Five Ideas To Think About



I don’t know if this was prompted by the fact that he came up and said hello to me last night, or by the fact that the title of his post, Reality Bytes, struck me, but David Jakes has got me thinking about the five main points he brings up in his most recent post at TechLearning. When we spend so much time speaking of changing schools, whether you buy into what Alvin Toefler is saying or not, we often forget that we are a supreme minority, we edubloggers. That real change is a much bigger elephant that we are going to need a lot of help in biting over time.

According to David, “the conversation forgets:”

1. That schools, like the one on Main Street in Downers Grove, and the schools that are in your community, can indeed be successful.

I work in a public school system. We are bound by a state-mandated curriculum, bound by every regulatory principle under Title 18A of the New Jersey State Constitution, and participate in every mandatory data collection via assessment. That system is not changing; those responsibilities are not changing.

We are also a state with a powerful and active teacher’s union who does some great work for teachers. Any changes that are made within my schools will have to done with these two aspects in mind. This is possible because of the staff that we have and the vision that we have for our students. It’s just going to be much different than some of the visions we see and hear about as we read.

2. That school change, school reform, whatever you want to call it, can emerge from within schools themselves.

The most important aspect, and this came up in a brief conversation with Kristin Hokanson last night at the Franklin Institute, is that there are so many people involved in this conversation that are classroom teachers. I love to hear what Scott Meech, George Mayo, and Brian Crosby are doing because it is practical change. For someone like me, and this point was reflected in the comment from John Maklary, I am out of the classroom so I may not “get it” as much as I used to. Seeing best practices evolve from around the world helps me speak about change in practice with my teachers, and then show them the examples and put them into contact with these practitioners.

This is a grass-roots movement in that it’s not mandated from above. No one is telling you that you have to connect your classroom to the world. We would like you to see it for yourself.

3. That we know how to educate kids.

Our teachers did not suddenly unlearn how to teach, how to care, and how to lead. There is in every school those that should not be there, but you would find that in any profession. Currently, I am immersed with several groups of veteran teachers in professional study groups centered around the ideas of questioning skills, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, collaborative teaching, student assessment methods, instructional practices, and unit and lesson design using Understanding by Design. Our teachers are still learners, and they want to hone their practice. If they don’t, well that is a different story, but one that again, plays out in any field.

This is as, Ben Wilkoff used the term last year, a “ripe environment” for change. Professional development in New Jersey is mandated. Mandated, but not enforced. Still, teachers are continually looking for development. Let’s make sure we offer the kind we need to facilitate the change we want to see.

4. That students still need to be placed in rigorous, challenging learning environments where they learn things like writing, math, civics, and science.

The relevance of this statement will always remain profound. It’s the geography of it that will change. By this I mean that where we teach these subjects, not just physically but topically, will change. We are currently in a re-design phase for our business and technology department at the high school and we are thinking of creating a series of open classrooms where the students are not only taught in the specific class that they signed up for, but exposed to other classes and ideas as well in one large open room. The possibilities for collaboration and exploration are boundless. We will have our subject areas, but the boundaries between them won’t resemble anything we know now. Still, this has to come from within your staff and not from a mandate. Let it be organic.

5. That not all kids are tech-savvy.

This fact is becoming a hot topic, not only in the edublogosphere, but in our individual buildings. Our students are not terribly academic online. I’ve written on several occasions about my experience with students and content management, and we had an instance the other day where a student was complaining about having to check the class wiki for update. What he is missing, and what our role as teachers in this era should be, is to teach him how to set up a reader to monitor it for him through RSS, rather than having to be a slave to a page load.

Either way, David got me thinking about these things. I love radical change as much as the next guy, but will it get us where we want to go. What is it they say about asking for what you want….


Image credit: “schoolhouse in a field of oats” at Mc Morr’s photostream



4 thoughts on “Five Ideas To Think About

  1. This statement resonated with me:

    4. That students still need to be placed in rigorous, challenging learning environments where they learn things like writing, math, civics, and science.

    The relevance of this statement will always remain profound. It’s the geography of it that will change. By this I mean that where we teach these subjects, not just physically but topically, will change.

    What I see happening in my own professional growth is the “geography” changing in pretty remarkable ways. I now “learn” most from the voices and ideas of people I’ve never met. I pick up ideas via Twitter and blogs that are willingly shared by a “virtual army” of people who are thinking and writing on topics that drive me.

    That’s pretty empowering, to say the least—and it’s a lesson I’d love to teach my kids because I believe they’d benefit from similar opportunities to “network” with other learners across disciplines.

    My question is a simple one, though: Is the elephant that you speak of too big to eat?

    The momentum that pushes against change (pressure to meet accountability targets, resistance from educators and unions, close minded opinions on the part of decision makers, doubts on the part of parents) sometimes seems overwhelming.

    As a sixth grade teacher, I’m held accountable for “results” (read: standardized test scores) only—so any work that drifts from drill and kill isn’t rewarded…and if my efforts don’t produce results equal to those of more traditional colleagues, my efforts are questioned.

    That makes embracing something new risky to say the least! While I’m willing to take the risks, I wonder how many others would feel the same way.

    Interesting thoughts….

  2. Bill,

    First of all, did you notice that the title of the post was “four things to think about,” yet I listed five? Wonderful math skills here.

    This is one of the things I am hoping to uncover this weekend at EduCon: how do you begin to eat that elephant, or in the point you make, the collection of elephants.

    From what I can hypothesize, it is going to be about our methods. It is well researched that there are skills and methods we can use to increase student achievement, including test scores on standardized assessments. One of my favorite new places to teach from is this wiki: where the tech serves the methodology.

    It’s daunting, and I am glad you are ready to take the leap. What do you think your role in all of this change will be? Will you be the icon or the zealot?

  3. Hey Patrick,

    Actually, I didn’t notice the “four” v. “five” error….I guess we studied under the same math teacher, huh?!

    And I’m not sure what my role in change will be. Like many “early adopters,” I’m seen as an outsider by most of my colleagues simply because I’m so far out in front of where they are (only because I’ve got the extra time to invest in exploring new ideas and tools right now.)

    Even though I’m open and willing to spend time helping others to move forward, many peers automatically think, “That’s just Bill being Bill. I can’t possibly do the things he’s doing.”

    In that sense, I’m definitely not influential—and probably seen by most as a zealot.

    I guess what I hope is that I’ll be able to identify one or two “influencers” in our building—people who are seen as “digital equals” to the vast majority of our staff—-and work with them to design “technology enhanced instructional approaches” that work.

    (Thanks for the wiki link, BTW. Working from the Marzano framework will lend instant credibility to this work.)

    If I can find some peers to work closely with, then ideas will spread because they’ll be delivered by people whose opinions and ideas are more widely accepted than mine will ever be.

    I’m kind of actually looking forward to sitting back and watching that action happen, to tell you the truth. I like it when one of my ideas is embraced by others and no one realizes where it started from!

    (I kind of feel dirty here—a bit Karl Rove-ish!)

    Does that make me the builder of icons?

    Good conversation—-

  4. Bill,

    I’ve put a lot of thought into how change happens in existing structures, and one of the methods I use now is to not rely on myself to be the driver of change in all areas. Your plan to use “agents provacateur” to initiate change is great. Your role of “just Bill being Bill,” is entrenched for now, but the role of the teachers you will use to help you spread the change is key because they will be easier to learn from.

    Would comment longer, but the panel discussion is beginning now.

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