April 6, 2018 by

Champions for Change

Tom Friedman poignantly argues: “It’s really, really going to be difficult to be a worker in this world… because the single most important socioeconomic fact of this hyper-connected world—the new thing it created—is that average is officially over.”  

Friedman’s quote really hits home when we consider that our society and economy has shifted dramatically in what we now call a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.  Hence, average cannot be acceptable.  Our 21st century world requires its workforce to be smarter, faster, and more accurate than machines and robots.  This begs the question: how are our schools transforming and conforming to this new wave of technological advancements and this “hyper-connected’ world?

Jimmy Casas writes in his book, Culturize, “As school teachers and leaders, it is our responsibility to prohibit average from becoming our standard.  We must take time to reflect on and be willing to be vigilant in examining our school cultures through the eyes of students and staff and ask, “What role are we playing in culturizing our schools?’”  Casas’ definition of culturizing schools is all about cultivating a community of kind, caring learners, including all stakeholders in education.

To effect change or “culturize” our schools, it can’t be one person.  Change cannot happen with a one-man-band. It can only occur with an all-hands-on-deck approach.  As a second-year principal, I have learned that it starts with a critical mass.  The scientific definition of critical mass is: the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction.  The challenge is to create time and space for teachers to become innovators, experts, champions of student learning, and passionate professionals.  My critical mass is my Leadership Team.  They are the champions for change who contribute to this chain reaction for innovation and change within the culture of the school.

Our school’s current mission and vision embodies Casas’ definition of culturizing a school in that we aim to ensure that all of our students flourish in a safe, positive, and innovative learning environment to help prepare them for the future.  Our site Leadership Team meets monthly where we learn and grow together through a book study and cultivate ideas to ensure that all of our actions align and cohere to our school’s mission and vision.  Currently, we are reading Impact Teams, by Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford, which maintains that teachers within the school are its greatest resource.  Our job, as leaders, is to build trust, build capacity, and coach up our teachers, who are our greatest resource in our schools.  Within our Leadership Team, we encourage one another to take risks and be innovative in designing learning experiences that lead to deeper learning for our students.  The notion of deeper learning is about ensuring the learning for students can transfer across other content areas and beyond school, so that students have the skills and knowledge base to be prepared in a 21st century, hyper-connected world.

It brings me joy as a leader, when my teachers invite me into their classrooms when they have designed learning experiences where students are at the center of the learning, rather than the teacher.  Our classrooms are working towards going beyond being “engaged” and quiet while the teacher imparts his or her knowledge to the students.  21st century learning goes beyond incorporating technology into the classroom.  It is more than students creating google slides presentations and completing an assignment in google classroom.  It is more than students using chromebooks.  We challenge our teachers to beware of allowing technology and chromebooks to become digital worksheets in their classrooms.  Deeper learning occurs when students assess their own learning while teachers facilitate and create these conditions for the students to become innovative and efficacious.  Although school-wide, we are not there with all classrooms engaging in deeper learning.  In fact, we are just scratching the surface; however, our “critical mass” is beginning this nuclear chain reaction for transforming a culture of innovation within our school.

Ultimately, we want to prepare our students to compete globally.  In order to do so, we must be vigilant to challenge the status quo, challenge mediocrity, shift mindsets, and inspire ourselves and others to be more than we would ever imagine to be possible.  As the author of Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros, states, “Everything you need to create a “culture of innovation” is probably already in your school; we just need to bring it to the forefront.”


Lemuel Kwon currently serves as a K-5 principal for Casa Loma Elementary (#teamCasaLoma) in the Bakersfield City School District (#teamBCSD).  She has served in various capacities for BCSD: as a teacher, Academic Coach, Dean of Students, and Vice Principal.  She enjoys working with and learning alongside her staff, the best staff in BCSD!