Category Archives: Managing School Operations and Resources

Sometimes We Just Need To Ask

What’s your dream job? Have you ever been asked?

As a principal and vice principal, nearing the end of every year, when when our leadership team would look at staffing, we would send out an email to all staff and ask them, “As we are currently undergoing staffing, we were wondering if you could describe your dream position next year, what would it be?”  Obviously, there was only so much we could do if you said astronaut or reality tv personality, but in the context of the school, we wondered what opportunities could we create.

What was important in asking this question, was simply, asking the question.  We could not guarantee that we could create the job that you wanted, but if we encouraged people to share what they had dreamed of doing, maybe we could?  As an elementary principal, I remember one teacher saying that although they loved working with grade five students, they would really like to work with kindergarten or grade one students.  The crazy thing was we had a grade one teacher, that wanted to work with our older students.  A simple swap was made, and both did amazing at their jobs, and unbelievably grateful for the opportunity.

Another teacher shared how much he loved teaching one subject and wasn’t too passionate about the other.  They loved working with students but really wanted to be passionate about the subjects they taught.  A couple of adjustments and it was done!

I also remember our grade two teacher at the time saying, “My dream job is teaching grade two and I get to live it every single day, but I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you asking in the first place.”

Giving people the opportunities to try something new or pursue something they love is not something we should only value for our students, but also our staff.  Sometimes people are afraid to share what they want because they didn’t even know it was a possibility in the first place. The way we saw it, was that if we can move people into positions where they feel most passionate about what they are doing, they are more likely to be successful as individuals, elevating the organization as a whole.  What was surprising was how many times we could actually accommodate the requests.

I wouldn’t have known that in the first place, and that is why we asked.

Understanding and Removing Barriers

Grant Wiggins, a visionary education reformer who has made a tremendous impact now and will continue to do so even after his recent passing, and was one of the developers of “Understanding by Design” (with Jay McTighe), shared a powerful “guest” blog post of a learning coach mirroring two students for a day each in her school (it was later acknowledged to be written by Alexis Wiggins).  Here was the initial plan for the process from Alexis:

As part of getting my feet wet, my principal suggested I “be” a student for two days: I was to shadow and complete all the work of a 10th grade student on one day and to do the same for a 12th grade student on another day. My task was to do everything the student was supposed to do: if there was lecture or notes on the board, I copied them as fast I could into my notebook. If there was a Chemistry lab, I did it with my host student. If there was a test, I took it (I passed the Spanish one, but I am certain I failed the business one).

The post was telling as it shared how much Alexis struggled through the process of “being a student”, and it led her to the following three key takeaways:

    1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
    2. High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.
    3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

Now the point of sharing this is not to challenge the ideas that she shared (as this is from the perspective of her school at the time), but to think about the process.  This is not the norm for many students in schools around the world, but as leaders, how do we know this?  Do we often make assumptions in what is happening in our school, or do we actually experience something different?  One of the toughest groups to teach in the world is other teachers, and to go from that viewpoint, some of the expectations we have on our students, is not something we could handle for an hour, let alone, a full day.  The one quote from the blog post that really resonated for me, was when the student was asked about her perspective in class:

I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said no.

I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, and how little of their learning they are directing or choosing.

Can you imagine going to a place every day where you felt your voice didn’t matter?  That part shook me.

The power of this post was not only in what was written by the author, but also the comments (there were 285 as of the time that I referenced this article and probably they will continue to receive more), that came from a variety of people, including students and educators.  The comments had a range of stories shared from personal experiences as a student, and struggles to accommodate something different as a teacher.  The reality of the learning environments that happen in our classrooms, are that they are not only created by the teacher, but the entire school.  If this is what school looks like for our students, what are we doing as leaders to help support to create something new?

The Impact of Our Decisions

One of my own thoughts as a central office administrator, was to be in our schools as much as often, to support our educators.  If you really love education, this can never happen enough, but I saw this as crucial to the work I was doing.  If my decisions had an impact on classrooms, then I better experience and see the impact of those decisions.

What I would often do is take my laptop and sit in a classroom in a school for anywhere between three to six hours, where I would get to the point that the teachers and students did not even notice I was there.  That way I could really see what their experiences looked like.  What I struggle with in our mobile world, is how reluctant we are to take our computers as leaders and do some of the administrative work in our classrooms?  I could answer my email a lot faster in my quiet office, but there are so many reasons why I would rather do it in the classroom.

