Aligning Philosophy and Practice

road home1

(Delaney and I on the ride home after school.)

Me: “So… have a good day today? What did you do in Adventure Club before I got there… since you weren’t there for long?”

Delaney (8 years old): “Well… someone farted. And we were all arguing about who did or didn’t do it.”

Me: “Uhhhhh….. riveting.” (Or something. I can’t really remember what I said here. Likely some form of mild interrogation re: whether or not she was the culprit.)

Delaney: “And then I helped Brooklyn read a little. She is only in Kindergarten, and she was reading a book called ‘365 Days of Wonder,‘ and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t know a lot of the bigger words in that one.”

Me: “How do you know that? That’s not exactly fair. Are you telling me you couldn’t have read that book when you were in Kindergarten?”

Delaney: “No. I’m not saying that at all. It’s just that I read with her a lot and I know what she can and can’t read when she’s all by herself. I help her read, but I don’t just give her the words when she gets stuck. I help her sound them out and make sure she can do it by herself.”

(And here is the part that really got to me.)

Delaney: “Because, like Ben Franklin said: ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.’

Me: “Uhmmm…… ok. Wow. So, (At one of my rare -loss for words- moments.) where did you get that and how do you know that applies to reading books?”

Delaney: “It is in my ‘Superstars of Science- The Brave The Bold and The Brainy‘ -book about all kinds of scientists and what made them really great and interesting.”

Me: “Very cool. I’m not sure I’ve even seen that book. I’ll have to check it out. But hey… what made you think of that quote when you were helping her read?”

Delaney: “I didn’t think of it when I was helping her read. You asked me why I helped her the way that I do… and that’s why I do it that way. Ben Franklin is pretty smart and so I just decided to do it that way when I help people. I want her to be able to read it when I’m not by her.”

Me: (probably still fairly speechless) “Uhhhh….. that’s a really classy leap of intuition there. Do you know how many people I wish could internalize an idea like that… and then consistently act on it because it is the best thing to do?”

Delaney: “No.”

Me: “A lot. More than you know. Just… do that. Everything that you just did and told me about. Just keep doing that. You’re a really good girl Delaney, and I’m proud of you.”

Delaney: “Thank you, Daddy.”

delaney & neve reading


Seriously. This is but one tiny example (told in such detail here because it is my kid and I have that latitude) of how amazing children really are.  If you ever wonder why I’m so unpleased with your “…yeah, but my students can’t do that” -rant… this sort of thing is why. Just listen to kids. Really listen. You might just be surprised. I would even suggest that fully half of designing and maintaining an engaging and challenging learning environment is merely keeping your ears open. Really open. Not just to hear what you expect to hear. When you honestly listen to children, they tell you what they are capable of. So often it is beyond our jaded adult suppositions. Delaney didn’t realize the sophistication of her transfer until it was highlighted and named for her. It was just an intuitive thing that simply made sense to her. In my mind, often the best thing wise adults can do is to design settings and scenarios for kids to organically do amazing things… then pour gas all over those warm little fires of understanding they create.

One of my foundational rules of classroom engagement is simply this: never be the first one to open your mouth and start talking about any topic. Twenty years in the classroom taught me that one. Never assume. Never take prior knowledge for granted. Listen first, then act. Never presume to know what the students in front of you are capable of. They’ll show you if you are bold enough to listen.

*I originally tapped this little story out directly into Facebook. After a few lines, I realized the reason I was so drawn to the exchange is that it illustrates so many things I have come to believe about the process of learning. And that means it would have to end up here. However, I finished it there first because I already anticipate getting the inbound reminder notification from Timehop next year at this time. The older I get, the more I appreciate the sometimes subtle cyclical nature of life.


-For “Portra 400VC” by Bravo_Zulu_ via Creative Commons from Flickr

-To John Rushin and Cheri Patterson, who taught me more about listening than I would have figured out alone.


