Professor of Education Leadership at University of Colorado Denver
Q. Hey Scott, please introduce yourself.
A. Hi, my name is Scott McLeod I’m a Professor of Educational Leadership at the University Of Colorado Denver. I prepare principals and superintendents. I’m also the founding Director of UCEA’s Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). We’re the only university center focused on leadership, innovation, technology and deeper learning. In that role, I work with schools all around the world and I’m on a mission to make school less boring and more relevant and meaningful for kids.
Q. Can you tell us what New Pathways means to you?
A. I always tell my own students that if we ignore the vast diversity of humanity that walks through the doors of our schools every day we’re bound to fail. As we think about the widespread needs and interests and passions of our children and our families, for me, the concept of pathways really represents this idea of choice. How do we create options for children and families and communities that meet not only their local needs but also provide opportunities for young people to try things out, to explore new directions to start acquiring some initial skillsets that will serve them later and hopefully put them on some roads to future success?
Q. How do you help principals prepare to think differently about school and show them more of a pathways direction?
A. When we prepare principals and other school leaders there’s not a lot in the curriculum about pathways and how to create instructional options and choices. There’s a real tension there because every state has its own standards for leaders that they have to meet in their preparation programs and it’s this interesting dance between “we have x number of credits” and “x number of course time.”
What I try to do is put new lenses and sort of future-ready innovation, you know, twists on traditional topics. So, if we’re talking about instructional leadership for example, which is probably at the heart of most of this pathways work, I think about how we insert conversations about what school could look like instead. What do we mean by robust learning? How do we create connections for kids to engage in real-world authentic work? Hopefully, they carry that idea into their first leadership positions and they can start sparking some conversations in their new schools.
Q. How do you ensure equitable pathways?
A. When we think about pathways, choice and deeper learning there’s a really strong social justice component to that for me. We take kids of color, kids in poverty, kids for whom English is not their primary language, and kids with a disability and we keep shoving them into these remediation spaces rather than also giving them opportunities to engage in deeper learning. If you’re a strong believer, like I am, that every kid deserves opportunities to have rich robust learning experiences pathways help us get there. They create choices and options to better personalize learning.
Q. What needs to be done differently to improve choices for students?
A. I’m continually struck by how deeply embedded our mindsets of what school should look like are — in our brains and our hearts. If you walk down the street and you go to any random citizen on the sidewalk and you just say the word ‘school’, that one word will bring up a whole host of images and ideas about what learning and teaching look like. It usually has to do with desks and rows, a teacher upfront, textbooks and homework, bell schedules and, you know… siloes. Those deeply embedded mindsets get in the way of us thinking about new pathways and new options for children.
At the elementary level, they’re talking a lot about foundational content, and then at the high school level, they’re like oh well, you know I’m a content focused instructor and we’ve got these tests and nothing ever seems to give. We’ve got to somehow crack apart those deeply held beliefs about what learning teaching and schooling need to look like. Every time I see an innovative school leader or system start to make some progress we get concerned pretty quickly about sustainability. What happens if that person moves to another school? What happens if that person gets stolen away by another state or district? What if that person has a new opportunity? It can all fizzle apart really quickly.
How do we create sustainable structures that build the capacity of the people below the charismatic leader? How do we create sustainable structures next to the charismatic leader so that the model doesn’t change and it’s not so person dependent?
Q. How do you shift those mindsets not only for school leaders but for parents and students so that everyone truly sees the value?
A. I think a couple of key things need to happen. We’re quite happy to do about 10% of what’s really necessary and then pat ourselves on the back and say we’re doing a good job, right? So it’s a very shallow implementation of a pathways process, of a deeper learning experience. We say, “oh look, you know the teacher who has that one project-based learning experience for two weeks in November and then says oh see look I do project-based learning.”
Well, that’s great… but what about the other forty weeks of the school year? We do that in schools all the time. I think schools and districts both use exceptional experiences as buffers against criticism. “We have those three CTE courses.” Ah well, that’s awesome, except you offer a couple of hundred courses.
The second thing that needs to happen here is that we need to help people see what it can look like. It’s really hard to envision what the possibilities are for young people if you haven’t seen it in action. It’s a little bit expensive, but I think getting folks into other schools that might be ahead of them in the journey is really really helpful because it allows them to see kids and educators and communities doing really cool stuff together. That’s almost invariably, incredibly inspiring. Then we just open up with the conversation “well, don’t you want some of this for your kids?”