Podcast Series

Future Ready Literacy: How Leaders Can Implement Schoolwide Culture Change

Thomas C. Murray
Director of innovation at Future Ready Schools, published author, international speaker, and consultant to school district
Thomas C. Murray
Thomas C. Murray

Tom Murray serves as the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of All4Ed, in Washington, D.C. He has testified before the United States Congress and has worked alongside that body, the U.S. Senate, the White House, the U.S. Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement student-centered learning while helping to lead Future Ready Schools and Digital Learning Day. Prior to moving to his role in Washington, D.C., Murray served as an elementary teacher, middle school teacher, middle school principal, elementary principal, and at the district level in Bucks County, PA. He is most passionate about creating cultures of innovation, where teachers are empowered to create the types of learning experiences today's modern learners need to thrive.

In addition to his role at Future Ready Schools, Murray works directly with school and district leaders for administrative retreats, opening convocations, and professional learning days. 

Murray also is a cofounder of #edtechchat, a weekly educational technology Twitter forum, where hundreds of educators from around the world discuss topics related to the effective use of educational technology.

Learn more about Thomas C. Murray
Release Date: Wednesday, September 7, 2022

It’s no secret: School and district leaders set the tone for the culture within the organization. Although every employee is ultimately responsible for creating an environment where students want to be, school leaders must model the way. How can principals looking to implement change create an innovative, sustainable culture that consistently models future ready learning, relies upon a level of teaching and learning backed by science, and promotes a high level of literacy success for all students?

Join us as we talk with our guest, best-selling author Thomas C. Murray, a lifelong educator who is now the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools®. In his current role, Murray works with districts to create the types of learning experiences today’s modern learners need to thrive. As a previous secondary and elementary principal, he knows the importance of helping every child learn to read proficiently, and how to intervene when children don’t have the literacy skills needed by third to fifth grades. On a daily basis, he works with principals and superintendents on systems change, sustainability, and equity and resolving culture-change obstacles standing in the way of students achieving the level of literacy success that allows each one to truly be future ready.

 Join us as we talk with our guest and explore: 

  • What it means to be future ready for a student, teacher, administrator, and school
  • Leveraging the The Future Ready Framework for sustainable change
  • Why buying a great literacy program or intervention is not enough. If you don’t create a culture where people can learn it, believe it, and use it well, it can’t teach itself
  • How do we make sure every child has the opportunity to learn? It goes well beyond technology
  • The importance of community partnerships and relationships


Welcome to EDVIEW360.

Tom Murray:

Bottom line is literacy is life, right? If we can't read, every opportunity into the future is completely limited, and life becomes such a struggle. And when we look at literacy in and of itself, literacy is a really broad term. I mean, yes, like eyes on a page, or eyes on a computer, the ability to read is massive and a huge part of it. But there's also things like data literacy, financial literacy, and pieces that are really, really important aspects of life. And really what it comes down to is every child, regardless of experience or native language, deserves the instruction that is right for their needs.


You just heard from Tom Murray, a lifelong educator who now serves as director of innovation at Future Ready Schools. Mr. Murray is our guest today on EDVIEW360.

Pam Austin:

This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 Podcast series. We're so excited to have our listeners back with us today. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, LA. Today, we are excited to welcome best-selling author Thomas C. Murray, a lifelong educator who is now the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools in Washington D.C. Murray works with districts to create the types of learning experiences today's modern learners need to thrive.

As a previous secondary and elementary principal, he knows the importance of helping every child learn to read efficiently, and how to intervene when children don't have the literacy skills needed by third to fifth grade. On a daily basis, he works with principals and superintendents on system change, sustainability, and equity in resolving culture change obstacles that stand in a way of students achieving the level of literacy success that allows each one to truly be future ready.

Tom has testified before the United States Congress and has worked alongside that body, the U.S. Senate, the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement school-centered learning while helping to lead Future Ready Schools. An ASCB best-selling author, Murray was named the 2018 National Global EdTech Leader of the Year by EdTech Digest, the 2017 Education Thought Leader of the Year, and one of 20 to watch by NSBA in 2016, and the Educational Policy Person of the Year by the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. Oh, my goodness, so much you have done, Tom. Welcome.


