Ed Tech Journeys Status

July 26, 2010

Below, find an excerpt from a chapter of one of my writing projects, “Zen and the Art of Teaching”. “My First Day” takes place in January of 1974. I offer this brief look at the beginning of my teaching career to my daughter Kate who will be student teaching this Fall, and to all aspiring educators who will someday step forward to lead their students on the incredible journey of learning.

If you enter the profession realizing that you are not just teaching a subject; but you are also teaching students; if you can grasp that you have as much to learn as your students do; if you can persevere through days like my first day, which was pretty much a blueprint for the rest of my horrible first year…

…then you will have taken the first, and maybe the most difficult, step on the path to professional mastery. There will be many lessons to learn as you progress through your career; but remember, you are not alone; many of us have shared your pain. If you open to self-reflection and learning; things will get  better.

My First Day

From “Zen and the Art of Teaching”

Pete Reilly

I remember vividly the forest of adolescent hands in the air, waving urgently at me, trying to get my attention during my first day in the classroom. It was mid-year and they had completely routed the young, female teacher who had preceded me. She had quit over the Christmas break.

I stood looking out at the class, pleased to be in charge, pleased to be in the front of the room, with all the authority. I called on one particularly harmless looking kid with jet-black hair that swung down to cover one eye and the side of his face.

He smiled nicely and asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

I knew this was a ruse. “No.” I replied.

“But I really have to go!” he said plaintively, clearly playing to his audience of peers.

“No” I repeated. “You had time to go between classes.” I was no fool. I knew the rules.

“But I Mrs. Rogers kept us after for a few minutes and my locker was stuck. I didn’t have time to go!”

I remained tough, “Not my problem. Just hold it for the rest of class!”

The class was clearly happy and entertained. I was not savvy enough to see that the longer this conversation went on, the more foolish I looked.

“Well, I have to go and I don’t think I can make it to the end of class!”

Now, how the Hell did I get myself into this, I thought to myself. There were giggles in the back of the class. This seemingly harmless student now pressed his advantage, effortlessly making an ass out of me.

“I have to go number one!”

Outright laughter from the class. I didn’t like being laughed at, “I said No, that’s enough! I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

I moved to call on one of the other hands that were waving to get my attention. I had gotten myself in a bit of a mess and it was time to get out; only I wasn’t really in control.

“Well if I go in my pants, then it’ll be your fault. You’re the one that’s gonna have to explain it to the Principal and my mother!”

Was it possible that I was making a mistake? What if he really did have to go? There truly wasn’t much time between classes. Why would he be so persistent about this if it wasn’t a real issue for him? Was it worth taking the risk with this student? This bathroom pass thing really was a bunch of bull anyway. There was silence in the classroom as I pondered Solomon-like in the front of the class. And then I broke down and blurted out in an exasperated tone,

“Okay! Go to the bathroom; but hurry up and get back here! No stopping anywhere.”

There, I had shown magnanimity and mercy, even though I didn’t have to. I looked into the face of my nemesis (what I could see of it) and I knew immediately I had been had. He had a vicious grin on his face, not the thankful look of one who had been saved from an embarrassing accident in class. He stood up, looked at the class victoriously, almost as if saying,

“Piece of cake! Too easy! We’re going to feed this guy to the dogs!”

He sauntered to the classroom door, opened it, and just before exiting smiled and waved to the class; who, for just a moment, were embarrassed for me. The door slammed shut behind him; a final insulting flourish.

I stood there breathless. I was aware that I had just been shown up, and humiliated, in front of the entire class. I gulped hard. Suddenly, a dozen hands shot up. The owner of one of the hands didn’t wait to be called on and shouted out,

“Can I go to the bathroom, too? I have to go! Real bad!”

Order had broken down. “Quiet! I shouted.

I was clearly frustrated. “No one else is going to the bathroom!”

“Why not? You let Tim go! How come he got to go and I can’t? I was in Mrs. Roger’s class too, and I got out late, too! It’s not fair!”

“Fairness has nothing to do with it! You’re supposed to go to the bathroom between classes, not during classes!” I spoke with all the authority I could muster.

“Well, I can’t help it if I have to go! My body doesn’t work on a bell schedule! When I need to go, I need to go!”

Actually, I had to hand it to this kid; he had a good point. “You didn’t have your hand up to go before I let Tim go. You can hold it.”

