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Leadership for School Innovation graduate certificate 001: The launch

I received permission from my faculty colleagues and Dean this summer to launch a new Leadership for School Innovation (LSI) graduate certificate. I’ve done this twice before. In 2002 Joan Hughes (now at the University of Texas-Austin) and I received a large federal grant to create the first graduate program in the country designed to prepare technology-savvy school leaders. The $2.5 million School Technology Leadership Initiative at the University of Minnesota created 15 credits of new coursework that was given away – with accompanying pedagogical supports – to ten other university educational leadership programs across the country. Four cohorts of students went through the U. Minnesota program and numerous other students gained new school technology leadership experiences at partner universities. The U. Minnesota academic program is now defunct but my University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) program center, the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), was created that continues the research and service/outreach work. CASTLE is now co-hosted by the University of Kentucky and the University of Colorado Denver. In 2011 my CASTLE co-directors at U. Kentucky and I created the nation’s second graduate program focused on school technology leadership. That program ran for several years and is now an embedded certificate within a teacher leadership program.

This new LSI graduate certificate at CU Denver will be a little different. It will be wholly online like the U. Kentucky program but its focus will be broader than just technology leadership. I also have a design team from across the country that will be helping me outline and frame up the program. More on them in my next post, and more details on the program in the weeks to come…

Our Design Sprint is tomorrow. I’m excited!

10 quick thoughts on mobile phones in schools

No cell phones!A few quick thoughts…

  1. Most people realize that mobile phones are actually mobile computers. But many schools that claim to be doing everything they can to get technology into the hands of schoolchildren then ban their students from using the computers that they bring in their pockets every day. The issue apparently is not technology, it’s control. We need to call this for what it is.
  2. Students know that mobile phones are powerful learning devices. They know that when we ban them, we are sending them messages that we don’t get it. Or that we’re not really about learning.
  3. We have to stop blaming the device. Classroom management stems from good instruction.
  4. We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
  5. Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
  6. Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
  7. No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
  8. Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
  9. If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
  10. When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?

Image credit: No cell phones!, Joe Pemberton

Don’t tell us we’re inspiring and then keep doing nothing

Greta Thunberg“Please save your praise, we don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. It doesn’t lead to anything.”

And with that, climate change activist Greta Thunberg sums up so much of how we also treat student input in schools. 

Listening to our youth does not mean a few student panels at conferences for adults: “It is all about the kids! We had a panel of them, and they did such a great job, and it was SO inspiring!”. Nor does it mean tokenistic, nonvoting positions in committees, school boards, and other adult groups. And it’s definitely not school groups like Student Council that have little agency or decision-making power over anything that’s important. These so-called student voice opportunities are mostly ways for us adults to feel good about ourselves, not about meaningful input. 

Our children care deeply about what happens to them in their education. What if we stopped patronizing our students and instead actually DID SOMETHING DIFFERENT? Anyone? Anyone?

Podcast – Talking with Richard Byrne on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast!

Last week my conversation with Richard Byrne went live on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast. Many of you know Richard from his primary site, Free Technology for Teachers, one of the most widely-read education blogs in the world. Richard and I have known each other for a long time. Maybe he’ll come see me in Colorado sometime. He’s an outdoorsy type – he’d love it out here!

Richard and I talked about a wide range of things, including Tik Tok, building leaders’ capacity to foster school innovation, keeping up with changing technologies, redesigning lessons with the 4 Shifts Protocol, filtering and blocking students, and so on…

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

F.A.I.L.W.

FAILWF.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

We see this saying in classrooms all over. And I’ve never liked it… 

One reason is because we rarely seem to ask the important question of First Attempt In Learning What? First attempt in learning some rote memorization task? First attempt in learning something we put on a digital worksheet? First attempt in learning some procedure that we’ll likely never use again? [but, hey, at least it leads to the next procedure that we’ll also probably never use again!]

I understand why the allegedly-motivational saying is posted on teachers’ walls. It’s a cute way of saying to students, “Don’t give up. Keep trying and you’ll get there.” It fits in nicely with the growth mindsets that we’re trying to help students adopt. [side note: ever notice how educators are usually eager to preach about the value of growth mindsets for students but often struggle to live that value in their own work?] But maybe the reason our students are ‘failing’ is because they rightfully see that so much of the work that we ask them to do is pretty meaningless and so they simply try to opt out. It’s not that they’re struggling, it’s that they’re rational.

Which leads me to another reason: a F.A.I.L. poster on our walls doesn’t absolve our responsibility to do better by our kids. We can’t keep pretending that such a sign means anything when we regularly undercut it with uninspiring work. So what if we give students multiple opportunities for do-overs or retakes? So what if we preach about ‘resilience’ and ‘grit?’ Is allowing / requiring / forcing a student to be ‘successful’ on work that had little value in the first place the opposite of ‘failing?’

