Revolutionizing the Ecosystem

Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka- Innovators for the Public said that “such people (social entrepreneurs) neither hand out fish nor teach people to fish; their aim is to revolutionize the fishing industry.”

The quote stayed with me.  Though I don’t work with social entrepreneurs per se, each time I conferenced, presented or collaborated with my colleagues, I thought about how our efforts to engage the education technology imperative are more than ‘sharing’ or ‘teaching’.  Our work is really about transforming the education industry into a dynamic, global community of leaders, teachers and learners who continuously seek skill, knowledge and use 21st century tools. The ‘learners’ in this context are all of us-regardless of age, experience or tenure in the industry.  Our focus is to create a personalized, student-centered education ecosystem….mirroring the qualities above noted.

Bottom up, top down or expanding out in larger concentric circles – there has to be a shared vision for education technology within the school community.  The CEO/Superintendent must lead this effort and model proposed outcomes – remaining vulnerable to the processes, shifts in schedule and planning that the journey for true 21st century schools presents.  Once on this ‘shared’ path, regular communication of the education technology goals and related progress keep the mission in front of all stakeholders.  The notion is that once on this road, the better the chance that the district goals will ultimately be achieved.  Conversely, a choice to not establish the vision and strategic plan, change as it may, provides no hope of reaching the objectives.

Consider the following:

The basics of tomorrow are skills considered to be of a higher level today.  These skills include:  evaluation & analysis, critical thinking, problem-solving (including mathematical…), organization and reference skills, synthesis, application, creativity, decision-making…., and communication skills through a variety of modes.”

No new thinking here, right?  Right.  Here’s the source: “The Information Society; Are High School Graduates Ready?”Education Commission of the States – 1982. Twenty-five years ago (if not longer), we were enlightened as to the skills required for the 21st century learner.

A national survey of US Students, tells us:  “Education (defined) is preparing youth to eventually compete in a global economy…(meaning that)…21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, computer and technology skills, and communication and self-direction skills need to be part of the curriculum”.   Twenty-five years after the Education Commission of the States quoted what was needed, today’s message is the same.  There’s been progress, however, it has been slow considering the consequences for our society.

There are a variety of reasons for the challenges of implementing the 21st century skills imperative in schools.  Visionary and courageous leadership is of primary importance.  There are two other major reasons: Technology and 21st century tools have to be part of the whole, and there needs to be experiential scaffolding to support it.

“For technology to have any hope of being effective (in education), its use must be a regular, integral part of the instructional program and not viewed as an add-on.”  (Deubel 2001).  Anything viewed by educators as a ‘fringe’ or unnecessary ingredient is sure to go by the wayside with tightening budgets.  There are many examples of this around the country.  There are, also,  many ‘sacred cows’ in education – those areas and items without which, it is believed, real teaching and learning cannot occur based on historical thinking and practice.  Those districts who understand that 21st century tools and resources are part of the ‘sacred cow’ checklist are to be applauded.

A second consideration regarding the pace of schools’ technology progress is human behavior and experience.  Brain research has provided us with tremendous insight into teaching, learning and human response.  For some, learning about and using new tools and techniques is welcomed.  For others, the incorporation of the digital environment challenges the very core of their belief systems.  “Few of us grasp the complexity of the change that fusing technology into education creates. Technology is creating new thinking that is “at once creative and innovative, volatile and turbulent” and “nothing less than a shift in worldview.” (Kuhn 2000).

Knowing and understanding the impact of this kind of shift in schools is critical to facilitating the change of culture and practice through education technology. McREL’s ‘Balanced Leadership’ ( research indicates that second order change in schools (which, for many schools, 21st century skill development is) and for individuals, requires new strategies for success leadership.  A keen understanding of this research has been very helpful to principals who are navigating and creating these robust ed-tech environments.

This change for schools is tough stuff.  If you are a pioneer in the use of robust technology integration, then you are likely familiar with the complexities.  This isn’t the kind of mission you take on because it looks good or it is the ‘next big thing’.

You’ve done this because schools must if they are going to be viable preparatory grounds for today’s and tomorrow’s students.  You know that these students will enter a rapidly changing global marketplace.  They need to be prepared to engage.

It isn’t easy work.  In fact, it is wrought with chaos, trial and error, adjusting, clarifying and problem-solving-much like the ‘real’ world.  Those engaged in this work are overhauling education’s culture and it can be agonizing on many levels.  Teachers, using a variety of technology tools and resources, are regularly learning new techniques and experimenting as they hone their craft.  Administrators champion the vision.  They must be visible supporters who participate in finding resources, support and ongoing professional development.  Technology personnel work at a fevered pitch to ensure consistently functional networks, manage trouble-shooting protocols, hardware, and software.  Success depends of the careful weaving of the above team.

We must be guided by where schools need to go, not by where schools have been.  It’s a messy process. So what helps this process?  How can you expand your critical mass?  How can you help others ‘care’ enough to move their school into the future?  Following are a few ideas:

  • Consistently communicate about education technology goals, at all levels.
  • Collaborate a shared education technology vision among stakeholders.
  • Include ongoing funding/resources as part of that vision.
  • Engage skeptics by listening to and addressing their issues.
  • Identify unfounded reasons for dissension and disapproval by providing facts and research about education technology and the global marketplace.
  • Help recalcitrant staff identify their fears and encourage them to take risks.
  • Provide opportunities for non-believers to observe teachers and students who have successfully integrated technology, curriculum and instruction.
  • Create cadres of teachers who support and problem-solve with one another as they increasingly implement technology tools.
  • Provide for formative and summative evaluation of education technology efforts. Honestly report findings and adjust where needed.

Key considerations in the impact of culture change are: the kind of education technology being implemented, who and how many are involved, leadership capacity, stake-holder understanding and buy-in, short and long range planning, goals and sustainability.  No one person in the school/district/state can facilitate these factors.  It must be a collaborative, ongoing team approach.  I look forward to your comments and questions!

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