My chapter is titled Multimedia Learning and the Educational Leader. Here’s an excerpt from the Systemic Improvement section of the chapter:
One important role of principals and superintendents is ensuring that employee position announcements, job descriptions, hiring processes, mentoring systems, training, and evaluation criteria all enforce school organizations’ need for robust multimedia learning and teaching. Few school systems currently have powerful technology integration as a core competency for classroom teaching staff. Educational organizations’ omission of digital teaching proficiency and the ability to facilitate students’ higher-order thinking as essential, required skill sets for teachers and administrators sends clear signals to current faculty, job candidates, and educator preparation programs about institutional values. Until this changes, meaningful and authentic uses of multimedia technologies in P-12 classrooms will continue to be isolated aberrations rather than routine observances.
Over the past several decades, school systems have slowly instituted a variety of technical systems to facilitate the management of lower-level cognitive work. Student information systems, online gradebooks, electronic formative assessment tools, and data warehouses are all examples of technologies that help educators input, manage, analyze, and present student learning data (Wayman, Stringfield, & Yakimowski, 2004). Most of the data in these institutional systems focus on student demographic information, letter grades, test scores, and daily assignment tracking.
As educational organizations transition to student learning environments that place greater emphasis on higher-order thinking skills, they will need more robust technology tools that allow them to facilitate, collect, and evaluate more complex, abstract, open-ended student learning. Most of these tools do not yet exist, so it is difficult to envision at this time what they might look like. They are likely to include evolving features such as sophisticated document and portfolio management (including archiving and tagging of multimedia student and teacher work products); deep cross-artifact text, image, audio, and video analysis; infographic-like presentation of underlying patterns and meaning; and the ability to easily but selectively share through a variety of information and social media channels.
Other tools to facilitate effective learning and teaching will include system-provided technologies such as open access content repositories, streaming multimedia servers, online adaptive learning systems, and robust, social media-driven collaboration channels for students, classroom teachers, and administrators. Strategic partnerships with state and federal governments, corporations, foundations, nonprofits, and others will become more prevalent as school systems face inevitable gaps in funding and resources. Growth in these and other technology systems must be accompanied by concurrent growth in organizational thinking as well as administrative and societal permission and encouragement to utilize these tools.
Hope the book is useful to some of you. Happy reading!
This past Thursday I created 25 professional learning ‘conversation stations’ for my principal licensure students. I printed them all out and spread them around our classroom (which is a school library). Each printed station contained a link or two – or a short reading (and a source) – and some questions to consider. The idea was to expose our preservice administrators at the University of Colorado Denver to a variety of ways to foster and facilitate adult learning beyond schools’ traditional, moribund professional development sessions.
My students traveled around the room in pairs or trios, visiting whichever stations they wanted (they had a shared notes document that listed all of the stations). Each group stayed at a station for as long or short a time as desired. Most averaged about 7 to 10 minutes per station, but some talked for nearly 30 minutes at a single station. At several points during our two hours on this activity, they got together with another group and shared what was resonating from their station visits. We learned a lot and had some awesome conversations together! At the end of the evening I gave them a link to all of the stations, so that they could later peruse whatever they hadn’t visited yet.
Here are links to both the conversation stations and the shared notes document, as well as the slide I used to introduce the activity:
Both of the main documents are editable. Feel free to modify them and make them better for others. If you use this activity in your principal licensure program or school district, let me know how it went!