No amount of platitudes will ever make up for the hard work we need to do to transform students’ learning experiences. You know what motivates students? It’s not the cutesy laminated F.A.I.L. poster. It’s the regular opportunity to do meaningful and interesting work. The next time we walk into a classroom with one of these signs, let’s add the W and start having a different conversation…

The decline of civics

Flags on lawnDanielle Allen said:

No democracy can survive if its citizens do not believe that democracy is worth having. The long-term future of our system of government depends not only on restoring a supermajority of citizens who demand democracy but also on ensuring that that percentage exists across the generations.

Nor is it enough for people simply to believe democracy is essential if they don’t know how to build, operate, maintain, fix, and adapt democracies. This means we also need to build a supermajority of citizens who have confidence in their knowledge of how to use their voices, skills of democratic coordination, and shared political institutions. That’s what our children could learn through classes on U.S. government, civics, and the problems and promise of democracy.

Want to address information literacy concerns? Civics is a great place to start. Want to target student apathy toward the news and being informed? Action civics is an even better start. 

We also have to live the democratic principles that we proclaim we’re trying to instill in our youth. Students almost never have authentic input into how ‘school’ operates for them. No wonder our students become cynical and apathetic. Why would they treat seriously our proclamations about the importance of democracy when schools rarely give them a meaningful say in anything?

My favorite U.S. Supreme Court quote of all time is from Justice Fortas:

That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes… (Tinker v. Des Moines)

When it comes to modeling democratic principles in schools, we’ve got too many platitudes. How about some action (civics) instead?

Running back into school on Day 164

Robin Riley tweetTom Murray has been inspiring a lot of educators to think about what they can do on Day 1 of the school year so that kids come running back into school on Day 2. That’s a great message.

Can we please also remember that we want kids running back into school on Day 37 and Day 89 and Day 138? If we have a great first day with our students and then gradually (quickly?) revert back to fairly uninspiring learning experiences, what’s the point?

School culture, classroom learning climates, and student engagement are year-round issues. What could you do that makes kids come running back on Day 164? (instead of, ahem, counting down the days until the end)

Image credit: Robin Riley

AI software gets a B on a 12th-grade science exam

Artificial intelligenceCalculators. Grammar editors. PhotoMath. Automatic language translation. Some of these mental work helpers (substitutes?) work fabulously. Some of them aren’t quite there… yet.

And now we have this: AI technology that can pass a 12th grade science exam.

on Wednesday, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a prominent lab in Seattle, unveiled a new system that passed the test with room to spare. It correctly answered more than 90 percent of the questions on an eighth-grade science test and more than 80 percent on a 12th-grade exam.

Not only could the software answer recall questions, it also could solve basic logic and inference problems.

Do students still need to know some stuff? Absolutely. Do students need to know the vast amounts of easily-findable minutiae and trivia that we pretend is important and try to shove into them each school year? No way.

The machines are getting better at mental tasks we previously thought could only be done by humans. When will we start asking better questions? When and how will we adapt our teaching and schooling?

10 signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration

Left turnHere are some signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration efforts:

  1. Your LMS is primarily used as a document management system
  2. Lots of Kahoots but not much student creation
  3. Many conversations about responsible and appropriate use, not many conversations about empowered use
  4. Teachers are the primary users of technology
  5. Digital worksheets greatly outnumber student multimedia products
  6. Teachers are gravitating toward technologies that allow them to tightly control the student learning experience (e.g., NearPod, GoGuardian)
  7. Silent work alone on ‘personalized,’ adaptive learning software modules is a dominant modality for students
  8. A greater emphasis on filtering and blocking than on equitable access and usage
  9. Technology professional development sessions are sparsely (or reluctantly) attended
  10. The ‘yes buts’ outweigh your visions for technology-infused student learning possibilities

These are just a few. What else might you add?

See also The unholy trinities of classroom technology usage

Image credit: Left turn, Clyde, Alan Levine

Culture will tell you what it needs, but only if you ask it

We had the pleasure of having Zac Chase as a guest facilitator this past week in one of my principal licensure cohorts. Zac was amazing, which is no surprise to anyone who knows him.

One of our activities with Zac was using the Question Formulation Technique to unpack teachers’ and students’ beliefs about school culture and climate. For instance, we can take an affirmative statement that represents a desired end goal such as “Nearly all of our students can be successful in a Tier 1 instructional environment without interventions” or “We can achieve equity in our extracurricular programs.” Then in small groups we can brainstorm questions like crazy without any self-censoring. Examples might be “How do we do this with English language learners?” or “What about students who don’t have transportation home after school hours?” Then we can collect, organize, and prioritize all of our questions to uncover what concerns and needs we have around that topic. Finally, we would allocate resources and support structures to help us address those needs.

My students found a lot of value in the technique and recognized the power it can have in their future administrative careers. As Zac said, “[Your school] culture will tell you what it needs, but only if you ask it.” Let’s do more asking instead of telling or mandating…

Thanks for visiting, Zac!