2020 may go down in recent history as the worst case of the Mondays….EVER! I don’t know about you, but I experienced long stretches of time that felt like Monday was repeating itself day after day and each of those days presented new and unexpected challenges. It seemed like just when things couldn’t get worse…they somehow did. Eventually the “Mondays” turned into Blursdays…each day was so similar it was hard to tell what day of the week it actually was…
The good news is we survived…and as hard and frustrating and uncertain as 2020 has been, we learned A LOT. We learned a lot about ourselves, about teaching and learning, about wellbeing, about building partnerships with families, about clear communication, and we successfully increased our ability to effectively use technology.
How can we capitalize on our new learning? What do we understand now about teaching and learning that we didn’t know a year ago at this time? What new knowledge have we gained? What skills have we developed? What are the dispositions that have been important for successful learning? How do we incorporate all of these new learnings into our practice?
As we begin 2021, take time to reflect with your colleagues and share what you have learned so we can build a collective knowledge base of strategies, insights and resources to continue to improve and refine best practices. There are several tools that can help facilitate this process.
Success Analysis Protocol: This protocol is designed to unpack your successes in a more deep and profound way than self-reflection. The process works best in groups of 3-4 people. Taking time to reflect, discuss, and build off of current successes helps teachers unpack the impact they have in the classroom and how they work together with colleagues. The success analysis protocol works well during faculty professional learning and, in my experience, highly impacts student learning through the sharing of successful strategies while serving to inspire teachers. To read more about how you might use this protocol with your faculty or on your leadership team, read “What’s Working and How can we do More of it?“
Interviews: School Leaders, who are the teachers that thrived and innovated during 2020? What did they do to make learning effective and engaging for students? How did they communicate with families? What tools and platforms did they use? How did they find resources? How did they manage the multiple transitions from teaching in person to teaching online, transitioning to hybrid instruction and then navigating their way back to teaching in person or to teaching online (again)? Uncovering the answers to these questions will be critical for moving forward. We have so much to learn from these innovative and resilient teachers.
There are two tools in particular that can help you in this process. The first one is an interview process called, “Bright Spot Interviews.” The purpose of these interviews is to: (1) surface keystone practices and (2) understand the journey the teachers have taken- what helped these teachers grow during these uncertain times and how can these practices inform our next steps? The second interview process is the Appreciative Inquiry Interview. The example I just linked is specific to “improvement groups” but you can easily adapt the questions as needed for your purpose. The interview will help you uncover high points, success factors, three wishes for moving forward and better understand the time needed by the teacher to experience his/her successes.
Action Research: In addition to taking time to uncover and celebrate successes from 2020 we also need to use these successes for future planning. We are no longer reacting and responding to uncertainty, we are living it. How do we intentionally learn our way forward? Engaging in action research is a purposeful way to learn and innovate. The tools of improvement science can help us do this successfully. What problems of practice are at the forefront of our work? How do we use what we have learned and continue to innovate and refine our practices? What ideas do we adopt, which ideas do we adapt and which ideas do we abandon because evidence shows they haven’t worked?
In the article, “Getting Better Together,” you can learn more about how improvement science uses just enough data to accelerate teacher learning, facilitate deep reflection, and guide further action. Feel free to contact me for a copy of the article or to learn more about how to launch action research in your school using the tools of improvement science.
Congratulations on surviving the worst case of the Mondays in recent history. As we move forward into 2021 lets put our best foot forward, use what we have learned and build off of our successes because there have been a lot of them!
I read a post recently that said re-opening is going to be like playing three dimensional chess in a hurricane on one leg.
Ok, maybe in New York public schools.
Besides that, it’s really not that dramatic.
Use common sense. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. It’s not rocket science.
We didn’t have IB exams this year. Did the world stop spinning? Maybe for schools that overpredicted, yes. Otherwise, did we learn that maybe summative exams don’t determine the course of our lives?
This is a real opportunity for school leaders to make a difference and to stop making excuses 21 years, yes 21 years into 21st century learning. What is truly amazing about this pandemic is that it has literally created classrooms without walls. Now let’s step into the void and create something special.
If you are opening full virtual, then you have a huge opportunity (sorry primary) to get students out into the field to do things they’ve never done before, to have an impact on their communites and environment, to interact with nature and their surroundings rather than the four walls of a classroom and to do something. (With masks, social distancing and handwashing of course).
If you’re opening hybrid then you can do similar things now that the learning spectrum has expanded, bringing back their experiences, redesigning timetables to accomodate this work, and developing interdisciplinary teams across subjects to
Tom Kelley, CEO of IDEO said, “Creative confidence is the ability to come up with great ideas and the courage to try them out.” Pundits have called Covid-19 ‘the great accelerator.’ In other words, innovations that would have taken 10 years in normal times, such as in healthcare, online shopping, food service, travel, and yes, education, are happening now.