The Realm of Not-Knowing

How do you express that which you do not know? Is it really as simple as it sounds? How do you recognize uncomfortable uncertainty? Can you articulate the degree and type of not-knowing that can lead to wonderment? Is this quantifiable in some way? Would this even be valuable? If so, it would likely lead to new jargon. Might that be a good or bad thing? Before coming back to these initial questions, let’s first briefly examine jargon itself.


jargon 1 |ˈjärgən|
special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand

How do you feel about jargon in general? More specifically, what about edu-jargon? Ever hear someone use “nickle-bee” in reference to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB)? I have. Personally, I know how I felt about edu-jargon as recently as six years ago. Put simply, I was largely offended by it. As a full-time classroom teacher for many years, my professional reality was wrapped up almost entirely within the four walls of my classroom. The bulk of my interactions on a daily basis were spelled out with my students, and to a lesser extent their parents. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy some truly model collaboration with a few colleagues. Are you ears burning, Jincy? The bottom line: edu-speak in that scenario would have actually been a barrier to understanding among all stakeholders. See what I did there?

And yet, this post is not a blanket denouncement of jargon as a whole. In fact, my acceptance of edu-jargon began about the time I made the switch from a full-time classroom teacher to the role of instructional coach in my building. In that role, after teaching Dual-Credit Biology or Zoology first block, I would spend the remainder of my day in direct support of teachers. Whether it was whole faculty PD, small group studies or one-to-one coaching, my work for the first time was outside those four secure classroom walls. As a generalist coach in a high school, instructional practice was a common strand that could be studied across content areas (smart folks would make an argument here for technology as well).  It was at that point that I had to quickly warm to the jargon that would allow a back and forth regarding the practices of teaching and learning. (I could have said pedagogy here if I wanted, and I usually do… work with me.)

To say that I grew as a professional during those four years would be a criminal understatement. Thoughtful sessions punctuated by planning, discourse, and debate were the norm. When learning alongside my fellow coaches each week during our own PD sessions, we simply had to bat jargon back and forth to be even remotely efficient and uniform at conveying the work we were doing. As I reflect back, a challenge there was in not stoking the fire and brewing a cauldron of our own comfy jargon that would be off-putting to our wider faculty back in schools. Tracy Staedter’s recent interview with Jonathon Keats reminds me of this fine line between positive and negative. In response to her question, “Why does jargon exist at all?”, Keats replied with:

“Jargon is usually counterproductive in the long term, but in the short term, it’s so useful as to be seductive. It becomes a code that establishes membership in a given guild and allows abbreviated communication in that guild, and prevents someone who is not in that guild from understanding anything. In the long term, it’s catastrophic though, because it prevents anything new from happening. Assumptions get forgotten, and innovation is inhibited. You get communication onto a plateau where everyone agrees, but nobody ever asks any questions about whether there might be some flaw in the worldview as a whole.”

You must know that Keats, an experimental philosopher, is one rather unique individual. When further discussing if and when jargon becomes not jargon, he goes on to assert that words arising from marketing and self-promotion have little chance of becoming anything else. He suggests that the only way jargon rises up into something more universally-accepted is that if it does so organically. He claims that only the natural language that arises from the origin of a true and credible subculture has a chance of making it.

not quite clear on the concept


To me, the conversation there wound down just when it got interesting. Keats was then asked if there might be a noun or verb in science that doesn’t currently exist, but should. Though he hesitated to suggest a particular term, he spoke of the need for a term describing the realm of not-knowing. Smart educators have long been aware that one of the keys to deep understanding is metacognition. Today we should well know that keeping abreast of one’s own thought processes throughout the course of learning is a crucial element to success. In fact, a purposeful approach to formative assessment pretty much rests its core on attention to metacognition. Or rather, it should, in my opinion.

Foundational to the subject is Stanford Psychologist, John Flavell. Flavell differentiated between metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation. Metacognitive knowledge can be as simple as knowing that the Biology textbook you just pulled out of your backpack will require a completely different approach than the novel in the next pocket. Regulation of metacognition is where the payoffs begin. These are the often subtle self-questioning strategies of comprehension.  —  What did that just say? Were you able to connect the previous few sentences to another event? Did you feel the need at some point to go back and re-read? Might you have even looked up a word or concept in a completely outside source for further understanding? That set of actions might just be the distilled essence of regulation of metacognition.