He shook his head, “Yeah, I guess I can hold it; but only for about 10 minutes or so. I ain’t gonna make it to the end of class. I know it.”

“That’s too bad!” I replied.

“Well you gotta explain to Mr. Ellis, (the Principal) why you let Tim go; but you made me stay and pee my pants!”

“No, problem! I’ll do that.” I said angrily.

“Yes, problem.” he replied. “You’ve got a double standard. Some kids can…”

“Stop it!” I shouted.

“I can’t help it. I gotta go!”

“I said, No. I mean, No!”

“Why? Why are you mad at me? I didn’t do anything. All I asked for was to…”

Suddenly, I cracked, “Go! Go! Get out of here! Hurry up!”

He jumped out of his seat and quickly left the room without any of the antics that Tim had displayed. I was definitely out played, out gunned, out smarted; and for the rest of the year I would pay the price.

Another student shouted out, “Can I go to my locker?”

Another, “What’s for lunch today?”

I felt like a surge of water swirling around the shiny porcelain before being swept down the toilet bowl. This may have been the high point of my first year of teaching. It got far worse, as the class continued to entertain themselves by torturing me, the way a cat toys with its prey, before killing it.


Shutting Down the Machine

March 13, 2010

My last post elicited a passionate response from David Truss advocating that we do more to support young teachers, ANY teachers, for that matter, that take the risks that are involved in transforming teaching and learning.

The educational machine is powerful and it can be unforgiving. A teacher who ignores the status quo will soon learn about ‘institutional homeostasis’. It might come in the form of scorn from their colleagues, admonitions from supervisors and administrators, or in the form of parents complaining because they want the same experience for their children as they and their own parents had as students. My first year teaching I experienced two of the three on the list.

So, what will it take to transform teaching and learning? What will it take to shut down the pleasant hum of the machine that is so good at turning out 20th century students even though we’re entering the second decade of the 21st century?

Leaders with Courage and Commitment!

I think this clip from Norma Rae is both inspiring and informing. In it, her supervisor, security police, and the factory boss himself, try to intimidate her. She gets fired from the job she holds so dear.

Norma is leading from the front, by example. Pushed over the edge, she takes action. She steps forward with no assurance that anyone will stand with her. Norma Rae puts herself on the line.

She is all in!

Whenever I see Norma Rae’s face, and the faces of her co-workers, I see fear and hope co-mingled. It inspires me to take a stand for what I believe in! By stepping forward with all she had, Norma Rae eventually gives others the courage to follow her lead.

When we set about following our hearts and doing what we think is right; we hope that what we are doing works, that other people see that it works, and that everything turns out for the best. Sometimes things work out and, unfortunately, sometimes they do not. We don’t have to look further than the assassination of Martin Luther King to understand that.

Leaders, whether they lead from the classroom or the district office, need to understand that there are powerful forces aligned against change.

So, it is our blessing and our burden to have the seeds of leadership in each of us.

There is no tiptoeing around this thing. Those who truly desire a transformation of educational system will have to endure many of the same trials and tribulations as those who fought and fight for change in other domains. While educational change agents may not endure the physical pain that so many activists experience; it should come as no surprise that some will be intimidated, or refused tenure, or shunned by colleagues.

If we are going to shut down the momentum of the educational machine, if we are going to transform the factory floor, we will need to be “all in”.

Courage and Commitment!

pete


Sonya Woloshen: New Attitudes, New Expectations

March 8, 2010

Sonya Woloshen is a relatively new teacher and she embodies an attitude that I believe is essential for the transformation of teaching and learning. She is fearless, she embraces technology, and she respects her students enough to trust and empower them. Sonya is an advocate for using students’ Personally Owned Devices’ (POD’s) aka cell phones, iTouches, iPods, etc., in her classroom.

David Truss conducted a three-part interview with Sonya and wrote about it eloquently on his Pair a Dimes for your Thoughts blog. The following is from Part Three of the interview.

As you listened to Sonya what was running through your mind? Were you thinking she was naive? or rather, that she was brave? Were you thinking that having an attitude like hers would never work with your kids, in your school? or that it just might be extremely liberating? Were you focusing on the obstacles involved, or the potential benefits?

Whenever someone steps forward to lead it’s interesting to reflect on our own reactions. I’d be interested in reading yours.

