Author Archives: Leslie Wilson

A Mosaic of Best Practices

The Onion is a US news satire organization.  It features a newspaper and a website with articles on international, national, and local news.  My husband and I winter in Florida.  We walk miles along beaches from February through April.  I gather up lots of shells.  The Onion’s article, “Report: All Good Seashells Taken” (http://www.theonion.com/articles/report-all-the-good-seashells-taken,26337/), comes from Coral Gables, FL, not far from where we stay. The piece pokes fun at a host of human behaviors and beliefs.  It’s supposed ‘environmental’ research about why there are no more ‘good’ seashells.  They have all been grabbed up by ‘aunts with homes along the shoreline and 14 year olds with no friends’.

It is a ridiculous conclusion- every Onion article has one.  There is one ‘hopeful’ statement that helps the reader turn the corner from supposed despair about the seashells…. “When pressed, however, Coates (researcher) acknowledged there might be enough bits of good shell left to be assembled into a serviceable mosaic.”  The same can be said about schools.  Most have ‘bits of good shell’ that contribute to a serviceable system.  I mean schools with high student achievement, personalization, effective technology implementation, high quality teaching, community/parent/caregiver engagement, generative leadership, etc., etc.  Data-wise these are arguably difficult to find. But they do exist.  And if we assemble those ‘bits of good shell’ into a ‘serviceable mosaic’, we can inform and lead real school transformation.

We’ve learned through Project RED and the work of One-to-One Institute that there are few places that have it all pulled together in an effective, well running system that is producing expected student and organizational outcomes.  But there are places that are well greased in certain components that lead to success.  We could create a motif using each ‘showcase’ site’s special effects as part of grand picture for ‘how to’.

That is exactly what we planned to do with Project RED II and the seventeen Signature Districts.  The recently launched Project RED III findings put that package together.  We captured results-oriented best practices into robust media tools that can be virtually accessed by educators.  Highlighted will be effective leadership, meaningfully planned education technology integration, student achievement measures, revenue-positive and return on investment strategies, strategic visioning and planning for short and long term objectives and ways of creating capacity and sustainability.  Professional learning and communications also makeup the content of our new research.  You can find all here.

A major finding from Project RED III is that even in the most optimal environments that capture what we know for sure about implementing successful one-to-one programs, it remains a daunting task to reach desired outcomes.  Implementation systems must work in tandem at high quality levels, be consistently led by skilled leaders, and focused on transforming teaching and learning models through ongoing, embedded professional learning.  Unforeseen circumstances are reality.  Systems and leaders must figure out how to navigate those waters to keep the program safely on course.  It’s challenging work.  And we’re making progress.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Sprout or Restrain – Leaders Have the Power

A while ago, I moderated a panel of education and industry whizzes who discussed successful education technology implementations.  My task was to summarize the quintessential findings from Project RED regarding the keys to successfully integrating technology in schools.

During the Q & A segment, two teachers stood up and asked the question, ‘What do we do?  We’ve begun a one to one teaching and learning program and we haven’t done any of the things you report are required to be successful.  Our principal is not providing guidance or support.  Many teachers are abandoning the effort.’

To respond was daunting.  My experience, and my answer, had to be truth as I knew it.  The fact is that without that principal’s support, planning for professional growth, etc., they would not be able to grow or essentially create a success quotient for the one to one practice.  I gave a lot of other kinds of ‘scenario’ advisements – create a community of practice with the teachers-carve out time to collaborate, debrief, share research about others’ best practices/strategies/lesson plans, etc., request regular meeting times with the principal to discuss the program, challenges and successes and needs for professional development; seek out other educators and create a virtual network of support and guidance.

Finally, I told them that my personal, professional experience is that when the leader didn’t ‘get it’ there was little I could do as the non-decision maker to do what I deemed the ‘right, moral and necessary work’.  I changed teaching and administrator jobs numerous times because the leadership in my then present environment was a deterrent to using my skills and passion for serving young people. After describing my journey, there were applause from the audience-much to my surprise. Obviously, my comments resonated with a lot of people. We have a leadership crisis!!