Re-opening cannot simply mean putting all of our energy into temperature checks and cafeteria grids. It has to mean so much more. The line ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ has been bouncing around and it’s incumbent upon leaders to understand what this means for schools beyond returning to status quo.
Yes, it’s unsettling to introduce new things when everyone just wants to revert back to September 2019. Yes, it’s tempting just to make everyone feel stable again by lining children up in 2 meter separate rows. But, what does this disruption tell us about the fundamental role of schools? Why do we gather in a space to learn? Do we really care anymore about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand for crying out loud?
I have too often enabled the comfortable boundaries of investigating uncertainty through the academic lens. All of that important stuff, whether it be socioeconomic injustice, environmental collapse, racial divide all through the relative ease of a formative assessment.
But now we cannot even go to school because of something that has called everything into question.
What an opportunity.
It is our responsibility to realign the WHY of what we do (thanks Simon Sinek) and connect it to the HOW. It’s no longer good enough to proclaim exceptional IB scores on LinkedIn or brag about university admittance. If we value things like learners having the “mental agility to solve problems we’ve never seen before,” or to “see the big picture, zero in on minute details, and move things around to make a difference,” (Vivien Luu, HR Vision, 2016) then we have to do a much better job of connecting the world to our schooling than a CAS project that hardly scratches the surface.
We continue to train kids to do school. Now that this has blown up, it has exposed a lot of shortcomings (well beyond access to WiFi). We act like we are teaching resiliency and adaptability, but this crisis has really shone a spotlight on the fact that we can do a LOT better (this goes for teachers and admin too). We act like we are building capacity for problem solvers and creative thinkers, but we panic when a student falls short on a conditional offer in HL Math. I don’t get it.
Don’t waste this crisis when you go back. Take care of the hand sanitizing and the temperature checks and the socio-emotional learning, but most of all, resist the temptation to restore order. This is your crisis to move forward on the type of learners we are going to need to save the planet.
There comes a point in surfing where you either commit to where that force of nature is going to bring you or you duck under and hope for another day.
It feels like we’ve been ducking under for a long time, let’s say since 1999 clicked to 2000. Has that been long enough waiting for the perfect wave?
Covid-19 has brought the fogginess attributed with stress and the crystal clarity that comes with crisis. As educators, this is our surfboard moment, that disruptive peak where we, finally, have to decide if we’re going to hang ten and do something about the promises of 21st century learning (before we start talking about the 22nd). Here’s my list, subject to change and certainly debate.
Homework to Quarantine
I hated it as a student, hate it as a parent, and find it laughable when my child is literally home all day. What are we going to call it when school re-opens, school work? A hard stop to schooling at the end of the school day, (except for pleasure reading and doing something outside) seems like a nice post-pandemic practice. (IB/DP students are exempted from this rant).
Carnegie Units and Choice
We talk a lot about choice, but we don’t really mean it. Now that students are more or less off schedule, can mute teachers, and decide when and what they want to study, it feels like we can’t go back to math on Tuesdays at 9am. This is seriously going to shake up the control freak schedulers and force us to rethink how we relegate time and for what and who makes those choices.
Death Knell of the SAT
Well, well, well, looks like universities CAN decide college admissions without the antiquated SAT score? This is going to be interesting. Yes, I know that grades are inflated and GPAs laughable. I don’t have the perfect “one size fits all” metric but I do know that relying on the SAT as an indicator of future success is like saying that car ownership is an indicator that you could win a Formula One race.
Social Distance the Subjects
Has the world finally learned the lessons of The Great War? The Roman Empire? Dividing fractions? The interactions between matter and energy? (Okay, maybe that last one is important). My point is that now that we’re home, everything has blended into one gooey mess and what we are learning about seems trivial at best.
We no longer walk down the hall to math, then music or design, physically moving ourselves from one thing to another. As virtual students, we have big blocks of time to make sense of a bunch of stuff in one place. We aren’t doing students any favors by throwing work at them that is completely disconnected between subjects. It’s time to admit that secondary schools aren’t very good at being “university lite” and to once again re-think what it means to be a thinker and a learner. Literacy, regardless of the content is important. Conceptual analysis and critical thinking skills, regardless of whether a kid can divide fractions, is important. Introducing learning skills relevant to the existential crisis raging outside our computer screens is important.
Teachers are Gold
No online course or webinar will ever, ever, ever replace the invaluable magic of a human being facilitating a titration experiment or mesmerizing an audience with a dramatic scene. When this pandemic is over (and it will end), I’m imagining our teachers being paraded through the streets like the Apollo astronauts in convertibles through Times Square in 1968.
Technology Has Its Limits
I cannot wait to see how many schools are going to shelve the laptops once this is over and send their IT directors on well deserved vacations. I sort of predict that there is going to be a techno whiplash from parents, teachers and students once this is over. Libraries are going to spring up like daisies again and I-Pads will be used as cafeteria trays.