For me, Sonya has the ‘can do’ attitude that is so necessary for educational change to take hold. She combines this ‘can do’ attitude with a strong sense of how important it is for students to ‘own’ the learning, ‘own’ the tools, and ‘own’ the rules.

Sonya inspires me and gives me hope that a new wave of educators is coming; educators with new attitudes and new expectations.

pete


One to One Computing: A Daydream

March 1, 2010

I closed the cover of my Asus eee, tucked it into my backpack, and headed off to English class. I didn’t eat much for lunch today. I wanted to see the MIT lecture on Mitosis and Miosis because we were going to be spending some time on this in Science class this afternoon.

Lucky for me, Mrs. Woodruff’s class was just around the corner from the cafeteria where I had just finished lunch.Anyway, I wanted to get there early to ‘text’ Jamie Milledge, who was helping me build out my “Fahrenheit 451” wiki.

farneheit_451.jpg

Jamie would be up by now. I live on the East coast and she goes to school in Torrence, California. She is a major Ray Bradbury fan. We met up about a month ago when I found some of her science fiction writing on the Fan Fiction web page. Turns out she is the same age and studying “451” in her English class the same as me. We FaceBook each other all the time now.

I get to class and whip open my computer.
Jamie wassup?
Getting dressed.
Did you find the movie?
Yeah. Not easy to get.
Great.
What part do we want to use?
I love the RR tracks scene.
Where they all become their favorite books?
Yeah. So cool!
OK. I’ll upload it at lunch today.
You’re the best.

We chat until the class is ready to start.

Mrs. Woodruff is already leaning over a student helping them with whatever project they’re working on.

Last night I searched out some blogs that deal with “451″ and have added them to the RSS feeds in my aggregator. They may come in handy as we go through the book.

“Okay class, you can get into your teams now.”

Mrs. Woodruff speaks over the discussions that have already begun. I don’t know why she feels she has to say this every day because we never wait for her. We’re already in our groups.

Our group project is to build out a vocabulary blog for “451” . We each take a few chapters, find the more difficult words, and look them up online. Usually, when we do this we create a team blog where we post the sentence from the book that contains the word, as well as the definitions of the words. We organize it all by chapter. Here’s the vocabulary blog we did on our last book, “The Outsiders”.

(Courtesy of JIm Coe and Tom Woodward of the Bionic Teaching Blog)

This time, in addition to what we usually do, we decide to add some online photos from Flickr, drag them in Comic Life, and write the words used in funny contexts. Michael, our team leader, is really good at coming up with the funny stuff.

(This example courtesy of Jim Coe and Tom Woodward of Bionic Teaching)

After a bit, Mrs. Woodruff asks us to close our computers and report out on how we are doing. One group has done research on all the books that have been banned over the years. Marcy plugs into the projector and shows the Censorship website they’ve created. They’ve worked with the school library media specialist, and a number of outside organizations who are very anti-censorship. I’m surprised at some of the titles on the list. I copy the URL. I want to check it out when I get to study hall later today.

Another group shows the product they are creating in response to the “451″ WebQuest they were working on.

The other groups plug in to show their particular projects; but Terry’s group gets into trouble because they havn’t done much since the last time they presented. Terry says that they have been doing a lot of the work after school; but they havn’t had an online work session this week because a few of them had late sports practices. Terry’s team always has an excuse. The truth is they put in no effort. They do what they can during free time in school, but they almost never hold group work sessions at night. They’ve got to get themselves a better leader or they’re gonna get creamed at the end of the marking period.

I can’t wait to show the vocabulary site we created. Everyone laughs at Michael’s funny comments that are in the Comic Life bubbles. I also take a moment to show the “451” wiki site that Jamie from California and I have been working on. Believe it or not, Jamie has already uploaded a scene from the movie. I click on it and play a minute or so.

Mrs. Woodruff claps her hands, “Great job! guys. Now, let’s get to our writing projects.”

We all pull our desks back a few feet from the groups we were in so we can work on our own for awhile. I pull up the draft of the paper I have been writing from my virtual locker storage space. I’m working on an essay topic from an old Regents exam. I figure it’s good practice. We write in silence, saving frequently, as we have been taught to do. Mrs. Woodruff walks around giving some individual advice to different folks. I run my paper through the online Writing Evaluator. I like this because it picks up most of the simple mistakes I tend to make when I write. It saves Mrs. Woodruff some time, too.

