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Guest Thinkers

Dear Will

Dear Will,

In less than two weeks you’ll be here in Iowa. We’re excited to have you visit. We’ve got an eager bunch of state leaders awaiting your insights.

Just to let you know, this probably isn’t your typical group of school leaders. This session with you is invitation-only and we deliberately kept it small to foster good discussion. We only have 40 attendees and, as you can imagine, we had to make some extremely difficult choices about whom to invite.

The group includes 18 of our state’s most forward-thinking superintendents. Many of them have initiated 1:1 laptop programs, have begun student virtual reality initiatives, and/or are otherwise on the forefront of technology-related school reform. In addition to the superintendents, we’ve also invited 4 building-level administrators who live on the cutting edge.

CASTLE has been working extensively with the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) and Iowa’s Area Educational Agencies (AEAs) to provide technology leadership training across the state. Four of the attendees represent the AEAs; three attendees represent SAI. We also have the 3 individuals from the Iowa Department of Education (DE) who are in charge of P-12 technology, the new Iowa Core Curriculum’s 21st century skills component, and administrator quality.

We have good relationships with the business associations in Iowa. In attendance will be the executive directors of the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Iowa Chamber Alliance. One of the education reporters from The Des Moines Register also will be there.

Finally, rounding out the group are 4 attendees from CASTLE: myself; my new faculty colleague, John Nash (who used to be the director of evaluation for the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning); and two of our graduate assistants who have been helping us with our technology leadership initiatives.

You should be prepared for keen thinking and tough questions from this group. They’ve been mulling big ideas and ground-level implementation issues for a while now. They’re chomping at the bit to move forward but also are cognizant of current policy, funding, and staffing realities. It should be an excellent day of conversation.

Here’s what you need to know about us

There are a few things you should know about us. For example, Iowa has long had a commitment to and history of educational excellence, which has resulted in our students consistently scoring at or near the top of all states on standardized assessments. Unfortunately, as our citizens and educators are slowly coming to realize, our past success and current practices often don’t meet 21st century needs very well. Shifting our populace out of complacency and into a different understanding is an enormous undertaking for us. The whole state is struggling to shift from an agriculture and manufacturing mindset into a knowledge economy orientation.

We have other challenges. In a rapidly-globalizing world, we are one of the least ethnically diverse states in the nation, which means that most Iowans have had little substantive interaction with people of other cultures. Most Iowa communities are small; we only have two cities larger than 100,000 and another dozen that are larger than 30,000. Most Iowa school districts are small; nearly a sixth have fewer than 300 students, 70% have fewer than 1,000 students, and less than 9% have more than 2,500 students. A third of our students currently live in poverty. Our young adults leave the state, never to return, at the second-highest rate in the country. Our rural bandwidth and technology infrastructures are less than desirable. Our online learning opportunities for P-12 students are anemic.

We’ve also got some assets. Because Iowa’s communities are so small, they often are more closely connected to schools and students than in many other states. Our state government, local community, nonprofit, and corporate organizations all care about and have been working extensively with our schools for many years; there is a successful track record of engagement and conversation. The Wallace Foundation recently found that Iowa has the most cohesive school leadership system of any state in the country. Our state’s leading newspaper actually prints numerous positive stories about schools.

Here’s what we need from you

We need you to stretch our minds and our imaginations to the utmost limit. They’ve already heard me speak about digital revolutions, globalization, and changing workforce needs. They’ve already heard me challenge existing ways of thinking and doing at the school, district, and policy levels. Many of the educators in attendance have heard Alan November, David Warlick, Daniel Pink, Tony Wagner, Yong Zhao, Richard Longworth, and others.

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We’re ready to take the next step. We’re ready for you to take our already-forward-thinking brains into 2015, 2025, or even 2050. We need to hear from you what the new information and technology landscapes are going to look like. We need to hear from you what school organizations could / should / MUST look like. And because you work with schools all over the world, we need to hear from you what innovative schools currently are doing to make the shift.

We can handle whatever you throw at us. Don’t be afraid to E-X-P-A-N-D our brains exponentially by asking us difficult questions and offering us enormous challenges. We need grounding in a future reality, but we also need concrete details about current and potential transformative practices. We need our mental models to be rearranged, reframed, and reconfigured. And, of course we want lots of opportunities for discussion and hands-on experiences. All that is not too much to ask, is it?!

So that’s our context. We appreciate your willingness to come to Ames. We’ll be sitting at tables in small groups. All of us likely will have laptops and Internet access. Rock our world, put us to work, move us forward. Thanks.


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