“No thanks. I choose to do nothing.”


Here are some things I will probably never understand:

  • Interpretive dance.
  • Xenophobia.
  • Why rhythmic gymnastics, curling, and men’s field hockey are Olympic sports but baseball is not.
  • The continuing appeal of I Can Has Cheezburger.
  • This.
  • School administrators who continue to merely tweak the status quo and somehow think that they and their school organizations are doing just fine.

It’s not like by now principals and superintendents don’t know that the world has changed. There can’t be more than a handful of school leaders that somehow have missed every single conference where a featured speaker was a Will Richardson / David Warlick / Alan November / Ian Jukes type, right? Even those non-technology, mainstream leadership conferences like AASA, NASSP, NAESP, and ASCD are beginning to invite us techie folks to speak.

SeenoevilOkay, so maybe we’re not persuasive enough. That’s fine. But it’s one thing to ignore the presenter on the stage. It’s another to ignore the evidence before their own eyes. All administrators have to do is LOOK AROUND and they can see the changes in their students. In society at large. In the many institutions that are dying in the face of these transformative technologies.

There’s a concept in the law known as willful blindness. The idea is that one deliberately takes steps to avoid seeing what’s right in one’s face. To how many of our school principals and superintendents does this concept apply? What can we do to help (make) them SEE?

“Hi. I know the world has changed. There is compelling evidence staring me in the face as an administrator that business as usual just isn’t going to suffice in this new digital, global society. Not if we are to prepare students for the next half century rather than the last. But you know what? No thanks. I choose to do nothing.

Nope. I’ll probably never understand that one…

Image credit: see no evil

30 Responses to ““No thanks. I choose to do nothing.””

  1. Thanks for the mention, Scott, but the reality is the vast majority of school leaders have never heard of anyone in this conversation. Do the math…125,000+ schools in the US and maybe we as a collective body of presenters give 2,000 talks or workshops a year to schools in the US. (And that might be generous.) The other reality is that many of them don’t want to hear this conversation because, if we’re doing our jobs well, we’re asking them to radically change their views of schooling and learning. And finally, while they might “see” these changes in their students and in society, most of them are not willing to risk under achieving on the traditional measures for the sake of adding networked learning into their curricula.

    Wish it weren’t so, but none of this surprises me.

    • Will, I think most administrators have heard SOMEONE. Maybe it didn’t sink in, or they’re deliberately ignoring the message, or they’re unsure how to get started, or whatever, but I think they’re not completely clueless. They ARE inactive.

  2. What I found found in the work Will and I do with ongoing, job-embedded, PD through PLP is that many leaders, while they understand the need for change, are clueless as to what to do. None of them were given reculturing 101 in their leadership courses.

    What are universities doing to prepare superintendents and principals to understand open, distributive, leadership?

    I agree, most do get why. It is the “how” they need–we all need. We inspire them through speakers like you have above (however, I noticed your list didn’t have much diversity …frown) then we help them with ideation– forming an action plan for how to reculture and transform– then we help with implementation.

    We all start at ground zero when learning something new. Leaders have to go through Piaget’s stages of assimilation and accommodation just like students do.

    We (you and me and others helping to lead this work) have a choice too. We can realize that leading leaders is hard work and roll up our sleeves and get them through the messiness of the process or we complain and wonder why they are not compelled to move toward action.

    • Sheryl, a few thoughts…

      1) You’re right that I listed a bunch of white guys. Sorry. It was late and I was typing fast. That said, I also confess I’m not that clear who’s out there keynoting these events. You? Sylvia Martinez? Joyce Valenza? Other women and/or people of diverse backgrounds? Do we have much diversity in our ed tech keynoter pool?

      2) You’re dead on when you say that most leaders don’t know what to do. Every day I roll up my sleeves and do the hard work of helping administrators with the CONCRETE aspects of this transition. You do too, as do a few others. We need MANY more people paying attention to both the conceptual AND the implementation technology needs of school leaders..

      3) Unfortunately university ed leadership prep programs are doing extremely little in this area. Stay tuned for a post on that in the relatively near future…

  3. Scott,
    Thanks for perpetuating the Leadership Day Challenge…I agree with your mention of willful blindness or passive acceptance. I felt the same way UNTIL we returned to Augusta, GA. Today in 2010, some admins/educators do not even “do email” and now the district just passed a policy banning social media. The frustration of living in this type of community is what catapulted me to pursue the Doctor of Education in Ed Tech Mgt and do free workshops in the libraries (The computer labs are better in the libraries than in schools). Augusta, GA may be home to the Master’s Golf Tourney but will never be known for leading learners even though the public mission statement claims to produce, “productive citizens and lifelong learners. Thanks again for keeping up the Leadership Day blog challenge and sharing.

