Decisions: The Currency of Educational Action

Choices… decisions… education. Three simple words deeply embedded within my world. For years I have been amazed while reflecting on the cascade of decisions a teacher makes in even one class period with a typical group of 20 or so students. I felt compelled to ponder this subject a bit more after reading Dr. Dial’s recent blog post “Making choices through an educational lens.

united states currency eye

Teacher Decisions

The number of seemingly-small choices and decisions a teacher makes -in planning and on the fly- would melt the minds of many. I would further suggest that the more a teacher transforms the classroom environment toward one that features increased student leadership and freedom, the more complex the task becomes. A reasonably student-centered classroom (even in the world of NCLB’s accountability) is a far more complex beast than it seems. The teacher’s role in a traditional classroom might be looked at as the driver of a bus with holes in the floorboards. Though individual students might shift seats every now and again, they are all going to arrive at the same place upon completion of the trip… provided they don’t slip through a hole along the way. That’s a tough mission for sure, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the complexity of a more student-centered classroom.

In contrast, this elusive world requires in-depth discussion about what students already know prior to the introduction of new learning. It requires being attuned to not only the strengths and needs of the class… but of each individual student. It requires not only knowing but honoring the differing modes of communications preferred by each student. Mind you, I’m not necessarily speaking of “learning styles” here, but of communication preferences. I’m not going to get caught up in the “learning styles” debate in this post. In our world, we openly speak of preferences, allow students to work within those often… and then stretch everyone toward those modes that are outside of their preferences. Do we need to push some of our group toward more open, digital modes of sharing? Yes. However, this is not the primary goal of our time together. Our goal is deep learning that transfers beyond the classroom into real life.

pedals

That said, with a traditional classroom model, the volume of decisions is likely to be almost an order of magnitude lower. It’s no small number for sure… but compared to what goes on in the mind of an educator leading students through a workshop, or inquiry-based model of instruction… I just don’t think it compares. The more a teacher moves toward individually shepherding their students through a course of study- the more the classroom complexity raises.

In my opinion, the currency of these decisions is somewhat of a standard. Allow me to feebly attempt an explanation. What classroom teachers rarely get to see is the view from beside an admin on even a typical day. I’m betting even building admins rarely get to view the vista of a district admin. All three make crucial decisions, and yet, I would bet at times each thinks their perspective is the perspective. I might implore Dan Meyer to step in to propose an equation governing these interactions. I appreciate your creativity as a math teacher- what say ye, Dan? I know, it’s a tall order.

Here’s the deal: speaking from where I now sit, high school classroom teachers make decisions (of the whole-class kind) that impact anywhere from 20 to 180 students each. Building principals then make decisions affecting the entire student body that affect between 800 and 1700 students each. The district admin, in turn, makes decisions that impact the lives of thousands of students as well as their teachers. In the currency of these decisions, teachers are working with perhaps thousands of precious pennies each day, while the boss tosses dollars and the bosses of bosses place hundreds on any given choice.

I would suggest that none of these positions choose the next step lightly. I would assert that classroom teachers have precious little time and must make calls on a dime every time they turn around- if not more. On the other end of the spectrum, district admins likely get a bit more time to arrive at most decisions (without 20 kids ready to bounce down the hallway at the end of the period a mere five minutes from now) and yet many of these calls are made by filtering these same decisions through two layers of professionals at best. And don’t forget, any call here has reverberations throughout the entire system. The way I see it, the most crucial decision to make is the one sitting before you at any given moment, regardless of your position.

nervous system

Systemic action

Imagine, if you will, a school system as a human nervous system. Teachers sit at the fingers of the system. They man the digits that touch student lives at the most immediate of levels. District admins might then sit somewhere within the brain, making calls that influence the entire organism. Building principals would naturally then sit at some point in between, with ramifications that move an entire arm of the beast. This is the toughest for me. With the “fingers” of 50 to 100 teachers below them, each acting to move student learning forward… and district admins acting from the brain level above to direct the organization, it might be said that they make moves to push appendages in the right direction. This is where I may need some help with the metaphor. In a system not hitting on all cylinders, this might be the toughest seat in which to sit.