To ditch the jargon…  did I “get it,” or not, and what am I going to do about it?

delaney and the mantis


It might seem that the concept of metacognition is fairly easily summed up in that one fancy word. Inherent in regulation would be not only knowing, but the ability to detect not-knowing. Right? Keats would suggest “not so fast” on this one. In the interview, the man who copyrighted his very brain, asserts that not only is the act of deeply not-knowing the underlying impetus of science, but that we might not hear much of this today. The reason? Perhaps because today we are so proud of being “in an information age.” Wary of outright suggesting a term or terms for not-knowing, he encourages people to widely discuss and debate the idea, thereby organically breeding words to describe what he sees as a potentially valuable addition to our language.

From my perspective, there’s truly something to this discussion. I can’t quite nail it comfortably in my head and that is what tells me this likely is a worthy debate. I can honestly say that in my years as a biology teacher, the parameters of certainty were something we got a great deal of mileage from. Though most of what I remember was instead an explicitly cognitive strategy… identifying, analyzing, and stating upfront the limits of certainty in experimental data. I always felt that a keen focus in that area was one of the things responsible for the success of so many of my students. That depth of… not understanding at the edges of what they had discovered was the impetus for the wonderment and awe that often led to some pretty remarkable things. Yet, as a meta-process, I’m just not sure. Do we truly need an inverse of knowing?

What do you think of this? After thinking this through a bit, are you able to make room for a bit of verbiage in this realm? I figure I might as well do my part to kick some rather important jargon around and see if we can’t elevate the discourse in one small corner of cyberspace.


*A Curious Discovery 2 by Liam Manic on Flickr.
*not quite clear on the concept by woodleywonderworks on Flickr.
*Delaney and the Mantis is one I captured this past Autumn.


Push the button

Beginning with the end

There…  glad I got that out of the way.  There ended the longest blogless period I’ve had in about three years.  Not that I’ve ever been that prolific.  In fact, I’m pretty satisfied if I get time to write one post a week.  I use Twitter for the smalltalk.  Blogging, for me, is about really exploring ideas from one perspective or another.  However, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my last post was April 17th.  All that being said, it’s time to get back to the synthesis of thought that I only find through this approach.

For the handful of folks who read this blog, you won’t likely find much to chew on after this one, but at least I’ll get a few things off my chest and get back in the game.  I’ve been in a bit of a transitional period at school (yeah- both technically and mentally).  It might help to toss out a little historical perspective on my responsibilities since I became an educator.

Here’s my career timeline in a really small nutshell:

  • 1992: teacher: 7th grade science & odyssey (multidisciplinary gifted program)  also assistant wrestling coach
  • 1995: teacher: 9-12 general biology, honors zoology, honors botany, science investigations (independent research program under gifted ed.)
  • 1999: started Marine Biology program for upperclassmen in all three public schools.
  • 2004: moved to another SJSD high school to take head wrestling position with superstar brother as assistant.
  • 2007: began life as the generalist instructional coach for my building.  taught one period of Honors Zoology concurrently.
  • 2009: @erinlynnnash took the reigns of Zoology so I could switch to a Dual-Credit course with MWSU called Principles of Biology.  also moved toward a focus of technology integration within my building… a natural fit for me within our IC model.  (my 18th & last year as a wrestling coach)
  • 2011: move to a new district-level position, “Academic Technology Instructional Specialist” within the Curriculum & Instruction office of the SJSD.  this is a smart re-framing of resources for the future.  I will also continue as instructor of our Marine Biology program.

That makes it pretty apparent that next year will be my first year unattached to an actual building.  While I’m a bit misty-eyed at that prospect,  I’m also looking forward to the possibilities within this switch.  The pool of smart, energetic professionals I get to collaborate with just went from from about 70 to around 900.  Fear meet Excitement.  I think you’ll enjoy one another.


This little blogging project began as one small part of my firsthand attempts at understanding the wider ecosystem of the participatory web.  Specifically, what might this realm offer the student (or teacher) in seeking understanding and making sense of the world in which they are faced?  Because really…  at its heart, this is what education at this level should be.  Of course this is my opinion, but making sense of a very complex and changing world is what education in 2010 should be.  No?  I knew what I had been doing within my own classroom.  As an instructional coach, I got to see firsthand what was going on in other classrooms.  However, if I were going to help lead a school toward change in this direction, I had better get a broader view.


