Creating Excellence through Innovative and Influential Leadership in the AC-Stage of Education

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Dr. Kimberley Markus is the Executive Director of the New Jersey ASCD. Kimberley is known for her work advocating for students and serving the educators, parents, and community members supporting them. She believes the student voice must be at the forefront of every conversation in order for students to grow academically, emotionally, and physically to reach their maximum potential.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I’m your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and Founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group, and of course, the proud host of VFE and today’s guest… it’s such an honor to have her on, she is one of the extraordinary educators across the country and has been in education for over 30 years. However, she is most recognized as the former commisioner of education for the State of New Jersey. Under her leadership, new Jersey was number one in the country with regards to performance and academic outcomes. She served or are you still serving, Dr. Markus as the Executive Director for New Jersey ASCD?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

I am serving for one more month and then transitioning out, there will be a new leader coming.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yes. So she is in that role. The Executive Director of New Jersey ASCD for one more month. And of course, we’re going to talk about her own organization, Education Advisors. But it is such an honor to have one of these esteemed, esteemed instructional leaders, executive leaders on VFE today. Without hesitation, it is so good to bring on Dr. Kimberly Harrington Markus on VFE. Doctor Markus, how are you today? Good morning, it’s such an honor to have you.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Good morning, Dr. Conner. I’m so excited to be here. It’s just a great day when I get to start with a super conversation with a colleague around education. My favorite pastime.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, Dr. Markus. And again, I’ve admired your leadership for a very, very long time, specifically your work when you were commissioner of education for New Jersey. But I want to expand upon that. Exactly what you did, the innovation work, bringing in AI at a time where it was very novel and education and also teacher effectiveness. So there’s going to be a lot, a lot to cover specifically with your organization and the work that you’re doing now. But I want to get into a fun question, Dr. Markus. Is that okay?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Absolutely.

Dr. Michael Conner

I can I have a little fun first thing in the morning. First, thank you. The board. And we’re going to have some fun because this is going to give my viewers and my audience, deeper picture of who you are because you work extends beyond 30 years. and education, as I stated before rising to the top, me and the commissioner of education for the State of new Jersey. But what’s song, Dr. Markus, what song where education stakeholders, leaders, politicians, educators across the country describe your leadership signature and the industry?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah, well, that’s a really interesting question. One I have not been asked. I actually particularly love this question because I am deeply passionate about the arts. I’ve played classical flute for 40 years, and I play the bass and sing, so going back in the the song bank, trying to think about what might that be? It’s tricky to think about it, what somebody might say about you, versus what I might say about them. But, I think two sort of oldies but goodies come to mind for me that I would hope people would say, I aspired for them to know that I believed in them. So, the first song that I think of would be Try a Little Kindness by Glen Campbell. I think that that for me it resonates because of, the lyrics specifically around shining your light for everyone to see. I really saw it as the commissioner to not only help people see the light that they were shining on students, but to for myself to shine that light on them as well. we created the light House District Initiative, which still continues on to this day, where we were celebrating, districts doing amazing things for kids and not necessarily just at a proficiency based level, but looking at growth as well as proficiency and, other components, not just academic. And so for me, that really shining a light on best practices and places that are doing wonderful things for kids. I also in the lyrics to that song, it talks about lending a hand and I really saw that as my role was really how, you know, when you’re in meeting, in a bureaucracy, bureaucratic space, you really have to think about how can you bring that personal touch, and also how can you sort of, remove the barrier of being quote unquote dusty and really, being seen as someone who is not only guiding the way but also coming alongside. So for me, that really how do you lend a hand? How do we do this work collaboratively? And how do you make sure that educators, on behalf of students, are having a voice in the conversations and decisions being made at the state level? and then I think lastly, the last lyric from that that really jumps out for me is showing kindness every day. I think I’m known on Twitter as out of gratitude Girl, or as we should say now. But gratitude has always been something near and dear to me. And so for me, really trying to show kindness and compassion, to all of those interested parties across our state who are working with and serving children in their various capacities, showing them kindness and grace and, and how can we do this really enormous work together and get our arms around kids? So I would say that’s my song, number one. And I’ll pause before I tell you. Song number two.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. no, this is great. Dr. Markus, try a little kindness now. The, Lighthouse Initiative. I know, at the state, what you said is still continuing. We have seen that replicated, across many states in the United States where, we had a previous guest, one of the authors or architects of the No Child Left Behind, act, Mr. Tom Vander Ark and we were talking about or he was talking about how the, the continuation of NCLB that got left out was that growth part right? Yeah. You see, versus growth, that was a core pillar on differentiating schools from being a schools to be schools where it was just that absolute lengths. But you’re right, is showing gratitude and lending a hand. I think we need to do more of creating those collaborative spaces and education, specifically on how we can cogitate on some of the biggest problems of practice, that we’re facing and we’re seeing now after Covid, these, variables are compounding variables as well. But I think we need a little bit more kindness and compassion. But I can’t wait to hear your second side.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

