Archive | Management and Operations RSS feed for this section

Diane Ravitch and learning technologies: Here we go again

What if all students had EQUAL access to incredible learning tools?

I have previously expressed my concerns regarding Diane Ravitch’s denigration of the power of digital technologies for learning and teaching. Her blog gives her a very visible online platform and I think that she should be a little more careful with her wording and claims, particularly given her self-professed lack of computer fluency. Although she’s been relatively quiet on the technology front lately, I believe that a couple of her recent posts about digital learning tools are worth responding to…

Tablets are not real computers

Diane labels a post from Red Queen as ‘one of the best posts ever.’ She quotes Red Queen:

We all know this about tablet “computers”: they are not real “working” machines. When I proposed buying a tablet for my student the dude behind the counter told me: “Don’t do it. You’ll have to buy a keyboard, it has way less memory and no ports, a smaller screen and slower speed: it’s just not what a serious student needs. By the time you’re done adding on, you’ll have a machine almost as expensive as a real computer with far less functionality”.

Any parent will have received that advice from just about any computer salesman. And while there are a few serious students out there who no doubt feel otherwise, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the word on the street is: tablets are no substitute for a computer; students need computers.

Red Queen goes on to say that tablet computers are ‘frivolous electronics‘ and Diane includes that quote too.

Of course this belies actual reality. Tablets and smartphones continue to become both more powerful and more popular with every iteration. It is projected that sometime this year total tablet shipments will begin to surpass total PC shipments. Schools and educators that are using tablets are finding that they are quite robust computing machines, often able to do things easier or better than is possible with the larger, heavier, and often clunkier form factor of a laptop or desktop. While many people still may prefer a more expensive and robust computing device, it is ludicrous to say in September 2014 that an iOS or Android tablet isn’t a ‘real computer’ or that ‘serious students’ only should use laptops or desktops.

Finland and South Korea and Poland don’t have digital technology in their classrooms

In another post, Diane cites excerpts from Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World:

The anecdotal evidence suggests that Americans waste an extraordinary amount of tax money on high-tech toys for teachers and students, most of which have no proven learning value whatsoever. . . . In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms.

Old-school can be good school. Eric’s high school in Busan, South Korea had austere classrooms with bare-bones computer labs. Out front, kids played soccer on a dirt field. From certain angles, the place looked like an American school from the 1950s. Most of Kim’s classrooms in Finland looked the same way: rows of desks in front of a simple chalkboard or an old-fashioned white board, the kind that was not connected to anything but the wall. . . . None of the classrooms in [Tom’s] Polish school had interactive white boards.

There are numerous issues with these types of quotes. For instance…

  • The unstated assumption that performance on standardized assessments of low-level thinking is how we should judge educational success. I agree that if our goal is better bubble test achievement, we can drill-and-kill kids all day without any technology whatsoever. We’ve had over a century to perfect the numbing of student minds in analog environments. But if we want to prepare students to be empowered learners and doers within current and future information, economic, and learning landscapes, it’s impossible to do that while shunning technology.
  • The disparagement of digital technologies as ‘toys.’ Digital tools and environments are transforming everything around us in substantive, transformative, and disruptive ways. They are not mere toys unless we choose to only use them in that way. It’s a sad indictment of us as educators and communities that it is taking us so long to awaken to the educational possibilities of learning technologies and the Internet.
  • The equation of interactive white boards (and, in a later quote, student response systems) as the sum and substance of educational technology. Those of us who decry such replicative technologies agree that those are insufficiently empowering of students and thus unlikely to make much of an impact. But putting powerful digital tools into the hands of students that let them create, make, connect, collaborate, and make an impact, both locally and globally? That’s a different story. We need a different vision, one in which we don’t merely use digital technologies – and rows of desks in tight formation – to broadcast to students while they sit passively and watch or listen. And we need to stop pointing at those lackluster wastes of learning power and saying, “See? Told you technology doesn’t make a difference.”
  • The nostalgic yearning for the simple classrooms and schools of yesteryear, uncomplicated by modern learning tools (or, apparently, grass in the schoolyard). Ah, yes, remember when life (supposedly) wasn’t so complicated? Does anyone really want to return to 1950s beliefs and worldviews about learning and society? And if they do, what disservice do we do our youth when we prepare them for 60 years ago rather than now and tomorrow?

