27 October 2010

Practicing Empathy

In a recent post, Will Richardson shared a video of a discussion between himself and Lisa Brady, the superintendent of the district he was formerly employed by and where his kids now attend school. It was a great discussion about the challenges and successes of going 1:1 and the realities of introducing social networking. As Will writes, "I think it’s great opportunity to hear a school leader in the midst of shifting a traditional school to a inquiry-based curriculum grounded in technology and online social learning tools talk about some of her thinking around making those changes."

I highly recommend viewing it.

As I've been thinking about the big shift that is occurring and talking about it with colleagues, I'll admit that I don't always remember to practice empathy and put myself in their shoes. In a comment on the same post from Will, Susan Davis wrote the following:

I am struck by your (our) frequent use of the word “shift.” To many, I think it feels more like a quake. Even as a quake, the earth moving under our feet — the change in the way learning is happening in the world — can make us feel excited (hey, that’s cool, I wonder what that shaking means…) or it can feel pretty scary (hey, my house is falling down around me).

This conversation reminds me to feel a little more empathy for those whose educational houses are falling down around them.

When Lisa Brady asks, as if for those scared and shaken folks, “Where’s my entry point?” we can imagine how they are seeing a world where the doors are moving side to side so fast they can’t see beyond them. Still, there is some urgency, the ground is shaking, and they need to get through one of those passages and safely to the other side.

It was a good reminder to me to practice empathy with my colleagues "whose educational houses are falling down around them."

Reflections from TLC 10

[This post has been adapted from an email I sent to our Technology Plan Implementation Team, a group responsible for overseeing our technology plan which includes the move to 1:1 for students in grades 3-12. I'm posting it here because it explains a lot of the thinking going on inside my head and will give some background to future posts.]

Last Friday I attended the Teaching and Learning in the Cloud Conference
. I left the conference with my head spinning and I’ve spent time this weekend trying to figure out why and putting words to what I am feeling.

I went in to the conference with the unanswered question of the week (which device for students - netbooks or a pad/tablet?) on my brain, as I felt the question of the professional development for staff had been answered. Starting with the opening keynote by Wes Fryer, I was quickly reminded that the technology itself will never change learning, only by changing the teaching can we change the learning. As he wrapped up his keynote, he challenged us to look at the web 2.0 tools that were being presented as either accommodating (doing the same thing with a new tool -- ex. typing the same essay in class on a netbook) or transformative (changing the way students learn -- ex. students collaborating to create a unique product that they can share with a global audience). I’ll get back to this point later.

After that session, a colleague had the opportunity to talk with two local ed tech leaders. I started off first asking what device they would choose if they were in our shoes and both of them replied that it isn’t about the device and wanted to know about our goals for the technology. One of them said that he would take whatever funds he had and devote 25% of them to professional development.

Later on, I had the chance to ask the tech director of a local district, about the expectations they have for teachers and 1:1 and how they hold them accountable. He said there some common expectations (i.e. everyone uses Moodle), but they use it to varying degrees. He explained that tech coaches and administrators work together to help set individual goals for staff and staff have quarterly tech goal meetings to discuss the technology they are using. He explained that while they are doing lots of great things, there are cases where parents will call and ask “why is ___ grade at ____ school using more technology than the same grade at another school?” or parents of a high school student calling wondering why their student only plays games on his laptop at night as his teachers don't require use of technology for learning. Once again, the message to me was the tool isn’t important, it is how it is used to transform learning.

During my last session of the day, I had a chance to ask Ben Rimes, a tech specialist, about his district’s plan to go 1:1 next fall. They have an interesting plan for how to train staff that I’ll share later, but here’s what stuck with me. While we were chatting, another person who teaches at a charter school explained that they had been 1:1, but administration found it too difficult to keep everyone invested and are allowing the initiative to die away. I’m sure that school has more issues than just investment in technology, but the key thing that has stuck with me is that staff need to be invested and trained well.

All of these interactions and conversations through the day left me feeling that even with our tech plan outlining 7 instructional/tech coaches, six 1/2 day training sessions, inspirational speakers, etc. is it enough?

Late last week, the Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet school in Philadelphia, considered by many to be a model for tech integration and transformative learning, was featured on the Apple Education website. I mention it here, not because of the tools they are using, but because of the way they continually train staff. Here’s a paragraph from the article:

Although most new teachers arrive at the school already familiar with its learning approach, they participate in a weeklong boot camp that covers curriculum and technology. During the school year, faculty members meet for two hours of professional development each week to examine their own practices and share insights from the classroom. Staff development continues on the school’s website, where teachers discuss tools and resources in forums and blogs and post unit plans that are shared across disciplines.

If I were to synthesize all of my thinking down to one point, it would be this: the shift to transformative learning using technology is huge, for both teachers and students, and much larger than I've imagined. As I try to look at the process with our End Goals in mind, I see that there are so many layers to the professional development piece: learning the tool, integrating curriculum, learning to collaborate digitally, changing instructional practices, to name just a few.
I do believe that I have entered the Valley of Insight. This is going to be quite an adventure....