Defining Meaningful Transformation in the AC-Stage of Education: Being Future-Focused to Challenge the Status Quo

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Raymond J. McNulty is the President of the Successful Practices Network (SPN). Ray is a presenter at the state, national, and international levels on the need for school systems to accept the challenges that lie ahead. He is committed to raising performance standards for teachers and students and building solid connections between schools and their communities. Ray believes strongly that education systems cannot wait for the children and challenges to arrive at school; instead, schools must reach out and help forge solutions.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I am your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group, and of course, proud host of VFE! And today’s guest, I was just talking to Dr. Ray McNulty and just saying that anything that I know pertaining to education over the past, I would say about, what, ten, ten years, doc? Yes, absolutely past ten years. Dr. McNulty has provided that. I mean, whether it be that McNulty keynoting somewhere one on one conversations, telephone calls, in-person meetings, lunch, dinner, it doesn’t matter. Dr. Ray McNulty links to…

Dr. Ray McNulty

Don’t leave out drinks.

Dr. Michael Conner

Oh, don’t leave out the drinks. Can’t, can’t leave that out. Absolutely can’t leave out drinks. Dr. Ray McNulty has played such an instrumental part in my leadership development, as well as challenging myself to become a better leader with different nodes in education, specifically now. You know, having this focus in the AC stage of education to be future focused. And Dr. McNulty, right now, as the president of Successful Practice Network, also a Senior Fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education. And my job, you know, Dr. McNulty was the former Dean of the School of Education for a Southern New Hampshire University. So it is absolutely my honor to have one of my dear, dear friends, dear mentors, a person that I have steadily look up to, continuously to do so today, Dr. Ray McNulty, Doc, how are you, my friend? Good to see you. Fresh from vacation?

Dr. Ray McNulty

Yes, fresh from vacation. It’s so good to see you, Michael. I just enjoy being in your presence and having conversations with you and visiting your family and all that good stuff. But anyway, great to be here. Yeah, I’ve been on a two week vacation and spent most of my time reading and digging into things because as you know, we’re in a VUCA world and things are changing. I can go on vacation, but that doesn’t stop the world from changing.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, VUCA. I remember learning that. Dr. McNulty. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And certainly the education ecosystem is ambiguous. And one thing I wanted to do during this podcast was just to have my viewers right, my listeners, just to get or engage in a conversation that you and I would just have offline. So obviously, this is not only an opportunity for my audience to learn something from you. I always pick up small learning nuggets from you so, Doc, I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Dr. Ray McNulty

Me too, me too. I’m excited and I feel well-rested and ready to engage in conversation with you. Jump right in after vacation.

Dr. Michael Conner

So Doc, here’s the first question. And it is known, you’ve served many, many roles in education, the pre K-12 sector right now serving as a current senior fellow for ICLE, former Dean for the School of Education for Southern New Hampshire University and now serving in the role as President for Successful Practice Network. But with decades, decades of service in the ecosystem. Doc, I never asked you this question and I was looking forward to this. There’s decades of impact you’ve had, but what song what song defines Dr. Ray McNulty’s excellence, innovation and transformational stance in education.

