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Dabbawalas, tutorial networks, and the naysayers

In Mumbai, India, many workers prefer a hot, home-cooked meal instead of eating at a food stand or restaurant. So each workday 5,000 dabbawalas (“those who carry a box”) deliver 200,000 lunches from workers’ homes to their offices. Collecting dabbawalas, who are typically on bicycles, pick up individual lunch boxes from each home and bring them to a sorting location. Sorting dabbawalas then mark the lunch boxes with symbols and colors to mark their route and destination and put them on local trains. At each railway station, local dabbawalas collect the appropriate lunch boxes and deliver them to workers via foot, bicycle, and pushcart. The entire system works in reverse to get the lunch boxes back home again. All of this is quite complex but the entire 125-year-old system is organized organically by the dabbawalas themselves, not the government or a corporation. It is estimated that a mistake is made about once in every 8 million deliveries, which is particularly impressive given that many of the dabbawalas are illiterate. The dabbawalas have been profiled by the New York Times and NBC News, among many others, and there is even a Harvard Business School case study about them. 

In Mexico, what started as an experiment to improve 8 poor, rural public schools has now exploded into a national network of over 9,000 low-achieving elementary and middle schools. In these schools, student-centered tutorial networks rely on the knowledge and skills of youth to help scale up student learning at levels that would be impossible if done by adults alone. On any given day in one of these schools, a teacher might be tutoring a student, a student might be tutoring another student, or a student might even be tutoring an adult parent, community member, or educator. In this manner, new pedagogical practices can be disseminated nationwide through tutoring and social networks rather than just top-down professional development and educator training mechanisms. In these tutorial networks, everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher.

Richard Elmore describes the system further:

When they have developed mastery in a given area, students play the role of tutor to other students who are undertaking inquiry in the same area. Students learn both the content they study and the practice of tutorials. Over time, the learning of the students and tutors, coupled with the training that tutors receive in the broader network, becomes a fund of knowledge available to tutors and students in other schools in the network. Learning is disciplined throughout by norms of mastery. Students and adults work together to build a fund of common knowledge that is available to all.

No one has told these students that they cannot control their own learning. No one has ‘schooled’ the adult tutors, who are largely recruited from the rural communities they serve, that they are ‘unqualified’ to teach or to serve as leaders of learning in their communities. The students and tutors share an understanding that, if there are things that they need to know in order to teach others, they will learn them through the teaching of others. The students and adults form a powerful social movement, with a common identity around access to learning. Most of all, students are given the gift of adult trust that by engaging in learning, by choosing what to learn, and by giving the gift of learning to others, they will discover their power as leaders of learning in their communities. 

Helen Janc Malone further notes:

What is unique and innovative about the tutorial networks is that they put the learner and the process of learning at the center of the education endeavor, and focus on tutorial relationships as a driver for democratic, equitable learning environment, absent of traditional, grade-level, standardized, rigid structures that often disengage students. Taking agency for instructional delivery and ownership of learning is empowering and motivating for both the tutors and the tutees. There is a great sense of pride that comes from receiving personalized learning, mastering content and sharing that knowledge with peers. An added advantage of such a strategy has been the excitement that spreads beyond the school walls and spills out into the community, where families again begin to see schools as centers for learning and development. This is particularly evident where tutorial networks have been able to positively transform rural, high-poverty, low-performing schools.

Nationwide community-driven tutorial networks that put students at the center. Complex, Six Sigma-quality delivery systems run by marginally-literate workers. Incredible, right? I can’t help but wonder… What could we do if we tapped into the power of our people and tried to actualize new possibilities instead of mere historical inertia? What could we do if our school organizations elevated the questions, “why not?” and “how can we?” over the reflexive “yes, but?”

As school leaders, we know that the naysayers will start chiming in as soon as anything new or different is proposed. Instead of allowing the change-adverse to dominate, maybe we could say, “Look at what’s happening out there. Given our greater resources and our incredible talent, there’s virtually no limit to what we could do. Let’s get started and do some things that are amazing!”

#dreambig #getmoving #makeitbetter

It’s too overwhelming

Overwhelmed

“The magnitude of all of this change… it’s too overwhelming.”

Fair enough. I, too, often feel overwhelmed by it all. But are we going to hunker down and ignore it or lean into it and try to figure out how to adapt? Which one better serves the needs of our children?