People over Product
Schools are generally good at this already, but I have a feeling socio-emotional wellness is going to a new level after this crisis. Talk about coping skills and resiliency!
If there has ever been a time in recent human history where we need to think outside of the proverbial box and reset our priorities, it is now. Let’s please ride the wave together in this vacuum of uncertainty and see where it takes us.
There is a moment in the morning when everything feels right. The sun peaks through the trees making the world outside a beautiful shade of gold. There is stillness.
That feeling of calm fades when I start up my laptop. First, I check the school closure facebook groups to see what questions people are struggling with and what new resources and ideas are out there to help. Next, I read through the questions that have been generated on the listservs. There are more questions than answers.
Everything is happening at light speed these days. I have repeatedly heard the phrase from school leaders and teachers, “I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life.”
We are currently living in a time of rapid, iterative cycles of ideation and prototyping. Educators have been plunged into uncharted territory when it comes to teaching and student learning. We are forced to not just grapple with questions we have been asking for years, but to find answers to those questions. Now.
“How do I best communicate learning?”
“How do I give timely and meaningful feedback for learning to all of my students?”
“What is the value of letter grades and percentages when it comes to communicating learning? Are grades and percentages still important?”
“How do I ensure that all students are learning?”
“If an assessment practice works in person but doesn’t work virtually, what information does that tell me?”
“What is the value of having students sit in a room to take an exam if we don’t think there is a good alternative to demonstrate that learning and cancel exams?”
“Have we given students enough voice and choice to keep them motivated and engaged in the learning process without a teacher available every minute to hold students accountable for their learning?”
The time is now. Whether we are ready for it or not. How might we start shifting our “crowd sourced sharing economy” of resources to improve our teaching practice and our students’ learning experiences whether learning virtually or in a brick and mortar building?
We have been presented with a lot of problems that must be answered. Now. Every teacher and school leader is tackling multiple problems on a daily basis. Everyone is testing out ideas. Everyone is getting feedback directly and indirectly. Teachers are getting data from students and school leaders are getting data from teaching faculty. How are we using these data to refine and improve our practices and when we do, how we are sharing our learning with others?
People are working harder than they ever have to ensure learning continues for students. We can not let the stress overshadow the innovation that is occurring. Now. Each teacher and school leader is overcoming immense obstacles. Each teacher and school leader is having to embrace the idea that what he/she is doing is definitely incomplete and possibly incorrect. It is an uncomfortable place to be. We are in the place where learning happens. Now. This learning will be formative.
Each person is rapidly learning new skills and strategies. Some people might not have the time to stop and reflect on all that they have accomplished to date. Some people might not realize they are innovating. Some people might not realize the contribution they are making to the field of teaching and learning. Now.
My friend said, “I can never go back to the way I used to teach.” Think about that statement for a minute. How has your teaching and leadership practice changed? What is important when you think about student learning? How might we share our rapid cycles of learning so we keep doing what’s best for our students?
To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. Jules Henri Poincaré (1854 – 1912)
NOTE: I’ve heard it said that great writing is ‘clear thinking about mixed feelings,’ and I have a lot of them after working through Sonny Magana’s book and the research and marketing behind it. As an experiment, I published this post and then published a follow up post after I saw Magana speak about his book in person at the ELMLE conference in Budapest. I wanted to be open to changing my mind if I was misunderstanding him or his work etc., The follow-up post is here.
NOTE2: By the way, the title of this post is a “riff” off of Magana’s “rock and roll!” related storytelling/style; that at some level the genesis for the book started around a campfire hearing Eddie Van Halen for the first time as a young man learning guitar.
By the end, I hope readers will not only better understand the issues Magana addresses in his book, but also hope you will be more confident in making an informed judgement when hearing your own heads of school and principals offer solutions to the challenges of technology integration.
First, my conclusions:
Magana’s framework is itself sound— (I know, I created one largely identical to it a decade ago as an MYP IT teacher.), so one can argue it could be an improvement over SAMR, Triple E. TPACK, etc., but the problem is that for generalist teachers, it’s akin to putting a new stereo in your car to fix a faulty transmission. As “Julie’s” review of the book on Amazon.com explains perfectly: (click the review to open it in a new window to read)
Magana’s research partner, John Hattie, blurbs the book and seems to be saying the opposite, claiming that understanding why performance is so low is “critical”. I don’t get the sense that either Hattie or Magana understand very well what happens when you approach people and tell them “you’re doing it wrong,” especially without acknowledging/affirming first what they are up against that is completely outside their control.
Magana points to Hattie’s Visible Learning data which claims “computer technology” as having effects underneath the zone of desired effects for the past 50 years. If this type of research and technology integration has been his “life’s work”, the lack of explanation, pushback or questioning of Hattie’s data, methodology or vague categorization of what exactly Hattie supposedly measured with regard to “computer technology”, seems incongruent.