Dr. Ray McNulty

Well, that’s a, that’s a challenging question. But and you know, where I would have to go with that is a song by Michael Jackson and it goes to The Man in the Mirror. And when you listen to that song, you know, if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. And that song really emphasizes to me the importance of self-reflection, personal responsibility and driving change. You know, I think we all have to take a role in it, and we have to be… a lot of people like to talk about change, but they don’t want to change. So I really think it’s essential for individuals that talk about it. And it’s you know, it’s really we’re experiencing something in education that’s very different right now, though. It’s really not change. It’s transformation now. And as I said about six months ago, I was doing a talk and I was doing a talk on transformation. And I, I asked I went to my AI and I said, give me a picture of the difference between change and transformation. And what it did, Michael, was so, you know, and I said, be creative. So it’s it first wrote a sentence and it’s basically said, you can’t make a butterfly by putting wings on a caterpillar. Just think of that, right? And you can envision it, right. Just don’t slap wings on a caterpillar to make it a butterfly. It’s a transformational change. It’s deep. It’s the DNA. It’s, you know, in so many times we in education have changed school and we’ve changed it by adding things to it, rarely taking things away from it to make it simpler and have more space to think and respond. We just keep adding and adding to it. And so really, you know, the the, the, the place where and I think it’s probably the most exciting time ever to be in education is as crazy as it is because out of chaos, out of the mess that we’re in, will come some level of certainty and direction. And, and there’s a lot of educators out there and you’re one of them, and I know many others who are trying to make the right kind of next step. And so it’s so it’s really you know, when I think of that song Man in the Mirror, it’s like we all have to look at ourselves. You know, teachers have to look at themselves and say things like, you know, I’m a teacher, but really, I need to be I need to be a learning engineer. I need to engineer learning. I don’t need, you know, we can’t define ourselves by our old titles and all the ways of doing it. So I just think we’re at a very exciting time in education. It’s also it’s also a time for us to look and say, you know, not just what changes do we want to make, but we have to really start to analyze. And this is something I’ve been doing with districts most recently, is figuring out what are the things we want to stop doing in our schools. And there’s a lot, there’s a lot there that can come up that we don’t like to stop too many things. We like to keep adding. We like abundance and I think we need less time. I was actually reading about a school in Japan, a sequence of schools. I don’t have the article in front of me, so I’ll recall. But they’re limiting for all the years kindergarten to, I’d say high school, right? They’re going to teach five core areas and they’re going to teach business, math, math for business, reading. And they’re going to read a book every day. They’re going to teach things about government and politics. They’re going to NBA lost on the other two collaboration. And that was another. And I forget the last one after maybe they’ll come to me as we talk, but they’re going to say we’re going to focus on that for 13 years.

Dr. Michael Conner

You know, when when you say Man in the Mirror, I think education right now has to have that intentional introspection, right? That reflection to what defining what transformation is. Looking at that, I like to say trade. All right. The elimination of what? We know that it’s not working for students that are not working to accelerate outcomes, preparation for the future, and then move towards, I like to say, the uncomfortable. That’s the VUCA rules, right?

Dr. Ray McNulty

That’s it. You got it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s not, let’s not say, let’s not use the conversation like, let’s get comfortable. Let’s get uncomfortable. Absolutely, let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s figure one of the things, you know, I’m sure you’ve been paying attention to, but one of the things that I’ve been watching lately is that there’s this is this After school, kids are spending lots of time learning things they feel are valuable to them, but it’s not stuff that they get during the school day. And a lot of the research group, they talk about this as the kids outside of school, they’re doing freelance learning. They’re learning the things that they believe will be important for them in their future that they’re not getting in our schools and like, why the heck are we letting that happen? Why are we talking and asking them what are you learning outside of school? How can we build it into our system? How can we you know, as you know, with the work that you were involved in with the Learning 2025 Commission, you know, we all talk about that work as being learners, learner centered, you know, but we’re not, you know, are our minds aren’t really always wrapped around that. And kids want to know if they want to know something. What a great opportunity for a school to be able to engage them in something that they want to learn and then get kids to really feel like they’re truly learners. They’re there are people that understand how they learn and they know they don’t need, you know, in in in our school is one of my big concerns is that we don’t let students self-assess themselves enough and teachers correct everything and right. And that’s not the sign of an adult learner. Adult know when they don’t know something and when they don’t know something, they know how to go and learn it. And when they learn it, they don’t have to take a test to know that they learn it internally. No, they learn. Isn’t that a great gift that we give kids that kind of an experience where they understand and they feel what not learning is about how they can learn and then they learn something and they don’t need to take a test. That would be exactly what you want to talk about Creating massive success and in a real focus on equity, we got to get our kids to understand how they learn, and then that would be it. That would be a big lift.

Dr. Michael Conner

And Doc, you know, and you speak about the Learning 2025 Commission and what we focused on, right. That learning engineer rate change. But yeah, my grading model to this engineering of learning but also I really loved how you captured or contextualize another big element within the learning 2025 commission coauthoring right. Yeah. Coauthors of their learning. Absolutely Doc, and segueing into that right the learning 2025 National Commission because I’ve been all over the country you know, you and Dr. Bill Dagget, another person that I admire but I remember writing that that report being one of the 33 authors that were co-chaired by Dr. Daggett and Dr. Dan Dominique, the former executive director of AASA. You were instrumental, Doc, with facilitating those sessions as well as being the key architect with the development of that core report. So the framework that was created continues to serve as a guidepost within public education nationally. Glad to see a lot of superintendents, a lot of districts referenced in that. I hear my voice hoarse, sometimes not well, your voice is definitely in that work.

