Member Spotlight: Forward-Thinking Minnesota Principal Connects Learners of All Ages

Principal, January/February 2017 Brad Gustafson Principal Greenwood Elementary School Plymouth, Minnesota

Principal, January/February 2017

Brad Gustafson

Greenwood Elementary School
Plymouth, Minnesota

The stats:

  • Years principal: 9


  • B.S. and M.S. from St. Cloud State University
  • Specialist Degree in Educational Administration from Minnesota State University
  • Ed.D from Bethel University

Student body:

  • 750+ students
  • Grade span: K-5
  • <5% free or reduced-price lunch
  • Innovative “KinderCodering” classes ensure 100 percent of kindergarten students practice coding and critical thinking each week for the entire school year.

Whether it is through Genius Hour, Maker Spaces, coding, or collaborating with schools on other continents, the Greenwood Elementary team is on a mission to empower students to own their learning. “It’s incredible to see what students can do when we love them, support them, and get out of their way,” says Brad Gustafson, who was recognized for his leadership as a 2016 National Distinguished Principal.

Gustafson embraces the belief that failure can be a catalyst to growth, which he discusses in his new book, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students. He is committed to rewriting the traditional compliance-based educational narrative, and believes that schools can be spaces where high levels of learning, creativity, and innovation thrive.

On tapping in to social media:

We try to view social media as a learning media. It is a relevant tool that can connect classrooms to new opportunities while providing students with access to an authentic audience. Teaching the “YouTube Generation” requires providing safe and scaffolded opportunities for kids to create and contribute to YouTube (and other digital platforms). The Greenwood Elementary team has even created a space on Twitter for families to be part of this new learning. The #GWgreats hashtag helps parents and staff stay connected to new ideas and one another.

On getting connected:

It is a leader’s responsibility to model appropriate and transformative technology use. Our kids’ world is becoming increasingly connected, so it’s no longer acceptable for administrators to opt out of relevant, connected learning. We’d never condone a student opting out of math or reading, so we have got to lead the way with how and what we are learning. My best advice on getting connected in a digital sense is, “Start. Just start.”

On work-life balance:

Balance is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that time can be compartmentalized. Passion-based work is energizing and cannot always be contained to regular school hours. For example, I spend many evenings and weekends reading blog posts, listening to (or creating) podcasts, and researching how drone technology, 3D printing, and student-created Virtual Reality content might further empower students. It’s difficult to describe the extra time I spend connecting/ researching as “work,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Outside of school, my wife and three kids look forward to our weekly family night, pizza dates on the weekend, bike rides, church, and the occasional Lego or Nerf battle.

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