Wrap-Up

So, to sum up, so far Diane appears to be against online learning and digital educational games and simulations, and she shares posts that are against tablet computers or paint all technologies as disruptive and distracting. And that’s dangerous because people listen to her. She and many of her fans seem to ignore the fact that it’s awfully difficult to prepare students for success in a digital, global world without giving them access to digital technologies and Internet access. Railing against computer expenditures and Internet connectivity for our children is irresponsible, especially when those funds come from different sources and thus can’t be spent on teachers, support staff, professional development, or educational programming.

Now, to give Diane some credit, there are a few concerns raised in these posts that are worth noting:

  1. It’s a reasonable question to ask whether school equipment and construction funds would be better spent on upgrading facilities or purchasing computers for students, particularly given the time horizons of both construction bonds and technology obsolescence. That’s a difficult decision and I’m glad that I don’t have to make it at the scale that the L.A. Unified school district does.
  2. I, too, have grave misgivings about the Amplify tablets that are being used in Guilford County, North Carolina, but not just because they’re tablets.
  3. When Andreas Schleicher from OECD is quoted as saying that ‘people always matter than props,’ of course that is dead on. The success or failure of learning technologies in schools always will depend more on us as educators than on the tools themselves.
  4. Diane quotes Carlo Rotella, who says that “if everyone agrees that good teachers make all the difference, wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our resources to strengthening the teaching profession with better recruitment, training, support and pay? It seems misguided to try to improve the process of learning by putting an expensive tool in the hands of teachers we otherwise treat like the poor relations of the high-tech whiz kids who design the tool. . . . Are our overwhelmed, besieged, haphazardly recruited, variably trained, underpaid, not-so-elite teachers, in fact, the potential weak link in Amplify’s bid to disrupt American schooling?” Leaving aside the false dichotomy of ‘we can strengthen the teaching profession or we can give students computers but not both,’ this is a pretty insightful statement. As I noted in an earlier post, we have an appalling lack of technology support and training for our educators. We have to stop pretending that if we insert computers into the learning-teaching process that magic will happen and start doing a much better job of helping educators empower students with potentially-transformative digital tools.

These concerns, however, are more specific and nuanced and aren’t painted with an extremely broad anti-technology brush. If Diane typically discussed learning technologies in thoughtful and careful ways like these, I’d have much less concern. Loyal readers here know that I myself often express misgivings about ineffective technology integration and implementation in schools. But to say that there’s no educational worth whatsoever in online learning, educational simulations, tablet computers, or whatever Diane rants against next is patently false.

Whether we like it or not, digital technologies in education are here to stay. As I said in my earlier post,

the issue is not – as [Diane] seems to believe – that [digital tools] never have any value. The issues are 1) Under what circumstances do these new learning tools and spaces have value?, and 2) How do we create learning and policy environments in which that value is most likely to be realized?

I’ll keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes this. I’ll also keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes the irony (hypocrisy?) of decrying students’ use of digital technologies while simultaneously employing those tools herself to great effect to further her goals and increase her visibility.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: What if…, Darren Kuropatwa

Hiring a technology integration team

What if you wanted to hire some new technology integrationists? What would you look for? At Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, we placed an emphasis on finding folks who already were doing incredible work with students and teachers. If you want amazing things to occur in your organization, find people who already are doing that stuff, right?

Some of the emphases in our position announcement were a) technology infusion for the purpose of enabling cognitive complexity and student agency, b) innovation and risk-taking, and c) demonstrated success with students and teachers. In order to get at the latter, we asked for 5 URLs of personal, student, and/or educator work products and a 3- to 6-minute online video, both of which should illustrate their amazingness.

I can’t describe how helpful the URL and video components of the applications were. They allowed us to very quickly and easily see who was (and wasn’t) doing great things. Plus they were just fun! Below is the first portion of one of the videos. Is it possible to watch that and not be excited?!

