Transformation, Relevance, and Leadership Rigor in the AC-Stage of Education

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Amy Dujon is the Vice President of Education at ETC Media and Events. Amy’s leadership focus is helping schools and districts throughout the United States to implement research-based systems to foster school improvement and increase student achievement. She speaks nationally on the topics of leading instructional transformation, standards based planning and pedagogy, feedback to change practice, and effective instructional leadership.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. And welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I am your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and Founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE! And today’s guest, it took a while for me to get her, all because, you know, her calendar is booked and I’m talking about capital B-O-O-K-E-D. But we finally got Amy Dujon on Voices For Excellence. She is a person I truly admire, specifically what she is trying to accomplish with her in the district administration group with regards to executive leadership and ensuring that we have executive leaders matriculate into the role, or even if they’re long tenured, superintendents assistant superintendents, chief academic officers, and now the newly developed Principals Leadership Institute. And Amy is going to, elaborate on that, but it is with my absolute honor to see a great friend, a sister in the game and a person I admire for the work that she does. Amy Dujon. Amy, I got you on. Listen, all right. To my to my audience, it is harder to get a meeting with Amy than Barack Obama. Okay, so, yeah, we got Amy on. Amy, how are you?

Amy Dujon

Michael, honestly, the the honor is all mine. Thank you so much for your patience and perseverance and getting me. Booked but I, I could not be more humbled than to be here with you today and these next few minutes just to talk about, you know, the profession and what we’re all doing to try to build up our fellow brothers and sisters out there who are fighting the good fight, that are in the in the work every day. So every time I’m with you, Michael, you you just make me want to be better. So I just want to thank you for that. Like when I hear you speak, when we’re together, it’s like I need to push myself to learn more, do more and be more. So I appreciate you and the way that the things that you do for me that you don’t even know.

Dr. Michael Conner

Amy, thank you so much for that. And to my audience out there, Amy is what I call an instructional pedagogy or a pedagogical Czar. You know, with what she know, she is an author. Impact. And the work in the field, more broadly impacted the industry in totality. So, Amy, those words coming from you just absolutely means everything. So, we’re going to get into it, right? This first ask is kind of like, I like to say unconventional because it’s more of, two nerds. I like to say getting together, just unwrapping education for, asynchronous professional learning experience for my audience. But I always start out with a fun question, Amy. Right. And with your diverse level of expertise in the education ecosystem, specifically your experience, your depth and breadth and experience within the industry, being an author, the face of the DA and the Dolly Institute. But I want my audience to to know something that they might not know about you. Right. And what is Amy Dujon’s excellence and innovation song that describes your leadership signature in the industry?

Amy Dujon

So this is a hard question because I think there’s a couple that I would love to, like, do a mash up of, but really I don’t if, you know, Imagine Dragons, Whatever It Takes, like it is. So, there are just so many pieces of those lyrics that that fit you, who I am, and just the context of my story of of of what I came from, like, just from a single parent home and and always kind of, I always kind of see myself as the underdog and, like, pushing through, like, whatever it takes, but also just that mentality of you, we’re going to do what it takes wherever, whenever. However, whether it’s for the leaders or for the kids that are in the building, like, that’s that’s kind of it. I, I’m a little bit of a racehorse, which the song talks about, like I always had, bigger dreams and visions than sometimes I think, like, I have resources, but that doesn’t limit me. So I’m always looking to push the envelope to think of what’s next. What’s better? and and knowing that there there’s always room for improvement, right? We can all be coached, we can all change, we can all grow. And so that is, that’s me, like the one of my favorite lines in it. and I pulled it up because it’s like, just so profound. It says I’m an apostrophe. I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see. And so that’s what I like, in that song is thinking like, there’s it’s always like, you can take a breath, but there’s always more, easy.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. No. Whatever It Takes. And I think that, you know, when we look at education now, we’re knee. And, you know, this is the second year of I like to, contextualize it, Amy, as the AC Stage of Education, after Covid 19, and these compounding variables, right. That you’re seeing in education. moreover, because of the pandemic, I think we have to really do whatever it takes, right? That radical altering of systems and structures, traditional functions, roles, roles, within the ecosystem, we have to look at things fundamentally different so that we can meet the needs of generation Z and Generation Alpha, and it is whatever it takes, pushing the envelope, as you said. And going back to this, I am just a thimble, right, I love that. Can you just elaborate on that or that that line, because that resonates with me so much. So if we could just unpack that just a little bit more so my audience can really get a feel of what that well, how that quote just hit me.

Amy Dujon

Well, for me, you know, I think we look at people in certain positions or we see like organizations and the way that they’re moving and, and it’s we look at people and say, oh, well, I’m not I’m never as good as like or I’m not that, you know, we especially as a female leader, right? We get that imposter syndrome. And and so that idea, that notion of like, I’m just a symbol of what, what people could be like, how you can rise above me, but also the fact that just what you see, where you see me and the things that I’m doing and where I see you, that’s not the total context of who you are, right? There’s so much underneath each one of us that that our, our histories, the way that you experience the world, that the way that we look at the world to come, that that we have to stop and pause. I think that’s where we see a lot of kind of, that almost like a sandpaper discourse that happens in, in what we’re seeing in education, where we’re we’re having a hard time seeing people’s point of views and, and, and there’s so much dichotomy, I think, that, you know, when we take that second, you know, with in the fact of an apostrophe. Right. Just a pause, take a breath and realize that I need to contextualize, like this person seeing the world from from a view of something that I might not have experienced the world through, but also the fact that there’s just so much that we have not untapped. Right? We when we look at education, there’s so many things that we’re still doing that we’ve done for the last 100 years. Right. We might have changed the technology behind it, but we really haven’t radicalized. Right. What we’re doing, and I believe, like you, that we are on the cusp, that if we don’t start doing that now, you know, that is what it’s going to cost. It’s going to take for us to keep up with the way that that technology and society is, is pushing and moving. We are going to have to fundamentally stop and think bigger about what education can be and what it should look like and feel like, and that’s scary, right? That that’s a scary place to be. But there’s so much that is untapped right now.