Image credit: Day 49 – I can’t do it anymore, Alisa Ryan

Remember to disconnect. But also be connected.

Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers remind us that it’s important for school leaders to disconnect from their digital, online environments and be reflective. But Steven Johnson reminds us that ‘the great driver of … innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity.” Finding the balance is tough but essential…

This online high school is not going to change education

Siliconvalleyhighschool

The headline at eSchool News reads ‘This online high school could change education’ (a slight modification of the original headline at the Santa Cruz Sentinel). Okay, I’m game. I’ll check it out…

I read about the founders. I read that they’re trying to make the curriculum relevant for students (awesome!). I read the claims that Silicon Valley High School will provide a ‘five star education.’ Okay so far. Then I get to the following:

With the help of a core team of 12 developers and 20 subject matter experts, Teves and Smith have developed a platform and process to deliver ‘best-available’ content to students at a fraction of the cost of similar curricula.

and

The courses are highly linear and feature well-produced videos starring engaging and highly relevant teachers chosen by the high school’s panel of experts.

And there we have it. ‘Highly linear,’ self-paced, one-size-fits-all courses; videos made by experts; and an online platform to ‘deliver’ them, including quizzes. I’m pretty sure that this is not the first time this has been suggested or tried (MOOCs, anyone? Khan Academy? K12 and Connections Academy? TED-Ed?). And – good intentions aside – I’m pretty sure that these models are essentially replicating online the traditional face-to-face model of sit-and-get, transmission-oriented education that’s dominated for centuries. But, hey, students can proceed at their own pace and do this anywhere…

Video lectures are still lectures:

More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards.

When will we be willing to confront the need to change the day-to-day learning experiences of students rather than simply trying to repackage traditional methods in different wrappers?

How do communities define school success?

Last week in a session at the Iowa Association of School Boards annual conference, we were asked how our communities defined school success. Superintendents and school board members started voicing their mission and vision statements, which sounded quite lofty. I chimed in that, despite our school systems’ rhetoric, the reality for most community members probably was quite different.

I’m guessing that for most of our schools, most of our community members define success as 1) test scores, 2) whether most kids graduate, and 3) good sports teams.

What do you think?

Definingsuccess

Digital Leadership Daily: November 2016 update

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Thought I’d share some quick numbers regarding the Digital Leadership Daily service that I launched back in February. Nine months later, we have 146 subscribers getting a daily text message through Remind, 97 people on the Facebook page, and 650 followers on the Twitter channel. If you or someone you know would benefit from one carefully-selected technology leadership resource per day, feel free to sign up!

My keynote for the 2015 K12 Online Conference

McleodK12online

My keynote for the 2015 K12 Online Conference is now available. It’s long because within it I profile numerous examples of innovative schools. Here is the description for my session:

Whenever any sort of change or innovation is discussed, the ‘Yes, but…’ objections are inevitable. However, instead of allowing those resistance points to dominate and defeat promising ideas, teachers and administrators can reframe opposition into possibility by asking the questions ‘Why not?’ and ‘How can we?’ Effective educators focus on adaptation, forward progress, and collective effort and efficacy. The ‘yes, buts’ don’t do anything except keep us stuck. Too often we get mired in negativity and defeatism instead of recognizing that – both individually and collectively – we usually have the ability to do and be so much more than our current reality reflects. This keynote focuses on transformative leadership mindsets and features exemplary schools from around the world that are ignoring the ‘yes, buts’ to make amazing things happen for children and youth.

Check it out and get some great ideas for changes you might make in your school. Be sure to see all of the other wonderful presentations too. The four conference strands this year are Maker Ed, Stories of Connection, Overcoming Obstacles, and Beyond The Core: Art and More. Did I mention the conference is FREE?!

Happy viewing!

Investing in leadership capacity: The amazing, wonderful District 59

Two years ago I had the incredible opportunity to work with the entire leadership team of District 59 in Arlington Heights, Illinois for SEVEN days. Yes, seven entire days with every central office administrator, every building administrator, and many of their teacher leaders. There were about 40 of us. We met approximately once per month from September to May. They also met for a couple of hours each month in between my visits. They labeled it their ‘21st Century Leadership Academy.’