All right. So my second song, this is again, I’m sure that people they might not pick the song, but I think the sentiments behind it would definitely resonate. so I am a huge, music theater person as well. And, you know, I believe so strongly in the arts being a component of, a child’s journey from brain development to just various exposures. And it’s where I found my my people. so my second song is a Stephen Sondheim song from Into the Woods called children who Will listen? And I think for me, as you know, student Voice has been that has been my greatest passion, my fiercest advocacy over the last 10 to 15 years now, really consistently. And so I think, you know, what I’m known for saying is that children are wonderful observers, but terrible interpreters. And so they see and they watch and they feel, and then without our guidance and modeling, they’re left to their own interpretation. And that’s not always, correct. So, you know, I talk when I’m working with teachers about being careful when you’re co-teaching in the classroom and you turn to whisper something and it may be about the lesson, it may not be about a child, but a child may interpret that as they’re being talked about. And then, you know, what does that mean? And what did they say about me into they like me into they believe in me. And pretty soon we’re on a spiral where that message has become what a child has internalized, even if it was never when it was meant to be. So really modeling and thinking and being mindful, that children are listening to everything that we say and watching everything that we do. And, you know, in the song and in the, the story of Into the Woods, it talks a lot about wishes and spells, and I think you know, again, we have so much power as educators to shape, and grow young minds, and people and humans and really, who can be change makers of our future. So I think really being careful about those wishes or spells that we put on children, that might prejudge a space that impacts them for life for the better or for the worse. So for me, that song is just incredibly powerful when we think about, what children are doing and the role that we’re play.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, Dr. Markus and, you have been a steadfast advocate, with, with regards to student voice in the classroom, in the learning organization, through different, elements of the instructional model, operating model of education, which is critical. We’re going to expand on that because I don’t know if you know this Dr. Markus, but, right now in education, right, when we look at the teacher population, teacher population is dominated by millennials. We have two generations, whether in higher, higher education or whether they’re in the pre-K 12 sector, generation Z and Generation Alpha, two generations that are fundamentally different, the antithesis of any generation of mankind. Why? Because generation Z is the are they’re the, digital natives and Generation Alpha, what we call the generative natives. Now, obviously, student voice in the context of, teacher learning is going to have to be different because of the characteristics and the attributes of generation Z, generation Alpha. We’ll get into that. But yes, children will listen. I love I love what you stated, children are great observers, but, need to work on their interpretation, and we have to be able to guide that interpretation, through their voice. We want to be able to expand on that. But moving seamlessly into the second question. Right. And I want to talk about, your tenure as commissioner of education for the state of New Jersey. You saw the implemented version of many innovative initiatives. Obviously, the initiatives have led to the output of being the number one performing state in the country for education in new Jersey. You worked on the quality of leadership and practitioner effectiveness, instructional coherence, amongst the districts in New Jersey. Now, if you were commissioner of Education today, today, in this new paradigm of what I call the AC Stage of Education, or after Covid 19, what would be your priority areas to reimagine education in new Jersey or any state, if you were Commissioner, how to be in alignment with the new demands regarding the future of work?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Great question, and I think I’ll still go back to my foundation, which I believe, is still the foundation. So when I was serving as New Jersey’s commissioner, one of the, tremendous works I was able to guide was the development of the social emotional learning competencies. that was done with, committee of just phenomenal leaders across the country, and within new Jersey to develop those specifically for our students. But was very intentionally developed as competencies and not standards. because what happens with standards is they get assigned to a 42 minute class period. They get siloed. And social emotional learning is something that has to be integrated across a child’s entire day. And in my opinion, it is the foundation that everything else is built upon. So without it, it’s very hard to layer on any other type of learning, you know, academic, physical, etc.. So, for me, I still believe that that’s the foundation. And as we talked about a post, a post Covid 19 world and education, I think that’s even more at the forefront as we have been talking so much about, mental health and well-being, but also those attributes that, a child needs to be able to be nimble and ready for the workforce, because what we find is many of our students may have the content necessary for a career, but they’re lacking those whatever we want to call them. Life skills, soft skills, 21st century skills. and so I think for me, that social emotional foundation is really essential coming out of the space that we’ve been in. And as we look to the work frontier, if I was redesigning education and I dream about this a lot for many, many years, I wanted to, start my own school, and I actually wanted to start with a high school and work my way back to elementary. Because I think so often in elementary, we understand the need for, learning to be integrated, experienced, spiritual, etc. but as we get older, as students get older, we silo and take away the things that they need most. So if I was redesigning education right now, I would have a huge focus on content in context and really trying to think about how we can creatively move that needle in middle and high school spaces, where we have so much siloing and we have all children moving through the day and they’re not thinking, okay, right now I’m a math student. Right now, I’m a history student. They’re just a student and not even a student. They’re them. I, me, and I’m moving through this day and I’m trying to make sense of everything I’m learning and how it connects to me and to the world around me. that quintessential question that’s asked from kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond. When will I ever use this again? We got to be answering that question. because that is the career forward movement. And if we’re not answering that question for students, and not just verbally but experientially, then we’re not helping them to recognize the connection between this trajectory. School is not this separate place that exists. It’s it’s all part of our journey that leads us to the place that we hope to get to, whatever that may look like. And for, you know, today’s students, that’s going to be multiple, careers and places to be in. So again, combining those foundational skills along with content into context, I think really prepares our students to be the types of learners and thinkers that, will have very successful careers and be the change makers of our future.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Harrington, I mean Dr. Harrington Markus, I thank you for that because, the focus on mental health needs to be prioritized. I think that Dr. Markus, really needs to be invested a strategic investment in education, some alarming metrics to underscore your sentiments about school competency. Thank you. From competencies, to standards. 40. And this is from the CDC that I most recently saw, 42% of high school students, felt a level of hopelessness and sadness at some point during or after the pandemic. And moreover, which I think is more alarming is that 22% of our high school students from the CDC had suicidal thoughts, during and post pandemic. So we’re looking at these alarming numbers as well. There needs to be a strategic investment. I love that you said that this is your foundation is to be able to expand on these SEL competencies, with an intentional focus on the well-being of our students. And I think that needs to be prioritized now with these alarming metrics, multiple metrics that, I’ve been, unpacking from the CDC and other, specific data source areas, but content and context, I want to be able to, to have you expand on that, because when you hear kids and you made a, a statement that resonates with me that still, I here today with students is when will I use this again? Right. And when I look at the historical structures of education and we would have to shift those middle and high school structures from being, you know, time, time frame 40 to 48 minutes per period. This is just exclusively a linear English class, a history class, a math class, which you contextualize. How do we now this is a sub question to the initial question before, how do we now start deconstructing those legacy structures that I think creates or exacerbate these insidious gaps, even from our students that, want to move beyond the quote unquote standards that they already master and hypothetically, let’s say, 2 or 3 months. But how do we start moving away from those structures to start developing or focused, content and curricula around competencies so that now with students ask that essential question, when will I be able to use this, and how will I be able to use this in society? They’ll be able to know and articulate how they use those competencies and skills. But again, we have to look at the system. How do we start deconstructing those structures to facilitate students having this? Okay, I know when I’ll use these competencies or skills again.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah, I mean I think it’s a it’s a huge, job. and you know, I’m one who it’s all about what’s the baby step? What’s the first step. Because that’s often the hardest to take. And I think what can happen is we get into this space where we’re reimagining, and because we go so big, or we know that this system has been in place for so long, and there are so many components that are interwoven and interconnected that. So if we move one piece, we always have to make sure we’re not harming children inadvertently as we make that decision. You know, as we move one piece, it’s sort of like Jenga. Will it stay stable or will it fall? And I think sometimes a, the, the enormity of that large amount of work can cause us to just not do anything. and also the fear of what we might of the repercussions. So I think two things. One is what can we do right now? So looking at even just expectations within a classroom, you know, looking at a high school and having time and, or the expectation that teachers across disciplines will plan and or work together to either do a project or something that inter that helps students to make those connections across disciplines or also even just making those seed plan mentions of how knowing what somebody else is doing, not just what’s happening in your own classroom, but what’s happening for your children, you know, whether they’re sophomores or seniors or whatever across their day, so that we’re making those intentional connections and helping them to start to make those connections in their own minds. Those are just like baby steps kinds of things. We have a lot of schools exploring competency based learning. I think one of the greatest first steps we could also take is we silos so much in the K-12 and then the higher ed space. So how do we bring together, and, and you know, think tanks can be sort of dangerous places sometimes because we love to talk and think and reimagine. But what action comes out of it is really important. Yeah. So when I think about what is it look like for the K-12 space and higher ed spaces to get together and sort of be articulating and co planning because, you know, just like that Jenga game analogy. Again, if I pull a, block in K-12 by reimagining something, but higher ed isn’t pulling the same block or doesn’t have the next move to support it, then what happens to a child who’s credentials or resume when they go to apply to colleges and a college doesn’t recognize those sort of creative courses or different grading system. So again, it’s a you know, it’s a delicate dance. But I think community action and, you know, really having intentional conversations, with action step oriented spacing, we can begin to remove the blocks and really begin then to take on the a bigger system approach. But I think any time we go after the system as a whole, we tend to shut down just recognizing that the work is to overwhelm mean or to large. And so what is that bite size piece that allows us to start to shift, make those little shifts?

