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Where do we set the bar?

A few weeks ago we were talking about school ‘accountability’ in one of my classes. I mentioned that I didn’t think that most schools were yet producing ‘future ready’ graduates. If they were, we would see more school environments that immersed students in deeper learning, student agency, authentic work, and rich technology infusion opportunities.

10 building blocks 003

[Download this image]

There seems to be fairly wide agreement that schools that aren’t achieving minimum levels of proficiency on standardized tests of lower-level – or, for PARCC & SBAC fans, arguably mid-level – knowledge are ‘failing’ or should be ’turned around.’ But even broad, schoolwide success on most current assessments is still a pretty low floor for how we judge the efficacy and success of our schools. If we raised the bar up to preparation for true life readiness, wouldn’t most schools do pretty poorly on the four shifts noted above? (and other fronts, like information literacy and global awareness) When do we as a society care about and have a sense of urgency about that?

Who uses computers for math drill and practice? [SLIDE]

Thought I’d make a slide out of one my favorite digital equity reports. Anyone have more recent data?

Download this slide: .jpg .key .pptx

Source:

Reich, J. (2013). Shockingly similar digital divide findings from 1998 and 2013. Available from Education Week at
www.edtechresearcher.com/2013/06/shockingly_similar_digital_divide_
findings_from_1998_and_2013

See also: Economically-disadvantaged students learn to do what the computer tells them

If we’re not irrelevant, what are we?

As I look across the presentations and workshops and keynotes that educational leadership faculty are sponsoring and facilitating, outside of a few isolated pockets I don’t see much evidence that we’re having wide-ranging and substantive conversations about the need for students to:

  • engage in deeper and higher-level learning instead of spending 80% to 85% of their time on regurgitation and recall of low-level knowledge items (that can be found via smartphone voice search in seconds);
  • possess greater agency and ownership of their own learning in order to foster engagement and self-directedness instead of being directed by teachers and schools toward control and compliance;
  • have opportunities to engage in authentic, meaningful learning activities instead of isolated, disconnected-from-the-real-world classroom assignments; or
  • utilize digital technologies in academic- and work-productive ways that go far beyond social uses or mere replication of analog instructional practices.

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about the profile below of high school graduates, even though these student life skills are absolutely foundational to schools’ and policymakers’ current college and career readiness efforts:

College and career readiness

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about these components of ‘future ready’ schools:

10 building blocks

We are preparing instructional leaders for P-12 schools but I rarely see or hear us talking about how to help preservice or practicing administrators understand how to (re)design school structures, curricula, units, lessons, and instructional activities to move in the directions noted above. [indeed, I have some doubts that most of us faculty would even know how] Even though social justice is a deeply held belief for most of us, we rarely discuss the intersections of that concept with changing workforce readiness needs or how the inequities of students’ digital access are extended and exacerbated when it comes to students’ digital usage. I don’t see most educational leadership faculty having broad and rich conversations about how technology has and will transform almost everything, what ‘college and career readiness’ or ‘personalized learning’ even mean these days, or what our roles are as faculty, parents, community members, and citizens to deal with all of this.

We do a great deal of research and teaching on interesting and important topics. We speak out against the marginalization of underserved and underrepresented groups. We talk a lot against federal and state policy. But we rarely foster ‘future ready’ policies, instructional and leadership practices, or school organizational redesigns. When we talk about student voice, it’s primarily within the frame of empowerment within local, not global, contexts. We talk marginally, if at all, about furthering students’ global awareness. And so on…

I really like my educational leadership faculty colleagues. They’re whip-smart, thoughtful, well-meaning, and kind and are engaged in some fascinating work. I learn lots every time I get to interact with them. So maybe ‘irrelevant’ is not the right word for what we do because it sounds too pejorative. But it sure seems like there are enormous, important, gaping holes in our conversations that we educational leadership faculty decline to fill year after year…

Lecturing v. active learning

Annie Murphy Paul said:

a growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.

The partiality of the lecture format has been made visible by studies that compare it with a different style of instruction, called active learning. This approach provides increased structure, feedback and interaction, prompting students to become participants in constructing their own knowledge rather than passive recipients.