What did seven-plus days do for us? They allowed us to go both broad and deep, to chart a progression over time that would build leadership understanding and capacity. Here’s what we discussed…

  • Day 1: The Big Picture: Start With the Why – How is the innovation decade going to change learning of, by, and for young people? (thank you Pam Moran for this question!) – Establishing our rules of play and group norms – Quick reactions to my TEDxDesMoines talk about extracurricular learning v. curricular learning – Because of digital technologies, our world today is more… – What are the implications and design considerations of what we just identified for learning, teaching, and schooling? (both positive and negative) – Organizational self-assessment – Getting set up with our new Google+ community
  • Day 2: Connecting and Collaborating – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – How connections foster innovation (Chris Anderson, Steven Johnson, and The Power of Pull) – Individual connection maps: How are we personally and professionally connected to ideas, individuals, groups, and organizations? (both analog and digital) – 5 stages of instructional evolution – Communities of interest v. communities of geography – Connected learning gallery walk – Interrogating our instruction: Are these connected lessons any good? How could we make them better? – Getting set up with Twitter and our new hashtag
  • Day 3: Problem- and Inquiry-Based Learning – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – Crowdsourcing – Understanding how Wikipedia really works – Crowdsourcing ideas for students and teachers – Essential elements of project-based learning – PBL v. traditional classroom ‘projects’ (how is PBL different from what we normally do in our classes?) – Interrogating our instruction: Are these elementary and middle school projects any good? How could we make them better? – Going deeper with the components of high-quality PBL – A PBL case study – Making sense of PBL in our own context – Getting set up with Feedly and some awesome school leadership blogs
  • Day 4: Critical Thinking and Technology Integration – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – A deep dive into The Road Not Taken and Thinking About a Lack of Thinking – When memorization gets in the way of learning – Characteristics of a thinking classroom – Interrogating our instruction: Utilizing the trudacot discussion protocol to foster richer technology integration – Challenge: Design a cognitively complex, technology-infused project
  • Day 5: The Affordances of Digital – Review of last session’s evaluations and our rules of play – Digital v. analog: Examples of the affordances of multimedia storytelling – How is writing changing because of digital and online? – Transmedia – Blended learning models – Personalization v. individualization – Interrogating our instruction: An elementary school scenario
  • Day 6: Visioning and Challenge Identification (aka Action Planning, Part 1) – Review of last session’s evaluations, our rules of play, and the past 5 sessions – Revisiting our responses to Because of digital technologies, our world today is more… (keywords and convergence) – Whereas… Therefore activity – Challenge identification: XPLANE cards – Analyzing our group narratives using Bolman & Deal and an effort-impact matrix – What are our biggest anchors that are slowing us down?
  • Day 7: Enabling Our Vision (aka Action Planning, Part 2) – Review of last session’s evaluations, our rules of play, and the past 6 sessions – What does it take to be a great leader? – Driving forces – Revisiting our responses in the Whereas… Therefore activity – Start-Stop-Continue – XPLANE cards and group narratives: Overcoming our primary obstacles – Interrogating our instruction: Using screencasting apps to address English/Language Arts, Math, or Science standards – Final thoughts on technology-infused learning

Our evaluation results reflected our awesome work together. I freely admit that, as an entirety, this was probably the best professional learning experience that I have ever facilitated. To be able to sustain this level of quality across seven days was phenomenal…

D59 Evaluations

Here are some of my favorite comments from the session evaluations:

