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).


New Thoughts, and Other Detritus.

Over the last two days, and one more tomorrow, I’ve been at the UbD By the Sea Conference hosted by Authentic Education’s Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  It’s late and I don’t really feel like I have the writing chops to handle a huge thought explosion, but there are a few elements I’d like to get out in this space to see if they get legs.

Quotes from Andy Greene

Andy Greene is the principal at Candlewood Middle School in Long Island; his work was featured in Wiggins and McTighe’s Schooling by Design, and he is a charismatic speaker.  In his afternoon session, among many great ideas for creating controversy in the best possible way, I also pulled some interesting quotes.

I live by the rule of thirds: if I give my staff something to read, 1/3 are going to devour it like their hair is on fire, 1/3 is going to pretend they like it but not really do anything with it, and the last 1/3 is going to unabashedly ignore it.

This one is paramount for anyone willing to assume a leadership position, regardless of whether or not you are a teacher or an administrator.  One of the greatest pieces of advice I received was that I should expect to be stabbed in the back early and often by those from whom I least expected.  I ignored it out of my belief in the collective good will of the staff I worked with.  Nothing personal to them, but they tested the waters, and I found out very soon what that felt like.  Taking Greene’s words to heart will aid in avoiding those initial feelings of betrayal, should they arise again.

Be willing to call out those that do not exhibit collaborative behaviors,

or more broadly,

be very willing to have difficult conversations.

In an earlier post about the new humanities, I had written about the death of the grey areas in America discourse.  This statement reminded me of that idea.  Having conversations where we feel uncertain about the outcome is unnerving, but just as we must fall back on our ability to use learned strategies to decode difficult text and argument, we can do the same for difficult dialogue.  What I admired about Greene is that he firmly knew what he believed and was willing to discuss that with nay-sayers or teachers who challenged the schools mission and vision.  Our conversations about what we believe in education are very murky areas, but there is nothing more important than having them.  As leaders we have to help our staff get to a place where they can have those discussions.

Management is doing things right.  Leadership is doing the right things.  (taken from Stephen Covey).

My father-in-law was a huge Covey fan and he’ll often use phrases like the one above to characterize a tough situation and how we need to act within it.  This is the difference between completing checklists of tasks that allow a school to function well, and getting the school community together to agree on who they are as a community of learners and designing the systems and curriculum together to ensure the students arrive at the place we want them to.  Checklists are great, but not as great as a sound vision.