What are you willing to tolerate?

Pam Moran Discovers Iowa Wind Turbines!

A number of school leaders across Iowa recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Pam Moran and Ira Socol at the Prairie Lakes AEA office in Storm Lake. Pam is the award-winning superintendent of the Albemarle County (VA) School District and is widely recognized as one of our nation’s most technology-savvy superintendents. Ira is the Program Manager for Design 2015, an innovation and school redesign initiative currently underway in the school district. This year their district received a Magna Award Grand Prize from the National School Boards Association. As you might guess, our day of learning with Pam and Ira was phenomenal. Everyone left with new ideas whirling in their heads for fostering greater innovation in their schools and districts. 

One of the key concepts from Pam and Ira that resonated with me was the idea of instructional and administrative tolerance. As they described it to us, instructional tolerance refers to what teachers are willing to tolerate from their kids: Is it okay if kids lie on the floor while they work? wear headphones to minimize outside distractions? collaborate and make noise? occasionally drift away on their laptops? and so on… Teachers exist on a continuum of instructional tolerance. As we administrators advocate for greater student collaboration, hands-on learning, technology infusion, real world projects, and student agency/ownership of their learning, these new paradigms of student work often run into many educators’ long-held notions about learning, student behavior, and teacher control.

Even more important to us as leaders is the idea of administrative tolerance. In other words, what are we willing to tolerate as principals and superintendents? Is it okay if some of our students get to experience technology-rich learning experiences but others don’t? Is it okay if some educators are facilitating problem-based learning opportunities for students but others aren’t? Is it okay that there are such wide ranges of action and inaction across staff members? Is it okay if some of your principals are on board but others aren’t? Pam and Ira pressed us to think about exactly what lines we’re willing to draw and enforce in the name of organizational consistency and progress. Throughout the day, a constant theme in our discussions was the need for a shared organizational vision AND the leadership necessary to ensure that vision is enacted. In order to create new learning opportunities for ALL students, many of us will need to have lower degrees of administrative tolerance for some existing educator behaviors.

If we think even bigger than the idea of tolerance, we can move toward the idea of celebration. For example, when it comes to differences in American society, over the past half-century most schools have moved from grudging tolerance of students of different backgrounds to celebrating what those students and cultures bring to the school environment. Similarly, how can we move from instructional / administrative tolerance of newer forms of student and teacher work to celebrating those different ways of working, thinking, and being? I think that’s a question worth some serious consideration…

When it comes to new forms of student learning and work, what are you willing to tolerate? What are you ready to celebrate?

[If you’re interested in learning more about our day with Pam and Ira, see my notes.]

Scott McLeod, Pam Moran, Ira Socol

4 Responses to “What are you willing to tolerate?”

  1. Another way to ask “What are you willing to tolerate?” is “How much control are you willing to cede to someone else?”.

    I see this often when we talk with teachers and school administrators in our district about BYOD. The discussion eventually arrives at concerns over students using their devices independently and it’s not hard to tell from the language who is least tolerant of not having control over the technology.

  2. Judging by this USA Today article, http://t.co/NywOsaDXX0 it seems as though perhaps there has been a bit too much tolerance and too few boundaries with a generation of kids?

    “Newly minted college graduates soon entering the job market could be facing another hurdle besides high unemployment and a sluggish economy. Hiring managers say many perform poorly — sometimes even bizarrely — in job interviews.

    Human resource professionals say they’ve seen recent college grads text or take calls in interviews, dress inappropriately, use slang or overly casual language and exhibit other oddball behavior.”

    I see no problem with some more open boundaries with younger kids, but it seems like more well defined boundaries and classroom management may be in order as they get to the older grades. The article, plus my own experiences have shown me that there are far too many kids that may have the requisite skill set to perform a job, but are sorely lacking the life skills and self discipline required to put those skills into action.

  3. I’m currently teaching at a transitional school where the enrollment in my largest class is 12. The smaller the class size, the higher my tolerance level. This school is conducive to a lot of instructional tolerance; in fact, our ESE, EBD, and below-grade-level, sporadic attendees require it.

    On the other hand, there have been years when my roster numbers topped 170 and I had to limit my tolerance to guided group discussions and permitting students to quietly listen to music during individual work.

    Allowing students to move about the classroom at will, lie on the floor, reposition desks, listen to music, and discuss assignments with one another creates a more enriching learning environment for students, but requires the teacher to be more diligent in monitoring student activity. Some populations of students simply aren’t able to handle the “freedom”.

  4. I am one of those teachers that just jumps on board and tries anything new that they ask us to. In our school we each have 11 ipads in the room. I use mine several times a day throughout subject areas. The lady next door to me lets the kids play Minecraft about once a week. The rest of the time they aren’t touched. She does not hide the fact that she has no intention of using any technology. I think they should give me her ipads. I will use them, she doesn’t. Not very tolerant..but practical.

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