Technology for Learning: Add-on or Disruptor

Too often schools buy into “technology” with the expectation that teachers, students and leaders won’t have to change a thing – life can go on – business as usual. Not so fast. Technology is disruptive – not in a negative sense that it causes chaos with everyone and everything out of control; but in a positive sense that compels everyone – leader, student and teacher – to rethink what they do. Technology disrupts our thinking and our mindset of teaching, learning and leading. That’s not a bad thing.

Several recent blog posts reminded me how we in education need to embrace, not ignore, the disruptive quality of technology.

Seth GodinForm and Function

The question that gets asked about technology, the one that is almost always precisely the wrong question is, “How does this advance help our business?”

The correct question is, “How does this advance undermine our business model and require us/enable us to build a new one?”

Tim Stahmer at Assorted StuffAsking the Wrong Question

So, what happens if we substitute “school” for “business”?

Doug Johnson at The Blue Skunk BlogAre We Asking the Wrong Question About E-Books?

So, what happens if we substitute “school” “library” for “business”? Why should I go to the library when the library will come to me?

Trent Batson at Batson Blog“Technology Integration” is an Oxymoron

A simple analogy:  automobiles became popular in the 1910s — 1910 to 1920. But, for many enthusiasts who were among the first in their town to purchase an automobile, their enthusiasm waned quickly when they discovered their automobiles did not work very well on the dirt roads of the time. The brand new automobiles sat in garages or made short trips to the general store, consigned to the role of oddity instead of the “automobility” role they were supposed to fill.

A highway system had to be built along with establishing laws, enforcement, street lights, commonly recognized road signs and the entire infrastructure for cars that took us decades to build.  The nation had to integrate itself to the needs of the car.

I particularly like the automobile analogy. The automobile was disruptive – it compelled the consumer to think differently about “business as usual.” Technology in schools is the same way. Did we fight the automobile as much as schools are fighting to keep the status quo with only a thin surface-coating of technology?

Change, Innovation and Leadership

It’s not often that I find resources that push the limits of our paradigm of school leadership, but Jonathan Martin shares some takeaways from a new book, The Innovator’s DNA, that offer an opportunity to reflect on our own leadership and that of the organizations we call schools. I haven’t read the book yet, but Jonathan’s takeaways allowed me to reconnect with some of the work I did for my dissertation only a few years ago. I studied my school leadership team, working to uncover how they conceptualized education in the 21st century and how they acted upon that conceptualization. From the recommendation section:

The recommendations focus on the development of second-order change responsibilities as outlined by Marzano, et al. (2005). By applying theories of change (Marzano, et al., 2005; Argyris and Schon, 1974; Heifetz, 1994), the findings propose the changes in teaching and learning described in the literature and espoused by the study participants are of the second-order. This conclusion is important because without leadership responsibilities that match the specific kind of change required, innovation will likely fail (Marzano, et al. 2005). Therefore, the development of second-order change responsibilities is essential for the participants to succeed with their efforts to bring about the change they envision. Because of the nature of change, the recommendations do not detail specific steps for implementation. It is suggested the recommendations be discussed and applied within the context of each leader’s story. While some may seek detailed action steps, it is important to reiterate there is no blueprint for addressing the challenges of reinventing education. (p 133)

While I arrived at some recommendations specific to my context, I really connected with the “innovation” ideas Jonathan shared from The Innovator’s DNA. As I reflect on Jonathan’s takeaways, I see how much more work school leaders need to do if we desire to reinvent the way we lead, teach and learn. And we must change!

Please go read Jonathan’s post for his detailed thinking, but here is his list of takeaways.

