Sputnik Moment 2.0

There is an amazing scene in the Space Flight Epic film, “The Right Stuff.” Actor Jeff Goldblum, in the role of a slightly hapless government official, is rushing down the corridor of a federal building and breaks into a some sort of top secret meeting and yells, “It’s called Sputnik!” This scene depicting America’s entry into the Space Race due to the launch of the Soviet Union’s first satellite has always stayed with me in an amusing manner.


Flash forward to several years later and I am sitting in one of my classes for “Principal School.” (a.k.a. Graduate School for School Administration.) I was in reverie of sorts when the word “Sputnik” jolted me back to reality. I anticipated Jeff Goldblum to burst into the classroom followed by a fleet of NASA engineers and the Original Project Mercury Astronauts. What followed was my edification into the meaning of the “Sputnik Moment.” I knew that the Soviet Union’s launch of this puny satellite was the equivalent of some type of foreboding Death Star attack on the United States. This satellite launch compelled the United States to enter the Space Race and led to Manned Space Flight and beyond for our country. What I did not know was that Sputnik led to the a radical re-structuring of the American Educational System. Officials noticed a glaring omission of an emphasis on Math and Science in the Schoolhouse. A paradigm shift occurred in how instruction was delivered in Math and Science for students. Education in this country was flipped all due to the fear of a Soviet-created tin can. A “Sputnik Moment” is seen as any kind of “A-Ha!” Moment or epiphany that leads to monumental action or change.


Upon learning of how a “Sputnik Moment” applies to Education, I find myself wondering what other events have served in a similar capacity. I look to the skies and ponder what global event has compelled our noble profession of education to shift to a more positive and meaningful ethos for our students, families and educators. Arguments can be made for events such as the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11. One can also make an assertion that innovations from the iPhone to Augmented Reality serve as the ignition for Sputnik Moments in Education. Innovators from Steve Jobs to Marva Collins to the myriad of voices in TED Talks may serve as catalysts for “Sputnik Moments.”


I find myself in my humble reflection not coming up with a definitive historical moment to stand as  Sputnik Moment 2.0.


Perhaps, there are a myriad of Sputnik Moments hiding in plain sight in Education. These are the postings on Twitter by a 4th Grade Teacher in Baltimore sharing how her students are promoting compassion in the schoolhouse. It is the reflective blog posted by an instructional coach in Iowa. It is an Assistant Superintendent shadowing a student in Ohio in order to model the importance of empathy. Maybe, it is a couple of educators sharing their love of music and celebrating educators with random messages of support and acknowledgement.  It might even be the wise reflections of a band of educators in a Voxer Group sharing and supporting each other in a sincere way.


All of these moments do serve as sparks to create and ignite change in the schoolhouse. We have the potential to be Sputnik Moment in avenues such as Twitter and Voxer. These vehicles create a pathway to  conversation, collaboration and change in a level that is still hard to fathom within its magnitude. The sharing that is embedded within connections from EdCamps to Voxer Group ultimately serve, support and empower our students and educators.


Why wait for Sputnik when a paradigm shift for Education is a Tweet, Vox or Conversation away with the press of a click or the movement of a footstep?


Sean Gaillard is Principal/Lead Learner at John F. Kennedy HighSchool in Winston-Salem, NC. He is the co-host/founder of #EdBeat, a weekly positive chat for educators. Sean is also the founder of #CelebrateMonday. At the center of his life is his wife and their three daughters.


A year after launching #Leadupchat on Twitter (eventually becoming part of a larger movement, LeadUpNow) we are celebrating the tremendous successes and stories of leadership and growth amongst our fellow colleagues and friends. As we reflect on these successes, we immediately conclude that one powerful aspect has been a continual strand through it all. The tribe.


What are tribes? Tribes are powerful connective entities, analogous to synchronization, chain reactions, and storytelling.


Connectivity. At first glance from an outsider’s lens, there is a clique-like connotation surrounding the induction into such a group. Or that it’s an inwardly focused endeavor concerning your goals and your individual growth. Leadership today truly is about connecting like minded people together. Everyone wants to contribute to something, it resonates at a soul satisfying level when we know that we have added value to an ideal or vision larger than ourselves. Today’s relational economy increasingly will be founded in this concept of tribe, the power of a collective over that of the lone wolf.