Five teachers came to me after the panel. They said that they didn’t want to leave their current positions. They loved the students, community and school. They wanted to find another way.  My guess is that this wonderful group of teachers will find a way to do their one to one work effectively in this setting.  It would be even better if a new leader for the school emerges who provides what is needed for these teachers to flourish with their students through the use of education technologies.

Back at home office, I sent them a lot of resources and content regarding steps needed to be successful.  They plan to share with their principal.  I wait each day for a follow up.  Keeping my fingers crossed a plan will materialize.

The panel scenario is one we witness across the country.  There are educators who have leapfrogged into integrating technologies with teaching and learning.  They thirst for more resources, support, guidance – frequently creating their own communities for learning and sharing.  When the latter happens in tandem with focused, change leadership much can be accomplished for moving the needle ahead for today’s learners to be globally and productively connected to achieve at higher rates.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Talent: Must Develop and Deliver

I recently participated in an event sponsored by numerous automotive industry leaders in the Detroit area.  They invited superintendents from Michigan to collaborate with them on how to develop the talent needed to fill the thousands of ‘new’ manufacturing/auto/tech jobs that are emerging across sixteen state counties.  The event organizers presented data and profiles about these jobs.  They discussed different avenues of preparing high schoolers for these positions.  They sought the district leaders’ ideas regarding the same.

I learned a lot about how manufacturing jobs have been transformed.  To be employed in this pathway one needs to be highly technically skilled and experienced. This includes knowledge of content, technology application, and systems integration.  These are highly complex jobs that require expertise not only in core standard curricula but in relevant uses of technology tools within the same.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released a policy briefing underscoring the very message as outlined above (http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/Skills-for-a-Digital-World.pdfP)

And there is a void of talented candidates in MI to fill these jobs. Across sixteen MI counties, the bedrock of high tech development and engineering jobs, the companies are struggling to find talent to fill positions.  Many have instituted internships and co-op work that are fed by local school districts.  The profile of career technical schools has shifted dramatically. Where there exists high caliber, rigorous applied learning programs focused on integrated disciplines and the fusion of technologies, they are producing ‘ready to go’ employees. They are being placed immediately in top notch positions that posture them for continued career growth and opportunities.

The Early College program (TEC) exists across the country.  The original initiative, as I understand it, was launched in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Since then many Early and Middle College programs have emerged.  What I need to do is re-engage with the industry leaders who are seeking talent and make sure they are aware of the TECs that exist in Michigan.  Based on the TEC curricula, they should be able to pull graduates and current students from these settings into the work place.

There were only three TECs in MI a short time ago.  Today they have expanded into more state counties.  Nexus Academy of Lansing will join TEC at Lansing Community College.  Here’s an overview of the program.

“The vision of The Early College at Lansing Community College is to provide mid-Michigan high school students the opportunity to earn up to sixty college credits as part of their high school learning experience. We will promote innovation and best practices in education. Our students will have a personalized learning experience within a small learning community, a positive school experience and the social and academic tools to successfully continue their education or career.” (http://www.lcc.edu/earlycollege/documents/annual-report-2016.pdf) 

The program creators are committed to a nontraditional ‘school’.  Their goal is to ensure learners develop a zeal for continued growth and are prepared to be successful in our globally competitive world.  The development of students’ creativity, problem-solving, experiential learning and flexibility are embedded in the curricula.

TEC in Lansing is a three year program for students entering grade 11 in the fall. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are the basis for the curricula. These disciplines prepare learners for an array of careers and ensure a strong base for many four-year college majors.

Learners start the program via core high school courses and participation in learning success skill training to be prepare for the rigor of college work. “In the middle of their first semester, students may become eligible to be credentialed for taking college classes to obtain at least 60 transferrable college credits or a minimum of 30 credits in a certificate program. Students also receive extensive career readiness and exploration learning experiences.” (theearlycollege@lcc.edu)  TEC’s standard core curriculum meets Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements.  Learners also have the opportunity to receive transferable college credits that pave the way to an Associate Degree or Certificate program.

