What am I doing?

cc flickr photo by striatic

This week, I attended the Virtual Schools Symposium (iNacol) in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Attending conferences, and leaving with a nauseating mix of frustration, excitement, confusion and a multitude of questions has become a common occurrence.  This conference was no different.  I am sitting on my return flight to Phoenix, sorting through a plethora of notes and ideas, and struggling to identify the next steps for our school.  My cognitive dissonance is actually the result of conversations, and a session I attended,  with a fellow administrator I have been following on Twitter – Stephen Harris (@Stephen_H).

Stephen is the Principal at the North Beaches Christian School in Sydney, Australia and the Founding Director of the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL).  I think you will find a quick view of the following video about Stephen’s school both thought provoking, and inspiring.

The Quest: Tomorrow’s School Today at SCIL from SCIL on Vimeo.

During his presentation, Stephen made the comment that we don’t need to tweak the current educational paradigm, we need a new paradigm.  After only a short time visiting with him, and hearing about his school, it became apparent that Stephen, and his staff, are serious about revolutionizing education–they are truly engaged in innovative practice.  Almost immediately, I began considering my role as a new principal, and what I might be able to learn from Stephen, and a school that is half a world away.

Our school is in the beginning stages of developing a blended learning program, and while I have a vision of what that might look like, I still struggle to clearly identify the steps required to develop a truly innovative school.  We are flying the airplane as we build it, so to speak, and it is quite possible that our destination will change mid-flight.  After attending VSS, and hearing Stephen discuss his school, and hearing Brian Bennett (@bennettscience), talk about how he implements a flipped classroom model, I am concerned that I may not being doing enough to push the envelope.  Am I working toward the development of a new paradigm, or just using technology to “spruce up” an old one?  So now what?  I need some answers, but right now, I just have a lot of questions.  As a school leader, am I meeting my responsibilities in the development of a blended learning environment that will inspire our students and address their academic and social needs?

What am I doing…

…to create a school climate that encourages innovation and creativity?

…to develop a school culture that allows staff members to feel safe taking appropriate risks?

…to give teachers and students access to the technology tools that allow them to engage in a meaningful and collaborative learning environment?

…to be creative in the acquisition of resources – time, technology, professional development, etc.?

…to encourage staff members to participate in reflective practice?

…to give staff members access to meaningful professional development and exposure to innovative practices occurring elsewhere?

…to drive instruction to the level of the individual student – personalizing learning for every student that attends our school?

…to encourage change in the way we use physical space at our school and communicate how those changes might dramatically impact our learning environment?

…to go beyond evolutionary change and advocate for a revolutionary approach to school improvement?

The answer to the majority of these questions is “not enough”.   I have come to the conclusion that trying to categorize our blended learning program, or make it fit into a box defined by others, is not only fruitless, but detrimental (thank you Stephen).  I am comfortable with it being a work in progress, using what works for our students and setting aside what doesn’t.  I believe my job in this process is to serve as an advocate – seeking resources, challenging current thinking and practices, and removing barriers, so that our students and staff are able to build an educational environment that meets the needs of our learning community.  In order to do that,  I will have to keep asking myself: what am I doing?

Please share…what are you doing?  George Couros created this Google Doc so that everyone can share their ideas for addressing some of these questions.  Thanks for taking the time to give your input!

5 comments for “What am I doing?

  1. Mary Miller
    November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I think the fact that you are asking yourself a lot of questions that pertain to the vision you are striving for is a great start in making your vision become a reality. As administrators, people need to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight and it is a slow process.

    I recently did a presentation with a fellow colleague on twentieth century learning to a group of potential administrators and many of them were resistant to the development of this new paradigm. I strongly believe that making more use of the technology out there and embedding it in teacher instruction is an important way to reach our students today. Babies are being born into a world that by the age of two, they become proficient with the use of technology such as the ipad.

    However, the challenge becomes getting staff on board by motivating them to learn more about technological resources, attaining these expensive products and changing many mindsets from traditional to twentieth century learning, and being more open to the fact of using what’s out there such as Facebook, and even cell phones (with strict regulations) in the classroom. We cannot deny the fact that society is moving forward and therefore, what we do in schools need to do the same in order to prepare our young learners to our technological world.

    When we want to make a change, we often want to see results right away but that doesn’t always happen. The way I look at it, when you initiate change and develop a strong vision, just because it isn’t visible to the open eye, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

  2. November 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Jeff, I just returned from the same conference and also attended the sessions you mentioned above. I came away with a troubled mix of inspiration and horror at what I witnessed there. On the one hand there were schools who were truly in pursuit of these questions that you ask, looking to use technology tools to ultimately empower students and give them more project/problem/challenge based learning opportunities and more quality time with “learning facilitators”.

    On the other side of the fence it seemed as though a nightmare scenario was playing out in which the only goal was to pass state tests and, well, you don’t really need teachers to help students do that when a computer can do it for you, kids enjoy it more, and it costs far less. This is not what our best and brightest had in mind when the term “blended learning” was coined.

    It seems like the questions you pose could act as an effective filter to determine if a particular model of online or blended learning, or just plain ol’ tech integration, is being applied in a manner consistent with the needs of our society and our 21st century learners.
    Great Post
    Kevin

    • November 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      Jeff, Kevin & Mary,
      All great posts and comments. My vision entails a potpourri of all the above combined with a culture or program instilling high morales, values and character traits. Drastic problems call for drastic solutions imho. True leaders must go way outside the box and take the necessary risks despite the establishment to move quickly in creating an environment in which is 21st century by incorporating and imphlementing bot tech and pedagogy and strategies in which enthrall the students to maximize both engagement and interest. Just thought I would chime in. You can find me at my website, blog or twitter. Yours in the fight…

  3. November 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I’ve shared this with my principal. I hope she passes it along, too. More admins need to read this. Thanks so much for writing it.

  4. Jake
    November 26, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Great discussion and interesting observations. I think it is important we don’t throw away the text books and embrace technology. While I do enjoy teaching the class with YouTube videos and encourage students to find online resources, books still play a role that the internet still can’t achieve:

    1. If schools have net nanny or intranet, students get frustrated quickly and can resign finding certain information when they are buffeted from accessing web sites that might hold the information they need.

    2. Students may come across a website and actually question the validity of the information.

    If that is not problematic enough – I have come across student web-based research where students have:

    1. Copied and pasted information from a website, sometimes altering the information (usually from wikipedia).

    2. Hit the same websites and responded to assessment questions with wrong information.

    However, when it came to do in-class tasks, I bought a stack of books that had key information. It was interesting to see students prefer the reliability of books rather then the internet. A group of students played around on the internet until the book came to them to get the answers they needed. I inquired to one student why they wanted the book. His response was that a book is more obviously reliable then the internet.

    I think it’s great schools are embracing technology – but I found it interesting that students preferred the text book over the internet. Food for thought. It’s an interesting transition schools are going through.

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