Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Silo Effect

It is hard to debate that education is the key to the future.  With each passing day new opportunities and challenges arise that will require a new generation of thinkers who can rise to the occasion.  Schools must unlock the potential within our students while preparing them for a rapidly changing world. For this to happen we must rethink the very essence of education and ask ourselves if our students will be adequately equipped to succeed in their future, not ours.  As the world changes, education and leadership must change as well. If it does not change, we then run the risk of preparing students for a world that no longer exists.



Herein lies the problem.  The silo effect in schools has created a false dichotomy as to what constitutes essential learning and skills in the 21st Century and beyond.  As a result, many school leaders think everything is awesome.  Just listen to the theme song of the Lego Movie and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Then ask yourself if everything is really awesome in your school? Or better yet, ask your students to come up with a list of all the awesome learning activities they get to engage in on a daily basis. Their answers alone can best predict the learning culture of a school and whether or not it is meeting their needs. It really doesn’t matter if the adults keep beating the drum that teaching and learning are changing. Proof is in the pudding. In this case the proof comes from conversations with students. 


Everything is Awesome - Lego Movie

The silo effect creates a mirage that everything is great.  It also restricts the thinking of the collective in order to implement innovative ideas that can transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  Many schools are unwilling to change because a factor such as high achievement on standardized tests is, in their view, an indicator of high performance.  The reality for many learners is an environment focused on a traditional model of education and criteria for success that lack relevance, meaning, and value.  Thus, a natural disconnect occurs the second they enter a school building.  Looking beyond our walls while moving outside comfort zones are key actions that can begin the process of breaking down school silos.

The same silo effect applies to our own learning and views or that of our colleagues. Information is readily available to all who are willing to venture in the digital space to take advantage of it.  Being a disconnected nomad is no longer an option if the goal is to improve professional practice and the learning culture of a school. Accessing the wealth of information out there is just a start though. To truly break free of the silo effect teachers and administrators must turn the information they access into new knowledge and action.  

The best ideas and strategies are now at our fingertips. We can now break free from the self-imposed silos and begin to have critical conversations about innovative change schools need.  To begin to break free from the silo effect consider these questions:
  • Is our school/district relevant? Am I relevant?
  • How can we prepare students for the future if we are stuck in the past?
  • How do we know if we are meeting the needs of our learners?
  • What are other schools and educators doing around the globe?
  • Do we collaborate and connect with educators near and far to push our thinking as well as access the best resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and support? 
It is important to peel away the many layers at the surface in order to gain a better understanding of where a school culture is currently. The silo effect often creates a feeling of content and satisfaction since the doorway to fresh ideas is not open.   Learning from others beyond our walls and traditional comfort zones presents limitless opportunities for innovative change. This will not only greatly impact learners, but also each other.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

5 Tips to Strengthen Your School’s Identity

There are many lessons we can learn from the business world and adapt in ways that align with education.  Take the concept of branding. Since the advent of media organizations across the globe have worked tirelessly to build a positive brand presence that resonates with potential consumers.  In short it represents a promise that is woven into a combination of words, design, colors, music, video, logo, service, etc. The promise that companies promote is aligned to specific attributes with the goal of creating a memorable experience.  If this goal is met the likelihood increases that a consumer will purchase their product. Mega brands like Apple, McDonald’s, and Nike have long embraced this concept of branding and the result has been the creation of a clear identity.

When it comes to education people line up on both sides of the branding debate. From a purely business sense I would be against the concept myself. The purpose of school is not to sell and increase profits.  This is something that we can all agree on. However, a schools’ identity is extremely important in the eyes of the beholder, which in this case are key stakeholder groups consisting of students, parents, community members, local businesses, and educators. The idea of a promise to educate all learners and prepare them for success in a rapidly changing world is an expectation that cannot be ignored.  If this can’t be promised then why would stakeholders support our schools or trust their children to educate them?

Identity matters in a digital world.  Do you want this created for your school or would you like to be proactive in developing one? This is where the concept of branding has value and significance for schools.  The overreaching goal of a brandED strategy is to develop and sustain positive relationships with all stakeholders. It is not about selling, but a consistent focus on sharing and telling your story. The bottom line is that if you don’t tell your story someone else will and the result could be an identity that does not align with your school’s mission, vision, or values.  