  4. I’d add that none of the people you mentioned, or anyone else that speaks to a group, has any teeth. Once the conference or “talk” is over – their influence dies. People know they should exercise too, and you could bring in a great motivating speaker that would have everyone jumping up and down in the isles shouting out “I Can” statements and leave planning to change their lives that afternoon. The speaker leaves, Monday comes, and it was just a really good idea that I wish I had time to do.

    • Don’t tell my dentist. ;0)

      Which, again, is why we’ve taken to long-term, job-embedded professional development like PLP. Very few people have a plan for building on anything they hear at presentations.

    • Speaking from experience, it’s often tough as a presenter because 1) as you note, we don’t have any teeth, just the power of our ideas, persuasion, and learning materials; and 2) we have little ability to affect what happens after we leave in terms of follow-up, implementation, etc.

      • You have more influence than what you might think. We are making changes just not at the rate we need to. We want to follow the leadership provided us, but educators today are afraid. Fear is not only a powerful motivator, but a powerful de-motivator as well. I would suggest that they are suffering from battered teacher syndrome. They are being asked to improve when they can barely keep their heads above water the way it is. If they had time to explore new technologies and investigate how to best use them, they would surely see the light. Instead they are spending their time trying to deal with all of societies other problems besides declining academic performance. Drugs, lack of parental guidance leading to harassment, teen pregnancy, mental health issues, and the ever growing sense of entitlement we have in this country.
        Yet still, if you want to see the product of some of your work, look around. There are a tremendous number of schools that have made significant changes due to your influence.

  5. Two years ago I managed to persuade our district to invite Alan November to speak at our annual Leadership Conference, the start of the year gathering of school and central office administration. If you’ve ever attended one of Alan’s talks at a conference, his presentation wasn’t much different as he spoke of the need to change our approach to teaching kids.

    At least half the principals and APs I spoke to over the following weeks told me they felt November was an inappropriate speaker for that event. Most felt he put too much emphasis on technology and the web (they missed the context completely). Many wondered why he was talking about social media when “we don’t have time for that” (the exact words of at least 6).

    Certainly they might be forgiven Alan’s talk was the only exposure these people have had to the realities of how the world around them is changing. However, I can’t believe they are so insulated from the world that they don’t have some clue that there are big changes to the way kids relate to information and each other. And that much of what happens in the buildings they run must also change.

  6. Wife carrying? I’m thinking that if this wasn’t the first time I’ve been exposed to that… I must have been employing “subconscious blinding” all this time. Those Estonians are clearly the masters.

    It’s amazing how (even being near-evangelists of digital communications tools) we can still remain in a bit of a bubble. I was thinking Scott’s assertion that only a few leaders could have possibly missed the message delivered by even the short list of folks you mentioned. Tim’s post brought that screeching to a halt for me with the stark and brutal reality that even considering exposure… many aren’t really “hearing” it.

    I think perhaps for many the one element that makes coming to grips with current reality so scary is not adopting a host of current tools for what they can do. I think the scary thing is when folks get partway in and realize the real change lies within the pace of change itself in the world of modern communications. I think twenty or thirty years from now we’ll look back on this time as a really exponential spot in the curve of change.

    The fear of adopting something new is palpable. It’s like tossing a rope around a horse you’ve never ridden before. To me, what I think is so scary for most who reach this point is the sheer blinding pace of change itself. I think in many ways it’s an unfounded fear in reality, but for many it must seem like casting a rope around a 747.

    Those of us who can need to saddle up next to our closest leaders for some deeper exposure. A cowboy wouldn’t suggest someone like me should just go on up and “see how it works” to saddle and ride a horse on my first day. Slow, careful instruction to ease my fears might be the way for a true newb.

    Immersion is awesome when you aren’t afraid of the water. If you are afraid, it’s downright scary. But you’re right. Doing nothing is just plain unacceptable. Those comfy enough to join the fray alone should stop waiting and do it. Those who need more guidance should get over it and sit down beside someone aware and willing.

    • I agree that fear of change is a palpable obstacle for many. I also know that those that don’t change find themselves on the wrong line of the extinction/survival line. So we better figure this out.

      I will note that these people are supposed to be LEADERS, not managers. That implies that they’re actually supposed to be leading, no?

      • I agree with you. I do believe leaders should be able to read the landscape. I do believe they should then plot concrete next steps to tackle any shift close to as large as this one is.

        I certainly wasn’t trying to excuse the flirtation with extinction we’re seeing in schools today. My comment was more an attempt to characterize the situation as opposed to excuse it. I just cannot help but think we haven’t done enough work in characterization of this problem even still. Why is it that so precious few leaders are boldly striking out into this area? Show a smart person a compelling case and they generally begin moving right away. So why is this different?