In our interviews we asked questions like:

  • What gets you up in the morning? What burns a fire in your belly?
  • What are three concrete examples of how you have personally transformed education?
  • What are you going to do for us over the next year that is awesome? How will we know at the end of the year if you were amazing?

As a result of this process, we’ve got four phenomenal new hires for next year. I’m excited to get them connected with our other incredible staff!

  • Mike Anderson – elementary teacher and STEM co-coordinator for Sibley-Ocheyedan CSD; has been delving deep into iPads and STEM-focused, inquiry-based learning; a great resource for robotics, iMovie, and GarageBand; does amazing video work
  • Julie Graber – technology and learning consultant for AEA 267; Authentic Intellectual Work, Instructional Practices Inventory, and TPACK guru; 1:1 facilitator; knows a ton about aligning the Iowa Core, Characteristics of Effective Instruction, and ISTE’s Essential Conditions
  • Erin Olson – high school English teacher for Sioux Central CSD; classroom was featured in The New York Times; KICD Teacher of the Year; Bammy Secondary Teacher of the Year Award nominee; doing powerful work around enabling student voice through blogging, video, and service learning literacy projects; active in Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation
  • Leslie Pralle Keehn – social studies teacher and PD coordinator for Northeast Hamilton CSD; Iowa Social Studies Teacher of the Year; national C-SPAN Fellow; piloting the Big History Project; wide-ranging experience with 1:1, iPads, and social media; active in Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation

Follow ‘em on Twitter, folks, and stay tuned for more information. We’re going to (continue to) do amazing things!

The 800-desktop millstone [SCENARIO]

Computer LabIntroducing a new feature here, here’s a school technology leadership scenario for you…

SCENARIO: You’re a new central office administrator in a growing district. Just a few months into the job you learn that the new high school your district is building – which was originally designed 3 to 4 years ago and is supposed to open next fall – is about to order 800 new desktop computers and put them into rooms configured as stationary computer labs. You know that computing is moving toward mobile, not tethered, environments and that universities, for example, are quickly getting away from labs altogether. The rooms are already built and wired, but you’re concerned about investing a significant amount of money in technologies that may not best meet the present and future needs of students and staff.

YOUR TURN: How do you handle this? Do you let this one go and fight other battles? Or do you take this on and try and stop the already-moving train (and, if so, what’s your approach)?

Got a school technology leadership scenario to share? Send it to me and I’ll see if we can post it. Make sure to let me know if you want your name attached or if you want to stay anonymous!

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

The Logistics of 1:1 Chromebooks at Leyden [guest post]

The second post in a series about 1:1 at Leyden
by Bryan Weinert, Director of Technology for Leyden CHSD 212
@LeydenTechies – Author of the Leyden Techies Blog

The wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is Chromebooks are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs.
They’re bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!
The most wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is they’re the only one!

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be trying to write a blog post at the same time while watching my 15 month old daughter, but hopefully I got you started reading this with a smile.  This is the second post in the four-part series on going 1:1 with Chromebooks in our district that a few of my colleagues and I were asked to write for Scott McLeod’s amazing Dangerously Irrelevant blog.  Be sure to check out the first post in the series, Why 1:1? Why Chromebooks? written by Jason Markey, our principal at East Leyden High School.

Let me start by suggesting that one of the really wonderful things about Chromebooks is that they actually eliminate or simplify a number of logistics.  While researching and planning to go 1:1 in our district, this made the Chromebook an extremely attractive choice for us.  Far too often over the past 12 years that I’ve been the Director of Technology for our district did technology initiatives run into problems because of logistics.  The following are some of the key highlights that we’ve experienced so far.

SETUP

None.  Really, none.  We purchased enough devices that they came pre-setup with our wireless network configured and enrolled into our Google Apps domain.  We were able to take them out of the box and give them directly to students.

MANAGEMENT

We purchased our Chromebooks directly from Google so the management tools were included.  If you purchase them from a different vendor, you can contract with Google to add the management capabilities.  Basically, this adds a ChomeOS section to the Settings tab in your Google Apps for Education control panel.