Dr. Ray McNulty

I know that you were a great contributor, very thoughtful, Michael. And you always were. You always was, you know, really focused on, you know, what we’ve got, We’ve got this has got to be driven by our students success and that’s be success, all of them. You know, you were really powerful in that.

Dr. Michael Conner

I appreciate that. But I want to in the podcast now having that compliment from you, I’ll cut that and we’ll just go all over. But Dr. McNulty, there’s these new evolutions of what I like to say emerging innovations, right? I machine learning, looking at different models of instruction. I e accelerators right now can now the framework that we created from the Learning 2025 National Commission and the report continue to serve as a level set guide for me going full transformation, meaningful transformation, exactly the examples that you were providing specifically in the context of excellence equity and now we have to have that advanced level of creativity to elevate all in the ecosystem. Where do you see that? Why? Within the framework?

Dr. Ray McNulty

But I think I think I think it would be terrible for educators to take a I and do with it what they did with just basic technology, which is layered on top of the system and and not begin to to see I, I very much well I’ll use Microsoft’s word like a copilot like it’s something that everyone in education, whether they be learners, educators, leaders, board members, should be engaging with because it is it clearly it the transformation that AI has had, the impact it’s had. I would say, mirrors the impact of the printing press. And I mean, you know, before the printing press, you had to go to church to hear the word of the Lord. And then when they when they’re able to print things and people print it and they were able to then do it on their own and read on their own and do things like that. And and it this sense of I particularly generative AI is really become such a powerful tool is that it’s a really there’s an author and I wrote his name down so I wouldn’t forget it, Ethan Molik who has a great… Ethan has a great regular podcast blog and and he wrote a blog about a couple of months ago and basically talked about AI is making everybody at a minimal average. So in a study was done it at I think it was MIT and he cited but basically what happens is that you know, if we have an underperforming student, if you put a AI in their hands, they become an average to above average student, you know, and because that can be their guide, they can you can ask it questions they could get they can have it read things to them. It could, it could support what that student feels, do their weekend in the morning and it could build them. And I think that’s the same thing that I’ve seen Saul Khan put out with respect to Kahn Academy and his program Kahn Amigo, which is like this will help you and it’s that personal help that kids need. So I see I see I if we don’t just you know, if we don’t just take it and try to manage it but if we if we take in some of the best educators I’ve seen lately have been using A.I. to help them, help them do their work, and then they would and they show the kids I’ve had a there’s a particular teacher that I know Jacob, who is he uses it to correct student work so you can get their work back instantly when they. Right. They get it back right away. He’s got it set up. And his point is he tells them, I’m using A.I. to do that. All right. That so I can give you more personal time. Because if I had to read all these things in grade them, it would take a lot of time. Now, I can be a personal support to you. And I think that it’s it’s kind of like if we in what he does with his students and he says to them this basically says, look, if I will tell you when I use A.I. to do something for you, all I want you to do is tell me that when you use A.I. So if you wrote if you write a paper and you have, I help you, you can just write down A.I. assisted writing. Okay? And and his point is, that’s where the future’s going to be. And they need to do it. They need to be open about doing it. And I think in this work with learning 2025, I think we have to see AI as a as an absolute necessity for our kids to know and understand how to use it, how to guide the work for our teachers to use to give them their weekends back and help them get things in their hands, help them get personalized information to students as quickly as they possibly can. There’s so much that’s going on. I think it’s a I think it’s a positive ad as long as we don’t make it that just we throw it on top of the same old, same old. Learning it’s going to air is going to result in educators changing the way lessons occur. They’re going to help change the way things are assessed. And if we don’t if we don’t do that, all we’re doing is putting wings on a caterpillar and calling it a butterfly. And we’ve got to go in and make some significant changes. And by the way, I think that at the schools involved in running 2025, I see so many of them going in and making the right kinds of changes. Now, you know, they’re there. And the reason is that collaborating a lot more, they talk, they share across districts, share ideas, share concepts that they’re finding that are successful. And I think more and more educators need to do more of that. Now that I mean, I’m not sure if I answered your you question on L 2025, but, you know, this is this is really got to be an integral part of the future. We see that happening in the law business, in the medical business, and it should happen in the educational business too.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And that, you know, a famous quote I like to reference is from Professor Karim Lakhani from Harvard University. And he stated, and I quote, a, I won’t replace humans, but humans with a I will replace humans without A.I..

