Friday, December 28, 2012

The short and long now of education innovation...

flickr image via return the sun

Now is a curious word. For something to be happening now, now has to have a length. Whether a fleeting instance like a millisecond, a minute, day, week or longer, now has to have some degree of length so something has time to happen in the now. I think of now as being short or long. Each day I spend at school, when compartmentalized as a block of time where things happen quite quickly, is to me a fairly short now. I would consider what might be accomplished in an entire school year in a longer now context, and something like the continuum of technology integration in schools a very long now process. I think this short and long now perspective is a big factor relative to innovation in education.

My west coast Twitter colleague, Jamie Billingham (@jamiebillingham) put out a very interesting post recently on the Thought Stream blog. Representing feedback from the entire Thought Stream team, Jamie wrote about what they at Thought Stream feel 2013 and beyond will look like in the education innovation context. Jamie made some thought-provoking predictions in her post about a broad range of initiatives that are already in play in the short now, and that are certainly worth extending into the long now education reform context.

One of Jamie's predictions...
Blended learning opportunities will increase - The flip will not flop, it will fly. We think that blended learning including the flipped classroom model, will take off this year. Funding cuts and increased demand for choice will raise awareness and the adoption of blended learning will hit the tipping point.
 I have to agree with Jamie on this one... wholeheartedly. I have been experimenting with the "flipped" classroom, and early signs with my class indicate it's a winner. In the long now of education innovation, I think flipped classes will become commonplace sooner than later. Using technology tools to empower learning at home allows me to concentrate my attention on how kids are learning in my classroom. To me, blended learning is a balance in learning that provides expanded choice in terms of how we engage in the learning process. Ours is a 1 to 1 school environment, so we have really been able to optimize blended learning opportunities in my school. In the same vein, Jamie mad a second prediction...
New technologies will integrate learning regardless of the learners location - In school and out we will see more integration and cross platform use.
In the short now at my school we operate within a dedicated Google domain enabling our students to seamlessly operate in the cloud whether at home or school. I also predict that this will become mainstream sooner than perhaps some may be comfortable with (and we have to be sensitive to this.) I advocate for technology in school as a set of tools to be accessed to improve teaching and learning. When kids can access the same tools at home, learning becomes more accessible and consistent. As our cloud-based technology toolkit grows, opportunities to choose what works best for teachers and students on an individualized basis equates to heightened levels of personal engagement in teaching and learning. There is no doubt in my mind that this trend in cloud-based learning will continue, and eventually in the long now, become standard methodology.

A third prediction from Jamie regarding curriculum really caught my attention...
Curriculum will improve - With more and more educators connecting and sharing resources and their own learning and with big data informing analytics educators have more choices and are able to make better sense of those choices in their instructional design. The shift in instructional design to just-in-time, personalization and differentiation will change  the way curriculum is designed. Curriculum will become more agile and responsive and as a result curriculum that doesn’t work will be changed quicker.
This prediction really interests me. The world is growing and shrinking at the same time. As technology allows broader access to people and information that previously were hard to reach, or even unreachable, awareness of our world expands. At the same time as a result of this phenomena, we are becoming closer to each other and what we know; the distance between us is shrinking. This bit of irony will continue to have a massive impact on contemporary teaching and learning.

Depending on how we frame curriculum though, I believe the impact will be more on how we teach as opposed to what we teach. What we teach is established through government, and there is a need for this structure and framework. Is there room to improve curriculum content? Perhaps there is, but that's for another day to talk about. For now let's just say that while our teaching and learning content is determined for us, there are countless ways we can make that content engaging and interesting for students through the instructional design options Jamie alludes to. The teacher's job is to weave some pedagogical magic into their practice, and making good use of emerging teaching tools and strategies will make this easier.

A fourth prediction that Jamie makes also interests me very much as I've been working hard on some initiatives related to it...
Increased engagement between community, parents, educators, students - The education system as we know it is like an ocean liner. It just can’t turn on a dime. Schools on the other hand are more agile, more maneuverable. Principals and teachers are taking on the role of engagement specialists and leading from the middle. We see grassroots movements going mainstream with the likes of TEDx Education, EdCamps and SXSWEdu leading the way. The hope is that this doesn’t lead to rampant commodification. Time will tell.
I believe that effective change and improvement always starts at the grassroots level. I agree with Jamie; schools as grassroots institutions can be very agile and maneuverable if they choose to be, and also without being provocative or controversial. Nobody is going to criticize sound educational practice that gets results, and at my school we have initiated a number of innovative projects designed to increase engagement between the school, our students, their parents and the extended community we serve that we feel will yield positive results.

One of these initiatives is called Empathy ReBoot. Collectively at Glendale Sciences and Technology School, we are committed to re-booting empathy within our school community. We know empathy exists within our school, but we also know that it needs to grow. We intend for our school to operate from a foundation of empathy so that every action, every interaction and every intervention is grounded in an empathic perspective. We believe that focusing on building an empathic school environment will lead to heightened feelings of engagement in the school as well as a greater sense of welcome and belonging. I share Jamie's concern about commercialization of programming. There is no one size fits all solution in education, but we wouldn't mind at all if our Empathy ReBoot project was to go viral. We're happy to share what we're learning with anyone or any school that's interested.

Jamie's last point, and the one I am most passionate about, is in my opinion the one that needs to scale the quickest...
Social and emotional learning and the importance of attachment takes hold – We will see (are already seeing) a more unified and comprehensive approach to social/emotional learning. School boards and districts are beginning to talk seriously about self-regulationapplied empathy, and empathy re-boot projects. The idea that schools are a Village of Attachment is a clear steps toward the ”paradigm shift from a behavioral approach to a relational one” throughout our educational systems. Sean Grainger on Learning Circle University writes:
The culture of any learning environment is created in a prominent way through the feelings of those immersed within it. Learning is as much, or perhaps more so, an attitude as it is a skill. When we are impacted emotionally, the attitudes we develop can represent deep engagement, or in the case of negative emotions, deep disengagement. Teachers who are disengaged likely will not encourage much positive engagement in their students.
Thank you Jamie for including a most important, and hopeful prediction in your thoughtful post. Obviously, I agree with your assertion that schools need to be places where kids feel a sense of belonging and purpose; that they are attached to something bigger than themselves. The best thing about this prediction is that, when done thoughtfully and well, creating significant attachments for kids at school costs virtually nothing in the short or long now... as long as we don't start branding best practises and then charge people to access them.

It's up to all of us that work in schools to model a collaborative and cooperative school culture so kids can learn by our example about how to be so themselves. I believe this is best done through the process of morphic resonance. Nurturing morphic resonance is the ultimate version of leading by example. The function of leaders is to lead, but people need to follow if leadership is going to resonate. Of course, different forms of leadership are effective in addressing different situations, and we all have our preferred ways to be led; morphic resonance, however is a concept that applies to all forms of leadership. It's what happens when effective leaders (all personnel involved within schools have potential to be leaders) tip their leadership so others are inclined to follow. Morphic resonance is what you feel when leadership evolves from a form of control to one of influence; the element that you tacitly feel when you enter a school displaying an authentic and positive school culture where every member of the organization is attuned to the same philosophical and systematic principles. We are more influential than we believe, and we don't need any extra funding to be present and accountable for kids, their families and the communities we serve.

Thank you again Jamie for your thoughts. Looking forward to more dialog with you and your collaborators.
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