One cannot tell [how sophisticated the Xerox automated essay grader] is from the marketing literature, which is a concatenation of glittering vagaries. But even if one had a perfect system of this kind that almost perfectly correlated with scoring by human readers, it would still be the case that NO ONE was actually reading the student’s writing and attending to what he or she has to say and how it is said. The whole point of the enterprise of teaching kids how to write is for them to master a form of COMMUNICATION BETWEEN PERSONS, and one cannot eliminate the person who is the audience of the communication and have an authentic interchange.
How many of us have heard this phrase in presentations about the need for schools to move more quickly toward an uncertain and unknowable future? [yes, I've used it myself once or twice] How many of us have had someone show us this video from EDS?
Most of us don’t get to work in the Big Picture or New Tech or Envision schools. We don’t have the option of starting new like a charter school does. We don’t get to work within district- or state-created innovation zones.* Instead, we’re stuck with legacy structures, policies, facilities, personnel, and mindsets, all of which make it much, much harder to change how we do “school.”
So what CAN we do? Well, Clayton Christensen’s work shows us that the best way for an established organization to handle disruptive innovation may be to plant and protect seedlings based on different models and then grow its own replacements. And that gives us lots of internal options if we choose to exercise them as school leaders, even when we work in small systems. A great place to start would be to better nurture the change-makers that we already have in our classrooms: the teachers and students who want to push various envelopes when it comes to learning and teaching. If we’ve got educators and kids who are ready to dive deep into hands-on, technology-infused learning experiences that emphasize cognitive complexity and student agency, we should be doing everything in our power to support them. I’m amazed at how poorly many schools do at adequately supporting existing innovators. As Gloria Ladson-Billings said long ago, “Make sure the change people win.”
What else can we do as leaders? If we’ve got high-flying classrooms or schools, we can do a much better job of ‘infecting’ others with that positive work. We can carve out explicit structures and time and personnel that have the purposeful intention of fostering innovation AND connecting others to it. We can make it safe – and, indeed, expected – to take risks, to fail early and often, to engage in rapid iteration, to live in perpetual beta. We can give people permission to fail and fail again as long as they’re failing smarter each time. We can set up classroom observation rubrics and professional growth protocols and hiring criteria that focus on innovative work, not just traditional work. We can match action to rhetoric and identify concrete performances that let us know if innovative work is actually occurring. We can identify and remedy internal policies and decision-making that impede innovation. We can hold regular celebrations that highlight the innovative work that is happening. And so on…
As leaders, it is both our privilege and responsibility to create, nurture, and protect innovation within our school systems. And of course we need to engage in those efforts as thoughtfully and respectfully as we can. But we don’t get there with snarky resistance, nor do we get there by allowing such sentiments to dominate our internal conversations.
parents more often than not have a negative view of the role of the Internet in learning, but young people almost always have a positive one
Young people are desperate for learning that is relevant and part of the fabric of their social lives, where they are making choices about how, when, and what to learn, without it all being mapped for them in advance
A school board member recently echoed on her Facebook page a community member’s desire to stop funding the district’s 1:1 initiative. Here are the community member’s comments that were shared by the board member:
Technology is a wonderful thing and is much needed BUT these kids needs to know how to take a pencil and paper, spell worlds with out spell check, make a sentence with out using grammar check an do math with a calculator. Seems all the school board can see is the good sides of everything before buying it. They don’t seem to be able to think of what bad can come from things or if what they are purchasing with other money is redundant. I’d like to see results of an old fashioned math, and spelling test and even writing. Many young people can’t spell these day and only print, have no idea of how to do cursive writing. Schools need to stop “dumbing down” our future which is our children.
Below is my contribution to the discussion on the school board member’s Facebook page…
Some quick thoughts:
Our information landscape is no longer ink on paper. It’s digital bits in the ether. It’s completely technology-suffused and EVERYTHING is moving as quickly as possible to the Internet. There is no foreseeable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superseded by electronic text and multimedia. Given this fact, how are you going to prepare students for this digital information landscape if you don’t put digital technologies in their hands?