And yet, with a system that works, each might be informed from student action upward to create an organization (organism) that is efficacious in step and efficient in scope. Might I make the suggestion to actually sketch your local system as a nervous system? See what that does for you and yours. Do the signals usually come in from the best direction to move student learning? Furthermore, which is the best direction? In a living being, these electrochemical signals move in both directions for the ultimate well-being of the organism. Do they do so efficiently in your world?

Which is more crucial: nimble fingers or a receptive brain? I would suggest that in a living being, the answer is neither. If nothing else, 2010 is high time for honesty. Is this true for your school system? We should all strive, for the sake of our children, to be an effective and smart decision-making organism. If not, then wherein lies the disconnect?

Artwork

*united states currency eye by Kevin Dean on Flickr.
*pedals by madmolecule on Flickr.
*Bartolomeo Eustachi: Peripheral Nervous System c. 1722 from brain blogger on Flickr.
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Zero Hour in the Edublogger World

Teacher as Writer

Whew.  I barely got this logged in time.  Too much fun making snowmen as of late.  Or work?  yeah, that too.  Allow me to get straight with it…

Last year I nominated Michael Doyle for the “Best Teacher Blog” in the 2008 Edublog Awards in this post.  Dr. Doyle writes a blog quite simply entitled “Science Teacher.”  If you dare think, “oh, a science blog… what’s the next one” then you and going to miss out in a big way.  This blog doesn’t need a snazzy title.  It doesn’t need a dozen crafty widgets or badges.  Here the words speak for themselves.

Desperate Horseshoe

If you’re a science teacher at any level, then this is your blog.  If you love honest and crafty writing with a fat dose of wit, then this is your blog.  Far more importantly, if you have even a shred of a connection to our natural world left within your spirit, (or perhaps even more importantly if you don’t) …then mark it.

Doyle blogs about the daily experience of teaching in the classroom, from the newspaper as a conscientious citizen interested in education in America, and from the Atlantic shore as a curious observer of life.  These threads are present from post to post as you read down the page from day to day.  However, what is particularly inspiring is the fact that they are typically interwoven within most individual posts as well.  If this award was more about writing from the heart and soul and less about edtech popularity then Science Teacher would be a shoe-in.  I hereby nominate this blog once again in the category of “best teacher blog” in the 2009 Edublog Awards.

Networks or blogs?

I am a huge proponent of the power of Ning networks done well.  Like most things, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the slick and simple technology at Ning certainly won’t save you.  However, if you are really good at facilitating strong community, then this platform has a million advantages.  I have led my school, our district and my classrooms through the use of this platform for rich sharing and reflection.  A quick glance to the right sidebar will net links to the networks I manage in some way or another.

legs

Speaking of facilitating community, Connie Weber has it going on at Fireside Learning.  She is one of the few network creators who does things that make me say:  “hey… I need to try that.”  This network is also not an edtech toolfest.  Hear me loud and clear:  I am a huge proponent of the potential of web technology in education.  However, I am rarely an outspoken fan when said technology is not mostly invisible.  Anyone can tap keys on a blog.  A monkey can start a social network on the Ning platform.  Yet where gifted educators apply their skill, sweat, and spirit… good things happen.  Fireside Learning is a solid recommendation for “Best Use of a Social Networking Service.

However, there is a bit of overlap where the rubber meets the road on blogs/networks.  Bear with me on this one.  It’s like this:  Melissa Corey’s Benton Media Center network is truly one of the best technical uses of social media in a school library that I have seen.  I am far more than happy to say that this is the website of our school library media center.  This site is truly a blog, but obviously also a crafty aggregation of multiple tools on the Ning platform that help to bring information to the students at Benton.  In fact, if I need a second pair of eyes on any design I create, she’s the gal I consult.  My nomination for “Best Library Blog” goes to Benton Media Center.  Yes, you wish your library were like this.  And yes… I fully understand that this site doesn’t use traditional blogging software, but it really is primarily just that…  a library blog.  It is certainly the dominant feature on the site.