“Class!” She says. We all look up. She walks to the SmartBoard in the front of the room and taps on it a few times. Up come the notes from last week. She enlarges the words THEME and PLOT.

“I see a number of you are getting theme and plot confused. What is the difference between the theme and plot?”

A few brave souls raise their hands.

“You know what? Rather than doing this verbally, I want you to e-mail me your explanations for homework tonight. Include the basic theme of “451” . I don’t need you to rehash the plot.”

Man, more homework.

Mrs. Woodruff continued, “We’re getting close to the bell, so just a reminder that I will be online for extra help on Thursday from 8:00pm till 9:00pm. Terry, I expect that at least one member of your team should be there. Your team needs lot’s of help.”

The bell rings. I sling my Asus into my backpack and dash out of the room. My science class is at the other end of the building; I’ve gotta hustle.

pete

This is a Re-Post from 2008.

It is a daydream. I’m sure there are many more creative ideas out there. The Asus and other products used in this post are for illustrative purposes only and not an endorsement.

The technology is transparent. The Asus is one of a number of sub-$500, mobile, wireless computers. WIreless access from everywhere in the school. VIrtualized desktops with access to all school applications and files from anywhere, including the home. Appropriate software. Engaged and empowered students AND teachers, learning both in school and outside of school, formally and informally, collaboratively and individually. Learning partners that extend outside the classroom.

Special thanks to Tom Woodward and Jim Coe, two groundbreaking educators from the Henrico schools who are making the daydream reality.


K-12 Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization

February 21, 2010

It’s time for K-12 schools to begin transitioning to “Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization”.

Why?

Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization have important educational and financial benefits. For the purposes of this post I am going to keep this very simple:

Whether educational tools and resources are located in the ‘Public Cloud’ or the ‘Private Virtualized Cloud’, they are accessible from anywhere, at anytime, via a web browser. This unlocks the resources of the school and makes them available 24x7x7. By doing so we extend learning opportunities and get more return on our software investment.

Schools utilizing this new paradigm are able to increase the number of computers available to students without increasing their budget because they can purchase less expensive devices. Because ‘Public Cloud’ and ‘Private Virtualized Cloud’ applications run on servers, the student device can be anything that can run a web browser, including a $300 Netbook, a $200 iTouch, or any Smartphone.

School IT support teams can be more productive because they are no longer maintaining dozens of educational applications on thousands of individual computer hard drives. The applications now reside on servers in the ‘Public Cloud’ or the ‘Private Cloud’. Since the software is on servers, software does not have to be ‘pushed out’ or ‘ghosted’ to every hard drive. The end-user’s computer accesses the servers and the new software and can use it immediately.

What first steps should I take?

Determine what applications and data you are comfortable having hosted in the Public Cloud, what applications will need to be hosted in your own Private Virtualized Cloud, and what applications will need to remain hosted on local hard drives. Remember that video and audio editing, computer programming, and some high end CAD applications may not be suited for the Public or Private Virtualized Cloud. Planning this hybrid environment is a great first step.

Make a commitment to subscribing to applications delivered from the Cloud. Begin researching alternatives to the software applications and resources that are currently loaded on your desktop hard drives. Whenever there are Web-based applications that are comparable to the hard drive-based applications, give precedence to the Web-based product even if it is not as feature rich and robust.

Begin planning the Private Virtualized Cloud by determining what desktop virtualization strategy you want to deploy:

The least expensive option called Client Virtualization allows for approximately (50) simultaneous users to share the server OS and whatever applications are being hosted.

Another option is called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). In this approach the entire end-user machine (Desktop OS, Applications, and Storage) is virtualized on the server. Obviously, fewer VDI desktops (approximately 20-25) can be hosted and run simultaneously on each server. This requires the purchase of more servers and OS licenses than in the Client Virtualization approach.

Although these are the main approaches to virtualization there are other strategies. In reality, most schools will likely employ both Client Virtualization and VDI strategies in their Private Cloud. The planning process will help determine which users use which strategy.

One final piece of advice as you begin this journey, find some independent technical experience and advice. Be careful here since Dell, HP, IBM. Microsoft, and others have connections with specific virtualization companies and thus, their specific virtualization strategies.