Being web-based, I can quickly and easily manage our entire fleet from just about any web-based device I may be working on.  Some of the management features we have implemented through the control panel are as follows:

  • Proxy Server – We force all of our Chromebooks to communicate through a proxy server so that our students will always be working behind our firewall and content filter.  This was critical for us since our students take their devices home.
  • Screen Lock – We force all of our Chromebooks to be locked after a set amount of idle time or upon closing the lid.  The students can easily re-enter their passwords to pick up working where they left off.
  • Default Homepage – We control not only what the default homepage is for all of our students, but also define multiple different tabs to open each time they log into their device.  That has proved beneficial when we want to get particular information delivered to or highlighted for all of our students.  For example, we created a webpage about digital footprints that was the first page students saw for a week.
  • Account Access – We do not allow “guest mode” on our devices and only allow users within our domain to log in.
  • ChromeOS Updates – We have the ability to allow or prevent our Chromebooks to auto update and can restrict the version of ChromeOS our students are using.
  • Chrome Web Store – We currently allow our students full access to the Chrome web store, however, we can easily turn it off or restrict which resources our students have access to in the web store if necessary.
  • Apps & Extensions – We push out a base package of apps and extensions to all of our students to help standardize some of the tools and practices used in our district.  A few of the tools in our base package include the Google Tasks, Google Dictionary, and Readability extensions and the GeoGebra, Desmos Graphing Calculator, WeVideo for Drive, and Kindle Cloud Reader apps.

That’s about it.  It doesn’t seem like a lot and that’s really the beauty of it.  There just isn’t much to manage for a Chromebook environment.  I’d also like to note that if you have your Google Apps domain grouped into organizational units (OU), you can configure your management settings differently for each OU.

SOFTWARE

Once again, none.  There is no software to install and manage on the Chromebooks.  With our initiative to move teaching and learning to the Web, our teachers and students have the freedom and power to use just about any free tool or resource they choose.  In my opinion this can foster more student choice which could lead to more student engagement and creativity.  Check out one of my previous blog posts on this topic.

CHECK OUT

Because all of our Chromebooks are exactly the same and any user will have the same exact experience regardless of which device they use, we were able to randomly assign the Chromebooks to the students.  We built a system that was used during our registration/book pick-up day the week before school started that had a staff member scan a student’s ID badge, scan the Chromebook’s serial number, scan the Chromebook’s asset tag (self created), and then scan the power cord’s serial number to create a record in a database and officially assign the device to the student.

SUPPORT

One of the most exciting things we’ve done in conjunction with going 1:1 this year was to develop a new Tech Support Intern (TSI) class.  This is an elective course in our Business Education department that runs every period of the day and serves as the starting point for all of our teachers’ and students’ tech support needs.  More detailed information about this class will be featured in the fourth post of this series, so stay tuned.  For the purposes of this blog post, it’s important to note that we purchased 60 extra Chromebooks per school to serve as loaner devices that can be issued to students through the TSI class when they have a device in need of service.  Our goal was to never have a time when a student did not have a Chromebook.

POWER

This is one of the logistics that choosing Chromebooks completely eliminated for us.  With the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook battery lasting 8+ hours, we were able to require our students to bring a fully charged Chromebook to school every day and be assured that they’d be able to use it in every one of their classes.  Since this is a requirement, there are consequences for not bringing a Chromebook to school and for not having a charged device.  If students find themselves in either situation and need a device to participate in class, they can check out a loaner from the TSI class.  The TSI class keeps statistics on how many times a student checkouts out a loaner because they did not have their own to use and sends reports to our deans to assign the consequences.

DEVICE SAFETY AND SECURITY

We issued a protective case to all of our students and require them to carry their devices in those cases when not in class.  They are small enough to even fit in a backpack.  We’re hopeful this will cut down on the breakages.  To help prevent any mysterious disappearances, either on accident or on purpose, we had all of our Chromebooks laser engraved with the following text:

Property of Leyden High School District 212

If found or presented for sale,

please call 847-451-3017.

