One of the reasons I blog is to try to give form to some nascent ideas that feel like they need to connect but just haven’t made the leap yet. I’m going to try to do that here around the idea of this process of change as it applies to us as practitioners but, more how it applies in terms of changing the culture in schools and districts. I’m still thinking here, specifically, about the striking, almost unique culture I felt at SLA during EduCon, but also about the work that Sheryl and I are doing in terms of building and modeling community and, in the process, shifting culture. And I’m considering a number of blog posts and Tweets and UStreamed presentations and more that I’ve read or watched of late that attempt to provide hints or roadmaps at how to get started down this path of new learning and teaching for individuals who might be so inclined. And, again, I’m thinking about the relative ineffectiveness that I feel about the way we do professional development around these tools, the drive by trainings that can motivate some in the short term but really provide very little in terms of support or guidance in the way we embed these practices into our personal learning and, subsequently, into our cultures over the long term.
There are lots of good things happening in the education space around these technologies, no doubt. Lots of teachers and students doing creative, imaginative, connective things, most of which bubble up into my Twitter or RSS readers with more and more regularity. We’re not there yet, but it’s feeling like more people in the room are coming to understand that this isn’t about tools but about networks and learning and leveraging connections, at least the educators I talk to in the various places I visit. There are lots of silos on the landscape, some of them connecting into burgeoning global communities of teachers that are sharing ideas and collaborating. And there is more of a shift in pedagogy that’s happening, not a tidal wave, mind you, but more ripples that illustrate an understanding of the contexts around using these tools, that it’s not just publishing but much, much more.
There is some irony, however, in the fact that teachers are connecting more and more outside their spaces but, it appears at least, not so much inside their own districts and communities. And that may be a misreading on my part; obviously, local connections are less transparent to the outside world. On some level, it’s not surprising; early adopters in their districts most likely have to turn outside to find kindred spirits or collaborators. But one thing (again) that has really been sticky from EduConn was the idea that local connections support local culture (as well as a few other things, such as leadership, of course) and vice versa. That effective local culture is created when we look at teachers as professional learners and encourage them to collaborate and co-create. And that if we can build a culture of learning and care that is supported by the connections we can make with technology, we can in many ways prepare our students for whatever global connections they might require or avail themselves as they pursue their life’s work.
So, it comes back to what is to me at least, the big question these days. Not how do we help teachers get their brains around these tools in terms of their own personal learning practice (which is still hugely important), but how do we help schools and districts to begin to reshape their culture around learning in more collaborative, connected environments? How do we get to the point where we’re not just seeing individual teachers and classrooms make the shift, but where we are seeing schools as a whole beginning to shift as well?
(Photo “through the glazed window” by distinguish)
Technorati Tags: schools, culture, learning, education, teaching
Melanie Holtsman says
For me – I began making the social connections globally and then found a core group of teacher/friends that were willing to give a the things I was learning a try. We ended last year as a school 1.0 and this year have grown to having a core group of teachers that blog and I recently got my entire leadership team to agree to blog a conference we attended with what we learned going back to our faculty immediately. (http://livefromthecreek.blogspot.com
When we want to do something new in the classroom, what do we do? We model, support while they practice and then support them independently. When bringing 21st Century Skills to schools…I think it will take more than a workshop or two. You need to have a “teacher” who will model, a group of people willing to practice and try and hopefully they will take off. I’m fortunate that has been the work environment I am in – I would like to think it would work for others.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for relating this. I would be really interested in how you got your leadership team to have some buy in and what the results have been in terms of their participation. Do you think your environment is typical?
Thanks for the comment.
Melanie Holtsman says
I know my faculty is atypical, but I was taking for granted this amazing experience by not asking for reflections. Thanks for pushing my thinking – here’s my response http://tinyurl.com/36f7ry
Rodd Lucier says
Will, keep massaging the message. As a messenger, you may one day come to realize that by leading more and more educators to make connections… even outside of their own districts, you are turning up the volume on voices that would otherwise be silent. Giving audience to these voices is the first step to growing local communities.