Here is a very thorough and well thought out article by Brian Madden on the topic:

“When to use VDI, when to use server-based computing”

Don’t stand still. Don’t be paralyzed by the new terminology or the seeming complexity. The benefits of the Public Cloud and the Private Virtualized Cloud are too important.

It’s time to begin the process of transitioning to the new paradigm.

pete


Beliefs and Change

February 14, 2010

I used to believe that I had all the answers and that the people around me who weren’t on board with my view of the world were subversive. They “Didn’t Get It” and I believed that they needed to be ‘fixed’ or ‘banished’. Not a great formula for building trust with others; and a great example of a belief that got in the way of being a successful leader.

I used to believe that older teachers were too set in their ways to embrace new technologies. Because of that belief I skewed technology deployments to younger teachers. What a great example of a self-reinforcing belief.

I used to believe that there was no way that the community would support large technology initiatives. A wonderful example of a belief that was limiting my vision and horizons.

Where did these beliefs come from? That’s an exploration for another post. What is important to note is that none of these beliefs were contributing to my success. In fact, they were undermining all my good intentions.

Beliefs are not ‘real’, they are not facts. They’re nothing more than constructs of our minds.

I like the example of two couples walking in the park at night. One couple believes that walking in the park at night is romantic. The other couple believes it is dangerous. Suddenly the wind blows. The bushes shake, the leaves scuttle along the sidewalk. The couple that feels walking in the park at night is dangerous experience fear. The couple that thinks the park is romantic at night experience the beauty of nature.

What we believe shapes our experiences. Our beliefs are like a pair of glasses that influence the way we see the world. Some beliefs are supportive and helpful. Others are limiting and not helpful.

As leaders we need to reflect on our beliefs. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because many of our beliefs our invisible to us. For many years I had no conscious awareness that I believed that logic and sound arguments were the way to get teachers to change their old habits and embrace the new ones I wanted them to adopt. I kept making logical arguments. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were successful in producing the outcome I wanted. I was simply acting the way I believed was ‘proper’.

It took many years for me to become aware of this invisible belief of mine. In fact, it was a leadership coach who helped me identify my belief and then to examine whether it was a useful belief or not. Through this process I developed a new belief, that it takes the heart, the mind, and the body; not logical arguments alone, to shift the behavior of others.

There are beliefs that we hang on to even if they do not serve us because we feel we have evidence that makes them ‘real and factual. For all of human history it was commonly believed that man could not fly. There were thousands of years of evidence for this. If Orville and Wilbur Wright had adopted this view of reality, this belief, they would never have experienced flight.

Unless we believe something is possible, the odds of it happening are slim.

Do you believe that one computer per child is possible? Do you think that teachers will shift their pedagogy to engage and empower students in constructivist learning? Do you believe that all teachers, regardless of age, will adopt technology if it helps them improve teaching and learning. Do you believe that you have the ability to inspire people to adopt difficult changes?

When you believe it, you will see it!


La Mancha and the Heart of a Teacher

February 9, 2010

When I think back to my days in the classroom the most important moments happened when I looked past the hardened sneer of a difficult student to see them as they really were. They were never what they seemed on the surface. Somewhere deep inside them there was something more. Of course, this inner spirit was often walled off and starved; and the more a student needed my help, the more they pushed me away. The one’s who needed love the most always seemed hardest to love. There were many, many days I lost sight of my students as people. I gave in and saw them as they wanted to be seen and not as they truly were.

I believe it is essential for teachers to have the heart of ‘Don Quixote’, the Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote sees the beauty in life; and he sees the inner beauty of the people around him including Aldonza, a hard hearted and angry whore. Quixote sees her as Dulcinea, a virtuous lady, and treats her as such. Aldonza rejects Quixote’s vision of her. She insists she is nothing. She can deal with anger but not with tenderness.

Quixote’s response? “Never deny that you are Dulcinea!”

I wish every teacher could see the best that lies hidden in their students. I wish every teacher would  do their best to bring that ‘best’ to the surface.

The classroom is a complex organism. It is composed of many, many unique individuals, each with their own set of experiences, each on a journey to find their place in the world. It’s easy to lose the heart of Don Quixote and to simply deal with the world as we see it. Near the end of his life even the Man of La Mancha lost faith in his own quest to see others as their best selves.