Dr. Ray McNulty

Absolutely. I mean, that’s you know, it’s kind of you know, it’s almost, you know, like look at look at the look at how things evolved when we had typewriters. And then I went to IBM, you know, Selectric, and then you didn’t need a white paper to put it in there. And then it went to word processing and things like that. You know, people needed those skills in the workplace and they’re going to need A.I. skills in the workplace. They’re going to need those. It was a great article today and in the Harvard Business Review about the fact that because of A.I., we need to rethink all job descriptions because there is a there there is there is a need to input into this work. You know, that ability for our our workers to use A.I. to make them more effective. But it is it’s you know, it’s I’m completely with you on the fact that we have to start thinking about what is the value of the human brain. And I think we know the value of the it makes those connections that are not linear, logical and sequential. We know that creative, thoughtful side, the side that recognizes emotion. And when somebody is down and what they need and somebody is, you know, somebody is expressing incredible stress, the human brain is going to do all of those things and they’re going to we’re going to be just that much better at our work as a human being on earth. If we could have a copilot that can help us instantly, give us give us good information, you know, and then again, knowing the good information and knowing what’s not good information, I mean, A.I. is it’s in its early stages. We’re still seeing, you know, weird stuff pop up. But we’ll get there.

Dr. Michael Conner

We’re going to get there, Doc. And one of the things that, you know, I’m seeing across the country and also internationally, which I think needs to be more attention on, you alluded to it, right? Not just layering A.I. on to, let’s say, specific strategy, AI, strategic plan, organizational strategy in totality, but how to successfully integrate an AI strategy into your existing strategy goes back to your research around polarity management, right? So, yeah, we’ll get into that. But when we talk about pedagogical efficiencies, operational and organizational efficiencies, what I can do again, that intentionality route organizational coherence has to be imperative and priority. But the stage of education right after a right it calls for and you and I know we’ve been talking about this years ago radical change, serial disruption, transformation within the model, instructional systems, organizational system, operational systems, adaptability. I e book, which you always talk about specifically in the context of leadership practices. Right now, the educational model by design is to be forward focused, incremental changes, layers of strategy, or you’re layering on an existing strategy, a calling it innovation. Right? But you always talked about this to be future focused in lieu of forward focus, please define the difference between future focus and for focus for my audience, especially now, the AC stage of education. And how would educational leaders author re-engineer the model to be future delegates?