        I really think that question is huge. Why is this shift intertwined with so much inertia against action? Have we not made the case well enough yet? I don’t think that’s it. Is it mostly unfounded and crippling fear?

        This just isn’t one of those things that leaves little to do but fall in line (like Federally-mandated high-stakes exams). This is an issue where change action can begin almost immediately. So, like you, I don’t get the lack of action. But I really can’t even say I know why (on a grand scale) this type of action is so profoundly difficult. I still want more characterization of the lack of action we see. It isn’t likely nefarious or even purposeful. So then…?

  7. It is not just in education where managers are afraid of new technology. I know it may seem ubiquitous out in the “real world”, but there are still lots of workplaces in which social media is banned or discouraged, email is frowned upon and PowerPoint is still cutting edge. The potential for open communication that may wind-up creating employer accountability is very frightening.

  8. Great post, Scott. Thank you for voicing what many of us think, but maybe are hesitant to call people on the carpet about.

    I think principals and superintendents will wake up when parents start voting with their feet. We’re moving in a few weeks, and I very deliberately chose a district that has a reputation of being progressive and of embracing technology. Turns out several other ed techie people live in this district as well… I’m sure for some of the same reasons. Technology itself isn’t the draw for me; it’s the forward thinking mindset that focuses on what’s best for kids that impresses me. And in this day and age, technology has to be part of that conversation.

  9. Hey Scott, I think you know where I stand on this based on the blog post link I sent last week. It seems that superintendents in most cases care much more about being politically correct and looking good to the community and to levy voters.

    They seldom take bold initiatives like integrating social media into the classroom and allowing progressive-minded teachers to do what they do best. They fear that one or two parents may call and say, Oh you can’t do that, because it’s not safe.

    How to change this? For weeks on the #edchat discussions, I’ve been suggesting that teachers like us need to show some solidarity. That we need to take all of the excellent ideas at #edchat, ISTE and even places like this and share them with state superintendents. That we need to unite regionally and voice our opinions more loudly. For me to tell the teacher across the hall that he needs to integrate technology just isn’t enough.

    Thanks for starting such a thought-provoking conversation.

  10. Who has the power and who has the money?

    We just got permission for the upcoming school year to use YouTube videos in our classrooms. It’s 2010…. The decision came from the director of technology who has the power and trust of all the others in control. My guess is that he/she knows about or has even heard the noted speakers you mention.

    Many in charge of district policies (not all) work from, in my opinion, a position of fear- the law, the what if’s, the “holy cow, look what that stupid teacher showed in class; we’re gonna get sued, be on the news and lose our funding” mentality.

    The first thing these folks probably learned was CIPA and for some, there’s no gray area. Don’t even get me started on filters! As long as we have a top-down power structure, we’re going to continue to fight this battle.

    How do we make ’em see? Perhaps it’ll take a funding mandate. For example: you can have this much $ if you show this % of infusion/integration of technology in the classrooms. [Money angle.] Or perhaps someone will find a way to get all state representatives to say, “we need to catch up with Maine, they’ve been using the one-to-one approach since 2002. It seems to be working. Lets fund all of our schools. The test scores will come.” [Power angle.] Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

    Or perhaps the noted speakers could somehow appear before Congress and open the gates for us in the trenches.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue to get my education online (thank you), take technology risks (because that’s what some think they are) and plug along fighting for my students with what little money and power I have.

  11. I enjoyed reading your post today and its ensuing conversation. I wonder if this resistance to change that we all bemoan is a factor of convenience more than of fear. If educators and leaders truly value student learning and growth, it follows that they will be invested in their own growth process. That means doing things differently, letting go of control, admitting you don’t have all the answers and stepping out beyond your comfortable place. That can be exciting but also very scary. The status quo is convenient; it’s also antithetical to our number one reason and purpose: student learning and growth. Teachers and leaders need to remember their original commitment to the profession. When we remember that “the bottom line is the student’s learning” we are more inclined to at least agree that the status quo no longer makes the grade. It’s really not about our egos and our comfort; it’s all about the students. Maybe we just need to remember that.

  12. Honestly the technology evangelists are saying “look at what we can do!” without looking a the reality side of the issue. Teachers showing questionable YouTube videos is one thing, having school equipment and technology used in the commission of a crime (drug deals, prostitution, child pornography, etc.) is another, and it is a reality. My district has had to deal with those issues and I don’t know if there is enough educational advantage to anything to make the policy makers ignore the bad publicity and personal discomfort to them from dealing with those issues.