We also had 3 pre-class readings and 5 beginning-of-activity provocations just to get us in the right mindset:
If each person has natural gifts and innate talents, then the true nature of education must involve the awakening, inviting, and blessing of the inner genius and unique life spirit of each young person. [Kindle location 371]
[T]he traditional paradigm, by forcing children to master the same curriculum, essentially discriminates against talents that are not consistent with the prescribed knowledge and skills. Students who are otherwise talented but do not do well in the prescribed subjects are often sent to spend more time on the core subjects, retained for another grade, or deprived of the opportunity to develop their talents in other ways. (p. 45)
We have opted not to create schools as places where children’s curiosity, sensory awareness, power, and communication can flourish, but rather to erect temples of knowledge where we sit them down, tell them a lot of stuff we think is important, try to control their restless curiosity, and test them to see how well they’ve listened to us. (p. 59)
Our actions exemplify our beliefs. We can change our ‘forced homogeneity’ models of schooling. Or we can just keep pretending that children are interchangeable life products into which we should shove low-level standardized content and procedures from age 5 through 18. And keep penalizing them when their diversity doesn’t fit our one-size-fits-all model (because, you know, it’s them, not us). And keep paying the price as a society for our incredible waste of human talent.
Mike Crowley had a wonderful blog post the other day about the need for self-care and giving educators permission to say ‘no’ instead of jeopardizing their professional efficacy or mental health. Vicki Davis also wrote recently about the need for educators to say no, which then frees up space for them to say yes to other things that are important to them. Both are thoughtful posts and I agree with everything they said.
Our students almost never get to say no.
Students rarely get to say:
‘No, I don’t have time for that class assignment in my life. I’m too busy over here instead.’
‘No, I don’t want to stay cooped up in this classroom. I need to stretch my legs and get some sunshine and fresh air.’
‘No, I don’t think that worksheet is worth my attention today. My learning time would be better spent doing this.’
‘No, I don’t want to read the assigned novel and talk about it for the next month. I feel like that kills my interest in reading.’
‘No, my time for the next hour would be better spent recharging and taking care of myself. My energy level is low and I’m exhausted.’
‘No, I don’t want to put away my smartphone. It’s a powerful resource and I want to use it to further my learning.’
‘No, I don’t want to work on that project in that way. I’d like to do it this way instead.’
‘No, I don’t want to sit still and be quiet for 48 minutes. That’s not the most conducive learning environment for me.’
‘No, I don’t believe that the assigned homework furthers my learning much. I think I’ll pass.’
‘No, the best thing for me right now is not to work on that, it’s to reconnect with people who care about me and refresh my mind and spirit. I’ll do that later.’
‘No, I’m not interested in taking that class or subject that’s required for graduation. I’m interested in learning more about this.’
‘No, I don’t want to read out of the textbook and answer some questions. I’d rather find a video on that. I learn better that way.’
‘No, I don’t want to take that quiz or test. I want to show my learning in this manner.’
‘No, I don’t want to march through 8 different class periods. I want to focus deeply on this one thing for the next few days.’
And so on…
Many of us are talking about the need for schools to provide greater ‘student agency.’ But true agency doesn’t exist when we only give our students limited choices within whatever constrained parameters we decide to allow them. True agency only exists when we respect students as human beings and treat them as authentic partners who are able to exercise control and ownership of their own learning drivers, processes, and products: the what, how, when, where, with whom, and WHY around their learning. True agency also only exists when students have meaningful input into things that are important, not just tokenistic, inauthentic, powerless participation opportunities.
Want to know who has true agency in a school? See who has the ability to say no.
We’re so quick to bemoan the lack of ethics in our students. They cheat. They copy. They take shortcuts on the work. We complain incessantly about their work ethic, their commitment to their classwork and homework, and their failure to find interest or meaning in the learning tasks we put before them.
Lost in these laments is any recognition that a vast amount of what we ask our students to do in school is indeed actually meaningless. From a life success standpoint. From a future relevance standpoint. From a ‘you can look this up in Google in 3 seconds so why I am spending days on this?’ standpoint. From a ‘why on earth would a [x]-year-old care about this at all?’ standpoint.
1. If we repeatedly put meaningless work in front of students – and, in turn, they repeatedly do whatever it takes to get that work out of the way as quickly as possible so they can get back to something more meaningful in their lives – whose ‘integrity’ is the real concern?
