March 31, 2021

The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.

--John Dewey

In the first post in this blog series, I claimed that there are two purposes of schooling: babysitting and high school sports. In today's post, I want to envision a world where schooling and education become more entwined and the purpose of school can be defined by more than babysitting and high school sports. Learner-centered leaders use dreams and hope. By dreaming and hoping, we can nudge the purpose of schooling to be more meaningful for all learners.


There is a lot about our world today that isolates us. In fact, it is easy to feel a sense of loneliness. Let's look around at our lives, and the COVID pandemic has physically isolated us; social media has placed us in silos where we do not become aware of differing points of view. We cannot socialize as we normally do. Humans are not made to be isolated. As a matter of fact, loneliness leads to a sense of powerlessness. Powerlessness, in turn, leads to a malaise of thought and action on the part of people.

You see, there is a fine line between having too much internal dialogue and "living in your head" and participating in the world around us. The stereotype, in this case, is the isolated philosopher who does not interact with the world and whose expectation is that all of their ideas have a neutral impact on society. At some point in time, all of us need to engage our thoughts and ideas in the real world in which we live. More importantly, there is a two-way street between our actions in the world and our thoughts. They both should influence each other. Learner-centered leaders recognize and honor the two sides: thoughts/ideas and action. Action without thinking is mindless conformity. Thinking without action is a fantasy. It can be quite depressing. Now let's think about school.

Dreaming involves an extravagant imagination rooted in the world in which we live. Imaging and dreaming of the possibilities and opportunities in our lived experience lead to greater possibilities for our schools. Do you want the purpose of schools to be more than just babysitting and high school sports? If you just say "yes" and think of different ways to change that narrative, that is good. However, it is not good enough. You must couple your dreams with action. Conversely, if you believe schooling should be more than babysitting and high school sports, and you just start acting without and end in mind informed by your dreams, then you are just creating chaos. Here are three series of questions you can ask yourself to help spark your thinking.

1. What is education? What is schooling? How can I align these within my school?

2. What purpose does school serve in society? How does school marginalize some students in your school right now? How can you begin to rectify this problem?

3. Choose one learner in your school. How can you create the conditions to help that learner reach their dreams?


Isolation is not good for humans. Over the past year, many of us have experienced a sense of isolation. Remote work is a necessity that we use to keep schools operating. What we gain from remote work in times of the pandemic is significant. Learners are, at the very least, interacting with some learning experiences. What we lose in remote learning is also significant.

Setting aside the difficulties learners have in a remote learning setting, let's focus on the adults in the system. More specifically, let's focus on school leaders. The need to manage the school system during the pandemic forces aside almost everything else in a school leader's life. School leaders are busy being busy. A day starts and ends, and hundreds of tasks have been accomplished by the school leader, and in a remote setting, a sense of isolation creeps in. Who (or where) do you go to fill your "hope bucket?" Anyone can handle this type of isolation for a short period of time, but the long-term effect leads to isolation, burnout, and a sense of despair.

Hope for the future is created when you interact with other people having the same experiences as you. Taking a cue from the discussion above about dreams, too much action without thinking or reflection leads to conformity and no change. Talking with your colleagues allows you to imagine more than what you thought was possible in a situation. Bringing your world experiences and coupling them with the world experiences of other people starts to feed your imagination for what is possible. The possibilities created in your mind can be in your school, your school district, and the world. Interaction with other school leaders lessens the sense of isolation and builds hope for the future.

Some things to think about:

1. Do your hopes and dreams for the purpose of your school include babysitting and high school sports? What are other purposes that you know your community holds for your school and how can you tap into those?

2. Force yourself to interact with other school leaders. Form a Mastermind group of principals, superintendents, or whatever your job title is that meets once a month....and then honor that time and meet. If you don't have the time to meet, then you DO have the time to be isolated. Which one will you choose?

3. Find a coach or mentor that will help expand your possibilities. Tell them their "job" is to build your extravagant imagination.

Go ahead. I dare you to dream and hope more. Be purposeful. Have important conversations with yourself. Finally, act on your dreams and hopes.

My book offers a framework to connect thoughtful dreaming with practical action steps.

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About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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