Pam, thank you so much for having me. It is an honor to be here. And first and foremost, I appreciate all those kind words, but none of it really matters higher than the kids that we serve. So, I'm excited to have a conversation on learning and reading and future ready and all the different aspects that you want to talk about. So, thank you to be here. We are here to serve kids and I know it's going to be a great conversation.


Oh, I love the way you think, Tom. We're so happy to have you with us and we're eager for you to share a bit more about your role with Future Ready Schools, just as you are excited about sharing your role with Future Ready Schools. And how to help guide the direction of American schools. Tell us a bit about your work as director of innovation and how you help district leaders ensure every student is ready for the future.


So, here we are back into a new school year yet again as we reflect on the past couple of years. And I think about all that school and district leaders have been through and teachers and support staff there as well by the way. First, I just want to say a thank you to every educator that's out there that pours into the lives of other people's children. And as we kick off this brand-new school year, I want to recognize all the hours they've already put in. Here we are in September and excited for them for a new year, a fresh start for many.

So, I first want to say thanks. As we talk about school and district leaders creating these future ready schools, part of what we really want to look at is truly what is it that kids need so that they can live life on their own terms? We are an equity-focused organization. So, we do really look at access and opportunity. We look at student groups that have been traditionally marginalized in the past to say zip codes should not determine the quality of the education that the child receives.

So, we work hard with school and district leaders to provide them the support, to build leadership capacity for things around system change. And as you mentioned, sustainability, those kinds of things there as well. We have learned a lot in the last couple of years as we've had to go virtual and then we've had to come back and then we've had to go virtual, or whatever it might have looked like in your district. There's been a lot of lessons learned. It's also important that we say, what are the good things that happened in the pandemic when our backs were against the wall, and we had to try different things?

Things that were new, things that pushed us out of our comfort zones. But there's also a lot to celebrate to say, “But you know what? This over here worked. We got better parent collaboration over here when we did it this way. What are some of those lessons learned?” So, we talk about being future ready. How do we create environments where our people want to be, our students want to be, so that they can get the skills that are needed, that they can have the experiences that are needed.

So, when they walk across that graduation stage, they are ready in life for whatever they choose to do. Maybe it's college. Maybe it's the military. Maybe it's go directly into the workforce. And we support all those things as long as the child has the opportunity to provide their interests, their passions, to go in a direction that they choose to go in life.


So, it's all about building skills for students and giving them those positive experiences.




All right. I just love that. So, what does it mean to be future ready for a student? You kind of detailed that just a little bit. What does that mean for a student but also for a teacher? How about for an administrator and how about a school as a whole?


Right. So, that's a great question. I know I started to touch on it there just a little bit. Sometimes people will push back a little bit when I use the term future ready and say, "Tom, some of our schools aren't even now ready. How can we make them future ready?" And I know there's going to be your cynics out there in that regard. Here's really what we mean. First, we're not talking about adults. From a standpoint, I know that's how you phrase that question. We look at it through the eyes of the students.

How can that student have the skills that are necessary, the experiences, the access, the opportunities that are necessary moving forward to be able to thrive? One of the things the pandemic did March of 2020 where it hit and we take a look, when we think about that example of that March 13th for many of us that Friday was the date many of us refer back to. We instantly reprioritize so many things in education, one of them being access to technology, access to devices. And all of a sudden schools started to say, “What do we do for those students who don't have access?”

My question if you're one of those districts that was asking that question on March 13th, why didn't we care as much about that on March 12th? Because pre-pandemic students had about 70 percent of our teachers asking kids to do something digital outside of school, and about 16.9 million of them couldn't. And, so, when we talk about future ready and future ready opportunities, those students lacked the access, they lacked the opportunity. They lacked even what they were being asked to do, the ability to do it. And then sometimes in our grading systems, we are holding it against them.

And, so, when we talk about creating future ready opportunities, it's making sure that each child through their eyes has the needed access and opportunities to get the skills at what they need for their level, where they are, to be able to thrive into the future, giving them the skills of the future. If we're talking about it from an adult standpoint to answer your question, I would look at it as do we have the courage?

Do we have the vulnerability to step out of our comfort zones to recognize in the past, there's been a lot of great things that have happened in education. There's also things that are going to be evergreen, like culture and building relationships and developing that bond with students that they can really thrive. It mattered 100 years ago and it's going to matter 100 years from now. And when we think about those kinds of things as an adult and as a leader, do I have the ability, these future ready skills to recognize, yes, we've done great things in the past.

