Leading the Net Gen., Part 2, Will Richardson

Will Richardson’s words, whether presented via a live session or found on his blog, Weblogg-ed, always inspire me to rethink.

Richardson stressed that we have to start rethinking our linear way of doing things. Education is in a moment of severe transition. My absolute favorite words of the day?

“Buckle up: you’re going to have to be open to the changes and shifts no matter how uncomfortable they make you.”

Richardson made the point that the shift in education is not around technology;  it’s around curriculum.  Consider the following:  if we know reading and writing are changing, what are we doing about it to change what our students are doing differently? He encouraged the educational leaders in the room to stop talking only about technology and reflect upon current curricular and instructional practices. How are we getting our students where they need to be?

As I tuned into Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ live Elluminate session last night, I realize she echos this sentiment as well. Her book, Curriculum 21, is currently sitting on my desk, waiting to be devoured.

This summer I will work to brainstorm and plan K-6 professional development opportunities for teachers in the areas of curriculum and technology, thus I appreciated Richardson’s remarks on offering PD to teachers: Don’t schedule how-to workshops; make it a prerequisite for teachers to learn the skill/tool BEFORE the workshop. At the workshop, make connections to curriculum, develop skills, and collaborate to produce meaningful, actionable plans for student learning. This recent blog post by Terry Freedman explores professional development in technology and highlights quality resources for those in tech integrator and admin roles to consult.

On a personal note, I appreciated having the chance to showcase this blog and be featured in a take-a-look-at-what-Twitter-is-all-about session in the afternoon. Richardson asked for a show of hands from those who blogged, and my lonely hand sloooowly went into the air. 🙂 I was glad it did, although at first the shock of seeing your blog plastered on three giant screens in front of hundreds of administrators is a tad bit intimidating. He offered compliments on my use of linked text and some of the content of my posts. We examined my ClustrMap, and it was affirming to see the diversity of visitors that read my blog!

The day’s take-away ideas from Richardson are that the most important aspects of successfully infusing 21st century skills into our classrooms are to model, emulate, and show the shifts in your schools. Consider your classrooms to be laboratories for learning, and realize that  in every lab, there is failure. Expect failure, yet try to mitigate it to yield positive student learning experiences.

Next year my elementary school is taking a cohort of admin and teachers to participate in Powerful Learning Practice,  “an ongoing, job-embedded opportunity built around emerging social Web technologies.” The great minds behind this endeavor are Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.  I have confidence that the cohort I’ve selected has the enthusiasm, energy, and desire to be the catalyst for positive changes and will work collaboratively to set the stage for rethinking teaching and learning in our school. Read about the Year 1 experiences that await us.

Many thanks to both Jason Ohler and Will Richardson for an amazing day of reflection and inspiration.

Leading the Net Generation, Part I, Jason Ohler

Last week I attended a conference at IU13 – “Leading the Net Generation” – featuring Will Richardson and Jason Ohler. The conference was designed to be a two-day experience with several different presenters, but due to snow days and the school year extending into the original conference dates for most of the schools in the county, it was reconfigured into one day of immersion into the minds of Richardson and Ohler. Not too shabby! This post highlights the information shared by Jason Ohler.

Ohler began the morning with his keynote, asking us to consider, “How do we open doors for our students?” He remarked that his most meaningful teachers opened doors for him to engage in new types of learning.  Ohler also defined

Literacy- consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they are

In the past, students were simply consumers of information. Now, students have Screasals (screen+easels); what some adults consider a simple phone for communication or a laptop for consumption of information, students use these tools to create! Students need to be able to write well whatever they read! Ohler goes on to explain the differences between Web 2.0, Web 2.1 (read, write, paint) and the evolving Web 3.0 – read, write, paint, THINK.

Ohler emphasized ensuring our students understand and create with visually differentiated text (from large blocks of text to collage) and need command of  the DAOW of Literacy:


Ohler also made a convincing argument for storytelling in the classroom. Since infancy, children have been engaged with story. They want information delivered in story format and respond emotionally when done so. Teachers should strive to incorporate story elements and storytelling into instruction and student initiatives. This will result in more meaningful learning!