Rodd Lucier says
A few days ago, I blogged with graphic support on how the ripples expand, it may be of interest to folks:
Robert Rowe says
At the beginning of the school year, our union president warned us about the dangers of blogging, social-networking, and other “user-generated content” sites, by basically saying, “Don’t participate in them, because it’ll cost you your job.”
Since sites like YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter, etc are all filtered on the district’s network, there’s this stigma that networking is bad.
I’ve been blogging and networking long before this teaching gig, and I plan on doing it as long as it’s beneficial to me. The problem is, I don’t know how to break the stigma and share what I’ve learned, even with the teachers I work closely with everyday.
You’re absolutely right in saying that school climate and culture needs to change, instead of just the individual teachers.
Will Richardson says
I wonder how ubiquitous this experience is. I have a feeling that you are not alone, Robert, in feeling like your personal learning is not supported in a learning community.
Karen McMillan says
While reading your post, the phrase that kept going through my mind was “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Yes, we have a very long journey ahead of us, but at least we’re walking. We are very lucky at our school that we have a principal who sees the importance of incorporating technology into our curriculum. And I’m doing my best to “spread the word”, if you will, to our faculty and some other teacher friends. They are starting to see the value in jumping headlong into our students’ world. A teacher or administrator here and there, and we’ll make great strides!
Slowly but surely.
Jeff Brown says
I am have been travelling around to conferences now for several years. I have been trying very hard to find the words to begin to make change in the shift of education into something that reflects the reality of our time.
James Durkin who was the brains behind Creative Learning Systems originally set me on this path.I worked for him in the 1990’s as he struggled with the changes technolgy was engendering in the world.
Now I have made a pitch with the information around trends in a wikiworld to create a district wide plan to bring our school board down the road towards change.
After hearing Will speak today I relize that the vision is there but the sheer immensity of the task to bridge the divide between how schools look and how the present reality of our society is overwhelming. It is for this reason that I have started my blog today to solict input from others and become involved in making meaning that will inform what the Evolving Plan needs to morph into.
Will Richardson says
Welcome to the blogosphere, Jeff! Best of luck in your efforts.
For many of us edtech folks I think it’s important that we look more inward than outward then for building networks. In many areas, we are the connectors. We can connect local educators that are “in the shift” with others that might not connect normally.
I also think it’s important that teachers who “get it” take a responsibility (not unlike professional athletes as role models) to share what they are doing as much as they can. So, I’ve started to add blogs/sites to local educators and administrators to my blog in the hope that more local folks will “cherry pick” off of this local/regional blogroll. The list is small now, as I feel that quality is important. but I know it will grow as a result of our regional PLP work with you and Sheryl. I have to remind myself this is a marathon and not a sprint. Thank you for all your support in what we are doing… and for pushing our thinking.
Jon Becker says
Scott McLeod would write/say this better than I can, but the “unit of analysis” has been the teacher all along. Building and district-level leaders have been left out of these conversations at so many levels. If we want change at the school (and higher) level, that’s a LEADERSHIP challenge.
I recently analyzed the program of last year’s VSTE (Virginia’s ISTE affilate) conference. Of the 125 concurrent sessions at the VSTE conference last year, only 11 were dedicated to the leadership strand. Of those, only one had any form of the verb â€œto leadâ€ in the title; the word â€œprincipalâ€ does not appear anywhere in the program.
So, sure, we can tinker at the margins and move “one step at a time.” But, Will, I think your post begs further inquiry into why school leaders, for the most part, are not held more accountable for failing to move their organizations out of the 19th Century.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment Jon. I meet a lot of school leaders who are veritable Luddites and would have a hard time leading in terms of modeling the use of technology. But the difference with most (since they are open enough to having someone come in to start the conversation) is that they are willing to support those teachers who do get it. That is s small step toward enabling a cultural shift. Leadership at this moment is more about being willing to trust those around you to help you learn more about what you don’t know. But then again, hasn’t that always been the case?