The illustration below profiles LLC’s Early College class of 2016.

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The Principal at Nexus Academy of Lansing has met with a number of teachers at the county’s career and technical center.  Quite a few of his students participate in programs at the center. Each teacher with whom the principal spoke told him that Nexus sends the most premier students to their programs.  They are head over heels beyond the students from other high schools because they actually know how to effectively use technologies within their skill/content areas.  The teachers noted that with the other schools’ students, they have to teach them how to use and integrate the tech tools as well as master the content.  It’s double duty for the teachers and most significantly for the learners.

Schools like Nexus Academy and other successful 1 to 1 settings are providing students with technology skills that are crucial to successful matriculation into a global workplace.  There are pools of talent being developed in these and the Early College setting.

Learning this I thought about the auto industry leaders’ pleas for talent development.  I thought about the mission of well implementing 1 to 1 technologies in schools that I’ve supported for 15 years.  Back then this was a new, often ballyhooed frontier. Most school leaders avoided implementing technologies because of cost and their lack of understanding and prognosticating what the world would expect from students in ten short years.  Today, we see an uptick in schools’ acquiring technologies.  Those acquisitions must be accompanied by vision, strategy, high quality leadership and a focus on learner outcomes to best ensure the talent needed for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

The Bull’s Eye Approach

The President and CEO of Steelcase, James P. Hackett, wowed an executive leadership network group with his ‘simple’ framework for guiding the organization. He said, “It’s a bull’s-eye, and you put ‘now’ in the center, and the outer ring is ‘near’ and the furthest out ring is ‘far’. And you ask yourself…..how much time do you spend in each of those three zones? And what is the right amount that you should spend?”

Hackett’s point is that leaders need to learn how to work in each dimension of the bull’s-eye simultaneously. We naturally lean toward working in the ‘now’ because of the immediacy of required action and meeting expectations. But great leaders, he posits, won’t necessarily be recognized until the long term becomes the present because these leaders looked way down the road, imagined the future, and helped grow the organization in those directions.

For the majority of US history, in education, we have followed a linear path in everything we do….by the book – what comes first, second, third and so on. What we know from current brain/learning research and the impact of information technologies is that our personal and global intersections demand the ability to integrate multiple targets.  We’ve also discovered that disciplines for which we carved an undeviating, supposedly developmental, instructional path are anything but linear.  Continuing to operate in a sequential manner is counterintuitive in today’s world and for different curricular areas.  Being charged with the most important task of preparing young people means we must adapt the educational framework to best meet learners’ abilities to be well prepared today and into the future.

There are many objectives for educators today.  One is digitally converting to robust technologies, infrastructures, securities and the professional growth needs that go with those demands.  It is very interesting to learn where each state (and district) sits in relationship to this technological readiness. Their status represents the leaders’ track record for having worked the ‘now’, ‘near’, and ‘far’ in guiding their entities.   Those working the ‘near’ and ‘far’ wouldn’t have been simply getting ready, let’s say, for the 2014-15 mandated online assessments, but for the world itself outside the walls of schools.  The one where multimedia, multitasking, rapidly engaged information are hallmarks of young persons’ experiences when not in school…not to mention the expectations for today’s work place, global and personal interactions.  We’ve had years of information telling us that the future would be embedded with technologies of all manner and that schools needed to gear up, plan and get on board. Some did. Most didn’t.

We hear a lot of reasons for why education doesn’t have the required technologies and consistent connectivity for students:  lack of funds and/or infrastructure; lack of Board support; lack of research/evidence that technology matters; commitment to ‘school the way I did it’; safety/security concerns. They all point to the need for the kind of leadership required for today’s and tomorrow’s schools.

