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EdTech Update





Your position on the wind might depend on your position on the boat

My friend Scott McLeod posted Headwinds or Tailwinds? in his Dangerously Irrelevant blog a few days ago. In the post he quotes columnist David Brooks:

The crucial social divide today is between those who feel the core trends of the global, information-age economy as tailwinds at their backs and those who feel them as headwinds in their face.

Scott applies this observation to education:

We have a majority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like strong headwinds, negative forces that continually buffet them in the face. Technology that expands access to others… An ever-shifting, complex, hyperconnected information landscape… The ability to learn whatever we want at any time, in any place, on any path, at any pace… Global economic competition and cooperation… These are all seen as dilemmas. As problems that must be managed and minimized. As destructive challenges to retreat from, often because of a deep longing for a nostalgic yesteryear that was simpler, easier, and allegedly ‘better.’

And then we have the minority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like tailwinds at their back, propelling them forward into unique opportunities to rethink education and do better by kids. These are places that are diving into the constructive complexities and emerging with new beliefs and new mindsets and new practices. They are finding ways to enable deeper thinking and greater student agency and more authentic work – and utilizing digital technologies all along the way to help facilitate and enhance these new forms of learning and teaching.

I have often asked myself what exactly it is that determines whether one is a headwinder or a tailwinder? Scott's column resonated with me especially this week at work as we encountered some implementation hiccoughs in new initiatives that are designed to "facilitate and enhance ... new forms of learning and teaching." Any problem - difficult login processes, slow Internet speeds, incidents of student technology misuse - are rallying points for the headwinders. "I told you this stuff wouldn't work. You can count on paper and pencil and textbooks and lectures every time. The student devices are simply a distraction to real learning."

And there don't need to be many tailwinders raising their voices to make it seem that they represent the majority.

What I try to remember, and I hope Mr. Brooks and Dr McLeod also remember, is that as an officer on the boat, I may view the wind quite differently that the sailor on deck. Snug in the wheelhouse on the bridge, the winds may not seem as strong. Cutting into that storm to shorten the voyage seems the smart and brave thing to do. Yet to the deckhands who will be buffeted by rain and gusts that threaten to push them against a railing or even off the boat, the officer's courage may seem like foolishness.

I always try to remember that I am rarely the adult in school most directly impacted on a daily basis by the decisions I make, the initiatives I support, the vision I espouse. Even having that understanding, that empathy, is not enough. It is also a leader's duty to make the winds of change as manageable as possible without turning around and heading home. I try to ask myself have I:

  1. Clearly stated the "why" of any initiative? Is this simply change for the sake of change or is there a genuine need that this initiative will meet? Can I present evidence that the change is effective?
  2. Provided the adequate resources necessary for implementation? If there are insufficient funds for support, replacements, repairs, backups, training, etc. I don't want to even consider a new project. Johnson’s Antibiotic Law of Educational Change: If you can’t afford the whole cure, don’t even start it.
  3. Tried to control the pace of implementation? Has the program been tried in smaller numbers of classrooms with fewer teachers and students impacted? Can the project be rolled out in stages? I get a lot of heat from the "you can't leap the gorge in two bounds" gurus, but I have alway espoused building a bridge over the gorge rather than trying to jump the damn thing anyway.
  4. Tried to acknowledge the pain of change? Do I actually listen? Do I look for the good intent my resistors? Can I find ways to solve some of their problems without actually changing course? Do I visit buildings on a regular basis and talk to staff members? Do I recognize the need to morn when some things go away?
  5. Recognize when a change course or speed may be necessary? Are there adjustments in an initiative that will get the same results without quite so much angst and not be to prideful to make them?

One of my favorite definitions of leadership has always been that of coach Tom Landry who said that leadership is getting people to do what they don't want to do in order to accomplish what they want to accomplish. What haunts me is how we can help our teachers become more effective, serve all our children better, and make our communities stronger by seeing change as a tailwind - all while not letting anyone get swept overboard.

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Banned websites day and thank you to NCTE

My friend Sara Kelly Johns reminded me yesterday:

So while yesterday was Banned Websites Awareness Day (that I like to think I had some influence in creating), my blog entry this year is a day late.

I've written for many years about how we need to pay more attention to intellectual freedom issues around the Internet. Banned books seem to somehow benefit from the label. Banned websites too often go simply inaccessible to kids. Access to both information and ideas and the ability to create and communicate information and ideas are important equity issues.

This year I was very pleased that NCTE reposted some writing of mine about how blocking social networking sites is a form of censorship and works as a means to disenfranchise the already disenfranchised. Please read:

Marginalizing the Marginalized with Internet Filtering, Literacy & NCTE blog, September 28, 2016.

While Internet filtering still does not get the scrutiny it deserves in too many schools (and we we give book censorship a whole week but webblocking only a day instead of a Blocked Bytes Week I am happy knowing organizations and individuals are fighting the good fight.

Just for the record, here's a list of other pieces I've written about Internet filtering:


Having job security may not depend on what you think

I've been gone on vacation most of the last couple weeks. I hiked The Great Glen Way in the Scottish Highlands - all 79 miles over 7 days and somehow managed to put on 5 pounds. My kind of trip!

Despite my being gone this close to the beginning of the start of a very busy school year, my department seems to have survived just fine without me. Many issues were resolved and many tasks were completed only a very few e-mails crisscrossing the Atlantic.

Does that mean I am not really needed and that my job is at risk?

Possibly, but smart leaders and managers will do their best to keep people who can be absent and still have the operations for which they are responsible run smoothly.

I personally take great pride in that my staff is 1) highly competent, 2) self-motivated and 3) empowered. (Remember that my secret to successful supervision is to hire people who do not need to be supervised.) As with most educational organization we are woefully understaffed which causes problems during busy times, but in general we provide friendly, competent, and timely service.

Too many of us, especially in the tech field, have used having "secret knowledge" as the strategy for establishing job security. If I am the only person on staff who knows how to _____________  my position can't be eliminated. The problem with that strategy is that I know of no skill that is unique to a single individual. And no competent manager would have a department without redundancy or backup support in all mission-critical tasks.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, I would argue that more one empowers others the more valuable to an organization one becomes. And the less likely to be pink-slipped.

See also "Good Leaders Take Vacations"