Dr. Ray McNulty

Yep. Great question. And for those of you listening, I’m going to give you my my, my first my easy way to describe these two models of being forward focused and being future focused. So in education, most education, I’d say a good 90% of an education is about being forward focused. And what I mean by that is we spend, we hire people and spend significant amounts of dollars on assessment and in evaluating our system, only to look at the data that we have about the past to inform the future. And all we do is have giant data teams and they look at last year’s math scores or reading scores and they go, How do we get three more percentage points in math? How do we get this one class a little better, right? And what we’re doing is we’re constantly looking back to improve our system, improve our kids learning. That would be the equivalent of, you know, backing the car up, all that, you know, all day long. Right. And the thing is, is that we in a VUCA world, first of all, the issues around with the pace of change we’re experiencing in the world today, you know, you know, my general statement, I say to a lot of people, Michael, I ask people when I’m presenting, do you believe that that the pace of change is incredibly fast and they all put their hands up, They say yes. And then I tell them the important piece of information today, it will be the slowest it will be for the rest of your life, because it just keeps getting faster. So so when things are going that fast, like I’m going to just say in the fifties and in the sixties, in the seventies, change was so slow you could look back to improve your system. But now you we have to look ahead and we have to have skills like foresight in which educated and never trained in. And I’m doing a lot of training in that now. Like how do you look ahead? What do you look for out there in the field? What are the signals we see and how do we prepare for it? So so for the listeners, it’s like kind of like, you know, looking back to look ahead won’t get us anywhere. We have to look both ways before crossing, right? And I think we need that. We need to look we need to spend 75% of our time in the world today looking ahead and 25 a time looking back. And easier said than done. And but if if if we as educators take our business really seriously and people could always reach out to us at speed, but if we had to take it seriously, we have to have an eye on the future. And here’s one of the things that we learned during COVID. I think, and I wrote an article on adaptive leadership during COVID because, as I said, could you write something? I said, Yeah, I wrote this article and then I sat back. I don’t know if I’ve talked to you since then, but I realized I should have I should have changed that because during COVID, what educational systems did was they adapted quickly. I had to adapt. And and and so when we talk about schools, the importance of adaptive leadership, to me, that’s a that’s a that’s the wrong term, the wrong way to think about leadership today. Because when you adapt, that means something happened and you have to adapt to it now. Right? I think what we need to do is have our eyes on the future and invest in investing more foresight viewing. And the reason for that is we have to anticipate and prepare for the future, not adapt. So there were schools during COVID that when COVID hit, they they pretty much were able to flip a switch and put their kids on what they already were doing, which was a lot of online self-directed learning. Most schools had to adapt. And in education, we’re not skilled in looking ahead in foresight, education and foresight as a strategy. The other thing we’re not really good at is in a in a fast paced VUCA world of the four characteristics volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, the one medicine to help you deal with all of that VUCA ism, so to speak, is clarity. Clarity about where you are going as a system. There’s a lot of school districts that have I’d say they have, you know, they have a statement of what the future, what their graduates will look like. You know, they they’ll put up there. They’re going to be problem solvers and collaborative learners and this and that and, and they do that and then they go to a school said, where is that? Where is it? What? Where are they getting that bunch of words? But we’re not really getting there, you know, and we have to get there. So we have to have clarity about where we’re going because, look, you know, just think of the schools that were working and then all of a sudden air comes out and it just changes almost everything you could think of. And, you know, it’s been out there for a while. We could sense it was coming. So, I mean, I really believe that this whole idea of AC, the AC stage really requires us as educators to look ahead and not look back. We do look back to say what in the system do we need to bring to the future with us? Right. And what components, but what do we need to have in the system to get our kids to be successful in a world that looks very, very different than it did five years ago?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And future focused versus forward focused talk. I really love how you define those two phenomenons. But yes, I remember. Right. I remember. Yes, we did talk during that time and you’re like, Michael, I shouldn’t have use adaptability. Right? Yeah. I remember specifically saying anticipatory leadership, right? Yeah. Yeah. Anticipating what the future looks like, identified or targeting those trends. The signals. Right. The I like to say the disruptors, right?

Dr. Ray McNulty

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And in order to do that, you need to understand they, they refer to it as the two loop theory and it’s might make weekly. A bunch of people put it together, but basically it’s kind of like loop one is the current system is in place and but it’s in decline because the world is changing. And then what you need to do at the same time, you need to pull some of your people out and have them have them playing with things in the system that are going to be the future of education and then have them play with it and then have them be able to then initiate the high spicing of some programs in our schools and the entering of the new programs in our schools. It’s very similar to what’s going on in the automotive industry right now. The automotive factories are still building internal combustion engines, but they’re also building the cars of the future, the electric cars. And then and they’re putting them out and it’s slowly moving into the system. They’ll eventually sunset all those internal combustion and only be electrical schools. We need in our schools to have the ability to do those two things at the same time. And that’s not something we’re really we’re really good at, is, you know, we’re really good at getting everybody to do what we need them to do. But. Right. And so one of the nice things about about the situation, though, brings me to the polarity for a second, is that you need people that don’t want a change to keep the school going while people that want to change a building the future. So you can’t pit one against the other. They both have a valuable role to play. I so like at SPM, we like to see, we like to talk about we our work is about caring for the present while enabling the future. So that’s the role of a leader in a school, an institution. Right now it’s caring for the present but at the same time enabling the future to occur.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Doc, you know that segways nicely right into our next question, right? I remember and I will never forget this because this really disrupted my own internal leadership line, specifically creating independent chasm, tension around the theory around polarity management. Right. And I remember you challenged all of us. It was in a small group setting. I can’t remember where it was. It was I think it was at a ICLE conference, model schools conference. And you said, don’t look at it as continuity versus change. You look at it as continuity and and change. And you started to unpack that back where when you look at versus old versus new, that’s problem solving. But when you look at old and new, that’s the polarity management theory and you just don’t have that in your last sentiment. But just I will I want you to explain the polarity management perspective. So in a simplistic form, outline what polarity management is in education and then how continuity and change work in unison with an agile mindset.

