Get a New School Bored

New Rule:  Get a New School Bored

When asking students the traditional question, ‘what did you do in school today?’ the usual response is “nothing.” When asking students ‘how was school today, a high percentage say, “boring.”  So, why do we have a school bored?  What can we do to change the school bored?

Ted Dintersmith’s new book, What School Could Be has re-ignited my thinking because he found exemplars in every state.  So, don’t tell me it can’t be done.  As Karen Chenoweth (2008), who found pockets of excellence in several places dealing with diverse groups, Dintersmith has expanded this to real schools everywhere.  I have quoted Angeles Arrien, in several of my articles and books in the past, “If your job is about waking up the dead, GET UP, TODAY IS A WORK DAY.”

I actually had a phone conversation with Trace Pickering at Iowa Big, one of Ted’s schools. Iowa Big in Cedar Rapids, IA happens to be my hometown.  When I asked how did this school start, he told me business people committed to attending school and following a student for a day.  They came back with some observations: (I paraphrase)

  • School is boring
  • Six plus classes are not connected, they are in silos
  • Kids do Fake work – not applicable to real-life problems

The adults also thought it was important for students to give back to the community. Reading Dintersmith’s book will expand and verify all of the above and more.  And, we wonder why schools and districts in the U.S. are struggling with what to do. The testing culture keeps narrowing our curriculum, boring kids and staff and moving farther away from what people do in real jobs.  Really, has anyone ever asking you your PISA score while applying for a job.  Employers want to know what you can do and how you can contribute your talents to their business goals.

Assessments can be valuable, but not how they are currently being used to sort kids and rate schools.  The last time I looked we want diversity in problem-solving to create the best decisions as we confront issues. Do we really want standardized kids?  Let’s use assessment for feedback.  Let’s expand assessment to include creativity, grit, optimism, thinking skills, etc.  Ask employers, what skills do they want?  Several studies have indicated they want new hires to have creative ideas, be able to work in collaboration with a diverse team and take initiative (leadership).  Hmmm, no standardized test scores made it to the top.

Since I haven’t been a principal in three years, I substitute teach to keep me connected with real kids in real schools. Currently, I am substituting at Headwaters middle/high school in Austin, TX where I live. (I spent 35 years in the Minneapolis area previously).

Thinking about school bored, I asked a student named Caitlin in a math class on Friday, ‘what makes school interesting and not boring?’  I told her I was working on an article about many schools being boring. I know Caitlin is honest, self-sufficient, and a learner.  Headwaters has a great culture for kids. Without pondering Caitlin responded:

  • Something has to engage me
  • I have to trust the teacher
  • The class has to relate to my life, how can I use this?

I loved her response. Caitlin made this clear and concise.  As I always say, ask the students, if they trust you, they will give you the best feedback and suggestions. You don’t have to agree with everything and student voice and choice is imperative for us to move forward.

So, how do we change the school bored?  Here are my current thoughts. I will still try to learn new things to be a better learner, teacher, and principal.

B – Believe you can make school relevant to our lives?  This goes for staff and students. Jon Saphier (2017) wrote about 50 ways to help kids know they are smart.  Read it and implement the strategies.  Yvette Jackson (2011) wrote about building confidence in learners. Believing in the possibility of change will be required to achieve it.

O – Open up options to increase our repertoire of ways to learn and teach.  Yvette Jackson promotes high engagement strategies.  Costa and Kallick have been writing about research-based behaviors that lead to continual learning for years.  I call their ‘Habits of Mind’ the meta curriculum.  These behaviors are transferable to the future and are becoming more and more important for successful learners and employees who make positive contributions for organizations.

R – Real not Fake work. Peterson & Nielson (2009) wrote a book about Fake Work.  The book focuses on organizational systems and I think there are lots of ideas that apply to schools and classrooms.  Without relevance, students aren’t buying compliance, ‘because I said so,’ anymore.

E – Expand school sites for kids to learn. This is an option for current school boards, superintendents, and alternative schools. Quit complaining, start competing.  Glenn Reynolds (2014) says, without a change, our K-12 system and higher education, they will become more and more obsolete.  This book reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by General Eric Shinseki, “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance a lot less.” Pursue learning from schools that Dintersmith and Chenoweth identified as successful sites because there are a growing number of students who are leaving traditional schools.

D – Do it.  Knowledge is important AND insufficient.  A reverend in South Minneapolis, Benjamin ??? (I wish I could remember his name to make appropriate attribution) said to my high school students:  “When ignorance ends, responsibility begins.”  He was correct then and this is still relevant to today. It is the proverbial Knowing-Doing Gap that Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) wrote about.  Close this gap and students will benefit.

Remember: If your job is waking up the dead, GET UP, TODAY IS A WORK DAY


Chenoweth, K. (2008). It’s being done.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Costa, Arthur, & Kallick, Bena. (2008). Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind.

Alexandra, VA:  ASCD publications.

Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jackson, Yvette. (2011). Pedagogy of Confidence.  New York:  Teachers College Press

Peterson, B.D., & Nielson, G.W.  (2009).  Fake Work.  Why People Are Working Harder Than Ever but        Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem.  New York:         Simon & Schuster

Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R.  (2000). The knowing-doing gap: how smart companies turn knowledge into

     action.  Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Reynolds, Glenn Harlan. (2014). The New School.  New York:  Encounter Books

Saphier, Jon. (2017). High Expectations Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press



Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!