have these national curriculum, right, where we have left curriculum up to each state or maybe even district. Um, and that has its advantages to be sort of decentralized. Um, cause we can take into account local community norms and expectations and desires. But when you have a national curriculum, it's really easy for example, to pick a TV station and broadcast lessons to kids, which you can't do here. Um, it's really easy to sort of standardize around some curricular expectations or some learning outcomes when everybody's on the same page. Um, whereas in the U S for example, you know, 14,000 school districts or whatever it is we have, everybody's kind of on their own. Um, so there's some advantages to scale and I'm not necessarily arguing that we need a national curriculum, but it has been interesting to see, for example, that even in developing countries, they'll use a couple of broadcast channels like radio and television to get lessons out to students in ways that we're just not making happen here. Right. Uh, also hearing from any of the schools in Asia that are further ahead that eventually, uh, things settle down a little bit, you kind of get into whatever the new routine is. So for all the, you know, American educators who are out there, you know, who are completely exhausted, um, it's supposed to get better. You will be less tired, um, in a couple of weeks than you are now, right? So, you know, some rays of hope from those folks who are a little ahead of us.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:31):

Awesome. Well fat, fascinating information. Well, Scott, I want to thank you for joining me on the podcast today. It's been very informative and encouraging to me. I think the work you're doing is going to be transformative and it's really timely. We really need your, your building blocks your frameworks to really move ahead. And I encourage everyone to go to your website. Um, we'll post that information and look at all the resources you have available. So again, Scott, I want to thank you for, for joining me today.

Dr. Scott McLeod (41:05):

Thanks Chris. It's been a pleasure to spend some time with you and appreciate you. Uh, give me a chance to talk A little bit about some of our ideas and some directions to go.

Dr. Chris Balow (41:14):

That's awesome. Thank you.

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