  • I like the vast amount of resources that can be shared with staff
  • The active engagement and modeling was very nonthreatening [but] challenged my thinking
  • It wasn’t just a sit and get. We used different tools without them being ‘taught’ to us.
  • Loved the entire discussion about ‘connectedness’
  • The chance to discuss and ask hard questions about where we are at was great.
  • Having time to work DEEPLY with colleagues – the time to really start to wrap our minds around what all of this actually needs to look like within the classroom setting
  • It was great to look at some sample units and critically evaluate them
  • The Whereas… Therefore exercise was difficult for me until the very end. Hearing the thoughts of all of my colleagues was powerful when it all came together.
  • Taking the time to dig through some difficult conversations
  • All the interaction and discussion with my table group. Lots of laughter and rich discussion.
  • My favorite part was the focus on ‘What exactly are kids learning as a result of this process?’ v. ‘Look! A project!’
  • Teachers keep asking us what 21st century learning looks like and we now have many examples to share with them
  • Scott was a model for how to teach
  • Challenging our thinking and beliefs is a wonderful experience
  • Looking at a teacher’s lesson and coming up with appropriate talking points to help the teacher think about how to improve it
  • [We have had] LOTS of opportunity to do the hard work – these are not easy conversations
  • Is there a number higher than 5? Great information on creating and evaluating PBL projects
  • So powerful to work collaboratively with table mates to plan a unit of study. Really helped with my level of understanding of how we want our staff to plan.
  • Working with apps to demonstrate and apply our understanding of what we know and have learned
  • Very concrete in terms of identifying the specific problems and potential solutions and then writing that narrative to describe that landscape
  • You made a very complex topic much more palatable. It was a challenging topic with many pieces, but due to your careful planning, the flow seemed more natural.
  • The continuing a-ha!
  • Thank you. I am really enjoying these times to learn and grow.
  • Thank you for yet another enlightening day. They are always exhausting but I learn so much.
  • I have learned a lot during this time together but, more important, I have learned a lot about the other leaders in the district
  • It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come as a group since September. Our progress is faster and more significant every time we’re together.
  • We are more cohesive and in alignment with our thinking than we were at the beginning of the year. We also had fun as we learned.
  • Best PD ever – applicable, engaging, empowering, collegial, just AWESOME!

Our work got a shout-out in Will Richardson’s new book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, which is pretty cool:

It goes without saying that for many, finding the time to do their own PD is a real problem. No great answer to this is apparent other than a cultural reframing, one that is already underway. And that means schools should consider a reframing of their own learning time. For example, last year the Community Consolidated School District 59 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was able to create sixty-three hours of professional development for administrators around modern learning contexts in an effort to begin real culture change. . . . We in schools need to make the time to understand these shifts for ourselves.

Two years later District 59 is in a significantly different place than before. They have continued learning, talking, and implementing. They are ROCKING OUT.

This is absolutely, positively, without a doubt my favorite kind of work. When we engage in sustained, extended discussions over the course of multiple months or years, we can see shifts in thinking and capacity occurring over time. We can see folks getting excited about the possibilities. We can build shared understandings and commitments. And we can build on all of that to start implementing new instructional and leadership paradigms in schools and classrooms.

Not every district is fortunate enough to have an amazing superintendent like Art Fessler, who recently was named as one of the National School Boards Association’s ’20 to Watch.’ Not every district is fortunate enough to have an amazing assistant superintendent like Ben Grey, who planned and co-facilitated the seven-plus days with me. But, like District 59, every school system can make a sustained, strategic commitment to investing in its leaders’ ability to learn and grow so that they are able to better create and support school environments that foster deeper learning, greater student agency, authentic work, and richer technology integration.

This year I get to work with two different districts – one in Iowa and one in Minnesota – to do this again. Each is doing a 5-day Innovation Academy with their district, building, and teacher leaders. Like in District 59, I’m guessing that it’s going to be awesome because the districts have made a significant commitment to learn and grow together and to build their leadership capacity in this area. I can’t wait…

What is your school system doing to build its leadership capacity to foster 21st century learning environments?

Are we turning off millenial employees?

Jen LaMaster said:

I’ve been reading this post … from EdTech Magazine about how millennials use technology. Not the usual “how to make a millennial happy” stuff… but data on their use of mobile technology to create, consume, and collect information. The article claims that cellphones are the most popular device but that “computers” are a close second for productivity. The intersection of two being in cloud tools linking the quick access/communication device with the productivity of a full operating system. True multi-channel users in a mobile world.

What does this mean for the average educational administrator? This is our hiring pool. The article cites a corporate-sponsored study where they claim that millennials make up 37% of the current workforce with a projection of 75% of the workforce by 2025.

Our position as education administrator challenges us to hire, promote, and retain employees who use technology in innovative and productive ways (ISTE Admin Standard 4C). How are our classroom policies stifling these mobile, multi-channel young educators? Could some of our reported teacher shortage be related to a lack of willingness to embrace a generation who uses technology outside our control boundaries? As I evaluate and hire young faculty, I’ll admit I have to check some of my 46-year-old parameters at the door. But are we really ready to welcome this next generation of teachers for their strengths and talents?

Time to find other employment

In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it's like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn't understand and live this needs to find other employment. - Dean Shareski

Dean Shareski said:

In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it’s like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn’t understand and live this needs to find other employment.

via http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-shareski/make-it-stop_1_b_8142928.html

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