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Dr. Markus, great point. Right. Communication, internal conversation and action steps that lead to these bite size changes. I always like to say, systems redesign or system shifting is a large body of work scaled into parts and prototype. And to change exactly what you stated. But, when we talk about these shifts and structures, these shifts and systems, we have to recognize within our classroom, right, generation Z and Generation Alpha. and this is include higher education as well. But throughout your leadership and, your leadership trajectory, doctor Marcus, you have advocated, we know from years, years before, before student voice with student voice. And that’s right. You bring advocate for this. And and because voice and agency are priority demands now for generation Z and generation Alpha you’re one of the experts for student voice, right? What are some innovative and creative strategies right now take into consideration the attributes and dispositions of generation Z and Generation Alpha. What are those strategies, those creative and innovative strategies to augment truly, authentically student voice in every thread of the instructional and operating model that education?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s multifaceted, of course. and I think all generations, but particularly particularly generations Alpha and Z, you know, students are looking for belonging and purpose. And we see that more and more, you know, from little ones, but especially starting into the middle school years, but definitely in the high school years. And what we often interpret as a checked out student or someone who’s disengaged is really just a student who’s looking to find how to where do I belong and what is my purpose. And so I think for me, student voice has been such a passion of mine because I truly believe, like I believe in social emotional learning is the foundation for all learning success. I believe that student voice is truly the game changer that will shift education. and students have to be involved literally and figuratively in every conversation session and every consideration that’s being made in education. I think adults do a lot of talking about how students learn, how what they need, what they like, but very rarely are we asking them. And so, you know, when I think about the power, especially with our current generations, you know, every generation has sought change. And to have a voice, we’ve seen, you know, the protests, we’ve seen sit ins, we’ve seen, you know, all the demonstrations over the years by different generations. But today’s generation is demanding to be heard. And they have technology in a way that we didn’t. And so it’s super exciting for me because I feel like for all the times in history, I feel like they are being heard. And so I feel like it’s really our duty to teach students how to have voice. And that’s not just how to speak right. It’s knowing your audience. It’s what is your why? What do you hope to get out of this? Like what? What are you pushing towards and how do you stand with facts behind you, but also bring the power of your passion as well. And so, you know, when I look across, I think a we have to be really intentionally teaching voice. And I think we’ve tried to do this in the English classroom for many years. but again, it’s to me, it’s so much more than just writing and speaking. And we need just like we need that experiential learning. And students need those practices of being able to utilize their voice. And I’ll share a very specific example of where I think some revolutionary change is taking place in a second. But, you know, where I’m seeing at the district sort of level, some of these places we see principal and or superintendent, student advisory councils, and I think that’s a great go to, the next shift I’d like to see there is that it’s not just our honor society and or our top students, because we got to be hearing all voices. And, you know, we’re not getting we have significant blind spots when we don’t round out a team with various person perspectives. And that’s true of students as well. So if we’re not bringing in the student who appears to be a behavior issue or have chronic absenteeism or, you know, very quiet, we’re not getting those different student perspectives involved. We have leaders have a very significant blind spot then, because we’re only being guided by our most successful, students who may come from a place of privilege or have a different work ethic, etc., etc.. So, you know, I’ve seen some really creative, uses of those councils, though, in terms of doing, planning, looking at renovations or building redesign. You know, one superintendent was sharing with me that, she was redoing a building, a middle school, and she did have her student advisory council, and she went to them with like, here’s the color design years or whatever. And they were like, oh my gosh, you know, our school that color, those colors in the hallway. And so but she listened. And you know, I think we have to show and guide again that we are listening. but students are going to demand a different type of education. They already are. And we’re going to see that become, I think, really impactful if we don’t get out of our own way and trying to impose our will, our world, or the way we learned things onto students and really embrace where they are. So, my specific example is I have the privilege of working with one of our universities here in new Jersey, and we’re standing up a new general education college within the university, and it’s all place and space based. And one of the things we noticed, we have a very high percentage and not just in new Jersey, but in many of our institutions of higher education, of first generation students, who time and money are really essential. They’re essential for all students, but particularly our first generation students. And what often happens in our general education courses is that if a child choose, it takes their science course because they’re an education major, but then goes into engineering. Now I have to take a different gen ed science course, which is time and money for me. And so in this new, college that we’re standing up for all the courses, gen ed courses for the first two years, or transferable across all majors so that kids aren’t losing that. But instead of, so this goes back to the voice question because instead of doing a water study in a science lab, I’m going out into the community and I’m doing that water study in the community. And then instead of presenting a hypothetical presentation to my class about what I found, I’m going and meeting with town officials, and I’m talking to them about what I’ve discovered and being able to ask questions and learn again to use my voice in a very different way, not just standing and delivering in front of an audience that doesn’t have the expertise, or asking me interactive questions like I would experience in the workspace. And then also the other thing that we’re doing is that we are, creating a series of minors, but they have to be cross college or cross discipline, because what we’re seeing is we’re seeing students who are interested in a variety of careers, and they’re going to experience those things. But we still have our colleges siloed by, categories that exist have existed for a long, long time. And so how do we start to offer students opportunities to create these really niche spaces that they’re looking for in terms of innovation and entrepreneurial spots? and then finally, in that work that we’ve been doing, we have students on that committee. And so they had recommended that they wanted to see a passion project be the final sort of pinnacle of those two years of study, rather than just an exam. They want to be able to be developing out something that they’re really passionate about and taking those different experiments and things that they’re doing and tying them into a larger, project that becomes a portfolio for them. So, sorry that long winded, but just know that that know are really important student voice.