In this time, I have explored more cutting edge tools than I could ever highlight on this blog.  I immersed myself in the participatory web as much as seemed humanly possible.  I have made more national and even global connections than I ever thought possible.  Within the past year, I have begun to shake things down to what really works for me, all the while trying to stay abreast of the rest.  If we all learned the same way, this wouldn’t even be a challenge, right?

During the past few years, I sat side-by-side with colleagues as they willingly dove head-first into the realm of anytime, anywhere learning via digital technology. I have led professional development events at my school to bring all teachers into the fray.  I have led classrooms that, bless their hearts, have embraced the still-experimental nature of these tools of communication.  In chatting with my wife and teaching partner about the past few years, the role of reflective and authentic learning instantly came to the forefront of her mind.  Those two elements have truly been our focus.  I always wonder how that would have worked without such a prior grounding in instructional practice & action research.  Probably far less famously I suspect.  Of course, any time I ponder the convergence of the elements of pedagogy, content, and technology, I think of Dr. Punya Mishra and the TPACK framework he lined out with Dr. Matt Koehler at MSU.  I no longer make educational decisions of any sort without without running them through this filter.


As a baby step in engaging the whole of our local educational community, Dr. Jaime Dial and I created the Saint Joseph Digital Express as an adaptable structure for communication into the future.  Check it out.  This network was largely tossed out this past year as a potential learning sphere and will likely serve us well as we move into a more focused future on this front.  I’m also excited to have Will Richardson as a consultant and PD facilitator for the coming year.  He was my suggestion for getting things started and kick-starting the conversation.  Will will be working with local administrators, instructional coaches, and curriculum coaches to help us hone a mission for 21st Century instruction.  Will sets the tone well and sees the big picture of many of these current shifts that have potential to impact the world of education.  From my experience, he is an excellent facilitator and does a really super job framing tough issues and leading large groups in thought concerning these issues.  This work will certainly be translated down to the building level of the SJSD in various ways within the following year and as we move forward.

Might individual buildings move in different ways toward these new ideas?  You better believe it.  As our Curriculum & Instruction department in the SJSD believes, each child moves toward learning in different ways, so we believe in different learning communities moving in subtly different ways to tackle the issues of 2010 and beyond.  We have powerful instructional leaders in our building principals who will take this new learning and apply it as it fits to our schools.  Through our school improvement process and commitment to focused professional development in support of these plans, we all have made serious moves in positive directions in the past five years.


It’s hard to be perfectly patient and excitedly enlivened all at the same time.  Perhaps more than ever I’m happy to be a part of this district at this time. I’m happy to be a part of a public school district that keeps its eye on the ball with regard to instruction…  all the while fueling the innovation needed to stay relevant and authentic for today and into the future.

To my knowledge, in our district the word “technology” has never been included in any job title to date outside of our own Troester Media Center.  TMC is the physical brain of our Internet nervous system with all the associated services.  We have long enjoyed a powerful IT infrastructure with the foresight to deliver potential to each classroom and to deliver it fast.  We have owned our own gigabit fiber optic network joining more than 20 buildings since 1995.  Yes, I said it… fiber.  I’ve had nothing to do with any of those moves.  You can look above to see what I was busy with at that time.  And yet, I was always thankful for each new thing I was allowed to do during that time because of this technology.

Many changes have taken place regarding the world of digital communications since 1995.  Shoot-  many things have changed in the past year.  We are a district currently possessing more kit than 90% of public or private schools I have seen.  We have a K-12 instructional model that increasingly gives credence to a constructivist approach.  What we need now is to connect our gear with our mission.  We’ve had “T” in one silo and the “P” and “C” in another across town.  I believe we are well ready to aim toward true TPACK integration.  For so many years technology was used in large part to facilitate management and operations as well as a rather teacher-directed approach to learning.


Integration vs. transformation

However, in 2010, and for some time now, we’ve needed more.  Our kids need more.  They deserve to emerge from their school experiences tech-savvy and ready to take on the world like modern learners.  Delivering that requires a bridge connecting smart people who’ve been wanting the best for our kids for some time-  while speaking significantly different languages.  To do that we need well-supported tech-savvy teachers.  I’m looking forward to doing what I can to fulfill at least some small part of this effort into the future, for these challenges are certainly worthy. Sliding the title “technology” into any position within C & I is a significant move.  Significant in that it recognizes the importance of modern technology in making learning authentic in a world where information and communication comes increasingly digitally-flavored.  I would love to establish myself as a strong link between the world of slick gadgets and the world of differentiated, student-owned learning.  Instructionally, we are in a really good place-  particularly for a public school system.  Technologically, we have some of the best of the best.  The time is ripe for a marriage made in TPACK heaven.