We’ve discovered It’s truly about illuminating others in the tribe, and furthering the tribe’s influence and impact.  For educators it’s all about the impact on our students. In turn, we receive support, affirmation, Tribes Quoteencouragement from our tribe. As one of our fellow tribe mates routine expresses it is only as lonely at the top as you allow it to be. With a tribe no one is ever alone.


Synchronization. The synchronization of a tribe is analogous to honey bees determining where to build their beehive. When a bee scout discovers a promising site for a potential home, it returns back to the waiting cluster of bees and performs a “bee dance.” The dance is essentially a cryptic description of the site. Other bees will fly out to the site themselves and report back to the cluster via the bee dance. Bees that discover the more desirable sites dance longer, ergo influencing more bees to check out their site. Returning scouts will also head-butt other scouts to stop dance-promoting others sites. The entire swarm of bees will mobilize to their new home based on this process of nest selection. Interestingly, the queen does not make the final decision or weigh the options.


Tribes are synchronized much like the bee hive decision making phenomenon.  Tribes make collective decisions by information gathering (shared personal experiences), weighing options together, and collectively choosing a destination that is most attractive.


Chain Reactions. A runaway chain reaction describes a reaction that occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, thus leading to self-propagating series of these reactions. A nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any one chemical reaction. When a tribe member shares a personal experience or blog posts, it becomes a nuclear chain reaction. That one reaction inspires others to change direction, inspires a another blog post, or provokes thinking which leads to new action.


Storytelling. Campfire stories may seem like an esoteric example, but let’s examine further. Stories told around the campfire range from whimsical to legendary, from inspirational to fear mongering.  We distill these stories into bits of wisdom, inspiration, and learning. They get passed from generation to generation. Their story became our story. The stories of successes and failures from our tribe become part of each of us. They become part of our story. We’re not merely telling our story (that becomes an abstraction), we are co-sharing and engaging in dialogue about our experiences as they parallel to our unique circumstances. People learn, not because we’ve expertly imparted our knowledge, but because we’ve experienced the stories together.


At the end of the day, our job is to create a place where the tribe can come to share with one another and support something we believe in. A tribe will continue to impact change as long as there is a constant synergy of new ideas, creative leadership, and renewed vision. A tribe is a dynamic connected movement with a commitment beyond oneself. At Leadup we will continue to be committed to moving the conversation about education forward in a way that will empower edleaders to effect change in their sphere of influence.


What is your tribe? What are you doing to build it?


Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal are the co-founders of leadupnow.com and #Leadupchat. For more info...

Time Capsule

How Nine-Year-Old Me Taught Me What’s Important in Education

by Justin Birckbichler


Over the holidays, my mother approached me holding a small, red cylinder. As I took it from her, I realized it was my time capsule I had hidden in our attic in 2000, when I was nine.


As I rummaged through the contents, I saw some artifacts that were crucial and meaningful to my childhood, while others left me wondering why I included them (as a colorblind person, I’m not sure why I included crayons in there?)


Little did I know that nine-year-old me was about to give some insight to me. Many of the items now held vastly different meanings to me as an educator.


  1. 1. Second Place Ribbon:
  • WHAT IT MEANT THEN: A memento of my glorious achievement of second place in the tug-of-war
  • WHAT IT MEANS NOW: I wrote that last sentence firmly tongue-in-cheek and my family and I laughed that I chose to include this ribbon rather than a first place ribbon. However, as I am reflecting now, it carries a lot of meaning. It’s ok to not always be first, and we should celebrate all serious efforts. My thoughts on “everybody gets a trophy” vary, but honest and best effort should always be recognized. We must show students we appreciate their work more than just the final outcome.


  1. 2. Jeff Gordon Trading Card:
  • THEN: A card displaying stats of my all-time favorite athlete – NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon
  • NOW: Whereas Jeff Gordon (and Ricky Bobby) both “wanna go fast,” sometimes we need to slow down in education. Facing over over 100 standards between all subject areas, this seems like an impossible task, but it’s the students who miss out. We must slow down the pace to help our students develop strong and meaningful connections.


  1. 3. Boy’s Life Magazine:
  • THEN: A magazine that I received by being a Boy Scout. I frequently flipped to the back (where the comics were) and worked my way forward.
  • NOW: Of all the items in the time capsule, this one holds the most literal meaning. I hated Boy Scouts when I was in it, but looking back, the ideals helped shape the teacher I am today. The Boy Scout motto is “Do You Best.” I aim to do this everyday and instill it with my students. Many of the virtues of Boy Scouts – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and brave – are ideals we should instill in all students. Character education cannot take a back seat to content.