Dr. Michael Conner

Where is this student voice, Dr. Markus? Because again, this is, that type of educational experience, Dr. Markus, that is rooted, with the voices of, our students, even at the higher education level, to be able to, to redesign and transform some of the historical, original nodes of higher education to now being authentic. I love that you said moving from the hypothetical to the lived application. Where is this at? Because I think that this needs to be the norm. It needs to be normalized, or the normalization in education p k through 20.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah. So this is Kane University. And it’s under the incredible visionary leadership of Dr. Epaulet and Dr. Birdsell who is the provost, Dr. Epaulet the president, who was my predecessor as a commissioner. And we are we are finding that we have been doing some presenting at various national conferences, and people are really leaning in, you know, and again, it goes back to that question you asked about how do you create systemic change. And so it’s really like how are we looking at what high schools are offering students and the experiences they’re bringing to them. And then how can we bring that into higher ed? Because Higher Ed’s numbers are dropping for all kinds of reasons. But, you know, if, again, students are demanding a different type of education and if they’re going to have some really creative, innovative experiences in high school and then move into a higher ed setting where they feel stagnated and then there there is no purpose for them. They’re going to just opt out and go a different direction. And in this society, a world we’re living in today, that’s a possibility to be successful. So how are we reinventing our spaces to make them really meaningful and life changing for students?