What needs to be clear in this process is that I was not there to evaluate the teachers.  In fact, it was more to evaluate the environment that was created by the school district.  What I had noticed is how much “other stuff” teachers had to do, to make things work.  Whether it was going through an arduous logon process with students, or constant issues with WiFi, they looked less like teachers, and more like magicians.  From an IT department perspective, Internet is often “fast” and the logon process is quick, but times that by 20-30 students in a classroom (if you are lucky), and you have many frustrated educators that go above and beyond to create powerful learning opportunities for our students.

If we want “innovation” to happen in our schools, we have to be willing to sit in the environments where it is going to happen, and be able to not only discuss teaching and learning, but also do everything in our power to remove barriers from those that we serve.  One of the things that I have noticed in education is that we do not need “managers”, but we need “leaders”.

The truth is we need both.

We need leaders to have a vision of where we can go in our schools, but the “management” part is about making sure we have what we need to get there.  Stephen Covey (paraphrased) said that we manage things, but we lead people.  The educators that we serve, need the “things” to work if we truly want to create a “culture of innovation”, and support in creating an environment that we would truly want to be in as a learner ourselves.

If you have the choice, shouldn’t they?

As someone who often leads professional learning opportunities, it is always interesting to try to take notice of the little things that are happening in the room, and then some of the comments that are made regarding student learning and learning environments.

Lately I have noticed the variance of devices and tools that are used by adults in the room.  Although most people are working on either laptops, tablets, or smaller mobile devices (or often a combination of two to three of those things), you will still see several people using a notebook and pencil/pen.  A lot of times, it is not that they aren’t comfortable with using a device, they just prefer a pencil.  Sometimes I will talk with them in front of the larger group, and ask them if they think that I have a problem with them using a pencil, while promoting the use of digital tools?  They often look stunned that I would ask, but realize that I have no issue with what they decide to use.  What I do say though is that I would have an issue with them saying that a student could not use a device that worked for them.  It is not only about having access to a tool, but the choice that is allowed in the first place.

Sometimes a student will choose a pencil and sometimes they would prefer a mobile device, but do we allow them the same choice that we would want afforded to us? Yes, some students will totally be off task from what is happening in the classroom, but so are many adults, whether they are “engaged” or not.  It is not about making blanket rules, but seeing these opportunities as teachable moments, or understanding that all of our brains need a break.

Taking a kid’s pencil away because they used it in an inappropriate way rarely happens because many teachers see it as an inconvenience to themselves. When will we see taking mobile technology away from our students in the same light?

So even if students have the choice, do they have the option?  Schools out there will talk about how they have access to a few desktops in the classroom, or are able to bring in carts, but not necessarily using a BYOD model because they are worried about the inequity that it would bring.  What we need to do is aim for equity at the highest level instead of the lowest.  If you have several students in your classrooms that do not have access to their own technology on a consistent basis, how do you rethink your budget to provide something the have constant access to?  It will not be by replenishing your “computer lab”, but perhaps thinking differently about how that room could be used and how we could ended up getting more devices in the hands of more students.

One of the schools that I worked with in the past year decided to make their old computer lab into a “Starbucks” room that had different levels of seating and was much more of a welcoming learning environment than what the computer lab had been in years prior.  Not only did they go with mobile technology that could be at the point of instruction, they also created an environment that teachers in the school wanted to recreate in their own classrooms.  If you experience something better, you are more likely to implement something better.  This is what that school wanted to create in the “Starbucks” room.

What many schools have now and what many schools want are very different.  This is where the “innovator’s mindset” is crucial.  Expecting to do everything that you used to do in schools and now adding laptops or tablets is not a viable option.  It is not about doing more, but thinking different.  What is crucial though is thinking about how we, as adults, would hate not having the choice of what tools we use for learning, and thinking about how we can create those same opportunities for our students.  Is it okay in our world now for a student to only realize they love using a tablet for their learning once they leave school?  Schools need to not only help students learn, but also help them realize how they learn best.  That will make a much larger impact long past their time in our system.

It’s not always about the decision, but often about how the decision was made.

If you have read this blog before, you have known that I am repetitive on the notion that innovation starts with the question, “what is best for kids?”  We have to do our best to make this a focal point in our decision making, and although it seems redundant to say it so often, sometimes it is forgotten about in our work.