But as things evolve, as technologies evolve, as experiences become more robust, to get out of our own way, get out of our own mindset, get out of our comfort zone, fail forward when needed to be able to provide those types of new and different experiences for students. And, so, if we were look at future ready skills as adults, do we have the compassion? Do we have the vulnerability?

Do we have even the confidence to say, “You know what, I goofed that up. That was a wrong call. I'm going to go in a different direction.” And I think modeling that vulnerability and those kinds of things also makes a big difference when we're working with kids.


So, the big picture is access and opportunity, would you say?




And maybe socioeconomic.




That’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at these kids who might not have access. And thinking about just that socioeconomic level that a student may be where they may not have that access. And something else you said that I just absolutely love Tom, to fail forward. I think of a Chinese proverb: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” If we fail that means we went forward and we tried something, and then we can go forward and continue to make it better.


Yeah, I love that.


What are some ways these principals who are looking to implement the types of changes that you just mentioned can change, can create an innovative culture within their schools? One that's sustainable, one that's maybe not even going to go away just because the principal happens to shift to another school. We want that consistency here for the future ready learning that you talked about, that relies on that level of teaching and learning backed by science. And that promotes a high level of success for all students.


Wow. Well first of all, brilliant question there, Pam. There's so much depth to what you just asked. I think we could probably talk for about three hours on the different facets or the parts of the question that you just asked there. So, first, let's talk about how do principals create such environments? I mean, because you talked about the sustainability of it. One of the things that I know it's been said, it's not micro by any means, I've heard it said over and over. Is the only people that like change are wet babies. Right? That's basically it.

People get in their own comfort zones. We are all guilty of this. And here's the thing, your brain is wired for safety. So, this notion of I'm going to jump way out of my comfort zone try something new. Your brain is not wired for that, your brain is wired for comfort. So, as we've shifted and evolved, it's a challenge because we're going against how our brain typically operates by saying it likes safety, it likes what's known. And, so, sometimes we can kind of be our own worst enemies when it comes to that.

So, when we talk about taking a look at these types of environments, these types of change from a principal’s end, first of all, the culture of it is really foundational. It was again, 100 years ago and it will be 100 years again from now is, how do we create environments that people want to be in? So, recognizing if I'm a principal, one of the questions I get to coach a lot of principals across the country. And a lot of times back in the summer where people turn over, you get a lot of admin turnover in the summer.

I'll be working with them, and they'll say, "Tom, I'm in a new building here. I moved to a new district as a superintendent. Where would you begin if you were me?" It's a logical first question, right? And for me, I'll always ask back, "Well, how do we start to begin to build trust?" So, if we're looking to implement a new program or we're looking to shift something or we're looking for any sort of sustainability, trust is at the foundation of it. Like I mentioned, failing forward. If our teachers don't feel like they can fail forward in the midst of an environment, they're not going to want to try things that are new.

If our principals aren't taking a look and really modeling the way, teachers don't really have that incentive to change. And, so, let me give you a couple examples here. When you are working with so many principals each year, creating environments where people want to be really is that foundation. And what I mean by that, sometimes I think people can misread that as, is this a free for all? Everybody can do what they want, everybody does their own thing, nobody is pushing anybody. It's not that at all. People want to work in environments that have high expectations for all they do.

But let's be real, there's also some significant toxic leadership out there. My way or the highway, do this or else. And there's times we need to have, I used to by the way, say “difficult conversations.” Good friend of mine Ken Shelton pushed me on that and said, "Sometimes we can use that phrase difficult conversations and then it never gets talked about because we never have the time for it.” So, I now call them “needed conversations." So, to give an example is, asking principals and processing with principals, what are your expectations for teachers?

What do you expect them to do? Having that conversation. I expect them to show up on time, build relationships, pour into kids, model things in the classroom, get back to parents in 24 hours. And we process some of their expectations. And then I'll flip the question and ask them, “Well, that's all well and good, how do you do all those things?” Because we can as principals ask teachers to build relationships in the classroom if we're not spending time at faculty meetings building relationships with our teachers.