Research comparing the two methods has consistently found that students over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/opinion/sunday/are-college-lectures-unfair.html

Innovation academies, workshops, presentation topics, upcoming books, and more

Some quick updates…

I created a new Innovation Academies page to better describe that work. I love those opportunities when I have an ongoing, long-term engagement with a district’s leadership team! It’s quite possibly my favorite work that I do because we can really see a district move significantly in a short period of time when all of the leaders have shared understandings, capacity, and commitments.

I also updated my Presentation and Workshop Topics page. I decided to feature a dozen or so main keynote and session topics. And then I listed several dozen more possibilities after that! If it has to do with leadership, innovative learning and teaching, school transformation, and/or technology, I’m in.

Dean Shareski and I have a new book coming out later this year regarding the relevance gaps that we see in schools. I am hoping to get final edits back to Solution Tree this week. He and I also have a session at ISTE on this topic.

My third book, co-authored by Julie Graber, hopefully will be in print by the end of this year. The focus of the book is on how to utilize the trudacot discussion protocol to (re)design technology-infused lessons, units, and instructional activities. The bulk of the book is concrete example after concrete example of how to do this, across grade levels and subject areas. Julie and I will send the draft of that book to Solution Tree in early February.

And… I now have a speakers agency. This is a very new idea for me. I figure if they’re representing Will Richardson, Tony Wagner, Alan November, and David Thornburg (among many others), they probably know what they’re doing!

Let me know if you’d like more information on any of these. And please stay in touch as I can be of help and support to you!

Is your school going to be the Thanksgiving turkey?

Roast turkey

Over at the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution website, Cristina Fonseca said:

unfortunately our minds are a limiting factor. Did we ever stop to think about how the world has changed in the past 10 years or how those changes have been so different from what happened in the previous decade? Everyone (and everything) is connected and everything possible has been digitized or is in the process of becoming digital. As a result, both good and bad knowledge spreads instantaneously, resulting in a shift in power from seller to buyer. We have knowledge about the products, the underlying tech, access to other customers and an always available megaphone called social media. We’ve heard about self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robots and automation, and we still struggle to visualize what things will be like. We think in linear terms.

Let’s take a common example used to explain how we are programmed to think linearly. From the day a Thanksgiving turkey is born everything about its life indicates that things will only get better: it’s hatched in a safe environment, cared for, and fed daily. The same pattern repeats itself every single day and the moment the turkey has the most historical data to show that its life is likely to keep improving, things change. Thanksgiving comes and suddenly it’s not so good to be a turkey.

Is your school going to be the Thanksgiving turkey? What are you doing as a school leader to help your educators and community implement a bigger, faster vision of school as it needs to be?

Image credit: Roast Turkey, Slice of Chic

Some questions for Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post collected some questions from educators for Betsy DeVos, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. Here are a few of my favorites:

Would you please state, concisely, any relevant experience you have had in public education, either as a student, a teacher, a school leader, a public school board member, a parent of a public school child, a PTA member, a volunteer in a traditional public school or as someone who once drove past a public school?

AND

What will you use as a basis for your initiatives and policy-making decisions regarding pedagogy and best practice, having neither studied nor worked as a teacher or principal in any school? From what, where, or whom will you draw expert knowledge on the art of teaching and learning?

AND

What if parents’ first choice, as it is for most American families, is to send their children to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally-staffed, local neighborhood public school? How would the voucher and charter school schemes you advocate support this kind of choice?

AND

What will you do to gain the trust of public school teachers?

AND

How will you attract teachers to the profession given the unrest and uncertainty of public education right now?

Promoters of school choice are unwilling to ensure equal access in regular public schools

Derek Black said:

[C]harters, vouchers, and other choice-like reforms are insulting substitutes for equal access to learning opportunities. They espouse the premise that all students are entitled to equal learning opportunities and reason that since students are not getting those equal opportunities in public school, they should be allowed to go elsewhere. The irony is that the people promoting these policies are so often unwilling to do much of anything to ensure students get equal access to learning in regular public schools. Likewise, they are unwilling to place oversight on vouchers and charters to determine whether opportunities are equal there either. In other words, they are pursuing choice for choice’s sake…

via http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2017/01/the-us-department-of-education-needs-serious-disruption-but-betsy-devos-will-not-bring-it.html

The best gift

Little blue gift box

The best gift that we can give our students is the gift of self-actualization. Every day, every hour, in every class and every school we should be asking ourselves, “Is this an environment in which our students are discovering and nurturing their interests, skills, and talents to become their best selves and make a positive difference in the world?”

Image credit: Little blue box, Shereen M

“I tried giving my students some agency two years ago and it didn’t work”

Basalt

A couple of months ago I keynoted a STEM conference in Syracuse, New York. I talked a lot about the power of student agency and tried to give numerous, concrete examples of student-directed project- and inquiry-based learning in practice. We discussed the idea that the global innovation economy is pushing the skill sets of creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving much deeper into the labor pool than ever before. I also shared that the research on motivation and engagement from Deci & Ryan, Hallie, and others shows quite clearly that autonomy and self-direction are fundamental human needs that we violate to the detriment of both our students and our proclaimed academic goals.

During one of our conversation periods a secondary science teacher said to me, “I tried giving my students some agency two years ago and it didn’t work.” I did my best to quash my initial reaction of dismay that students lacked more opportunities for autonomy in his classroom and instead asked some follow-up questions. He shared with me that he taught earth science, that there was a mandatory segment of the curriculum on rock identification that was a significant component of the state exam, and that every year students were less than enthused about the unit (to be charitable). Two years ago he apparently had tried to give his students some choice in terms of both how they learned the material and their final work products but apparently student disinterest in the unit topic and/or how he framed the work were enough to overcome his early attempts at giving his students some agency and it went miserably. So he shut it down, returned to a very traditional structure of presentation and examination, and now was very skeptical of claims by myself or others that giving kids some voice and choice in their learning could be productive.

I couldn’t help but feel sad for this teacher. He took a small risk and it didn’t go well so he retreated back to his age-old practices, frustrated and resentful of others who preached something different. Numerous questions and concerns flashed through my mind as we interacted, few of which could be addressed in that venue at that time.

As school leaders, we must provide much greater support to our teachers as we ask them to initiate new instructional practices and ’transform school.’ I hear repeatedly from principals and superintendents that they supposedly have given their educators permission to be risk-takers. But it is not enough for school leaders to just give encouragement or permission. Our teachers deserve specific, concrete instructional (re)design strategies and techniques; short-cycle feedback loops; ongoing conversation with teaching peers about successes and failures; and long-term, follow-up activities that ensure implementation success. We also have to create organizational systems that foster ongoing innovation cultures rather than momentary risk-taking, including educator resilience and learning from failure. And we have to continually and critically interrogate our own internal culture, climate, messaging, reward systems, and other leadership practices that reinforce the status quo and mitigate our alleged ‘permission to take risks.’ During my short conversation with this teacher, it became clear that very few of these were in place in his school, which meant that from the start he was almost certain to fail. None of that was his fault, of course; it was the fault of the system in which he was embedded and the leaders of that system.

That science teacher in New York – the one who didn’t really know how to implement what he was trying and also didn’t have enough resilience to learn from his attempt and try again – represents countless other teachers all across the country. We have well-meaning educators everywhere who want to do right by kids and who want to innovate but lack the essential supports necessary to move their practice forward in ways that we are asking of them. Combine this lack of leadership and organizational support with compulsory topics of study (rock identification!) and compulsory exams (accountability!) that often don’t intersect with students’ interests or passions and it’s no wonder that we see so little innovation in our classrooms.

Dr. Richard Elmore, Gregory R. Anrig Research Professor at Harvard University, has written extensively about the concept of reciprocal accountability. Essentially, the idea is that for every increment of performance that school leaders and policymakers demand from teachers, they have at least an equal responsibility to provide them with the capacity to meet that expectation. We violate this capacity requirement daily in our school systems, piling mandate upon expectation upon wishful thinking without ever creating the concurrent support systems. Until we leaders take seriously our obligations of reciprocal accountability and capacity-building, we’re never going to see wide scale implementation of the changes so desperately needed in our classrooms and school systems.

Image credit: Basalt, David Ellis