Many schools are pushing new technologies in their schools/districts, to really try to focus on helping students become successful in our world today.  The idea of moving forward, is important, and I think more now than ever, schools are trying to put the tools in place to support staff and students.  Yet I have noticed resistance in the “tools” that are being implemented, since the decisions are made are often from a “top-down” approach, as opposed to a focusing on a servant leadership perspective.

A colleague shared a story with me about two competing technologies that were discussed at a conference in sessions that followed each other.  One of the observations that he made in attending both sessions was that in one room, it was mostly IT department staff, and in the other session, it was mostly educators.  The disconnect between what educators want, and what is actually implemented, happens far too often in schools.

For example, having a suite of tools that central office suggests will be great for teachers, with little or no input from teachers and students is a top down approach that often irritates many educators, no matter how great the “suite” may be.  Learning should always be the primary focus, and then you figure out what technology would support that, not the other way around. You will never make all people happy, but not trying to make as many people as comfortable and empowered in the process as possible with decisions that directly impact teaching and learning, is not a good approach.

Consensus is not always necessary the answer, but a collaborative approach should be the standard.  It is especially hard to ask teachers that work with technology the most or serve in the professional learning of other educators to “champion” tools that they dislike or don’t believe in themselves, especially if they have had no input.  If you can’t get your “champions” excited, good luck with the reluctant learner. (By the way, if you ask for input, get it, and go the same way you were going to go in the first place, don’t waste the time of others.)

The best IT departments that I have worked with focus on questions that directly impact teaching and learning, and find answers in conjunctions with those on the “front lines” working directly with students. The model exudes servant leadership as they start with an empathetic mindset that helps to figure out what will make an impact on learning.  Our IT departments are experts and crucial leaders in creating better environments for our learners, yet is there a focus on implementing with a “top-down approach” or a “bottom up” mindset?  The best leaders remove barriers and unleash talent, not try to control it. The “decision” is often not the issue, but more often, it is the approach in how the “decision” was made.

Leadership is a tough position, where you will always disappoint someone, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made.  But if leaders aren’t open to listening, we often lose the people who would have been our biggest advocates.  As a leader, it is not about “your decision” or “my decision”, it is about making the “best decision”, and the more we know and the more we listen, the more likely we this will happen.

Leadership Framework: Developing the Organization #ONTEdLeaders

This is part three in a series of looking deeper into the Ontario Leadership Framework.  Please feel free to look at the previous posts on this page on “Setting Directions” and “Building Relationships and Developing People“.

Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices

Under this strand, three major themes seem to emerge.  Leadership development, communication with stakeholders, and management of resources.  The interesting part of this strand is the term “desired practices”.  Who is determining what is “desired” for any school or organization?  Often the school “tail” wags with the principal and this can be either a good or bad thing, depending upon their vision.  If they believe in something, they will move heaven and earth to make it happen, yet sometimes the practices they believe in could be outdated and not serving a student’s future, but more likely our past.  This is why it is imperative that school leaders look at the work of other schools and both local and global trends.  The notion of “management” comes under the following standards”

“School leaders…manage efficient budgetary processes…distribute resources in ways that are closely aligned with the school’s improvement priorities.”

Leaders should never make decisions solely upon their own knowledge; that is too limiting for the number of people they serve.  They need to tap into a collective knowledge of their school community as well as others and it is imperative that we create a culture that taps into the expertise of our whole community.

Chosen or unleashed talents?

Great leaders develop great leaders.  This is a given and within any school, it is important to develop a culture that relies on the expertise of many as opposed to a few.  Distributed leadership is highlighted in this document:

“School leaders…distribute leadership on selected tasks.”

One of the pieces that I feel is missing is that it doesn’t focus on building upon the strengths that already exist within the building.  A great leader doesn’t simply develop talent, but they help unleash it.  This may be outlined in the following strand:

“School leaders….provide staff with leadership opportunities and support them as they take on these opportunities.”

As we look more at these ideas, I think we need to encourage our staff to go beyond leading within our own schools or organizations, but outside them as well.  For example, when many leaders look at the ideas of “leadership opportunities” this might be going to conferences and participating in sessions, yet many organizations limit their own staff from presenting at these same conferences without a ton of red tape in the way.  Not only does this show that you value your own staff’s expertise be shared with others to help further learning of all schools, it is a great way to promote your own organization through these opportunities.