Because it's easy to say, "Well, I don't have the time in my faculty meeting, I only have 60 minutes." You don't think teachers feel like they don't have the time because they've got so much stuff to do there as well? And, so, really it comes down to me to modeling. How do we model the desired outcomes? How as a principal can I model to my teachers, this is the type of experience that I want you to have? Maybe you're trying a new tech tool, maybe there's things happening. How can I model that in my faculty meetings, in the way I communicate?

If I'm asking my teachers to get back to parents in 24 hours, but as the principal, I take six weeks to answer your email, people see right through that. Now, here’s the other thing is, we’re all human beings. We’re all going to mess this stuff up. Nobody is perfect. So, let’s give ourselves some grace in this process as well to recognize things are going to happen and that’s OK. Own it, pick the pieces back up, and keep moving forward to create the environments where people want to be, to model things like kindness and grace and those kinds and compassion and those kinds of things.

But to also say, we have to have high expectations for every child. This is not creating environments where, you know what? As you were mentioning the socioeconomics, I completely agree. How many times people's mindsets are biased? Well, they live in the trailer park part of our town on that side of the tracks. And, so, they're probably going to be below where they need to be. That's just kind of how it always is in that neighborhood. Man, that type of mindset, you know what? You're right, that kid won't thrive, but it's not because the child doesn't have the ability, it's because our own limited mindset gets in the way and we start to believe, well they probably won't so they don't.

And that's an adult issue, a mindset issue, a bias issue that we really have to address and recognize. I love the study from years and years ago where they told the teacher, this is the children's IQ scores, this goes back decades. You see IQ scores, these kids they're going to be really, really high-performing students. And, so, this teacher was like, "Yes, I'm getting these really, really high-performing students." And they weren't the IQ scores. I believe they were the locker numbers. And guess what? The kids, the mindset was like, well, these kids they're going to be able to learn it because they're really smart.

And the teacher had that expectation and really pushed and pushed. And when they weren't getting it, they're like, but this kid's really smart, that maybe they got to do it differently, I know they're going to get it. And because the teacher had a different way of looking at a different mindset to say, they can succeed, ultimately they did. And, so, when we take a look at those kinds of things, our mindset, our own bias can either be a huge hindrance to this work or it can also be one of our greatest assets. And I believe in people, and I believe in kids.

And I believe when provided the access and the opportunity, we take a look at things like reading. You had mentioned in the intro the importance of reading by third or fifth grade as an elementary principal, and I started actually teaching at the elementary level. All research indicates so much of it out there is that third-grade benchmark, as you said. And we have to invest in those best practices, those tried-and-true practices. There’s incredible programs out there, and those things. But it has to be done in a way where we can provide access and opportunity for every single child to be able to do that, especially by third grade.

And we all know if a child's years and years behind in middle school or high school, so many data points say overwhelmingly, those children will have significant struggles later on in life. So, those investments in early literacy, those investments in our K–3, especially K–5, got my elementary principal hat coming on, will certainly pay off dividends years to come. So much to unpack there. Going back, I know you asked me about principals and modeling. I started to get into where we're investing and in terms of investing and spending our money on the resources and needed tools.

And we can dive further into that. Going back to as principals, we’ve got to love people. We have to create the culture people want to be in, create the sustainability. Leadership is not a committee of one. Leadership is building capacity in people. That means we're training our teachers, we're giving them the support they need. We're not just buying something or buying a program, shipping it out, and meeting in May asking, “How did it go for you?” Providing the support that's needed so that they can implement it in a way that makes sense.


Oh Tom, you are speaking my language.


I get fired up, Pam. I'm sorry, I get fired up.


No, don't be sorry about that. No, not at all. Just picked out a few phrases here. Thinking about the environment for the adults, building that trust and creating that positive growth structure for the adults themselves. And then focusing on that mindset issue, I think it's all so important. And when I heard you say model, model, model, you’ve got to model what you expect to see. So, all of the examples that you gave in creating that culture that's sustainable is so important. So, thank you for sharing that. You did not go off the deep end. I was just enjoying every word that I heard, and I know that our listeners will as well.