Admins?

School administrators blog?  Seriously?  Wait…  did you say central office administrators?  What impact could they possibly have on a school system?  OK, sure, there are a small band of school administrators who write publicly in blogs.  For example, Chris Lehmann is the school administrator of a model school that rides the progressive edge.  I have followed Chris’s blog for a while.  His blog is an excellent blueprint for an administrator blog.  There really isn’t an award for “Best Administrator Blog.”  This is a pretty substantial shame.  We have a nomination for “best tweet” but not for a school administrator?  OK, I love Twitter, but I’m not remotely capable of laying out a nomination in that category.  Wait, I know-  let’s pretend!  Let’s assume for the time being that there really is a category for school administrators who blog.

3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept

For the central office administrator up-and-coming blog to follow, I recommend:  In The Lead.  This blog is written by Dr. Jaime Dial, the Asst. Director of Secondary Education in the Saint Joseph School District.  Jaime has only been writing this blog since summer, and I think you’ll see that her strength is slow blogging.  She allows ideas and experiences to simmer away inside before spilling out some very readable synthesis.  Not many people do that well.  I think you’ll agree with me…  this is a blog to keep track of.  I would love to see In The Lead score an official nomination in the 2009 Edublog Awards.  Perhaps next year we’ll score that category, huh?

In fact, if I could point to two, I’d also nominate my close instructional partner in crime at Benton High School.  Jeanette Westfall is Co-Principal at Benton High School in Saint Joseph.  She is the boss in charge of instructional improvement.  As the instructional coach at Benton, I work closely with Jeanette in the “pedagogy” sphere of the TPACK framework.  Jeanette is the author of Ancora Imparo.  She is an excellent example of a day-to-day practitioner in a public school who writes about it in digits for all to see.  In the end, keep your eye on these two.  Surely next year we’ll have a category that honors the rarest of educator-bloggers:  the school administrator.


Artwork

*Desperate Horseshoe by Bemep on Flickr
*legs by Thomas Hawk on Flickr
*3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept by lumaxart on Flickr

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Four Pillars of Technology Integration

I spent far too much time today on this image…….

Four Pillars of Technology Integration

But first

What are the key elements required for a transformation of teaching and learning through the use of technology?  There are obviously many reasonable ways to look at this.  From what position do you view this issue?  Are you a teacher, instructional coach, building principal, technology facilitator, director of technology, chief administrative officer of some flavor, superintendent, parent, or student?  For you, this issue will likely run through the filter of your current position.

It will also run through the filter of your experience.  Are you an eighteen year old student who lives a life that is highly digitally integrated, or are you a teacher of 20 years or more who is just now trying to become familiar with the Internet as it relates to teaching and learning?  Are you a superintendent or head of school who is beginning to open to the importance of a smart approach to technology integration, or are you a technology facilitator who has been a digital evangelist for the past five to ten years?

Those filters should all be applied to the problem of how to retool schools along the lines of technological transformation.  (Though I didn’t think it worked in the title of this post, you will see below that I would rather use the term transformation as opposed to integration.)  At this point, the vast majority of school systems are behind the curve in this area.  Being this far behind might just have one distinct advantage.  If there is no way to see any of the individual trees in a forest, you are likely going to be forced to start your mission with a whole-forest view to begin with.  This is not a bad thing.  It allows you to realize two important things:

1) You don’t need a flashlight.  It’s not that dark in there anymore.  Trust that there are others who have proceeded down this path before you, and they have learned many important lessons.  Collaborate.  Learn from their successes and failures.  Do not go it alone.  Resist the temptation to slap a digital device in the hands of each student and call it success.  Have a plan.

2) Rarely do we get to make decisions with the clarity that a little distance provides.  Take your time (but hurry).  Ask yourself: what can we do with these new tools available today that we couldn’t do before?  If we could remake our curriculum any way we wanted, how would we do it?  Think transformation of the way teaching and learning is done in your district, as opposed to integration into it as it exists.

