Category Archives: leadership

“It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”

A few tidbits

I haven’t had a lot of time to write these days.  School is winding down and end-of-year details are winding up: budgets, purchasing, NCLB applications, and many, many events.  I wanted to share a few things that I’ve read and watched lately:

The first, in following with the end-of-year theme, is the commencement speech by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m a big fan of hers.  I really enjoy the humor she injects in to her writing (and this speech) as well as the content she writes about.  If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, I highly recommend it.  Here’s a quote (from the more serious side of her speech):

In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.

The second piece is a video called “Learning to Change” by the Digital Arts group at the Pearson Foundation for CoSN.  It’s another video that you should show to  teachers and stakeholders in your schools.  Take a look:

Now what?

I’m sitting in the Philly airport with about 40 minutes left on battery. My brain is overflowing with thoughts and ideas that I’ve taken away from EduCon 2.0. Though I still need time for reflection, I have four main takeaways from Philly:

1. The students: What ever we do, it’s got to be about the students. We need to listen to them, have conversations with them, and help them develop. That work was quite evident at SLA. I was amazed at the number of students that took part in the weekend – SLA students “worked” all weekend manning video cameras, taking part in the sessions, setting up lunch, keeping us full of coffee and donuts, and more. When they were called randomly for their input, they gladly (and comfortably) gave it. You could tell that they felt part of the culture of the school and they were proud of it. (Nice work Chris and all the SLA teachers).

2. Keep having the conversations: We are all agents of change and we need to engage with others in our schools in conversations about teaching. Change will not happen quickly (probably slower than we wish), but it will not happen if we don’t keep talking the talk and walking the walk.

3. F2f conferences are necessary for re-energizing: EduCon2.0 came at the right point in the year for me. I was a little worn down and frustrated from the lack of adoption or even the lack of interest in adopting new tools by some teachers in our school. Going to EduCon2.0 pumped me back up again, gave me renewed hope, and a confirmation that what I am doing is not only important and worthwhile, but also necessary.

These are all thoughts I want to expand on later, but I wanted to get this on “paper” before my flight home.

Thanks again to Chris and company for all of their work on this wonderful conference.

21 C Learning Goes Mainstream

Recess in the SnowA recent article in Time Magazine has brought the idea of 21st century learning to the mainstream media. The article raises the idea that the traditional school learning – in rows, listening, note-taking – is a very antiquated one, preparing individuals for an industrial world. The article goes on to say that schools need to adjust their expectations in order to produce global learners. This article is not news to many educators (especially those of you who read blogs), but it is a refreshing piece to see in a mainstream magazine – it caught the attention of some of my administrators.

But that article got me thinking: when I try to bring these ideas into my school, there are several obstacles to overcome (just to name a few):

1. Acceptance. Teachers must understand (and accept) that this is a real issue. They have to let go of the fact that the way they were taught is not necessarily the best or the only way to teach. I am constantly amazed by this attitude – I have found it in teachers of all generations.

2. Who should change first? As a college prep institution, we feel we have the responsibility to teach kids skills, habits, and techniques that will help graduates go on to college. This is a good theory but many college and university are teaching kids through lecture style and not incorporating any global learning/21st century skills. If we blink before colleges, will our students have trouble succeeding in college?

3. Transition. Once teachers accept that 21st century learning is important, how do we help teachers change their curriculum and pedagogy? Do we give them some sort of map that will help them begin to move their classes to the 21st century. Do we let them discover this? Whatever the answer, it will take time and that’s something we don’t have enough of in school.

4. Leadership. I fully believe that in order to make some of these changes, I need buy in from our administration (and I am not there yet). I don’t need a cheering squad – administrators that tell me I’m doing a good job and say they understand the developing 21st century skills – I need administrators who use this stuff, actually experience the importance of them first-hand.

The last obstacle is one that I am focusing on this year. I have requested some time with our administrators to do some trainings (or at least one) on tools that will help them with their jobs – RSS, GoogleDocs, Skype. I’d like to give them some tools to try and use and see the value in their own jobs so they can then see how they can contribute to student learning. I have yet to get that training time but I’m still working on it. Until then I will keep working with individuals on the faculty as they request it.

photo: “Recess in the Snow” (CaptPiper on Flickr )

Retreat Reveiw

It’s been a whirlwind few days with not much time to sit but I just wanted to write a few notes about our faculty retreat on Monday. Overall, a success. First off, the “technology” part of things went without a hitch – the network, the laptops, the email server. I had to do little or no tweaking along the way – major relief. Secondly, the day was received very well and most comments from the day were extremely positive.

It started with “Dialog A” – a conversation about Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do – we had that conversation in three different modes: a live, f2f conversation; an online chat, fishbowl style; and a group of “bloggers” responding to prompts on a blog.

In the second part, “Dialog B”, we had a live, f2f conversation with five people involved in the chat and five bloggers and they were talking about their experience in Dialog A. The rest of the group was split into 2 online chat groups, fishbowling that conversation.

Finally, in the last session, we had a live group talking about good teaching and how technology supports it while the rest of the group was blogging response to a summarizing post from our Head of School who had observed all facets of our first 2 dialogs. whew.

You can imagine the chats were a little chaotic – faculty members who had never been in a chat, trying to type and process all at the same time. They did well, some were frustrated and just sat back to observe; some tested the waters a bit and admittedly got better at it by the end. Those that happened to be in a chat group back-to-back said it got a lot easier by the second chat. I have to admit that we made the chat groups too big – there were about 9 or 10 in a group – there probably should have been 4 or 5.  Those that blogged really liked it and immediately could see it’s benefit in the classroom.