When I have seen staff have these opportunities to present and share their learning with others, it does not only benefit their own careers, but they often come back learning more from the process.  To sit in a session may bring back some knowledge, but to have to present or lead a session brings a whole level of expertise.  The best leaders promote these opportunities.

What is “expertise” and who has it?

One of the standards under this strand focuses on the notion of tapping into “expertise”:

“School leaders…develop and maintain connections with other expert school and district leaders, policy experts, outreach groups, organizations and members of the educational research community.”

I have struggled with the word “expertise” for the last little while because of who this word is associated with.  We often refer to speakers at conferences or researchers as the “experts” which often devalues the “expertise” we have in our own buildings.  For example, whom are you more likely to consider an “expert”?  A researcher that looks at the practice of teaching kindergarten or a teacher that you connected with on the #kinderchat hashtag that teaches kindergarten?  In my opinion, both can be experts in different ways and we have to treat them as such.  How great would a school be if we dropped the notion of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land”?  Would we do more together if we looked at each other in our schools of having expertise?

In the past as a school principal, we defined our priorities as a school, and then had our teachers separate into groups based on their strengths, to lead these initiatives.  Not only did they create and deliver professional learning opportunities for the school, they wrote the objectives as well.  We did not have to wait for the “experts” to come into the building because we focused on making sure that we created a culture where we saw our own teachers as the experts.  You could walk across the hall and get help, not wait for an outsider to show up.  There is definite value in learning from people outside of your school, but if we are truly looking at a model of “distributed leadership”, it is essential we develop a culture of expertise within our own buildings.

Parent engagement or parent empowerment?

As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework:

“School leaders…create a school environment in which parents are welcomed, respected and valued as partners in their children’s learning.”

A welcoming environment is essential if we are really going to tap into our parents.  The best school leaders I have seen go out of their way to initiate connections with parents through simple things such as doing morning supervision, or even doing house visits to learn more about families.  A person is more likely to feel valued if you talk to them when you don’t need to.  Going out of your way to connect with the parent community is hugely important.

We often talk about how do we increase “parent engagement” in our schools, yet I think we are often focusing on the wrong term.  What if we focused on “parent empowerment”?  If they are a crucial factor in the success of our schools, is engagement enough?  I have seen great school leaders bring parents in not to just tell them about initiatives, but to actively immerse them into the type of experiences that their children are having in schools to give them a better understanding of what school looks like now.  This “education” for parents empowers them at home and in schools.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking at a parent-led and planned conference with Halton District School Board.  The parents of the planning committee organized the whole event to support important (to them) learning initiatives in the board.  It was heavily attended and was a powerful way to see parents empowered to support success for all students, not only their own children.  I hope to see more opportunities for parents that follow this lead.

Concluding Thoughts

Leadership without management often creates a vision that never comes to fruition, and vice-versa.  But we have to remember that management is for “things” and leadership is for “people”.  Personally, I don’t like to feel “managed” and I am sure I am in the majority.  To really push our schools forward, expertise and empowerment has to be developed at all levels (including students) and “management” comes in to ensure that people have the resources needed to be successful.  Creating a vision is one thing, but making that vision a reality, school leaders will need to utilize all resources (including people) to their fullest potential.

 

 

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

I have really focused on “innovative leadership development” in my work, and have written about it extensively in my work.  Because of this, I wanted to collect all of my posts that have really focused on leadership in a time where leadership really needs to change.  Please feel free to use the posts in any way to help you with your own development, or challenge any of the ideas that I have shared.

The posts are organized into two areas: Developing LeadershipandEmbodying Visionary Leadership“.  It is meant to help develop a vision and understanding, and then to talk about what it actually looks like. (For a static page of these posts, you can check out the “Leadership Deveolpment” page on my blog.)

Developing Leadership

Educational Leadership Philosophy – This is the post that leads to all of other things.  I think it is a great practice to be able to write your own leadership philosophy so people understand why you do what you do.  It is also something that I will revisit and tailor since a leadership philosophy should not stay the same for the rest of our lives.  It should change on based on who we serve, and what we learn.  It should constantly be pushing you to move forward. 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader – As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.  This post talks about some of those characteristics.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal – To develop a powerful vision, it rarely starts with answers, but more often with questions. This post focuses on questions in five crucial areas: Fostering Effective Relationships, Instructional Leadership, Embodying Visionary Leadership, Developing Leadership Capacity, and Creating Sustainable Change.  How do you lead in these areas?