Allow me to run this challenge through my own filter for the next several paragraphs.  For more on my filter for these ideas, consult the About page.  Also-  I certainly do not profess to know all of the answers.  I am currently sitting on top of a nice little foothill of educational technology leadership…  and staring up at some pretty massive peaks ahead.  Allow me to talk about a few things that make these peaks seem climbable from where I stand.

It is my belief that all schools (and/or school systems) need the following four pillars below any technology “integration” effort…

Catracas

An Innovation engine

All systems need what I will call an “innovation engine.”  Whatever the system, whatever the setup, schools and school systems need pockets of sponsored innovation.  Without some folks directly charged with instructional innovation with digital tools, we will always be just trying to fit technology into what we do on a day to day basis.  It is far better to build innovation directly into the system, and to foster it purposefully.  I know this may seem somewhat fringe in the world of public education, but it can’t afford to be much longer.

“At enlightened, forward-thinking companies, managers understand the connection between learning, innovation, and higher productivity — in fact, employees at these companies may even be encouraged to spend time learning and experimenting with new technologies.”

~Joe McKendrick, FASTforward

So who will drive this engine of innovation in your school?  Will this be a technology facilitator?  Will it be a technology coach?  Perhaps an instructional coach.  An ad-hoc committee of teachers?  A requirement of your leadership team or department heads?  If you are thinking of this from a district perspective, where does this responsibility land?  Will you just hope for it, or will you truly sponsor innovation in new approaches to teaching and learning afforded by digital technologies?

Erector Set

Administrative support

An innovative technology leader will be of little use beyond their immediate world without direct, purposeful and inspired administrative support.  Administrators:  join forces with your innovation team.  Learn what they learn.  Push them to new heights.  Allow them to bring innovative approaches to the classrooms and teachers of your school.  Support your teachers every step of the way as they slowly transform the classroom environments they create toward new and better approaches to learning…

…and then hold them to it. Hold staff accountable for bringing their skills up to the present realities of the 21st Century.  We’ve been living passively in this century for almost ten years now.  It is time for all of us to sit up and take a direct and active role in the changes happening within the learning profession.  Without strong administrative support, advocacy, and supervision, no real and lasting changes of this magnitude are possible.  Guidelines for such leadership aren’t exactly guesswork.  Grab a copy of the NETS and familiarize yourself with these standards today if you have yet to.  They come in three fine flavors:  for students, teachers and administrators.

wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access

Unfiltered ubiquitous access

So now you have innovation closely coupled with administrative support.  With those two things, you can get a pretty immediate return for your buck, provided one more terribly important thing:  that you don’t filter the very usefulness out of the web. A school can have instructional innovation and local administrative support and still fail with regard to technology integration.  How do you kill innovation quickly?  Tie it down.  Even today, many schools filter all of the good, interactive raw materials right out of the web, just when it is becoming increasingly important.  Figure it out.  Ask a school who only lightly filters.  Ask.  Don’t assume there isn’t another way.

Our school system does currently block Facebook and MySpace.  However, our general approach is to put the filters in place required by law, (keeping out the really creepy things) and then keep the real Internet open for education.  Yes, that means we have open access to YouTube, Flickr, UStream, Ning, Twitter, Blogs, Wikis, etc…  We have our hands on far too much fuel for innovation to even worry about looking at Facebook and MySpace at this moment.  They are where our students already are.  But for now, we are luckier than 95% of school districts I encounter with regard to open access.  This fact has allowed us to move quickly toward figuring out the advantages and disadvantages of these powerful new tools in an educational setting.

Oh, and ubiquity.  Access to these tools must be easy and everywhere.  Soon after access is all around you, it doesn’t even feel like “technology,” it just feels like the way things are done.  This is a good thing, for when technology becomes invisible, we can finally focus on the value added from new uses of these tools.  The world is moving quickly toward wireless access in all corners.  If your school isn’t wireless, then only your students have wireless access.  That’s right-  via their phones.  You have a cell phone policy that bans their use in your school?  How is that working out?  You might be surprised.  Many of your students likely are on the raw, unfiltered Internet via the 3G connection of their cellphone more often in the classroom than you care to admit.  Why ignore this,  or worse yet, why punish it?  Embracing might just be the answer.  Some serious thought, study, and stakeholder input should be focused in this direction.