2. If our responses to the first question are along the lines of ‘we know better than they do what they need’ or ‘there are things students have to learn in this class (and that might mean we have to force students to do them),’ is that a sign of… [select all that apply]
a) our keen judgment and ultimate wisdom as educators?
b) our arrogance?
c) our need for control?
d) our unwillingness to let children actually own their learning?
e) our complicity in the district, state, federal, and corporate curriculum / assessment machinery?
f) our own helplessness as educators?
g) something else?
Those in glass houses should not throw stones. – European proverb
Great marketing [or forced compliance] won’t be enough to boost sales of your junk product. – Seth Godin
This post is a review of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray. Disclaimer: both are friends of mine so keep that in mind as you read below. My short recommendation? There is lots of value in this book and a great deal of information that validates what we know about good leadership and strong school organizations.
What I liked about the book
Eric and Tom list eight ‘keys’ to intentionally designing tomorrow’s schools. They are:
Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
Learning spaces must become learner-centered
Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success
It’s hard to argue with any of these. All are critically-important components of robust, future-ready schools and each gets substantial coverage in their respective book chapters. Tom and Eric back these up with a variety of research studies to support the importance of each one. And they write in an engaging way that keeps readers rolling along. All of this is good.
There are strong emphases throughout the book on building trust, fostering relationships, empowering others, the intentionality of the work, the importance of communication, and recognizing our power as change agents. This is all good too!
I thought Chapters 4 (learning spaces) and 5 (professional learning) were especially strong. Chapter 4 gave me a lot to think about and there are numerous ideas in Chapter 5 for taking educators’ learning in some new directions, particularly pages 152-155 where Eric and Tom describe some ways to move from hours- to outcomes-based ‘accountability’ for educator learning.
Finally, Tom and Eric have chosen to profile some great leaders and organizations throughout the book and also have selected some resonant quotes. My favorite is probably the quote from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis: ‘In the absence of knowledge, people make up their own.’
Some minor quibbles
There are some things that I wish were framed a little differently in the book. For instance, in Chapter 1, Eric and Tom say that ‘great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating a compelling why and working to build support throughout consensus’ (p. 34). I wish they spent more time here talking about a visioning process that was less leader-centric and focused more on educators, students, and parents figuring out together what their why is instead of simply being sold their why by the leader. If we want shared understandings and commitments within organizations, I believe that process needs to be more communal rather than leader-driven. I’ve seen too many schools where the leader has a robust vision but never can ‘build support’ with the staff because she’s the only one that really owns it and is trying to then sell it to everyone else. Tom and Eric do talk a bit more about shared visioning on page 36 when they quote Kouzes & Posner, but that section doesn’t articulate what a ground-up process could look like.
In Chapter 2, Eric and Tom do a nice job of articulating ways that technology can enhance student learning. But the chapter sometimes feels a little technology-centric. There are numerous ways to give students access to deeper learning, greater student agency, and more authentic work opportunities that don’t involve learning technologies. Even though I’m an educational technology advocate, I would have liked some more discussion of project- and inquiry-based learning, performance assessments, community-based service learning, Harkness circles, and the wide variety of other non-technological possibilities that still result in robust learning. There is mention of a few of these things but I think in general these could have been fleshed out more. I did greatly appreciate the emphasis on equity in this chapter. Chapter 3 is similar. Tom and Eric discuss the concept of return on instruction but the chapter is framed dominantly within a lens of technology infusion. We need classrooms to move beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation, and I know that Eric and Tom agree with that notion. But I think that non-technological learning and pedagogy could get some more attention in this chapter too. Although Tom and Eric state directly in Chapter 5 that ‘professional learning must focus on student outcomes through improved pedagogy – not on tools’ (p. 146), I think that idea gets lost in Chapter 3 amidst all of the technology discussions.