In a promotional piece on Magana’s website written about a school that implemented his T3 framework, the actual changes made to implement it could only have been done by Administrators, not teachers. The piece claims success came from the provision of tech training for teachers through a “Curriculum Camp” and allowing demand from teachers to drive tech choices/integration instead of top down decision making. This does not square with the claim that the problem with tech failure stems from “tell and practice” teaching methods. What this piece actually demonstrates is that technology sprayed into classrooms without adequate teacher training is going to result in low teacher efficacy with technology. You have to change the admin approaches first, not the other way around. Nowhere in Magana’s book are administrators asked to be responsible for these types of changes, yet they are front and center in the “success stories?”
For two former teachers and tech integrationists who’ve no doubt shared many of same experiences in schools, I draw different conclusions than Magana does about the root cause of low impact technology integration. I began writing about these realities in TIE back in June of 2019. I called some of the phenomena Trickledown Edtechonomics, the Edtechochamber and Kabuki Integration.
During the decade and a half plus years I taught, coached and lead Edtech programs in several schools and countries, I worked with administrative leadership who more often than not had a limited grasp of technology but could both micromanage and starve IT programs of attention simultaneously; no small feat. My hope in publishing this review is to offer my experience so you can make up your own minds what you think makes sense as the best next step to invest scarce time and resources in your own school. On to the review.
The studies the book is based on some consider “Pseudoscience”
One cannot review Magana’s book without first reviewing the material on which Magana bases it on, which is the work of Australian researcher, John Hattie.
There are many critics of Hattie’s work and it’s conclusions, but the core complaint is that the work is unscientific and his meta-methodology draws conclusions that simply cannot be drawn. Another is that Hattie’s work facilitates the rise of the guru, one who outlines how things could be and provides aspirational descriptions of a utopian future if we just do the work…often without any consideration of how the labor involved in the new work will be “paid for” and by whom.
The Role of Leadership, Teachers and Solutions in Technology Integration
Role of Leadership
Any school that believes the use of technology can improve instruction must find a way to provide training for teachers and opportunities for them to practice and prepare technology enhanced lessons.
If they can’t or don’t, then school administration should be held responsible for the failures and no one else. Otherwise, what does their “leadership” even mean? Who is hiring all these “tell and practice” teachers Magana and Hattie say are mucking everything up? Who is setting and directing the schedules that enable or disable the collaborative planning necessary to coordinate such “transformative education frameworks?” Who is controlling the PD budgets? The management of the IT department? The overall school culture?
It’s not teachers.
At best it is disheartening when you see leadership responsibilities foisted on teachers who have zero power to make the programmatic decisions that would enable and increase the possibility of success for technology integration.
Nearly everyone would agree that Edtech has been successful in getting kid’s parents connected to the school, making student assessments viewable online, enabling endless variations on digital teaching, made many forms of collaboration a breeze, survey data collection is now easily done, the list goes on. Edtech’s successes are in command and control, communication and collaboration among teachers, but this is largely digital teaching, not digital learning, and thus it’s not really aimed at student achievement. Magana does not address this or make any distinctions about what exactly he’s talking about when he talks about “computer technology.”
Schools have been successful with this kind of digital teaching, and I think that’s why more and more you’re seeing schools trying to commingle the success of command and control tech and sell it as part of “digital learning” that is benefiting students. It’s a very convenient conflagration for schools to make, sort of like digital “Kleenex”, but everything being lumped together makes real problem solving much more difficult.
Most schools have some kind of marketing for Information Technology, descriptions of their aim to provide 21st century, student centered learning and some even have a scope and sequence/curriculum for digital learning, a makerspace, etc.. On close inspection, a much smaller number of schools actually have an operational vision, processes, expertise and leadership to make it all function for powerful discovery and learning for students.
Underneath the high visibility, low impact provisioning for students is in large part I think the pernicious myth of the digital native. This nearly 20 year old, evidence free myth was started by Marc Prensky (another Corwin author) and I would argue one of the myth’s most significant effects was that it gave school administrators a rationale and cover for minimizing time and resources deployed to train staff and students on the devices they were pushing into classrooms.
Which has lead us to the reality of much of Edtech in the classroom, Kabuki Integration. This is when culture hasn’t changed because no skill-sets nor mindsets were changed: New boxes, old ideas. Magana calls it “technology rich and innovation poor”, I call it FOMO and virtue signaling over virtuosity. Whatever you call it, it is high concept performance art; the expensive hardware and software is all there, but the critical bits behind it all, the “mindware”, is largely missing. Without having done the work to create a functional digital culture, absent a user focus and the requisite socio-technical feedback and iteration processes, many of today’s Edtech implementations are the equivalent of giving teachers chainsaws:
It all depends on how teachers use it. We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess.” Dr. Gary Stager
So in a sense, Magana is right in that teachers would be better teachers if they were also better technologists, but what is interesting about Stager’s quote is that we in fact have given chainsaws to almost every teacher, many times with only the barest minimal of instruction/support in how to use it. The result? A mess. What else should we expect?