If your school isn’t at a 1:1 ratio of students to laptop computers… and the students don’t take them home with them night by night, all year long… then you don’t yet have an ideal learning environment for 2009 by most accounts.  Until then, however, there are other ways until that time to assure ubiquitous access.  Our school currently employs laptop carts at a ratio of better than 2.5 students to one computer.  60 of these machines will also be available for checkout from our Media Center in the fall.  Our Media Center/Library will also be open well beyond school hours.  It isn’t perfect, but it is allowing us to move ahead intelligently.  We are moving quickly toward the 1:1 environment that seems inevitable in schools.  Moving in that direction in a smart and purposeful way is the strategy we’re employing.

Nice Helvetica.

Instructional model

So now you have innovation on the ground level, administrative support, and unfiltered access.  Be proud.  If you can honestly say this characterizes your school or school system, then you are in a very small but fortunate minority.  You work with smart, visionary people who know how to plan and have been doing so for some time now.  If your lone goal is to have students, teachers and administrators all gleefully pushing buttons and gazing at computer screens…  then your work here is done.  Congratulations.  However, if what you were wanting out of this nationwide technology push was something a bit more…  substantial, then you had better finish reading.

The fourth pillar of “instructional model” is more than a quick soundbyte allows.  I see three levels of this notion with increasing value as follows:  1) You have thought about and encouraged good instructional practices in your building/district.  2) You have a well-articulated plan for effective instructional practice that is building or districtwide.  3)  You have a true learner-centered instructional model in place in grades K-12 that credits the constructivist nature of human learning.

I am fortunate to say that though our district has awakened late to the call of real and purposeful transformation via educational technology, the toughest of our four pillars has already been built.  The final pillar of a student-centered model for instruction that is carefully stated, professionally-developed, supported, and supervised…  is just freshly in place.  This is not so say that fluency in adopting this philosophy of approach is yet there, but the crucial first step is complete.

As I stated earlier, we are looking up at some pretty tall challenges ahead of us.  Locally, we have unfiltered access to all of the content and interactivity the web affords.  We have pedagogical experts in district leadership positions who have put in place an ideal instructional model for the future.  We have a quickly multiplying group of administrators at both the district and building levels who are responding to the call of the digital world, and we are making plans to foster innovation and creativity in our classrooms.

I feel like I am at the foot of a mountain that a handful of good people have climbed…  20,000 feet below the summit, yet armed with the best climbing gear and support I can get my hands on.  The immediate future should be interesting indeed.

I don\'t understand the question...

Where are you?

So where does all of this leave you?  How many of these pillars have been already constructed around you?  What have you done to help in that construction?  What do you see as the greatest challenges in this mission?  What can I or others do to help?  Are there other pillars that you believe I have missed here?

This post was initially intended to be a part of Leadership Day 2009 as conceived by Scott McLeod.  I am posting it at 1:30am on July 13th instead of on July 12th.  This is not to shabby considering my two baby girls thought that since it is technically summer here…  it should feel like it today.

Leadership Day 2009

***This post ended up being nominated for “Most Influential Blog Post” at the 2009 Edublogs Awards.  Nifty nomination.  Thanks much:

Artwork

*I created the Four Pillars image above from the original raw image: “OSU Columns 1” by Steve Betts (Zagrev) on Flickr.
*Catracas by [ cas ] on Flickr
*Erector Set by vgm8383 on Flickr
*wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access by squacco on Flickr
*Nice Helvetica. by William Couch on Flickr
*I don’t understand the question… by flynnkc on Flickr
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Trolling My PLN For Edtech Vision

Calling all brains

I’m asking for your help.  If you could pick anyone, anything, or anyplace, What books would you read?  What conferences, workshops, or meetings would you attend?  Who would you travel to meet with?  Who would you fly in to sit at the table with you?  Who would you pick to help you in your strategic brainstorming or planning?  Who could help inject progressive, innovative ideas about the future of education and the technologies that will drive it?  Anyone.  Yes, I am serious.