Image credit: http://iambusinessmarketing.com/

Embracing these elements of brandED thinking by becoming the storyteller-in-chief can begin to the process of developing a powerful school identity that resonates.  Strengthen your school’s identity with these simple tips:
  1. Amplify great work that takes place on a daily basis by consistently sharing using a multi-faceted approach that blends traditional (newsletters, email, phone, face-to-face) with digital age tools (social media). With social media tools make sure your account pages are up to date (website links, avatars, profile information, etc.). It is also wise to educate your stakeholders on social media tools and how you will be using them to increase engagement.
  2. Build trust through transparency.  The benefits here are numerous including attracting families to move to your local district or in the case of tuition (private, parochial, independent) schools, make a greater financial investment. It can also help when it comes to referendums, passing the school budget, and engaging alumni with the hopes of donating time, money, and resources.
  3. Focus on elements that align to a thriving school culture such as innovative learning, student achievement, staff accomplishments, college/career readiness, partnerships, unique traditions, and extra-curricular activities.
  4. Empower others to be active sharers and avoid a gatekeeper mentality when it comes to sharing the story of your school.  Encourage different departments, student groups, parent organizations, and extra-curricular activities to maintain social media accounts.
  5. Regularly recognizing the work of educators and students in your school can be inspirational. The result can be greater levels of motivation and appreciation, which helps to develop a positive school culture. Develop a template to curate all the great work occurring on a monthly basis. The report can then be shared in it's entirety or broken up into numerous blog posts.  
In an education sense the identity of your school (or even yourself) is not only determined by the work, but also how the work is shared.  It stands for who you are.  Being cognizant of this fact allows you to be proactive in creating an identity that resonates with all stakeholders. Think about the identity that you, your students, and staff want. By using the tips above, engaging stakeholders in two-way communications, and taking control of your public relations, in time you will create an identity that truly depicts the amazing work taking place on a daily basis.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Keys for a Successful Digital Transformation

Nobody likes change, but the fact is that change is at our doorstep.  Changes in technology are quickly beginning to force the hands of schools and districts across the world. This poses some good news for students, as transformation efforts are under way to provide authentic learning experiences that provide relevance, value, and tangible skills in an unpredictable world. Even though changes are occurring, we need to be mindful of what is driving the work while looking past soft claims to ensure technology is actually improving learning and achievement.   It is important not to get sucked into the transformational aspects of the technology itself, but instead focus on the transformation of teaching, learning, and leadership.  

With every inch of progress we must constantly be reflective of where we are at and how to improve. We can ill afford to keep investing in the “stuff” through the played out scenario of putting the cart before the horse.  Placing a device in the hands of all students and hoping for learning miracles to happen will always result in a let down.  I know this might rub technology aficionados the wrong way, but the fact remains that edtech has been over-promised and under delivered.  Any leader who has gone through a successful digital transformation realizes this.  The key is to be critical of the process in order to make sure investments pay off in terms of enhanced learner outcomes.  


Image credit: http://core0.staticworld.net/images/article/2015/08/cx-picture-100608993-primary.idge.jpg

Many lessons can be learned from successful digital transformations, including the one that occurred at my former school. Whether going Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), 1:1, blended, or personalized learning take note of some key elements that are essential to success:

Infrastructure

If the plumbing is not in place success will be hard to come by.  By infrastructure I am not talking about devices per say, but WiFi access and space design.  There is noting more frustrating for teachers and students alike when attempts are made to integrate technology with purpose only to have the WiFi not work or operate properly. Hand in hand with WiFi access is the capability to charge devices.  Make the initial investment to get this right the first time.

Framework 

Pedagogy trumps technology. Do you have a framework in place to ensure successful integration?  It is critical to have a common vision, language and expectations for how technology will play a ubiquitous role in supporting and/or enhancing learning.  A growing number of schools and districts rely on the SAMR model.  My question for you to consider is what does SAMR actually tell you or your stakeholders about the level of student learning taking place? We found the answer to be not very much. SAMR does provide good guidance on what to avoid when it comes to technology integration (substitution) and provides an excellent bridge to the Rigor Relevance Framework. Consider the Rigor Relevance Framework, which is learner centric, to assist in effectively aligning technology to instruction, curriculum, and space redesign. Check out this example in relation to Gsuite.

Professional Learning

Investing in people will always be one of the foundation elements of a successful digital transformation.  Relevant, job-embedded learning opportunities that move away from traditional drive-by approaches will help to sustain meaningful change.  Equal investments need to be made to support both teachers and administrators.  After all, success is dependent on both groups having the knowledge, support, and skills to implement, evaluate, and continuously improve the digital transformation process. There is no substitute for quality face-to-face professional learning opportunities that blend an assessment of where you stand with digital practices, courses, job-embedded coaching, and active discussion.  

Leadership

This element is critical in any type of change process.  It is not only about being open to change, but also being an intimate player in the process.  Thus, digital leadership goes without saying. It is about working smarter, not harder, in order to do what we already do better.  Digital leaders help to establish a collective vision, provide support, model expectations, ensure accountability, and constantly reflect in transparent ways in order to improve.  Technology is a ubiquitous component that supports the work they have always done but in a more effective and efficient manner.