We’ve been steadily increasing the amount of operating systems, apps and hardware every teacher and student must know each year. Our orientations and PD include a tiny fraction of the training teachers eventually piece together on their own just to stay afloat, let alone innovate. In my last school we had over a half-dozen major software platforms staff needed to navigate and that didn’t even include any “learning” apps for lessons, etc., that was just for infrastructure, grades, curriculum, communications, storage, etc..
Why aren’t teachers efficacious at imparting digital learning skills even when they have integration support? Because the tech integration process into units/lessons, the functional integration system and mechanisms that connect a schools digital learning “aspirations” to actual classroom activity are often completely absent or inconsistent at best in all but the smallest percentage of schools, even the “better” schools. And this floundering is as at least as much or more the result of programming choices by administrators, as it is the way teachers teach, and Magana has nothing at all to say about this in his book.
There is no shame in being an “Average user” as without continual access to training and knowledge, without being told that it’s not worth pursuing a certain course of action because there’s a non-obvious roadblock that leads to negative results, without someone to tell them they should try procedure X in this specific step because “it just works better when you do it this way,” everyone struggles. Getting access to this kind of hard earned tech knowledge and skill is an enormous performance advantage and that’s why it’s such a shame that so much tech is rolled out with so little time devoted to coaching and integration support.
Also mentionable, in teachers defense, regarding the common refrain from the school community peanut gallery that “The kids are just sitting there on their devices watching/doing X instead of doing the work in class…” To suggest that a teachers inability to defeat the work of professional psychologists, behaviorists, gamification experts, and all the other people paid to make devices, games and social media addicting is somehow the fault of the teacher is at best irksome.
Magana is correct that we’re putting computers and other technology in a school system that was designed for a totally different epoch. In part, we’re still living under the legacy of the blackboard, the overhead projector and pencil and paper, technologies that required presentation bit by bit…which is why it had to be divided into curriculums, subjects, assignments…where children then had to be organized into age groups and rows because what could be taught was restricted by the conditions under which the knowledge was disseminated.
Today, knowledge dissemination is largely the reason “computer technology” is assigned to students to use in schools—most often it’s used as an efficient content delivery and assessment system; and it’s prescriptive, not imaginative. It does things to children; rather than empower them to do things that are important to them. Tech use in schools is largely about following rules and copyright, finding the right answers, consuming in the basic ways what you’ve been told to consume; it’s the way you process and turn in assignments. Magana is correct that schools generally remain at this type of “translational”, surface learning.
Magana’s recommendations are in sync with the feedback I’ve gotten from students over the years is that information technology has been the most beneficial to students as an autodidactic launching pad; enabling self determined, independent learning. Unfortunately, schools, leaders and teachers today are ill prepared, and often hostile towards this type of learning as it requires an entirely different approach to “School.” And no, you cannot single teachers out as the resistance, most I have worked with would love to loosen up how and what they teach, but parents, school leadership and even students often reject these “new teaching methods”.
As far as new ways of doing “School”, teachers largely do not seem to have the support systems necessary to re-conceptualize their educational roles and the requirements placed upon them. Whether it’s Magana’s framework or another, absent change at an administrative level that not only acknowledges the need for teacher training/support, but actually devotes adequate (ongoing) resources toward it; creating the culture, calendaring and communication systems to support the collaboration it requires, godspeed to you in “disrupting Education.”
Assuming the Status Quo in Schools Stays Pretty Much The Same (it’s a safe bet), What Might a Truly New Framework for Digital Learning Look Like?
So, if the computing “grammar” and ecosystem kids experience in school, its structure and constraints, stand in the way of the real possibilities computers and the internet represent for learning, what then?
Outside of the school environment, digital tools can offer an incredible breadth of experience in a tiny footprint, — IF and it’s a big IF, you know how to use IT yourself and have the ability and patience to guide others in how to use IT.
Assuming a person had the skills and patience, what might be possible?
What if you set schools aside completely, forgot about them as part of digital learning until the Magana’s and the Admins and the teachers of the world get their priorities and responsibilities worked out, and instead you focused on cultivating one of the most accurate (and uncontested) predictors of student achievement: parental involvement in their child’s education?
In other words, what if you were to design a system that was about learning with technology, not teaching with it; acting as the curator and coach of students’ and parents learning experiences together? e.g., A framework that includes dedicated “mindware development” for digital learning, rather than focusing on the process and devices and apps for digital teaching which is a different animal altogether?