Dr. Michael Conner

You’re absolutely right, Amy. Right. And, and I really appreciate you bringing that, to the forefront. Right. Because if we really don’t do anything, it could be catastrophic. Right? And I don’t like the word or associate that word in the education realm, because we always do what it takes. But it there are inaction, right? Collective inaction or this strategic calculated risk, thinking big or this radicalization in education, it can be, catastrophic. So thank you for presenting that, Amy. But moving on. Right. So I know now, right? I got to get you a correct title because I, I admire your leadership. Yeah, I saw somewhere vice president. Yes. Can you elaborate on that? By the way, first of all, congratulations.

Amy Dujon

Thank you. It’s recent. Recent promotion.

Dr. Michael Conner

Awesome. Elaborate on that, please.

Amy Dujon

Yeah. So, when I, I, I was director of just the Leadership Institute, up until mid-summer, where I took on, kind of overseeing the editorial content and direction with, university business mag or editorial and our do, editorial. And just recently, was promoted to vice president, overseeing the media and event side of our, the Leadership Institute side of our education portfolio, which is really exciting for me. So learning some new, industry things that I didn’t know before and pushing my, my leadership a little bit here. So hoping to continue to grow in this position, to, to really have a bigger impact, right, to really set some strategic direction around what do leaders need, like what what type of material and, and content are they creating. And so doing a lot of deep dives, pulling our, our member base in talking to leaders like yourself. What how can we start to help leaders forecast out and start thinking, you know, months in advance versus I feel like in the last at least 2 to 3 years, we have been on such a a defensive firefighter mode, right, that if we here, we can finally kind of start to, to get help people help our leaders get, into a more offensive stance right then that we we can start to, to do the things that we need to, to, to, to entity so forward. So it’s a very exciting, you know, I think with anything like this, you get excited and, and I have a million ideas and things that I want to do. So luckily I’m surrounded by folks who are like, that’s great and you. But let’s keep it. You know, 2024. What? That sounds like a 2025 thing. We let I am never I am never that one. I’m like, ooh, what? That, you know, I see a need and I’m like, we can fill it. Like what? How do we fill that need? And that’s what I want to do is constantly be looking and and remaining agile so that we can we can meet the needs of of leaders. So it’s exciting.

Dr. Michael Conner

Congratulations, Amy. I tell you, you, I just participated in the… at the last institute at the Dali Institute. And it is, I tell you, you and your team, phenomenal. A1 top notch. I just love actually just going in there because not only am I learning and engaging with other practitioners and executive leaders, but just the organization of the event, Amy, are phenomenal. And of course, you know that you being the that the host, the event leader of it, you just make the environment so fun. And it’s good to have that network of leaders come together and the organizational structure in-house operate it. top notch, Amy and my listeners out there, if you are an executive leader or if you are a leader, I know Amy, and, the District Administration Leadership Institute is starting to principal Leadership Institute. Please engage in that because all tiers are supported. But, Amy, I really want to get to this this Rudy question. Right? Right around. And, you know, the work that you’re doing, the work that Dali’s doing and what we’re seeing and the education ecosystem, which is immense turnover and various executive roles even now when we’re looking at this turnover rate is at the site base level. Right. And I love how now you added that new leadership, right, to support principals because you’re seeing these alarming metrics. Right. this precipitous dip in leadership. and whether it be the superintendent all the way down to the principal. But knowing these alarming metrics, Amy, you kind of articulated it when you were describing your new role as vice president. But how is the vision of the DA Leadership Institute supporting the ecosystem to sustain, develop, and more importantly, retain team leaders during these polarized and politicized times in the AC Stage of Education?

Amy Dujon

Look, it’s and it’s a it is a vast question. Right. And I a lot of organizations trying to do what they can to try to support. And so for me and we’ve talked about this a little bit before, Michael, that the podcast is, you know, I, I talk about it and there’s a lot of noise.