Avoid Assumptions

Let’s begin with an example.  Students know how to use tech (assumption), but they don’t necessarily know how to use it to support their learning (reality). Students will be off task when they are afforded the opportunity to use technology (assumption), yet virtually all of us adults would go off task at times well before the digital age (reality).  So many assumptions are made when it comes to technology that reality plays second fiddle.  Progress, and ultimately success, is contingent upon removing a myriad of barriers to change that arise as a result of our mindset. Assumptions and excuses will hold you back. Thanks to the Internet and Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) we can learn firsthand from the reality inherent in digital transformation success across the globe.  

Evidence

Success breeds success.  There is no greater motivator than the positive results of any change effort. Evidence of success goes a long way towards embracing change resulting in transformation. However, along the same lines of our infatuation with assumptions, a lack of evidence and connection to research tends to be accepted when talking about digital transformations. When integrating technology there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes. This can come in the form of data, improved observations/evaluations, artifacts, and portfolios. Too much money and time is at stake to just rely on broad claims and a lack of real evidence of success. 

Smart Budgeting 

Having developed a budget for a high school over the course of many years I can tell you that there was a great deal of wasted money year in and year out. Money can be freed up in any budget if we critically analyze how the expenditure will positively impact learning.  Once money is reallocated the next step is to ascertain the role that any technology purchase will play. The question we need to be asking when going through the budget process is how will this technology actually improve learning and achievement at scale?  If there is a challenge in answering this question then obviously you are not making a wise investment.  Do your research and plan accordingly.

Relationships

Relationships are the glue that holds the change process together resulting in transformation.  These need to be built both internally and externally.  From a student perspective it is important to emphasize and follow through in ways to foster greater student agency in the learning culture.  You need to begin to say yes more than no as implemented ideas that come from students are the ultimate relationship builder.  From an adult stakeholder perspective it is critical to develop a positive brand presence that will result from a multi-faceted approach to communications and an evolution into the storyteller-in-chief.  Meet your stakeholders where they are at, engage them in two-way communications, and maintain a level of consistency. Over time powerful relationships will be established with all.

All in all we need to prepare students for their future, not ours.  We can ill afford to prepare them for a world that doesn’t exist.  We need to create schools of the future, today.  Even with progress in many schools and districts it is important to always be open to critical reflection and evaluation on not just where we are at, but more importantly where we want to be.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Facilitating Open Debate In and Out of School

As educators it is important that we model the expectations that we have for our students and each other.  To that end, it is vitally important that we continually look for ways to push our own thinking and leadership in order to improve professional practice.  In my role as a presenter this is key. I routinely ask all types of educators to be innovative and take risks. As I continue to grow in this area, I am always on the look out for new tools that I can integrate into my presentations to demonstrate these two points as well as to illustrate the pedagogical link that technology supports in our schools.  Often times I will double down and also make the connection of how certain tools can be used to support the work of administrators.

Recently I was tasked with delivering a two and a half hour keynote to 1700 educators in Missouri.  This posed quite the challenge thanks to the large size of the crowd and duration of the presentation.  As I went through my deck I looked for opportunities to build in numerous interactive activities where everyone in the audience would be able to respond.  Lately my tools of choice have been TodaysMeet, Answer Garden, and Mentimeter (my all time favorite).  Once all of the interactive components were added I noticed that I had more questions than different tools.  It was time to take a risk and learn a new tool.

Thanks to the assistance of my PLN I had a variety of new tools to choose from. I settled on ProConIt.  This is a very cool, yet powerful tool that has applications in the classroom and to strengthen relationships with stakeholders. With ProConIt your audience can discuss and debate any topic you develop. Unlike typical polling tools, you create something called a "Procon" by defining both the topic of discussion and the two sides of the issue you want to gather opinions on. ProConIt allows you to ask these questions and then invite students, stakeholders, or audience members to provide their thoughts. Essentially an open debate unfolds where everyone can participate. 

As others navigate the Procon, opinions up to 225 characters can be submitted on both sides of the issue. People can even evaluate comments that were previously submitted.  What then happens is the best opinions, either for or against, rise to the top. The needle at the top of the page tells you which way the issue is leaning while the specific arguments identify why.  Take a look at the results from a ProConIt I recently used during a recent keynote. The prompt was as follows: Do you feel gaming and the gamification of education can lead to better learner outcomes? Submit your opinion with a reason.




This is a great tool to use in the classroom and with stakeholders to facilitate open debate on issues relating to learning concepts, global problems, policy changes, new courses, referendums, technology purchases, proposed school schedule changes, and the list goes on and on.  The key to using this tool, especially with students, is for respondents to explain why they are for or against.  Shortened URL’s can also be included as a means to provide evidence to support a pro or con stance.  

Upon reflecting on my use of this tool yesterday, so many useful applications come to mind.  For starters, it is an incredible tool to use during presentations to engage attendees in a thoughtful dialogue.  However, the real value of this tool will be found in the hands of students, educators, and administrators. Think about the possibilities of using ProConIt as a powerful way to improve student agency in your school or to build consensus around major decisions with a better sampling of stakeholders.  How do you see yourself using ProConIt in your respective position? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.