This conference was for administrators, so naturally, we wanted to know how we can best support our teachers in these endeavors. Ohler presented the acronym CARES in summary of what administrators need to do to help teachers and students in their digital literacy and learning journeys:

Compensation – pretty straightforward (not always possible monetarily) but provide other types of compensation that make taking risks worthwhile for teachers
Assistance – provide needed resources and personal assistance; research grants and other opportunities to bring new resources to your schools
Recognition – celebrate those teachers who are taking risks with learning and literacy!
Extra time – get creative with schedules, provide opportunities for teachers and teacher teams to work on projects on company time
Support risk, pilots – if a teacher comes to you with an idea, support that risk; encourage teachers to participate in pilot programs; allow them to show you what learning opportunities are out there!

I enjoyed learning from Ohler last week and encourage all of you to explore his blog, which contains plentiful resources for educators.

We can all list reasons why not to branch out and take risks in the classrooms. Ohler’s final words:

Turn your concerns into goals.

Develop capacity in your teachers, administrative teams, students, and school community, and you can attack the concerns in a productive manner. Go forth and open doors!

Here is what we are doing right.

Started reading Leading Change in Your School by Doug Reeves on Friday. Figured I’d skim the content and garner some inspiration for the upcoming new year…. I started on page 1 and only a mere 75 pages later did I finally pause for an iced tea break.

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One of the most meaningful concepts I’ve encountered in Reeves’ early chapters is this: Don’t start a change initiative with mighty, charismatic speeches about what will change… instead, address with your faculty those things that will not change, because they are non-negotiable pieces of educational goodness that should not change.

What does your school do well? What things must be maintained in order to bring about positive changes in your organization?

I created a Wordle showcasing the qualities of my organization that are top-notch. We are so lucky to have phenomenal students, and though improvement in certain areas is needed, we will have no problems continuing on the journey to improved academic success for students due to these qualities and skills we already possess as a faculty.

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So the next time you need to introduce a change initiative in your school, be sure to complement your team, and encourage them to consider that the new change is not a result of all that they have been doing wrong, but rather a way to build upon all that they are doing right.

Haircuts, fresh starts, and dead weight.

Last weekend I got a haircut, and I had several inches trimmed from my length. I loved my longer hair, but as the inches grew they became less vibrant, and I realized those extra inches didn’t serve much of a purpose. Summer’s-a-coming, and this shorter new “do” made me think about what we, as educators, need to let go of this summer in order to start fresh in the new school year.

Old lesson plans? Resistance to change? Grudges against colleagues/parents/administrators?

Teachers -what standby lessons do we continue to pull out of the filing cabinet year after year, despite the fact that we know they’re becoming more ineffective as the years pass? How could we tweak our delivery and lessons to include the integration of more technology, collaborative opportunities for students, and project creation? Instead of using common planning time for cursory collaboration/complaining/housekeeping tasks, how can we use the gift of time to engage in more meaningful collaborative planning sessions with colleagues?

Administrators- the summer months are when we actually have the chance to breathe and reflect upon the year. Did we spend enough time in our classrooms this year? What structures and routines can we put into place to make sure we devote more quality time to supervision in the coming year? What tasks did we complete this year that were dead weight- just sinking us into a deeper hole we feel we can never get out of, sucking the energy right out of us?! How can we streamline our work day to make more time for what’s most important? What supports can we put into place to help our teachers and students shine and meet building initiatives? How will we empower teacher leaders to support us in these endeavors?

Summer is a wonderful time for reflection, and as it approaches, I hope you will consider how you can plan for a “fresh start” in 2010-2011!

What do we value?

One of the perks of continued professional development in the form of college coursework is being required to read books I might not have otherwise taken the initiative/time to read. I received Zhao’s Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization in the mail many months ago through my ASCD membership. I read the cover and thought, yes, this will be a great read, and it was then neatly stacked on the bookshelf next to the other ASCD titles. I was thrilled when it was listed as required reading for my Change in Education course. This book examines the characteristics of the educational systems of the United States and China and the impact on students and our countries as our world becomes increasingly “smaller.”