Of the comments we received at the end of the day, one really struck me. Part of their comment read:

I somewhat resent the fact that I read and underlined the d–n book and never got an opportunity to discuss it!

I guess for this person the day went right over their head – their idea seemed to be that if they weren’t involved in a live dialog, then no dialog occurred.  Oh well, I guess we can’t hit everyone the first time.

We had a wiki to record the day and serve as a resource for the school year.  Our hope is that the “good teaching” blog we set up for the day will serve us all year as a place to continue the conversation we started.  Take look.  We welcome and encourage outside voices to join us in this conversation.

Horse before the cart?

I haven’t had much time to write these days. I’ve been knee-deep in preparing for the return of faculty (and students). Lots of technical work – hanging projectors, reimaging computers, turning over databases. Not really the most stimulating work but I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve been focusing on our upcoming retreat for Upper School faculty. The form of the day has changed slightly but the approach is the same — get faculty talking about what makes good teaching and how can web 2.0 tools help promote it. The day will be mostly conversational using three different modes – live f2f conversation, online chat, and blog/reflection. We will use these conversations to kick-off a “good teaching” blog which we hope faculty will contribute to throughout the year. We will also use a wiki to archive our chats, notes, and other resources from our retreat.

I am looking forward to the day (Monday). I think it’s a good way to start the year. The book we read (Ken Bain’s, What the Best College Teachers Do) was interesting and affirming. I think it will really help drive the tone and content of the conversation. I do wonder whether there will be enough of us with knowledge about these communication/web 2.0 tools to talk about them and get others interested in using them to promote “good teaching”.

Introducing technology to teachers in this way is unique.  We have tried to do  skill workshops with departments and small groups of faculty, but only the interested attend.  If we require everyone to attend, there are many that just don’t get it – too abstract.  In this model, we are trying to get to faculty through the idea of best practice. Will they go for it?  Not sure, time will tell.  But my guess is that we may intrigue some members that were not interested by the skills based workshops.

I  am interested in everyone’s posts about their professional development experiences at the beginning of the school year – Jeff U., Karl F.Stephanie S., just to name a few.  We all are working on something a little different but our message seems to be the same – “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning”.  I hope this is a good start to the year for everyone and I hope little by little we get our message out.

College prep, required skills, and other results

“We have to prepare our students for college work.”, “These students are not learning how to take notes.” “These tools undermine our study skills.”, “Are students achieving more as a result of learning with these tools?”

These are just some of the comments and questions I have run into again and again as I promote more use of technology in the curriculum. That’s why I was intrigued by Will’s post last week on web 2.0 making it’s way into colleges. I often wonder how much current high school students will use these new technologies in their classrooms at college. My impression is that certain college professors are embracing these technologies but, like the k-12 arena, it’s hit or miss.

For now, we still have to prepare our students for exams and term papers but I think we can mix that in with new pedagogies which embrace the use of a technology integrated curriculum. Over time I hope to see this divide narrow and there be a more consistent set of skills between high school and college and life, for that matter.

I really like the new NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) for Students developed by ISTE (in collaboration with many, many people). I hope these 21st Century skills can be embraced by educators of all grade levels as a good road map for looking forward in education. David Warlick framed it nicely when talking about a recent presentation he made:

In it, I suggested three converging elements of what we do, and how, through the shared electrons of those elements (if I might carry the metaphor a little further), we might generate the energy that we need to drive learning in flat classrooms, turning them into learning engines.

Those elements are:

  • We are preparing children for a future we can not describe
  • We are preparing children, who as a generation, are enjoying a rich information experience outside-the-classroom.
  • We are preparing children within a new and dynamic information environment with new qualities that seem ready made for teaching and learning.

Well put, David. As educators, we need to understand and experience these tools that our students are growing up with. We have to be willing to learn about them and to use them. After that, we can choose not to use them but that choice has to be made after learning/using them.

Rethinking Professional Development

In digesting some of the summer blog posts (too many to name at this point – but Scott McLeod may have started the conversation about a month ago with this post), I have realized that I have totally failed in part of my job. I’ve been quite focused on getting the teachers and students to utilize the new web technologies but I have not pushed these tools with administration and business side of the school. And now I understand these tools (especially RSS and social networks) are extremely important in doing their jobs. They are the key in making connections and networking. When you are the only business manager, development officer, or whatever manager in a school, you need to go beyond the walls of your school to find people who have similar days to you, who think like you, who solve problems like you do.

I have put administrative training at the top of my to do list this school year. Specifically, I want to introduce them to RSS and blogs.  Of course, (ideally) this will serve two purposes: One, help them network, learn, and make connections.  These tools are becoming increasingly more important in professional development.  People who do not tap into these technologies may fall behind those who do.  And at a time where going off-campus to meet other colleagues f2f at conference becomes harder to do, we need to embrace these technologies that help us do just that from our desks.

Two, once administrators begin to use these tools they will begin their power and their potential when used in the classroom, which can only increase the awareness around campus.  I know that one workshop will not be enough – it will probably take several follow-up sessions for some. I think even after that some will still not understand the power of these connections.

I had a conversation with a colleague last week who said of blogs, “what do I have to say that others would want to read?”  He had missed the idea that blogs are conversations, not soapboxes, and through these conversations we make meaningful connections.

So, as I look to the fall (which is not so far away), I begin to gather pieces for some professional development workshops for administrators. If you have suggestions out there, please send them my way.