Dr. Michael Conner

That is such a great answer. Dr. Markus and I say this every episode, I want I encourage my audience and my listeners to use this as an asynchronous mechanism of professional learning and how you unwrapped, student voice and a contextual form, as well as, isolated strategies that can be interface, together to my audience. Please rewind that answer because, Dr. Markus highlighted how student voice can be intentionally elevated into the, academic institution if this is higher education, and then also the traditional PCPs, which, well, model. One of the things that I really, really, really loved, Dr. Markus, is to teach students how to have voice. I think we’ve been stating that we want to or encouraging or moving towards more student voice, more agency amongst, generation Z, Generation Alpha. But I think you contextualize it perfectly is that we need to be able to teach students how to use their voice defining agency and what agency is amongst them. But Kane University is very lucky. I mean, you got Dr. Markus and Dr. Epaulet back to back. Commissioners at university, that when my left hand did that shout out to him as well, I want to I want to go to Kane University now with you and Dr. Epaulet, they’re awesome. There’s, Dr. Gray, Sasha Gray that is there.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yes. Oh, my gosh, you’ve been to me and Dr. Salvatore. Michael Salvatore is there. I mean, it’s a really tremendous, powerful team there. I wanted to say one other quick thing because I think voice in general, I don’t want to lose that spot because when we talk about these different generations, there’s one other space that I just want to see plant. It’s a whole other conversation. It doesn’t have to be today, but also for the listeners to really be thinking, and especially if you’re listening in and you’re a leader, in a district or in a higher education space, we have to be thinking about our teachers and the places that we’re giving them voice, as well, because I think in education, we have been we know and we are recognizing that our students are going to hold a variety of careers, you know, potentially 10 to 15 different jobs. It’s not going to be like myself where, you know, I was a lifer. In fact, they do a whole series of talks. And I’m not a lifer like you, mom, about my son. And I’ll talk about him in a minute. But, you know, I think we we recognize that that’s going to be a changing space. But I think in education, we sort of stuck our heads in the sand to think that it’s not going to affect us or happen to us, that we’re still going to have lifers as teachers and our teachers, our newest teachers are still in those generations where they are going to. They have lots of different things they want to do and explore. And so, you know, we don’t have a pension system that’s going to keep them. Well, you don’t have the variety of that’s not what’s going to keep. It’s not about the money for them so much as really wanting to feel like they’re doing meaningful work and that they are making a difference. And so how are we thinking about today’s teachers in this same voice and making a different space in terms of how are we keeping them, you know, as long as we possibly can, but also what are we putting into place to be ready for that changing world that we’re going to experience, to not just the work, the business work space?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Now, thank you, Dr. Markus for that. Very profound and this kind of Segways right into the next question expanding on student voice. And you were recognized in the BBC stage of education. I like to say before, I have all these time ecology, can you know how I love it? Okay. Acronyms are it in education documents. Right. But you are in the Ed Tech ERA award now, this was before I like to say now I everybody is talking about AI and machine learning, different digital and emerging technologies, generative platforms. So everybody’s talking about that. But before that you were awarded the Ed Tech Hero Award. Now with everything that I stated, AI, machine learning, generative platforms that revolutionize the education model for new value capture. But what are the critical elements, Dr. Markus, that needs to shift governance and policy structures to support these economic shifts in education? That’s the first part. And then the second. How can learning organizations leverage these new advancements with AI, with generative platforms, to create relevant learning experiences for generation Z and Generation Alpha?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah, I mean, this is a beast to tackle, right? This is a central conversation that’s happening everywhere right now. particularly in the education space. But we’re also seeing it all over, you know, we’re seeing it in the copyright space. We’re seeing it in the arts. We’re seeing it in, the job in the work space and really having these conversations. It comes back, I think, again, to communication and really being open to, talking about conversations in the particularly in the education space, I revisit and again, that states me but the scientific calculator, like taboo of, oh my goodness. Like we’re going to be able to use a calculator that’s going to help us with formulas that we can’t possibly let our students do that to the internet. Boom. you know, and that fear of like, what are we going to allow? How do we harness it? And again, I think a lot of times, the limitations in our own adult minds prevent us from opening a world that is natural or, you know, just the need of space for our students. And what is that fine line between embracing and protecting, you know, how do we make sure that we are, preparing our students and not preventing our students from moving ahead? And I think, you know, it’s a delicate dance because, well, you know, I is not new. We’ve been using it for our music, for searching for a lot of different things. But the, the, the capacity, I really do feel like we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. I think there’s a sort of an intentional reveal happening, because we’re needing that time to adjust to any shift in technology like we saw with the internet or other spaces. So I really believe that the, capabilities far exceed what we’re even imagining right now. But, I think of so many different. Again, this is the student voice space. Let’s be asking our students, like how do they see themselves using it? What are they curious about? How are they using it already? Right. You know, if we’re going to say don’t, they’re going to go ahead and do so. We have to be thinking about the the embrace. And so I sort of think of this years ago, you know, I was really passionately looking at the tech space that I felt was sort of slipping away and or becoming we were losing the focus on the intent, to