While I’m leaving day-to-day contact with some really smart friends and colleagues…  I’m looking forward to working with another set of really smart colleagues and increasing friends.  One final thing is for sure-  I’m certainly glad I’ve spent the effort to cultivate a rich and varied personal learning network over the past few years.  Of course I’m going to need it.  I cannot imagine consulting on such a broad range of topics without all of you.  You might want to keep Skype running…



*”Push the button” by INoxKrow on Flickr
*”Moar Cute Duck Bum” by Duncan Rawlinson
*”Integration” by certified su on Flickr
*”go” by A_of_DooM on Flickr.

High school science is all wet

Sean Nash asked me if I’d step in for him this week. He’s a mensch, and I happen to be off this week, so I said yes. We both write about similar things, but from different angles. I’m on my best behavior here–so I’ll save my opinions on vaccines, fluoride, God, and Higgs bosons for another day….

An osprey, first one of the season, hovered over me while I was fishing this afternoon. It looked down at me, I looked up at it. 400 hundred years ago, on this same shore, an old Kechemeche man stared up at an osprey, and it stared back at him. Our story has changed. The osprey’s has not.

I think the Kechemeche had a better story than ours. In our story the osprey had nothing to share with me. I’ll never know, since their story is now dead. I know this much—the osprey was aware of me on a late afternoon. The tide was rising. The sun felt warm on my face.

There’s a tension between what we know, what we can know, and what’s unknowable. Teaching what we know seems to be the least controversial. Teaching what’s unknowable should not be a function of science teachers in public schools, but distinguishing between what’s knowable and what’s not, well, that’s science.

Why is water wet? Why does my hand get wet when I hold it briefly over a lit grill? Why does water cling to the side of my glass?

That hydrogen bonds form between water molecules, that organic fuels have electrons ripped off by oxygen to form water, and that water molecules cohere to charged surfaces are good enough answers to pass high school science.  Reciting them without grasping that they are models of reality, myths, stories of a special sort, is to give science idolatry it does not warrant.

Science uses models, imaginary constructs, to piece together the world. The world (in science) means the stuff we can sense, directly or indirectly, or logically (and rationally) infer from what we sense.

If a child does not grasp the idea that the constructs of science are, in a real sense, stories, myths framed by specific parameters, the child will see science as facts, tidbits of truth, nuggets of knowledge. Trivia.

And we teach it as such. We trivialize science.

Why  is water wet? What does it even mean to be wet?

I spend a few messy moments in class asking my lambs to do a simple task. Take a handful of peat moss, toss it in a beaker, and wet it. What happens?

The lab benches get messy and wet, but the peat moss mostly stays dry. Why? Why does water roll off wax paper but sticks to cotton?  Why is water wet?

Now the question is not so silly. (Alas, it does not make my students any more likely to dive into the chemistry of water, but at least they have an idea what “wet” means.)

Next question. Why does my hand get moist when I hold it briefly over a flame?

“Simple, Dr. D! You sweat!”

I grab a cool beaker and flame the outside of it with a propane torch. It “sweats.”  I flame the metal faucet pipe—it immediately fogs up. Where does the water come from?

I could show them this equation all day long:

C3H8 + 5 O2 —> 3 CO2 + 4 H2O

I interpret it, which helps a bit:

Propane + oxygen => carbon dioxide + water

Seeing water rise from flame still startles me, every time I do this. Despite my training, or maybe because of it, I forget that chemistry is descriptive, not prescriptive. We put together the story after we gather what we see.

You cannot learn science as you would learn truths, or dogma, or religion. We see the shadows, then we make up the story. The story, however, must make sense. It must give us a way to grasp the shadows, to predict what the shadows will do next.errant horseshoe crab

The tide rises, the tide falls, no matter who tells the story, no matter what the story says.  Until the child can see the osprey, the water, the tides, the stories cannot make sense, no matter how scientific they sound, no matter how hard she studies.

~Michael Doyle


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…


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:


*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