00:13:48:18 – 00:14:13:01
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And when you’re out there there’s so much noise coming at you, whether it be from, you know, community, politics everywhere. And so it’s so important as a leader to give yourself space and permission to get into a place with other leaders where you can shut the noise down and you can focus on the work and you can really think about, you know, what is my next best step? And think about how you’re growing and supporting the folks that are within your organization. And really, the Principal Leadership Academy came out of a it’s a I have a heart for building leaders. You know, I do I think that, you know, it’s almost like running a small system, you know, as a part of the of a, of a bigger district. But what I’ve seen since post pandemic and this is just my this is my take on, on the world. And the way I’ve seen it is, you know, we left when Covid hit. Before that, many of our organizations had really in our in our school buildings had great systems in place, like we we had systems for accountability and we had systems for, you know, you know, our recruitment and retention and all of these things were in place. And then Covid hit and we disrupted and and we innovated in three days, you know, we got we got people up, we got kids online. We got teachers online. We did all these things. And then when we were able to open back up, it’s almost as if, in my point of view, we and we expected the systems that were there to just pick back up where we left off. Right. And we failed to acknowledge the fact that those systems broke and they crumble. Right. And when we came back, we came back to a different environment. We had now introduced a world of, you can teach virtually, you can learn virtually. And now those things weren’t happening in places. But we disrupt it in a system and then try to go back to an existing system. And I think when we sit down and we acknowledge that what we failed to do is to realize we needed to start building the systems from the ground up again. We had to reinvent for the for what we were about to meet. And so that comes into play when we think about even just certain behaviors and, and the way that we’re supporting them are the adults in the organization and the supports that they were going to need coming back. and so what I found was there’s a lot of building leaders. And with that turnover that started to happen as a result of that, that to no discredit, there’s there’s strong leaders, but they maybe would not have been put into that position as quickly as they as they are now. And so they’re lacking frameworks. They don’t understand how to build a system from the ground, like how do I put a system that’s in place? How do I come in and look at what’s happening and identify whether or not there is something missing that that isn’t there, or is there there? Are there things that I need to to just tweak or fix, and so they end up unintentionally causing more disruption because they’re trying to impact culture and they’re trying to do things and they’re stepping on things that they don’t even realize. So how can I help those leaders? Right. Yeah. Enter into that. Take a bigger look. Right. Start to look up and out, and to empower the other informal leaders around them to start taking on more. So what I find is we have got a ton of hero leaders out there. We have got leaders who are trying to do everything and be everything to everyone. And that’s not sustainable. Or it’s it’s that’s not whether you’re in the superintendency, the district office or building level. You can’t be every everything to everyone and you can’t be the single point of failure. You just can’t. And so we’ve got to start thinking to helping these people realize that though at the end of the day, you you have to live with those decisions and the consequences of of the instructional and, and and just organizational decisions you make if you’re not building the capacity and starting to put real systems into place, you’re going to burnout. And so are the people around you, right? Like they start to feel distrust because you’re not allowing them to carry part of that load. So that’s really where the need to support principles came from, is I, I actually, one of our member districts asked me to come and do some work with their principals. And as I as I started working with their new principals, the other principals, like we need this week and they just haven’t been said, right. Because we have been they have been so busy feeding the people in their their buildings and making sure that kids are safe and okay and that the teachers are safe and okay, and you know that they can, that they’ll stay, they’re not going to leave, and they’re not going to have a ton of vacancies that we haven’t said the leaders enough, and they need it. They need their cups filled. And so this is an opportunity for them to come to really focus on themselves as a leader, the impact that their leadership has on the culture and the way that things are progressing and their and their buildings. And so it’s it’s been really neat to see that and to have leaders reach out afterwards and say, you have no idea how much I need this. Like, I needed this for me to sustain, to to move on. And so that’s really what the vision for me for, for the Leadership Institute is, is that we create these spaces where leaders can come together, learn from each other, but really, really be able to kind of block out that noise and, and find what they need to make their next best step forward. Right. and that’s what that’s what I tried to create in all of the, all of the events we do, whether it’s a summit or an academy, is to create those types of spaces.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, Amy. Great. Great job with that. I really love the fact that, that level where leaders can just come and, and just really focus on development, focus on learning from each other. The shared, the shared environment where, you can be able to be you, to be vulnerable. Yeah. And, you know, in an environment like that, I really appreciate where you said, the noise, permission to shut the noise down. Right. Because if you think about it, whether it be being a principle building leader, whether it be at that executive level, it’s really hard to shut down the noise. Right? We talk about it from a data science. You want to ignore the noise and pay attention to the signals that are embedded within those data sets. The same emulation you know, we want to be able to shut it down, really be focused on the learning in here. the experts that you bring in in me. And thank you for that. Right. Because I think that when you gave a really good explanation where, you know, I just broke down, we need to be able to build, the literacy and capacity of our leaders with regards to developing systems, right? Yes. And and I, I to my audience out there, Amy highlighted, a sentence that I really want you to focus on. You are not the single point of failure. Right. And whether at the principal level or even at the superintendent level, it that really resonated with me that we can’t be hero leaders is not sustainable. And of course, looking at it from that single point of failure, I think that a lot of us, right when we’re because we’re so immersed in the work, because we do whatever it takes to get the work done. You know, when we we don’t impact families or students the way we want to, we feel like we are the long failure. What’s that? And and thank you for highlighting that. So yeah go ahead.

Amy Dujon

Part of that too, Michael, is you know we we then are giving everything back to our job and to, to the building or to the district and the people who care about us the most, the people who are behind us, they wind up getting what’s left of us instead of the best of us. Right? So we come home and we’re still we’re still because we’re we’re trying to do it all, you know, we’re we’re we’re we’re we’re distracted. We’re not giving our time to the loved ones. And that’s, that’s why we burnout. Because we lose the sense of who we are outside of. I always tell people, you’re a whole nut, right? You have to be a little nutty to get an education, but you’re a whole nut. It’s not all about your job, right? There’s other parts of you that that keep you nutty. So you got to you got to feed those parts, too.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And, Amy, when you said that. Hero leaders. Right. I reflect back to, when I was a principal and superintendent, those two roles, I would literally put in a full day on Sundays. Right. And I would go in at night. I will never get this going at nine. And I would probably get back home when the second round of football games are on, which is around 5 or 6 Eastern Standard Time. to everybody on the West Coast around that, the 1:00 games. And we know on the West Coast, you know, the 1:00 games are the late games for you guys out there. But you know what? Yeah, I want to expand on, maybe not a lot of people know this about you, right. But you are just an instructional guru. And and I love me some instruction. There we go, sister. We got we. Now, this might extend to three hours with this question, but, double at this at two episodes of the two part series, part two coming out, part two. But you just have a B a well, and I be a wealth of educational leadership experiences serving in a variety of different roles. But I want to unpack your book. All right. Okay. And I don’t even think many people know you are an author. Yes. In the in and week out person, if you want to talk instruction, call anything but your book. The Gritty Truth of School Transformation. Just I love the title, The gritty right that asked of school transformation eight phases of instructional rigor. Now, what are the meta themes right around your book and pragmatic radically, how can I take the eight steps to improve my learning, organization, or even school to impact all