help students have career exploration and not just these elite academies or what have you. And so, you know, the trades are incredibly important, and we need to be thinking about how we’re allowing and fostering those spaces. So I think of like a traditional automotive program, right, where a student is, fascinated with cars or engines. A lot of that is engineering. But how do we move from teaching students how to go under the car and change the oil to how do we teach them to partner with robots, you know, and or AI, to have a successful career in the automotive industry. And so I use that example to help us segue into a conversation around AI, because I think one of the biggest fears around AI is that it will take over. and I think there will be jobs or places where I will have be able to, to do something faster or more effectively. But, I was recently at an institute with the education, Research and Development, institute early AI, and we were having this very conversation, and we really came down to what we’re calling each AI age, which is human, AI human. And I think that could be a game changer, even in just getting our minds to have a different conversation around AI, because there is a human component and there always will be a human component. And so how is that a collaborative space? And I said I was going to talk a little bit about my science. So I, I just like to give concrete examples about how I think this is being used effectively. So my son is a high school English teacher, my oldest son, and he is firmly embracing AI in his English classroom. And this is a space where there’s a lot of debate about AI, right, because of citations. And, you know, what is an original work? And so what he’s done is he shifted from a product focused outcome to process, and he is using AI as almost a co-teacher or an intern. So rather than having his students peer at it where we we all know I don’t even have to say more. What happens in a peer editing situation? Oftentimes a student is getting false information or changing things that might have been great or being misled, and or losing the, the integrity of their own work. So he is using it. That’s the students are peer editing with AI. and he’s taught them how to use that and how to look at, like you, that you’re not allowed to come to me for the teacher conference and have a cut and paste version of what you got from AI, whether you’re using Grammarly or ChatGPT or any of the other, engines that are out there being able to take where AI gives you and then really digest and look at like, okay, what’s a further prompt that I can ask? And then how do I question this? What’s the next question I ask? Or how do I take this and put it into my own language. And so I think that that’s, you know, really the place and space, but also understanding that with an intern or, student teacher, you’re never going to just accept that work without looking at it and taking into account and asking questions. So I think as we bring it into the classroom in a variety of different ways or into education, we have to sort of have that mindset of AI is the intern. And so while it can give us great advice, we also need to do our due diligence, to ask questions. And then lastly, when I think of, you know, he’s also using it for planning, development, sly development emails, you know, a variety of things for his own self. But, you know, when we think about that governance and policy space, I think we really have to be, again, rethinking so many of our policies, especially around technology, often come from the negative. And so, you know, when a student receives, let’s say, an acceptable use policy, it’s coming from the don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, you know. And that’s human nature is to just do the opposite. And so what would happen if we reconfigured those acceptable use policies? Do we want a policy. Do we have a policy around AI that is, in concrete set in stone in some districts? Yes. But many districts are choosing not to make a specific policy, but really to be talking through it as a tool. And how are we utilizing it and setting some guide rails around that, developing committees and having that work. But what if we approach those policy developments from a positive, from a proactive space to be talking about how do we create the best, digital citizens and changemakers for that future by encouraging, healthy and safe use of these tools. So, sort of wandered around there. But I think that, you know, it’s a really exciting place, and it’s here and it’s going to stay here. So I really believe we have to figure out again, how are we inviting students into the conversation? How are we empowering them, and how are we keeping them safe? as we navigate. And I think it’s hardest for educators because it’s it’s a, you know, we’re we are immigrants to that world.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah. No, I love how you stated that AI is not new. I started to think about, the definition of AI when it first came out, 1956 by John McCarthy, and I was given his name at Dartmouth College, I believe it was 19 at the time to recite off road memorization, Dr. Markus. But I know John stated, gave the first definition of AI in 1956. So obviously, yes, we know that it has been around for a while and this whole take over. Right. I think that this is an egregious misnomer or I should say, misinterpretation of what? Of the future with AI one of my professors at Harvard, remarkably, he, he masterfully stated this. Well, that I won’t take over humans as humans with AI that will take over humans without AI in the way that Epstein is underscoring AI in the classroom is so meticulously, articulated and implemented it. I mean, if you look at both from his aspect of being a classroom practitioner and students, the level of efficiency, right has just increased exponentially that your son has given, his students a voice at an hour at and between the AI, where now the AI is actually, like you say, acting as a student teacher, a guide on the side for students where it can be. You highlighted a point that I think is very, critical. Is that you gave this example how, technical skills need to interface with these digital skills, because we know that, because of automation. The Oxford study stated that, by 2035, 47% of jobs are going to be automated. So that really takes out the knowledge base work or knowledge rounded work in these industries where we’re looking at digital and technical skills need to be interface with one another. And that’s why there’s this, focus on developing competencies and skills with our students, as opposed to just mastering, specific standards. Well stated. and again, vocational education, where do you see that in the AC stage of education, Dr. Markus?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

