Dangerously Irrelevant’s fifth birthday occurred quietly last week. After much soul-searching and a very helpful conversation with my CASTLE co-director, Justin Bathon, I decided to move the blog back to my own platform (as some of you may have noticed this morning).
I had moved to BigThink because I thought it might raise my profile and allow me to reach new readers. As I have mentioned (and been criticized for) before, I am unapologetic about wanting to spread my message to larger audiences. We have significant changes to make in our schools. For those of us who care passionately and want to influence others about what those changes look like, I don’t think we get there with small listener bases.
But the past six months have helped me clarify why I’m blogging and what I care about. In addition to being a space where I can have a voice, I always have viewed my blog as a listening station, a place for community and conversation, a learning platform, and a place for me to offer resources to others. Because I was embedded within a larger, different platform over at BigThink, I lost many of those things with the move. I thought the tradeoff of a larger, different audience would make up for it but I have come to realize that I probably will always need a space that is uniquely mine.
My move back shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock against BigThink. The folks there have been great. Their site was just named one of the top 50 web sites of 2011 by TIME magazine and next week they’re launching a new initiative, The Floating University, in conjunction with Harvard, Yale, and Bard. Even though it wasn’t a great fit for me as a blogger, I’ll still be a regular reader and encourage you to be one as well. There’s always something interesting right there on their home page.
For me, I’m back on WordPress. If you have any trouble accessing the site or the feed, let me know. Otherwise, thanks for bearing with me, both during this inward-looking post and during the transition to and from BigThink. I’m looking forward to the next 5 years (and more) of talking with and learning from you.
Image credit: Five
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Here’s an activity you can do with school administrators and teachers (and maybe school board members?). Total time: about 45 minutes.
Set-up (about 5 minutes)
Whem most folks think and talk about organizational change, they envision it in linear terms:
In reality, change in organizations looks more like this:
In other words, change occurs more gradually, particularly at the beginning as employees spend time wrapping their minds around desired changes, how to fit those changes into existing practices, what they need to get rid of or substantially alter, what they still retain, etc. Change always starts slow and takes a while to (hopefully) gather steam.
I heard a presentation by IBM a few years back in which managers explained that, as much as possible, the company tries to frontload a heavy dose of resources toward any new change initiative. The resource allocation curve essentially is a mirror image of the change curve, allocating heavy amounts of training and training time, money, support structures, etc. up front and then tapering off closer to the end once the desired change is well-established.
The goal is to actually shift the change curve to the left - accelerating sooner to the desired outcome – by allocating large amounts of resources up front.
Few schools have the resources of IBM, of course. As a result, the resource allocation curve looks more like this in most school organizations:
In most schools, then, we have a resource allocation gap of sorts, between what we typically provide and what we perhaps should provide:
This is one of the reasons that change in schools thus looks more incremental / evolutionary / linear rather than revolutionary / exponential.
Group work (about 40 minutes)
Obviously you could expand or modify this activity in a variety of different ways (if you do this, let me know how it went!). How would you change and/or improve this activity if you did it in your own school organization?
This is a must-watch video by Hans Mundahl, Director of Experiental Learning and Technology Coordinator at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire. Not only does Hans have a cool title (how awesome would it be if every school had a ‘director of experiential learning?’), he makes a mean video.
Check out Hans’ 3–minute clip below, where he tries to explain the value of social media to his school leadership team. Then check out the wiki page that resulted from his efforts. Nice work, Hans!
[hat tip to Jesse Moyer at The Future of Education blog for leading me to this]
As a school law instructor and tenured associate professor of educational leadership, I perhaps have a different view of tenure than most P-12 teachers. As we look to what the future of tenure may be, I believe that it’s important to recognize a few key issues that will shape the discussion and form of tenure in the years to come.
Before we begin, it may be helpful to have a quick overview of the history of tenure. Tenure was created to protect teachers against the personal and/or political whims of school administrators (and, sometimes, parents). Initiated by New Jersey in 1910, educator tenure laws gradually spread across the country. Today most states extend some kind of tenure protection to teachers. Protections typically vest for P-12 educators after two or three years in the profession, unlike their postsecondary counterparts, whose own vesting usually only accrues after six to ten years of probationary status. More recently, a few states have actually eliminated teacher tenure or discussed doing so.