Amy Dujon

So, you know, it’s that my book is really a reflection of of the work that I did as a, as a principal. And so I was at the time, I thought that I had drawn a short stick. So I was a new principal. It was like the week before teachers came back and my area superintendent called me and said, hey, we’ve got this awesome opportunity. We’re going to select a couple of schools across the district, and I picked you from my region. And I was literally said to him, did did I draw the short stick? Like, was I just. And he said to me, he’s like, well, if I’m being honest, I, I selected you because one in our area were some, some of the, the highest like most vulnerable schools in the, in the, in the district. And he’s like I can’t put more on them. And of all my other principals, I knew you would tell me whether or not this was garbage or not. Right. Like whether or not it was worth it or not. So I said, okay, and I and I, you’re new principal. You don’t tell your boss now you’re like, I’ll just do it. Like I’ll just show up. And I went to the first day of orientation and, and we were a, we were I Marzano school. But like our district, that’s what we use for our teacher evaluation, our leader evaluation. So I was familiar with, like, the terminology of the model. but when we went and met with the organization that was, doing these, these what we call demonstration schools. Yeah, they really kind of introduced us to this idea of like, digging deeper into the framework and actually like understanding the strategies that are within his framework and, and how to apply them, coaching teachers and how to do it. And I was like, you know, I was a I was like at your classic good a great school. These it was an a school. It had always been an ace school. In fact, I had worked in transformation schools my entire career. This was the first time I landed in in a school. And I say this with absolute regard. But this, this school was an ace school. In spite of the instruction that was happening there, there was there were good teachers, great teachers, and and they were doing good work and they were working hard and they were awesome. Like you would walk in and be like Amy. And they were. But this was an opportunity for us to say, we can be even better. Like, we can be good and we can we can get better for kids and better for us. Because I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to constantly be honing your craft, challenging yourself. There’s always something, something to learn. And so we got this opportunity to do it. We I dug into the work and it was a ton of of learning. The first year of really digging into Marzano framework is high yield strategies and understanding that I was blessed to have him walk my building a couple of times and be in his presence. And for those people who have used him as evaluation, I was like, he gets a bad rap. He’s a super cool dude. He is so fun to be around and smart, but really started to challenge what I thought I knew about good instruction. So you know people, I love it when leaders say to me good instruction is good instruction, right? You just know good instruction. And I thought I knew good instruction. And still I started down this path and working in really undoing everything I knew about teaching and learning and then trying to put it back together again. Doctor Marzano and he and his wife wrote a book, called The Inner World of Teaching. And he talks about we have scripts in our minds, like for what teaching and learning should be. When we go to a restaurant, we have a script of of what we anticipate, how that encounter is going to go in. We can go to a different restaurant, but it’s still the same script. We can go to a different classroom, but it’s still the same script. But when we when we have to rewrite a script and we have to edit and revise, that’s the hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not here’s a new, you know, textbook, our new materials that we’re purchasing for you. This is literally changing the way that you you approach your instruction, your planning, the way that you do. You approach the way kids should be engaging around content. And so that that is the work of the book. That’s what I talk about is a struggle, the productive struggle that happened to really impact the way that we were. We were looking at, instruction. And it really started around this idea of thinking about the way that students are engaging in the world outside of the school building. What are they experiencing? You know, we talk about preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist. And we can say that all we want, but are we preparing kids? Are we building up the skills necessary to encounter a world post-secondary that we can’t even imagine yet? Right. What are those real skills, and what are we valuing in the instruction that we’re doing now? So the things I find when I walk buildings across the country, and I do it frequently and we value compliance, right? We we value kids to come in, to be quiet and to sit into and to do their work. And there’s nothing wrong with, with with compliance. We have to be compliant, right? Like I have to be compliant. I have to meet rules. There are rules. And there things that in society that I have to function. But we stall out in the in in our with our systems maturing when that’s all we value, right. So we do a deep dive around, like looking at the way kids encounter the world outside of us. What do we need to change about their experiences in our classrooms? So that year after year, we are building those those skills that we know they need to make. And I’m sure you’ve seen the economic forms like their list of of what they what. What skills we need to be developing. And so pre-COVID, as you’ve very much outlined in your work, you know, we were looking at problem solving in decision making and communication and, and collaboration, all those things. And now post-Covid, you know, it’s really around curiosity, lifelong learning, resilience, agility, the ability to to shift into and to be agile and flexible and but still creative thinking. And how often are we actually asking kids to be creative, to play, to be curious? How often are we encouraging the adults that are planning the lessons to be creative and to play well? And so the book that the eight phases of the book are really the phases that I identified when I was able to sit down and look at it after I left to say, this is these were really markers in in how the work happened. And the truth of it is, is the entire organization does not go through the phases at the same time, right? Right. So it’s really anchored around the understanding of Carter’s work. Right. Your first followers and you’ve got, you know, your coalition of the willing, you’re always going to have those resisters. And and looking in the lessons that I learned, as a, as a young leader, a dream leader, as a principal, in leading truly transformational work. I didn’t know what that was. And it it was me having to challenge my own beliefs, ideas and and knowledge of instruction. Yeah, with a group of teachers who are willing to let me learn with them. Right. That was hard to say. I don’t have the answers. You’re going to look to me and the answers, I don’t have it, but we’re going to figure it out together. And so this book, really these eight phases, talk about that kind of map that we took through it. And so, you know, everyone always talks of when they read the book, it’s like, oh, phase three. Oh I because I can’t the mud you get in the mud right. Yeah. Yeah it gets real muddy for a while. And you reach this point when you’re trying to truly transform where you have, you get stuck and it’s either you’re going to go back to doing it the way that was easy, that, you know, because that’s it. Or you’re going to push through and you’re going to get to the other side and that’s that’s sticky. And so the mud is is a place I think almost as a, as an industry. We have been stuck for a while right now we are in the mud and we’ve got to figure out whether or not we are going to push through and transform or if we’re going to continue to try to go back to traditional practices and make those work. and I’m here to tell you, we got to push through, because once you get through the other side, it is so worth it. The rewards are so much better when you have that vision and you’re able to get there. So I know I’m kind of like all over the place, but I get super excited as I talk about things. Great. Amy, I think what happened for us to like is, you know, we went through that first year, which was really, really hard. But then this, like joy and excitement came back to the profession where teachers were empowered. They were making decisions like, I’ll never forget. I knew things were really changing. And we can talk more specifics about like what that change looked like in the classrooms. But I’ll never forget I went out to parent duty, like drop off, and I walked back into my office and I didn’t call a meeting. I didn’t ask them to come. I walked into my office and I have a picture of it. I had a teacher from every grade level circled around my desk. They just they just taken over my office and they were they were vertically and horizontally, planning to make sure that as they were approaching a common standard, that they were meeting the actual grade level expectations in their instruction of what they were expecting of kids to do. But it was the most beautiful thing I’ve I’ve ever seen. but it was at that point that I knew I couldn’t be the one to drive it anymore. Right. And so the second half of my book really talks about you have to stop being the hero leader, and you’ve got to start empowering or so it’s really just that journey of leadership that you when you really are looking at sustainable, transformational change.