So, we are going to keep our conversation rocking and rolling here. We know that there is very little future success without literacy. We talked about that, you touched on that just now for us. Think about your administrators, how can they promote the idea of literacy? You talked about culture as a whole in teaching and learning, but focusing directly on literacy and how that will help to promote the culture of the school and districtwide success for students. I think you're just going to be able to elaborate a little bit more I suspect on what you've already shared with us.


No, absolutely. I was having a conversation with a superintendent recently. I do a lot of work with SEL and whole child and the emotional side of the work. And he said, “Tom,” he said, "Here's the deal though. We can create environments where kids matter. We can create environments where they want to be, but if they can't read, we failed them." And I laughed and I said, "You know what? I couldn't agree more because it's not an either or." And I'll say that as somebody that does a lot of work in the SEL realm, it's an and, and. Bottom line is literacy is life, right?

If we can't read, every opportunity into the future is completely limited, and life becomes such a struggle. And when we look at literacy in and of itself, literacy is a really broad term. I mean yes, like eyes on a page, or eyes on a computer, the ability to read is massive and a huge part of it. But there's also things like data literacy, financial literacy, and pieces that are really, really important aspects of life. And really what it comes down to is every child, regardless of experience or native language, deserves the instruction that is right for their needs. We need to provide those opportunities, especially in the early grade levels.

I'm such a proponent, I mean, certainly K–12, don't get me wrong, but we've got to do it while they're young. We've got to get them turned onto that. And this isn't just jamming books down a kid's throat and saying you have to do it, have to do it, have to do it. It's also about lighting the fire. I have two completely different types of learners. And, so, one of my lenses is being a dad. And to be honest, it's my most important job in the world. I've got a current middle schooler, seventh-grader, just started seventh grade and a third-grader. There's that benchmark, that third-grader going in. They're completely different types of learners.

My daughter comes home from school and literally will ask me as a seventh-grader, "Daddy, is it OK if I go read for a bit?" I'm kind of like, hands up, you’re good to go kid, go off into the world. That's who she is. She's ready to roll. That's not my son. That is not my son at all. So, when I look at my son, if the strategy, and he's had wonderful teachers who do focus on literacy and interventions, he's needed additional interventions, I'll certainly share that when it comes to literature. If it was simply saying, “Here's the program, here's the five books you have to read, this is all you have to do,” he would probably shut down.

If it's low interest for him, he really struggles. So, how do I figure out and get to know that child and build a relationship with that child that I know what that child's passionate about, I know what that child wants to learn? What's crazy about my little boy right now is he is obsessed with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Teslas. He will read anything he can get his hands on that's somewhat in that realm. As a third-grader, I think it's a little crazy, but that's what he loves. He'll read it, watch it, and do it all day long, but he has to only do something. So, going back to student interest, how do we make sure we know our students well enough that we can get to know their passions?

That we can then be really intentional about finding books for them and finding literature for them that can help support so they can see themselves in that. I think another area taking a look at when we look at literature, there's been so much conversation at making sure that our literature is diverse in nature. I will tell you in my experience going through school, many of the authors were like me. Many of the characters that I read about were like me. But here's the flip side, how many students don't have that experience? How many students go to a classroom library pick up literature and every person that they read about is not like them in life?

It becomes really hard to connect with it if I can't see myself in the pages, connect to authors or connect to characters in a story. So, the importance of diverse literature, and not just from the characters, but who's writing the literature, who are the authors, what's their background, is really, really imperative when it comes to that. Because when we talk about future ready, future ready also means a future where every child can read and write. It is such the fundamental skills of schooling. But we have to make sure it really is priority No. 1.

It goes hand in hand with the culture side by creating a literacy culture in our schools. Where reading is fun, and reading is cool and has the writing side of it there as well. I think principals play a huge part in that in turning students on, providing access and opportunity. I also think one more component to that is the parents’ side. I believe schools that are doing this well are holding parents’ nights. They're bringing parents in, they're celebrating more than just Read Across America Week, which is awesome, but this is worth more than a week.

And getting families involved, getting parents in, helping parents understand strategies, helping parents with the literature, sending books home for those families that may not have diverse literature at home or access to those kinds of books at home. Certainly, all just real practical things our principals and our district leaders can do. And again, not brand-new ideas, some of the best ones have always done those things. But going back to what would I want for my own children and those types of experiences, those are just a few of those things as well.