Fisketur

This post is a straightforward attempt to leverage the power of my PLN.  It is my goal to get some fresh input about that very thing…  fresh input.  As a generalist instructional coach on what could realistically be called a “21st Century upgrade” mission in my building, I have spent countless hours in research this past year.  In fact, this blog originated from some of my earliest explorations into how a school can systematically raise the tech literacy of its staff ahead of a larger edtech implementation with students.

Here’s the deal

I am pleased to say that I work in a district with some success in incubating innovation.  We locally help to fund innovation with a fantastic “Apple Seed” grant program for creative projects.  We also celebrate ingenuity with an “Innovator of the Year” award- presented alongside the T.O.Y. award each year.  On a district wide level, our administrators in charge of curriculum & instruction are working hard to implement constructivist-leaning instruction and content-specific best practices.

In my opinion, we have long lacked such a mandated, district level approach to educational technology integration.  We invested early in a robust and speedy system-wide fiber optic network.  We have always succeeded in putting current, state of the art technological tools in the hands of our children.  What we now recognize the need for, is an innovative and comprehensive plan to elevate the technological savvy of all SJSD faculty members.  21st Century literacy skills (whatever you think those might be) cannot be developed in our children by skipping over our staff to do so.  We are ready to do the staff development required in readying our own workforce…  to ready those of the future.

macbook pro inside out

Our crew

A district task force was assembled to study the situation.  Our group consists of three instructional coaches, one social studies teacher, a library/media specialist, our district’s technology curriculum specialist, and our chief operating officer.  We have been told that we are “taking one year to study.”  One year to learn everything we can about what the future of learning will look like-  at least with regard to information and communication technologies.  Experimentation with free online technologies has been spawned and is growing in a grassroots way in a few places already.  My home high school actually has a building-wide implementation plan that was put into play this past summer.

The goal is to get just enough perspective about what we are currently doing… and what we still need to do…  before making any more large scale technology purchases.  The idea is to put the “buy it and they will come” -approach to edtech integration to bed for good.  This task force is headed by our C.O.O.  He is a direct sitting member of our superintendent’s council.  This level of buy-in is aligned what I had in mind when I wrote a post entitled “Increasing Our Level of Vitamin A” last November.  We are really to the point in our little corner of the world where we need to think long and hard about our mission and vision prior to buying even one more laptop.  Smart move, methinks.  And this mission had better be flexible.  Life moves pretty fast in these circles.

focus

Why should you care?

I don’t know if I can say why you should care about a project in Missouri.  However, I do believe I know why you will.  Because you are a bunch of committed, forward-thinking educators.  Folks like us know the power of buy-in at all levels of implementation.  Here’s betting that the readers of this blog realize the power potential of solid know-how combined with administrative support.

Please help.  I could submit my own recommendations.  I essentially do that quite regularly behind the driver’s seat of this blog.  The articles I write examine interesting avenues and advocate passionate positions.  My blogroll is a list of folks I rely on for new learning.  I have a set of books on my shelf that were important to me, but really…   the elements of my learning network allow it to be a dynamic, hyper-responsive, thing.  There is even a pretty good chance you came here from the Twitterverse-  and that has become a frighteningly good resources as of late.

Speed Writing

We are locked and loaded for NECC 2009.  We are set for a sit-down at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino this March.  We recently sent a small contingent to METC 2009 for a last minute look at a few of the presenters.  We are ready to grab a few keystone texts for the group to dive into.  We are ready to visit the top workshops available where our learning/time ratio will be strongest.

We are going to take a slow, smart, focused look at this issue.  I can make informed suggestions as it is.  Yet- this post marks one of the ways I am increasingly gaining input.  Here’s betting that an emerging best practice in “informed decision making” includes surveying your PLN as an crucial step.  What do you say…  will you make a suggestion for our study?

Artwork thanks:
*Fisketur by ergates on Flickr
*MacBook Pro Inside Out by Christoph*B on Flickr
*Focus by ihtatho on Flickr
*Speed Writing by margot.trudell on Flickr

Increasing Our Level of “Vitamin A”

Vitamin A?
For the purposes of this post, “Vitamin A” = administration.