Dr. Michael Conner

To my listeners and my viewers, the book is entitled The Gritty Truth of School Transformation eight Phases to Instructional Rigor. Amy, just gave a small caption of it please purchase it because again, our instructional acumen and prowess you will actually see that within the content of the book and also to my listeners and viewers out there as well. This is an answer that you want to rewind and play back again because, there are so many, I like to say nuggets, that you can take with you immediately leap one of the major nuggets that I learned, Amy, just from, your response? We have to be able to learn, to unlearn, to relearn. Right. And especially now where we talk about that in the AC stage of education and that whole level of productive struggle. But I think what really resonated me as kind of, I like to say a mega theme is moving away from compliance driven instruction. And, Amy, that is something that I have been, really trying to unwrap, right? Whether it be from a systems lens now, even down to the classroom level, because when we look at the key attributes and characteristic of generation Z in generation Alpha, one of the priority points within their characteristics, their collective character characteristics is relevancy, right? Relevance. Now we know what Gen Z Gen A are like. I have a son that is in Gen A, and I know what relevancy look like for him. And if we if we collectively continue to, implement or double down on the traditional, mechanisms of education, the industrial model element, which is compliance driven, right? Again, we go back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago. You know, we’re going to be in this catastrophic stage of imploding education simply because we’re choosing compliance over engagement rather than engagement over compliance, experiences or skills. new experiences for skill development, creativity and education. I always say that there’s two harsh words in education. I like to say the T word and the C word. T word is transformation, and the C word is creativity. And why? Because standardized curriculums are driven to only improve assessment scores. And guess what, Amy? Your school isn’t a right. What gives a grade for school? Amy. Right. Please go ahead a bad break on that.