All right. And I completely agree with you. As far as providing students diverse literature. We want to have a mirror, but we also want to have a window. We don't want the mirror to be the only thing they see. We want them to see a window into the world out there so that reading becomes an experience where they can interact with all people no matter what their culture or race is. So, providing that for both, I completely agree with you.


Pam, you just said that far better than I did in a much more succinct way, and I just simply want to say I couldn't agree with you more. Well said, my friend.


Thank you. I do want to tag in this other little part of that question that I left off earlier because I knew you were going to give me some really good information on the first part of the question. But the second part is, how does the science-based reading approach to teaching reading impact the Future Ready Schools? Is that important and where does it fit?


Absolutely. I'll go back to what I just said with future ready, meaning that it's a future where every child can read and write. And let's be real, there's been a lot of conversation in the media in the last couple years around the science of reading and some of those pieces and reading instruction. I mentioned the notion of high interest and being there, the notion of making sure there's been a lot of conversation around phonics instruction and those kinds of things. Certainly, being key to that.

But I think when we talk about future ready skills, what you're getting at, it's vital that districts are doing their homework to make sure that there's not gaps in instruction, gaps in some of those things such as phonics and those types of things there as well. Districts really need to be doing their homework in this area to make sure that teachers aren't just a hodgepodge of their favorite books and what they like and recognizing, wow, we've missed all this opportunity.

And, so, I think districts should be doing and asking when they work with different partners, "Hey, what do you have on the science of reading? What do you have on how kids best learn to read and write?" Not just, “Here's the books I can buy from you.” But, “Help us with this.” And I really believe the best partners are doing some of that work there as well. So, when we tie it to Future Ready. Future Ready is built on an evidence-based framework. And, so, it's important to say, what is the evidence telling us? And that does change over time and that's OK.

What's the evidence that we have? How do we make sure the practices we're putting in place really are evidence based? For Future Ready Schools, we say all the time, we’re not some fly by night just trying to sell you something off in the distance, that’s not us. We pride ourselves in this is evidence based, our framework in the different areas of transformation and sustainability. And, so, if we're going to be preaching that, it's so important that we say to districts as well, the decisions you're making around literacy need to be very evidence based because you're dealing with people's lives here.

You're dealing with the futures of children. So, we have to be really informed and evidence informed in our decisions for the materials that we're purchasing for the partners that we have, for the interventions that we're using, for the technology that goes along with it to make sure that we can look a parent in the eyes and say, “We've done our homework. We know how this works. We're experts in the field. Here's how it can be backed up, here's some external research related to it. And that's why we're teaching reading the way we are. That's why we're purchasing these programs the way we are because we believe they are aligned to research.’

They've been externally validated or whatever that might look like for them. But they need to do their homework, so that at the end of the day they can put their head on the pillow and say, “We're using an evidence-based approach to teach kids in the best way possible.”


All right. Wow. I think you answered my next question because based on what you just shared, our listeners can conclude that science-based reading is important, but it's not just choosing or adapting a literacy intervention program and say, ”Yep, we got it, we put the check mark there.” So, it's more than that check mark. It's as extensive as you just explained.


Pam, let me build on that by telling you a failure of mine as an elementary principal. And maybe failure is too harsh, it was really well intended. At the end of a year, I had some additional funds that came in and I was looking at that in May and what can I do moving forward? I wanted to buy some. And I will tell you, I won't mention exactly what program it is, I'm not trying to throw any place under the bus because the reality, it wasn't their fault. So, I bought a whole bunch of these reading-related programs and basically that summer got my teachers and said, "Hey look, I had some additional money, purchased these for you. Here they are. I'm going to put them in your rooms."

Midway through the year, I'm like, "Hey, how come you haven't opened those up yet? Why are they still over there in the corner?" And here's the reality, Pam. They could have been the greatest literacy resources on the planet. I provided no support. I provided no training. It was literally, I can buy this, so I'm going to buy it, I'm going to put it in the room. It had technology components, but nobody knew how to sign in. So, that wasn't a program issue at all, that was an implementation issue.

I needed to own that to say I just checked the box, I passed it out being like, getting some literacy resources. But at the end of the day, it didn't help them because we didn't invest in the human capacity, the human capital. You can have a great program, but if you don’t implement it well, you can’t turn around and blame it on the program. There’s a people issue there too which can be a training issue. So, for our principals, for our district leaders, we can invest in programs.

We need to, there are vital partners, but when we turn around to share it out, the professional learning, the support, the kind of checks and balances to make sure that we're doing this well, the feedback loop, are all vital parts to make sure what we're doing is successful.


The human element, I just love it. Thank you. You said that so well, Tom. We've heard you talk about how leaders can leverage the Future Ready Framework for Sustainable Change. Tell us about the framework itself and how leadership can utilize it as a road map.


So, great question, and thanks for asking about the framework. And if you're listening, you can check out futureready.org/framework to check this out. So, we spent about two years of research before really launching Future Ready Schools, and what are the big bucket areas of transformation? What are the big buckets that districts have to move forward to be able to transform the system as the whole? The problem is many times we hyperfocus on an initiative, we hyperfocus on a single area and then we wonder why things don't fall apart because we've forgotten things.

So, very quickly off the top of my head, if I were to walk through it, the outside of the framework is actually where we started today, leadership and inclusive culture, right? Because it impacts all that we do. And if we have toxic leadership, people aren't going to take risks. They're not going to fail forward. Implementing something new is just not going to happen. If we create cultures where people don't want to be, what the heck are we doing anyway? It's not going to work. So, the outside of the framework is leadership in an inclusive culture.

We call them gears, and we use the frame gears because of the analogies, they all are working together. Too many times things are siloed. So, the heart and soul the first one being curriculum instruction and assessment. It's the teaching and learning side if we were going to prioritize them, it'd be gear No. 1. The second one, personalized professional learning. Now, we don't use the phrase professional development, we're not mad at folks that do.

But you look at any research on professional development, the phrase and what people think of, top-down, one-size-fits-all, sit-and-get-hours-based accountability. What do we know about professional development that doesn't work? It's that. So, when we talk about it's how do we meet the needs of not just individuals and students, how do we personalize it for teachers as well? It's then budget and resources. That's the sustainability side of things. Time is money, things cost money, resources cost money. We have to recognize every dollar comes out of somebody's pocket somewhere.

So, we have the moral and ethical obligation to do this well, right? And, so, that's budget and resources. Then, there's community partnerships. And that can be partnering with parents or places of worship or businesses, whatever it might look like. Branding, sharing our story, telling our stories so our community knows who we are and what we value. Robust infrastructure, data, and privacy. Taking a look at the use of space and time, learning spaces and how we use time.

And to give an example, those are all pieces that districts might say, “Well, we know all those pieces, but the problem is we'll go in and we'll say, ‘Hey, purchase the new curriculum. Here it is.’” And the example that I gave, like I did as a principal and not leverage the professional learning side in the way that we should. And it fell apart, until I picked it back up and said, "Hey, we’ve got to do some trainings here.” Noble idea. Or, we don't roll out the community partnerships, we don't share with parents and get parents involved.

Help them understand that if they don't have an idea it's really hard for them to support. We're looking at the data privacy side. We're doing a lot of technology stuff, a lot of programs. What data are they collecting? What are they using that data for? How are we making sure we're keeping that student information safe, or the learning spaces that they are interacting with? In the pandemic, students bedrooms became learning spaces, or their kitchens became learning spaces. We've got to be really conscious of the impact of the space on it.

So, that's just a really quick high-level aspect of it. And from Future Ready, we provide a lot of tools, resources, trainings, opportunities, all for free for school and district leaders. We get a lot of grants, we have a lot of partner organizations to support the work really broken down into those different areas. So, a lot of the conversation on literacy today would be around curriculum instruction and assessment. And that's the heart and soul of what we're talking about and the work that we do.


All right, Tom, you said it all so well. There is one word that really resonated with me, integrated. It's all integrated, not siloed. And I agree with you 100 percent on that. Also, there was something else you said that we've got a moral and ethical obligation to do it and do it well. Again, that's going back to the “I’ve got a check mark here, I checked that off. I've got it, I've got it.” But did we do it well?




Excellent job. This framework seems to provide that the tools to help to guide. And we're passionate about literacy as you know. In your opinion, how can school leaders ensure every child has the opportunity to reach literacy success? We all know it goes way beyond technology, right? There's more to it.