Given this equation, you might assume that I am about to promote an increase in administrative positions.  No.  Then perhaps more administrative oversight in education?  No.  Then what?  Have patience, this one requires a bit of setup.

If only it was that simple

The shift
I have personally witnessed a massive paradigm shift in administrative roles since I began my career in education.  Many of the school administrators I first worked with were picked first and foremost as strong managers.  It is pretty obvious from where I sit that the recent focus has shifted tremendously toward administrators possessing strong instructional roots.

I would argue that this is absolutely one of the best things to happen in the recent history of education.  I, for one, applaud this change of tack.  I don’t really have to look too far into the past to find a former administrator of mine who was fond of openly professing the fact that he was not a very good teacher when he was in the classroom.  I really don’t think I want to say much more about that here, nor do I think I really have to.  I am sure the shift toward a standards-based system was the driving force behind much of this.  However, here locally, I really do think this shift happened purely because it is the right thing to do as much as anything else.

So assuming you agree with this premise, let’s do a quick review of what this shift has delivered to this point:

  • School administrators have long been expected to be strong managers of the people as well as the “stuff” of education.
  • Administrators with proof of strong instructional roots are now being sought for even lower-level administrative positions.
  • School and school district administration now tend to possess a stronger command of pedagogical skills.
  • School and district administration are now in a better position to not only oversee best practices in education, but to model and assess these skills.
  • In a secondary school, this equates to an administration ably equipped to monitor and promote strong instructional practice to go along with the solid content knowledge our teachers tend to possess out of college.

Bridges
So here is the bridge to this argument, and it has two parts.  In my opinion we are much better off than where we have come from in the very recent past.  Of course I am speaking for my own district here, and any attempt to extrapolate outward might not fit so well.  However, I think this is likely to be a nationwide trend.  I would love some feedback from my out-of-district readers in the comments below.  Is this true in general?

However, we still have another shift that needs to happen in short order.  Our world is flattening fast and economically we are faltering in many ways as a nation.  We need to release graduates in May who are equipped to deal with a rapidly advancing technological landscape.  They need to be 18 year-olds who are ready to learn, unlearn and relearn.  They need to be flexible to roll with each technological punch the world throws at them.Firehose Training

Some of us who work closely with kids today realize that our “digital natives” possess a high comfort level with emerging technologies.  However, most lack any depth of proficiency in managing the firehose of information these technologies make available to us.  Most here also lack the attention to a framework of ethics that is essential to the widespread use of these now-ubiquitous technological tools.  They lack these skills because the vast majority of their experience in learning technology comes with little or no guidance…  and it rarely comes at school.

Innate comfort builds strong familiarity with some web common web tools.  It can also build enthusiasm toward a digital world.  However, what it does not provide from the outset is an organized and purposeful approach to the skills and ethics required for life in our increasingly digital age. Our kids get basic content. Our kids nail down the cell theory, figurative language, the civil war and basic mathematical expressions.

But can they efficiently and effectively use the digital tools they already prefer to use?  Perhaps more importantly, do they possess a nucleus of transferable digital skills that will allow them to roll with the “technological punches” of even the near future?  As Will Richardson asks in his article in the latest issue of Ed Leadership, “will they be Googled well?

Rumblings of hope

There are strong rumblings finally taking shape in our district.  A few teachers are finally taking the first steps in mobilizing their classroom toward the simplest of these goals.  The senior students in their classrooms will now leave school in May with at least enough of an exposure in using emerging web technologies to facilitate their own personal learning.  (I suggest David Warlick’s posts on why PLN’s are important – here is one sample.)

 

I believe that if we continue to offer basic support for these early-adopting teachers and their subsequent students, we will see many more technology-proficient students in our neck of the woods in the future.  But please allow me to suggest that this is not our answer.  This is far less than we need.  This is far less than our children deserve.  Our children deserve the same purposeful attention to technology that we are now systematically providing for pedagogy.