The book closes on the idea of sustainable change. That’s an incredibly important topic and also is incredibly difficult to accomplish. There is a great deal of discussion in the chapter about what needs to be done, and I think Eric and Tom rightly identify numerous issues and tasks. They also do a nice job in this chapter of staying positive and encouraging people to recognize that great leadership is within their grasp. However, there is barely a mention in this chapter of one of the biggest barriers to organizational sustainability of change initiatives, which is leadership turnover. When superintendents, principals, and/or school boards turn over fairly frequently, teachers and communities get whipsawed by new innovations and new directions because those new leaders rarely continue the innovation pathways of their predecessors. Some discussion in this chapter of how to actually navigate that concern would have been helpful beyond the couple of sentences on political sustainability that merely acknowledge the issue.
Finally, there are large chunks of several chapters that feel like long lists of leadership ideas that have been thrown together (see, e.g., Chapters 1 and 7). It’s not that the ideas or items are wrong or incorrect, it’s just hard to see how they all fit together. Tom and Eric do a great job of citing research in their book, but it would be helpful to have some research-based frameworks and mental models that tie the list items together. For instance, if there’s a three-page list of ten leadership ideas, why these specific ten and not others and how do they interact together to create a coherent whole? If there are two solid pages of bullet points, maybe those could be tied together into some kind of model that illustrates the connectivity of the disparate parts. Otherwise, we’re left to question where all of these ideas came from and how they’re supposed to work together.
All of these are minor quibbles and choices have to be made in any book about what to focus on and what to leave out. It’s Eric and Tom’s book, not mine, and they’ve done a nice job of presenting their arguments, their reasoning, a variety of resources, and numerous action steps that can be taken.
Questions I have after reading this book
How do we flesh out in more concrete detail – and with specific action steps – some of the ideas articulated in this book?
How do we navigate the twin challenges of leadership turnover and initiative fatigue due to successive leaders wanting to ‘put their stamp on’ the organization?
Much of the book is based on the research about good leadership. We’ve known for a long time much of what’s in the book, but those research-based leadership practices aren’t showing up in administrators’ actual practices. How can we as educational leadership researchers do a better job of translating our scholarship into actionable ideas and behaviors in the field?
How can schools do a better job of treating parents as authentic partners and co-designers in the learning of their children, not just passive recipients of whatever narrow boxes we educators try to put them into?
How can we foster the creation of ground-up visions for student learning and educational experiences rather than individual or oligarchic visions that then get sold to the rest of the community? And how can we involve students as substantive partners in that work?
I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad I have friends who make me smarter. I marked it up all over the place. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
What we call education is usually no more than training. We are so busy operating schools we have lost sight of learning. We mostly participate in certification mills, institutions founded on notions of control and discipline, lifeless and joyless places where people serve time and master a few basic skills on their way to a plain piece of paper that justifies and sanctions the whole affair. Sometimes, these places are merely mindless, and sometimes they are expressly malevolent.
Yesterday I blogged an update on the 7-day Innovation Academy that we are conducting for 72 school leaders in North Dakota. Today I thought I’d share that we are about to launch a new initiative in Virginia.
The first round of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network will launch in March and run through December of this year. Applications are rolling in from Virginia school districts right now. Up to 20 lead innovation teams will be accepted. We will spend 6 days all together on site, plus Amos Fodchuk and his coaches from Advanced Learning Partnerships will be facilitating both regional meetups across the state and ongoing coaching with each participating district.
I’m very excited to be working with Amos and Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning (and former superintendent of Albemarle County (VA) Schools), on this initiative. Other key players include Gena Keller, Acting Deputy Superintendent for the Virginia Department of Education, and Ted Dintersmith, who once again is lending his generous support to building leadership capacity for future-ready learning, teaching, and schooling in yet another state.
The goal is to eventually have about 60 of Virginia’s school districts participate in the Innovation Network (20 per year x 3 years). Unlike any other Innovation Academy that I’ve helped conduct, this one has a significant ongoing coaching component that I’m super enthused about. I can’t wait to work with Amos and his team to support our participants over the course of the initiative. Plus I’m a Virginia kid so it will be great to be back in my home state multiple times this year…
Stay tuned for more information. The adventure continues!