Amy Dujon

I mean, at the end of the day, we’re we are no different than any other industry, right? Our end product is student achievement. That’s that is our job is to when kids come in at the beginning of the year, leave smarter than they, you know, with more skills and more knowledge than when they came in at the beginning of the year. And when we drill down to the fundamentals, that is it. And so but what is an A right like I used is I used to look at like so if an A school means that only 57% of our third graders are reading on grade level, is that is that an A or that only 45% of our our algebra one students are passing? Like, would you accept a 45% as an A on a test grade? You wouldn’t you wouldn’t do that. You know, we lower those standards that, you know, we’ve got those those bands that that the state will then adjust because this is where the majority of kids performed. Right. So now we’re going to adjust and say the difference between that doesn’t that’s not mastery, right. Like I, I will get on my soapbox about that given points for bringing in note cards. That doesn’t tell me whether my kid has mastered your content. How do I know that they know the standards? And that was the work that, like, was just eye opening to me. Do I have student evidence? Do I have the receipts and the day to day instruction that they have mastered this standard and they are ready to be assessed on it? Because most of the time the answer is no, right, right, right. And then we just keep pushing through and pushing through and pushing through and, and and it drives down to, to no fault of anybody’s. We’re not asking kids to produce in classrooms the evidence that we need to tell us that they’ve mastered right where we are blindly trusting, and there’s a lot of really great curriculum companies out there and content that’s being given. But we we blindly trust that the questions that they’re asking and the way in which they’re asking is going to tell us whether or not it’s a bastard. It and it’s just not that’s not the case. We need we needed the evidence. If it’s really simple to me, rigor is super simple to me. Like in getting kids there, I talk about the four TS of a line instruction. If we can make sure that the target we start with the target. Right. The what is it that we need? Kids know no and do what’s the task? What are we asking them to produce to show us that they they know it and they can do it. What is the torque? What do we what are they saying? Are they using the academic vocabulary? They asking the questions, are they pushing? They’re thinking. And then in every content area other than the math, we’re looking at the text, is it grade level appropriate? Is it worth reading or in math? It’s the conceptual understanding. It’s the thinking. Do they understand the thinking behind and why they get there? And so whenever I talk to schools, I’m like, well, you can get the 40s, right? And it’s all driven by a Fitzy, which is taxonomy, which I did not understand. And I had my masters until I did this work. How easy that was to knowing what level of stinking kids needed to be at right in the classroom. It changes when you, as a leader start to unpack that and say, okay, this is the target and it’s that comprehension. Our kids are performing. Are they being asked to do things that retrieval? Or if it’s an analysis, are they producing it? Retrieval and comprehension? Are they ever getting given the opportunity to really think and produce at analysis? And the answer is most of the time they’re not right. We’re not doing it. We’re not giving them the opportunities to do that. And then we wonder why on the assessments they sit down and they can’t think that way. and, and the other part of it is if we’re going to continue to honor compliant engagement versus cognitive engagement, right? The two totally different things. If we continue to honor compliance versus cognitive engagement, where kids are really talking about content and we don’t. Michael, you and I don’t do anything without talking with our colleagues, without thinking out loud, without processing. Right. Yeah. We want kids to sit for six hours a day and be quiet and to do their work. And every now and then we’ll let them turn and talk to their partner. Right. Or we’ll let them. Oh, you guys can work on this together. That’s that’s not the engagement they need. They need to grapple with the content. They need to talk about the content. Here’s what I think this means. What did you think it means. That’s what we as adults do. Those are the skills that that create curiosity. Well, why would that be the case? If you’re right, then why am I wrong? Those types, which are what the strategies that those all those research based strategies are about, right. Getting kids to grapple with with the content. And so, you know, we’ve got to start again, undoing the way we think about what classroom should look like and sound like.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah, well stated Amy. Well, well well stated. My my listeners, please rewind that one to Great definition of compliance engagement versus cognitive engagement, but something that hasn’t really been talked about. And Amy, thank you for bringing that up. The 40s. Yes. Target has talking to text. But again the last one the intentionality around taxonomies. Right. And then even going deeper when we look at taxonomies, differentiation around modalities, taxonomies, all of these working together. But I want to continue, Amy, because again, like I said, this is a treat just to have, someone with your level of expertise on, my podcast regarding, instruction I want to unwrap now, moving to now, I like to say this disruption right. Exploitation of instructional rigor. Yeah, but writing AI and digital, digital emergent taxonomies. Yes. So now can we when we talk about cognitive engagement, when we talk about the 40s underscored by this taxonomy component. Right. And now this new element of artificial intelligence, we’re seeing large language models with generative AI being incorporated into the schools. What does this look like in your definition? With instructional rigor, rigor and creating an equilibrium with new emergent taxonomies and AI in education.

Amy Dujon

So I’m so glad you asked this because like my my thing right now is we got to start trying to fight AI. We got to stop thinking that it’s going to ruin education. We got to stop worrying about kids cheating, right? Like, I’m sorry you got to let that go right? These children, we’re never living without this technology. Right again, right here today. And it’s only going. It’s only going to get bigger and and and smarter and more complex. And so if we don’t just like in any transformation, start to embrace it and figure out, okay, how do I use it, how do I teach kids how to use it responsibly? How am I going to show them, okay, listen, we are you’re going to write a paper, but you’re going to use AI, right? We’re going to teach you how. We’re going to teach you how to prompt the AI, platforms to give you what you need. But then we’re going to teach you how to trust, but verify and go back and look at it and, and, and evaluate whether or not what I produced was actually like, is it reliable? Is it not? What’s missing? What edits need to be to have because there’s it’s not perfect. If you’ve ever tried to write something with it’s it’s really my son who’s in college. and I’m not writing him out, but he had a paper do and I said, well, are you going to use AI? And he was like, is it still? I’m really thinking about it. I said, okay, but just trust but verify. Like, do it trust but verify. And he was like, he called me like I use it. He’s like, but you are right. He’s like, there were so many things in there that based on some of the sources that I had looked at and I had read like it wasn’t quite, quite correct, like I needed, I needed to go back in and make it reflect what the what the research was showing, because I can’t get that deep. And I’m not saying you won’t ever get there. I fully believe it will. Yeah, but so how do we start to do that? Right. As leaders, we have to start using it and modeling that for our teacher leaders so that our teacher leaders adopt it. Right. So whether that’s in lesson planning, whether that’s in communications, how do we start to train ourselves that we’re using it in, in a safe way, in a way that is responsible. We’re learning about it staying ahead of the curve so we can anticipate what’s coming next to empower our our instructional staff to use it. And then how are we then taking it and teaching kids to be responsible and use it as well? It it is scary. It’s something different that’s out there. The kids are not like I’m. When I was in college, I spent hours in libraries surrounded by 15 books, trying to find the resources to write things. That’s never going to be their reality, ever. And if we keep trying to think that that’s the only way that you can write, that you can, that you can produce ideas and create, we might as well pack up shop, right? Because that’s not it. What if. Right. What if I could help us be more creative? What if it can help us to become more curious? What if AI is the tool that we needed to save us time so that we can innovate faster and better? You know, like that? Those are the questions we need to ask. Like with that optimistic, curious, you know, curiosity going into it, that will change our approach and, and how we use it in my in my beliefs. So I’ll pause for sake as I’ve said a lot and like I keep saying, but I keep meeting educators who are just they they want to talk about the negatives of, of AI. And I’ve always kind of been and I teach this in our academies, more of an opportunity driven leader. Like what? What opportunity lies in there? Like, what could we use it for? Like, where is the opportunity? And I get it when they sit down to take the lesson and they’ve got to write an essay, they’re not going to have I not yet write yet. Right, right. But there’s as it grows and that we become more dependent on it, they might be absolutely what we create them to be. Good discerner. Right. How do we create help them to read and make good decisions on what they’re what, what it produces. So I think that’s where we are. And we see that with Tik Tok and things like that. We have kids who don’t know how to verify and validate and discern. They see it’s and therefore it is right. And we’ve got to teach them that. That’s not always the case.

