Tag Archives: transformation

The Danger of Extremes

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by evoo73

Joe Bower is a good friend of mine and someone that I really look up to in the field of education. Although we don’t always agree with each other, I know that we both respect each other’s point of views.  I am an avid reader of his blog (you should be too) and was particularly interested in his latest post titled, “Who should control teachers’ professional learning?

Although there is somewhat of a political nature that is involved in his post, two statements that Joe made really stick out to me:

  • I summarize my worse learning experiences as top-down, externally mandated, out-of-context, irrelevant to me and little to no purpose events that I am expected to play a passive role. I own my learning. Who owns yours?
  • Who owns a teacher’s professional development? And under what circumstances would the answer to the above question ever be someone other than the teacher? To avoid cultures of compliance, teachers need autonomy.

So do I disagree with Joe on what he has said and questioned here?  Yes AND no.

As a teacher, I would agree with the statement made about some of his worst learning experiences being top down.  As an administrator, I also see the need of having a vision and purpose that a team works together.  My job is to work with my staff to develop some school objectives, not simply dictate them to staff.  I also believe that teachers should be able to further their own learning in many different areas.

Although we are often isolated in our classrooms as educators, teachers should not work in isolation.  They should be a part of a team that works together to build the best environments for students, and looks at kids as part of a school, not simply part of a classroom.  Many people refer to Dan Pink’s work in “Drive” regarding motivation, on the notion of autonomyyet they often leave out the element he writes about purpose.  

Sorry for using a sports analogy, but Michael Jordan was the best player in the NBA yet won no championships until Phil Jackson took over the team (6 championships with the Bulls, and 5 with the Lakers; the guy is pretty good).  As the coach, he had the team work towards a common goal, while each defining their role in serving the larger purpose.  Autonomy and purpose.  That is how individuals work together to serve a higher purpose.  Does his quote below have any relation to the work that we do in schools?

“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.” Phil Jackson

We talk about change a lot, and it starts with one person, yet there needs to be a team working together to make it sustainable.  Often a great teacher in a weak school either becomes a weak teacher or leaves.  The opposite is often true.  What are we aiming for?  A few great individual teachers in schools, or great schools with a culture of great teaching?

Now I am not saying that teachers do not need autonomy over their learning; they absolutely do (kids too right?).  I am just saying that it is not an “either/or” proposition.  We tend to watch the pendulum swing from one side to the other, often missing the ideal middle with a lot of our initiatives.

Group work serves some, where others excel working in isolation.  

Lecture isn’t bad; lecture all of the time is bad. Reflection time is essential.

Skills do not develop if you do not have the knowledge to build upon.

I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer.  Both work for the person that has chosen to use them. 

I guess my point is that shifting from extremes on either end is rarely beneficial.  I believe, as Sir Ken Robinson says, that education needs  transformation more than reformation, but does that mean we throw out everything that we have done?  If education is to be truly personalized, we need to find out what works for different people while also working together to find what our current strengths are and build upon them as well.

If we always stand on opposite sides, will we ever truly move forward?


You Should Read… (November 4, 2012)

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

I have been on the road a considerable amount in the last month so I have decided to blog on stuff that has inspired me and write in a spontaneous manner so the “you should read…” post that I have tried to write on a weekly basis has been something that I have skipped in the last couple of weeks.  I still think that it is important to share what I have been catching on Twitter and learning from others.

1.  7 Kinds of Thinking Keeping Your School or District from Transformation -This article by John Robinson was fascinating and he is ideas shared are fantastic, but what I like most about this post was that he actually offered “antidotes” on how to cure each ailment:

Many people will read this and think of someone they should send it to.  Administrators may blame teachers, teachers blame administrators, schools blame government, etc., and so on and so forth.  I truly believe that we should look at ourselves first, especially in this context and ask what are embodying to others and giving “solutions” as John offers, as opposed to simply discuss problems.

I tweeted the below in a discussion and I believe it is essential to school transformation:

The more I connect with educators, the more I am loving that they are seeing that they are part of the solution.

2.  Why Kids Need School to Change – A fantastic article discussing the importance of what we do in our schools and the need to change in our current environment.

The current structure of the school day is obsolete, most would agree. Created during the Industrial Age, the assembly line system we have in place now has little relevance to what we know kids actually need to thrive.

Most of us know this, and yet making room for the huge shift in the system that’s necessary has been difficult, if not impossible because of fear of the unknown, says educator Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well.