  1. 4. Pokemon Card:
  • THEN: A card and video game that ruled my pre-teen years. I was constantly on a quest to locate Charizard.
  • NOW: We must always be evolving. I have been teaching for three years, and my instruction changes every year. The students change, and we much change with them. The myth that “teachers plan once, and then repeat” must be dispelled. All teachers must take risks and try new things. Sure, it could go terribly wrong, but students are forgiving and it is a great way to model a growth mindset. On the other hand, it could be an amazing experience which will have a large impact on your students’ lives.


5.Tickets to a Phillies game, DisneyWorld, and SeaWorld:

  • THEN: Reminders of travels to long ago to far-off destinations. Also, I must have done a lot of traveling that year!
  • NOW: We must take our students on adventures frequently. This does not have to always involve physically going places on field trips, but we need to develop a strong sense of adventure and wonder in our classrooms. Take students on virtual field trips or reimagine your room as a desired destination. The world is getting smaller with the continued growth of technology. Your classroom doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) restrained by the four walls.


  1. 6. Listing of My Favorite Books:
  • THEN: Books were a critical component of my childhood. I was an avid reader, choosing titles such as Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, and many other classic series
  • NOW: As I said, I loved reading as a child. As a teen, I hated it. Why? My teachers told me what to read. I hated reading in general based on this fact. I made a vow to minimize lack of choices in my classroom. When students have choices, they stay more engaged in the learning. One of my favorite class memories this year is when we all read our own choice books. Students (and I) were completely engrossed in their books for the entire 40 minutes – something I would never have achieved if I assigned what they read.


  1. 7. Tommy Pickles from the Rugrats:
  • THEN: My favorite character from my favorite childhood show
  • NOW: Always see education from the eyes of a child. Tommy could turn a boring day into an adventure, just by letting his imagination lead the way. We must let our inner child lead our lessons. In any other industry, service and satisfaction are determined by the customer. Students are our customers. We must give them the product they want and deserve.


  1. 8. Sunglasses:
  • THEN: I constantly wore sunglasses a kid, thinking they made me look really cool
  • NOW: We can’t worry about being the coolest person in our classroom. In fact, if you ask my students, I am probably the weirdest and most embarrassing member of our classroom family. However, I am entirely ok with this. It gets the students laughing and engaged in learning, and gives them the chance to be the cool ones. We must leave our egos at the door.

I still have no idea why I included the crayon, but after reflecting, it was clear that nine-year-old me had a plan and a purpose for each of these objects. Fifteen years later, past me took present me to school.


jbThink back to your childhood. What would you have left for your present self? What would your present self leave for your future self?


Today’s post is by Justin Birckbichler, a passionate 4th grade teacher in Virginia. He is also the co-host of @eduroadtrip and the founder of #flyhighfri and #teach20s.


To read more by Justin.

Will The Real Disruptive Educators Please Stand Up?

Today’s post is by Dr. Sanee Bell, a highly impactful elementary lead learner/principal in Katy, TX. 

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As educators, when we hear the word disruptive, our minds usually reflect on students in the past who have misbehaved in school. The word disruptive often has a negative connotation associated with its use. It is synonymous with words like troublemaking, disturbing, distracting, and unruly. However, the beauty of the English language is that we have multiple meanings for words. When I searched Google for the meaning of disruptive, the search engine returned two meanings:

1.) causing or tending to cause disruption

        “disruptive and delinquent children”

2.) innovative or groundbreaking

       “breaking a disruptive technology into the market is never easy”                  

To frame this post, I want to focus on the second meaning of the word as I define and illustrate the meaning of a disruptive educator.

Disruptors Innovate

Disruptive educators are innovators. They are chasers of the breakthrough, and they are driven by groundbreaking discoveries. They don’t know when the breakthrough may come, but they continue to disrupt the status quo in an effort to innovate. Disruptive educators are committed to radically changing our profession by creating a new way of thinking about how we educate students, and how we grow professionally. They are the early innovators and early adopters who have the courage to explore something new. Simon Sinek references the Law of Diffusion of Innovation in his How Great Leaders Inspire Action TED talk. Disruptive educators fall into the 15.5% of the profession who are either the innovators, or who are the early adopters of the innovations.

