Saturday, February 20, 2010

Education Reform- Just Get On With It

flickr CC image via Lance Sheilds

I have had the opportunity a few times within the institutions I serve to contribute towards the conception of mission, vision and values statements. As much as I agree these statements are vital to the long-term sustainablity of any organization, I must admit, the process can be taxing to say the least. An excellent Twitter conversation I had recently with Jerrid Kruse (@jerridkruse) spurred me to reflect further on my thoughts regarding purpose, and where it should originate in education.

One of the most profoundly thought-provoking books I have read recently is Viktor Frankl's (1946) Man's Search for Meaning chronicling his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, and describing his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Frankl, the book intends to answer the question "How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?" I took away from this book the notion that without purpose, there is nothing. I think I already knew this on some level, but not to the point where I was considering the concept as part of my minute-by-minute navigation of daily challenges. I have come to realize implicitly that purpose needs to be at the core of everything I do. As an educator, I believe it is critical that a sense of personal and professional purpose is reflected in the mind of every teacher.

Back to the mission, vision and values (MVV) statements issue...
During my conversation with Jerrid, we reflected on the question of where the MVV should originate. There is a two-fold context to this question; the organizational context and the individual context. As I stated above, MVV statements are vital to the long-term sustainablity of organizations... this is undeniable. A successful organization is one that knows explicitly what it does, the preferred future it is aspiring toward and how its beliefs will help them get there. Running alongside this collective, organizational principle of MVV statements are individual people who make up the organization. I believe that successful organizations are a sum total of the successes of the people who belong to them. For this reason, it becomes crucial for the people within an organization to be highly attuned to the MVV of the organization they belong to, but even more importantly if the organization is to thrive, these individuals must be dialed in to their personal MVV philosphy and how it syncs with the collective MVV of the organization.

At the core of our conversation was the issue of education reform. There are few who don't believe our western education system can be improved in multi-faceted dimensions. Virtually every bastion of traditional education appears to be under scrutiny in reaction to quantum changes in society demanding a proactive response from schools. We agreed that authentic change comes from the grassroots element, and in education, that element is teachers. Teachers have a unique vantage point relative to those dimensions of education that need to be changed... they are the people within education who know what is done well, and more importantly, what isn't and needs to change. With respect to MVV statements, I believe strongly that it's time for teachers to step out and share their perspective toward change in education, and in order to do this convincingly, they must be capable of articulating not only their personal mission, vision and values, but also how these are synthesized with the organizational mandate, or more critically, how they aren't. Consider the evolutionary possibilities inherent in a process where teachers are given a forum to share this reflective dialog with other education stakeholders; an intellectual environment where teachers' perspectives are not only heard, but respected because they have been shared sensibly, intelligently and proactively... and most vitally, with purpose.

It's time to just get on with the business of education reform, and there is no better cohort than teachers to lead the focused dialog about how it should be done; teachers willing to confidently share their personal mission, vision and values, the ones that reflect what's good about education today, but more importantly, the ones in opposition to what isn't.

Teachers... find your purpose, find your voice.
  • Special thanks to Jerrid Kruse for cranking up my thoughts on this topic.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Technology in Education- How to Support a Tip in the Right Direction

flickr CC image via Hampton Roads Partnership

There are so many issues surrounding education. People all over the world are tweeting, joining personal learning networks, participating in professional development and lobbying about all of these issues... there is seemingly no end to it, and perhaps this is for good reason. One of the most current extremely hot-button issues in education is the integration of technology in teaching and learning. Considering the pace at which technology is advancing in our world, there is a very real challenge in education to keep pace. (I would argue that keeping pace isn't even good enough. I believe that educators should be leading the charge in society regarding technology integration and utilization. Can there be a better environment for this to occur?)

As correlated to so many variables influencing the tone that technology integration in schools takes place, (age, access to technology, desire to learn, socioeconomic status, school division philopsophy, personal teaching philosophy, parental support, etc.) all of us who influence children's education fall somewhere on the spectrum of attitude toward the use of technology in schools as  microcosms of society, and society in general.

By creating an us (those who endorse, support and nurture digital fluency) against them (those who don't support, for whatever reason, the advancement of social, educational and scientific technology applications) adversarial environment in schools, there is no opportunity to move from transactional forms of leadership to idea-tipping transformational leadership (what we so desperately need to effectively synthesize tech. integration in schools, and in reality, so many other change-requiring elements of N. American education institutions.)

I'm a fan of eastern philosophy. In Taoist philosophy, the word "Tao" is loosely translated as "the way." I believe that in order to find 'our way' on the technology transformation journey, education leaders need to be less provocative and more transformative.

Those of us who are keen to explore, understand, discover and utilize technology in our teaching and learning practise are duty-bound not to alienate those who, for whatever reason, are not. (I would assert that most who appear opposed to tech. integration actually aren't; they simply are anxious about something that they don't fully understand, and they're waiting for someone to just 'tell them what to do' so they can reserve the right to continue feeling, dare I say, safely dictated to by powers beyond their control.) Many teachers suffer from this default perspective, in my opinion. I also feel that the vast majority of them are intensely passionate professionals who have simply been dictated to too many times; they've lost their verve. It's up to us who's flames haven't gone out to re-ignite their desire to explore and discover the tech. integration possibilities that have yet to excite them.

We do this by treating our colleagues the same way we would responsibly treat our students when they feel anxiety toward a new challenge; we lead by example as pioneers unafraid to make mistakes. Stepping out in front as teachers constructively utilizing technology in schools will provide a bit of necessary Teflon for those who are apt to hang back and not take this sort of risk. Stepping to the back when their incremental efforts produce success is a great way to support this 'tech pioneers as leaders' mentality.

Self-esteem comes to those who become good at something, and then are provided a means to share that with others when comfortable. My strategy in leading a technology integration process aims to provide opportunities for colleagues to watch and learn without anxiety (the art of protecting,) and then to illuminate their learning progress by creating opportunities for them to share new skills (the art of celebrating). The desired outcomes are a comfortable tech learning environment where success is unaffected by stress and external pressures, and an expanded set of tech skills and insights on behalf of the teachers I work with. How can this lead to anything but a transformational change?
The most effective revolutions are the ones nobody realized were happening.
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