In fact, it is Aldonza, the most hardened of souls, that finally begins to see herself as Quixote has seen her. She feels the good soul within her. It is Aldonza, the student, who revives Quixote, the teacher, from his despair.

Don Quixote has touched the soul of Aldonza. She will never be the same. No longer a whore. She is Dulcinea, the lady.

May the heart of La Mancha burn in the heart of every teacher. May we open our eyes to the Dulcinea’s and the Quixote’s that enter our classrooms every day. May we help them see the goodness within them.

pete


New Tools – Same Leaders

January 29, 2010

Here are a few topics from an upcoming Ed Tech Leadership Conference:

Teacher Observations with iPod touch

Productivity Tools for Administrators

Internet Awareness, Safety and Ethics for Administrators

Visit to the School of Tomorrow, Today!

Walk the Walk: Using Technology to Lead Others

Podcasting for Administrators: From Storyboarding to Publishing

Leading with Movies: Using Video Clips to Inspire and Motivate

Students, Parents, Teachers and Administrators: Communicating and Collaborating Through Technology

Leading the Charge to 21st Century Skills

Enticing Administrators to Enhance Their Technology Skills

Using Technology to Streamline Administrative Tasks and Enhance Collaboration

I respectfully submit that, by themselves, the breakout topics from the Ed Tech Leadership Conference miss the mark.

If I am an administrator that is a control freak; or a micro-manager, or just the opposite ( I never followup); if I am a an administrator that doesn’t take responsibility when things aren’t going well; but takes all the accolades when things do go well;  if I am afraid to take risks; or if I am a political animal that wants to look good above all;  if I am someone who is super judgmental and negative about the people I work with; if I talk behind people’s backs; if I am not organized;  if I don’t listen well;  if I am motivated only by my own agenda; if I say one thing and do another; if I am easily thrown into overwhelm and panic…(the list goes on)

and/or

If the staff distrusts administrators; or there is an “us and them” feeling; if there is a destructive ‘triangulation’ present and people don’t talk candidly with one another, if teachers are overwhelmed, if there is a confusing mix of ‘important’ priorities; if the Teachers’ Association is at odds with any new initiatives; if people are satisfied with the status quo…(the list goes on)

An ineffective leader using the latest tools will remain an ineffective leader.

In my experience developing leaders and transforming organizations requires developing people.

If we are going to transform teaching and learning, we need a new generation of innovative and transformative leaders who can make it happen.

I realize it’s not an either-or issue. We need leaders who understand and use technology AND we need real leadership development. 

But where can an administrator go to develop their own leadership skills? Where are these innovative and transformative leaders that we need going to come from? Is it any wonder that without them major educational change is so slow in coming?

Will we ever transform education if we keep focusing on the ‘bright, shiny things’ and keep ignoring the difficult task of developing leaders? Not managers. Not supervisors. Not administrators; but Leaders.

It’s time for us to get serious.

Effective leadership is very rare. It doesn’t have to be.

pete


Haiti

January 16, 2010

I rarely share personal information in my posts, but given the devastation in Haiti, I am making an exception. I traveled to Haiti in 1991. I was part of a work team that had raised money for materials and was going to build an addition to the teachers’ quarters outside an elementary school. The school was in Cabaret (formerly Duvalierville during Papa Doc’s time)  about a half hour from Port Au Prince.

This is how we found the job site. The teachers lived in those existing concrete squares outside the school with no electricity, bathrooms, or runnng water.

This was our Haitian forman. He was a formidable worker. He wore me to a frazzle.

The temperature was over 100 degrees each day and shade was coveted.

We poured a concrete floor and built the concrete columns that would carry the roof of the addition.

Unloading a truck full of precious (and heavy) construction materials.

Now were making progress.

The beautiful students who visited us whenever class was out.

They were super friendly and spending time with them helped reinforce why we were there.

I couldn’t get enough of these guys.

My first day in Haiti, touring Port au Prince. Found a nice basketball game in the park.

After work we visited the hospital in Port au Prince.

This little one was so small and so sick.

A dedicated young doctor educates us on the challenges she faces daily.