So, with that background quickly covered, let’s get into the big issues. Note that the points outlined below don’t address whether or not teacher tenure is ideologically or educationally desirable. Instead, they highlight popular belief systems about the practice.
As a result of these and other issues, many Americans don’t really understand or support tenure. Instead, they see tenure as a refuge for incompetence and a platform for political lobbying that’s perceived as often being only marginally related to education. They wonder why the talented untenured teacher gets fired while the marginally-skilled veteran gets to take over her classroom just because she’s been around longer. They take the incredibly low teacher termination rates in most school districts and compare those to the number of poor teachers their children experience over the years. And they shake their head in dismay.
If you pulled aside your average non-educator American citizen and inquired about his support for tenure, I would venture that such support would be fairly low. In other words, I think it is safe to say that regardless of whatever benefits there still may be for teacher tenure, those arguments are losing in the court of public relations.
I don’t think the education profession is going to be able to withstand the lack of public support for tenure for too much longer. Teacher tenure is too easy a political talking point and too easy to mock with soundbites and statistics. Without compelling rationales for continuing the practice – ones that resonate both intellectually and emotionally with the American public and politicians – it’s only a matter of time before tenure inexorably disappears from the educational landscape.
So if tenure is worth preserving - and many think it is – the challenge for American teachers is to somehow address the issues delineated above and sway the American public back in favor. Right now, I don’t see that happening in any substantive way. Even if teachers made this a major PR push over the next few years, I think it’s an uphill battle.
Here are three quotes from Stefana Broadbent’s excellent TED Talk:
there are new, hidden tensions that are actually happening between people and institutions -- institutions that are the institutions that people inhabit in their daily life: schools, hospitals, workplaces, factories, offices, etc. And something that I see happening is something that I would like to call a sort of "democratization of intimacy."
And what do I mean by that? I mean that what people are doing is, in fact, they are sort of, with their communication channels, they are breaking an imposed isolation that these institutions are imposing on them.
And this has become such a cultural norm that we actually school our children for them to be capable to do this cleavage.
If you think nursery, kindergarten, first years of school are just dedicated to take away the children, to make them used to staying long hours away from their family. And then the school enacts perfectly well, mimics perfectly all the rituals that we will start in offices, rituals of entry, rituals of exit, the schedules, the uniforms in this country, things that identify you, team-building activities, team building that will allow you to basically be with a random group of kids, or a random group of people that you will have to be with for a number of time. And of course, the major thing: learn to pay attention, to concentrate and focus your attention.
This only started about 150 years ago. It only started with the birth of modern bureaucracy, and of industrial revolution.
every day, every single day, I read news that makes me cringe, like a 15-dollar fine to kids in Texas, for using, every time they take out their mobile phone in school. Immediate dismissal to bus drivers in New York, if seen with a mobile phone in a hand. Companies blocking access to IM or to Facebook. Behind issues of security and safety, which have always been the arguments for social control, in fact what is going on is that these institutions are trying to decide who, in fact, has a right to self determine their attention, to decide, whether they should, or not, be isolated. And they are actually trying to block, in a certain sense, this movement of a greater possibility of intimacy.
Our students - and our employees - are reappropriating their personal spheres. Good for them.
What is the biggest barrier to moving schools forward into a technology-suffused, globally-interconnected era? Our mental models of what schooling should look like.
Unfortunately, most educators, parents, and policymakers have no idea what it truly means to prepare students for this kind of world.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask ‘em.
Judy Jeffrey announced yesterday that she is retiring as the Director of the Iowa Department of Education. She has been a tremendous supporter of revamping the ways that Iowa schools do business. Her signature legacies may be the Iowa Core and the Authentic Intellectual Work projects, both of which focus on students doing higher-level cognitive work in Iowa classrooms. If we can get both of these implemented AT SCALE (the first is a statewide initiative but the second is only in a few pilot schools), we may actually move Iowa classrooms significantly in directions they need to go.