I mean, I think it’s quintessential I thought that for ever. I think, you know, again, when we talk about content in context, I think our vocational spaces, many of them have really embraced and and get that, that students need to role play and to experience, education in ways that help them envision who they might be and where their strengths are and where their interests lie. And I think, you know, I think we have to revisit and we constantly want to have these or spaces in education. And I think we’ve got to have that and spaces and we’ve got to stop being intimidated by, you know, a traditional, school or a vocational school and whatever. We’ve got to be like, what are the things that are working and how do we capitalize on those for for students? And we’re seeing now across the country, some of these sort of business models popping up where students are going to, it’s almost like an apprenticeship model, but where they’re taking courses in a business building type of corporate building setting, where they are taking their courses. But also, you know, learning in the job like setting that they are looking forward to. And I think, you know, when we look at like academy models where students come in and they put on scrubs and a stethoscope around their neck and they’re learning science, you know, with, you know, in a lab setting, they’re envisioning and seeing themselves in that new space.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Markus, I, I’m a I’m a huge proponent. I mean, I wrote a book about it, right? Yeah. Of course. Exactly. You need to have a disruptive education. Yes. Students are have experiences like that. And, industry based jobs that they’re going to be matriculating in. I find it fascinating. Dr. Markus, that, seeing 18, 19 year olds making 115, $120,000, right out of high school with certificates that take. That’s right. And I mean, that’s great. Marvelous. I can tell you this, Dr. Markus, when I started as a first year teacher making $33,000, I thought I was breaking. Well, let me tell you, I started at 19,000 and thought I was rich. So everybody remembers their first. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So. But yes. No, it’s true. And it’s good to hear superintendents, Dr. Markus talk about how they’re going to or how they’re examining, different approaches to integrate AI and machine learning into the voter vote tech experience, because now they’re knowing that there’s going to be synergy within these various, tech, areas that now AI is going to be playing a critical role in that. But I like to reference Dr. Markus. this exploit version of a book. Now we know it is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Right. But I read this book, doctor Marcus, last was it right? Yeah, it was last year where it was this exploited version of Vuca, which they called, unvice, uncertain, volatile. There’s a level of intersectionality, complex and exponential. This is the new. This is the 2.00. Good. That’s we got all these acronyms, 1.02.0. Right. Explain it. But now with the concept for level seven purpose, just stop Dr. Markus, unvice. Right. How do we continue the work to, the work to be more strategic, albeit urgent, while understanding we are living in an education and educational world rooted in not Vuca, but, base.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah. You know, I’m going to revisit our conversation we had around systems because I think that human nature gets bogged down in the barriers. And so when I think of unvice and I dissect that into pieces, I see lots of opportunity within that. But I think many people would see lots of barriers and our defense mechanisms, as I said before, when we look at like trying to break down a system, our defense mechanisms and mobilize us, right. And so we don’t do anything. And I think that there is such an urgency that we have to take on these barriers. And and I say urgency because our kids, like we’ve been talking forever about 21st century learning. Well, we’re, we’re they’re like, you know, we we have to be we have got to get out of our own way. And that’s really hard to do. But we have to be meeting our students where they are not just as learners, but the world that they’re living in, and that they will work in and create families and be citizens of. And so, for me, I think we’re already behind as a system in education for our students, and there’s such an urgency to get up to speed. And so I’m going to give a really super simple analogy that I use all the time, because I think it’s powerful in helping us to sort of maybe break this, barrier of, of being fixed or, and or immobilized. And so I think of it as having a wand versus a video game controller. So I think we do a lot of wand waving. So especially when we look at the different components of and vice, we think like, oh, if only I could x, y, z and we wave the wand. But then when we read the wand and we say, if only I could x, y, you see those things that we come up with are often intangible in the moment or something that, we don’t have enough power around or control over. And so because we can’t do x, y, z with the wand, we stop and we shift our focus or we go back to something that we’re already doing, or that is our comfort zone that we know how to do, versus we have a video game controller in our hand every single day, every single moment. And so what are the things that are within our control that we really can take on? And so, you know, I think when we can plan and take action instead of investing all this time and energy into waving a wand that doesn’t have any power in it, we have to be able to to really get into focus of what are those things we can can take control over, because, I believe that there’s a tremendous amount that we can and that when we are embracing, and quieting the noise, I think is another huge, huge, problem right now because there there’s so much focus on education and, you know, all the rumblings and the politics that are coming into play and pressures on superintendents from boards, etc., parent communities. But, you know, how do we quiet the noise? How do we look at what’s best for first and foremost, always for children? Again, going back to that game changer in education, when every conversation literally or figuratively starts with students, it’s not my lesson plans. They’re the plans for the students. They’re not my grades. They’re the measures of success for our students. That’s not my building or my new principal, but the principals is going to serve our students. Those are revolutionary, game changing conversations. And I think when we attack on base, with that video game controller, I think we can make a huge difference. The other thing for me that I think is incredibly powerful, when we’re in these spaces that seem to have insurmountable, barriers or obstacles is to really use storytelling to our advantage, because when we’re clear about our why and the students that we serve and the futures we’re trying to help them create and the change that they’ll make in this world, I really have such huge hope for our future with, our current generation of students. But when we use storytelling, we can navigate some of these difficult waters or some of these tricky conversations because, you know, of course, we know as soon as we call out a particular word or that’s a hotspot, we lose our voice. We lose our space in the conversation. And so by using storytelling and keeping the focus on the students, on the Y, we really have tremendous power to, I think, not only make a difference as educators, but as a community, you know, bringing in business, bringing in community and parents. But when we are telling a story and we all are seeing our place as fabrics or threads in that, tapestry of the story, I think we break down a lot of these barriers and allow for that momentum that is so urgently needed right now.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Dr. Markus, I love what you stated that we need to move beyond, the wand waving and for us to, really like, video game and control or taking control of what we can take control of. Very important. I like that, and I love how you framed it. I would kind of put in this two part phenomenon. A Vuca is like the 21st century, and, vice is like the 22nd century, but so important that leaders, need to story tell, the why. Right. And I think that we need to go deeper or double down with storytelling around the vision and eliminating the noise and focus in on the signals, storytelling the signals, and articulating the why so that we can be able to achieve the vision of the 22nd century. You perfectly framed it. Basically, the 21st century is over. we need to start. We need to start preparing our kids for the 22nd century. And I think that now you know, as we’re making these, shifts to incorporating student voice agency, with an intentional manner, looking at AI and a variety of different ways, especially how we’re implementing it for coherence. And then this lexicon around 22nd century is very, very critical. And today’s a key stage. But, Dr. Markus, last question. You made it through. I’m telling you, I’m sure everybody in Dr. Markus, everybody I…