  1. Own as Principal the role of Innovator-in-Chief: You can’t delegate innovation.
  2. Make your practice of “active innovation” visible.
  3. Create complementary teams.
  4. Observe closely what other schools are doing.
  5. Arrange for employee swaps.
  6. Ask Why?
  7. Seek out people who “had invented something, held deep expertise in a particular knowledge area, and demonstrated a passion to change the world.”
  8. Remember that ”innovators want to work with and for other innovators.”
  9. Embed innovation as an “explicit, consistent element of performance reviews.”
  10. ”Develop formal and informal processes to facilitate knowledge exchanges.”
  11. Network externally.
  12. Practice Beta testing and prototyping.
  13. Build many small, diverse teams for projects.
  14. Communicate and reinforce that Innovation is everyone’s job.
  15. Make innovation an explicit core value of your school.
  16. “Give more time for innovation.”
  17. Create “a safe space for others to innovate.”
  18. Model your risk taking and your learning from failure.

As with the Framework for 21st Century School Leadership shared yesterday, this list of takeaways can be a powerful self-reflection tool. What are our strengths? Weaknesses? As individuals. As organizations. I’m glad I was able to read Jonathan’s post, and I’m looking forward to reading The Innovator’s DNA.

Framework for 21st Century School Leadership

Reading through Google Reader, I encountered a post that really interested me. The post, by Chris Kennedy, proposes a framework for leadership today. I find that many of our current ideas of leadership are rooted almost exclusively in the past. As a result, we have a lot of status quo leaders in our schools. Chris suggests using the framework to guide self-reflection.

Here is the link to the graphic shared on his blog post. And here is the breakdown of the framework.

Collaborative

  • Engages others actively in co-defining the path to change
  • Proactively builds strong relationships with peers and others
  • Manages conflict and reconciles differences

Visionary

  • Develops a sense of urgency to stimulate action for transformation
  • Communicates a clear and compelling sense of direction
  • Generates enthusiasm and commitment in others

Energetic

  • Maintains energy in driving the transformation process
  • Sustains active engagement, and stays the course in the transformation process
  • Calibrates the pace of transformation efforts to ensure progress

Confident and Courageous

  • Believes they can make a difference as a leader
  • Provides a forthright and accurate assessment of their own skills and abilities
  • Challenges the status quo, even when it is personally risky to do so

Resilient

  • Manages their emotions in difficult situations
  • Places problems and challenges into proper perspective
  • Recovers rapidly after setbacks

Outward Facing

  • Eager to learn and be exposed to new ideas
  • Models tolerance, curiosity and inquiry
  • Actively seeks out connections, resources and partnerships to support transformation efforts

Politically Astute

  • Analyzes the motives and interests of constituencies and stakeholders
  • Matches influence strategies for the circumstances and constituency
  • Builds alliances and coalitions with individuals, groups and organization

Systems Thinker

  • Sees connections between and among systems and sub-systems
  • Conceptualizes trends, patterns and issues across boundaries
  • Demonstrates tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty during the transformation process

Technologically Literate

  • Effectively uses technology and a variety of social media to promote transformation
  • Understands how to communicate and lead in a hyper-connected world
  • Leverages creative approaches and designs using technology support

Each part of the framework is complex unto itself. Connect the different parts (they aren’t silos), and you begin to see just how challenging it is to be an effective leader. In a quick Google search, I wasn’t able to locate any other information about the framework – how it was developed, research base, etc. Would things change if more of our status-quo leaders expanded their frame of leadership and education? It certainly is a thought-provoking lens through which to examine school leadership. Glad I stumble across this.

Changing Habits – In Work and Life

Where change is happening, we often hear that if we are wanting to do something differently, the change must involves giving something up, or stopping some unproductive behavior. In Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud refers to this as pruning. And we all need to do it – at work and in life.

“You can’t prune toward anything if you don’t know what you want. You have to figure out what you are trying to be or build and then define what the pruning standards are going to be. That definition and those standards will bring you to the pruning moments, wherein your either own the vision or you don’t.” (p. 28)

What are the things we need to prune in our educational institutions? What makes it difficult for us to prune in education? Is our lack of pruning a reason why education is in the state it is in?

I particularly like Cloud’s suggestions for pruning meetings:

  1. What ways are we spending time in these meetings that are good and helpful but not the best use of our time together?
  2. What do we do here that is sick and not getting well?
  3. What is dead and just taking up space?