3 Questions To Guide Your Vision – One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. To create a vision, you have to think about your long term impact, and how you will develop people to create a culture that is not dependent upon a person, but on the community.

Want someone to see your viewpoint? Ask them their thoughts first. – When I believe in something,  I used to spend all of my time trying to “sell” that idea to others and trying to get them to embrace what I saw.  If people didn’t agree with me, or my viewpoint, I would often got extremely frustrated and get nowhere closer than where I was before.  I hear this same approach from so many other people who tell me about the countless hours they try to get people to “embrace change”, and what I have learned is to spend less time defending your position, and spend more time asking questions.

Embodying Innovative Leadership

4 Attributes of a Great Assistant Principal – Being an Assistant (or Vice) Principal, was one of my favourite jobs.  As a principal, my AP’s were amazing and they helped to make me a better leader. They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect great Assistant Principals to focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.

The Need for Courageous Leadership – This is a great example of a leader that models risks for their faculty, and leads through actions, not simply words.  Does your school have the courage to let a student tweet on the behalf of your school account? If not, why?

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be – Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.  These are some qualities that you or I could be doing, without even thinking about.  It is so important to take a strong look in the mirror and think about the things that we would hate as an educator in our building.

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning? – The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much without the crucial conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom.  This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing that has been dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better.  There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development – There are a lot of things that we have just accepted as “norm” in our professional development, but we should always deeply look at how we spend our time with staff.  Time is the most valuable currency we have in schools so it is important that we get the most out of every interaction we have together.  In this post, I look at three things that we should not accept as simply the norm.

5 Characteristics of a Change Agent – As a leader, it is not just teaching “stuff”, but it is helping people to see the importance of embracing change in our work in schools today.  We often lament at how people are terrible at accepting change, but in reality, many leaders are just poor at delivering why change is important or crucial. All people want to do something better, but what are the characteristics of leaders that successfully move people along?

Hopefully there are some things that you can take away from these posts, or share with others.

The Value of Everyone Else

I have the honour to be working for the next couple of days with a variety of people that are connected with education but not “educators” with the Peel District School Board.  This would include, but not me limited to, secretaries, finance department, IT staff, facilities, communications departments, and so many other people that do things to help create the best opportunities for our students.

Talking with them, I remember thinking about my school janitor from when I was a kid named Mr. Rohrke.  He was someone who not only kept the school clean, but was someone we loved talking to and connecting with every day as kids.  He was one of those people that made your day better.  He could have easily ignored us and did his “job”, and there were probably many days he had to stay later because we could talk his ear off, but he always loved talking with us.  His job was to make the school a great place to be and he did not that by only keeping the school clean, but also by taking the time to make us always feel welcomed.  If anything, I am glad that he made that time and from people I know that are involved in education, the kids, no matter their position, are part of the reason that they show up everyday.

So when we talk about all of the great things that are happening in schools, let’s just remember that there are so many people behind the scenes that never seem to get the credit they deserve to help us create the best conditions to serve our kids.  I know that I have been guilty about complaining about the WiFi not working but also on the other hand, not thanking the same people I have complained to when it works.  I need to get better at that.

With schools changing so much and it happening at an extremely rapid pace, let’s just remember the value of everyone else that are NOT educators that we so often tend to forget.  The more they know they are a valued part of our team, the better we will all be for kids.

A Long Minute

As I stood speaking in front of a large audience, my computer went to sleep and I had to log back on.  I went back to show them teachers different examples that were housed online, but realized that my WiFi had disconnected and tried to get back on.  A simple issue to deal with when I am by myself, all of a sudden seemed to be terrifying in front of 100 plus people as I was not able to connect.  The crowd, although being patient, started to talk while I was dealing with technical issues.  By nature, when I am nervous, I begin to sweat, and when I  realize that, my heart begins to beat significantly faster.  I obviously was getting nervous, but fortunately was able to get back online and continue my lesson. That being said, the loss of momentum in what I was trying to teach also led to a loss of attention from some of the participants.  They were physically there, but their mind weren’t coming back. Those few members of the audience were done listening to me for the day.

It is important that teachers exhibit resiliency in the face of adversity and understand that not everything is going to work, all of the time.  But it is also important that in our work as school administrators, that things work as best as possible to not only serve our students, but also our teachers.