Dr. Kimberley Markus

It’s a marathon.

Dr. Michael Conner

I connect with, previous guests, multiple guests, they would call me afterwards and they’re like, Mike, this is harder than my superintendent interview these questions.

00:58:12:08 – 00:58:33:21
Unknown
I’m like, this be rigorous, but this is the only time I give, Dr. Marcus, I’m going to limit you to only three words. Right? I know that you can speak a lot. I know that you gave a lot of great nuggets and strategies today. But for this question, I’m going to limit you to three words. Now a lot of my guests don’t listen, they go on and extend, but I try to frame it. So I would say it’s semi-structured. But last question, Dr. Markus, what three words do you want our audience to leave today’s podcast with regarding intentional and bold leadership in the AC stage of education?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Okay, so my three words are courage, gratitude, and voice.

Dr. Michael Conner

That’s it, you, you’re a rule follower?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

You told me, hey, I am definitely a rule follower. Although, you know, in order to really make change in education, you have to be a little bit of a rebel. But yeah, you told me three words. I could expand on them, but courage, gratitude, voice.

Dr. Michael Conner

I, you know, for my audience, because I have you on. I know I’m breaking my own rules. Can you expand on those three words?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Absolutely. I’ll do it quickly, though. So courage is the courage to reinvent, walk a new path, navigate the changing landscape, figure out ways creative ways to use the video game controller to get to that one moment. Gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful to every educator who, listening in, who’s in their schools and districts now, who’s anywhere across our world, who’s serving students. I’m full of gratitude, but I believe that finding morsels of gratitude daily can help us to deal with those really challenging or negative or low times, but it also helps us model for students the power of gratitude. And lastly, boy, I’ve spoken about this over and over again. Voice for all interested parties students, educators, staff, parents, community, business. We have to listen and we have to collaborate.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Now I can be able to follow up courage, gratitude and voice. I couldn’t just let you, Dr. Markus, only leave us with three words, right? Oh, but you are a power Dr. Markus, thank you so much for coming on and being here. For any of my audience that want to be able to reach out to you, get in contact with you, expand on some of your answers and sentiments that you provided on the podcast, how would they be able to reach out to you?

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Yeah, so they can reach out to me at KMarkus, KMarkus@EducationAdvisorsllc.com. And certainly if that doesn’t work for you, they can reach out to you or I can give you an email and or cell phone. Oh, and they can also find me on LinkedIn. That’s an easy place to find me is on LinkedIn. And then I’m happy to connect in any way and to support your journey, or be a partner, in any way. Thank you so much, Dr. Conner, for having me. I just truly been an honor. And what a pleasure to start a day with a fun, you know, challenging conversation about the thing I love the most.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Markus, thank you for caring. It’s such an honor to have you. Hopefully I’ll be able to see you soon somewhere. I’ll be in New Jersey in July.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Oh, please let me know.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah. It’s the, Big Administrators Superintendents Conference that is, I believe it’s going to be on the shore. So I will be there. I’m actually keynoting the event, so I’m looking forward to it. So I’ll get to see all of my new Jersey friends up in New Jersey. There we go. Yeah. But Dr. Markus, thank you so much and looking forward to staying in touch with you, following your work and especially your work with, education advisors. What you’re doing within your corporation and company to elevate the voices of women, women leadership in education is much needed. Thank you so much.

Dr. Kimberley Markus

Thank you.

Dr. Michael Conner

And on that note, onward and upward everybody. Have a great evening.