“People don’t like change, especially in times of great uncertainty,” she said. “People naturally go conservative and buckle down and don’t want to try something new. There are schools that are trying to do things differently, and although on the one hand they’re heralded as having terrific vision, they’re still seen as experimental.”

The author offers the idea of “project based learning, alternative assessment, scheduling, climate of care, and parent education” as ways to improving school.  What would you suggest regarding these ideas? What would you add or change?

3.  7 Basic Types of Stories – I am fascinated about the role of stories in the current context of schools and I love watching what organizations outside of education do to leverage this.  You can easily take an hour to go through this post, but I think that there are some pretty engaging ideas.  Does the following quote apply to schools?

“Brands are stories,” he said. “They want to embody a story. When we start working with a client, we don’t want to take a brief. We don’t want to just say, ‘What’s your problem?’ We want to go right back to, ‘Why was your company started? What’s your mission?’ We talk about mission all the time, and it’s just another way of saying, ‘What kind of story are you on? What kind of story do you want to tell?’ … Part of our job as an agency is to reignite that and really figure out what that story is.”

I would love your thoughts so I can further my own learning in this area.

BONUS –> Just as something that I would like to share as one of those videos that makes me smile every single time I see it, I thought that I would share this video from “The Flight of the Conchords” which is guaranteed to make you smile (I will buy you ice cream if it doesn’t).  You can also get the karaoke version of the song if you want to sing it with your kids :)

Have a great week!

“Don’t Punish Everyone”

I have been blessed to work with such an open IT department within our school division for the last six years.  When many complain about lack of access to things such as YouTube and Twitter, we can access them and we have filters that block out sites that are inappropriate (pornography and gambling obviously).  I think there is a line between keeping our students safe (which we always focus on) and sheltered.

Yet often the idea of blocking sites is said to be a proactive measure to protect our kids.  Now I would never question the intent of someone when doing this, but I would ask the question, “what are we being proactive of”?  If a kid is blocked from Facebook and YouTube all day, and no one ever has a conversation with them at school, and then they go home, go on to Facebook and YouTube, and watch inappropriate videos, bully others, what did blocking the site help?  This seems to really only be proactive for saving ourselves, not necessarily our kids.  As we know, education helps to solve problems, hence the reason programs such as D.A.R.E. exist which talk openly about some of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

We have to think clearly about our purpose with students.  I want our kids to be able to use technology to not only learn, but to also give themselves opportunities that I did not have when I was a kid.  I also want them to have balance in their lives which means they have to learn to have the conversation about when and how they are using social networks (which they probably are or will be using sooner or later, whether we educate them or not), while also learning to understand the benefits of having face-to-face conversations and relationships.

It is important that as we continue on this path, and we look at what we are doing with our students, we don’t create policies for the “minority”.  Yes, when things are open there can be problems, but when things are closed, there can be problems as well.  As a technology teacher years ago, I had a student go around every filtered site (in a heavily blocked environment) that he could find to post nude pictures into a PowerPoint.  As I think back on this years later, I know that the student knew he had done something wrong, yet I also believe that we failed him.  Because the Internet was so blocked, we never worried about this type of thing happening.  It may have happened at home, but as long as it didn’t happen in school, why talk to him?  We thought we were safe from liability but somehow shirked responsibility.  That is not the “proactive” I can be comfortable with anymore.

As we look at “policies” we have to continue to create environments where are working with our kids to be safe now (in school and at home), and learn to be safe in the future.  We also have to give the opportunity for our students and educators to be innovative in their work.  Two options that we seem to have are either living in a culture of a fear or a culture of trust.  As leaders, IT departments, schools, etc., look at how things are “run”, I think they should all look at this Derek Sivers video about some of the policies that we create when “someone” makes a mistake.  Often though, we have made policies before anyone has made the mistake.  Punishing all because of our own fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), is not a way to push greatness in our schools.  It is a way to promote average.

Innovation and transformation are key words that we continue to say in education and should be used.  We need to take the shackles off of our educators (that have been hired and are obviously trusted) and help them make this change we are clamouring to see.  As Derek Sivers says, “don’t punish everyone for one person’s mistake”, yet we have to create an environment that actually allows us to have the opportunity to take (calculated) risks in the first place.

The Derek Sivers video below is definitely well worth the 2:25 to watch it.