This way you could imprint the better angels of what technology is useful for and ingrain the right types of “screentime” from the start. Young children would then have a useful tool that follows them through the rest of the their schooling, not a debilitating distraction as many children today seem to relate primarily with devices.
Perhaps technology is best learned as an autodidactic launchpad, not taught as the way to turn in assignments?
As I work my way through the first months of changes in my life from “not working in a school” for the first time in a decade and a half, I am the first to feel ruffled feathers by this question as I most recently left a position of “Director of Digital Learning.”
Shouldn’t I know? I always just assumed Edtech offered a net benefit because it did and does for me…but absent the need to feed the status quo, I’m free to follow my questions wherever the answers lead me.
I think it’s important to say from the outset that I am a supporter of digital learning- at least as I understand it. I have endless anecdotes from my own (tech) classes and coaching about students who (I think/they claimed) benefited greatly from exposure to technology in one form or another whether assistive, academic, etc.. What I am not so sure of is the correlations between Edtech and digital learning being made today as much of the Edtech that gets talked about and implemented in the majority of schools I would term “digital teaching”, not digital learning.
What I hope to come to a better understanding of in this space, is whether or not we’ve all allowed ourselves to slide into believing something about technology as it’s used in schools as to be something it’s really not. So since we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience, that’s what this column and perhaps 2-3 posts after it are about- reflecting on over a decade and a half in the classroom and a handful of years at the end as a leadership team member at an international school.
Interestingly to note, some of the struggles I had as a teacher, a coach and integrationist became clearer once privy to the inner sanctum banter of a school leadership team. No question there are schools with cutting edge technology initiatives and fantastically capable and enthusiastic staff leading them, but unfortunately I think it’s safe to say there is more often than not a dearth of accountable leadership for digital anything in less ambitiously “21st century” schools. This lack of focus results in friction losses at the interfaces, poor infrastructure provisioning, lack of management and mentoring of IT staff, etc., the list goes on…
At one point I was fortunate to be at a school that employed digital learning integration support and even put a “tech” person on the leadership team, but even still, there was much less team support for digital learning initiatives as there were for traditional “teaching and learning” shibboleths. And it makes sense, as even the best generalist administrators are not well versed in any kind of depth of insight regarding technology integration. That’s okay– it’s just important to point out because there is a lot of decision making going on and diagnosing of issues happening with very little training or experience behind it.
Why this matters is because digital learning, digital teaching, edtech and IT, etc., are all thrown around interchangeably and they are not the same. A digital “Kleenex” if you will. There is an “Edtechochamber” of tech industry types, evangelists and a small percentage of heavily tech invested coaches, admin and teachers who support the use of “Edtech” and everything gets megaphoned together.
It’s repeated in a lot of school marketing as all having to do with improving student learning. Combined like this, marketed with fervor, one presumes that there is true “game changing” technology being implemented and integrated, but a curious thing is- you don’t often see any data supporting these claims about Edtech’s ROI, or certainly not ROI in terms of student achievement/learning for which it’s being claimed to be in the service of.
So my question is simple:
Where is the evidence that Edtech, (regardless of what it’s called) provides a net benefit for student learning?
I would so love to see a deluge of studies come forward that I have simply missed. I want to see the data that shows that the kind of integration that’s being done in classrooms today around the world is a net benefit for “student learning”. Anecdotes on a small number of classrooms in a school/district or stats on improved teacher efficiency, (Gaining time doesn’t mean the teachers repurpose the time on students of course!) aren’t what I’m looking for.
If we can’t measure the positive effects of “Edtech” on student learning, (or maybe we shouldn’t if it’s digital teaching, not digital learning?) then what exactly are we doing to students in schools with technology? How do we know? I’m not convinced we’re getting what we think we’re getting, and I am open to hearing about what I have not yet seen.
In order to ask and wonder “What is needed next as we grapple with which types of digital learning positively impact students and how and when they should be integrated?”, my next posts will summarize my review of Sonny Magana’s 2017 book (that leans heavily on Hattie’s Visible Learning research) laying out what he calls the “T3 Framework for Innovation in Education”.
On his research, Magana says “I’ve been researching the “Wicked Problem” of low-impact technology use in schools for four decades and have recently discovered a sequence of learning strategies that unlock students’ limitless learning capacity. I call it the T3 Framework for Innovation. The T3 strategy sequence was shown to reliably double student learning and achievement.” As well, Magana invites readers “…to learn how to work less and teach better…” and finally, to “Rock and Roll!”
“A mathematic theory that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.”
This is also called the ‘butterfly effect’ where if you can imagine a puff of air from a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.
What I love about this theory is that is starts off as a small, almost unnoticeable shift and ends up being astronomical. It’s not throwing everything up in the air and starting from scratch. But it gets there, eventually.