The TotalPACKage
Is one less important than another?  Is rich content less important than skillful pedagogy?  Is technology less important than either content or pedagogy?  I say no, no, and no to these questions.  I am certainly not the only person suggesting this either.  If you have not at least briefly familiarized yourself with TPCK, or TPACK as it is now often tagged, then you owe yourself a read.  Mishra & Koehler first proposed technological pedagogical content knowledge as a real and viable framework for best instructional practice.

In a nutshell, the best teaching and learning take place when an instructor possesses strong skills in not only content and pedagogy, but also in the technology that is related to both.  I scribbled a few words about this here in a previous post. Technology treated as an extra in education is a faulty approach.  It has been a faulty approach for decades and I would suggest that it is an increasingly faulty approach now.

New framework for PD
So how do we get systemic attention to technology in education?  I would assert that this level of attention can only come from the top => down.  We no longer toss out infrequent PD plans toward effective instructional skills hoping they stick.  The “spray and pray” method of PD is slowly being abandoned for more job-embedded approaches to pedagogical revival in our secondary schools.  If it is essential, we build it into the day-  over and over again.  We look for it.  We assess it.  We empower its spread.

I believe that we need a similar approach to educational technology integration.  If you are reading this from an administrator’s desk you may ask yourself “we hardly have time for the learning we now stuff into the school day and the overburdened teacher’s mind…  how can we add this too?”  Here is where I suggest how an investment in increasing the technological proficiency of our instructional staff will pay real dividends across the board.

With a technologically-proficient staff and frameworks to facilitate further learning such as online professional networks, we can build a system that will catalyze PD in all areas.  I believe that arming teachers with the tools for anytime, anyplace learning -and the essential training required to jumpstart the system-  is the way to begin.  This model of PD is producing quick successes on a smaller scale at my school where just this year, we launched a technology-integration cohort of 20 teachers.  I contend that when the remainder of our staff comes on board this next year, we will grow exponentially as a staff.

A call to action
In my building we have enthusiastic leadership toward this initiative.  I believe we have similar enthusiasm elsewhere in our district.  In fact, I know we do.  The “Vitamin A” that we really need now is for our building and district administrators to truly commit to the guidelines set out in the NETS standards for administrators (NETS-A)*.  We need administration that not only advocates technology within curricular adoptions for students (standard II), but also that models technological approaches to enhancing productivity and learning new and emerging technologies (standard III).

These standards were adopted in 2002.  This was really before Web 2.0 tools were widely available.  The NETS standards go through regular revisions.  The student standards were updated in 2007, the teacher standards last summer at NECC 2008 in San Antonio, and the administration standards are set for a big refresh this coming summer in Washington D.C. at NECC 2009.  In my dreams, this post would be a call to action.  It would serve as a gentle suggestion that this conversation needs to flow in both directions.  Not only do we need teachers and students making suggestions upward on the chain of command, we need some vitamin A providing nutrition of this type in the opposite direction as well.

Sign up.  Plan now to go to NECC 2009.  Plan to study this idea enough to make you dangerous (and particularly receptive) when the new NETS-A standards are unveiled there.  Blog your experience.  Join the conversations.  They are happening all around us right now, but in wireless waves encircling our heads.  Join these conversations that are occurring among passionate folks at both national and global levels.

As teachers, we are taking the first steps toward building our “technological health” from the ground up.  We are in need of some good, solid vitamin A from above.

*The current NETS-A standards as of September, 2010 can be found via this post: The NETS-A Refresh.

Artwork thanks:

Chelsea. “”If only it was that simple + 39/365″.” zerba.paperclip’s photostream. 13 NOV 2008. Flickr. 13 NOV 2008 <http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3028/3028300500_cc6e93e0e6.jpg?v=0>.
 
White, Matthew. “FIRE HOSE TRAINING.” US DOD Homepage. 23 APR 2008. US Department of Defense. 13 Nov 2008 <http://www.defenselink.mil/dodcmsshare/homepagephoto/2008-04/hires_080421-N-1251W-006c.jpg>.
 
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