ID# 2012-2xxxx

In addition, we added a barcoded asset tag to each device with the number matching the engraved ID number on the device.  We outsourced the engraving and asset tagging work which was completed before we even took delivery of our Chromebooks.

INFRASTRUCTURE & BANDWIDTH

We currently have sufficient building-wide wireless coverage to ensure that our students can use their Chromebooks everywhere they need to.  In addition, we currently have a 250 MB Internet pipe for each of our two campuses.  So far, both the wireless infrastructure and our bandwidth are holding up.

CONCLUSION

I may have missed a few logistics topics, but am more than willing to field your questions, so feel free to contact me at , via Twitter @LeydenTechies, or through my blog at http://leydentechies.blogspot.com/.

I’ll wrap up by mentioning that we have been thrilled with the digital evolution of our district into a fully 1:1 environment and many of our success are a result of choosing to go with the Google Chromebook.  The most important factor to our success so far, of course, is our teachers.  We have incredibly talented teachers that have risen to the challenge of moving teaching and learning to the Web.  Because we didn’t have to hire any additional tech support or dedicate as much time, money, and resources to going 1:1 with Chromebooks as we may have needed to do with other devices, we were able to hire two full-time instructional tech coaches to support our teachers.  Please check back for the next post in this series, From the Classroom – How Learning is Evolving with Access for All, to learn more about the professional development we’ve done and the amazing things our teachers and students are now doing.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this post.  “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”  Uh oh, guess it’s time to get back to my kids  ;-)

Supporting effective technology integration and implementation: 2012 ISTE Leadership Forum #isteLF12

IsteLF12

[in honor of ISTE’s upcoming Leadership Forum, there’s a special prize at the end of this post!]

Chris Lehmann, Michael Fullan …

Together in one place. Keynoting and facilitating about school technology leadership. #incredible

George Couros, Jason Ohler, Kim McMonagle, Rushton Hurley …

Sharing their knowledge. Helping administrators learn and get better. #valuable

CASTLE and TICAL …

The United States’ only two centers dedicated to the technology needs of school leaders. #amazing

Chris O’Neal, Susan Brooks-Young, Mike Ribble …

ISTE authors who have written extensively on technology leadership topics. #helpful

Keith Krueger, Leslie Wilson, Holly Jobe, Sheryl Abshire, Jimmy Casas …

The list goes on and on… #mustattend

Will you be in Indianapolis in October? You should be…

—–

To celebrate ISTE’s first-ever nationwide school technology leadership conference, I am freely releasing (under a Creative Commons license) our latest book chapter, Supporting Effective Technology Integration and Implementation. Available both in PDF and in HTML, the chapter focuses on ISTE’s Essential Conditions and describes some concrete actions that principals can take for each. Hopefully you’ll garner some great ideas from the chapter of things you could initiate or do better. The goal was to be helpful and useful, not just theoretical! Three excerpts are below. Happy reading (and feel free to share further)!

Another aspect of empowered, distributed leadership is the creation of structures that facilitate team members’ learning. Schools that create ways to ‘bring the outside in’ for staff and technology advisory teams will have access to a greater diversity of ideas and resources than those that will be devised locally in-house. In their seminal book, The Power of Pull, Hagel, Brown, and Davison (2010) describe the incredible power of members at the outside edges of organizations bumping up against, intersecting with, and learning from individuals at other organizations’ edges (see also Cross & Parker, 2004; Benkler, 2006). Online – and often informal – learning structures that span institutional barriers can be powerful ways to facilitate distributed learning and leadership. A variety of technology tools are available for this purpose, including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, wikis, webinars, and social bookmarking.

AND

Another way for principals to influence the supply of technology-fluent teachers is to work closely with teacher education programs. As schools create technology-rich learning environments and focus more on higher-order thinking skills, many administrators are finding that preservice programs have not adapted yet to provide new graduates with skills relevant for their classrooms. For example, when asked how well their teacher education program prepared them to make effective use of technology for instruction, only 33% of public school teachers replied ‘to a moderate or major extent’ for their graduate program and only 25% of public school teachers reported the same for their undergraduate teacher education program (NCES, 2010b). Principals should initiate constructive, non-threatening dialogues with university faculty and administrators about the technology skill sets that they need new teachers to have. Re-aligned postsecondary curricula, joint research initiatives, observation programs, mentoring systems, internships, partnerships, and political advocacy platforms are just some of the potential outcomes of such conversations.

AND

Although most learning technologies are general enough to be used quite flexibly, by design some technologies are more teacher-centric rather than student-centric. For instance, tools such as interactive whiteboards, student response systems, digital projectors, and document cameras are technologies designed to facilitate the presentation of material by one teacher to many students. Even when a student rather than a teacher is using the technology, the vast majority of children usually are passively watching the facilitator rather than actively using the technology themselves. Similarly, tools such as DVD players, pre-selected online videos, pre-filtered web sites for research, and content management systems usually are implemented in ways that are more teacher-directed rather than student-directed. Teacher-centric technologies mirror traditional educational practices related to information transmission and – unlike laptop or tablet computers, digital cameras or camcorders, scientific probeware, and other technologies that typically are used primarily by students – are generally replicative rather than transformative. Principals should strive to create opportunities for students to have greater autonomy and ownership over how and when they use technology tools. It is important for teachers to use technology in their instruction in ways that are meaningful, relevant, and powerful. It is arguably more important, however, to empower students to do the same. Schools that mostly invest in teacher-centric rather than student-centric technology tools will struggle to adequately prepare graduates who are ready for a hyperconnected, hypercompetitive, technology-infused global information society.

Take a sledgehammer to your computer labs

I’d like to introduce you to an unusual innovation tool for ICT: the sledgehammer. . . . we can use the sledgehammer to break up all the ICT suites that we find in schools. Those rows and rows of desks filling a room with large desktop computers can hardly be regarded as the cutting edge of ICT. Indeed, if we were to have a classroom with rows of desks, we would hardly be regarded as an innovative educationalist, so why do we tolerate such an arrangement for ICT? ICT suites, rather than being the ‘cutting edge’ represent a past and dying approach to ICT in education.

Doug Woods via http://www.dougwoods.co.uk/blog/the-sledgehammer-as-ict-innovation-tool

HELP WANTED – Evaluation rubrics for technology integrationists?

I recently received this e-mail from a principal:

Our district has always hired teachers to be in charge of the technology in their respective buildings. Because we are growing rapidly, these tech specialists are slowly moving out of the classroom and focusing Help Wantedsolely on technology. However, we are still required to evaluate them as teachers because they are on a teacher contract.

I was hoping you could direct me to some resources that would help me create an appropriate evaluation tool. Obviously, the form used in a classroom setting is no longer functional for these individuals. I would appreciate any help you could provide. Thank you.

This is not the world that I live in, but I know that technology integrationists – the folks that roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side with teachers and students to help them meaningfully integrate digital technologies into their classroom work – are critically important to the success of most school technology initiatives. 

Do any of you have resources for evaluation of technology integrationists that you can share? Thanks in advance!

What Do Teachers Need From Administrators?

What do I need from administrators? It seems to be a huge question, and I am not sure why. Administration, in my experience in elementary schools in California’s Bay Area, seems to be a tool of policy makers, not defenders of good, wholesome educational practices–they are the purveyors of fads. Or maybe they are simply trying to stay employed.

I have had principals who never taught in an elementary classroom. I’ve had principals who have been out of a classroom for 20 years, yet still think they are current. My district has gone through 3 superintendents in 10 years, each with his/her own “bee in the bonnet” about something that has more to do with money than educating kids. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

thinkers_cartoonAdministration/principals in a school, IMHO, should be made up of current teachers. Actually, administrator should be a non-education based job–administrators should not be principals. At big hospitals there a managers who manage the business side, leaving medical personnel to do medicine. Sure there is a chief medical person, but that person is chiefly medical and only meets with the MBAs when money versus best practices is at issue, not to decide on medical procedures, ideally.

I want this for schools. Principals are too busy dealing with budgets–being the tools of the board and superintendent. School districts spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with money–cutting programs, overworking staff, eliminating positions–because America has chosen war over children, or something similar. Principals, who started as teachers, are not best used as OMB-type employees. They started out as educators, and should remain leaders of education in schools, not budget cutting consultants who come in fresh, ready to cut and slash.

I would like to see an administration separate the double role principals play into 2 distinct roles: the money role (administrator) and the educational leader role (principal). I propose to do it like this:

Let’s assume a district with 12 elementary schools–a 1-high school town. In this town there would be an MBA type administrator (or 2) who would deal with the money for all schools–budgets would be prepared and analyzed by this MBA’s staff and then presented to the educational leaders at each school. I call them educational leaders because they would be teachers. Let me explain, because here is where I go nuts:

The principal of an elementary school should be working with parents, teachers and children, not budgets and money management. In order to have an educator (teacher) as principal we would need to do something very different in terms of credentialing. Imagine if all teachers were not just credentialed as a teacher, but also as an administrator (principal)? The administrator classes one needs to take to get an administration credential are few, making them an easy addition to a regular credential program. By combining a regular credential with an administrator supplement, making a new, more robust single credential, there is suddenly a large number of those who could be principal.

In my scenario, teachers with the new credential would rotate from year to year as principal. Sure, it is similar to a teacher-led school, but my idea changes credentialing and traditional administration of schools. If I am a classroom teacher this year, I might be principal next year, then my buddy teacher the year after that with me returning to the classroom. This puts educators and colleagues in charge of the school–with no worries about finances because they are taken care of by the “money-man.”

I like the idea because my experience with administration has been an adversarial one with money pitted against what’s best for kids. What would this new principal/teacher be able to do? Freed from an Excel spreadsheet a principal would have time to help with the actual teaching of students and professional development of teachers. Staff meetings would take on an air of a team working toward more cohesion and attentiveness to the needs of students as opposed to the constant strum and drang of management-speak.

A principal should be a classroom expert, especially in elementary school.  They should be part of the school team, not part of the management adversariat.  

Teachers should run schools.  Schools are not businesses.

The Frustrated Teacher is a former elementary school teacher with 13 years of classroom experience in Title I schools.  Before that he ran summer camps and after school programs for affluent kids.  He has worked with young children for 30 years.  He left the classroom to pursue a private consulting practice where his penchant for calling it like it is won’t be such a downer.

It’s the first day of school (2010) – Have you made any real progress since last year?

It’s the first day of school here in Ames, Iowa. In past years, I’ve posted the following checklist, wondering if schools have made any improvement since the previous fall.

This year you have two ways to participate…

  1. Download this checklist in Excel. Enter the name of your school organization and fill in your ratings (editable areas are in yellow). Click on the Chart tab at the bottom, then print. Disseminate broadly!
  2. Participate in the 2-minute online survey. Fill in your ratings and click on the Submit button. See the aggregated results and compare them to 2008 (125 responses).

Feel free to use and distribute the Excel file and/or the survey link as desired. If you would like to conduct this online survey within your school organization, contact me about hosting a version just for you (at no cost). Hope you made some real progress since last year!

BeginningoftheYearChecklist

A Denominator of Many – Teacher Professional Partnerships [guest post]

[This is a guest post from Carl Anderson. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, drop me a note. Happy reading!]

By now it is an old story but still a pressing contemporary issue. Industries that have traditionally relied on a top-down hierarchy of power distribution are folding. We see it today most readily in the newspaper industry but it is painfully obvious that other industries, especially those who deal in information currency, are under siege as well. It is clear that the schools are a part of this list.

Traditionally, or for as long as anyone alive today can remember, most school systems have operated under a very clear top-down hierarchy. The Department of Education passes down edicts to states. State Departments of Education (headed by a commissioner) then pass funding & accreditation requirements and curriculum standards down to school districts. School districts are headed by superintendents operating with an authority given to them by school boards delegating responsibilities to principals and other building administrators. These administrators then delegate responsibilities to teachers and other school employees who then deliver the state mandated standards-driven curriculum to students. I realize this is a very simplistic picture of our school systems and there are great differences in the nuances between schools but for the most part this is the type of system most of us operate under.

This system was very efficient for many years and was necessary for a long time. However, when we hear criticisms of schools operating under an industrial model of education looking more like factories it is not just what goes on in the classroom that causes this comparison but also how they are structured. This structure looks like almost any corporate business hierarchy with the CEO and shareholders at the top and the workers and consumers at the bottom. Just as the corporate structure is designed to make as much profit for those at the top this system best ensures that the needs of those near the top of the pyramid are met. Today, in education, this hierarchy is most concerned with administering RTTT and NCLB measures like curriculum standards. Hence, the overly high concern with high stakes testing and “teach to the test” messages many of our teachers end up hearing. Who does this system serve? With whom lies agency in learning?

There is a new structure of learning emerging that is gaining momentum, one which appears to have no regard for edicts issued via a top-down hierarchy. Web 2.0 & social media technologies have given teachers and students agency in their own learning through the creation of what has been collectively referred to as “personal learning networks” (PLNs). Through PLNs learners choose their own learning agendas and self-select who they listen to and what curriculum (if any) they follow. Through the use of popular technologies like Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, and Facebook informal learning is quickly becoming a viable option. Teachers no longer have to look to their school system for support, they can find it through the networks they have created. This same kind of network structure and powerful informal learning is also what has made this latest phenomenon of unschooling actually seem like a viable option for some. The more our networks grow the more they challenge the authority of the traditional top-down hierarchy.

While unschooling is a little bit extreme and probably not right for most kids the fuel giving this movement momentum is something we need to address in education or our formal institutions of education will suffer the same fate as the newspaper industry. I am reminded of this slide from a TED Talk by Devdutt Pattanaik called, East vs west — the myths that mystify..

In this talk Dr. Pattanaik discusses how the fundamental belief structures between east and west cultures clash. He illustrates this with a simple story about Alexander the Great meeting a gymnosophist, “When they met, the gymnosophist asked what Alexander the Great was doing. To which he replied, ‘I am conquering the world. What are you doing?’ ‘I am experiencing nothingness,’ replied the gymnosophist.” Neither could see the point in the others endeavor because the denominator for Alexander’s life was One and the denominator for the gymnosophist’s life was Many. This fundamental element of belief informed everything about how both individuals interpreted these actions. The traditional hierarchy that has dominated our school systems has a denominator of one while PLNs, student-centered learning environments, and movements like unschooling operate with a denominator of many. If our industry is going to survive we need to find a way for both equations to find a common denominator. We have to look for ways to invert this hierarchy.

One potential method that our schools could use to help address this issue of one verses many is teacher professional partnerships (TPPs). TPPs are similar to law firms where the practitioners own their own practice. In TPP schools there is no administration but instead the teachers in the TPP work together to share the responsibilities normally delegated to building an district administrators.

This solves a few problems that teachers and schools face. First, it brings more decision making responsibility closer to those who are directly effected by those decisions. It places agency closer to those served by schooling and in so doing elevates the teaching profession. With agency comes responsibility and built-in accountability. If a teacher is held responsible for their own performance via a personal stake in ensuring that they offer a quality learning environment that students will want to participate in there will be no need for complex systems of teacher performance pay or other measures like those in RTTT. With a TPP a teacher’s performance is shown in their enrollment and whether a school thrives or fails depends entirely on how well they manage their own practice. What’s more, TPPs eliminate the need for teacher unions since the partnership is in itself a union of sorts.

Currently there are just ten TPP public schools in operation in the United States and so far they all appear to be doing well. This model of school organization holds a lot of potential addressing the problems and issues facing schools and education including the inevitable irrelevance of our traditional school hierarchy. Ted Kolderie from Education|Evolving will be Steve Hargadon’s guest on his Future of Education series this Thursday, July 8, 2010 to discuss Teacher Professional Partnerships. For more information on TPPs I urge you to attend this free online discussion in Elluminate or at least listen to the recording afterwords.

Carl Anderson is an art and technology teacher, technology integration specialist, and adjunct instructor for Hamline University’s School of Education. He writes the Techno Constructivist blog and is @anderscj on Twitter.

Switch to our mobile site