Paul Caplan says
It’s almost as those the ‘education industry’ is going to have to go through its own Wikinomics moment.The individuals are beginning to get it, but the structures are still in the old ‘ownership & control’, ‘ip’ model rather than seeing the role of a successful company (school) in the new space being to use open source to build a dynamic, flexible and competitive ‘business’. For the educationalists here, and particularly those in the UK, please forgive the business speak. It’s a deliberate attempt to reappropriate language from bureaucrats and government who don’t understand it or education/learning.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
As I reread your post this morning and read the comments that followed I was delighted. True teacher leadership,(not the superficial kind that follows the mindset..ok your a department head, you are now a teacher leader)is what will be key in turning teaching into a true profession, rather than a semi-profession like it is now.
Teachers working together and holding each other accountable, growing as professionals and as a result removing the buffers that working in isolation can bring- is key to the reculturing that needs to take place for schools to remain relevant in the lives of our students in the 21st Century.
In PLP, we use professional learning teams as that local, face to face connection that helps teachers in a building work through fear 2.0 to commit courageous acts of change. Through, ongoing, job-embedded, professional development in professional learning communities, teachers can be bold and challenge the status quo as true professionals. The community collectively helps teachers begin to see themselves differently and to overcome fear so they can truly grow in practice and become–Teacher as writer, teacher as researcher, teacher as leader- and that is how we become a profession capable of preparing tomorrow’s leaders.
Ok this is becoming a blog post. I will finish up my thinking as I promised Will I would do over on <a href=”http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com” my site later today.
Thanks Will, I am thankful for your accountability and visionary partnership.
Carolyn Foote says
As I was reading this, I was thinking about schools where the connections are being made internally and externally.
I’m thinking particularly of Arapahoe and the cohorts of teachers there learning together. It seems like a very well-thought out process, and a way to build a community within a building to address change in the classroom.
Sometimes efforts I’ve experienced seem scattershot, rather than cohesive, and I think that while we make some progress, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive approach–which leads people to feel isolated and look outside their campus for supportive networks?
I also think of leadership and what a difference that makes. Our principal and superintendent really are embracing change, and encouraging innovation and that message does convey support to teachers and staff, though it is still slow. I think of principals like Chris Lehmann, who has created such a positive community for growth on his campus.
Our principal just told us she is participating in CLASS–which brings together principals and leaders with well-known writers/thinkers on change. Next month they are having a workshop with Sir Ken Robinson. It’s really powerful to know that the leaders in our district are having those kinds of experiences and inspiration, because it will convey to our campuses.
I’m thinking of the image of an apple, and what’s happening for us, is gradually it’s getting eaten from all sides, so I do think eventually it resets the culture.
But I think more cohesive staff development or planning processes are important for moving a district forward. I think what you all are doing with the PLP is an important example of that.
Excuse the somewhat rambling thoughts–just musing aloud here!
Thanks for articulating so well much of what I felt as I left SLA a few weeks back. I knew going there that I would leave recharged and ready to bring new ideas back with me, and that’s not to say I did not. Rather, what I left with is similar to what you described as “teachers are connecting more and more outside their spaces but, it appears at least, not so much inside their own districts and communities.”
Reading Justin Medved and Dennis Harter, who are guest blogging at Dangerously Irrelevant this week, also makes clear that what is not occurring at the rate we need are the conversations like those that took place at EduCon. Focused discussion on pedagogy and method rather than on tools and technology.
As an administrator, the most success we have had with our staff in adopting these pedagogies is when we find a way to make them personally meaningful to them–something you often speak of. But we still face the same struggle: when the classroom doors close, does the change take shape? Without connecting to other educators, locally or globally, there is no “support group” for teachers and administrators to examine either success or failure.
Thanks for this think aloud.