  13. I appreciate this discussion and agree with most of it. I’m currently serving as an interim superintendent and our board has agreed that technology must be a top priority in our strategic plan. However, I don’t think those outside of public education realize just how strapped our budgets have become – particularly in California. Additionally, many of us serve communities with a poverty rate of more than 90%. Nevertheless, we are commiting our limited fiscal resources to meet the challenge. In our district, more than 50% of our teachers have five or fewer years in the classroom – they are young and do not fear technology. We need to provide the leadership to improve instructional technology. We can’t let fear stand in the way. There are creative solutions, and it will take a team effort. We have many teachers with the technical expertise to make this transition. Our administrators need to provide them with the support to move forward – something our district is doing.

  14. Interesting and thought-provoking. Only one post mentioned school board leaders. These people can help by setting expectations and opening space in the community for conversations about how the world has changed and why public schools need to respond to these changes. I work with school boards and many of them claim that their communities say, “If this was good enough for me, it’s good enough for these kids.” Board members who want to stay on the board will not be bold in the face of that kind of thinking. Helping our communities see what’s going on is part of the challenge.

  15. Administrators are pretending as blind because they do not want to take risk. Already if someone is successful, either they ignore or not ready to mplement.Many dont think that why cant I face the challenge.Many want to be followers but not leaders.That’s why the saying might be “leaders are born and are not made”

  16. Technology has to be a part of education these days, there is no real way around it, resistance to change is a huge factor, as our younger teachers are coming in and the retirees are heading out, that might change.

    • @Tutoring Match
      Don’t confuse comfort or familiarity with technology for competence. We may be losing some teachers resistant to change, or afraid of technology, but getting a new crop that wants to use the PowerPoints that come with the textbook as their use of technology in the classroom is not helping matters any (and there’s plenty of that going on). Bad instructional practices with technology are still bad instruction.

  17. Scott ‘No thanks, I choose to do nothing’ is what some administrators seem to say. I think that more often something else is being said, ‘ I embrace technology and promote it’. The problem with this statement is that it is the politically correct statement with undercurrents. What are the undercurrents?
    1. Administrators that bring in the technology speakers for the PD days but never expect the staff to do anything with the information.
    2. Administrators that promote the technology in PD days, faculty meetings, school board meetings but never give time to staff to investigate and learn how to use the technology resources.
    3. Administrators that do not hold staff accountable for using the technology that has been purchased, trained for, and will engage students.
    4. Administrators who expound the use of technology in their school districts but refuse to use it themselves.

    • @Tina
      #4 on your list is a huge one. I deal with administrators who don’t check or use email, do not check the district web pages, and will ask in writing for things that are required to be posted for our course pages.
      #3 is also in issue, but I must take issue with your phrasing of “hold accountable.” Just because something has been purchased does not make it valuable or useful. Our district spent $50K on software and a year’s worth of Inservice time K-12 to have the staff enter all of our course standards into a database system. Not only was that information never made available or searchable to the teachers, but we were recently required to do it again because the district purchased a new software package. We have also gone through several incompatible (or only sort-of compatible) scheduling, gradebook, and lesson posting systems, including having the administration decide to change websites and packages not only in the middle of a school year, but the middle of a term (also making everything from the previous system inaccessible). We start back next week, and at the moment the system that we currently use only has my courses from last year, so I am unable to post lesson plans, resources, and assignments for the coming school year. The teachers who choose not to use technology have the much easier path, since putting grades in a (paper) gradebook and posting assignments on a bulletin board is never thwarted by the IT department.

    • I am wondering where I get the time to give to teachers so they can learn how to use the technology. As a teacher I found the time myself. That often meant exploring technology during the summer or in the evening instead of sitting in front of the TV. Staff who struggle, struggle because they have not kept up with the times in their personal use of technology and now are faced with a huge leap forward rather than the simple jump they could be making if they had made jumps before today. Everyone I know has the same 24 hours in their day. No one can give you more of it and each administrator is alloted the same dollars per pupil, no one gives us any more of that either. Teachers have pay raises built into their salary schedules which provide them a higher salary next year than what they have this year, yet they still negotiate every year to increase the base. If not for continued expectations of keeping up with our profession, what are these raises for?
      I have teachers who do not have computers at their home and who do not own a cell phone. Not because they can’t afford it, but because they see no use for them. That is sad…
      I have continually pressured these teachers to get with the times or seek greener pastures, which many have chosen to do.

  18. Bill Bradley @ I should add to no. 3 the word useable technology. I am talking about 1to1 systems that use google docs and so much more. I also know the frustration of useless programs that make more work for staff which makes technology frustrating and hard to sell to staff. I do feel that if a school district says it is promoting technology administration needs to lead by example and make it a must for staff not an option.

  19. Bravo! You just received a virtual standing ovation from those of us in the trenches. We are fighting the war on Willful Blindness (administrative, executive and parental) and desperately searching for a cure.

  20. Barbara Tuchman had an even better term for it–wooden headedness. If you haven’t read her The March of Folly at least read the epilogue.

Leave a Reply