We Need You to be the Lead Learner.

[slideshare id=4806056&doc=nyscate2010-100721094405-phpapp02]

This morning I had the opportunity to present at the New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education’s annual Leadership Summit in Troy, NY.  When I pitched the proposal a few months ago, I was really leaning heavily on technology as the focus: what strategies could leaders employ to model learning and collaboration?  As the last few months have unfolded and my thinking has been influenced less by technology and Web 2.0 and more by things like Understanding by Design and designing learning communities, the impetus behind this presentation changed to reflect that.

Above is the slide deck I used, which, as the participants in the session will concur, most of which we did not see.  Again, we took time to talk to one another and to discuss some of the questions that came up, which is the real reason why we were there.  However, when I began designing this in its slide form last week, I wanted to do it in the style that I would ask a teacher to design a unit of study, so I used UbD to do it.  I started with what I wanted my audience to leave with: my transfer goal.  I came up with this:

I want you to learn the specific challenges facing education today so that, in the long run, you will be able to, on your own, create innovative and collaborative solutions to overcome them.

From that point I looked at the understandings they would need to have

  • Students today are not as academically tech savvy as they need to be.
  • We take in an enormous amount of data each day as consumers and our students need to be equipped to handle it critically.
  • Leaders responsibilities include that of growing future leaders, and in doing so, we must model the behaviors that we deem valuable for leaders to have: willingness to try and of fail, transparent learning, and collaboration.

and the questions I would use with them to help guide them:

  • Do the teachers in your district own the technology, or do the students?
  • Are your teachers more technology “savvy” than the students?  Is that a problem?
  • What is the dominant mode of learning in your school/district?
  • What is your role as a leader in your school/district?

From there, I realized that there would be no real way to assess them as they left the presentation, but I felt good about designing the presentation this way.  It had that “walk-the-walk” feel to it as I put it together and delivered it, and there is a lot to be said for feeling that way about the work you do.

In a nutshell, if students’ intake of information breaks down like this:

Should your classroom instruction look like this

or this?

There is no right answer here, but the real meaning lies in the discussions that have to happen along the way to deciding what they look like.  I spoke today about the lack of “grey area” thinkers as espoused by Dan Meyer in his TEDxNYED talk, and it applies here.  Leaders need to be very comfortable with difficult conversations about what we expect of our students and our teachers.  We need to be able to confront people’s belief systems (nod to Andy Greene).


13 thoughts on “We Need You to be the Lead Learner.

  1. I thought the design – and your transparency in your design during the presentation – was a fantastic model. And, despite not having gotten to all of the slides, some great conversation was started (at least at my table!) As leaders, we need to challenge our belief systems and have data to support them and that has to be done in the company of others. While we only got to hear your ideas for an hour today – you are now officially part of my PLN and I know that there is an avenue to continue to learn from you. That is the beauty of the technology!
    Thanks for sharing your journey – and your failures with us today! Best of luck in your new position and with the new addition to the family!!

  2. Interesting that your “new” picture is a picture of a traditional lecture hall that has been superficially made more glitzy by the infusion of technology. Not once in your post did you indicate the need for a new way to conceptualize teaching. Instead, you imply that using technology is a goal rather than a means to the end: learning.

    1. Theresa,

      Thanks for taking the time to swing by this space. It was great to hear everyone’s ideas and get some feedback on the questions we posed. I look forward to learning from you in the future.

    2. Jerrid,

      Thanks for your comment, and for reminding me why I enjoy this practice so much: pushback.

      You could not be more correct, the picture used to characterize the “new” model is not the strongest indicator of any real, substantial change in education, but rather used more to show the move from print-based learning to something that could be much different.

      The key there is the “could be.” What we see now, in the face of huge digital initiatives, all too often is what Prensky referred to as doing “old things in new ways.” I would much rather see “new things in new ways,” myself. In no way have I ever pushed for a continuation of the status quo.

      What didn’t truly come across as clearly as I’d hoped in the post, but was the focus in the session was that of the need to have conversations about exactly as you point out in your post: the very nature of what people believe about teaching and learning. Schools, and communities in the larger sense, need to come to an understanding about what they truly believe about learning before they can create what they imagine. Those conversations are the ones that we are undoubtedly not having enough of.

      Thanks for pushing this further.

      1. Here is my reply to you, posted in both places 🙂

        Yes, as I went through your slide show I could tell you were getting to deeper issues. I agree with your “new things in new ways”. This is so very important, but does not necessarily require digital technologies. I believe we ought use digital technologies, but not because they are what students will use, but because they aid in achieving the learning goal. My main point, and title of my post on my blog, was that our words matter. Our dialogue too easily slips into “technology will fix education” and if teachers and other educators slip into such a view, imagine how easily politicians and special interests will jump on that language and use it against us.

      2. Point taken, and I truly see the benefit in being very clear about our goals as school leaders. Also, I believe this is a uniquely local decision for communities as to how they educate their children. Technologies make it very easy to open doors and transform learning, but only in the hands of those that truly understand the transformative abilities.

        Otherwise we end up following the hackneyed expression “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

  3. Patrick, Great food for thought, as always. The one I found most thought provoking was “Students today are not as academically tech savvy as they need to be.” I assume the felt need is your opinion. The key, in my opinion, to learning is to establish a felt need. When the individual feel the felt need to learn and internalize knowledge, they will learn it on their own. For example, if my daughter knows that training wheels will allow her to ride down the street with our family, there is no felt need to learn how to ride a two-wheeler. That changed when a) she saw her friends riding two wheelers and then I b) removed the training wheels from her bike. A was her internal motivation and B was the external one. Though she had some trouble at first, she now rides a 2 wheeler well.

    What will be the internal and external motivations needed for students (particularly secondary students) to obtain academic tech skills such as effective and ethical research, copyright, ethical computing, digital citizenship, etc.?

    1. Barry,

      That, too, is a great thought provoker. We can all point to examples in our own lives when we did just as your daughter did (and congratulations on that one. My son just stopped riding his bike when we took them off!). My experience is to wrap the topics you mention, effective and ethical research, copyright, ethical computing, digital citizenship, etc., into something that means something to them and answers the age-old question “when will we ever use this outside of school?” The more I look at authentic learning experiences for students, ones in which students acquire discrete skills through felt need, the more I am convinced we need to be designing differently both from a curriculum standpoint and from an overall viewpoint.

  4. Thanks, Pat. I’ve been at this along time. I have been a UbD toe runner for just as long. I am glad that you share learning that all our fancy web 2.0 tools are just that if they don’t help the student deliver the product: learning. And my shared thoughts with Barry Bachenheimer too.

    1. Dennis,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s great to get ourselves all wrapped up in a new tool if it helps us accomplish what we set out to do in a new, effective, and insightful way–and it also helps if it saves us time. Other than that, it’s all just eye candy.

      Patrick Higgins, Jr. (973) 512-8155 blog: chalkdust101 portfolio: patrickjhiggins

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