One minute in front of a classroom when something is not working, can seem like an eternity.  Those “minutes” need to be as few and far between as possible.

 

 

 

A Closer View

I tweeted the following yesterday:

This was not directed to any specific leadership group, but to all levels of administration.  As I talked to someone involved in “decision making” as they shared their plan, I outright said teachers will hate the decision as they will feel handcuffed and suggested that she take some time in the classroom before any policy was created.

What I don’t get is how a decision that impacts teachers in their classrooms could be made by someone sitting from an office that doesn’t at least spend some time observing in a classroom.  I am not talking about a “walkthrough” or an evaluation, but actually just sitting in the classroom and getting a feel for how decisions impact students.  As an administrator, you want to become “invisible” in that environment so you can see what happens on a regular basis.  This only happens when a visit is not a “major” event.

A trustee from another school division said (paraphrased) that teachers wouldn’t necessarily want a board member in their classroom.  I know that not all teachers would be jumping on this opportunity, but in reality, not all teachers could have this due to time constraints.  That being said, I know many educators are welcoming to anyone that wants to see what they do on a day-to-day basis, especially when they know that it is about an opportunity to improve what happens with students.

For example, I have heard the argument on technology purchases that the current computers with all of their network protocols and security features, only take “two minutes” to logon.  The difference is they take “two minutes” for an adult, and usually one that is good with technology. Times that by 25 students, with one teacher in the room, and “two minutes” can become an eternity.  The question then would become, how do we keep these computers secure while also ensuring we are creating the most amount of instructional/learning time for our schools.  Sitting in another building and making these decisions, you often don’t see the impact, and that is where tension usually begins.

So as we head into 2014, if you are in the position to create policies, take some time just sitting in a classroom and see what a day looks like.  You might still have to make some type of policy or procedure that is not necessarily loved by all, but you will both build relationships in this process (strengthening trust), while also truly understanding differing perspectives.

If we are true leaders, we are looking to unleash talent, not control it, and we have to do what we can to take the handcuffs off the people that are working closest with kids.

Inequity and BYOD


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Tim & Selena Middleton

Often when speaking to groups about technology and “Bring Your Own Device” initiatives, I will have someone challenge the thinking and say, “Well…what about inequity?”  To break down this question, what is often meant is that you will really shine a negative spotlight on the kids who do not have devices and they will feel worse about their situations.

Sometimes I feel that this argument is a reason to not even try by some that are making it.  But for some, it is a legitimate concern.

Here are my thoughts…

If we are really wanting to help these kids that might be coming from poor situations, we need to rethink the practices that we already have in our schools to provide for them.  For example, many schools have “computer labs” where we take kids once or twice a week, to do something with technology or allow them to type out an essay for us.  This is not a good use of technology anymore and we should know better now.  Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?

So why are we not taking those labs apart and using those devices for the kids that don’t have the technology readily available.  If you have 15 students in your class that have a device, and five that don’t, can we find a way to provide for them with the technology that already exists in the school?  This is not as good as a student owning the device, but if their family is not able to afford one to bring to school, many times they are not able to afford one at home either.  You are then ensuring that the student does not have access to the biggest source of information in the world either at home or school.  If this true, then what are we doing to break this cycle for the child?  If you do not have a strong understanding to leverage the world at your fingertips, then you are going to be at a disadvantage going into a world with people that can do it with ease.

Now you may not have the technology in you schools to provide for the students that don’t have them now, so what are you doing to find a way to provide them?  The technology that we have purchased in schools before has been at an inflated price because of the need to attach them to a network, make them “secure”, and add a bunch of stuff that is honestly probably not needed as much as it once was.  All of those little add-ons, often not only make the computer more expensive, but slower.  So you are paying more for a slow computer? Makes sense.

The less we trust, the more it costs. 

With the infrastructure of many schools going to open WiFi networks, it is now opening the options of what they can buy.  Before, we were only able to access the Internet in our schools through the division network, but now any device can connect to the Internet, whether it is a school purchased device or not.  This is giving us more options.  WIth open WiFi, you are no longer limited to the $750 laptop, but can buy a $250-$300 Chromebook, Netbook, or tablet.  I am not saying that these are the best devices, and simply looking for cheap is not a solution, but with what much of what is happening in schools, a Chromebook is actually a pretty great option.

If we are start looking outside of the box that we have traditionally been held to within our schools, we have many more options on how we can provide more for the students that are not in situations to provide for themselves.