Britt Watwood says
I was as impressed with the number and power of the comments Will’s post generated as I was by the thoughts Will himself conveyed (and Sheryl’s summary was topnotch as well!). Back in ’98, Al Seagren and I published “Transforming Leaders, Cultures and Colleges” in Academic Leadership magazine. We were talking about chair leadership, but one of our quotes resonates with Will’s comments:
“…while change agent may be the desired role of chairs, an underlying culture must exist that permits chairs to act in transformational ways.”
I would suggest that the same is true regarding digital
teaching and learning. Mahatma Gandhi “We must live the change.” I echo Brian’s call to think globally (or flatly, as the case may be) but act locally.
Bill Fitzgerald says
RE: “But one thing (again) that has really been sticky from EduConn was the idea that local connections support local culture (as well as a few other things, such as leadership, of course) and vice versa.”
In many ways, this mirrors how the web itself was understood, and developed. Initially, you had large companies creating user silos tied together with an internet connection — anyone remember Compuserve? Then, people fled these companies and started working on the web, and built sites to connect with “the world” — Then, people started building web sites to connect with their Neighborhood Association — sites like Craigslist show the power of micropresences, or sites with an intensely local focus.
I sense the same type of pendulum swing in education — as people get more accustomed to the presence of the tools, the focus will switch to local use. Not surprisingly, this dovetails with work happening around interoperability fueled by open standards, and a safe secure means of maintaining an identity on the web that has grassroots support, as well as support from some of the major players —
For more on the ineroperability/semantic web piece, take a look at OpenCalais. For more on the unified identity, take a look at OpenID. Just this week, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo!, and Verisign joined the OpenID Federation board.
I’d include links, but I don’t want the comment to get munged by the spam monsters 🙂
Will Richardson says
Hey Bill…thanks for that really interesting reply. You’re providing some really interesting context for these shifts. Just fyi, if you add the links, I’ll have to moderate but it won’t get lost.
Bill Fitzgerald says
I actually put it together as a mini-post over on the OpenAcademic blog: http://openacademic.org/news/cast-down-your-bucket
The relevant links are:
The announcement re Google, Microsoft, IBM, VeriSign, Yahoo Joining the OpenID Foundation board: http://www.campustechnology.com/articles/58342
Bill MacKenize says
I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Will at a conference here in Toronto recently. I asked him how as a system administrator I can support the adoption and integration of Web 2.0 tools and thinking. What I think I heard you emphasize, Will, was that teachers need to do the work themselves independent of school boards using the tools available to them wherever they find them.
I would suggest that school boards and provincial leaders have an important role to play by fostering innovation and by modeling the use of the technology. While school boards can never keep up with early adopters we can bring up the rear i.e. the resisters by making the tools available and by incorporating their use into the work environment. Superintendent awareness of the potential of these tools is critical. Innovative projects using 2.0 tools are being denied funding in school boards due to ignorance as much as resistance.
Your presentation this week to Ministry of Education staff here in Ontario was a wonderful opportunity to help leaders gain a better understanding.
Danielle Kiefner says
I have the same big question. While it is great to have educators across the world on board to reshape the culture of schools and learning, I wonder how much can be done without the support of a larger group of people. We need to make these issues recognized not only by teachers, but by parents, administrators, students, and the rest of society. We need to be active in the community, participating in politics, present in the media, and working to have our voices heard. We need to transform those people who say education is important (nearly everyone) into people who act as if education is important. To do that, we need to find out why they arenâ€™t acting. Maybe they do not know the inadequacies of the system, and they need educated themselves. How many people are there who will talk about the importance of education to turn around and vote no on a referendum giving schools more funding? How can we convince people that lecturing may not be the best way to help students learn? They were taught by lecture, and they turned out just fine. We need to convey to people that the goal of education is not to be just fine. The goal of education should be to continuously improve in order to benefit learners to the greatest extent, not just to the extent that is necessary for life in the workforce. Is the status quo so strong that something as important as education can be left behind while the rest of the world has moved on into the future? As educators, we have the responsibility to convince the rest of the world to help us push education into the 21st century.