Dr. Ray McNulty

Yeah. So the thing is that when in education, actually in most industry nowadays and we definitely see it in the political world, we don’t get problems anymore. Problems have solutions. So some of a superintendent said there’s a problem. I would say to my I used to say in my leadership team, don’t bring me problems. They have solutions. I pay you to solve problems. Problems are solved before. But but in the world today, mostly what we get are not problems. They’re conundrums, they’re messes. They’re polarities. Right? They’re polarities. And so those have to be navigated and not solved. There is no solution. Give you a simple, a simple polarity of for the people out there. Is this in our schools teacher responsibility for learning and student responsibility for learning. What’s the answer? Well, it’s both end right. So it’s not it’s not one that the teacher can you know, the students need have an active role in it and the teachers need to have an active role in it. It’s not one of the other teacher I taught them, but nobody learned it. Well, then something’s wrong. Right. And but the issue really is, is it a polarity? Is it is a force that has, you know, two kind of opposing views in it. And to think continuity and change. So continuity when when we look at that, we we would say the people there’s the people that want to change. They’re like, well, what do you value so much about the current system? They kind of like we have to figure out like, what do you value about the current system and then why are you and then to the people that want to change, what is it that you’re trying to get away from, Right. And what is what are you going to fix in the system? Because change for change sake doesn’t make sense either. So, you know, there needs to be rich dialog in an evaluation of this kind of work. And what generally it requires, there’s a mapping process you go through with polarities and then you have continuity on one side and you have transformation on the other. Well, here’s something here’s something you got to pay attention to. Too much concentration on the past will cause problems, and too much concentration on the future. Transformation will cause problems. We’ve got to balance. There’s things that we need to keep doing. There’s new things we need to add. So we’ve got to we’ve got to work on not polarizing the two ends, right? We just don’t want to polarize it. So there’s a lot of a lot of takes, a lot of time and a lot of analysis to get groups to recognize that. Yeah, I know there are people that, as you know, there’s there’s people that don’t want to change because they believe what they’re doing is right. And that’s an okay opinion to have as long as they keep their eyes open to what the change, what the transformation is going on and are they getting equal results. Right? Are they getting good results? And if they’re getting good results, then then people that are holding back on the on the issue of we don’t want to move because we believe what we’re doing is getting the best results, Maybe they look at it and they go, wow, your kids are getting better results and they’re happier. So I’d rather go do what you’re doing. You know? Now I see the reason for it. Other people need to see it. A new idea working in their system because they can’t visualize it. So you got to get that’s why you have people you have those early adopters that go out. You got to have them work in the system on the new idea and deal with the the the false starts and the squiggle like we we we have a you know, we have this theme now at SBN and the theme is embrace the squiggle. It’s not a straight line. If you’re going to do something, it’s going to look like that. You know, it’s a squiggle why there are no more straight lines. And so you may have to circle back, go. So you have to you have to ensure that as a leader, why you moving to any kind of a polarity? You you want to make sure that you have both sides feeling like they’re heard, they’re understood and they’re not. You know, you don’t make one the enemy of the other. And by the way, it’s hard work because, you know, you sit and you look at why they. I think why how low they want to change it. What we’re doing isn’t getting anywhere. But they believe it. They believe it. And, you know, and they they will keep the current system in place while you’re trying to rebuild the new one. So you want them to do that. Does that make any sense?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And one thing that I did, you know, I remember initially hearing the polarity management theory, you going in depth with the definition of polarity, specifically in the context of education. It really changed my design perspective, right? So I started looking at different instructional nodes in this polarity, cross functional dynamic implementation with two extremes integrated into one and that deep analysis and then also to the cross functionality of teams. And when you look at that, right, bring in that from a polarity context as well. And then obviously, you know, your traditional phenomenon is that you would bring together with that. That’s why I say that changed the scope of my leadership practice, because now with polarity, you influence so influential that remember that the analysis of the data, the intricacy of how important data became within that really changed the landscape of that. But I want to go back to a couple of questions about right when you were writing a I. And what I want to leverage is and I want you to just kind of put it in context, right? How can a, I be a lever for equity or continuous improvement, right. To achieve level of coherence at impact? Because you gave a really good description of a some of the I like to say the worries that we anticipate that could happen, just a layer on approach. But now when we look at A.I. as a lever for equity, how does this mean into the continuous improvement cycle?

