Technology Transformation: The Death Valley Bloom

Last week I heard Sir Ken Robinson mention the Death Valley Bloom of 2005. He suggested that we check it out on the Internet. I did, and I thank Sir Ken for leading me to explore this amazing phenomenon.

Death Valley, California is unique because it contains the lowest, hottest, driest location in North America. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.  It is one of the hottest places on earth, attaining the second-highest temperature ever recorded, 134 degrees F. in 1913.

It contains the lowest point in the western hemisphere — 282 feet below sea level near Badwater.

In this harsh environment life seems rare.

Plants and animals work hard to survive. The landscape is barren, dusty, and devoid of color.

Death Valley averages less than 2″ of rain per year.

In the fall and winter of 2005 there were unusually heavy rains that dumped almost 6.5″ of rain on the desert floor.

Soon after an incredible transformation took place.

Wildflowers began to appear.

Entire hillsides began to come alive with flowers.

Splashes of color replaced the barren expanses of desert.

Death Valley was completely transformed in what has been referred to as the ‘Hundred Year Bloom”.

When we work towards transforming our schools, it sometimes feels as if our schools will never change.

We look out at the landscape of reform and see a vast desert.

Things look hopeless.

We don’t know where to begin. We get discouraged.

The Death Valley Bloom should give us hope.

The seeds of change are right there below the surface all the time.

As Sir Ken Robinson explained, they are merely waiting for the right conditions to bloom.

I love that thought. I believe it.

In order to transform teaching and learning we need to be the rain.

Make Rain!



Can We Find Hope in Our Mission Statements?

Here are mission statements from 11 local school districts here in NYS. I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting value statements contained within them. When I look at these statements it strikes me that I rarely find an educator who doesn’t espouse most, if not all, of these wonderful ideals. The question is, “Why don’t our schools more closely reflect them? What happens between writing our missions and putting them into action? Why don’t we take our Mission statements more seriously? So many end up on our web pages and on the covers of district reports and plans, but bear no relation to the day-to-day reality of our schools. If these statements truly reflect our educational communities highest aspirations, what is it that seems to hold us back from making them reality?

Take a look…

The Sample1 Schools are the cornerstone of our community. Our mission is to prepare our students to be active, life-long learners who have the skills and confidence necessary to achieve their highest potential. We encourage our students to be curious, compassionate and strong in their ability to face challenges. We are committed to preparing our students to be reflective, adaptable citizens with an open world view. We aspire to instill integrity as a core value and to influence our students to be ethical and responsible members of society.

The mission of the Sample2 Schools is to educate all students for personal fulfillment and active and responsible engagement in a global community.

The mission of the Sample3 Schools is to create a community for learning, where students, parents and staff are joined in the pursuit of academic excellence and personal growth in a caring environment. We seek to develop each student’s full potential through a challenging curriculum, a diversified faculty, and a commitment to intellectual freedom. We will teach basic skills, foster creative and critical thinking, and provide a foundation for life-long learning. We will nourish our students’ emotional lives and guide their social development, instilling in them an appreciation of self-worth, of individual difference, and of global interdependence. We will help them learn how to manage freedom and to act ethically so that each may become a responsible, contributing member of society.

Sample4 School District graduates will develop into effective communicators, researchers and problem solvers, individuals who are independent learners and assume responsibility for their own learning and behavior.

The Mission of the Sample5 School District is to provide a high quality education whereby all students are empowered to reach their individual potential, respect and value themselves and others, and become life-long learners.

The Mission of the Sample6 School District is to create a challenging and supportive learning environment in which each student attains his or her highest potential for academic achievement, critical thinking and life-long learning. Our schools encourage the discovery and development of students’ individual strengths, skills and talents, and foster social and civic responsibility.

The mission of the Sample7 School System, acknowledging its richly complex history, is to produce responsible, self-sufficient citizens who possess the self-esteem, initiative, skills, and wisdom to continue individual growth, pursue knowledge, develop aesthetic sensibilities, and value cultural diversity by providing intellectually challenging educational programs that celebrate change but affirm tradition and promote excellence through an active partnership with the community, a comprehensive and responsive curriculum, and a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

The Sample8 School District will be a model public school district, identified by its focus on the development of students of all abilities. Most of all, it will produce motivated and competent learners, capable of solving the intellectual, emotional, and ethical problems they encounter and of reaching their personal goals.

The Sample9 school community has high expectations and standards for all students. We challenge and inspire individuals to become creative and critical thinkers who make ethical choices. Our students will be able to work both independently and collaboratively to solve problems. They will become life-long learners and responsible citizens in a democratic society who are prepared for the demands of a highly technological and global community.

The mission of the Sample 10 Schools is to cultivate a positive and motivating instructional environment that encourages students to challenge themselves and that creates a genuine enthusiasm for learning. Encourage students to identify and to follow their passions.

The mission of the Sample11 School District, in partnership with the community, is to ensure that every student is capable of becoming a life-long learner who can thrive in a global environment as a self-reliant and socially responsible citizen. To realize this mission, our schools will provide an engaging, challenging, personalized program that supports each individual’s talents and potential, in a fiscally responsible manner.

Perhaps there is hope in these Mission statements. Maybe, just maybe, we can seize on them and use them as the levers of change. Perhaps enterprising leaders can start holding themselves accountable to the sentiments they embody. Maybe a courageous superintendent, principal, teacher, parent…or STUDENT can step out of the day-to-day routine and begin to implement some new and innovative ideas and when challenged by those defending the status quo, point to the Mission as a justification for change.

It would be one thing if we couldn’t agree on our Mission; that would be a disaster. But when most of us agree on where we want to go and what we want to do; AND we write it down AND adopt it publicly, there is hope. Having missions that espouse empowering the learner’s creativity, curiosity, initiative, and independence is not too bad. Having missions that promote lifelong learning, collaboration, integrity, the appreciation of self-worth, and appreciation of our differences is a nice foundation.

I know we are having trouble making these educational dreams real for our children; but as long as we have the capacity to dream, to envision a better world, there is hope…

…and in this New Year, I opt for hope!