Our hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy requires that developed countries move as rapidly as possible to creative and services work rather than manufacturing and agricultural work, with an emphasis on higher-level thinking skills rather than low-level fact and procedure regurgitation. All of the job growth in this country is in knowledge work sectors. BUT… knowledge work is done with computers these days. You can’t prepare graduates to do real-world knowledge work in a digital landscape by going back to ringbinders and notebook paper. Do you want your students to have jobs? Ignore the comments about ‘spell check’ and ‘old fashioned math’ (which have no basis in actual data or reality) and instead ask whether your students are immersed in cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments that actually prepare them for the demands of knowledge work after high school. As pretty as it is, we must admit to ourselves that cursive writing is not a 21st century skill and neither are many of the other practices that we are trying so desperately to cling to in P-12 education. The biggest barriers to change are our own mindsets of what schooling should look like, which unfortunately are usually based on a past that no longer exists.
It is the job of schools to prepare students to master the dominant information landscape of their time, to be productive workers, and to be successful citizens. All of these require digital fluency, something that is not achieved by a few hours per month in a computer lab. All that said, we also must recognize that change is scary, it’s complex, and it takes time. There’s a learning curve to navigate for students, teachers, parents, and community members. Acknowledge the difficulty of the challenge. Work to make the change as smooth as possible. Learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. Give yourselves time to make the transition. But don’t regress. Don’t give up. Does the district actually believe that NOT using computers is the path to future success for its children? If so, it will be the only one in America that does and it will be dooming its youth to irrelevance. As Abraham Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” In rapidly-changing information and economic environments, we all need to be future-focused, not nostalgic.
[School board member], you say that putting technology into the hands of all students is ‘not the way to go.’ Which students get to use technology, then? Which students get to be prepared for the world as it is and will be (and which ones don’t)? Which students are you going to intentionally disadvantage by hobbling their college and career readiness by removing technology from their hands?
I’m happy to have a further conversation with you and/or the rest of the board about this. I work with schools, districts, and communities all over the world as they struggle to meet the needs of students and educators regarding technology. All my best.
The same movement that we are seeing toward open educational resources in higher education also is permeating P-12. Many educators have happily tapped into the incredible learning opportunities that are available to them and their students. Our ability to be powerful learners has never been greater.
Lost in all of the eagerness around consumption, however, is a concurrent felt need to contribute. Many educators are willing to take and use free resources as they find them, but far fewer create and share resources for the benefit of others. This lack of reciprocity undercuts the ethos of sharing that helped create – and now sustains – the vigor of our new online information landscape.
One of the best things that we can do to improve our local and virtual learning communities is to take seriously our ability and obligations to be contributors to our shared global information commons. We should do this ourselves as educators and we should have our students do this too.
How often do you, your staff, and/or your students contribute something online (with a Creative Commons license) to benefit others? What can you do as a leader to foster an environment of sharing and giving back, not just taking and using?
Drop me a note if you’re a principal or superintendent who is ready to think seriously about this. I’d love to chat with you.
effective implementation cannot be done by making microadjustments to the current system. We cannot, for instance, install project-based learning as a new layer on top of the standard instructional approaches we have. We cannot squeeze real teacher development into three annual inservice days and a monthly faculty meeting. Each of the strategies requires us to rethink and redesign the whole system from the ground up and build it collaboratively.
And all of this has to take place while we continue to teach kids and continue to feel the relentless pressure from outside our walls for unfaltering and ever-increasing improvement. The risk associated with those foundational changes increases every year, and most schools have not been able (or willing) to risk the possibility of the unknown. When given the choice between something that has been at least moderately successful (the status quo) and something with no guarantees for improvement, we choose the safe route.
Here are four very powerful videos from the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub that are guaranteed to make you think hard about learning, teaching, and schooling. You can watch them all in less than half an hour. My quick notes from the videos are included underneath each one…