Dr. Michael Conner

Great answer Amy. Great answer. Because, you know, you’re absolutely right. It’s only going to improve. Right. And whether we contextualize it as, as AI, artificial superintelligence or, AGI, now we’re seeing chat, 4.0, that’s what you know, these large language models where, process engineering is going to be a part of the every day binocular should be a part of the everyday vernacular and the ecosystem. I last saw, I can’t remember where it was. I was reading a, you know, how I read so much, Amy. I was reading an article where now, by the end of 2024 or 2025, depending on the acceleration of the actual coding and algorithms and everything, there will be avatars that can emulate us, the humans, up to 90% accuracy. Now, when we talk about testing and training various models around an avatar that can emulate us and have this digital, essentially this digital figure that can be Amy and Michael, wow. So when you say, yes, we have to start learning how to embrace it. we we really do. You know, I, I, I like it is that we can’t continue to educate our kids in blockbuster right when they’re going out. And my favorite line, you said, I mean, I mean, come on now, I mean blockbuster, right? Oh, I mean, I grew up there. Blockbuster I love blockbuster Friday night blockbuster. You go, there you go. You know, you got a pizza, you went to blockbuster. you you got there early enough to get the early release or the new release where you go, the new releases. You are right there with the new releases, right? You had Peter put the late charge. It’s expensive, but it market. But anyway, you were so right about that. We have to look at it from this opportunity mindset. Right. And what are the key opportunities to now enhance and leverage creativity? enhance curiosity when we talk about it from an instructional says, are we able now to truly get to students zones of proximal development where they can’t get to because of the natural ability of AI creating that equilibrium between the two? But now, Amy, I want to kind of branch it up. Right? We were talking about classroom instruction. What about pedagogy? I want to now move into school improvement. Right. Yeah. And when we when we think about interpretations that elicit innovation, right. School school improvement, change management. You talked about this a little bit with Connor’s work with the eight, stages of change. And you know, that vision, the Guy coalition that we always talk about, but the interpretations that elicit innovation. Now, I see replication in lieu of innovation. Right. and when we see that the impact is not there because of the demographics cause of, school and conditional contacts, because of socio graphics were not taken into consideration for alignment purposes with School Improvement. It’s I see, Amy, is, you know, hypothetically, you know, in the Midwest and I see this I’m just gonna, you know, replicated and supplanted in the East, right where we have to take in the consideration of those factors. But the strategies, Amy, are there for innovation. We improve that. But, you know, with the new demands of the AC stage, that have been accelerated because of Covid 19, how would or how should learning organizations and leaders leverage meaningful and relevant school improvement strategies to elevate? And I’m gonna use this word in an abstract form, Amy, and I really want you to bring it down to this granular level, right. However, when we elevate the effectiveness, effectiveness of instructional leadership.

