Friday, January 22, 2016

Who Tells Your Story?

At the end of the hit musical Hamilton, the ensemble sings a moving ballad entitled Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. Spoiler alert: Alexander Hamilton dies. But I digress. The song details how Eliza Hamilton, now a widow, spends the next 50 years trying to tell her husband's story.

As an educator, who tells your story? 

Data (in any form -- numbers, maps, student voice, etc.) may tell part of the story, but data doesn't tell us what to do. We use data to help make decisions. When we make a decision or take action (innovative or otherwise), we are really only faced with two questions:
1. Does this align with our vision, mission, and guiding principles?
2. Is this solving an actual problem or filling a real need of our students?
If we can't answer "yes" to both, we should not be doing it. Did you notice what we don't ask? We don't ask for any guarantee of success, because it doesn't exist.

We can never guarantee success of any decision. When we tell our innovation story, it begins with the student problem we are trying to solve or the student need we are trying to fill. It is initially identified using data -- we don't want a solution that is in search of a problem. We chart a course to fill that need that also aligns with our vision, mission, and guiding principles. Maybe it's a new scientific inquiry process that intentionally brings student struggle into the mix, or moving to student math conversations to build the ability to reason inductively from data or explain flaws in arguments, or start using workshop at the secondary level to differentiate, or form a cross-disciplinary team for S.T.E.A.M. to bring real world problem-solving into the classroom. Creativity abounds among educators -- the trick is using evidence to help identify what students truly need and focusing our creativity right there.

Once we know what our students need and draft an action research plan to get there, we determine what professional learning teachers need in order to implement the plan. [In case this sounds a lot like the school improvement cycle to you, it is] We plan out a timeline for implementation, and how we will monitor for desired effect. Then...we do it, with regular teacher conversations to check in and amend the plan as needed.

It's not easy, but it is the right work. Thinking back to Hamilton, Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, establishing our country wasn't easy, but it was the right work. There was no guarantee of success, and we have continued to tweak our plan over the last 240 years.

Who tells your innovation story? You do. What story will you tell?

Join the conversation...
What's your story? Will you share it?


  1. Hey, that's why I bold-faced "spoiler alert." Do you want to know about Abraham Lincoln and his night at the theatre?