I also am engaged in Principal’s Induction Program coursework through our state. The required reading for our last session was The Teaching Gap, by Stigler and Hiebert. We spent an exorbitant amount of time the past two days comparing US instructional methods and international test scores in mathematics with those of other countries, particularly Japan and Germany. We involved ourselves in observations of lessons taught, lesson planning techniques, and listened to the same message over and over again: THEY are doing it RIGHT. WE are doing it WRONG.

This troubles me.

Are there aspects of the American education system that could be improved? Of course! Could we involve our teachers in more lesson study, collaborative professional development, and hone their instructional practices? Yes, we should. Could administrators structure schools and classrooms so that time is used more wisely and efficiently for student learning? Yes. Despite our country’s recent need to equate school success with performance on high-stakes testing accountability measures, can’t we develop lessons and instructional units that engage students in higher-order thinking, the use of technology, creation, and innovative thinking? Yes indeedy. Do we need to address the inequalities that exist in our nation’s schools? Absolutely. Those were the big “take-aways” for me from The Teaching Gap.

Another take away is that teaching is a cultural activity. American teachers taught how they themselves were taught. Our “system” is so ingrained in culture, making it extraordinarily difficult to change. (Not impossible, though, and like I said earlier, there is room for improvement.) The Japanese and Chinese cultures influence their educational systems in similar ways. Can we expect our schools to be structured the same way as the schools in those countries, when our cultures vary so greatly? Is it fair to compare apples and oranges on international testing measures and conclude that American schools are in a crisis?

What Zhao’s early message is that American schools are not as “broken” as they appear to be. If they were, how could our country continue to thrive? While our country is now moving towards standardized curriculum for the nation in the hopes of improving test scores (so we “look good” on international measures), schools in China are taking a look at American schools and making changes to be more like us. Zhao makes some great points about how standardization in schools has not necessarily served China well.

So what is great about American education? Why would China want to emulate us? It’s simple. We value individuals. We want all students to develop into lifelong learners. Are all students going to be mathematicians? No. We recognize that, and encourage students to find their passion and develop their strengths. Our system helps students appreciate the gifts they have, instead of focus endlessly on what they don’t have. Our genetically diverse nation allows it to better survive and adapt to environmental changes. The creativity we instill in our children helps breed talent, tolerance, and innovative thinkers that are able to adapt to change.

One of the most meaningful quotes from Zhao is something I think all educators who work with curriculum, with school boards, with policy makers, and with students and teachers need to consider:

“We thus face a choice of what we want: a diversity of talents, of individuals who are passionate, curious, self-confident, and risk taking; or a nation of excellent test takers, outstanding performers on math and reading tests.” (p. 59)

A difficult choice? Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been on vacation, and it was sunny and dreamy and warm and there was turquoise water and white sands and now… it is back to work/reality, not to mention, home to about three thousand feet of snow. Harsh.

This semester I’m enrolled in a graduate course called Change in Education. Considering the amount of change I’ve seen in our profession since I officially joined it in 1999, I can’t imagine how my professor can keep a consistent syllabus from one year to the next.

Perhaps the course name should be Welcome to Education- What’s Here Today will Likely be Gone Tomorrow and Replaced with Something Else. And the new things may be shiny and/or new and/or involve you learning how to manage some newfangled device.

One of our most interesting assignments is to read a few Fastback issues, summarize the content, and comment on the significance to education today. Fastbacks were published between 1972 and 2005 by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. The topic variety is incredible: parent-teacher alliance, resilient superintendents… anything and everything related to education. (The issues about “new” technologies written in the 1980s are a hoot!)

So as we spend plenty of our waking moments wondering how in the world we will cope with all of the changes in education, perhaps we should stop to ponder what doesn’t change in education.

What will always remain the same? What fundamental purpose(s) do we serve? Are there certain things that we will always do, no matter what changing technologies, changing families, changing educational structures exist? And if so, shouldn’t every decision we make be grounded in those fundamental purposes? How can we, as educational leaders, help our organizations focus on these fundamental big pictures?

Those are the thoughts I’m pondering today, a day when my surrounding temperature changed from glorious, sunny 85 to snowy, shiver-inducing 18 in a matter of hours. Don’t blink!