When you explore sites with robust student technologies, infrastructures, etc., in place, you find leaders like Ann Linson (East Noble Schools, IN), Casey Wardynski (Huntsville Schools, AL), Bill Hamilton/Jim Geisler (Walled Lake Schools, MI); Mark Edwards (Mooresville Graded School District, NC); Terry Jenkins/Dennis Veronese (Auburn City Schools, AL) who also were confronted by the above obstacles.  But they defined a shared vision, aligned it with short and long term strategic plans – including funds – and well communicated the need and direction among their stakeholders. For each of them there were no speed bumps for which they lacked the fortitude, research, skills and commitment to move their districts forward. It was hard work that commanded they not only straddle the ‘now’ and ‘near’ but imagine and work toward the ‘far’ at all times.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Peace and Progress

Distractions abound.  There are many issues, movements, mandates and changes surrounding educators.  Add to the list a new national administration.  We can prognosticate all day long – but we won’t know what the platform, agenda and leadership for education technologies will be until it is decided and implemented. Ditto that for ESSA.  We live in an era of surprise and moving sands.

What do we do in the meantime?  We are in the eye of the storm.  That means we find ourselves in the calmest place possible in the bluster.  Here we can stay focused and committed to the right work and our moral obligation to learners and community.  In our personal and professional lives, time after time, we learn that we can only impact and make a difference where we have control and responsibility. Remember the Serenity Prayer?  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Teachers probably understand this more than any other group.  When he/she partners each day with learners, they and they alone own that space and time and what they will accomplish together.  Ideally, and, I’m sure, in most cases, these are safe and known spaces.  Besides the usual face to face classroom interactions, there are social collaboration tools.  These help communications and interactions that are not always comfortably expressed in front of students’ peers.  These can be sounding boards and formative assessment for teachers to understand and facilitate each learner’s thoughts and unique needs.

One of the reasons we foster what we’ve called 21st century skills is the need to be flexible, adaptable, and problem-solve real life situations in a rapidly changing world.  This means being able to efficiently assimilate new information, knowledge, skills, economies, communications, relationships, and, yes, political realities.  And to be not afraid to move forward in engaging those dynamics to serve our moral imperative.  See David Geurin’s blog http://bit.ly/2fy6Kll.  That’s why we originally went into the education field, right?

As President Obama told his daughters about an agenda of lifting people up with kindness and respect…. “You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”  For we educators, once the way forward from the new administration is defined, we march onward with the same passionate commitment we have had since launching our education careers.  We’ll figure out the places and ways we can push to keep moving forward.  Regardless of the tumults we’ve witnessed or experienced over time, education has advanced and evolved to meet our youth and lift them forward.

Each of us has had a positive impact on a child.  We’ve fought tirelessly on the education technology front to ensure learners have the tools and resources to successfully engage the digital world.  Progress will continue.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Cyber Thinking, Feeling, Responding

Living and working in our dynamic world can be unsettling.  Not only are we using multiple personal, portable tools to get and give information, we must well navigate many communication channels to ensure productive and positive, often virtual/distant, interactions.  Many have experienced the impact of the ‘all-caps’ emails, Facebook and Twitter posts.  Or significant delays in email responses, lack of a ‘like’, ‘share’, or any acknowledgement to a social media post.  We’ve also received negatively charged and otherwise disarming responses and replies.  If you’re like me when you receive one of those, you wonder what that interchange would have been if it were face to face.  Virtual and distant connections can provide ‘cover’ for less than positive expression of feelings and thoughts.  They can also still the air and energy, leaving an audience, even of one, seeking positive closure and outcome that is elusive.

This election season has created fodder for more divisive and disturbing cyber and print commentaries, posts and responses than ever witnessed. I watch young people and children at rallies standing alongside and behind speakers who are spouting hateful opinions, beliefs, and accusations about groups and individuals.  I watch and listen to the accused respond with more hateful comments and outright cries of ‘war’ against opponents.  Our rapid-paced, knowledge based world allow us all access all the time.  I think about how to manage my own reactions and responses.  Mostly, I have chosen to engage and capitalize on the positive commentaries in cyber world.  I leave judgement to powers of the universe and beyond.  But I am not dis- or unaffected by that which envelopes us.