Dr. Ray McNulty

I think one of the roles and this is coming just right off my head as you ask that, I think one of the roles is that what I do, I’ve been doing, I’ve done a lot of parent meetings out on Long Island and engage parents in conversations about AI and things like that. And one of the things I’ve learned is that, you know, there are a lot of our students that struggle in school that don’t feel like they’re good learners, they’re strong learners, and they remain quiet in conversations. They remain quiet in in the classroom. They don’t want to participate. But one of the things I heard from a parent who has a child that’s challenging and the child speaks very well but does not write very well, I was always afraid of that. But what I was able to do is be there personal assistant without, you know, and and get them to be able to put their thoughts in writing that they’ve never been able to do in the past. And so it’s a it’s a it can be a tool for engagement of our students that don’t feel adequate, that don’t feel in the current system, they’re able to get into the conversation about, you know, justifying the North or the South position in the Civil War in a conversation or in a dialog. So I think that it’s kind of what it does. It’s this is my my visual mind talking what it does right now, Michael, is that I, I believe it. It’s the ramp for our kids to get into school. You know, we put ramps in so our handicapped kids could get into school. And I don’t think we you know, I think I can help create a ramp that will get all of our kids engaged more in in academics because they’ve got a tool, they’ve got a way to make some things happen. And and I think that will, you know, one of the things that they always feel like they’re behind and they’re struggling and they feel like they’re just not seen as being valued as a as a mind and I think I can be assistive in that. Actually, the article from Ethan Molik basically said it does more, it does more for the average and below average workers and students than it does for the high end students. Because of many high end students have an attitude that they’re smarter than anything else and they they know the answers. And it’s a very different you know, it creates a very unusual kind of a way to think about it. But, hey, I is going to be I think it can be one of the helpful pieces. You know, and I also think, you know, when I look at that Sal Khan and his the development of Khan Amiga, their AI system does not give the answer to the students. It’s a secret. It’s built as a Socratic seminar and it basically leads them to the answer. And and what they’re finding out with Sal in a speech he was giving basically shared was, you know, they’re finding out that this is escalating the students perception of themself and their ability to learn and so I see it as as a way of getting our kids to don’t engage in and in our educational experience very much. I think it could help with engagement. Peggy could help with taking their ideas and making their eyes ideas very useful. So like, I don’t know if I have you know, I don’t think I’ve thought as deeply as I’d like to about it, but I think that I see it and I use that expression about it’s the ramp getting our kids in the schools I always visit. I have this cartoon where the custodians, it’s a snow day and they’re shoveling the stairs off first and the student in a wheelchair sitting there. And he said, he says to the custodian, if you shovel off the ramp, we can all get in lousy. And you know and you see I think I can get can be that ramp that lets everybody in. It helps to put the other student that feels they’re not good at writing. It helps support the student that feels like math is a challenge and it’s that personal help that they get and I think personalize it. I think the whole idea of coauthoring and personalizing are really are connected and and I think that, you know, when I think of students outside of school wanting to learn things on their own, they do that because they they’re doing it usually with technology that’s either telling them that’s a wrong answer and they don’t feel offended by the wrong answer by a computer, but they are offended by a big red mark on their paper by a teacher. You know, So I think I think I think there’s a way of helping us to level the playing field. I think equity is one of the largest and it’s one of the top one of our biggest challenges as we go ahead.

Dr. Michael Conner

And I love how you captured a I as a tool that can leverage equity. Right. And I think that now we have this creative opportunity where we can truly lament personal and individual learning experiences for students, where we talk about that polarity practitioner in I to work in in this I like to say conciliation where now they’re working together. So that last question right and I’m only going to ask you for three. Time flies when you’re having fun doc, I’m going to limit the three words on this. Three words. I don’t know if I can limit you to three words, but I’m going to try to, alright? What three words do you want today’s VFE audience to leave with regarding being a future focused leader in the AC stage of education.

Dr. Ray McNulty

So I will give you three words. Foresight is the first word. Clarity is the second word and squiggle is the third word.

Dr. Michael Conner

Do you want elaborate Doc?

Dr. Ray McNulty

Yes. So foresight in, we need to be looking ahead. We need to be looking at what’s happening out on the fringe. We shouldn’t be always looking at the system. Right? It’s an old system. Look ahead. Clarity. There’s too much confusion in the world. And what we need is a is real clarity about what we’re trying to achieve, what we’re trying to do is the purpose of this work, clarity. We got to be very clear about it. We can’t be certain about how to get it, get to that clear vision because that’s dangerous. But we can have a clear vision. So it’s about clarity. And the third point is everything that we do is influenced by a squiggle. Now, it’s not a line. You know, we start something, it doesn’t look like we’re getting where we are. We go back, we twist it around, we move, somebody invent something, we jump way ahead. But then we got to come back and it’s, you know, school is always seen as a machine. And when I think of machines, it’s more of like, yeah, that Newtonian world, right? It’s like if something breaks, just fix that one little piece. We’re not we’re we’re in a very dynamic, constantly changing environment. And leaders are going to make make some decisions and they’re going to be the wrong decision. And that’s okay because we look, we know that doesn’t work. We’re going to go back. We’re not going to abandon our vision, but we’re going to go back and figure out how do we how do we get next step done. So I really do think for sites critical clarity about where you’re going to go is absolutely critical. And the path is going to be a squiggle. It’s not going to be a yellow brick, it’s going to be ups, downs, turnarounds, and who knows, dead ends, a lot of dead ends.

Dr. Michael Conner

Doc, I will target for site clarity. And the squiggle.

Dr. Ray McNulty

The squiggle. Embrace the squiggle, embrace the squiggle.

Dr. Michael Conner

Embrace the squiggle. I’d tell you that next time I see you, I want to see the squiggle. I got that.

Dr. Ray McNulty

We got it. We got it. I’ve got it, I got it. I’ll get you a detail. We got a sticker. here’s one yet. Now, this squiggle doesn’t look like the this is the earlier squiggle, but in that real squiggle has the loops in it. Now, you know, embrace the squiggle. That’s what it was all about. Embrace the squiggle.

Dr. Michael Conner

To my audience, I tell you, this is one of the this is an episode where you want to be able to play back over and over again. Dr. McNulty I use this as an asynchronous professional learning platform. When we talk about pedagogy, androgogy, and heterogogy, this is definitely self-directed learning, and it’s a best. Doc, if any of the members of my audience or listeners want to contact you directly, want to unwrap the Learning 2025 report, even find out about successful practice network, how would they be able to get in touch with you?

Dr. Ray McNulty

So it’s R-McNulty@spnetwork.org, so it’s www.spnetwork.org and that’s how you get a hold of me. I’m on LinkedIn and all the other pieces but I’m more than happy to have conversations with people and I live for the the chances to do what Michael is doing right now, which is Michael and I, we usually get into conversations like this. It could go on for days.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. McNulty, personally, I want to say thank you, not for just being a guest on the for the continuous development of my professional career as well as my leadership in an organizational lens within the education ecosystem. Truly appreciate it.

Dr. Ray McNulty

Well, thanks. Thank you so much, Michael. And you know, you are one of the best. So, people know that, very personable, very thoughtful and a strong advocate for what’s right for all of our kids. So it’s great to be with you. I’ve enjoyed my time, and I really look forward to listening and staying in tune with what you’re doing.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. McNulty, please send me those articles. I definitely need those. You send me everything and I’ll read it, Doc, and I’ll call you right back. So on that note, thank you, Dr. McNulty. Onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.