Podcast: Virginia Superintendent James Lane on Unleashing Innovation

After serving as a band teacher, school leader and system head in two districts, Dr. James Lane was appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction at the Virginia Department of Education

Dr. Lane (@DrJamesLane) wanted to see more engaging approaches to learning and believes the best decisions are made closest to the child as possible. To make this happen, he started with announcing that his office, which some thought of as the “Tower of No” would be the “Tower of Yes.” 

In this discussion with Tom, Dr. Lane describes the Virginia is for Learners initiative, a collaborative of 60 school districts.  

A play on the state motto, “Virginia is for lovers,” which is designed to attract people to the state, “the Virginia is for Learners initiative is designed to get them to stay,” explained Dr. Lane. 

Investor turned advocate Ted Dintersmith (@dintersmith) supports the network that is sparking learning across the Commonwealth.  

During the podcast, Dr. Lane explains the three pillars of the initiative:

  1. To promote deeper learning in every classroom.
  2. To support rich afterschool activities.
  3. To measure what matters. 

With 60 districts off to the races, Dr. Lane is getting ready to launch a second cohort and planning a third.

Foundation for Innovation 

Launched in 2015, the Virginia Portrait of a Graduate is the best state example of advocating for broader aims without prematurely requiring them. 

Some big Virginia districts including Loudoun County and Albemarle County are high performing and innovating.  

In Albemarle County, “Dr. Pam Moran created conditions that empower them to do what they want to do with children in their care, said Dintersmith.  

After retiring as superintendent last fall, Dr. Moran took on the leadership of a collaborative group of 26 districts that served as the basis for the new initiative. “Pam is a huge leader in this work,” said Dr Lane. 

Dr, Lane is excited about all the good work happening across the state from the coastal districts to southwest Virginia.  

The business and postsecondary response to the initiative has been positive, “Our higher education partners have jumped in and developed a profile of a leader and built out competencies for educators. 

The driving questions at the state level said Dr. Lane, “are how to open up more innovation and how to resource this work.” 

Homegrown Advocate for Innovation

Ted Dinetersmith grew up in northern Virginia where he attended James Madison High School (where he recently spoke). 

After visiting schools in all 50 states, Dintersmith described a vision for American education piecing together the best of what his tours had exposed. His new book, What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, starts with a fundamental observation that educators know what to do but policies have gotten in their way. 

Some teachers have been surprised that a guy with a business background would recognize and seek to empower them.  

On what will be different and better as a result of this initiative, Dintersmith said he “hopes to see a variety of approaches to creating conditions where young people can do their best work.”

He’s looking forward to seeing “more kids get more voice in their learning.” And that includes “kids that are struggling, that given a chance to take on something they care about will flourish.  

As a leading tech investor, Dintersmith knows what skills are important for the future of work. One statistic that gives him a sense of urgency is how rapidly machine intelligence is improving–it was doubling every two years and is now increasing by an order of magnitude every two years. 

“We’re not just talking about machines moving boxes around, we’re talking about writing articles,” said Dintersmith.   

Life and work with smart machines give Dintersmith a sense of urgency about equipping all youth for the innovation economy.  And, “If we want innovation, we have to model that with teachers.”

In addition to Virginia, Ted is excited about change mobilization in other states stretching from Hawaii to North Dakota. 

For more on Ted’s work see www.TedDintersmith.com and check out the Innovation Playlist. And stay tuned, a newly formed organization with Ken Robinson will be appointing a leader soon.

Key Takeaways:
[1:17] Tom welcomes Dr. James Lane and Ted Dintersmith to the podcast!
[1:43] Dr. Lane speaks about where he grew up, his early education, and how that all led to him becoming Superintendent in Virginia.
[3:03] What attracted Dr. Lane originally to the role of State Superintendent?
[4:45] Has the Portrait of a Graduate proven to be useful infrastructure in Virginia?
[6:11] How Virginia has gotten this delicate balance of both signaling a new era and avoiding mandates right.
[7:11] Tom congratulates Ted Dintersmith on his most recent book, What School Could Be.
[7:31] Ted shares some of the feedback he’s received from speaking around the country about his new book.
[8:13] Is Virginia Ted’s adopted home state?
[8:45] What does Ted think is heading in the right direction in Virginia?
[10:11] Ted speaks about Albermarle County Public Schools and the growth he has seen there.
[11:18] Dr. Lane speaks about the newly launched Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network!
[14:40] Tom highlights some of the fantastic work that is being done in Loudoun County Public Schools.
[15:48] What kind of learning would Ted hope to see from some of the high schools that are a part of the districts in this movement?
[19:27] Dr. Lane speaks about how other partners in this initiative are becoming involved in this work.
[21:30] Ted gives advice on the best ways to mobilize this work for other regional leaders and state leaders.
[24:37] What’s next for Virginia? What does the roadmap look like for the next couple of years?
[26:55] Tom and Dr. Lane both thank Ted for all of the work he’s done!
[27:56] Where to learn more about Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network, Virginia Department of Education, and the other partner districts!
[28:35] Where to find out more about Ted and his book, What Schools Could Be.

Mentioned in This Episode:
James Lane’s LinkedIn
James Lane’s Twitter: @DrJamesLane
Virginia Department of Education (VDOE)
Aurora Institute Symposium
Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network
Ted Dintersmith
Portrait of a Graduate
What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, by Ted Dintersmith
Albemarle County Public Schools
Virginia is for Lovers
Loudoun County Public Schools
Getting Smart Podcast Ep. 229: “Eric Williams on Empowering Students to Make a Contribution”
Innovation Playlist

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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