Disruptive educators have a drive, a different speed that is driven by a purpose, an attitude, and an unrelenting sense of determination to contribute to a greater good. Being a disruptive educator is a way of life. It is a thought-process and a state-of-being. Disruptive educators need push back to challenge their thinking. In fact, disruptive educators welcome the challenge from those who are not quite sold on their innovative ideas. They need the early and late majority who challenge and question their innovations. It is this questioning and challenging that helps them refine and improve their thinking. If the innovation is real, it will eventually reach the tipping point and become a new way of doing business.

Disruptors Find Their People

Disruptive educators are connected. They are not lone rangers. A lone disruptor may be viewed as a nuisance, a troublemaker, or a radical who others may not take seriously; but a connected disruptor is part of a movement others want to join. Disruptive educators are contributors and collaborators. They seek to disrupt, not for notoriety or fame, but because they see a need and want to make a difference. More often than not, disruptive educators are not self-proclaimed. Others have identified them as disruptors because of their openness and willingness to share. Disruptive educators are committed to making great things happen for students. They understand that BIG things don’t happen with small thinking.

Disruptors Move Beyond the Conversation

Disruptive educators choose to be bothered and challenged by what others believe to be impossible. They have bold dreams and the courage to not only pursue their dreams, but to make their dreams a reality. Disruptive educators are writing a story and acting it out simultaneously. They are key players in the story they are writing, and they live in a state of constant revision. They don’t know how the story will end, but they write the story with such purpose and passion that the journey is worth more than the final destination. They try, they fail and they try again. They are persistent, courageous, and so necessary to our profession. Disruptors not only join the conversation, but they turn the conversation into action.

I am Sanée Bell, and I am a disruptive educator. From one disruptive educator to another, I challenge you to disrupt yourself. Our profession and our students deserve it. So I ask again, will the real disruptive educators please stand up?

For more by Sanee check out her blog


Ignite a Movement, Be a Trailblazer

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Today’s guest post is by Elisabeth Bostwick , a teacher leader in Horseheads, New York.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it’s likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability.  From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace.  Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.

Schools are comparable to a ropes course.  While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action.  We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward.  In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.

Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it.  By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school.  Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change.  In today’s world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics.  Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks.  The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take responsible risks, grow, and challenge one another.

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Foundation First

On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges.  Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.

In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture.  Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported.  If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we’re nurturing the culture.  Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.

In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas.   Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what’s best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.

Connect With Thought Leaders

Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trail blazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas.  Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop.  Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate.  This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward.  The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence.  Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on.  We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.

Encourage Educators to be “Non-Compliant.”

Compliance doesn’t lead to change.  Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success.  At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down.  I had to refrain because if I didn’t want to suppress their growth.  My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.

In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement.  Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance.

When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement.  Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they’re taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer.  When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans.  Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust.  Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they’re supported when they feel it’s their time to fly.

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Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they’re in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth.  Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision.  When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they’re supported.  As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual.  Our role as educators is to empower, whether it’s empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves.

In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students.  We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront.  Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.

As an educator,  I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students’ growth.  Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom?  Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they’re doing, what they’re doing.  Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor.  As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.

Inspire Others

Through relationships we need to tap into each individual’s passions and fuel their desire by celebrating unique strengths, contributions and involving them in a movement for the greater good.  Demonstrating our commitment towards the vision, leading by example and clearly articulating why and how we’re shifting our pedagogy can influence others by inspiring them to take action.  I believe every teacher desires a successful team of students who are eager to arrive at school and demonstrate grit through rigorous and relevant learning.  Educators need to see the vast amounts of possibilities despite perceived barriers.  When a barrier presents itself we inspire others by relentlessly pursuing all options without defeat.

Educators in all positions of the field have the ability to ignite a movement.  Some of us go big while others prefer to start small.  Despite your preference I challenge you to consider what you believe needs to revolutionized and connect with like minded professionals, develop your vision, and craft your plan so that others gain clarity and feel supported to take action alongside you.  Our children deserve our very best.  They benefit from flexible learning environments that arouse creativity, innovation, honor divergent thinkers and provide appropriate challenges around relevant and engaging topics from educators who authentically value the child’s personality, and foster genuine relationships.  As committed educators we’re in it together to ignite this movement, we just need step forward.

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I dedicate this blog to the phenomenal thought leaders at LeadUpNow