We are seeing progress on other needed fronts. The number of school districts in Iowa that are implementing 1:1 laptop projects has gone from 6 (2008–2009) to 15 (2009–2010) to perhaps as high as 40 next year (which would be over a tenth of Iowa districts). Some conversations about increasing online learning opportunities for Iowa schoolchildren (currently our offerings are quite meager) seem to be reopening. The discussions that are occurring among Iowa school administrators about moving their school systems forward seem much more robust than they did when I arrived in the state three years ago, thanks to the tremendous thought leadership and professional development that the School Administrators of Iowa has been providing on this front. I am hopeful that we will make some headway on some other essential building blocks that we need to put in place (see my post on educational technology policy priorities and my Iowa series).
Of course all of this could come to a screeching halt. A change in governors and/or the state legislature would bring new policy priorities. A change in Director brings with it the possibility of someone coming in with different beliefs about where the state education system should be headed. We need someone who can keep the momentum going. Who can take the ideas embedded in the Iowa Core and get them implemented well at the local level. Who can change the belief systems of Iowa educators and citizens about what schooling should look like. Who can find ways to facilitate the other necessary structural supports that need to be in place to create a system of schooling that prepares our graduates for the next half century, not the last half century.
I know who I’d like to see as the new Director (anyone got the Governor’s ear?!). How about you?
As school leaders, we have the responsibility to
and so on…
We can point fingers. We can blame others. We can rail against the system. But we must recognize that we are in charge of the system. In essence, as stewards of school organizations, we ARE the system. We create the system every day.
We must point those fingers inward. We must blame ourselves before we blame others. We must recognize the impacts of our own actions rather than always blaming external factors. Only then does real progress occur.
Principals, superintendents, curriculum directors, technology coordinators, and educational leadership professors: Are you ready to take responsibility for your own decision-making? Our students and staff deserve better…
[Inspired by yet another tale of woe by practicing educators about their poor leadership – and by my own recent failings as a professor.]
You can’t get to outer space with a rowboat. You need something with a little more oomph.
Neither can you get to genuine 21st century learning environments without putting a computer in every kid’s hands. Not just some of the time. All of the time.
Is 1:1 computing sufficient in and of itself? Will magic happen if every kid gets a laptop or a netbook? No, but it’s a necessary and essential condition without which the true magic never will occur.
Why aren’t you moving more quickly to get a computer into every student’s hands? (Yes, I mean you.)
Photo credit: Woman in rowboat
Yesterday I got the e-mail below. I watched the video trailer and made my contribution this morning. Crazy high school robots battling it out for engineering supremacy? How can you not support that?!
Hi Dr. McLeod,
For the past year I've been working on a documentary following high school robotics teams build combat robots for the National BotsIQ Championship.
My goal with the film is to be entertaining to all, yet motivational to students to get them involved in science and engineering (STEM) programs and for educators to see these alternate teaching methods. A lot of the teams featured are all girls teams.
I'm trying to raise funds to film the championship through a Kickstarter project. http://kck.st/bhzbBq
Basically this equates to pre-ordering a DVD. For educators I have a special offer that anyone who pledges $25 or more (DVD level) and forwards their confirmation email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I'll make sure they get an educational licensed version to show in classrooms.
I'm also working on an educational video (that will be on the DVD) on getting students (especially girls) involved in STEM programs, which I'd love to get input on from teachers to shape it so it works best for their needs.
If you would be able to post something about this, either on your website, Twitter, Facebook, etc., it would greatly help me reach my goal and make this the best film and project it can be.
Thanks for any help you can provide, feel free to ask me any questions. I have a special press area on the website for photos, videos, and other media.
Take care and talk to you soon.
“If institutional education refuses to adapt to the landscape of the information age, it WILL die and SHOULD die.”
The video is An Open Letter to Educators. Happy viewing!
Not sure how I missed this video last October but, in case you haven't seen it, here's You can't be my teacher. Happy viewing!
Civic Enterprises has released its latest study, Raising Their Voices, concerning America’s dropout crisis. What resonated with me the most was the voices of the students in the report. Here are some samples:
“To me, high school is like elementary and middle school. It’s all the same. We’ve been doing the same thing over and over again.”
“If you just fight your way through it now and get through school ... eventually it will be interesting when you get into your career field.”
“I’m going to be honest: school is really, really boring. I hate coming here.”