My prayers go out to all the Haitian people and especially to the children, the teachers, the men who labored with us in the sun, and the doctors who work so hard in such difficult conditions.

pete


Transformative Change

January 7, 2010

“For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
- From the National Educational Technology Plan

There are several elements involved in transformative and systemic change. First, there is the content of the change message; second, is the condition of the audience who will be receiving the message; and third, is the the condition of the person who will be delivering the message and leading the change.

For the purpose of today’s post, let’s pretend we all agree on the content of the message. We believe that technology can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning so that students are more active and engaged in their learning. Now, let’s explore the environment into which this message, or any message of change, is being delivered.

The Environment- We all know that a school building culture can be complex environment and like any organization one description of the culture does not fit all. However, it is clear that some buildings, over the years, have devolved into an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. The ‘us’ being the teaching staff and the ‘them’ being the administration. In these situations there is a feeling that administrators are nothing but political animals who want to look good; but don’t understand or truly care about how difficult the teacher’s job is, nor are they fully supportive of the staff. There is little trust.

or

The building may be experiencing destructive levels of triangulation on a daily basis. The Principal holds a faculty meeting, or the technology committee or the curriculum committee holds a meeting and the staff participates; but as soon as the meeting breaks, there are people in the hallways or lavatories complaining about the Principal, the presenter, the committee chair, other members of the team, or the entire committee process. Rather than raising these issues in public where they can be discussed and remedied, they are relegated to private conversations. When people aren’t being candid with one another it erodes trust.

or

The teachers are open to the leader’s message; but they are overwhelmed. There are multiple initiatives going on and many committees meeting. The teachers feel like they cannot take on another thing. They don’t have the time or the intellectual shelf-space for another ‘high priority item’.

or

There may be a few staff members who are not meeting the teaching profession’s basic standards. In some cases these folks have been ignored and tolerated for years because engaging them will take an enormous amount of effort and has the potential to generate lots of political controversy.

or

The pedagogy in many classrooms within the building, especially secondary classrooms, is fairly traditional: teachers have the answers, they follow the curriculum, they talk a lot, while students listen and then take written tests. Also in the realm of pedagogy and transformation falls the ‘personality driven classroom’, where teachers who like to exert control or be the center of attraction find that the personality traits that have made them so successful, do not serve them as well in a more creative, project-based, student-centered classroom.

The point here is that bringing a visionary technology message, or systemic change initiative into these building cultures will be exponentially more difficult than bringing the same message into a building with a healthy, trusting, culture that has shared values and a shared vision.

“When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can’t just legislate more rules and regulations,” says Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.”  “You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the  inside, inspired by shared values.”

Tthere are many elements of existing building cultures that need to be addressed before we can move ahead with transformative technology initiatives. Think of it as tilling the field before planting a new seed. We need to deal with existing building cultures so that our staffs are open to creating a new shared vision and implementing it.

The Leader - Last, but not least, there is the messenger; the leader. How prepared is the building administrator to lead systemic and transformative change? No doubt a challenge like shifting a building culture and introducing systemic change will be the challenge of a lifetime. Have we trained for this? or are we stepping up to the starting line of a marathon without having done any roadwork ahead of time?

If the building leader is like most of us, he learned on his own, and through his studies as part of his graduate certification program. There were courses in School Administration, School Law, Business Administration, Personnel Management, Supervision of Instruction, and School-Community Relations.  He read, he attended class, he discussed, he wrote, and occasionally he presented; but little of his certification work had to do with leading transformative and systemic change.

Take just one of the scenarios above…If there is even one staff member who everyone in the building knows is not doing their job and the leader ignores them and lets them continue with business as usual, how much credibility will he have when he lays out his vision for the future? The staff will look at him and say to themselves, ‘Sure, he says he wants to make this school ‘world class’, ‘the best it can be’; but he turns his eyes away from the people who aren’t doing their jobs because it’s too much work to confront them. It’s too politically risky. Why should we stick our necks out if he won’t?” They’re right. In order to build trust with the staff the leader has to walk his own talk.

I am not trying to discourage us from moving forward. I have designed my life to help lead the effort; but if  we are serious about transforming teaching and learning, we need to get serious about identifying the enormous challenges we face; and once we have done so, we need to take some serious steps to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to meet them.

It’s my belief that we’ll never get there if we continue to prepare our leaders in same manner as we have in the past. As the National Educational Technology says…”leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

Where will these leaders come from?

pete


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