Absolutely does. And I'm a huge fan of edtech, I am. But let's be real, literacy is life. And in school it's what we need to do. So, how can school and district leaders ensure No. 1, start by knowing your people. Having the relationships, knowing your teachers, knowing your students, knowing your community. No. 2, do your homework, do your research. Know what you're talking about. Understand the science, understand the evolution in things that we now know that we didn't know 10 years ago, know that. Pilot things well, ask a lot of questions. Make sure that we're purchasing the best programs.

There's a lot of great partners out there, but make sure we're partnering and use that word, partner. This isn't just, we're going to put in the purchase order, we get some materials, and we throw it out there like we just talked about. Partners are partners. So, leverage your partners and push on your partners to support you in this work, to provide you with resources, to provide you with research, to provide you with the needed help so you implement it well. And then when we purchase something and we've got to implement it, well I shared my own failure with that, right?

And, so, that's investing in the human capacity and the human people. And then once it's into classroom, we need that system of checks and balances, professional learning, professional support, finding those places. Listen, I don't care what place you are when you implement something new, not everything is going to go perfectly every time. So, rely on your partners that you're working with. Ask them to come in and support, to take a look, to watch, to make sure things are being implemented well. Because that will also ultimately be the sustainability of it.

If we don't implement things well, that sustainability will not be there. And, so, for principals and superintendents, when you leave, what happens in your absence? What continues in your absence? We take a look at our children, and we can look each one in the eye. And Pam, I love the way you said, to make sure that every child, and that's really the equity focus that we have. So, we want to make sure that we're doing this well, we are implementing this well. So, we can put our heads on pillows at night and know that every child has had the access and the opportunity so ultimately they can live life on their own terms.


Very good. Just to recap here, know your people, do your homework, pilot, and ask questions, create checks and balances with your partnerships because it's all about sustainability. Excellent. I just love your energy, Tom, and I love your passion for this work. Tom, what role do community partnerships and relationships play in helping every student achieve? You alluded to this along the way, but very specifically, can you share the literacy success in healthy students that helps them graduate from high school as truly future ready?


Every educator I know uses the phrase, our kids or my kids. We take it really personal, right? And don't ever change that because we have to look at them with that true love and compassion. But a community is not just a school. Yes, you have a school community and that's really important. How can you partner with your businesses to support some of this? How can you partner with I think back to being that elementary principal, some of your senior citizens that could come in and a child could curl up on the lap of that person in a corner and read side by side. And that doesn't just benefit the child, that benefits our seniors as well.

How can we partner with our churches, our mosques, our places of worship, whatever that might look like to provide some of those relationships and experiences? Yes, it's our kids, but it's our community's kids. And the last thing we want to do as a school building is isolate ourselves or create silos of ourselves here. And, so, leveraging those community partnerships are vital.

But also, the partnerships like we've talked about with the different programs and the different people that we work with, it's not a one-way street. And, so, I encourage you as school and district leaders to make sure that you're fostering those real authentic relationships to benefit our students.


Thank you, Tom, so much. I appreciate all that you shared. Before we go, please tell our listeners about the books you've authored, how to find them, and also how to connect with you on social media.


Awesome, thank you so much. So, two books ago is Learning Transformed, that's with ASCD. Co-authored that with Eric Sheninger. 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools Today. My last one is called Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Lifetime. Encourage you to check those out. You can find them on Amazon or any place like that. Lots of materials and resources available. Also want you to check out Future Ready Schools that we've mentioned as well, futureready.org.

If you're a superintendent, check out our Future Ready pledge, futureready.org/pledge to join one of the other 3,400 school districts that have signed on to say we believe in this work. We believe in the different gears of the pledge. Publicly we're going to say we believe in this work and we're going to work forward to create the access and opportunities that each of those students need. So, I encourage you to check that out at futureready.org. For me personally, check out my website at thomascmurray.com. You can follow me on Twitter and many other channels at Thomas C. Murray and on Instagram and Facebook at Thomas C. Murray Edu.

So, I would love to connect with you, would love your feedback on the episode. If you want any sort of resources, feel free to reach out on social media. I'll try and get back to you. And, Pam, a special thank you to you and your team for the incredible work that you are all doing, especially around literacy, to support the work for every child every day throughout our school districts.

Pam Austin:

Thank you, Tom. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.


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