What’s Worth Fighting For in Your School?

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

Change is a process in a school. Change is neither good nor bad but
just is. Rapid change can cause discomfort and upset. No change can
also cause discomfort and upset. Any educational institution that is
not going through some form of change right now is possible missing the
boat, or at least missing the opportunity to create their own boat and
sail on the sea of individualized, student-centered, technology
embedded learning.

In
the international school world change often comes in measured doses
lasting for the length of a contract (2 years minimum usually). Change
can be personality driven, more rapid and possibly more adhoc in this
realm of education given the desire of individuals to want to make
their mark and then move onto another international school and start
the process again. For the vast majority of expatriate teachers the
results of visionary new programs and curriculum implementations will
not be fully seen by the instigators, as they will be long gone, with
new teachers and administrators in place trying to move forward with an
altered vision, a newly tweaked plan and new enthusiasm. This is not
abnormal and yet it can be frustrating for the school as a whole as
programs come and go and initiatives are sparked and then put out.

A colleague lent me a book last week called "What’s worth fighting for in your school?"
Published in 1996, it talks about the culture of a school and
transforming schools into better places. It got me thinking about how
teaching can be a lonely profession and that building the culture of
collaboration is a challenge. It also got me to thinking about how now,
12 years later, what has changed are the tools that we now use to
foster collaboration but not necessarily the conditions under which
collaboration, risk-taking and change can successfully take place. So
what are these essential conditions for success within a school that
are worth fighting for in the environment of 21st century learning?

At a recent conference, the  ECIS / ISTE IT Leadership conference,
in Prague other IT leaders along with ISTE leaders Don Knezek and Lynn
Nolan, discussed essential conditions for successful change and how
these can be extrapolated into a leadership action plan. This is my
summary/interpretation and what I think is worth fighting for in my
school:

  • A shared vision:
    what has shifted in education over the past five years and how has
    technology advanced and supported this? Proactive leadership can bring
    together a school community to share a vision for transforming learning.
  • Strategic planning:
    systemic and aligned with a shared vision for school effectiveness and
    student learning through the infusion of technology and digital
    resources
  • Understanding learning and leading in a digital age:
    It is through better understanding of how learners have changed, how
    the learning environment has changed, how the curriculum has changed
    that we can best plan for effective reform across the school
  • Professional learning communities:
    now this is one I am already fighting for. Encouraging conversations,
    supporting adoption of new techniques, encouraging sharing of ideas,
    resources and best-practice
  • One-to-one computing:
    mobility and ubiquity is the only way to go but this needs to be
    supported through funding for devices and for professional development.
    Not everyone yet sees the value in having a computing tool in hand
  • Online learning community:
    for students, for teachers, for administrators and for the wider school
    community. This can be fostered through supporting technologies
    including Web 2.0 tools. However the tool is insignificant (to an
    extent), it is the interaction and potential for continuous improvement
    and perpetual learning that is the ultimate promise here
  • Team-based professional development: Social learning and community-based exploration of new ideas for learning
  • Sustainability:
    OK, this is a big one. We need to build in sustainability so that valid
    programs are able to survive leadership and other changes. At the same
    time we need to build in flexibility so that plans can be tweaked if
    needed to cater for changing technologies, local emphasis etc.

I was reminded coincidently today of a video a student in my class in Bangladesh created for the Horizon Project 2007.
If you overlook some poor technical quality, ESL spelling and grammar
and actually absorb the message this video has a lot to say about
change, where we have come from with educational technology and where
we could be going. Called ‘
The Future is Now‘, it was part of the ‘User created content’ section of the project.

From the book again:
"What is worth fighting for is not to allow our organizations to be negative by default but to make them positive by design"

What do you think is worth fighting for in your school?

Julie Lindsay, Guest blogger

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4 Responses to “What’s Worth Fighting For in Your School?”

  1. Love the post. Rick DuFour’s works have been very helpful to a number of schools who seek to change their culture to that of a professional learning community that promotes collaboration.

  2. One big change would be more time spent teaching technology to teachers instead of expecting them to learn everything they need to know in a thirty minute faculty meeting.

  3. Thanks Charlie for the connection with Rick DuFour.
    Betty, time will always be an issue and what we actually do with it for professional learning is of great debate in all schools. The way to extend that 30 minute faculty meeting is to move the conversations and communication to online areas. This then becomes a 24/7 opportunity for all to learn.

  4. The items I believe are worth fighting for are listed below. While these have nothing to do with technology, they are a foundation (in my mind) which must be present for any technology to have a sustainable and lasting impact. Without these, no technology, no one-to-one initiatives will make a difference of a magnitude to justify the cost.

    My first item worth fighting for: An unrelenting passion and belief that each and every child can learn. This is a non-negotiable on the part of every person who works with children. If this is not a part of culture of the system, we set ourselves up for winners and losers.

    Culture is worth fighting for. Without building a culture that is open, honest, conducive to change, shared and is participatory, any change initiatives will be difficult to sustain.

    I would fight for a guaranteed and viable curriculum (a phrase used too often nowadays). Let’s be very honest about what we want students to learn across the entire system. I do not think we are “there” in education yet. We are not focused and precise about exactly which skills students must master, and in turn, imprecise about what we teach and how we go about it. Look at how math is taught in most schools that I know of – we cover tremendous area, but do we need to do this? Look at history – we cover a tremendous time period and geographic area – do we need to do this? Our curricula are about coverage – we must get from “a” to “z” when all too often each letter in between is about content instead of students and changes in understandings or abilities.

    Without these things, all the technology in the world will only make marginal differences.

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