Much of today’s politics lack human decency and respect.  Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by 21st century information age media (and I don’t mean journalists).  We cannot view this as just another day in the political arena of campaign strategies and making headlines.  We can rise above and make sure we separate ugliness from recognizing quality leadership and policy recommendations.  The latter has made our nation great.  We are challenged today to do this because of the ever present means of communications – personal and external.  This makes it more important than ever to educate ourselves and those in our charge to ferret out fact from fiction; vicious attacks from honest confrontation and truth-seeking.  Calling on ours and our collective integrity, morals, ethics and values has to be our foundation for decision-making.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book, describes his experiences during World War II. He chronicles the way he ‘coped’.  Daily, Frankl would identify a positive purpose – something about which he could feel good – and then envision that outcome actually happening.  He believed this process affected his future, longevity and life quality.  It did.  I use this far-fetched analogy to explain how I am navigating the daily onslaught of today’s political reality.  I believe in the power of ‘good’ and that that there are times when bad stuff happens so that the noble can emerge.  I trust this is such a time.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Disruption? Has It Happened?

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear, that weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable in it,” said Mark Weiser, 1991, in “The Computer for the 21st Century” in Scientific American.  We can all agree.  But does that mean, based on today’s education technology utilization, that what we are using (maybe ‘how’ we are using it) is not ‘deep’ enough?  I think so.  Consider this and the notion of innovation.

Eight years ago, we were discussing, “Disrupting Class-How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” (Christensen, Horn, Johnson 2008).  One example of ‘disruptive innovation’ referred to providing personalized, portable computers for all students to have consistent Internet access in order to customize their learning getting to a true learner-centered environment.  The authors were on point about this imperative considering the statistics of that time and how the US was lagging in innovation. America’s corporate research and development sites had declined from 59% to 52% over a decade while R&D had increased from 8% to 18% in China and India. The same held true for US innovative leadership.  America ranked seventh among the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development in the amount of gross domestic product allocated to research and development expenditures.

While more schools and districts are moving away from traditional practices, there remains the issue, as the ‘Disrupting’ authors said, that you can’t retrofit true innovation into an existing counterproductive environment.  Try as many have to create real 21st century schools, unless the standard venue has been replaced, they are not getting there.  This is true today – eight years later!  None of these real reforms take hold without vision, focus and high quality and strategic planning.  Bold, effective, ‘change’ leadership is required.  We struggle to witness this.  In fact, we continue to see what appear to be robust edtech initiatives wither and die for reasons that could well have been avoided!

Movement to personal, portable technology-powered learning holds great potential – when implemented with fidelity based on research and best practices.  Still, many leaders consider their million or billion dollar technologies investments as the end game.  A plethora of 1:1 implementations lack learner and/or outcomes focus, vision, strategic planning and proper execution.  (See Project RED’s Key Implementation Factors and free tools 2010 – http://one-to-oneinstitute.org/introducing-project-red.) Many of these deployments were simply embedded in their traditional approach.  These are missed opportunities for authentic transformations.

Similarly, moving to a competency/mastery-based system doesn’t comport with the lock-step scheduling, grading, leveling of learners’ experiences and hitting to the ‘average’.  The entire system has to morph into a design that cultivates real agency for learners, shift in pedagogy, students’ demonstration of progress, and when/how they advance.

This is a hopeful, not hopeless, matter.  There is an abundance of quality knowledge and research on which we can build.  If states, districts and regions truly dive into the research to pull around practical solutions, schools could reform to build upon innovation and global, economic development skills.  Nevada Ready 21 is a statewide example (http://www.doe.nv.gov/Legislative/Nevada_Ready_21/).

One-to-One Institute is dedicated to facilitating successful education technology implementations in schools, districts, states and countries.  We combine research, 20+ years of best practices and experiences to customize our support services.  Our Project RED research is a basis for continuous study and systems design.  We are writing our third research iteration based on study from our seventeen Signature Districts over the past 3 years.  We’ll launch that report in February 2017 at TECA.  Hope to see you there!

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute