Thanks to Taber Akin, principal of Sioux Trail Elementary, for jumping into Leadership Day 2010 by participating in the ongoing dialogue of Leadership Day 2010. You can find his post on the Sioux Trail blog and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag, #leadershipday10.
I recently participated in discussions and decisions about placing networked LCD projectors in every classroom in a nearby school district. The new buildings in the district had projectors in every classroom while only a small percentage of the classrooms in the older buildings had projectors. The differences between buildings came up in many “why don’t we have what they have” conversations among parents, staff, and community members resulting in pressure from several fronts to “create more equity” among buildings. Ultimately it was decided to move forward with the upgrade across the district. Similarly, I am now starting a job in a different district and learning about the installation of smart boards in many classrooms with funding from several revenue sources. These decisions and situations beg the question: “What are the right reasons to expend significant resources on technology?”
My appreciation for the work of Jim Collins in Good to Great is no secret. Collins would argue that school leaders must be crystal clear about their mission and be strong enough to say “no” to opportunities that pull resources away from delivering on that mission. Sometimes technology is that very distracter. Collins would also say, however, that technology sometimes serves as an accelerator of an organization delivering on their mission. To rephrase Collins’ thoughts, technology use in education must serve as an accelerator for accomplishing our mission – student learning.
The thought that technology by itself increases student learning is shallow at best. The vast majority of technology use in classrooms that I have observed over the past 10 years includes projecting Power Point slides, showing movies, projecting graphs or problems on to a white board (and using the white board marker to illustrate in John Madden fashion), and a few incidents of projecting internet sites valuable to a particular topic. Looking past the fancy colors and larger screen, nearly all of those teaching strategies could be accomplished with similar effectiveness (in terms of student learning) with an overhead and a television. How does this accelerate student learning…? It doesn’t.
Technology or no technology, good teaching is good teaching. Effective instruction engages all learners, is focused like a laser beam on specific, measurable, and well communicated objectives, and is designed to challenge students to think independently, complimented with an overlay of meta-cognitive reflection processes. To use some Daggett/McNulty language, effective teachers use quadrant A content as a vehicle for challenging students to complete quadrant D work. It’s both rigorous AND relevant. It’s differentiated for individual learners tapping multiple resources to get to the same end. Students are observed working in groups, debating, asking questions, brainstorming, and ultimately, creating new knowledge. So the real tech integration question is… What technologies are accelerators of these behaviors?
Technology integration that accelerates student learning facilitates meaningful student reflection, student creation of knowledge, student writing, student participation, and relevant student interaction. It differentiates for learner needs and sometimes delivers the practice of skills necessary for demonstrating mastery of clearly articulated objectives. Sometimes, excellent technology integration includes teacher or student use of technologies to streamline necessary “class systems” such as handing in work, taking attendance, or giving meaningful feedback. Most important however, is using the technology to increase student thinking, reflecting, and participation.
So what technologies have you used or witnessed in action that accelerate student learning? What web 2.0 tools or activities truly help teachers engage students in reflection, writing, synthesizing data points, and creating knowledge?
Happy Leadership Day 2010!
First, I need to apologize for the drought of meaningful blog posts in recent months. I'm currently navigating a job transition from building principal to assistant superintendent in a larger neighboring district. While overwhelmed by the details of learning new names, systems, and procedures, I am probably more consumed by reflections on working in a district office instead of in a school. I simply cannot be happy in a job if I'm not making a difference, and I'm just not sure yet how that will play out being one of the "district office folks." Afterall, my whole career thus far has been at the building level where my interactions with students and the adults I am focused on moving are daily - or even several times a day. How can I make the same impact in a job that limits those interactions to… weekly, monthly, or quarterly? How can I make systems change if I "check in" with specific individuals 4 times a year instead of once a week? I have much to learn no doubt…
Today I ran across a post in my Reader file from The Committed Sardine about the impact of service. The post was actually an embedded video called The Simple Truths of Service on You Tube. It's possible this resonated with me because it's a touching story about one individual committing to making the routine work of bagging groceries a meaningful opportunity to touch lives, but I think it's more than that. It resonated with me because as a building principal I helped lead our school to embrace service to the community as a vehicle for teaching students about the bigger things of life, about how to develop a reputation based upon doing what is right, about how to capture the passion of youth for doing good, and about how to capture service opportunities to make memories and develop real community. It resonated with me because I was that store manager in the story who hired great staff, planted seeds, and then captured the individual talents and passions of wonderful people to create momentum that changed the lives of kids. So what now…?
Now I'm that district office guy who swings through once a quarter to make sure things are operating correctly. I'm the guy who works with the board and "gets in the way" from day to day business by making policies and procedures everyone has to follow. I don't bag groceries or even manage the store and hire the Johnny's of this story. Is there room for a district office guy in this story?
I believe the answer is yes. Remember the person who led the customer service program? She gave a speech challenging every employee of the organization to make a difference and create memories for customers that would create loyalty and a desire to return. She's the person that Johnny and the store manager called to share the exciting news.
As a building principal I understood that the success of my work depended entirely on the work of others. Teachers, paras, custodians, secretaries, and volunteers worked tirelessly to make every day a memory for kids and as a result, I reaped benefit. Most importantly, kids were loved and learned. The staff recognized themselves as the "Johnny" in this story and committed themselves to using service as a way to touch lives. I cherish the many wonderful people I have worked with, and I believe the same "Johnnys"are in my new place of employment. Already I have witnessed operations staff working through the night to prepare office spaces, administrators fretting over picking the best staff to work with kids, and a few teachers ramping up for a new year – two months ahead of time… I cannot wait to see the whole machine in action when the students return in September!!
So… The heart of this post is – I found great meaning as a principal who, like the store manager, hired a bunch of people like Johnny and made great things happen in one school. We know the same can happen at the district level… and I'm determined to make that happen.
Folks in ISD 191 – are you a "Johnny?" Do you work in a school that pins flowers on customers and finds creative ways to make someone's day? Do you create memories that fill hearts with a desire to come back to school the next day? That's the bar. That's working in education. That's making a difference. That's teaching.