Innovation doesn’t work in schools because as a rule they are extremely risk averse and break out in hives when you even mention the word chaos. Not with my kids you don’t! Take the cafeteria, for instance. (I know, I’m on duty every day). It’s the one place where things are allowed (sort of) to be chaotic. And the adults cannot handle it. They cringe at the noise, the kids cutting line, the ones who don’t clean up after themselves, and the hats. The hats, the hats the hats.
It’s chaos. I have a theory.
I have a theory that a child has an idea in the chaos of the cafeteria. He puts his sandwich down and stares into space, reaching underneath the table to text a friend (because cell phones are not allowed) to meet him in the library.
The friend meets him in the library, wondering what’s going on. There’s still some time for lunch but it’s going to spill into the next period. “I gotta go,” the friend says, wondering what it’s all about. “I’ve got math.”
“Not yet,” the boy says. “Math can wait.”
“You remember that thing we were reading about Singapore having to import most of its water? I have an idea about what to do.”
“Really?” the friend asked. “Is that really what you called me up here for?”
“Sort of. I was at the design expo at Nanyang School of Art this weekend and they were talking about sustainability. I thought it was really cool and it gave me some ideas about the water thing.”
“Right,” the friend says. “Well, I gotta go before I’m late.”
The boy watches his friend walk away.
A teacher (on his prep period) comes by and observes the boy in the library, by himself. Rather than ask where he should be, he looks over his shoulder, noticing several tabs open on water sustainability projects, environment, and three universities.
“What are you working on?” the teacher asked. “Oh, sorry,” the boy says, shutting his laptop case. “No, it’s okay,” the teacher answers. “I’m not going to get you in trouble. You’re a sixth grader, right? My diploma class is doing some things on the environment and maybe you could join the conversation. We’re supposed to Skype with this scientist from Alaska who’s working on some water sustainability theories. You might find it interesting.”
The boy goes to the class and misses math, then English, then Spanish. He makes his way to art at the end of the day because it’s the one place where he liked to rejuvinate his brain when it got overloaded. Something about working with pottery.
Even though the time zones didn’t line up exactly, he managed to find a few water projects in Kuwait and Texas that shared his ideas about what to do in Singapore, and he found a way to connect with them. He also texts his older sister in the 10th grade to see if any of her classes are talking about anything to do with water and the environment. “Dunno,” she replies. “Leave me alone, I’m in the middle of a test.”
At the end of the day, he finds himself back in the science teacher’s class. “Oh, there you are,” the teacher says. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell anyone, but the office has been looking for you all afternoon. I think you’re in trouble. Do you want me to write them a note? Did you miss classes the rest of the day?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, the boy says. But can I show you what I was doing?” When the boy is finished, the teacher looks at his watch and takes out his cell phone.
“What are you doing?” the boy asks. “I’m calling Alaska,” the teacher says. “They need to talk to you.”
“Use your unique gifts and talents to make a difference in the world.” Lailah Gifty Akita.
After a yearlong review process, involving regular feedback and contributions from parents, students, and teachers through surveys, retreats, and focus group meetings, the American School of Brasilia’s new mission statement was officially introduced this year:
Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.
As part of an ongoing analysis of EAB’s new mission statement, this week’s post looks at the fourth and final element of the mission: Bold in Vision.
Bold in Vision highlights the aspiration that our students and community members will make a positive difference in our community and the greater world around them. In one sense, Bold in Vision is the outcome that brings the other elements of the mission together towards a higher aim. While it is imperative to support and empower a community of learners to inspire each other and foster a lifelong love for learning (Inquisitive in Life), knowledge and learning can be further enhanced in the context of values systems (Principled in Character). Taking this progression a step further, it seems to be a loss if all of this learning and character development are not applied in some manner to improve, not only ourselves, but our communities and the lives of others.
To further the goal of making a positive difference, the Bold in Vision aspect of the mission also focuses on the strategic approaches to implementing effective change. These strategic changes and the ability to effectively address many of our current challenges will require creative and innovative approaches. To that end, our schools must assume the fundamental responsibility towards ensuring learning environments that support creativity, innovation, empowerment, and engaged learning.
In his book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, Will Richardson highlights this responsibility of schools, with a particular focus on the role of teachers:
“Our job as educators is to understand deeply what it means to be a modern learner more so than a modern teacher. Our goal should not be to learn new technologies in order to become better teachers in the traditional sense. Our goal is to develop expertise in powerful new technologies to become better learners for ourselves and for our students, who may lack other learning models.”
It is hoped that EAB’s new mission statement embodies the ideals associated with Richardson’s words.
As with any focus on a Bold in Vision statement, technology will play a key role in the future of education. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report in 2015 entitled, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection, which frames the role that technology will play in education. Specifically, the report stresses that, “information and communication technology (ICT) has revolutionized virtually every aspect of our life and work. Students unable to navigate through a complex digital landscape will no longer be able to participate fully in the economic, social, and cultural life around them.”
The work of teachers is key to leveraging the opportunities associated with ICT. However, the report cautions that, “technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.” This is an important quote in that it clarifies that technology is not driving our work nor replacing poor teaching but rather providing teachers with an additional, important, and ubiquitous resource to support the learning process.
Finally, when considering our commitment to the Bold in Vision aspect of our mission statement, the OECD report emphasis the role of schools and educators on the future of learning:
“We need to get this right in order to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialized materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints.”
Returning to EAB’s new mission statement, the last element of the mission – Bold in Vision – was purposely designed to be less prescriptive and focused as compared to the other elements of the mission. The reason for this design is to frame the American School of Brasilia’s future work in the context of dynamic and changing environments. Bold in Vision is an open-ended premise that challenges us to use our collective learning and development to make a positive difference in the world through personalized, innovative, and creative approaches.
Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.
I am writing this week’s posting from 44G, my assigned seat on the plane returning me to Brasilia. It has been nearly two weeks since I departed from Brazil to attend a series of international teacher recruitment fairs, planning meetings, conferences, professional development workshops, and school visits. As with any professional trip of this nature, the challenge with the follow-up is to determine how best to consolidate and apply the essential outcomes within the context of our school’s ongoing growth and development strategies. To that end, the concepts of creativity and innovation, among several other resulting focus areas, emerged as one of the dominant themes of this trip.
During a retreat hosted by the Academy for International School Heads, the school directors in attendance agreed to the American School of Bombay’s proposed working definition for the word innovation:
Innovation: an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, team, organization, or community.
Equipped with this definition, the directors were then asked to rank the following industries from the most innovative and relevant to the least:
Agriculture, Communications, Education, Entertainment, Medicine, and Military.
While a debate about the ranking order ensued, there was a general consensus that education was the least innovative among this list of industries. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, it is clear that inhibitors to innovation in education can be attributed to two key areas: (i) the challenge of teaching in a manner that is different from how teachers were taught; (ii) overcoming the adult expectation for children to learn in a manner that is similar to how these same adults learned as students.
David Burkus’ book, The Myths of Creativity, presents the metaphor of a mousetrap, which may be used to better understand the challenge of innovation in schools. While the catchphrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” may be widely believed as a fact, is not necessarily true. Our initial reaction to an innovative idea is usually to reject or ignore the idea. Burkus emphasizes, “Creative ideas, by their very nature, invite judgment. People need to know if the value promised by the new idea is worth the abandonment of the old.”
Since the original and current version of the spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in 1899, over forty-four hundred new versions of a mousetrap have been patented, with several identified as more effective than the original. Yet, it is the original model that continues to be the most popular. Why? Burkus highlights several other examples of resistance to key innovative ideas, such as Kodak’s rejection of their own digital camera invention in 1975, as Kodak did not believe people would prefer digital to film pictures. Sony, in contrast, is now a digital photography industry leader, and has been a key benefactor of Kodak’s inability to embrace its own innovation.
According to Burkus, our natural tendency is to inherently reject innovation, resist change, and act with bias against new ideas, the later of which has been established through validated psychological research. Based on these arguments and the deep, personal nature of education, it is easy to see why education is ranked as one of the least innovative industries. So, how do we move forward in the face of these challenges? Burkus again provides us with helpful advice:
“It’s not enough to merely generate great ideas. Though we live in a world of complex challenges and our organizations need innovative solutions, we also live in a world biased against creative ideas. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face.”
I am not alone in my belief that education is currently undergoing a transformative change process representative of an inflection point in the history of educational reform. While we can speculate, no one can be certain about where this change process will eventually lead us. Only time will determine which of the current innovations in the world of education will prove to be highly effective and become standard practice. EAB is no exception to facing this challenge. However, there are innovative approaches, such as EAB’s new assessment policy, the focus on collaborative learning and associated learning spaces, like the iCommons, that educational research has established and validated as best practices.
Like other industries, education will continue to face challenges associated with establishing and embracing an effective culture of creativity and innovation. Based on Burkus’ work, it is probable that several key innovations, which would likely lead to significant improvements in education, may not come to fruition in the near future. However, we also know that some innovative ideas will be accepted and will soon be recognized as standard practice. By way of example, it is predicted that, in the near future, the pervasive use of technology in learning environments will be second nature, rather than new and innovative.
As I submit this note for publication from seat 44G, I can’t help but reflect on Burkus’ theories about our inherent nature to reject innovation in the context of my current travels. How outlandish it must have seemed when someone first proposed the idea of passengers sending email messages from their airplane seats while jetting across the sky.
Reference: Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.
Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Morten F Flying from Copenhagen to Oslo https://www.flickr.com/photos/glimt1916/15506061634