Amy Dujon

It’s that is a great question. so here’s what I, what I would say, I think the, the biggest part about school improvement, like when we look at it again, looking at lessons learned with great, innovative, bold leaders and things when you when you do that and you study different leaders. And I got the opportunity to do that with the University of Virginia, Arlington last year and to write a paper with them, and to look at systems leaders and, and the ones that are there, there are some very, very common through lines that these leaders have, whether they were working on, you know, career and pathways and post-secondary pathways or whether they were working on retention or recruitment or any type of innovation. When you dig down to the core of what they were, they they and they had a vision, they created a strategic plan. They had frameworks, right? A theory, some clear frameworks that they put in place that they could then test and, and follow. And the one thing that I think that we miss out on a lot of times in leadership where we’re trying to transform or we’re trying to innovate, we forget to put in the metrics of how are we going to check and make sure that what we want to have happen is happen. And then what? What do we do when it’s not like what we put things into place, and then we just expect it to run like a racehorse, right? Instead of stopping periodically and saying, what’s working? What’s not working? What do we need to stop, start and fix right now? Like let’s look at at the places now within our organization where things are working and constantly coming back to that framework and refining it so that you can then replicate and and scale up. Yeah, we forget about scalability a lot, right? Or we see something happening in, in a district of one size and then think that we can make it happen in another district without thinking about, in terms of scalability and resources. so I think that’s really important what leader leaders need frameworks. We’ve got we’ve got to have frameworks, frameworks that help to guide our decision making frameworks that help us. And sometimes a framework that works for me and Michael and my leadership might not work for you. And that’s okay. But you could look at a framework that I have, and here’s how I approach it and say, okay, but this is a tweak that for my leadership style, I need to do instead of entering into things blindly or saying, okay, well, what programs did you purchase and and whom did this and who did that? It’s not about those pieces. It’s about the structure and the framework underneath that. And that’s what we need to build. So for true instructional leadership and for us to really have an impact, we’ve got to put the frameworks in place. The systems, if you want to call them. But with the checks and balances that are constantly helping us refine and tweak and knowing that it though a framework worked in this context, it might not. In this one. Right. and revisiting it frequently and also to really make an impact, having the right people at the table who will tell us the truth, that will say this, this is this is not working, you know, or we’re struggling. The here’s when you can push and here’s when you need to support. Right. And and giving us that honest feedback to, to let us know those things. So we’re not stepping into mines all the time. so I think those are the two things, you know, you’ll never be able to replace that with I people that will tell you the truth and, and that will help you to navigate and and having really strong frameworks in place that that will help you to guide your decision making. So I tell leaders all the time when it comes to to instruction, I can tell you what you value by looking at where you spend your time and where you spend your money. Absolutely. So if you’re spending your time building up people and and focus on sustainable sustainability and frameworks that will outlive you, a long pass to the time you leave, then you can have true sustainable change and transformation.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Amy, this is, my listeners, please. And and, you know, I’d love to bring on the brightest and smartest minds, on Vfi. this is truly, one of the episodes that, you know, if it’s if I’m a leader at any level, I am playing this episode over and over and over and over again. Because you can be able to test, your, your, your implementer practices, your the theory, the concepts, and be able to go against it so that you can strengthen your own individual leadership repertoire, whether it be from a systems design standpoint, whether it be defining the shared model around what instructional rigor is within your schools and within your districts, but more importantly, right, Amy’s last answer just gave a really good, simplified, understandable, digestible definition of strategic performance management. When you look at strategic performance management, two critical elements, Amy highlighted scalability and sustainability. Right. And long lasting. Amy said it long lasting after you leave and that is why we do this work, is so that we can be able to scale and sustain systems that can be redefined, that can be a level of adaptation. Amy talked about a what I think is a missing element to my listeners and viewers that progress monitoring, that project management piece of your strategic plan. So, Amy, thank you for that, because again, one of the dynamics of strategic performance management is implementation, monitoring, adjusting and pivoting and abandoning when necessary that last element Amy. Yeah, performance management is not really implemented to this level. I like to say fidelity and with integrity, where even where it comes back to Amy when we want it, like you said, to go as a racehorse and it does that. Where are those intermediate metrics or those intermediate checkpoints where we could have been able to pick that up before? Thank you, Amy, for that. So, Amy, I know we can talk about three hours, but this is the last question. And I don’t know if I can do this, Amy, because I know you personally. I know you professionally. Wow. So all I’m just going to say is this take this last question as it is, because I try to limit leaders to only three words. I’m not… Amy, I’m not even successful with that. Okay. And when we talk about this question, leaders become innovative. You got three times three. You got three squared. You got three plus a thousand words, three and a half words with explanation. So, Amy, I’m gonna say this. Do what you want with this question. All right. Okay. What three words do you want today’s audience to leave our podcast episode with regarding achieving ALL ALL ALL in the AC Stage of Education. What three words do I need for success to meet the mandate of Delta 2030 and ALL in this…

Amy Dujon

Is that six words then because the three…?

Dr. Michael Conner

Listen, I say that innovation and creativity. Okay. Podcast rigor, creativity.

Amy Dujon

There you go. All right. So I’ll tell you okay. This is what I think my favorite word and the word that I think is synonymous with, really great leaders is intention. Intentionality. It is all about intention, setting intention, doing what you say you’re going to do and following through with intention, approaching everything with intention, like it doesn’t happen to you, it happens because you intended it to happen, and when it happens. So intention. That’s a big one. Curiosity is another wonder, like you as a leader must remain curious at all times. To be the lead learner on your campus or in your district, to constantly be challenging what you know about everything, right? This is so hard. Like all. So I am I’m torn between a couple of words. And I’ll tell you why. Two of my three kind of go together. One is… the two that I think go closely together is courage and disruption, because I think we have to be courageous enough to cause disruption in order to make change. Oh, this is not good. I should just stick with my three words and move on. But persistence is another word. You’ve got to push. You got to be prepared. You just got it. And for lack of a, of a cheesy way to bring it back to that, you got to get gritty. You just got to be persistent and get gritty. So so I would say intention, curiosity… I’ll say four, intention, curiosity, courage and persistence.

Dr. Michael Conner

Amy, I got it. I got intention, curiosity, gritty, courage, disruption, persistence. And the last word. Gritty. Yeah. I’ll take all of that. There we go. Right. We can say, what we can say, and we just had to expand on it. When we look at the math instruction on shifts, you know, I was asking for procedural fluency. You really gave a great example of conceptual understanding. Amy, thank you so very much. If listeners or viewers want to get in contact with you, if they want to engage in one of your academies or institutes, how would they be able to find you and get in touch with you?

Amy Dujon

Totally. So I’m on X, whatever we’re calling it now, Twitter. I’m also on LinkedIn, so you can just Google my name. But also on our website which is www.DALeadershipInstitute.com. All of our opportunities for leaders are on there, and that’s a great way. We’ve got a nice contact form. They’ll get you in touch with me. And my amazing team is great about doing that. So it is been an absolute honor. I hope that we can work together to impact more leaders in students lives. That’s the goal.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And I and I’ll tell you this to my listeners and viewers, I have participated in DA at pretty much every level as a Superintendent. And then now, you know, just most recently spoke at the last DA insttitue, which is great. I highly, highly, my leaders out there, highly recommend it. One of the academies, one of the institutes, once you get in and experience one, you will want to experience ten more because, it is that contagious and that invigorating. Amy, my friend, thank you so very much for being a guest. I tell you, you know, I got three pages, no excuse me, four pages of notes. That’s from this episode. And I know that once this officially launches, I’m actually going to go back and listen to this again because you highlighted so many, so many great points that could impact the field. And of course, you’re working your vision. Thank you again for everything you do here.

Amy Dujon

Thank you, Michael. Truly an honor.

Dr. Michael Conner

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