Issue 1: Student boredom
I hate coming here. If you just fight your way through it. The same thing over and over again. These are pretty damning words. They also are pretty common. As the report noted, many students view high school as something that must be tolerated as a stepping-stone to [something] better (emphasis added).
When’s the last time your school organization asked its students how interesting and engaging their classes were (and then took their responses seriously)?
Issue 2: Meaningful community discussion
The researchers brought together students, parents, and teachers in four different communities to collaboratively discuss the high school dropout program in their local area. In each case, individuals remarked that this was the first time that teachers, parents, and students had been brought together to talk about any issue, including the dropout crisis (emphasis added).
When’s the last time your school organization had teachers, parents, and students (and, yes, administrators) in the same room talking candidly and safely about important issues?
Issue 3: Disconnects between groups
The report noted that:
while dropouts cited boredom as the leading cause for dropping out, many educators we surveyed did not see this as the central cause. In fact, only 20 percent of teachers saw a student’s lack of interest in school as a major factor in most cases of dropout. More than twice as many believed students were making excuses for their failure to graduate. . . .
Additionally, although students said that higher expectations would have mitigated the factors leading to their dropping out, only 32 percent of teachers agreed that we should expect all students to meet high academic standards and graduate with the skills that would enable them to do college-level work, and that we should provide extra support to struggling students to help them meet those standards.
These disconnects exist everywhere, of course. No organization is immune from them. But perception shapes reality. If students say they’re bored and teachers just think students are making excuses and don’t reflect on their own instructional practices, the problem never gets solved.
When’s the last time your school organization intentionally worked to uncover and then meaningfully address existing cognitive, emotional, and perceptual disconnects between groups?
The Raising Their Voices study was conducted on behalf of the AT&T Foundation and the America’s Promise Alliance. The report illustrates the kind of conversations that can occur when you bring disparate groups of school stakeholders together. It also shows that disconnects between groups can be effectively bridged through structured dialogue and a spirit of mutual respect. The report includes recruiting instructions and a sample discussion guide to help schools set up their own local focus groups. As school leaders, we should do this more…
Conference organizers usually strive to have participants leave upbeat and energized at the end of the conference. I violated that rule on the last day of the ASB Unplugged conference in Mumbai, India.
Each of the February TEDxASB speakers had 3 minutes to speak to the audience. Scott Klososky’s segment with an American School of Bombay student was particularly awesome and I hope someone captured it on video.
In both of my two leadership workshops, I kept hearing variations of the same theme from the international educators in attendance. One participant summed it up:
I'm not sure you appreciate how far along are most of the schools here today. We're far from average in terms of our implementation of technology.
When it came to my 3 minutes, I just couldn’t keep quiet about this. So I said something like the following:
One of the participants in my morning session said that I didn’t appreciate how far along you all are and that you are way above average when it comes to integrating technology into your instruction. And yet, from my conversations with many of you over the past few days, it’s very clear to me that there still are many things you’re not doing.
For example, most of you have yet to put a computer in every kid’s hands; that’s why you’re here at this 1:1 conference. Most of you have yet to incorporate online courses into your curricula in any kind of substantive way. Few of you are teaching students to be empowered - not just responsible - digital citizens in our new information landscape. Few of you have a staff full of educators that are modeling active participation in that landscape. As far as I can tell, none of you has robust student assessments at every grade level that target higher-level, more cognitively-complex thinking and doing and being. None of you has moved to a truly personalized learning environment for every student, one in which students’ progress is facilitated and perhaps assessed by technology and is organized around student competence and completion rather than age and grade level.
So some of you are sitting there in the audience feeling pretty good about yourselves. And you should. You’re blessed with wonderful financial resources, fantastic facilities, and amazing faculty. But for those of you who think I don’t appreciate how far along you are, all I can say is that I'm not sure you appreciate how far you still have to go.
I’m still second-guessing my decision to use my final statement in this manner. Despite tempering my negativity with a fun follow-up Animoto of the conference, I still think I might have violated one of the cardinal rules of conferences…
This likely is my final post about my trip to India. Here are my previous posts:
One of the highlights of my time at ASB Unplugged this year was the opportunity to participate in TEDxASB. Here is my TEDx talk, Are schools dangerously irrelevant?. Other than saying ‘divergent’ instead of ‘convergent,’ I think I did okay.